Drink For Me… First Vampire Feed…? Sample Sunday September 11th.

10 09 2011
 An excerpt that reveals the creative and self-editing processes this week: under the blue pencil.  Two      earlier versions of a pivotal scene in the final book.  Neither made it through… the blue pencil scored through them.
The two excerpts below, are Very Old, and Quite Old.  Raw writing, no editing.  I did correct the spelling and grammar, but they have not seen the eyes of an editor.
Both concern the moment my erstwhile main protagonist, is offered human blood to finish her transformation to vampire.  Both contain a lot of ‘tell’ as opposed to ‘show’.  First draft.  But you may find the similarities, and the differences, between these earlier versions and the final version, interesting.  What happens, how it happens, is roughly the same.  Who she is offered, and how she reacts: different.  Most writers have scenes that disappear, or change substantially.  You might enjoy seeing the process…  
            It started as a dull ache in her jaw. Once, after she had had a wisdom tooth removed, she had developed a jaw infection. The pain was similar, like a throb that became so deep as to be painful. After a few hours, it spread round her whole mouth, the pain in her front teeth the worse, like the gums were being slashed with a razor. Another few hours and she was feverish, hot, sweaty and her spine ached. By the end of the second day, she was in a confusion of pain and fever. She had not slept. She could not eat. She could not drink. Water, when she sipped it, became like liquid glass in her throat, and she soon retched it up.  

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Chapter 4, Changeling

9 04 2011

This is the final sample from Changeling.  The entire first four chapters are now here, for everyone to read.  They are also available to download as a PDF, free, in exchange for a tweet, here.

Chapter Four
Her back was once more against the door, her legs, aching and cramped, brought round in front of her.  How could she have let herself go all floppy, all silly and stupid, to lie down and cry, hoping she would die from the pain of it…?  How could she?  The anger burned in her mouth.  She was a stupid cow.  She was a complete fool and no matter what she was going to get out of this.  The voice approved, told her that was a good thought, she should hold on to it.  It wasn’t all she needed to hold on to.  Sitting up had released another sensation in her body.  Her bladder was bursting.  The dark was once more around her, her body once more wedged against the door, and the need to go was suddenly with her.  Strong, insistent, as if she had been ignoring it for some time.   Now what was she going to do?
His finger lightly stroked the switch, pulsing, sensing, judging.  Stand up little bird, stand up for Daddy…
The more she thought on it, the worse it became.  It soon blotted out all but the pain in her back, even her throat became less demanding than the pressure, the actual physical pain that was starting to build in her groin.  It was absurd to her, totally surreal, that of all things to concern her, pinned as she was on the side of that door, she was being driven wild by the need to pee.  Even the voice agreed that this was silly, stupid, ridiculous.  What could they do?  She and the voice thought it over.  They both came to the same conclusion, the only sensible conclusion there was: she should pee.  Let it out, get rid of the pain and concentrate on the door.  Sitting up there, in her brain, full frontal: an idea.   It wasn’t an appealing idea.  Sensible yes, appealing, no.  She changed her mind, arguing with the voice: it was a terrible idea?  The voice, she discovered, was somewhat of a fair weather friend: it didn’t answer her back.  It had gone away, gone in the now grinding pressure of holding herself in.  It was no good, she was going to have to move, sitting here on the hard floor wasn’t helping.  She was going to have to stand up, leave the door alone, and try and work out where she was.  She dimly realised that not wetting herself, crumpled on the floor, in the dark, was more important to her than holding onto the door.  She didn’t understand it, but there it was.  She took a deep breath and scrambled awkwardly to her feet.

She screamed, a small part of her aware that this was another pathetic action, but the pain once more blotted all rational thought out.  Her eyes once more protested, her hands flung instinctively to protect them.  She would have dropped back down, but the fear froze her, kept her stranded up there, standing, caught by the brightness that had pierced her through.  Red flooded her eyes, ghost images once more dancing in front of her, keeping track as she shook her head to and fro.  The crying started, a wail tearing itself free of her chest.  Shit, he was there, he was there!  It was no good.  He was there.  The smell hit her from underneath: sharp, acid, pungent.  She felt a warm puddle build around her bare feet: she had wet herself.
The acrid scent flooded under the door.  Urine filled to its limit with toxins.  A delightful bonus in a game already filling him with glee.  His hand reached for the handle.
She was stooped over, half way to the floor, half upright.  Her hands were jabbed in her eyes, rubbing, trying to force them to adjust quickly.  She couldn’t be here, she couldn’t be here, in the middle of nowhere, naked, wet.  She just couldn’t.  She couldn’t move; she knew that she needed sight, she needed some direction.  She forced her hands away, forced herself to blink.  She must conquer this, must take charge of her senses.
‘I told you not to leave the bed.’
She startled, whirling round, trying to face where the voice was.  A scream was caught fast in her throat; she would not let it out.  She wasn’t going to scream again, not ever.  Her feet slipped in the puddle.  As she opened her eyes and tried to bring her head up, she fell back, back onto the soaking wet floor, back onto the hardness and the pain.  Her shoulder hit something half way down.  Hit it hard.  Stars danced around in her eyes, pain blossoming out from the joint, her head snapping forward.  She slid down on her side, dazed.  Too dazed to scrunch up, to hide.  She lay there, sprawled, wedged between something.  Something hard, cold, at her back, something hard and cold in front of her.  Naked, apart from a coat of her own urine and sweat.  The small, distant voice came back: it wasn’t very helpful.  She pushed the thoughts down with some effort.  Shame was riding her, riding her harder than the fear.  Her eyesight was clearing, helping her identify where she was.   A toilet bowl was in front of her, a brilliant white sheen that showed the wreck of her all too clearly.  Her arm was screeching, shouting that she had to move before something got mashed.  She tried to sit up, found she couldn’t.  It was a narrow space, she was sore and slippery.  She tried again, her elbow banging against the cold hard behind her.  She slipped back down on to the floor, defeated.
There was a sharp intake of breath from somewhere above her, a sigh of impatience.  She scrunched her eyes shut tight, turned her head to the floor, her fists clenching.  She wouldn’t look, she wouldn’t look.
‘Allow me to aid you.’
The words didn’t make sense to her, couldn’t make sense.
‘I will not repeat myself.  Allow me to help you.’
There was a tone in those words, an unmistakable air of menace.  It was a threat clear and loud.  ‘Do as I ask,’ his voice had said, ‘and it will be okay.  Fight me, it will not.’  She heard it plainly.  Her own inner voice heard it too.  Her voice urged her to get up, to turn round, to do anything rather than just lie there.  She followed the advice. 
She couldn’t see him clearly as she first turned round.  The light in the ceiling was behind him, dazzling her.  All she got a sense of was his shape leaning down to her, an arm clearly extended to her.  She reached up for it.  His grasp was strong and firm, pulling her to her feet in one sure movement.  Her body screamed its dislike of the action, her mind screamed louder.  No sound left her lips.  She felt proud of that, if nothing else.  He let go of her as soon as he was sure of her footing.  She stood, clumsily, trying to hide herself from him, which was impossible.  Defeated, her arms dropped to her sides, her head down.  He had very shiny shoes.  Very expensive shoes.  They didn’t look pleased, those shoes, standing in her piss.  A hand reached for her, lifted her chin up, to stare at him.  Their eyes were of almost equal height, which she found curious.  A light brown, flecked with tiny shards of amber.  Dark hair matched his eyes.
‘You smell.  You smell foul.’ 
His emphasis on the ‘foul’ made her flush red.  She tried to drop her eyes, her head, away from his piercing gaze, her hands automatically coming back up, trying to hide, to cower.  He held her firm, forcing her attention. 
‘Clean yourself and come back through to the bedroom.’  He turned back to the door, opening it, leaving.  Before he disappeared through it, he turned back, addressed her in that no nonsense voice. ‘Do not be long.’ 
The door closed quietly.  Tears coursed over her burning cheeks.  As he left the bedroom, aiming for the kitchen, he started to hum to himself.  Gods, what a find.  She gave such great fear.  He switched the kettle on and busied himself.  He had plenty of time.
The bathroom was huge; black and white marble.  The floor and walls matched perfectly.  White marble flecked with black on the floor, black marble flecked with white on the walls.  The toilet and bidet, between which she had so recently rested, were brilliant white.  The double vanity unit was gleaming black stone with equally gleaming white stone sinks.  The fixtures were silver and black.  The shower stall alone was bigger than her bathroom at home.  It took up about a quarter of the room, easily holding about six people.  It had a series of shower fixtures up the walls and across the top.  She’d seen the like in movies, never in real life, not even in hotels at business conventions.  The bath was actually quite small, compared to the rest of the room, but it was oval rather than bath shaped, with vents along the sides which she guessed meant it was a jacuzzi.  There was a floor to ceiling cupboard with louver doors in silver.  It looked like they were real silver, at least to touch.  The back of her head, the voice, was screaming that she had to stop looking at the frigging decor and do something.  She ignored it.  Looking was doing something, it was doing about the only thing she could cope with.  She’d crumpled down onto the wet floor when he had left, shaking.  When she realised what she was doing, she had jumped up like a scalded cat.  ‘Sides, she wasn’t getting into no shower ‘til she’d checked what was in the damned cupboard.  The voice told her he wasn’t in the cupboard.  She knew that, she told the voice, she was just being cautious.  The cupboard was filled with towels.  Pure white, soft.  Looking at them, touching them, the tears started again, the shaking.  No, screamed the voice.  No!  No!  No!  No way.  If she fell apart, he was coming back for her and she didn’t want that.  The thought did drive some of the dreamy feeling from her, did drive her into the shower.  It took a few moments, but she finally got the water out of at least half the jets, first too hot, then too cold, then okay.  There were plenty of gels and shampoos and such, on a fitted wire shelf right there in the shower.  She stared at them, unthinking.  The water ran off her, down the drain.  The first thing she noticed, the only thing she really noticed, was that the smell was going.  The smell of steam was replacing the smells of… let’s not think about that.  She’d never thought that steam had a smell, that it smelt clean, warm, friendly.  Her hair was flattened down onto her scalp, the water running off it over her shoulders.  She tried to run her hands through it, it was matted, sticky.  The water was making it wetter, not cleaner.  She reached for the shampoo.
The warning wasn’t the stinging of her skin, it was the water beginning to run cold.  She’d scrubbed and scrubbed, rinsed and then scrubbed again.  All of her was red, raw looking.  She hadn’t noticed.  So much of her was pain that it wasn’t important.  But the water running cold, that was important.  That said something about time, about how long she’d been in there.  The whole of the cubicle was fogged, cloudy.  Opening the door, a blast of seemingly frigid air enveloped her.  As did the stench of urine.  She stepped carefully out of the cubicle, reaching for the towels warming on the heated bar.  She placed them all on the floor, watching them soak up the fluid, watching the stain soak through them.  When they were all down she walked round them, skirting them, and opened the cupboard.  She brought out fresh towels and wrapped her body in one, then her hair.  They were massive, covering most of her.  She added a third across her shoulders, like a cape.  All that showed was her shins, her ankles and her hands.  And her face.  She looked around.  There wasn’t a mirror.  She sat down on the toilet seat, shaking.  She wasn’t sure if she could ever stand again.  She looked at the door.  It was white, with black running through it, as if it too was marble.  There was no lock.  No bolt.  Nothing.  The panic started up in her.  She pushed it down, ruthlessly pushed it far away, away to the place the questions were.  When she could afford it, then she’d bring it back.  Not now.  With a deep breath, she forced herself to stand, forced herself to open the door.  The voice inside her was utterly silent, for which she was grateful.
He had to admit he was startled as the bathroom door opened: surprised.  He had expected to have to go and fetch her.  He had taken the stopping of the shower as his cue and was waiting long enough for her nerve to break before going in and getting her.  He was undecided if he was pleased, or annoyed, at the change of plan.  The going to get her plan had involved wondering if she would fight, or try to run?  Run was fun, fighting was fine.  Would give him a chance to lay down some rules.  He had been running through both scenarios, deciding which pleasure he actively wanted her to present him with.  She had done neither, forced him to recalculate: he was pleased.  Good thing he had laid the table out all ready.  It would not have done to be caught on the hop.  He watched her edge nervously into the room.  Great fun.  Yes, this was better than having to go fetch her.  He lifted the first pot.
She jumped when he spoke, then froze, her exit from the bathroom interrupted.  He stood by a table, a table laden with plates and cups and tea things.  His raised hand held a silver tea pot.  She stared.
‘I find tea a most refreshing drink.’  He picked up a plain white cup and saucer, deftly filling the cup.  ‘ Also…,’ placing the pot back onto the cloth, he picked up a silver jug. ‘I find it an excellent activity in those awkward social moments.’  He smiled at her.  ‘Milk?’ 
She stared.  He ignored her.
‘It is quite interesting you know, that today…,’ he poured the milk and placed both cup and jug down.  ‘… very few people take sugar in their tea.  Once, it was almost unheard of not to put sugar in your tea.  Now, no one I know puts sugar in their tea.’  
He had moved round the table, till he was on the far side of it, and sat down.  As he poured his own tea, he glanced up at her, smiling, then busied himself.  He finished speaking as he dropped two white sugar lumps into his own cup.  The noise of his stirring mesmerised her, transfixed her.  Nothing she could think of, nothing she could imagine, explained what was happening.  He finished stirring and placed the teaspoon delicately onto the edge of the saucer.  As he lifted the cup to his lips, he inhaled deeply.  He smiled, then sipped. 
‘Delicious.  One of my favourite mixes.  Most refreshing.’  He indicated her own cup, sitting on the table.  ‘Will you not join me?’ 
The menace was thick, the message clear.  It broke through to her.  She moved forward slowly, awkwardly, not wanting to get closer to him.  She wanted to look around the room, get her bearings back, but the need to keep looking at him overrode everything.  The chair she was to sit on was pulled back and angled, making it easy for her to seat herself. 
‘Excellent.  Do try the brew, see if it is to your liking.  Biscuit?’ 
Again, as he offered her a plate of pale Madeleine’s, his tone was unmistakable.  She reached forward, hesitated, then picked one up.  She cradled it in her lap as he prattled. 
‘It is an interesting blend, mostly Assam with some Darjeeling….’ his voice droned on, somewhere above her.
 She was staring fixedly at the white linen table cloth.  The voice at the back of her mind was assessing it dispassionately.  Had to be linen, such a large, yet fine, weave.  It gleamed.  The light bouncing off it with a shimmer.  Her hand reached forward involuntarily, touching it.  Damask, said the voice, definitely the finest Damask linen.
‘It is Damask,’ he said. ‘Do you like it?’ 
She startled out of her reverie so suddenly she couldn’t breathe, blood pounding in her temples.  She looked over to him.  The terror in her eyes was almost a force, a tangible sensation that flooded him.  He took her gift eagerly, pressing for more.
‘Do have some tea, it will make you feel better.’ 
He pushed the cup and saucer towards her. His hand reaching closer froze her for a moment, sent her blood pressure racing, her heart skipping beats.  She was transfixed, unable to take her eyes from the smoothness of his hand.  Pale smoothness, not unlike the cup.  The contents swelled slightly, resettling.  The dreaming quality returned, the cup shimmering, shifting in front of her.  Her eyes hurt with the effort of looking at it, looking so hard she wondered that it didn’t shatter.  There was a slight noise, he cleared his throat: impatience.  She lifted her hands, which were very heavy, unwieldy, one aiming for the cup, the other the saucer.  Both landed roughly where they should, she grasped, pulling them back to her.  The cup trembled slightly as it travelled, liquid swelling up, dribbling over her hand.  The heat was warming, she cupped both hands around and raised it to her lips.  She felt the heat rise and touch her skin, tickle her nose.  The tea was very milky, not at all what a good Northern Lass should be drinking.  She swallowed some down, closing her eyes as she tilted her head back, not wishing to see him.  There was pain as it flooded down her throat.  She found it hard to swallow, had to force the muscles to work.  Yet it was also good, refreshing.  Her thirst roared within her, demanding more.  She clattered the empty cup back onto the saucer.
‘There, I thought that might be just what the doctor ordered.’
She didn’t look up as he drew the cup back, poured another cup, pushed it back to her.  It was just as milky as the first.  She reached for it shakily, her hand overshooting the mark.  The cup, and its contents, spilled wildly across the table, soaking the perfect Damask.  Her hand stayed where it was, over the now empty saucer, her eyes watching the spreading stain.
‘Tut tut, what a pity.  Here, allow me.’
He’d stood somehow, and was now beside her.  White napkins, which she hadn’t noticed, were being piled onto the tea stain in an attempt to soak up the mess.  The tea blossomed through.
‘What a nuisance, here, let me have this towel.’
The towel from around her head was whisked off before she’d reacted to his request, its thick pile more use than the napkins.  He was so close to her, she could feel the air between them move as he leaned this way, then that.  He pushed the pot, sugar bowl and Madeleine’s back, mopping at the massive stain one small cup had made.  When it was contained, he picked the Madeleine’s up, wiping dry the bottom of the plate.
‘What a mess.  Dreadful of me, to over fill that cup.’ 
He carried on mopping, pushing dry towel onto wet cloth, drawing out the stain, carefully blotting round its edges.  Satisfied, he turned to her.
‘Here, run and get me a towel soaked in cold water, to stop it drying.’ 
He handed her back her towel, smiling.  He motioned to the bathroom door, encouraging.  She watched his back as he again turned to the table, moving things around.  She stood, shakily, clutching the soiled towel to her middle, afraid the ones wrapped around her body might fall.  She backed away, eyes never leaving his back, until she bumped into the edge of the bed.  With a tiny yelp, she turning, fleeing into the bathroom, almost tripping on the towels she had left dealing with her other stain.  She dropped the one she held, pulled a fresh one from the cupboard, stuffing its bulk into a sink and turning on the cold tap.  The water spouted up and over her but she barely noticed.  Her mission was to get that towel as wet as possible, as fast as possible.  She jammed the towel in one end of the sink, watching as it pushed out the other.  This just wasn’t working.  The whole dammed thing was never going to fit in the sink!  Panic started once more, and she picked the towel up and threw it into the bath, turning off the sink tap as she went.  This time, as cold water flooded the towel, it started to soak quickly.  The water pressure was immense, the bath rapidly filling.  She switched it off, swirled the towel round, picking up one edge and wringing it out over the bath, working her way up the length as she pulled it clear of the water.  It could only have been two, maybe three minutes before she was back in the bedroom, hurrying forward with her burden.  He’d cleared the cloth out from the table and folded it neatly.  He took the towel from her and wrapped it around the tablecloth, as if he were wrapping a gift.
‘There, that should keep it from drying out until I can get it cleaned.  I shall just go pop it into a plastic bag.’
 He smiled once more, and quickly left the room via the door that she’d been not looking at.  Silence crashed around her.  Her legs felt weak and before she’d really noticed what she was doing, she’d sank down onto the edge of the bed.  He’d left the door open, light spilled in, forming a long rectangle on the floor.  She stared at it.  A thought was just beginning to form, who knows what it might have been, when she saw his shadow precede him.  She lifted her head.  He was drying his hands on a small towel, no a tea towel.  He used it to wipe clean the surface of the table.  There had been a tray, somewhere on the floor on his side of the room, for he leaned down, lifting it up onto the table top.  It took seconds to clear the clutter, all neatly piled up.  He sighed, then leaned down to the floor, picking up the Madeleine she’d cradled. 
‘Clumsy.’  He shook his head.  ‘Never mind, mess can always be cleaned up, always.’
His voice on the second ‘always’ was faded, distant.  It sent a chill down her spine, the hairs on her neck prickling.  She contained the shudder that went through her as he once more swept out of the room, this time with tray in hand.  Her eyes returned to the light that blazed across the floor.  The floor gleamed under its impact.  She moved her feet, feeling the cool surface.  The light continued to bounce up at her, bounce up from the smooth, seamless floor.  The floor was covered in linoleum.  Thick, dark coloured linoleum.  Her hands rested back onto the bed cover as she puzzled this.  As they sank onto the sheeting, she felt the slight crinkling underneath.  The voice inside her head rang out with authority, with warning.  She realised it had been trying to say something for some time.  Her hands massaged the soft covering, investigating.  The crinkling was way down, two or three layers.  She pulled back the edge of the sheets.  There, under three sheets, was a bed protector, sealing the mattress.  Gleaming, exactly as the floor gleamed.  The voice became louder, more insistent.  Instinctively, she covered the bed back up as she tried to grapple with what it was saying, what her mind had noticed.  The panic it brought set off her body, dizziness once more threatening to overwhelm her.  Her hands began to shake, breathing more difficult.  Sweat once more sprang out of every pore in her body.  He came back to the room as the scream was fighting up through her chest, desperate to get out.  She wouldn’t let it and the effort was choking her.  She would hold onto this, her mind was insisting: she had to get a grip.  She didn’t look at him, her eyes again studying the floor, the deadly, smooth, eminently cleanable floor.  She was wrong, she just had to be wrong.  He must have spoken, but she didn’t hear the words, aware only that there were other sounds in the room apart from her heartbeat.  The scream was still trying to get up, get outside her, make itself large over her thoughts; she couldn’t risk looking up.  She dropped her head lower, her chin dropping onto her chest: she would not scream.  Her left wrist was yanked upwards, her head following naturally.  He was standing over her, the light from the door once more making his face indistinct.  His mouth was moving.  She stared at his lips.  Her arm was pulled sideways.  The pain made her focus.
‘I expect to be answered, do you hear me?’ 
His face was twisted up, his voice too.  She nodded, unsure of what he’d said.
‘Good, I am glad we have that settled.  I did not speak for my own amusement.’ 
His voice had evened out, unkinked.  He let go of her wrist.  The pain immediately bloomed through her bones, shot up her arm.  She grabbed the wrist with her other hand, rubbing.  The pain lit out again, making her groan.  He’d turned away from her, closing the door softly.  The light was shut out, returning them to the dimmer glow of the lamps.  He was there again, beside her. 
‘Whilst we are on the subject…,’ the pause had the desired effect.  She raised her face to his.  ‘There is still a little outstanding business between us.’  His voice was soft, tender; cajoling.  ‘I distinctly remember telling you not to leave the bed.’ 
Persuading her to do something.  She took a deep breath, attempting to calm things: now, more than ever, it was important to look as if she was listening.  She raised her face to him, composing it as best she could: she would listen.  She didn’t see him move, had no time to react, to tense.  The force that slammed into the side of her face lifted her off the bed, throwing her sideways onto the floor.  She screamed.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three   Chapter Four

Chapter 3, Changeling

2 04 2011

Next week, on Sunday April 10th, I’ll both put up Chapter 4 as the last full chapter sample.. and launch.  Eeek!

*shaking quivering terror*

Chapter Three

The first thing she was truly aware of was a cramp, low in her back.  She wasn’t sure exactly when she became aware of it, how long she’d been listening to her body groan, but slowly, carefully, the awareness that this was real, her back was hurting, she was asleep, or had been, settled in her mind.  It was dark, too dark; that wasn’t helping.  Where was it, that it was this dark?  Not her own bedroom for sure.  Not her lumpy bed and rickety windowsill, traffic noises seeping through with the streetlights.  The bed beneath her was straight, even with her weight on it.  The dark around her, absolute.  She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on waking up.  Her mouth was dry and filthy, caked with gunge.  As she struggled to push her body awake, to sit up, make sense of the confusion, she flitted her tongue round and round, desperately seeking moisture.  The pain from her back was sharp and fresh as she pulled forward, making her wince.  What on earth had happened that her back hurt so?  The question sat in her mind, trying to make some sense to her.  She fumbled around, feeling the soft bed that surrounded her.  How big could a bed be?  She leaned to the side, reaching for an unseen edge, trying to find an end to this smothering softness.  Her head spun, dizziness almost overwhelming her.  A nausea rose within her, she gagged.  She wasn’t going to throw up, she wasn’t going to throw up.  She certainly wasn’t going to throw up until she had worked out where she was.  She dropped back on the bed, closing her eyes.  She’d moved too fast, the dizziness got worse not better.  She groaned, which turned out to be a worse move than flopping back on the bed.  Her throat felt awful, like she’d swallowed crushed glass.  Hot and dry and raw all at the same time.  As she lay there, trying to control her panic, her breathing, her dry mouth, her head began a wicked beating.  Thrum, thrum, thrum.  If this was a hangover, she didn’t want to think about what she’d been drinking.  Her back had eased slightly on lying back, but when she tried to move upwards, it screamed protest once more.  Fear started to edge out panic: what had she been doing that had hurt her back?  Whatever the answer was, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know about it, not yet. 
Gritting her teeth she forced herself to sit up, sitting straight up on the bed.  The wave of nausea hit again, as did the dizziness.  She rode it out, clutching a sheet to her face, concentrating on not throwing up, not passing out and not going back down into the bed.  The thrumming threatened to split her head open, but she kept on in there.  The feeling of sickness passed, as did the dizziness.  Her back stayed raw and sharp, but got no worse.  As the thrumming finally started to ease off, she became aware of a harsh rasping breath in the room beside her: laboured, dangerous.  She almost screamed, clamping her hand over her own mouth, the noise stopped.  Fear froze down her spine, blocking out all thoughts of her back, her pain, her headache.  She clutched herself tightly, knees automatically raised to tuck under her chin.  The rasping breath started again.  She scrunched her eyes tight shut, tears squeezing out of the edges, and once more clamped her hand over her mouth, anything to make herself disappear.  The noise stopped again.  She held her breath, better to hear the darkness: nothing.  The moment stretched and broke.  She let the trapped air in her lungs out, the movement forcing more pain from her throat, her back, her head.  The rasping started again.  A whimper fled from her throat and was out into the darkness before she could help it.  She again held her breath, this time her hands flying up to cover her head, her chin tucking down, seeking protection from her knees.  The rasping stopped.  As she lay there, tight and curled, awaiting whatever monster was in the room with her, she thought this through.  An idea occurred to her.  Lifting her head, she gasped in some air, once more releasing the bottled up feeling in her lungs.  The rasping started once more.  She held her breath.  The rasping stopped.  She breathed out.  The rasping started up again.  Relief flooded through her, limbs turning liquid; she crumpled once more back onto the bed.  It was her!  The noise she’d heard, that awful rasping breath, it was her own.  The darkness, the silence in the room, it had fooled her. 

She giggled, a strange and monstrous sound on its own, forced as it was through her aching throat, but she didn’t care.  The fear that had frozen her bones melted, leaving them molten and warm in its wake.  She was drained, shaking a little, almost shivering with the relief.  A laugh escaped her lips, god, she was a goose.  What a stupid cow, to get herself into such a fright from listening to her own breathing.  She flung her hands back, pulling air deeply into her lungs, listening to the sound of it all around her.  Her back once more announced itself and she stretched, trying to persuade the aching to retreat, she was okay, it was just cramp from sleeping wrong.  Her back wasn’t convinced, but she kept it up, tightening and then flexing her spine, her legs, her arms. Her head hated it, the thrumming increasing, but she wasn’t going to let herself get back into the state she’d just left.  As she stretched her right hand and arm out, moving her shoulder this way, then that, her hand connected with something solid.  She leaned back, tracing the line her hand found: the headboard.  Great, with a little bit of luck, she’d find out where she was.  Following the line of the padded board, she inched around to the edge of the bed.  It seemed to be miles away, but she got there.  Left hand still touching the headboard, right hand on the edge of the mattress.  She lifted her right hand and gingerly stretched it out, into nothingness, fingers splayed, seeking.  There was a bump, and she nearly screamed again, but she’d found what she was looking for.  Her arm had connected with something soft, yet solid, movable.  A lamp shade.  Shifting over a little, both hands examined the shade, which was your normal round sorta-pyramid shape.  The noise of her moving the cover blotted out her breathing.  She found the wooden stem it sat on, and her fingers explored, seeking.   There, under the bulb, where it should be, there was the switch.  It was stiff, and she had to really push to get it on, something she should have thought through a little more, for as light suddenly flooded the room, she screamed and once more fell back onto the bed.  Her eyes, shit her eyes.  She threw her arms over them, to protect them from the light, but it was too late.  Brightness danced in front of her, stabbing the backs of her eyes, hurting more than the headache.  She dug her hands into them, rubbing hard, as if she could rub both pain and after images away.  Shit, why hadn’t she thought of that?  She lay there, convinced she should feel the light through her skin, trying to get her breath back and her eyes back into their sockets.  She turned over, ignoring the agony this caused her back and buried her face in a pillow.  The stabbing lights slowly calmed down, although even with her eyelids closed tight, buried in the pillow, she could see ghostly images as she moved her head. 
Anger began to chase out her panic.  Anger at her own stupidity and whoever had gotten her here, to make such a fool of herself.  She turned and sat up, once more ignoring both back and head, and shifted back till she was leaning on the head board, her hands protecting her eyes.  She forced herself to calm down, to unwrinkle her eyes.  Light was leaking through both her fingers, and her lids, turning everything red.  The ghost of the lamp still danced in front of her.   She held this pose for what seemed like forever, forcing her pupils to adjust, to get used to the partial light getting through to them.  Gradually, she dropped her hands till only her lids protected her.  She blinked, opening her eyes and closing them again, testing their responses.  She turned her face away from the main source, away from the light, so she could look into the shadows on the left hand side of the bed.  It wasn’t comfortable, but it was bearable.  She forced them to open, to adjust.  Blinking away tears, she turned her head slowly, making it come into contact with more of the lamp, so she could see where she was.  The scream that bounced around the walls pierced her, made her jump, made her throat contract with the pain and fear of it.  She didn’t recognise it as her own such was the shock. 
Just by the lamp, there was a man sitting in a chair, looking straight at her.
He allowed himself a small smile then pulled his face back into emptiness.  Would not do to give her too much to work with, would it?
The scream just kept echoing, on and on; she pulled back, scuttling as far away from him as she could.  She stopped only when she knocked into the lamp on the other side of the bed, the crash as it flew back adding to her panic.  Wedged in the corner, her body pushed as far as it could into the soft headboard on one side, the hard edge of a bedside table digging into her back.  The scream just kept on going, filling the room, filling her.  He stared at her, not moving, doing nothing but look.  The voice stood between them, a solid, viscous barrier, carrying her shock and fear, but it couldn’t hold up.  The already bruised and swollen muscles in her throat gave out, the screams became less powerful, more broken, more hoarse.  When they shattered into a wretched moaning, she realised they were hers, that she had been the one screaming, and that it wasn’t achieving anything.  She slowly wound down, a fractured organ running out of air.  Silence crashed around them, her ears ringing with the force of it.  Still, he did nothing but sit and look.
The initial shock was leaving, terror settling in its place.  The silence between them became charged with it, alive with it.  The pains all around her, her throat, her head, her back, became nothing in that awful stillness, as she watched him and he, her.  His gaze upon her was terrible, frightening beyond words.  She was caught between fear of not looking at him, in case he moved, and fear of being seen by him.  In tiny, desperate movements, her eyes began to flit away from him, to and fro, attempting to build a picture, make sense of where she was.  Behind him, in the shadows, there was the outline of a door.  The bed she was on was massive, huge.  He was easily six feet away from her, six feet of bed between them, then a few inches of space from the bed to the chair.  The light from the lamp was actually quite low; there was no sense of colour in the room.  There was only dark and light, although she was sure the sheets were white.  She clutched them to her, they were soft, luxurious.  The touch of them was comforting, reassuring.  The reassurance fled as she thought on this, on the feel of it.  For the first time her eyes dropped to look at herself, her own state.  She was naked.  She was totally naked and her right breast wasn’t covered by the sheet.  With a yelp, she cowered down more, making herself smaller, pulling the sheet up to her chin.  Her hair swung into her eyes, plastering itself to her face.  She pushed her right hand up from under the sheet, pulling her hair back.  It was soaking, soaked through.  Her hair was sodden.  She looked at the hand that had touched it, it was wet, but clear.  Water, not blood.  She had suddenly been afraid that she was covered in blood.  It was sweat, she was covered in her own sweat.  Around her, the sheet was staining where it touched skin.  All at once she could smell it – the stench of her own body.  Sweat and fear, that’s what she smelt of: sweat and fear. 
Joanne Maitland hadn’t known that it was possible to smell of fear.
The thought almost broke her, almost made her close her eyes and slip under the white sheet, not caring what happened as long as she couldn’t see him, didn’t have to admit what was happening.  It was all so wrong, so very wrong.  It was a nightmare, and something was trying to tell her that if she just closed her eyes and slipped under the sheet, all would be well.  All she had to do was close her eyes and go back to sleep, then she’d wake, and the nightmare would be over.  She ignored the voice, the tiny whispering in the back of her mind.  The whispering could shut the fuck up, for nothing, nothing was going to get her to close her eyes with that man looking at her.
He watched the tiny spark in her eye, the glowing heat.  He was entranced, delighted.  Anger, such a very quick show of anger.  This was turning out to be a much better evening’s entertainment than he had hoped for.  Anger at this stage boded very well, very well indeed.
Having decided she wasn’t going to close her eyes, wasn’t going to run away, she returned to checking out her surroundings.  Her looks away from him gradually became more bold, sustained.  A picture was starting to build.  Over in the corner, by the door, ran some sort of unit.  Dressing table perhaps, with a single shelf that ran the end of the room.  Her vision ended where a second lot of drawers began.  Carefully, she turned her head slightly, taking in the line as it grew to become a set of wardrobe doors.  It was harder for her to sense their exact size and shape as she had to keep flitting her eyes back to check on Him.  She couldn’t follow the line all the way through, the angle was wrong.  She returned to looking at what she could see, her captor, for that was undoubtedly what he was.  Still he sat, still he stared.  As if he was made of wax.  She dragged her eyes off him, it was terrifying to keep him in her gaze.  She stared again at the doorway behind him.  The door.  He was between her and it.  Her and the door.  The little voice whispered again.  No way, no friggin’ way.  She wasn’t going to go any closer to him, not even an inch, never mind run right past him.  Her eyes moved off the door, she didn’t even like to look at it, not while that traitorous thought was in her mind.  She flicked back to Him: no change.  She flicked away, once more examining the wall opposite the bed.  On the wall, above the shelf of what might be a vanity unit, there was a drawing, a large one.  She couldn’t see what it was, it was too dark, murky.  But she could see something, could see the glass which protected it.  How hadn’t she noticed it before?  It reflected the room back at her.  Dimly in places, but clear enough to her now adjusted eyes.  In one corner, there was the lamp, his reflection.  Then, a straggle of hair framed by a ghostly image of the headboard; herself.  Next, in the nearest corner of the picture, showing part of the room she could not see, there was a dark rectangle.  A tall dark rectangle that swallowed light utterly.  Her eyes flicked between it, and Him.  It and Him.  The voice was back but this time she was listening.  This time it was making sense.  Sure, she didn’t know where it led.  Sure, it was a slim chance, but it was a chance.  She looked back to him, checking.  He hadn’t moved, hadn’t changed.  She looked one final time at the reflection, sizing it up.  The open doorway was on the same wall as she was, just a little over from the bed.  Had to be, or it wouldn’t be in the reflection.  Seconds, that was all it would take, seconds.  She decided.
The sound of his voice went off beside her like a bomb.  He hadn’t shouted, hadn’t spoken at more than a whisper, but it ruptured her illusion of safety, of the possibility of escape.  She stared at him.
‘Do not leave the bed.’
She saw the lips move, heard the words, but still he was so completely empty, so completely dead.  For a moment she doubted herself, doubted he had spoken.  What if it was her?  What if she was making him up, had imagined his presence, never mind his voice?  The thought scalded her, stole away what little composure she had.  Without thought of it, she was up and off, heading for the doorway.  Away, away, that was all she could think of.  Away.
She tripped on the sheet that was wrapped round her, fell heavily onto the cool floor, found almost no purchase in it.  A scrabble, a frantic scrabble, as she desperately tried to make the doorway just ahead of her.  She kicked the sheet away, bare feet slipping and sliding on the surface of the bedroom.  The darkness was really just ahead of her, the doorway was there, just there.  With a push, she was over the threshold, scrabbling round on all fours, scooting through.  The darkness was complete, she could see nothing once more, feel only the cold slickness underneath her.  She tried to stand, found the door to her right, found the door handle.  On her knees she rose and slammed the door shut, shutting out the light, shutting out Him.  The silence crashed around her again, the darkness.  The sound of rasping laboured breath.  She put her thoughts away from her, to one side, and concentrated on the door.  A door handle, maybe there was a lock, a key?  In the dark she searched, her hands sodden with sweat once more.  Nothing, she found nothing.  Substituting her body for a lock, she turned around, slamming her back against the door, grimacing at the pain it caused.  Sliding down, ignoring more pain, she landed on her bum and pushed.  All she was she put into pushing against that door, feet barely gaining hold on the cold floor.  She’d gone from a sheet between them, to a solid wooden door: she wasn’t giving it up.  As she pushed, feet endlessly slipping on the floor, a thought did occur to her.  It was the little voice again, the tiny echo somewhere in the back of her mind, the one that kept making suggestions, good, bad, fucking dangerous.  You’re not being chased, it said.  Nothing has come after you.  She listened to it despite herself.  All she wanted to do was concentrate on that wonderful solid door, and relish that she couldn’t see Him.  No, that he couldn’t see her!  She was this side, he was the other: it was going to stay that way.  But the voice still niggled, still murmured, still sought to betray her jubilation.  There was no one following her.  There was no weight being pushed against the door.  Nothing.  It sank in, slowly, as the darkness around her did.  She’d made the door because she hadn’t been chased: no one was after her.  This thought slithered in as she continued to press against the door, continued to fight and slip and slide and desperately scrabble for support, something to hold onto to help her block Him out.  No one was after her.  It was just her, and the dark, and her rasping, echoing breath, and not knowing where the hell she was.  Again.
It didn’t take long for tears to start.  The feeling of complete helplessness, of humiliation.  The dark around her once more became a physical thing that pressed down on her, swallowed her.  She fancied she could taste it as it entered her mouth, beat against her eyes.  She screamed, to force the dark away from her, to scare it out of her mouth, away from her eyes.  The scream echoed, empty, hollow, fading.  The sweat had started to pour from her again, rancid, slick; coating everything she touched.  It became harder to stay against the door, to keep her folded legs under her.  The more she tried, the more she slid around, the less hold she had.  In a desperate movement to retain her position, she tried to stand a little, wedge her body harder into the cool frame.  Her feet slid away and she fell, banging her head against the door.  It didn’t hurt that much, but the unexpected motion of meeting something so hard and unyielding, of slipping again and again, of getting nowhere: it all took its toll.  Before she could stop herself, before the voice could tell her this wasn’t a smart idea, she gave up.  Lying on the floor, trying to ignore the wet sucking sounds of her own body, she put her hands over her face and folded herself in.  She didn’t care, she couldn’t care: it was all too much.  All there was were her tears, her terror and the dreadful stench of herself in the dark.  She wasn’t going to play anymore, she was going home.  The crying took her over, her head bowed so her face touched her knees, her hair plastered over her.  She rocked in the sobbing darkness.
He sat, waiting, listening.  He made a bet with himself: an hour, no longer.
She discovered going away was problematic.  She didn’t know how long she had been rocking, how long she had been crying, but slowly, and as surely as when she had woken up, awareness started to reaffirm, force her to take notice of herself.  Once more it started with her back.  What had been a deep aching cramp was now a burning pain, spread up and around from the base of her spine.  Her shoulders were bruised and aching too, adding their own tones to her back pain.  Rocking, it had to be admitted, might have been comforting in some strange way, but it also hurt.  The floor beneath her was no longer cold, but it was hard, hard and raw and pressing into her hip bone.  Her head was filled with cotton wool, hard, impacted cotton wool that weighed her down and made her feel sick.  Her face was just as sore, raw and open from the tears that stung their way endlessly over her skin.  A gob of snot trailed from her nose down her cheek, sliding off into her hair.  It was no good; as soon as she noticed one thing about her body another brought itself to her attention.  She wiped her nose.  Her hands ached, as did her wrists.  Her knees felt raw and bruised, the soles of her feet tender and sore.  Her lungs hurt and her throat felt as if it had been torn out.  She was finding breathing difficult, a situation not helped by her being bent double.  It was no good, the voice was saying, no good at all.  She was just going to have to unfold, stretch out, breathe.  She didn’t want to, didn’t want to admit she was awake, conscious, feeling.  But the feeling part was not open to negotiation, she was feeling entirely too much. 
It hurt to move but there was a great sense of relief, satisfaction, in turning on her back and stretching out. She realised she had been feeling stuffy and over hot, as moving back her head and letting in a great gulp of air, a sense of openness and coolness caressed her mouth and face.  There was also a feeling of dizziness, but it soon passed.  Lying there, spread out on the floor, heat and moisture evaporating off her body, she felt better, better than she had done.  She sucked in the air, grateful for the release, grateful that there was something nice about the world.  The room around her fell into perfect silence as her breathing slowed, calmed, became still.  She concentrated on that for a moment, bringing her world down to the tiny regular movement of air going in, air going out.  Air going in, air going out.  The pains faded for a moment as she felt the air coming in, going out.  The voice started up again.  Started to think ahead, wonder what was going to happen, was she going to stand, was she going to sit?  How had she gotten there?  She pushed this question aside, it wasn’t to be looked at.  She didn’t know why, but just thinking about it made her stomach clench, brought an iron band around her lungs making it difficult to breath.  She searched around for another question, something easier.  The voice accommodated: was she going to lie there for ever till she died of hunger and thirst?  What a dramatic thought, she mused.  To lie here and die of hunger and thirst.  The voice laughed at her, began to talk through the odds of that, given what was on the other side of the door.  This thought galvanised her, made her sit up too quickly, the dizziness almost overwhelming her.  The other side of the door.  He was on the other side of the door.  Shit!
He loved to win bets.  That had made three in a row this evening.  He stood, silently moving towards the door.  His hand reached for the switch.  Soon, very soon.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three     Chapter Four

Chapter 2, Changeling

26 03 2011

Chapter Two

She was aware of a vague feeling of disquiet as they walked across the Square.  She wasn’t quite sure where she was going, what time it was.  Fumbling, she looked at her watch, to be met in turn with his smile and those eyes.  She forgot why she had wanted to know the time, returning his smile and wondering if she was boring him with her chit chat.  He seemed so relaxed in her company and she responded to his confidence.  He hailed a taxi and she found herself staring at the West End as it passed.  She felt warm, rested, secure.  He smiled and nodded at her, patting her hand, caressing her shoulder.  It was all so very wonderful, so very exciting.  To find such a companion by sheer accident, to have such a relaxing evening in the face of the earlier disappointment.  She studied the lights as they passed, wondering if perhaps she’d had a bit too much to drink.  There was something niggling at the back of her mind, something uncomfortable.  She tried to put it away from her as the cab stopped, she didn’t want to lose him for lack of giving him her attention. 
They were in the sudden quiet of a back street.  She smiled as he opened the cab door, inviting her out with a dignified flourish.  He was so romantic.  She thrilled inside, a secret smile of pleasure at the thought.  In the shadow of tall buildings the air was cooler, cleaner.  As he paid the taxi driver and his face bent away from hers, she felt her mind once more straying.  There was something she was worried about, what was it?  It was lost as he smiled again, encouraging her to walk with him.  He opened a door, ushered her in.  There was the faintest scent of citrus, something tangy.   Small, enclosed, yet neither intimate nor comfortable.  Where was she?  It was a lift, moving silently up.  She giggled as she watched the lights on the panel flicker.  Oh dear, she had better not have any more to drink.  She didn’t want to appear sozzled, leave a bad impression.  The disquiet returned as she stood outside a heavy wooden door, her companion pressing buttons on a glittering steel panel.  Something about what he was doing made her realise how expensive the door was.  Expensive doors were heavy, solid: immovable.  That door was expensive. 
She turned, to look back for the lift, see if she could work out where she was.  His hand reached down and touched her chin, pulled it gently towards him.  He kissed her then, for the first time, and the ground swayed under her feet.  Oh yes, this was it, this was it!  He was the one, the one she had been waiting for, longing for.  She smiled, leaned into him, felt his clothing against her.  Smooth, sensual.  The door opened and she was walking inwards, his hand gently covering the small of her back.  She could feel his coolness through her dress, excitement flooding her.  She took a step forward, hesitated, stopped.   Something was wrong, something was very wrong.  It was dark where they were heading.  She turned, to move back, but his hand was on her shoulder, cool and demanding, what was it she wanted to say?  She opened her mouth to speak, and he was there again, kissing her, swallowing her up.  There really wasn’t anything wrong; it was all rather exciting.  She was as light as a feather, dancing, being carried through the air by his charm.  Pale colours flowed around her, lights moving as they walked.  The stars above her head were swirling, dancing with them as they moved.  Dark green splashes of colour whizzed by.  Her head lolled back, losing contact with his body.  He tipped her forward again, and she snuggled onto his shoulder.  This was so very fine, so very very fine.

The feel of the bed coming up from under her sent the warnings ringing out again.  That was what was wrong, had been wrong since the restaurant; those damn bells.  When were they going to stop that damned clanging?  She tried to sit up.   A mouth fastened over hers, drew out her breath, pulled at her, tugged something from her.  What was she doing?  All she could focus on was the cool mouth that was draining her of warmth.  No, that wasn’t right, she was enjoying this.  His mouth on hers, drawing, sucking.  Imagined so many times before, she knew it was to have been warm, comforting.   Not cool.   But this mouth was cool, almost cold.  Her surprise at that thought almost surfaced, but at the same time a hand started a soft, circular caress on her right breast.  Joanne found her senses slipping into the heat and drive of the man floating somewhere above her.  There was that cool mouth again, his salty taste, his hands, rough but welcomed, so very welcomed.  His mouth lifted away from her, leaving her empty.   Disappointment shook her body, she moved to follow after him.  A tongue rested lightly on her neck, teasing, a hand moving over her stomach, rubbing downwards, pushing her back on the bed.  Her trembling intensified.  She had never imagined it could be like this.  Back car fumblings and quick passions in parents’ beds, hurried to make sure they weren’t caught, had never been like this.  This was what she’d waited for, dreamed for.  This is what she’d known was in her path, one day.  No silly stationary cupboard humping for her: no office tensions had yet caused her to drop her standards.  Her body caught fire, the sharp, contracting pain in her groin catching her by surprise.  The pain was intense, as she curled around the thought of loving him, being breached by him.  She groaned and arched her back, truly slipping beyond her own awareness.  There was only that tight, cutting pain, the burning in her breasts, the need for more.  Her legs opened. 
Although it had been a long time since Dreyfuss had loved physically with a woman, he had not forgotten the art of seduction.  On whimsy, he excited the young woman beneath him, pulling out from her responses she had not known were hidden within her.  He could feel her awareness, her excitement; it was this that served to pleasure him.  He stroked and petted her, kissed and caressed, till the fire that was upon her, was upon him.  Her complete physical acceptance touched him, was pleasing to him.  She was an open book, and he could read her language with ease.  There was a vulnerability that teased at him, made him feel protective and paternalistic.  He had wanted to play, and in her trust found a game of innocence and beguilement.  An odd taste for the evening, but the palette responded well to change.  He waited until she was almost sated, when the scent of her salt and musk flooded him: then he moved.  Centring his mouth along the vein which coiled around the base of the neck, he kissed her hard, sucking, biting, bringing her blood up to meet him.  The sharp piercing pain as he opened her was lost in her climax, in the sudden hot flush to his mouth.  Salt and heat as he filled himself.  The first rush of pleasure over, he drew slowly; swallowing: savouring.   All ceased to exist apart from his mouth, its convulsions, the endless stream that he drew up into himself.  Her blood was incredibly rich, loaded with the earlier meal.  The alcohol he had pushed upon her coming back up to meet him, warming him.  Soon, all that she was would be his, and it would be a fine moment for them both.  She would die in ecstasy, a rare gift in this world, and he would live by her sacrifice, satisfied with what she had offered.  He fell into her blood and drank.
Fire exploded all through her.  There was nothing but heat and flame and the enveloping waves that pulsed from her groin.  Everything was washed ahead in the wave of pleasure, so intense it was akin to pain, ripping through her.  She felt herself cry out, her spine convulsing, her legs jerking, her throat tightening.  There was nothing; nothing but the long, slow flow of blood pulsing through her.  She throbbed in its wake, the heat subsiding.    She longed for rest, for safety.  Everything in her wished to relax and give herself up to that binding, to the warmth that filled her.  To fall into the sleep offered her.  That sated, resting sleep.  To heal herself upon its joy.  She sought the sleep, sought the rest.  Reaching out with her mind, she tried desperately to pull it down with her, bring it with her into her dreams.
She shivered.  Shivered again.  Somewhere, somehow, she was cold.  She could feel the cold.  It fell upon her, swallowing her.  Swallowing her heat, eating her dreams.  She fought the cold, tried to move back to that feeling, that feeling of belonging and completion.  It slipped away from her. She moaned, muttered, moved, protested.  She wanted the feeling back, and she was not going to go until it came with her.
Movement jolted him, impinging upon the scent in his nostrils.  Under him, the body had tensed, was trying to throw him off.  How amusing; that had been the least expected of reactions.  Remedy was swift and effective.  He felt a surge of power as he further opened the wound, her essence flooding him, sending him flying into the night, soaring through the darkness.  He could hear her heart falter as pressure dropped, veins beginning to slurry.  There, teasing in the back of his mind, he could sense her death, waiting for him to finish his pleasure.  He pulled her closer, eagerly awaiting her final gift.  Then, from nowhere, as the life’s flow was at its sweetest, he was without blood: without source.  His vision cleared and the dreaming fell from him.  He blinked, bringing the room back into focus.  She was standing there, pale, beside the bed.  Blood flowed freely from the gash that the leaving of him had torn across her neck.  She was shaking, not from fear, from fury.
Her eyes blazed at him: how dare he, how dare he! 
Dreyfuss sat up and stared at the being who had defied him when he was in full feed.  He looked at the girl, her life flowing from her neck, oozing onto the floor.  She was a pale and empty little thing, not even fully aware of her own needs.  He smiled into her shaking eyes, lifted his hand to her, inviting their reunion.  She took a step back, so fast she almost stumbled and fell.  It was his turn to stare, to wonder.  It was slow to build, lost as he had been in the feeding, but anger at her defiance entered the game.  He shook his hand again, repeating the invitation, a warning about refusal openly given.
She stared at him, horror growing in her eyes: she was breaking the thrall.  His eyes narrowed in annoyance.  Open panic filled her features, she turned to flee.
His hand snaked out instinctively, grabbing her by the hair, yanking her back to the bed, back to his embrace.  She whirled round and slapped him across the face.  The tide of his own anger lit out from him, fast and bright.  Releasing her hair he pulled back his arm, the blow sending her away, to land heavily against the wall.  She crumpled and lay still.  To defy him, at the moment of their shared ecstasy?  To raise a hand to him?  She would die in pain for reward. 
Catching her up, he fastened again on her throat, intent on sucking her dry.  His hands held her fast, fingers dug deeply into flesh too spent to bruise.  The torn throat gave him easy purchase and he set to devour all she had, all she had ever been.  Even then, almost dead, wrung like a cloth, she groaned, moving against him.  He felt the bitterness of her rebellion on his tongue.  He pulled back, spoiled for her.  He reached for her neck, a quick snap and she would be gone forever.  His hands enclosed her, seeking to find the right spot, where vertebrae would be easiest pushed apart from vertebrae. Still she protested, fought his actions.  Her hand had risen to weakly push him off, fight him away.  He grasped it and pulled it away, back under her own body.  What strength was left in her was used to arch her back, giving off her message: fight, no matter how trapped you are; fight.  He smiled and leaned down to kiss her.  Somewhere, in the haze of her dying, she noticed him, and whispered up to him.
‘Fuck you.’
The words barely made it out of her mouth such was her weakness.  My, he thought, such language from an innocent!  He let her loose, grinning at her stubbornness.  Some things were eternal, after all.  Spirit such as this was rarely found, never mind uncovered so surprisingly.  A part of him was pleased to have found a little savage in a cheap white dress.  Without much thought for it he picked her up and tossed her back on the bed, the action more to do with an innate sense of tidiness than anything else.  In the roots of his mouth an ache was building.  He had been roused by her, his instincts kindled.  Nothing would substitute for a full life, not now.  The thirst was upon him, and he would quench it.  He changed quickly, abandoning her gore for cleaner clothing.  She would probably bleed to death before he returned. 
The catching was easy, there were many who walked the streets in search of love, or death.  When he raised his head he realised that her anger was still upon him.  There was no throat left to the boy who had courted him, thinking only to find food for the night.  Well food was what had been found, if not to his precise liking.  He dropped the empty flesh onto the rails of Earl’s Court tube station.  Another suicide, or fumbling mishap.  London was used to that.
He returned home on foot, enjoying the night air and sense of freedom.  The scents from the park beguiled him as he slipped past the shadow of the Albert Hall, disappearing out of the streets as effortlessly as he had emerged.  After washing he retired, falling into a deep and dreamless sleep.  When he rose in the middle afternoon he felt surprisingly rested.  Light and alert.  Active.  As the coffee percolated, he went to check on his guest.  To his surprise, she was still alive.  The bruising on her jaw was minimal as there had been little blood within her to damage.  She and the bed were splattered with dark brown splodges of dead blood; a shocking waste.  What to do with her?  Strangely, he had no instinct on the matter.  Dreyfuss was mostly instinct.  To survive as he survived, he had to be.  He mused upon his own lack of immediate direction: a Dreyfuss without purpose was a strange and curious thing.  He returned to his own bedroom and studied the matter.
As he showered, it occurred to him that the decision may be taken out of his hands.  Returning to her room, which was a curious way for his mind to put it given how many had occupied it before her, he checked her pulse and blood pressure.  A choice had to be made.  To let her die, and end the matter, or allow her life?  That was a nonsense, for she was meat as he looked at her.  Dead was dead.  The issue was when, not if.  But something about that stubbornness had surprised him.  Surprise in a life such as his was precious: unexpected bounty.  Perhaps he’d kill her tomorrow?  Regardless, she would die when he said so, not before.
He made a quick phone call. An hour later a courier delivered ten units of basic saline, plasma and sterile equipment.  He set a drip, inserting the valve into the back of her hand quickly and cleanly.  He refrained from polluting her with any drugs: if she’d been going to go under it would have happened before now.  Wary of leaving her unconscious with a needle in her arm, he phoned his apologies through to the golf club; someone else would have to deliver the after dinner speech.  Thinking that through, he contacted his second in command: things would have to run without him for a few days.  He’d attend to any urgent mail that came into his study but apart from that, he was not to be disturbed.  Well used to this, Gerald signed off in eager anticipation of a week in which he could call the shots. 
Filling a bowl with tepid water and antiseptic, Dreyfuss attended to her neck.  With all the gunge off, the tear was less than he had thought.  Pressing the ragged edges together long enough to stop the fresh weeping, he carefully applied four paper stitches, sealing the mess with his own blood.  Then he cut her dress and knickers off, sponging her down with cool water, remaking the bed around her.  Rechecking her pulse and respiration he adjusted the flow of the drip and switched the light off as he went.  He made a light snack of steak and eggs, settling down to watch a movie in peace.
Her dry coughing woke him from the rather pleasant slumber that he had slipped into.  He had been dreaming of Eléan; which was unusual, for he had not dreamt of her in years.  In the dream, she was calling to him, with that wicked half grin on her sly face.  The call in the dream became the cough of his guest: he roused himself.  She was half conscious, drifting in the way of those lost in the fight to waken.  He gave her a few sips of water, checking her vital signs.  She was fine, more or less, and he took out the drip.  He needed to sleep, and she would be in the way, so he filled her veins with sedative.  He went to bed and dreamed another dream of Eléan.
Looking in on her the next morning he was satisfied to see she had responded well to the enforced slumber.  Her fatigued body was slowly recovering from the added stress of their encounter.  Her mind wasn’t happy with the arrangement, her twisting and turning had pulled the sheet out from under her, but her skin tone was improved greatly.  He shot her through once more with enough sedative to keep her under for a few more hours.  His body ached from lack of activity and he felt in need of more work out than could be achieved on his home equipment.  It wouldn’t do to have her up and around, screaming and pathetic when he returned from the gym.  Without thought of it, his hands drifted over her body in more than a clinical assessment of injury.  He hesitated over her breasts, slowly dragging his fingers over her left nipple.  It sprung to life, reacting to his touch.  He smiled, that sense of complete possession as sweet as ever.  For whimsy, he brought the other to attention by the merest of touch of his breath.  Sensing his invasion, she pulled away, a frightened moan escaping her lips.  His smile deepened as he reached once more for the sedative.  He pushed her so far under he heard her heart slow, her breathing hesitate, before settling into shallow swoops.  He pinched her hard, on the fold under her arm: nothing.  Lifting a lid he touched her eye: nothing.  The smile that slipped from his lips as his hands travelled down to her groin was nothing short of a gloat: it was always so easy.  The pleasure in digging his fingers deep inside her was not the pleasure of invasion, for that was a pleasure that palled all too quickly.  It was the complete absence of awareness in her slack face, the total surrender of her limbs that enthralled him.  She had no clue as to what was happening to her.  He dug around, pushing the dry warm flesh this way and that, until it filled with moistness and expanded.  He stabbed his rigid fingers into her cervix: nothing.  All that was in her world, now, was his will.  Even when she was unconscious, all she was, was his.  Satisfied, he cleaned his fingers on the bedding and left.
He enjoyed the walk through the back streets to the gym he favoured for swimming.  Most of the weights and running equipment was too light-weight, but the pool was almost perfect.  He mulled the situation over as he pushed himself endlessly through the water, length after length ripped in two and left behind him.  Which was the more sustained pleasure, the subtle yet silent power of the invisible, or the more immediate involvement of fear and struggle?  It was an eternal question, one that he never truly managed to answer.  For as he indulged in one, the other would entice his mind, beguiling him with the promise of more: a longer lasting satisfaction, a sharper and sweeter joy.  It was a dilemma that shaped much of his life, that pushed and pulled at many layers of his living.  Even now, as he changed back to the butterfly, it teased at him, took his mind off the rhythm of his stroke.  For strength, he preferred to work out at home, where prying eyes could not react to the dead weights he could so easily conquer.   He could pile the pressure onto his body, fighting his own limitations, testing out his mind’s strength in complete secrecy: no awareness of watchful humans to slow his responses and advise caution.  Stamina however was always a public sport.  No pleasure there unless observed, no triumph unless the bested stood in front of him, wheezing and shaking in their defeat.  Five of the gym’s finest had slowly watched as he turned again and again, each length timed exactly to match the previous.  In stamina he was only slightly more than they, each turn meting out as much punishment on him as it did them: yet he never lost.  Three had taken his silent challenge today, and two were spent and useless, fighting for breath at the pool’s edge.  He gloried in their weakness, their lack.  The one still struggling on and on with him, ploughing a now straggly furrow in his wake, was going to drop out soon: the switch to butterfly had seen to that. 

He smiled as he tucked under once more, kicking softly against the edge, unwilling to allow his strength to gain him advantage.  The victory would be his fairly; there was the joy.  The only pain was that it would soon be time to move on, find new territory.  Few accepted the silent challenge anymore, too much defeat etched in their faces.  A new club with a well sheltered pool would have to be found.  New meat to be taunted with his pale and slender body.  New muscle bound fools to pitch against him, to be fired up by his feet kicking dust in their eyes as he passed.  He mused on the pleasures in his life as he dried, aware that today’s prize had been bought for him by his sleeping playmate.  The joys had once more begun to drain out of his life, slowly, almost unnoticed.  The taste of her defeat had awakened him, brought life back to a jaded palate.  A few days off work to play, to sport: that was just what he needed.  What a gift he would give her, letting her final days serve his greater needs.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three   Chapter Four

Chapter 1, Changeling

17 03 2011

As we’re now in the run down to publication, the next thee Sample Sundays will be the first three chapters.  Whole.  Enjoy.  🙂

Chapter One

The door slammed shut with the deadened finality that comes with the emptying of a living space.  Silence filled in behind her, flooding the rooms with despair.  The air in her bedroom, thick with deodorant, hairspray, floral shower gel and perfume, settled into scented layers around the debris of her work clothes.  The cat, nonchalant about her absence now it had been fed, climbed onto the front room window sill, looking out on its domain of kebab shops and off licences.  Endless traffic piled the corners, hooting and groaning as it snuffed along, pouring stink into the already sickly late afternoon air.  It felt more like the middle of September, than that of April.  The cat preferred the view over the back windows, endless roofs, tantalising birds and other cats to snarl at.  It would wait until the acrid chemical smells in the other room faded, before proceeding to settle in its usual spot, angled out to the inner square of the backs of the houses.  It would mewl and scratch fruitlessly on the glass at the outside wild life: desperate to be free to attack, to chase.  Or so it thought.  Once, a pigeon had settled on an open window sill in the summer’s heat, and the poor cat, comfortable and safe in its window glass world, had hissed in fright.  It was so big, so aggressive, compared to the small fluttering victims of its day dreams, tiny and fragile on the roof spars opposite.  The bird had eyed him coldly, without fear.  The cat had hissed and growled its warning, but it had had no effect.  It was a stand off until the bird flew away, unruffled.  Since then, the cat went into a frenzy any time a bird landed on the other side of the window.  The other side of the closed window.
Had she known it was the last time she’d abandon both the cat, and her flat, she might have washed the dishes.  As it was, she had rushed around the flat, ignoring the smell from the sink.  That morning, as she’d fallen out of bed to find that only her best suit was wearable, she’d planned to come in tonight and clean, ridding her life of the guilt the week had scattered around her.  The resolution had been spurred on by the blissful thought of a Saturday morning lie in.  A pristine flat all around her, requiring no effort on her behalf.  Her change of plans, however, had left her with less than twenty minutes to bathe and change: she had once more ignored the chaos. Stopping only to throw some biscuits in the bowl (tinned food stank the place out) she vowed her allegiance to the hum drum of living; tomorrow.  She’d do it all tomorrow.  Clean out the cat litter, empty the bins, do the laundrette run and find her bedroom carpet under the skin of peeled off clothes that she kicked out of her way to find a matching shoe. Tomorrow would be good enough, and Sunday morning would be the sweet spot, as she lay in bed wondering how to fill a lazy day.  She grabbed her keys and ran, heading off down the stairs at full pelt.
After four days unexplained absence, during which all answer phone messages had been ignored, her boss finally called the mother of her erstwhile assistant.  Mrs Maitland, to the embarrassment of all concerned, exploded into tears at the thought of her only child’s fate.  A day later, after some hemming and hawing, the police were called, forcing open the flat in absence of anyone with a spare key.  They found the dishes partially in the sink, partially on the floor, courtesy of an exceptionally hungry cat.  The cat took its revenge on the probationary policewoman, leaving a trail of claw marks across her cheek.  The sergeant, who had cautioned against such inappropriate action, handed a clean handkerchief over and called in the RSPCA.  Their elbow length leather gauntlets would handle the animal, which had conveniently hidden itself inside the fold down couch in the living room cum kitchenette.  He had never had any truck with people who took free ranging creatures and locked them into tiny fourth floor flatlets, or patted them as if human sentimentality could mitigate a completely empty stomach.  He left his charge dabbing at the blood and had a good look round.
There was a strong whiff of cat in the air.  Cat sick, and well developed litter tray.  Having scoured both rooms of what little food there was, the cat had evidently chewed through the motley crew of long suffering pot plants scattered awkwardly around, subsequently throwing up with abandon.  Splotches on the carpet and furnishings tracked its comings and goings, mostly goings.  It was a very annoyed cat, he had no doubt of that.  The smell was one that the sergeant could easily stomach, was greatly relieved by, given what else there might have been in evidence, both of the girl’s disappearance and the cat’s subsequent hunger.  As it was, there was no sign of the girl.  The usual clutter of single living met his eyes; the fridge testament to the overall lack of care, or comfort, this young woman had afforded herself.  Diet drinks, weeks’ dead salad, a dehydrated lump of cheese, rancid low fat spread and half a mouldy loaf.  Two bottles of white wine and half a carton of milk, long turned to cheese.  The bin, before it had been dragged around the floor, had been stuffed with various take away containers and two empty bottles of wine.  She preferred Chinese, apparently, as the Chinese was six doors down, after the chip shop and the kebab house.  On the other hand, the Chinese was first if you were walking back from the tube.  The cupboard had several packets of fat free powdered soups, all well past their sell by date.  The usual collection of tins and half a bottle of cheap vodka.  The vodka had dust on the edges: no clues there then.  The bread bin was stuffed with chocolate biscuits and crisps.  The cramped and musty shower room gave evidence of the usual obsessions with creams and lotions, all feminine in nature.  Nothing in the cabinet to suggest any other bad habits, not even the pill.  The toilet bowl itself was clean and shiny, which confirmed his opinion.  Make up was scattered out over the tiny table that served for a make shift dressing area, but that could have been the cat.  The bed was single, unmade and rented out old.  The sheets looked clean and the duvet was brightly coloured and newish looking.  The clothes spread out on the floor were the formal side of business casual, the shoes impeccably heeled and well cared for.  All the used knickers were in a laundry basket, but the bras were spread around.  She used panty liners.
An ironing board filled up the tiny space on the other side of the bed, with an expensive iron on the floor beside it.  Not the cat this time, as it had been carefully placed to cool out of harm’s way.  For all the chaos in the room, an expensive jacket in dark blue hung impeccably on the back of the door.  A matching skirt had been hanging in the shower room, obviously left to steam out its wrinkles.  The tiny fragrance bottle by the bed was pricey but affordable enough to have been a present to herself.  A secretary, the report had said.  The flat screeched up and coming PA at him; with three daughters of his own, he was wise enough to know the difference.  The probationer sniffed around after him as he called in the details, heeding his warning to touch nothing.  She crumpled her nose in disdain at the mess, and smell.  She’d learn.  She’d learn bloody fast.  A double duty of nights in the riot months of summer and her no doubt currently pristine room back at the police house would look the same.  He logged the time and complete lack of evidence in any direction.  Her suitcases were on top of the wardrobe, and the drawers filled with underwear, clothing and two sex toys.  A vibrating egg and slim finger sized vibrator.  This made it extremely unlikely she’d just walked away.  He finished his report and sighed: this didn’t feel a good one, not at all. 

A week of searching saw Joanne Maitland’s neatly typed details logged and filed, the case unofficially closed.  She was lost somewhere in the mystery that the city became at these times, her disappearance overshadowed by a sensational libel case and another marital dispute over at the House of Windsor.   Mrs Maitland, crumpled and creased from the jostled and chaotic trip South, shed her tears for the camera, wailing a little at Fleet Street’s seeming indifference.  Had a paparazzo photograph of a distraught Princess of Wales not stolen the morning headlines, a little more might have been made of her one shot appearance on the evening news.  As it was, London lifted its head in grief for a split second, returning to business as usual by close of trading.  Jo, oblivious to the future of her good name, left behind a less than fitting epitaph in the form of her last confirmed sighting.  Breathless, half in her jacket, red from the run, she had stood and watched the tube she had just missed hurtle down into the depths of Archway station. 

‘Shit!’ is what she had said, loudly, as she stalked up and down the platform. ‘Shit!’

It had been another vile day.  Too much work, not enough time.  Fridays were always her worst day, not the usual Blue Monday of office worker fame.  Friday was the day she’d be in such a rush that she would skip breakfast completely, her Monday good intentions on sensible eating abandoned sometime around Wednesday.  Friday breakfast usually joined Thursday dinner as a non-event.  Friday break would find her stuffing chocolate biscuits down her throat as quickly as she could, her now up and running body desperate for anything that looked and acted remotely like a calorie.  If she was lucky, and this Friday she hadn’t been, lunch was a sandwich and a doughnut, washed down with lukewarm coffee.  Every Monday she began a perfect routine of fruit for breakfast and break, with peppermint tea to wash her virtue down.  She would smile sweetly at the others as they moaned about the coffee machine being broken again, as she waited for her tea bag to infuse.  By Wednesday she was beginning to think maybe she should phone through for a new machine herself, as she waited for the damn thing to gurgle out more tepid caffeine.  Friday always found her deciding that she’d damn well put the order through as urgent as soon as she had a minute on Monday, as she sent out an order for a massive triple mocha from the coffee shop on the high street. 

Minutes were Friday’s real problem: there were not enough of them.  Work that had not seemed too important and could be put back for a day or two, suddenly had to be cleared and logged out of the office before the weekend.  Logged and cleared by her, for she’d learnt, as had her boss, that if she didn’t do it personally, it sometimes wasn’t done.  Friday nights usually saw her pegged on the couch, having missed the soaps again, picking the topping off an extra large pizza, a bottle of plonk for company and a tub of ice cream melting in the sink, awaiting her pleasure.  Fridays she was fit for nothing but collapse and retreat. 
This Friday had been a Friday from hell.  The end of financial year accounts about to be closed and set.  She hadn’t even got to the chocolate biscuits ‘til after 2.  The phone never stopped, the fax machine had over spilled twice and her boss had looked at her with one of those looks.  The ‘I know you are so very busy and you are so very competent, but can I please have the report on my desk now’ looks.  Yes, she loved the bustle.  Yes, she was good enough to do everything well, no matter how busy it got.  Yes, it was great fun.  Sometimes.  But it wasn’t really her job to do all of it and it was about time someone recognised that.  They’d almost had words, Jo backing down at the last moment when the phone had rung once more, embroiling her in another minor crisis in the photocopying room.  She had sent out for coffee and a sandwich, but either they had never arrived, or she hadn’t noticed them in the mêlée.
She had felt defeated when it was all sorted out, not exultant so, when the usual shout had gone up about where and when the office was congregating for party mode, she’d listened.  She rarely joined in with the Friday night extravaganza that the bosses actively encouraged the staff into.  She was always late, always tired, and found getting it down and boogying with the others a waste of time.  Today, however, had been different.  All she wanted to do was go out and get absolutely smashed out of her skull.  Forget it all and start the weekend in bed, too past it to care about anything.  She may even get laid, or try to.  The safety of getting drunk in the company of her fellow workers stood against her managing a little horizontal jogging.  Embarrassed encounters over work areas on Monday mornings were not her idea of fun.  Not that she’d ever had such an encounter, but it might happen yet.  There was a Northern chill to her backbone that usually saw to it that nothing squidgy happened, despite her fantasies.  Perhaps tonight, she’d shuck off the puritanical streak she hadn’t realised was part of her until she moved to London.
Unprepared for a night out, she’d made the decision to leave some of the work undone and rush back home to change.  With luck and the right connections, she would meet up with the others as they made their way across London to catch a boat that was going to let them drink themselves sick as it drifted along the Thames.  Experience had shown that this was very convenient, both for throwing up discreetly, and for controlling who had access to you in a ‘fragile’ state.  With the train now hurtling away from her into the darkness, there was a good chance she was going to be late.  Thankfully, the next train popped up quickly, although she was going to have to change at Leicester Square, which suited her well enough as she didn’t have that much cash on her.  Her temper had cooled as she stopped off to pick up money from the hole in the wall.  Folding the notes into her purse, she allowed the chiming of the nearby Swiss Centre to register the time with her, bursting the bubble of her self-delusion.  It was too late.  She had missed the launch, they’d be heading downstream by the time she got there.  She didn’t have one jot of a clue as to where it was picking up along the route, should have listened better as they all chattered about who was wearing what, who was gunning for whom. 
She fought back the irrational prick of tears that threatened to engulf her, concentrating on what she wanted to do now.  She was dressed for fun, she was in the right part of town.  She had money in her purse and the night, if not the evening, was still young.  She couldn’t face returning to her flat so soon after rushing out of it, all caught up with the idea that she had somewhere to go.  Unnoticed by the crowds she slipped into the first decent looking pub she found.  A quick glass of wine, some time to calm down.  A meal, maybe a movie.  Something of the evening would be salvaged.  Besides, she’d be so much safer on her own.

Restlessness had brought him out onto the streets earlier than usual.  The day had been hot; sticky and close.  There was a fine drawing of his nerves building; a faint twitch.  He cruised the bars from Soho down to the Square, scanning the eager young faces he passed.  It was too early  for the true desperates to be abroad.  He wondered where they went in the city centre bustle between the hours of the commuter’s rush and the emptying of the bars.  The young and helpless, tricking the night away to fill their bellies and their veins.  The air was grey and stale, not heavy enough to call with it rain.  Deep and dark enough that it lay in layers around him.  The scents caught by each step forward drummed the sense of city into his bones.  Sweat, concrete, cheap perfume.  The sharp and noxious odour of urine, splashed carelessly behind bins and crates.  Dark alleyways completely overlooked by the tourists.  Rotting vegetables and rubbish caught in the trap of the gutter, wind brushing all to the corners of the streets.  Noise assailed him from the edges of Chinatown, ancient spices and herbs drifted out to him from the apothecary’s shelves.  Tonight was not a night for easy prey, swift endings.  Tonight, he was in the mood for fun.

The pub was packed and she’d found her way to both the bar, and an empty table, with a lot of pushing and jostling.  The table was crowded with bottles and had an overflowing ashtray.  She edged it away, wrinkling her nose in distaste.  The table was tiny, a fake hardboard top over a fake beer barrel.  There was only one stool but she’d be nearer the door where there was a sense of fresher air to be found.  Squeezing into a gap in the heaving bodies around her she settled into the seat, ruefully reflecting that the fresher air from outside was just as cloying, if somewhat drier than the sweat and lager laden fug around her.  She scanned her somewhat sketchy memory of the area for rememberings of a good restaurant.  One with air conditioning.
The street was a small one, lined with pubs and wine bars.  The prices in each varied greatly.  He’d learnt that such a range offered interesting possibilities.  He took his time, savouring the appearance and demeanour of everyone around him.  There was a tow-headed young man, a boy really, sitting on one of the cheap plastic seats outside a cafe.  He looked as if he’d just been jilted, his eyes staring intently at the label of the bottle he held.  He almost didn’t fit the new jeans he was wearing, his shoes scuffed and rather more worn than looked cool.  Promising.  Next door, a wine bar with pretensions of glamour.  The woman taking advantage of the dim light of an alcove was in her late forties.  High quality make up sought to cover the lines and wrinkles of excess, powder clogging her pores, eye shadow making pretence of much younger looks.  Good clothing, bag and matching shoes.  Expensive perfume barely masking stale body odour.  Dark roots just peeping into view.  There was a harshness, a nervousness about her.  Eyes constantly roaming, searching, eager.  Her hands were never still, the rings surrounding her fingers twisted and turned this way and that.  She brought her hand up to her face regularly, hiding, entreating.  He savoured her plight, how easily she would be caught.  He shook his head, not for this evening, although he may return at a later date, not doubting that this was a favourite haunt. 
The boy had gone when he returned to the street, his place taken by three giggling girls, their almost skirts not quite matching their almost tops.  Make up applied with more enthusiasm than skill, their flesh tones lost in a jumble of clashing shades and colours. Long gangling limbs embraced in cheap bangles and bracelets, shoes all bought in a sale.  A vestige of some shared shopping spree no doubt.  He smiled at them as he passed, evoking shrieks of delight and raucous comment on his intentions.  The smile was genuine as he savoured the raw scents they spread around him.  Musk, heat, and the fresh tang of just washed flesh exerting its own perfume over that of soap and deodorant.  He mellowed into the chase, thoroughly enjoying the pace and selection the evening had so far offered.  He tipped them a wink and moved on, relishing the sounds as he passed them by.

Jo found her glass of wine soothing.  It had a sour taste, kept overlong in a bottle behind the bar, but the alcohol warmed her blood.  It was a stupid thing to do, get so frazzled, just for another pointless office party.  She studied those around her, making guesses at who they were and what they did for a living.  The main performer in a tightly woven pack of young men looked over at her and winked.  She smiled, dropping her head to look at her glass.  When she looked up he was engaged in another tall tale, his mates well on the road to joining him in a night of excess.  A small part of her was disappointed that she’d been dismissed so easily, laughing the slight off with a quick toss of her head.  A gesture for a mythical companion who was at the bar buying the next round, or weaving his way back from the Gents.  A clear signal for the one who’d passed her over so quickly.  It didn’t make her feel better; it made her feel worse, more aware of how vulnerable she was feeling.  It was stupid to take it to heart, she was alone after all.  No matter the attraction, the guy who had winked would have only broken ranks to approach her if she had been surrounded by her mates.  Something for them all to get their teeth into.   Shares for everyone, that was the pack rule.  As she drained the glass her stomach announced its immediate rebellion.  She must eat, must fill the void.  Collecting her jacket and bag, she rose to leave.
The glimpse of white caught his eyes as he scanned the packed pub from outside.  Too many people was as dangerous as too few.  He preferred to analyse the opportunities from the large display windows theme pubs were beginning to build into their decor.  She was in her early twenties, fading tan bought from a machine.  Hair an untidy mop of curls, a better perm than it looked, dried with less care than the style demanded.  She’d had it trapped up all day, released it without washing, the ridges from the clasps still evident.  Her hair and eyes were the same warm colour of earth.  Nothing too exciting, but a nice complement to her facial skin, which was paler than the rest of her.  She read the magazines, this one.  Knew to keep sun away from her face, even as she allowed it domain over her body.  Make up had been hastily applied, the dress showed signs of a recent hanging in a crowded wardrobe.  The single ring on her right hand was no more than a cheap silver memento of a Greek package tour. There was a drowsiness around her: fatigue.  Her head came up and eyes made contact with someone else in the crowd, her smile warm and inviting.  The movement of dropping her head to coyly study her glass entranced him.  She was both naive and aware, testing her way along the path of the evening.  Her face hardened as she realised she’d been overlooked, her head shaking away the slight.  Look what you’ve missed, she was saying, look what you passed up.  He smiled.

The air was slightly clearer as she left the bar, although it was still too warm, too old.  As if it had been used too much that day, been dragged in and out of many sets of lungs.  The greying light was losing its unequal battle with the electric lights all around, the street leached of its colour.  It left a chill on her, made her feel transient, transparent.  She really had to get some food.  She perused a series of windows, ostensibly checking prices, really having a good look inside to see who was sitting down, what sort of feel the place had.  Too many places were packed, overflowing with good cheer and heated bodies.  Almost in desperation she headed for the Steak House on the other side of the Square.  It was a tourist place, overpriced and stuffy.  It would not be cool to have admitted eating there from choice but the green velvet booths would give her some space, the air conditioning respite from the now expected early summer.  There was a small queue, which she didn’t mind.  Other places had far larger queues and she quite enjoyed the wait, watching the life and colour return to the Square as natural light retreated and the neon took over.  As she reached the head of the queue the maitre’d raised his head and smiled to the right of her.

‘For two, sir?’

Startled, she turned to find a man standing slightly to one side.  His face registered his own confusion at the question.  Flustered, he looked first to Joanne, then back to the maitre’d. 

‘The lady is not with me.’ He caught her gaze again and smiled at her. ‘Unfortunately.’ 

She grinned back at him in thanks for the compliment.  He raised his arm, to allow her full access to the head of the queue and the now impatient staff. 

‘A single, madam?’ 

The voice betrayed his feelings on one of his precious tables being given over to a single occupant on a Friday night.  She nodded.  He looked past her again, to the gentleman whom he’d mistaken for her companion.

‘And you, sir, a single also?’ 

The second nod of the head sent him in a scurry of disdain as he searched through the room for evidence of two small tables about to come free. 

‘It may be some time… unless…?’

The maitre’d allowed the word to hang in the air, hoping the two dim and sad people cast upon his restaurant on a busy evening would come to their senses.  Joanne started to fidget, unprepared to deal with such complications.  The man stepped into the breach, silencing the sighs of exasperation that were beginning to make their way up the ever lengthening queue.  He stood forward, side by side with her, acting as if both the maitre’d and the queue had disappeared. 

‘I would be honoured if you would join me for dinner.’ 

His smile won her, the touch of self deprecation in his humour, the secret he was sharing with her that anything was worth getting out from under the eyes of the officious man whose evening they were disrupting.  Even so, she hesitated. 

‘I promise I will not bite,’ he whispered to her, as she looked around for good reason to turn him down, ‘not unless you ask me to.’ 

The humour in his voice reached her again.  She looked at the crowding room, the maitre’d, the queue.  She was hardly at risk.  Smiling what she hoped was gracious acceptance, she allowed them to be seated together.  Where was the harm?

She soon came to see that harm might have been preferable to the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment that settled between them as they sat opposite each other.  The sensible solution that appeared so practical in front of the maitre’d soon gave way to confused silence.  They each studied their menus in mock concentration.  Joanne was aware that the man was probably more embarrassed than she, wishing he had not been so gallant.  She racked her brains, trying to think of something witty and interesting to say.

‘You live in London?’ 

God, what a trite thing to say!  She swallowed hard, sweat breaking out on her palms. 

‘Yes, yes I do.  And you?’

He had smiled in relief at her, obviously pleased she had opened up the communication.  She felt a little better.

‘Yes, oh yes.’  She nodded too enthusiastically. ‘For a few years now.’ 

She trailed off, out of even trite things to say in response.  He smiled at her again, reassuringly.  He had nice eyes she mused, a light brown, not dissimilar to her own. 

‘Uhm, pardon?’ 

She realised he had spoken to her and she had missed it.

‘Drink.  Would you like a drink?’ 

With a start she realised that the waiter was standing next to her, order book in hand.  He was looking at her with the disdainful sufferance of one dealing with the doltish.  Had he spoken?

‘The lady would like a glass of white wine.  No, bring a bottle, let me see…’  He rifled through the wine list. 

She was relieved he had spoken up, taken charge; it was nice to be taken care of for a change.  The waiter wrote the order down with a sigh and hurried off. 

‘I hope you do not mind my presumption?’ 

He was looking at her again with those eyes, those beautiful dark brown eyes.  She smiled back, shaking her head. 

‘No, no, not at all.  I must… I must be more tired than I thought.’ 

She fumbled to unfurl her napkin to cover her confusion.  Had they ordered yet?

Oh, it was going to be a fine night.  He studied her with pleased indulgence.  His original assessment of exhaustion had been wonderfully proven by how easy she had been to enthrall.  After he had ordered the food, enjoying the opportunity of filling her up with all the enticing scents and aromas of alcohol, she had prattled away, filling up the table with her chatter and youth.  She was a delight.  Half little fox, working away cannily at her job, sorry, her career, half a total innocent, lost in the big wide world.  Her loneliness intrigued him, made a joy of her catching.  She was so utterly childlike, unable to guess that she could have had many of those around her if she had only played a better game at being chased, and caught.  He even liked her voice, which was soft and rhythmical, a legacy no doubt of the voice lessons she had taken to rid her of her working class tones.  It was going to be a fine night, a slow and even one.  As she finished her dessert he asked for the bill.

‘Oh no, of course not, I’d be delighted.’ she stared into his eyes as he paid.  ‘Just don’t expect me to be able to dance much.’ 

She laughed, entranced by the darkness in those eyes.  It was so flattering, after all, for him to keep looking at her in that way.  As they rose, collecting their things, she wondered if she’d ever seen eyes that dark, almost completely black.  Yet they glimmered so, were so very seductive.  She smiled as he opened the door to her, sweeping her out into the street, oblivious to the blast of heat that enveloped them.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three   Chapter Four

Chapter 7… Scouting for Survival

19 02 2011

This section of sample removed, although you can still read the comments.  🙂


27 01 2011

This section removed, as it was a part of chapter one, which is here in its entirety.