Sherlock – Post Reichenback – 5 Diaries (WIP) 3/5

May 23, 2012

Chapter One – The Personal Diary of Molly Hooper

You could see the sadness. It was around his eyes. When he looked at Dr Watson, it was there unobserved. I didn’t know what it meant yet part of me did. I can’t explain it. I think it surprised him that I knew. Maybe we aren’t all clever like him but every so often, we glimpse at an expression and the truth is obvious. Even to us.

He said he was going to die. I should know better than to disagree so I didn’t say so but I didn’t believe him. I mean. He is always right, isn’t he? But this one time. I didn’t believe him. Turns out I was right, after all. He didn’t die. Well he did. But he didn’t.

He was so very specific; every detail exacting and demanding precision. That’s what he does. Mental autopsies. Vivisections on us all. Never wastes a breath. Never a word chosen to soften a blow or show a kindness. He is heartless; a human laser cutting deeply to expose the truth.

I was on my way home. He scared the wits out of me sneaking up like that. Not even a hello or nice to see you. He brought crisps. It wasn’t necessary. He didn’t need to bribe me. I would have stayed regardless. He said he needed me. He never needs anyone. Well, maybe Doctor Watson. But he certainly never needs me.

“I need your help.”

He said he was going to kill himself and that it wouldn’t work unless I helped. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. Whatever he had done … whatever was the matter … I told him that there were people he could talk to. I tried to talk him out of it but it made him angry and he turned on me. He does that. He gets angry. Turns on people. He stopped so suddenly I nearly bumped into him.

“It will be an illusion!” He didn’t finish it with “you stupid woman” and I thought that rather nice of him even though it was all in his voice and his face. He doesn’t think so much of me that he filters his insults. I don’t know if he even realizes they hurt. Still. I took his restraint as a sign of desperation.

I tried to defend myself but I couldn’t really get the words out. It was lost on him and he had no patience. With a wave of his hand, he demanded my silence. We went back into the morgue of St Barts.

He palmed a rubber ball. Put it to his eye then threw it up high and snapped it out of the air.

“This. Will be sewn into my shirt. Here.” He struck an open palm under his right arm as instruction. “Make sure you remove it before you dress the body.”

Body?

“There will be a corpse waiting. It will have to convincing. I have a distinctive profile but people see what they expect to see. This is important. Are you listening?”

I opened my mouth. I didn’t have a chance to answer. The lab door swung open.

“Brother.” A stranger’s voice interrupted. We both turned.

“Mycroft.” He did not sound pleased.

“What are you doing, brother?”

“I am planning to kill myself. What does it look like?”

“Don’t be daft. We decided to leave the arranging all to me. There are too many things that could go wrong … “

You decided. I agreed to nothing.”

I didn’t much like being in the middle of a fight. It seemed wise to move to the side. I looked down. Then away. Then up at him. His face pinched up and he was breathing hard, like it was an effort to restrain himself.

“Now is a fine time to consider what might go wrong. At this late date, do you not think you have caused enough damage? Besides. It is my life.”

Blue eyes had turned to ice. I shivered.

“That was unfair.”

“It is true.”

“Let this be my amends to you, then. Who the devil is this?”

“Molly.” He paused. “She is with me.” He added it as a throw away and then stepped so that he came between his brother and I. It was defiance; a dare.

His back was my shield. Broad shoulders just above my eye level. I could almost feel the heat from his body. The smell of him – exotic and complex – wafted close, like a teasing entrail of smoke. He used the whole of his chest to breathe. Expanding and contracting with the same control as used for everything else. His voice cut deep. Just a single word order.

“Leave.”

“Not until we agree upon the myriad of details, Sherlock. This is going to be complicated. You must know. I am unwilling to speak about them in the presence of … others.”

“And I am not willing to speak of them under any other terms.” He paused again. And then he said. “She stays.”

“How do you know you can trust her?”

The lab went still and all I could hear was that far off hum of the vents, a metallic ticking and soft hissing of air. He didn’t answer at first and I dropped my head waiting for the inevitable patronizing dismissal.

That voice spoke. His voice. Unexpectedly quiet and vulnerable. “You won’t betray me, will you, Molly?”

The words shook me and my heart felt like it would burst. I could hardly breathe. I stared at his back – a swath of wool with a single perpendicular pleat straight down the centre. I didn’t dare answer. So many of his questions are rhetorical but some aren’t and I can never tell one from another. It was always better to say nothing. Less opportunity for him to ridicule. Then I realized he was waiting for me.

“Oh.” It was hardly louder than the fans. “No.”  I cleared my throat and said it one more time. “No.”

“See there, Mycroft?”

“You are betting your life on her word.”

“I am betting my life on a great many things, Mycroft. There are a thousand things that could go wrong. Molly will not be one of them. Understood?”

I didn’t know who he was talking to but I nodded just to be sure and echoed him. “Understood.”

In the end, his brother arranged for everything else. My part was simple enough. They would pronounce him dead in emergency and I would collect him for the morgue. Then bodies would be switched. We would have only minutes and he would escape in the chaos.

That day I was in early. Before dawn. I couldn’t sleep. No point being anywhere else so I came in and spent hours waiting. It was impossible to concentrate. I paced. Checked the replacement corpse. His brother must have extraordinary connections. The corpse was a very good match indeed. I ensured his clothes were stacked just right top to bottom so he could dress in order – from inside out. I went over the plan in my head again and again.

When it happened, it was fast and intense, like being hit with a tidal wave. I had only a briefest warning. News of a jumper on the roof travelled fast. I knew it was him and then felt sick knowing how complicated the fall would be. What if he missed? He couldn’t miss. I paced. And then – a sudden silence and then noise – everyone knew all at once that it was Sherlock Holmes and that he was dead. I was summoned and two orderlies lifted him onto my gurney and covered his bloodied face with a sheet.

As soon as we got to the morgue, he jumped off and ripped open his coat. His hair was soaked in crimson and dripped everywhere. He tore off his scarf and kicked off his shoes and then undid his belt. “Where are my clothes?”

Then in that room with just the two of us and hardly any time at all to spare, he stripped off his clothes. All of them.

“Come on! Come on, Molly!” He snapped me out of my haze and threw his shirt with the sleeves inside out.

I had to wait until I had all his clothes to dress the corpse. He threw me the last piece and for an instant, he stood in front of me – utterly bare. There was a beat, a pause, a moment that seemed to last forever. The spell was broken with a blink and then he reached for the neat stack of clothes that I had arranged for him and I went to work on the corpse.

He was finished before I was. I knew it because the space behind me was suddenly still. Outside in the hall, an approaching chaos. Voices started clamouring … and above them, Dr Watson’s fighting to be freed from those who restrained him. Grief and panic constricted his voice into anger.

“Let me go!” You could hear the terrible pain. He was wild, like a wounded animal.

I looked at him as he shut his eyes against the noise as if to block it from his memory. “Good bye.” The whisper haunted in the echo of the morgue. It took my breath away.

“Good bye.” I said. “Take … Take care of yourself. Please? Will you …when will … you be … back?”

He said nothing more but pulled down a cap to hide his face and slipped out the back. That was the last I saw of him.

In the end, I kept his scarf. I didn’t see the harm in it. I would have given it back but no one missed it. I guess it made sense to others that it was lost in the confusion.

I keep it in a box on the top shelf of my closet. Once in a while, I take it down and stare at it and think of him. Sometimes I loop it around my neck the way he used to – fold it in half and then loose ends through the middle. When I pull it tight, I drop my chin into the cashmere and inhale. It’s him – tobacco, sweat, a cologne that is so faint that I have to concentrate to find it, and the whole of London all mixed in. I think of his sharp voice and his ruthless intellect and how incompetence and fools frustrate him and then acknowledge that we are all incompetent and foolish compared to him.

I wonder where he is.

I wonder if he is well and safe … if he has any friends.

It must be hard being him.

And even harder trying not to be…

 

Chapter Two – Mrs Hudson – Thoughts she has kept to herself

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had been standing at their doorway looking at the mess. There was a smell in the apartment. God only knows what it was or where it was coming from. Sherlock was so untidy. It was shocking, really. I never could understand how he kept anything straight. But he had a way about him, I suppose, even though he was a bit high strung. People thought a lot of him; people like Detective Inspector Lestrade and of course Dr Watson. The odd rank odor was a small price to pay, I suppose.

The downstairs phone rang so off I went as you do. I wasn’t expecting Dr Watson. He doesn’t often call me. Well. Never calls, actually. But this time he did.

“Mrs Hudson.” His voice … even now, thinking about it, I get chills right down my spine. “I’m afraid … I … I have some bad news.” It was a strain for him to talk and I could picture that frown he sometimes had when things didn’t agree with him.

“What’s happened?” I had always thought there might be a call like this. The two of them regularly did get up to no good. Especially Sherlock. Went right after trouble, he did. Like a moth to flame. It was his nature; there was no stopping him. And Dr Watson was no help at all, carrying on right behind him, happy to be a part of it. So naturally, I thought there might be a call like this someday. Dreaded it, really. Accidents were bound to happen, weren’t they. Only a matter of time, I supposed.

There was no working up to it; no preamble. Just Dr Watson’s quiet voice stating the facts, kind and gentle but you could tell. There was something.

“I’m sorry, Mrs Hudson. Sherlock Holmes is … is …”

“Is what, dear? Has he been in an accident?”

“Yes. No. Mrs Hudson. Not an accident. Sherlock is …”

There didn’t seem to be anyone at the other end. “Are you alright, Dr Watson? Dr Watson? You’re scaring me. What’s happened?”

“Sherlock is … dead.”

I don’t mind tell you I nearly fainted. It was all I could do to stagger to a chair and sit down hard. I didn’t cry right way. I didn’t believe it at first.

“No. It’s not true. He … he can’t be … how?”

“Suicide.”

When I finally found Dr Watson at the hospital, I’m not sure who was helping who to stand upright. We were both overcome by it all. Dr Watson – his eyes bleary and tears dropping from the edge of his jaw – it all just broke my heart.

“It’s not true,” I said.

“I am afraid so, Mrs Hudson.”

“But … suicide?” I said. “It doesn’t make sense. He wasn’t like that. He was an odd sort and he had his moods and all. You and I. We were both used to that, weren’t we. But this? We’d have known. We’d have known.”

All at once, something came over Dr Watson. It was a darkness, a terrible desperate emptiness like he was exhausted and could not go on. He stared at me and I could not speak. Felt like he could see right through me. A dread came over me and all at once, I didn’t want him to answer.

“We were on the phone. I was standing right there. Looking up at him. I tried to … he said goodbye. Then … right in front of me …” The words seemed to break him apart. Grown man like that. Soldier and all. He clung onto me like I could save him and wept so long and hard he was sick.

After the funeral, I didn’t have the heart to touch their rooms even though Dr Watson could not bring himself to step inside. It was too much for him, poor man. The rent would have been nice but it didn’t seem right to move on. Not just yet. Besides, my little shop was starting to take in a little bit extra and I thought … well … no real rush, was there. I thought it might be a way for Dr Watson to get over it all if he moved back in. He did take it so very hard.

I didn’t see Dr Watson for a while. Understandable, I suppose. He came round one afternoon after we had a nice visit to Sherlock’s grave. I invited him in for a cup of tea. Old time’s sake. We went upstairs and got all the way to the door of their apartment. Then something came over him and he froze.

“What is it, dear?” I turned to him and he was white as a sheet. He stood there still as a statue and sweating. I touched his arm and he flinched and shot up his arm to block in that severe way soldiers have when they are in a close fight. It startled me. “I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to hurt you …”

“I know. It’s not your fault.” His voice was barely above a whisper. His body was locked into place and it looked like it was all he could do to lower his arm. “I can’t do this. I can’t go in. I can’t … ”

“Well then come downstairs and have a cup there, dear. It’s all the same …”

“I … I need to excuse myself, Mrs Hudson. I’m awfully sorry. I just … need … some air.”

They really were the greatest of friends. Seeing them together always reminded me of an old, married couple, each filling in those little blanks for the other. A word here. An effort there. As you do when you know someone as well as you know yourself. And never mind Dr Watson’s blog full of pride or Sherlock’s insistent demands for Dr Watson in particular to accompany him. Even their arguments never amounted to much at all except what everyone argues about – the little vanities and expectations that come up when you rely on someone and want them to be as you most need them.

I worry about him, now. He doesn’t live here anymore and I can’t keep an eye on him or pop in for a cuppa like we used to and have a nice natter. Now I don’t know where he goes to sleep at night. He has no job that I can tell. The clinic hasn’t seen him and when I asked, they had no thought of where he might be. That army pension is a pittance – it’s a crime how little a brave soldier like him should get for defending our country.

Dr Watson has had troubles before and in his own way, moods and moments that made me think that he never entirely put the war behind him. He has a service revolver and keeps it in a drawer and the thing that worries me most about Dr Watson is that he will end up dead – just like Sherlock – by doing himself in. I won’t have it, I tell you. I won’t have it.

I didn’t become their landlady so I could bury them both.

The Private Blog of Dr John Watson

 

There’s a park bench by an oak that gives off a nice bit of shade when the sun comes out. The view is a pond inhabited by a duck with feathers missing on its right wing. It spends its days paddling about, up and down through the willow branches that dip into the water. Every now and then, it dunks in for a bite of food.

 

I like it here. It’s quiet. No one bothers me. I can almost breathe. Some days I bring a sandwich and chuck the last bit of crust at the duck. I think it recognizes me now. When I arrive, it drifts my way and gives me a once over. It is company of a kind.

 

Today is no different than the last. Or the one before that. I sit alone and watch the day go by.

 

From a distance, I can hear footsteps. They are slow, deliberate and – for a fleeting instant – my hackles raise and my heart stops because I think I recognize them. This would be how he comes back, I imagine. SHER-?! I twist and scan – seeing everything and nothing all at once. There – coming towards me in that meticulous way he has – Mycroft. I am almost sick with disappointment. My twist unwinds and I go back to staring at the pond.

 

I wonder how he knew where to find me. Then, I realize he watches. He is always watching. It is his job. So why wasn’t he watching when –? Because he wasn’t, I tell myself for the umteenth time. I am still angry with him but understand he lost a brother when I lost my best friend. Mycroft has found me a place – small, simple – hidden away from the press. I should be grateful but I’m not; yet I can’t go back to 221B and can’t afford anything else. I think he feels guilty because I know. I know his actions have led us to this point in time. Sherlock is –.

 

“Dr Watson.” He stands at the side and I don’t look at him but keep my gaze fixed on the water.

 

“Mycroft.” It seems right that I call him that. His name but no more.

 

“How are you?”

 

I let the question age a bit. A pair of black birds fly up from a far tree. Noise. Then silence. “You came all this way to ask me that?”

 

“Of course not. I am making idle conversation. I know precisely how you are.”

 

“Oh? So how am I, exactly?”

 

“You frequently fail to keep appointments with your therapist even though you can’t sleep and can’t concentrate on the simplest of tasks. You have not logged on nor written a single word since it happened. You are without employment and spend your days favouring open spaces, preferably with a view. Here, in this obscure, lonely corner of a park that no one ever visits, you eat two pieces of bread with a single slice of cheese every day for lunch. At night, you stop at the same local and have one pint of Guinness and a plate of ham and eggs over easy. You speak to almost no one and when you are finished, you wander the streets with your hands in your pockets and no apparent destination until you are too tired to go any further. Then you return to the flat, try to fall asleep and fail, then repeat it all the next day. You, my dear Dr Watson, have never been worse.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve had at least one day in recent memory that can top it. Do you remember it? Sherlock pitched himself off the roof of St Barts.”

 

There is a momentary silence, then he adds. “I admire your restraint at not apportioning me your usual inflated percentage of the responsibility.”

 

“It goes without saying, doesn’t it? If it weren’t for you …”

 

“Yes. If not for me, where might my brother be now? One does wonder.”

 

“What do you want, Mycroft? I’m … I’m busy. You’re interrupting.”

 

“Here.”

 

It forces me to look and he hands me the handles of a full plastic bag.

 

“What’s this?” I set it on the bench and the top reveals a flash of fabric. All at once, I feel sick. I know what it is and I don’t want it.

 

“Personal effects. I want you to have them.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I have no need for them.”

 

“You’re a raving sentimentalist. I have news for you. I don’t want them either.”

 

“Well then.” Mycroft keeps the blank expression steady. “Leave them behind when you go. Or give them away. Do what you like. Nice to see you again, Dr Watson.” He begins walking away, evenly metered steps with deliberate purpose and clarity of destination. He meant what he said.

 

For a long while, I try to ignore the bag. I know very well what it contains. His great coat is on top. I know what else will be there. His gloves, his scarf. The shirt with a blood-soaked collar. The trousers. Even his shoes are there by the looks of odd shape at the bottom. This close, I can even smell cigarettes. Jesus. It is like sitting right beside him but without the asinine commentary.

 

I have been over those few moments ten thousand times. For a while, they played like an endless loop over and over again until I thought I would go insane. I can feel the memory bubble up again and I try to resist it. I don’t want to remember but I recognize that mental aura – the precursor to yet another reboot of the worst moments of my life. Ten thousand and one.  It’s back again – I can hear his voice. His last words … “good bye, John” … and then he spreads his arms out like Jesus on the cross and pitches forward and I can feel – even now steady and safe on the ground – an insane vertigo from trying to will him back into balance. But he just keeps coming further and further and further until he reaches that point – that point of no return where gravity will not be denied – and the whole of my being – every fibre, every cell, every corpuscle and muscle – reacts. I am scalped by fear and I rip my vocal cords calling out his name and my demand for him to stop. But the reptile part of my brain already knows, even as he falls, that when he lands he will be dead.

 

I crawled to him. I demanded to be at his side. I was … I AM … his best friend. I had my hand on his wrist, the tips of my fingers instinctively finding that soft, sweet spot for a pulse and felt only one beat. One last beat of his heart before they ripped us apart. They started to roll him over and for one impossible moment, my heart soared with the hope, the one in a trillion that it was not him. Had I been mistaken? Seen what I had expected to see? There must have been some mistake – some trick – some magic that would make this broken body before me not be him.

 

But they rolled him over and it was him. His dark curly hair framed his face with curls and gave him a cherubic innocence that women fell for until he opened his mouth and stung them with some waspish truth. It was him. His eyes. His nose and lips. His cheekbones – high and sharp and straight out of a fashion magazine. And then I saw the blood seeping from the back of his brain – flowing like there was an endless supply. Soaking his hair and collar and darkening the cement and hands of the medics who lifted him to the stretcher where an infernal red halo grew on the linen.

 

I don’t know why. He wasn’t suicidal. There was no reason for it. He just didn’t care what people thought. And no matter what anyone says, it wasn’t a grand game – it wasn’t magic. Those things he did? He could really do them. It would have been impossible to do it all the time. Once or twice, sure … I might have believed it was careful research and compliance. But it was every day and every last blessed thing. He saw the world with a hawk’s eye. Nothing escaped him. Ever. He couldn’t turn it off same as he couldn’t turn off the colour of his eyes. It was a hard-wired reflex. Like breathing. Seeing compelled him. Once seen, he had to say. It was the only way I think he could get through life. He was a complete pain in the ass and some of it was for show because the rest of us frustrated the hell out of him. But mostly? Mostly it was because that’s who he was.

 

Maybe I’m the only one left who believes in him.

 

I look at the bag and survey the coat. He wore that coat all the time. Flicked up the collar to accentuate his cheekbones. Vain bugger. All at once, I forget myself and reach in and pull out the coat. It unfurls and then I tuck it into a bit of a bundle and hold onto it against my chest, like a stuffed toy. It’s warm. Solid. I rest my head on the fabric and close my eyes. His scent envelops me. There is an odd feeling that creeps into my stomach muscles. That knot that has been there since … it eases a little and I feel strangely comforted.

 

That night, I carry the bag with me. To my pub. On my random four hour walk around the dark and snaking roads of London. I even call into see Mrs Hudson. I can’t give up the bag and won’t. That night, instead of a blanket, I use his coat. For once, I sleep and it is dreamless.

 

The next morning, I empty the bag and lay it out on my bed building a shell of him with clothes. His shoes go on the floor neatly side by each. Socks in the shoes. Undergarments tucked in the trousers and the belt done up. Shirt tucked folded neatly closed and also tucked in. Then right beside it, his great coat and gloves. I stand back. Something is off. I can’t quite make it out but know the picture isn’t right yet. I frown and check the bag. It’s empty. I look back at the clothes and realize what’s missing. His scarf.

 

I check the bag again. It’s as empty as before. No scarf. Then I check the sleeves of his coat. And then the pockets. Still no scarf.

 

Sherlock always wore his scarf. Didn’t he? I shut my eyes and recall the image of him putting it on; two ends pulled through a single loop and tugged into place. It was effortless, automatic, graceful. Was he wearing his scarf that day? Of course he was. Sherlock always wore his scarf. Did I remember seeing it, though? You see what you expect to see. That’s what he would say. Maybe he wasn’t wearing it? I can’t remember. My memories of the day don’t focus on his bloody scarf.

 

The puzzle sends me to the one chair in the room and I slink down deep to think. Where is the scarf? There is a rip in the wallpaper opposite me that I focus on while I consider the point. If I had it, I have lost it. If I never had it, where is it? After a good half hour of thought, I haven’t got much past that. Either way, I have to go looking. The very idea makes me queasy. I have been so many places.

 

Starting in my room, I consider where I was when I took out the coat. I look under furniture, between gaps, in drawers. I comb the place from top to bottom. Then I go outside to trace what I remember of my steps backwards. It takes me hours through the streets, a pub or two, the full area of the park. Maybe someone found it and picked it up. It was cashmere. Who wouldn’t?

 

My search turns up nothing. Despite what Sherlock might have said on the subject, I am a rational man. A man of science. If I never had it, then he never wore it. And if he never wore it, I know exactly where it is. 221B Baker Street.

 

I double over.

 

Jesus.

 

I am going to have to go back.

 

Voice Exercise

July 31, 2011

ME …

It’s a tiny cabin but made of the right wood – cedar I think. Great big beams that are golden yellow on the inside and weather-beaten grey on the outside. The guidebook says it’s in a valley. It’s surrounded on all sides by mountains so high that sun sets an hour or two before it sinks below the true horizon. There are trees – thick and dense – that go on forever. We went out on a hike one day – through the field of strange, tufted mushroom shaped flowers – the name I have forgotten but now feel compelled to look up. There’s no sounds here except water running in a stream that we can’t see and birds and insects. The bigger animals don’t make any noise – they can see us but we can’t see them. I remember we met another lone hiker – dressed like a park warden in greens and browns and a wide brimmed hat that made him look like a cross between a cowboy and Smokie the Bear. He had a metal rod sticking out of his backpack – the shape and size of a metal detector. When we stopped to talk – because people do out here in the middle of nowhere since company is so unexpected and welcome – he said he was tracking some tagged bears for research. He pointed to where we had been and said that there were three out that way. We looked over our shoulders – impossibly able to see anything beyond the trees and the flaming red wisps of Indian Paintbrush – I was glad for the moment I was going in the opposite direction. Later back at the cabin, he stopped in to chat – there was a cabinet we had not opened and he knew to remove a secret prize. It was a bear paw – stuffed and from a naturally deceased animal he said. The claws were massive – nails as long and sharp as the fingers of a nightmare villain. Yet I felt safe here – there was nothing to hurt me here. There was the rich smell of a wood-burning fire place. I had a stomach full of pasta – it was night out and there was no sounds – just the utter quiet of the Rocky Mountains. Later, it rained and I lay awake in bed listening to the wind and the patter of drops on the roof. There was no place like this on earth.

 

GENRE – MYSTERY FICTION

There was one way in and one way out and that was on foot. You had to register a year in advance for your week. No one ever was there by accident.

All the conveniences had to be carried in on your back – food, clothing, amenities and maybe a deck of cards to while away the time. Night fell fast and hard. It was a deep, impermeable black, too. Never any lingering haze at the end of the day where blinking your eyes was enough to adjust to the outdoors. Shadows didn’t haunt or flicker, they swallowed you whole – like a whale. Anyone could hide anywhere and if they were still enough, you’d never see them until it was too late.

The animals had none of the urban sensibilities about humans. They understood you were on their turf. There was no reason for them to fear and they knew instinctively that it’s we who need to be afraid. Here – they were bigger, more dangerous and came in numbers and combinations that your city habit of clanging of metal garbage lids would do nothing to deter.

It is well you should stay inside at night. There’s no telling what could harm you. Then again, you might do well to risk a twisted ankle in a hidden gopher hole if one of the guests was a murderer.

 

 

KERRICK

It is an effort and requires planning to get there. I have to wait – of course – until night falls and know I have to move with purpose if I expect to get there before daylight. My only solace is that dark comes quick and early. The walk up to the cabin is – however – an absolute pain in the ass. The trek is long and the path is wildly uneven, littered with jutting outcrops of metamorphic rock and cut apart by crevices that glaciers cracked open a millennia ago. Motorized vehicles are prohibited and despite my indifference to the prevailing laws, I am bound to obey this one. It would simply arouse too much reaction. This place is not densely inhabited but the denizens are rabidly protective about their precious mountains. Not only that, they are adept at protecting themselves from attack in an effective variety of low tech means. Living among the wild outdoors, they have developed an instinct for it. Wooden stakes are not beyond them. Any of them.

Let me say that Elgin chose the hiding place well. If I wasn’t so thoroughly inconvenienced, I would call his choice genius. I am quite certain that Elgin did it on purpose. He enjoys giving the illusion of unpartisan outsider – one without position or clan and therefore hobbled by a certain social weakness. He is powerless like these mountains are temporary. This trip he forces me to make is his revenge upon me for forcing his surrender of the key. He knew full well I could not trust its retrieval to anyone else. So he designed this ridiculously elegant scavenger hunt.

As I step along, I catch a sleeve on a branch and it triggers a chain reaction. A sapling hits my cheek with the subtlety of a snapped whip. I curse, believing that this too is part of Elgin’s plan.

Elgin – Too Damn Hot

July 28, 2011

Elgin had been hiding it for months.

For his own safety, he could tell no one. What had happened? How? Why? Was it temporary? What did it mean? Over and over again, he had been asking himself the same questions. Utterly alone in his investigations, Elgin struggled. While he could hold his own in a conversation, applied science was not his strongest suit. It had taken him over a month just to determine that there was something actually amiss. His methods were inelegant – fraught with uncertainty and error. His notes were incomplete. Ideas occurred to him and he explored them with an uncharacteristic panic that left gaps in his other established studies. He suffered from want of an expert. Putting sly questions to Avis was the closest he could get to hints about what refinements he should attempt in his research. She could be infuriatingly vague when engaged in casual conversation. Elgin was careful not to arouse her undivided attention. It would lead to too many questions and put her at risk of discovering his secret and make her an unsuspecting target if Kerrick ever found out.

He continued to plod along – secretive and with the constant fear of discovery. To be what he was among humans was easy compared to this. That simply required a certain amount of hunger management, maintenance of a large personal space and a night job. Now? Now he also needed to keep his distance from vampires as well. It was a whole new set of complexities. Vampires might not be chummy but they did have extraordinary perception. The most minute of details did not escape notice.

The months rolled past and all at once, it was full on summer and hot as a blast furnace. Then the building’s air conditioning broke. By late afternoon, Avis had wandered in, served herself a bowl of cereal and badgered him about going outside to cool off. His apartment was stifling – the air unmoving and humid – almost unbreathable. Her earlier reconnaissance outside suggested relief was at hand.

She lied, of course. Even after the sun set, it was forty two fucking degrees outside. There was no wind, no breeze, no movement at all. The setting of the sun had done nothing but add darkness to the sense of oppression. When he blinked, he could feel sweat pool in the corners of his eyes.

Elgin looked out onto the still, black lake – orange slices of sky breaking through clouds of purple bruising. The saturated air was suffocating.

Beside him, Avis let her legs hang over the edge of the breakwater, then lay back, arms out – a crucifix on pavement.

“It is so …” Avis ran out of energy on emphasis and ended it with a grunt.

“Hot?”

She gurgled, incapable of words.

He gazed sidelong at Avis and considered her shape in the amber glow of the pier lights. Her cropped t-shirt had risen to expose her lean, smooth belly. She smelled sweet and musky from sweat. The desire to touch her washed over him. She was his only company; an unsuspecting ally. It would be so easy to just turn over and spread his fingers across her stomach and trace a delicate … he stopped the thought. He had long since become averse to touching people. Ice cold flesh could only be explained so much before it became suspicious.

Yet now, it had become even more important for him to keep his distance because – unlike the last few hundred years – his flesh was no longer cold.

Excerpt from “Water is Wet” – Wesley

July 10, 2011

Wesley sat on the tissue-papered bench and looked around the office. For a ten-year old boy – he had a rare appreciation for Dr B’s office. It was – possibly – because he was not afraid. This lack of fear in many aspects of his life led him to have more than just a passing association with Dr B. In fact – if he didn’t see Dr B at least once a month, he felt that he wasn’t trying hard enough.

It was the medals that caught his eye initially. Thereafter, they mesmerized him. Periodically one more was added to the mix. They looked like Olympic medals to Wesley. They were bold and shiny and had that never-been-used, no-fingerprints kind of clean look to them. And then Wesley looked at the pictures that went with them. In every one – Dr B was right there cross over the finish line. His feet didn’t touch the ground. He was euphoric, his fists high in the air – victorious. Wesley loved that look. He understood it. It was how he felt when he nailed a new trick on his skate board. Totally the same feeling. That he shared that with Dr B made him think – well – like he had something deep and important bond with him.

“Hello, Wesley.” Dr B said when he walked in and shut the door for privacy.

“Hey.” Wesley nodded. He liked Dr B’s laid back style. He also liked that the lectures on his lifestyle were kept to a minimum. It was as if Dr B knew the futility of telling him to be careful. What he did tend to remind him of was to wear his helmet – which he did reasonably consistently since the concussion.

“He’s picking at his stitches.” With her purse looped over a wrist, Wesley’s mother crossed her arms. “Might as well take the lot out. No reasoning with him to stop picking.”

“That true?” Dr B asked him.

“They itch.”

“Sure. That’s called healing. Let’s take a look.” Dr B lifted his chin. As Wesley’s head tilted backwards, he kept looking down to watch so hard that his eyes hurt with the strain. His chin was then tilted to this side and the other and then Dr B let him go.

“Well. It looks pretty good. Healing nicely. No infection.”

“Better not be any infection,” Wesley’s mother said. “I nearly drowned him in peroxide. But he keeps picking. ”

“We can take them out if you want.”

Wesley looked to his mother and then back at Dr B, then wondered who the question was for. He wanted the stitches out but was not quite sure that his mother had been serious about getting them out. Sometimes she threatened such things as a way to get his attention. It often did but not for the right reasons. This time – he just wanted the stitches out because they really did itch.

“Mom? Can I?”

She answered Dr B. “Better you should take them out here and have him bleed all over your carpet than him do it at home and bleed all over mine.”

“I think he’ll be fine.” Dr B gave her assurances that did nothing to change her expression.

Then there was a pause in the conversation as Dr B went in search of the random metal devices to remove the stitches. Wesley could have told him where everything was. He might have been well beyond his five thousandth stitch. He started to tally the count. Maybe not quite that much. It was a big number, anyway.

His mother often said that he had had more stitches by the time he was ten than all his older brothers and sister combined. It was not a surprise to Wesley. They were bookish, quiet people given to violin lessons and having conversations in Latin. They had stamp collections and studied math and quoted poetry. Not one of them could ride a bike. Or skate board. Or snow board. Or play hockey. None of them had ever even broken a bone and that – Wesley thought – was inhuman. That his oldest brother was pre-law did nothing to impress him, nor that two of his sisters gave recitals at the Faculty of Music and sang solos at the church concerts at Christmas. His other brother worked at the big bookstore and studied lit at university. Whatever “lit” was. They were all – truth be told – an embarrassment and luckily, they were old enough that their lack of accomplishments could be explained by their advanced age.

Wesley watched as Dr B crossed the floor of his office. He limped and favoured his one side. Wesley was something of an expert on the various facets of hurt and he knew instantly that Dr B was trying to hide his. Wesley remembered his mother talking to Mrs Swanson and her saying that Dr B had been in an accident. A terrible accident. Mrs Swanson had said in a soft, breathy voice that suggested some horrible, undisclosed event that she could hardly bring herself to relate. She had seen Wesley listening and dropped her voice and said only that Dr B was now home and wasn’t that a mercy he had family nearby and a miracle that things had not been any worse and that he had not lost the leg.

When Wesley had heard that, he wondered how many stitches a terrible accident was and what could have caused it so when they were having dinner later that day, he asked. He wasn’t heard the first time he asked but the third time, just as everyone unnaturally all stopped talking at once, he hit it right.

“Why did they want to cut off Dr B’s legs?”

Knives and forks clattered to china plates. Wesley did not remark on it because it happened frequently that his opening gambits started with this reaction. Several sets of blinking eyes – he lived in a family owls – looked at him. His father sighed. His mother did the same.

“Wes – “ His father said, “No one wants to cut off Dr B’s legs.”

“But Mrs Swanson said that he had a terrible accident and that they almost did. What happened? Did he get stitches?”

“Yes. I imagine so,” His father said, staring across the table at Wesley’s mother for cues to what he was talking about. “Dr B probably got stitches. Maybe? Ida? What is the boy talking about?”

“Dr Bancroft, George. He was in a terrible accident. Hit by a drunk driver in one of his race things.”

“Race things?” His father asked. His father was an engineer and often behind in both local and current events. “Oh yes. I remember you telling me he jogs a bit. Hit by a car?”

His mother nodded, “Drunk driver. Only God only knows what a drunk driver was doing out on a Sunday morning at that hour.”

“Tch.” His father said and cut into his pork chop, “Shame. So he did get stitches.” It seemed important to him to confirm the story. Wesley was hanging on very word his parents exchanged.

“Yes. Well. You know Magnolia works in the same clinic as Dr Bancroft…Sarah said it was terrible…”

Wesley scooped up some potatoes and worked it out. Sarah was Mrs Swanson – the next door neighbour. Magnolia was her niece. Then he put it together that Magnolia worked with Dr B… his mother kept talking while he did the figuring and he missed some of what she said.

“… and after that, they are not sure. He is lucky he can walk.”

“Is it bionic?” His father asked.

Oh my God! The thought had so startled Wesley dropped his fork. DR B HAS A BIONIC LEG NOW? He really had missed something. That was fantastic, if he did. Really? A bionic leg? How did it work? How fast did it go? Could his other leg keep up? In that instant, Wesley knew he had had HAD to see Dr B’s bionic leg. It became his minor obsession every time he visited.

But today, today that bionic leg looked like it was hurting. Wesley knew it was because of Dr B’s face. It wasn’t a grimace or anything. It was just a sort of worn out look – the kind his mother got at the end of the day when he came home covered in dirt with his knees scraped raw and a new pet snake. She would put her hand to her forehead and sigh – long and deep – and it sort of made him sad and feel guilty that the snake didn’t make her happy as it had made him.

Still – it was a bionic leg – Wesley figured. It was bound to hurt from time to time. Maybe the electronics were on the fritz, like his computer did sometimes. Maybe his dad could fix it like he fixed everything electronic in the house. His dad was awesome with stuff like that. Whatever Wesley accidentally broke, his dad could fix in a jiff. That also made his mother sigh long and deep.

While he waited for Dr B to come back, he stared at Dr B’s office walls again. Dr B had the best walls of any doctor he knew. His degrees were fantastic with bright gold seals and his name in big bold lettering surrounded by the important filigree swooshes that seemed to fill the page. The degrees were offset on either side by pictures – his mother called them shadow boxes. There were pictures of Dr B running across finish lines, plus the real medals, race bibs and times engraved. He had overheard someone say they were marathons. Boston. New York. London. Chicago. The city names didn’t really mean much to him except Boston. Home of the Bruins and Bobby Orr. His dad loved Bobby Orr.

“So.” Dr B said returning … “You know the routine, Wesley. I need you to hold still. Just a quick snip and I’ll pull them out.”

“Yup.” He said and took hold of the small four by four dressing that Dr B would use in case he started bleeding. As usual, the procedure was quick, painless and bloodless. Wesley got down off the bench in a single hop. The force of the landing made Dr B wince slightly.

“Don’t forget to wear your helmet…” He called after them as they left.

“Hear that? Dr B told you to wear your helmet.” His mother squeezed his hand tightly. “Answer him, please.”

“Ok.” He said … “I will …”

His chin was free and the itching gone but he had still not seen the bionic leg. It was almost worth getting another round of stitches if he could guarantee that he would see it. Maybe on a day when Dr B didn’t hurt so much.

Excerpt from “Water is Wet” – Richard

May 19, 2011

He lived his whole childhood on the wrong side of town wearing last year’s crappy sneakers because his mother could not stay away from the casino. Then one day, his mother was walking across the street and got hit by a car and died. It was the best day of his life because finally, there was money and food and a place to live that was a couple of notches above abject squalor. Ten bucks seemed like a small fortune then. Twenty was living beyond his means.

He remembered the first time when there was actually money – MONEY – in his pocket for school. It was a twenty dollar bill. His dad – worn out from two jobs and raising three kids on his own – flipped him the bill on a Monday morning. Richard knew it was the last one in his dad’s wallet and when he handed it over, Richard knew that he had more than just twenty dollars. He had the family fortune, a pizza dinner for Friday and maybe – just maybe – a birthday cake for Trisha. But his dad had passed the last bill to him because he had been bitching the whole weekend about a school trip to the Royal Ontario Museum. Everyone … and that was EVERYONE … was going. He needed the twenty bucks to cover the cost of the bus and the admission. There wouldn’t be enough for lunch but he had been scamming lunches for years … a little of this … a touch of that … by the start of afternoon classes, he was almost not hungry any more. So his dad gave him the twenty. Just like that. And the deep sunken eyes looked defeated.

Richard remembered being elated for exactly one hour. He had the twenty bucks. He could go on the trip. And then the twenty dollars started to get heavy. And valuable. He started putting his hand in his pocket every now and then just to make sure that it was still there. At one point, he thought he had lost it because it had gotten all crammed into the corner. His heart exploded in his chest and the panic he felt was not about the trip. All he could think about was Trish and how he had lost her birthday money.

When he got home that night, he couldn’t stand the responsibility of carrying the twenty around with him. When his younger brother and sister had gone to bed, he came out and silently handed over the bill to his father. His dad had been sitting in his beat up arm chair, reading the tabloid newspaper they gave away free in the apartment lobby. He looked up over his glasses and put down the paper.

“What’s this?”

“The twenty.”

“Yeah. I can see that. I thought you wanted to go on that trip.”

“Naw …” He shrugged and tried to leave the room without anything more said. “Changed my mind.”

“We can afford it,” His father said. It was almost angry. His faced was wrinkled with a frown and deep circles under his eyes.

Richard remembered it as if it were yesterday. He came back to his father’s side before he spoke.

“We can afford it.” This time, his father sounded like he was working hard to sound reasonable. He even nodded to sell the lie.

“No,” he told his dad. “No, we can’t. Take the money. Spend it on Friday.” He stepped back a step. “It’s ok.”

In that moment, Richard became an adult. Every second of every day after that had become filtered by the lens of responsibility. He came home more. He was less of a shit with his father. He did the dishes once or twice. When the chance came up that he could have a summer job at the ticket booth of Captain Jack’s Pirates Cove, the circles under his dad’s eyes faded a little.

And that job at Captain Jack’s. What a job. What an education. He learned more about the world at that shitty job than three degrees at an Ivy League University. He learned how to handle cash, how to count money, how to make change quickly and accurately. He learned how to satisfy customers and he learned that charm, coupled with his outward appearance was an asset of immeasurable worth.

Meditation

February 17, 2011

Meditation – Feb 16 11

It was six weeks past New Year’s.

That night it was more grey than black because the snow started in the city. Flakes – big fluffy globs of snow floated in and out of the orange streetlight haze in lazy, languid swirls. People were coming and going – not appreciating the snow-globe loveliness of the night.

As Elgin walked along the sidewalk, he tried to ignore the ache in his elbow. Feeling nervy tingling radiate down through his wrist into his last two fingers, he dug his hands into his pockets. He had this hit-your-funny bone sensation since New Year’s except there wasn’t anything funny about it. Flexing his hand, he kept testing to see if the sensation had disappated. It was always there – now a permanent annoyance to him. He scowled and momentarily stopped his self-torment.

Lifting up his gaze, he watched a woman approach who stumbled along in fashionable but impractical boots. Her ankles tipped this way and that and the leather soles offered no traction in the snow. Softly cursing, she unfurled her collar upwards as defense against the cold wind as pats of snow hit her in the face. When they passed, he closed his eyes and inhaled. She smelled like olive oil and basil and bread – a delicate scent that made his mouth water. Another night, he might have cared and followed to take advantage of her inability to flee but his wrist gave another twinge and he let her pass unmolested.

He knew the time by the sudden ease of traffic flow. Rush hour was petering out and it was that sparsely populated lull between five o’clock quitting time and the start of concerts and shows and sporting events. Everyone was on their way to eat except him. He was on his way to work, uncharacteristically rushed and nonetheless forfeiting his habitual punctuality because he had an errand. He hated being late but he had no choice. This was something he had to do.

When he arrived, Eglin lingered a moment at the store front. Checking right and left, he then glanced over his shoulder and then up and around. He could have called it paranoid but after a few centuries of complications with the Clans including his own, paranoid was just another word for cautious. If they discovered what he was after, they would be instantly suspicious and draw conclusions that would start a storm around him that would be relentless. With one more check side to side, he slipped into the drug store, went through the anti-theft gates and ignored the perfunctory greeting from behind the cosmetic counter.

Browsing was not necessary; it wasn’t hard to find. There was nothing illegal, or even unusual about it. But if he were caught? He dismissed the possibility because he preferred not to think about it. It was enough to know that Kerrick would be smart enough to guess right without facts. A few of the Others would figure it out with a little thought. Then they’d be all over him in a way that was not at all pleasant. Elgin knew he needed to know first; he needed to know for sure and settle his suspicions in the privacy of his own company. If it was true, then he’d need a plan and time to devise one that would keep him safe and alive. He had to get in front of the story – to know and understand first – and then control it. The secret – if it was true – would be impossible to keep forever.

At the cashier, he could hardly let go of it long enough for her to swipe it. In an instant, he had it stuffed in his pocket before she could ask if he wanted to pay five cents for a bag. He needed this transaction over with – done – complete – so he could bury this worry once and for all.

“You have a card?” she said as if loyalty to a brand mattered.

“No.” He was impatient and snapped a twenty out of his wallet. Nerves at his elbow and fingers thrummed with pain.

She kept chewing the fruity gum in a way that distorted her cheek and overused her tongue. The glare he gave her had no effect on her speed or her accuracy. She looked at him with dopey eyes as she gave him change and the receipt with too much effort with the math.

Outside, the cold air refreshed him. He felt himself free of detection and let out a long breath. He looked at his watch again. Phil would be waiting to review the programming list for the week. There were a couple of great interviews lined up; a world premier of one of the show’s most popular bands plus the usual stuff Elgin did that made his show number one. Elgin would point out a spelling mistake. Phil would say close enough and protest as Elgin made a point of pulling out his pen and made the correction. Phil would accuse him of being overly fussy and incapable of letting an imperfection pass. Then Phil would sigh and fix the second copy.

As Elgin went into the building, he considered the just-purchased contents of his pocket. He would have to wait. Beyond the door in the hall, there was the quiet hum of a janitor’s vacuum. On an overhead speaker, the radio station played music. The early evening crews were still in and changing shifts with the news and sports that would take them into the next day.

Eglin stood at the door of the meeting room – sunglasses on – wrapped in his long leather coat. Phil waved him in and he sat.

“Here’s the roster for next week. Have a look.” Phil pushed the notes half way and Elgin reached out and hesitated. There it was again – that radiating numbness that went all the way down to his pinkie and ring finger. He curled and flexed his fingers to ease the numbness.

It took Phil a few beats. Clearly he debated it before he asked. “You ok?”

“Fine.” Elgin said. The numbness had been with him since he had smoothed his hand over her forehead and let her sleep. Weeks had passed since that point but the tingling down his arm had persisted. As if he were perpetually connected to some electrical current that he could not break free from.

Phil kept the meeting going, not at all aware that Elgin willed him to end it early. Once it was over, Elgin was out of the room almost before Phil had the last word out. Elgin could wait no longer and in the hallway surveyed above him for security cameras. Spotting the understated orbs, he fled for the men’s washroom and enclosed himself in a stall with a snap of the metal bar.

He paused a moment – again to check his surroundings – and now he accepted the lable of paranoid. Still – it was too important be accidentally discovered. Secluded and secure, he reached into his pocked, and pulled out his purchase. With a flick of the end tab, he opened the box and slipped out the contents. Then – after a significant pause and with a vague sense of anxiety – Elgin took his temperature.

Solitude

February 2, 2011

Solitude – Jan 31 2011

Avis became conscious in that creeping, incrementally buoyant way as if coming up from a deep dive. She became aware of things – one after the other – of the quiet hush of air through heating ducts, of the heaviness of all her limbs and the fatigue that went straight into her bones. Snuggling deeper into the covers, she retreated and resisted full wakefulness. She was surrounded by warmth and soft comfort but she had the sensation of emptiness in the middle of her brain – a blank space as small as a pin prick – as if there had once been a thought there but had now gone missing.

For a moment, she believed herself at home in her own bed but then she stretched out and hit something with her foot. When she opened her eyes, she was facing the back of a couch. Even in the semi-darkness, she recognized the button-studded diamond pattern and the deep, rich leather that was the same black, iron-red shade as dried blood. She closed her eyes again. Memories were flash pops of light, each one lasting only long enough to deepen the hurt of her heart. She pushed her face into the pillow and felt tears open her lids into slits. She let the misery of her circumstances wash over her without resistance. Everything hurt. Her heart. Her head. Her bones. She sniffed but it was – comparatively – not much of an effort. This was just residual snuffling; she knew she had cried herself sick the night before. It was all out of her system except mending the hurt and getting him out of her life –dumping him from her electronic social universe, throwing out the silly little things he had given her as gifts, forgetting that he was ever relevant.

She sighed and rolled to her back to stare at the ceiling. Waiting for Elgin to speak, she resisted the idea she would have to leave this swath of blankets and comfort and get on with her day. She could have stayed in this warmth, surrounded by security for a week. When no voice spoke to her, she lifted her head. Avis was now properly awake. She looked around.

“El?” She asked the shadows. “You there?”

Nothing. She knew him long enough to know that he had an innate ability for stillness; it was a stealth that could make him invisible if he chose not to speak.

“El?” She tried again.

The hollowness of the vents answered with a huff of air.

She swung her legs over the edge of the couch, bringing all the blankets with her to sustain the integrity of the blanket cocoon and her safety in its centre. On the coffee table  propped up against a trio of books was a sheet of paper. It had been placed deliberately – so it would be noticed. She disturbed an unseen key when she reached out and retrieved the thick linen paper. Expensive, she thought. This was not a scrap sheet torn out of a date book, or a make-do note using the back of an envelope. It was as heavy as a wedding invitation; creamy white with an elegant unfinished bottom edge.

The paper matched his hand writing in an effortless and aesthetic way. His style was refined and cursive; fluid and flawless. The words were set in the center, like a piece of art, with wide symmetric margins all around. Each line of text went across the page; straight and unwavering. It would have taken her days, drafting equipment and a light box to create such perfection.

He had used a fountain pen; black ink. Avis knew the pen – she could not think of ever seeing him use a ball point. It was an antique, she was sure. She had held it once and it was heavy and covered in deeply etched filigree and swirls and belonged in a seventeenth century palace in Paris.

She balanced the note on her fingertips, taking great care not to spoil the note in any way and read.

“Had to leave. Uncertain when I will return. Cereal in cupboard. The key is yours. EV”

He signed his initials in a way that had them overlapped – like a designed insignia.

Reflexively, she looked around the room as if to confirm that he truly was not there. She took the key in her hand, the note in the other and sat back, not knowing what to do with the unexpected solitude and that little bit of emptiness that pulsed in the middle of her mind.

Illness

January 19, 2011

She cried herself sick.

My place is filled with semi-darkness. I sit in my usual chair surrounded in a halo of golden light given off by the one lamp that remains on. Holding her room key between my fingers like a cigarette, I slowly trace the smooth circular top back and forth with my thumb and watch her sleep. She is curled up at one end of my chesterfield – wedged in against a pillow like an exhausted kitten. Her hair has gone every which way and in her hand, she still grips a ball of Kleenex.

I have covered her. The smell of her tears and sweat will be on that blanket. She will be in this room, on the fabric, in my head for weeks. The scent will haunt this place no matter where I put the coverlet, distracting me until I can perceive of nothing else but I know will refuse to launder it. Torment of presence is preferable to the hollowness of absence.

She stirs and shifts. A tissue wad rolls to the edge of the cushion and drops to the floor. Her brow becomes a frown of sadness. It shifts to grief. Her hand twitches.

From the gulped sentence fragments and the shattered hurt that had been in her voice, I know that He has broken her heart. I am still without a clear idea of who He is or what specifically he did yet I believe I understand his nature; he chose New Year’s Eve – just after the joy of fireworks and champagne toasts – to end their relationship. There is a certain humiliating viciousness in that – a symbolic shedding of old to welcome a year not yet used. He discarded her to begin anew with another.

He is a cad, and a rogue. In less polite company, I would be calling Him much worse than even the epithets she has used yet I cannot think of Him with anything but deepest affection and personal gratitude. He has released her and once again she is free and without encumbrance. In her independence, I am restored and able to reside once again in her world.

She rolls her head back. The frown has deepened. Her eyes flicker without opening as her sleep sinks into a dream. She lets out a quiet moan. It sounds like fear.

I am compelled without understanding to go to her side. I have capacities well beyond human means. I am strong; powerful. I have centuries of knowledge and experience yet with all this, I can do nothing to help her. There are no words to comfort her. I cannot hold her tightly against me and caress away this hurt. I cannot mend her broken heart.

I hold out my hand as if I might touch her. I cannot. There is no reason for me to do it except that it occurs to me that I must. I ignore the feeling that I must make physical contact with her but it will not desist and instead grows stronger. I draw my hand even closer and then, unable to resist I place the tips of my first two fingers at the base of her brow. I move my fingers over her forehead and smooth out the lines. Unlike before, there is no frission. Have I grown so accustomed to her with only one touch that it has lost all meaning to me? There is no sensation of anything more that the softness of her skin and then there is a starburst in my mind – a flash bulb of memory going off in my head that blinds me. The picture is momentary. All at once, I am submerged in a moiling black abyss, unable to breathe. Terror chokes me and drags me under. I convulse and break contact with her. The image is disappears. My mind is blank. All that I am left with is an intense emotional residue. I step away. She does not waken.

I back away towards my chair. Reaching behind me, I find the armrest and then sit. I try to shake off the sensation of suffocation and terror that has seized me. She sleeps without dreams. Her expression has eased to benign peace.

When I look down, I realize my hands are shaking.

New Year’s

January 11, 2011

New Year’s Eve has an undertone of sadness to it that no amount of champagne and glitter can disguise. I prefer to mark the event in the company of my own solitude.

It’s the first line of that Scottish ballad… should old acquaintances be forget … and never brought to mind. It echoes of loss and reminds me of mine who are no longer here. Lyrics get me every time. Sours me for celebration and fireworks.

I am old. I have known many people. On New Year’s, I miss of few of them. If my melancholy is particularly acute, I even miss some of the ones that I wasn’t overly fond of. Regardless of our differing opinions, long ago we shared … experiences. They were part of a story that I find myself unwilling to retell to those that were not there. My loneliness resides in the infinite details of time and place – echoes off the Thames … silk dresses rustling with movement … horse hooves on cobblestone … the smell of wood fires … metallic draw of a scabbard from its sheath. Things were different then. The effort to explain it all is too much for me and without it, the story lacks soul. No amount of explaining can reproduce it. Stories can only be appreciated with those that were there. And – over the years – there are less and less who were there.

This New Year’s, there is only one who keeps hold of my thoughts. It has not been the same between us since her return. Cereal bought in the Fall is still on my shelf. She does not visit. Her schedule has changed. Mine cannot. I miss her and so I go for a long, directionless walk to forget her.

It is a mild, brilliantly starry night. I move among the masses of humanity who are out and gathering on this one special evening. Passing by clutches of friends who link and unlink arms and laugh and bump into each other, I close my eyes and inhale. Everyone has been eating meat, animal fat, nuts and spices for the past two weeks. For me, this is like walking into a high end restaurant. The aroma of humanity has been enriched. Tonight it is intoxicating. The possibilities are tempting. I keep walking and enjoy the wafts that tease my appetite and stir the cravings that are my constant companions.

At midnight, I am at City Hall. Standing at the fringes, I watch the performance on the stage. I have interviewed the opening band on my show. They are young and ambitious and anxious to earn their dues. They struggle because the crowd is rowdy and wants the headliner act. The sound system has an intermittent short and this does not help their cause. The production lurches along and once the politicians arrive, the festivities grow unremarkable. I move on once the countdown is finished.

I continue wandering streets. The charm of midnight wears away. People flow around me. Sounds wash over me. I move against the current. Too many have spoiled their flavour by too much alcohol. I turn away from the rank fumes and their uncertain staggering. It is one, two hours into the year. Sirens wail. A cab darts through traffic and passes a street car. The night has gone stale. I head back to my place.

“Benny.” I say his name as I go through the front lobby. “Happy New Year.”

“Mr Valois.” He nods. His expression is pensive. Then he looks away and then back at me. It’s a move designed to give him the time and space to think. Whatever it is, he passes. “Same to you. Happy New Year.”

I don’t linger. When I reach my floor, I step off and see her. She’s in front of her place and all of a sudden, she slams her hands on door. The expletive is not creative, but it’s full of venom. I have to say her name before she knows I’m behind her. She turns and leans against the door but when our eyes meet, the anger drops away. Her lips press together but it’s not enough to hold back tears. She slides down the door until she is sitting on the floor.

“I lost my key.” She says it in gulpy breaths and she spreads her fingers into her hair and holds up her head as if in profound grief. “I lost my damn key …” It turns into sobs.

Whatever this is, it has nothing to do with keys. I squat down at her level. Tears are spilling down her face. The swelling drops are gathering at her jawline. I reach out to her with the knuckle of my index finger. I have never touched her. I have been deliberate about it because of what I am. The hunger I have felt all night long surges through my veins. I am acutely aware of the closing distance between us and revel in the ever-narrowing gap between us. There is a frission as my skin touches her. Her flesh is warm and supple and wet. Clamping down on my immediate impulses, I brush away the tears before they drop.

“What happened?”

She looks at me again with those big, curious eyes that take in the world with innocent wonder. There is one blink. Then a second. The words are percolating upwards. Resting my elbows on my bent knees and overlapping my hands in the empty space, I wait. Then it hits her.

“He dumped me …”

Bring Blood Ties Back to Life

March 17, 2008

Drive a stake through my heart.  Blood Ties has been cancelled.  For those of you who have missed the 21 episodes, Blood Ties is the TV show based on Tanya Huff’s successful series of books. Huff’s books have been printed in seven languages and available the world over. All seven books have had multiple runs and the first – Blood Price – is now in its 17th printing. Clearly – her characters have a strong international following.  The show’s story lines are an updated and mature take the much-loved Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. In both cases, we get equal measures of terrific monsters, tight dialogue and character conflict arcs. There’s story mythology, great fight scenes, obligatory vampings and black magic on vellum pages bound in fat leather tomes. In the case of Blood Ties, the story is all for grown ups.  Hess’ central three characters are Vicki, Mike and the Vampire Henry Fitzroy – the illegitimate son of Henry VIII – are well-developed, interesting, flawed and wildly entangled with each other. Vicki Nelson’s relationships with the two are complex. Mike is her ex partner and ex lover but neither Mike nor Vicki  seem completely content with the separation. He has what she hasn’t got –  a career as a homicide cop. (hers was ended by the onset of a progressive illness – Retinitis Pigmentosa). She has what he hasn’t got –  great intellect and profound instincts for crime-solving. They are at once attracted and repelled by each other – the blissful torment of familiarity. Her relationship with Henry is briefer but equally intense. Vicki saved Henry’s life by literally letting him drink her blood – which has created a physical bond between them. She is immune to Henry’s suggestive hypnosis – what the show calls “vamping”.  His attraction to her is immediate. That Henry also happens to be a sophisticated vampire who thrives in the one place Vicki can’t – the dark. This is one of the many “opposites” – a recurring theme of the show – she lives in daylight and he in the dark.  Naturally, Mike and Henry have met and predictably, they complete the triangle. They develop a territorial relationship defined in large part by Vicki, but also as two characters each used to their own version of power over others.  But now … all that? All that is gone. 21 episodes and it’s over. One season, a wow cliffhanger and it’s straight onto the “save the show” campaign. In some corners, there is talk about having aired a “second” season but that is just marketing around how the 21 episodes were aired. The is one full season. That’s it.  But I want more! So why save the show? Here are my top eight reasons: Reason #1: There’s lots left in the story engine. The end of Episode 21 had the Vampire leaving town and Mike devastated at being thrown out of the police force. Vicki is forced to chose between the two men in her life and is left with neither. She also has that progressive blindness that will eventually make her dependent. How will her independent nature reconcile with her illness? Then there’s those nasty black magic tattoos Vicki now bears on her wrists and a blood contract she made with mystical baddies. Henry is her best chance at surviving whatever revenge they have in store for her.  Any one of those story arcs could take seasons to resolve!  Reason #2: Vicki Nelson – Private InvestigatorVicki Nelson – both in the books and TV Series – presents as a smart, self-sufficient woman. And that – dear readers – is wonderful. How often do we see the female lead function as the reason for the rescue? Or as the secondary characters after the men?  Vicki is the central character of the show and it is around her that all the action is centred. While there are two other male characters – they are part of her world and not the other way around. That’s an important distinction and makes all the difference.  Competent female characters are rare. Keeping Vicki as part of the viewing landscape broadens the genre and attracts that large segment that wants to “see themselves”  portrayed in a central fashion.  Reason #3: Henry Fitzroy – The Vampire  Bram Stoker started it.  A vampire is a wanting whisper of desire. He is a brush of open lips and hard incisors teasing a bare carotid artery.  A vampire is that erotic mix of irresistible power, bestial impulses, and personally imposed self-denial.  Vampires represent a basic human torment we all share – that of competing desires.  At once we both want and deny ourselves – choices we have to submit or resist our desire for any of human vices. A vampire is also that illicit love that is bound to go wrong but we are compelled to go fall headlong nonetheless.  Henry Fitzroy is impossibly handsome; a favoured son of royalty. He has chivalrous manners, and is cultured, artistic, and aloof.  It is just too soon to say good-bye to this fascinating vampire.   Reason #4: Mike Celluci – Homicide Cop Mike Celluci may be – for a viewer – the most pivotal character. He is the character the most rooted in our reality. It is with Mike, we get a chance to reconcile the fantasmagoric and mythical world of the show with our own world. Without Mike, we cannot fully appreciate the wonder of Vampires, of magic, of monsters and Things not of this World.  Mike struggles to navigate through this newly emerging world and in many ways – his struggles make us comfortable because we too share scepticism and need the help of both Vicki and the Vampire. Mike is Us.  Mike also works as the perfect foil for both Vicki and Henry. He is the third part of a terrifically complex triangle.   Reason #5: The Production Values Part I The show is filmed in Canada and is accompanied by the very high standards we’ve come to expect from film crews north of the 49th.  This includes the lighting, costumes, make up, directing, and acting. There is a richness and warmth that has been captured on film that makes this a visually attractive show to watch. In particular – there is a “golden” look to parts of the show – as if scenes have been filmed with a hint of sunlight. The sun is a vampire’s enemy but visually adds tremendous richness. That pervasive warm glow is a nice juxtaposition.  For those who are familiar with Canadian television, it’s always a treat to see favourite local actors appear.  One of my favourites was seeing Fred Ewanuick (of Corner Gas fame) have a lead role in  the episode “Wrapped”.   Reason #6: The Production Values Part II – The Writing I’m showing my bias here and I firmly believe that writing is one of two fundamental success factors of a show (the other is electric acting). Blood Ties has its pacing down and is just the right mix of camp, humour and seriousness. If anyone longs for snappy lines and zippy exchanges, Blood Ties is a tonic. Yet the writers always ground us in reality just before things get out of hand. The writers have also done a great job at mixing the “stand alone” episode with the overall story arcs – the developing / deteriorating relationships among all three characters.  Every show is a perfect serving of meat and potatoes.   Reason #7: The Fan Base Continues to Grow According to the fine folks at Kyle Schmid’s Fan Website, the show has continued to attract new fans. Most of this new viewership is reported to be from the most powerful form of fandom – word of mouth.  Think about this for a minute. If you are a Big Decision-Maker and looking for a show to put on your network, wouldn’t you want to find just such a hidden gem of a show? One where the viewers themselves are selling the merits of the show? Certainly there are few types of people more passionate than an enthusiastic SF fan.   Reason #8: The international appeal of the books and the show At the end of the day, the driving factor for any show’s survival is viewers.  Can a studio bank on the investment it makes in the show? These books and the show are popular the world over.  They have never been out of print. The 21-show season is getting aired in various corners of the globe and a solid fan base continues to grow.  What better reason to invest in a show that having a ready-made, international viewing audience that is clamouring for more?   Show your support! There are a few places where you can sign on-line petitions. Check out this at Kyle Schmid’s Fan Site for complete details on how to help get the show back. It lists both internet-based petitions as well as a convenient summary of addresses for postcards.