It’s a Celebration!

“It was strange being surrounded by the glory of Heaven, knowing you had nothing, but trying to hang onto it anyway.” ~ From Always Darkest

Feathers

It’s a special day for Demons Run Lit.

Always Darkest is having a birthday!

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If you want to celebrate with us here, we thought an excerpt from the sequel would be a fun way to do that.

From Before the Dawn (Coming Soon) …

Teddy made his shuffling slippered way down the hall, rubbing his eyes. It wasn’t so much sleep stickiness now; they were beginning to burn. Awful smells started to overpower his mom’s good cooking. One smelled mechanical like when Mal’s catalytic converter went on the fritz a while ago, one smelled kind of like the stink of the grill on the patio the morning after a cookout, and the other was a sickly metallic smell that made Teddy feel as though he’d eaten ten pennies.

He was stopped cold by the tableau he witnessed as he entered the dining room, and fell to his knees retching and weeping, remembering all at once that this couldn’t be real, remembering what had happened, and realizing that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t real, he was really here.

Spread out over the dining room table was his father’s dismembered and smoking corpse. It was arranged carefully on various platters, as though this was some kind of nightmare holiday. In serving bowls tucked neatly in between the plates were dishes with big spoons and ladles containing what could only be blood, brains, and ugh, Teddy didn’t even know, but probably other inside parts. Teddy saw that Kelly’s highchair was empty but there was a split down the middle of its back and a long, curved blade rested in the wood of it, blood pooled in the seat, turning black and sticky as he looked on.

In front of the empty chair was a large platter covered with a silver dome, a gleaming carving knife resting on its edge. Teddy prayed under his breath that no one would open it. Then he thought about what would be there if they did and he immediately threw up all over his mom’s favorite cream-colored carpet. This was all terrible enough, he didn’t want any of that all over him. He struggled to his feet, using the door frame for leverage to compensate for his shaking legs and he leaned against it heavily, pretty sure he was going to pass out any second.

He glanced to the side and out on the terrace, the smoking wreckage of the waterfront as its backdrop, Teddy saw his friends, dangling by their ankles from the balcony of the apartment above like some sort of perverse wind chime. It looked like they were dead, but in the silence of the dining room he could hear whimpering and weeping. One of the voices he could hear was distinctly Mal’s. His knees nearly buckled again.

As he started sliding back down the door frame into the stinking mess he’d made, he saw an even greater horror at the head of the table. His legs froze, and he straightened almost against his will. At the head of the table sat the monster from Petra’s, the monster from his dreams.

The Handsome Man, for that was how Teddy thought of him in the long hours he spent thinking of him every day, was sitting in Teddy’s father’s chair comfortably, his beautiful monstrous face split into a wicked grin, a newspaper he was clearly not reading held up in front of him as a prop for the scene he had created.

Behind the Handsome Man stood Teddy’s mom, his no-nonsense heart surgeon mom, dressed like someone out of a 1950’s TV show and looking down at The Handsome Man with blank affection while calmly rubbing his shoulders. Teddy tried not to let it happen, but he bent over at the waist, throwing up again, more violently this time. His stomach muscles were starting to feel a little sprung already. Maybe they’d just let him stand here and throw up until he was so dehydrated that he’d die. That sounded pretty good.

The Handsome Man folded the paper and put it down on the table next to Teddy’s father’s head and looked at him reproachfully. “Come now, Theodore, is that anyway to greet your new daddy?” …

Merry Christmas!

Horseshoe roses

Here is an excerpt from Book II, Before the Dawn.

Merry Christmas.

 

And So, This Is Christmas

Ben had been worried that the news of the destruction being wrought by Heaven and Hell, most likely in an effort to flush them out, would set back Mal’s resolve to remain optimistic. He’d gotten up the next day expecting the worst. He found instead a woman determined to enjoy every moment. She blithely ignored news reports and dragged him out ice skating for the afternoon, or maybe took him on a walk around whatever town they were in to decide which place had the best pie through excessive sampling.

Everything went so well in the weeks that followed, he was a little ashamed of trying to protect her from the information. His reserve had caused more strain on their relationship than he’d realized. He knew she worried about his future, too, but, he resolved that he would deal with that only when he truly had to. He knew he sometimes held himself at a distance because of it and that she wondered why.

He wanted to do something to make it up to her but had no idea of how to begin. He lost a lot of sleep over it as they made their snowy way north over the month of December. When they finally made camp for the holiday weekend, he thought he had an idea, just something to reassure her that, no matter what, he’d do his best to give them the future she envisioned.

When Mal rolled over and reached out for Ben, his side of the bed was empty. She cracked an eye open, thinking perhaps she had overslept, but found it completely dark. She decided that he must be in the bathroom and started dozing again while thinking about their Christmas plans and hoping it wouldn’t set Teddy off. If Thanksgiving was any indication, holidays were going to be hard for him, but they’d agreed that doing normal things and helping him through when he struggled was better than walking on eggshells all the time. Better for him, too.

However, they were planning a very low-key day so hopefully it wouldn’t make him, and subsequently everyone else, miserable. She’d noticed when Teddy had a bad day, Ben was more prone to nightmares. He was so damned protective; he obviously felt like a failure when someone else had a rough time.

She was almost fully asleep again when Ben crawled back into bed. She moved closer and drowsily put an arm around him. “Baby, you’re cold,” she mumbled.

“I’m okay,” he whispered.

Still not really awake, Mal asked, “Why are you cold?”

“I was outside.” He burrowed more deeply under the covers and put one arm around her and one under his pillow.

Not even processing what he said, she slurred sleepily, “Should do s’magic an’ warm up.”

“Too tired. You’ll just have to snuggle me.”

She wrapped a leg around him too, as she came a little more awake. “Why were you outside?”

Ben kissed her forehead. His lips, at least, were warm. “I’ll show you in a couple of hours. Go back to sleep.” And as he warmed up, they both dozed off.

When his watch’s silent alarm buzzed them awake, it was still dark, although no longer the pitch black it had been when he came back to bed. Ben pressed his lips to hers and whispered, “Merry Christmas.”

“Ben,” she groaned quietly. “Why are we getting up in the dark?”

“Because no one else will be.”

He pulled on an extra layer of clothes that he stashed at the foot of the bed the night before. He handed her a set of his sweats that would fit over her pajamas.

“Bundle up,” he whispered. “I want you to come outside with me.”

As Mal’s brain slowly started working at normal awake speed, she remembered her brief stirring in the middle of the night, and curious, she pulled on the clothes. They tiptoed past their sleeping campermates, only pausing to grab their jackets, hats, and gloves, dressing in them as they slipped quietly out the door.

Their boots crunched on the frozen ground, reminding Mal painfully of home. They took a few steps into the dark and then Ben stopped and turned to face her. “I have something for you and I can’t give it to you in front of everyone.”

Mal gave him a sly grin. “It’s way too cold out here for that, Ben.”

Even around his hat and last Christmas’s scarf she could see him blushing in the moonlight, but he did laugh. “That’s for Christmas night.” She reached out and took his gloved hand in hers to let him know she was done teasing. Ben cleared his throat. “So, people have been celebrating this season for thousands and thousands of years.”

Mal nodded. “I know it; the return of the sun, rebirth, and all that. It’s nice, I think.”

“It is. It’s a time for new beginnings, right? Celebrating possibility?”

“Yeah,” she agreed, but the word rose at the end, almost a question.

“I got you something, just … to honor that …”

He trailed off, unsure of how to say what he was feeling. He decided to jump in with both feet and just give it to her. From the pocket of his coat, Ben drew a little leather book, the kind that snapped closed. Hooked onto the clasp was a silver pen, engraved all over with the Celtic knot in a delicate repeating pattern.

“I didn’t have a chance to wrap it … I just figured out what I wanted to give you earlier, I mean yesterday, when I went into town.”

He passed it to Mal, who took it carefully, feeling how beautifully smooth the cover was, smelling the warm leather, and admiring the scrollwork on the pen. She made a move like she would open it and Ben said quickly, “It’s a journal for you … I wrote on the first page though.” Mal paused, looking at him inquisitively.

“I wrote my promise to you, sort of, for after … I thought you could use this to write about our lives … once we get there, you know … You can read it now if you want.”

She smiled and shook her head. “I think I want you to read it to me … when we get there.”

She looked a little teary, but she smiled as she threw herself into his arms. It was so cold their coats sounded crispy rubbing together. After a minute she stepped back. “I got you something, too. Hang on.”

Before Ben could say a word, she’d slipped back inside. She wasn’t gone even two minutes when she came noiselessly back out carrying a small velvet jeweler’s box. He didn’t even have time to think before she thrust it into his hand, looking a tiny bit nervous.

Needing her smile back, Ben kidded, “Are you proposing to me out here on the damned tundra? Because that’s not very romantic. A guy wants to be swept off his feet you know.”

She didn’t just smile, she laughed; a real laugh. Ben had the melancholy thought that it was a sound that had become too rare in the last several months. He would do a better job of making sure they both got to hear it more often. He started to open the box, too curious about what could have made her look so nervous to wait anymore, but she reached out and stopped him.

“I found this story, in one of the books I was reading a while ago …” Ben dipped his chin, encouraging her to continue. “It was about the Devil.”

“This just keeps getting more romantic. Be still my heart.”

“Be quiet and listen a minute, smartass!” Ben cracked up this time, thinking that his own laugh wasn’t a terrible sound either. “The Devil visited a blacksmith one day and asked for shoes for his cloven hooves.”

Ben knew this story. But he stayed quiet, wanting to hear her tell it.

“The blacksmith knew the Devil for what he was, and proceeded to shoe him, just as painfully and miserably as possible. To pay him back for any friends or family that might be suffering in Hell.” She paused, as a shadow passed behind Ben’s otherwise amused eyes, but he nodded encouragement. “So, the Devil, being the world’s worst wimp and completely unable to tolerate even the most minor suffering, ran off without his other shoe, vowing to never go near another smithy or even anywhere a horseshoe was displayed for all of time.”

“A piece of folklore obviously full of wisdom,” Ben smiled, waiting.

Mal looked at him expectantly. A minute passed. “Well, jeez, open it before we both freeze!”

Ben shook his head. “I wasn’t sure you were done. I know I’m the writer here, but someone should teach you how to end a story,” he chuckled.

Then he opened the little box and bit his lip. Resting against the velvet inside was a small pin. It was a golden horseshoe, entwined with a rose vine. Where the flower would be there was an exquisitely carved and polished garnet. Ben licked his lips, almost immediately regretting it in the biting cold.

“Mal, this is beautiful. But we can’t afford … Where did you even ..?”

“Don’t worry about money. I found it when I was looking through stuff for that lot auction a couple of weeks ago … My dad must’ve made it … It was right after I read that story. And I know that roses and garnets are supposed to represent my family for some reason … Between me and that horseshoe, I thought … I just want you safe … It seemed so perfect and I wanted…”

She was silenced by Ben’s mouth closing over hers. She could feel him clutching the little box. Then he slid it into his pocket, so his arms could go around her. After a minute, when they started to disengage from their embrace, Ben whispered in here ear, “I have something else for you.”

He took her hand and led her around the front of the RV. He was glad the noise of the generator would easily cover Mal’s delighted squeal of surprise when she saw what he had done. “So, I take it you like it?”

She hugged him again, bouncing a little, although he wasn’t sure if she was just pleased or if the cold was starting to get to her. Then she turned away from him to just stare at her gift. For a few minutes Mal was nearly speechless. They had all decided that a tree would be too much for Teddy. And honestly, it was close quarters in the RV without the addition of even a small version of Mal’s favorite form of holiday cheer.

But, Ben had found a way around, just like he always did. A few yards away from their campsite was a beautiful little snow-covered evergreen. But now, it danced with floating orbs of flickering light that reflected off the frost and icicles and looked as magical as it, in fact, was.

“I love it,” she whispered. Then she cleared her throat and repeated herself, so she could be sure he heard her gratitude. “I love it. Thank you.”

“It’s going to disappear the second the sun rises. The spell depends on the moonlight.”

“Oh,” was all Mal said, softly.

“I thought it would be better if it was gone when the others got up anyway.”

She turned back into his arms. “Good. It belongs to only us.”

They didn’t know it but, perhaps they could feel, they were both thinking the same thing. Neither of them had ever felt warmer on a cold morning, nor had they ever been more sure the future really held infinite possibility for them; that everything really could be alright.

In their own way, they were both very young.

 

On the third day of Fic-mas, you get a little more, Always Darkest Christmas, friends, and some lore …

Santas sleighAuthor’s Note:

This story takes place the week before St. Augustine School’s holiday break, in our novel Always Darkest, and features Mal, Ben, Petra, and Teddy, as well as a freckle-faced kid named Kelly.

 Yes, Virginia

“Teddy … Hello … Earth to Ted.”

When the redhead didn’t even glance up from his coffee, she reached out and pinched the back of his hand that was resting next to his mug.

“Hey! Ow!” he whined, in wide-eyed surprise. “What the shit, Petra?”

She gave an impish grin that made her look even more like a wood sprite than usual as she deftly caught the cookie he chucked across the table at her head. She took an unconcerned bite and grinned at their other companions.

Those two were sitting so close together they were practically sharing a chair, advertising the newly-minted nature of their relationship with their almost constantly linked hands. The girl used her free hand to pick up her coffee cup and pretend to offer it to Ted.

“Nice of you to join us. Maybe you should think about upping your caffeination game,” she laughed.

Her boyfriend got in the spirit of the group’s teasing banter by piling on with, “Don’t wake him up too much, Mal. I’m hungry and I’m kinda wondering what it would take to get him mad enough to throw a burger my way.”

“Haha, Ben; you’re a funny guy,” Teddy rolled his eyes and then glared at Petra. “That really hurt,” he protested, still rubbing his hand. “And oh look, I’m getting a bruise. Witch.”

“Hey,” she said with mock-indignation. “You leave my religion out of this.”

Ben grinned mischievously. “I don’t think he meant it that way, Petes. Ted’s just too nice to use the word he was thinking in the middle of a crowded café. I, on the other hand …”

“Knock it off, Brody,” Petra said with a little head shake.

He snickered, but shut his mouth. When she defaulted to last names, it usually meant she was annoyed.

“I’m sorry, Ted,” Petra said, looking appropriately sheepish for having pinched him that hard. “I know I went a little overboard, but you’ve been staring into deep space since you got here, completely ignoring us. I can tell something’s bugging you. What gives?”

He shrugged and Mal gave him a long speculative look. “Teddy, if something’s bothering you, you know we’ll try to help.”

Teddy just gave another noncommittal shrug. “It’s nothing guys, really.” He glanced around the table. No one was buying it. “It’s … it’s just silly.”

Ben could see his young friend doing the thing Ben knew was a bad road; the kid was getting up in his own head something awful. He was too young, too innocent to start developing that particular bad habit, he thought. He tipped the boy a grin and began sincerely, “Ted, c’mon, if you can’t tell your friends, your teammates what’s bothering you, who can you tell?”

Teddy looked almost like he was ready to talk, but was chewing his lip instead. Ben went on, his grin widening, advertising loudly, he hoped, that he was teasing.

“Speaking of teammates, maybe after we get done here, we should go for a run … ’Cause you do look fat in those jeans,” he teased. Then he put up both hands like he was ready to catch something. “So … burger?”

“Seriously, Ben?” Mal asked in a tone to perfectly match Teddy and Petra’s eyerolls. Then she winked. “Picking on friends is no way to make it one the Nice List. And getting on the Nice List will be worth your while,” Mal said with an arched eyebrow.

Teddy blushed, and Petra almost spit out her coffee. Ben pursed his lips, willing his own face not to color with little success, so he just grinned at her. “No fair using Christmas against me. Besides, you already know me well enough to know I’m more supportive when I’m well fed,” he replied, bringing the focus back to their efforts to draw Ted out of himself.

Mal bumped her shoulder into his and looked at Teddy. “Moving on then, before you boys faint from all that blood rushing to your head to make that pretty plum color. You can trust us, Ted. No more teasing, we promise.”

She looked at Ben emphasizing the ‘trust’ and ‘promise’. He just smiled and held up his hands innocently. “Sure, we.”

Teddy sighed. “Okay, but I have to warn you … This is a Santa thing.”

Ben almost made another joke, but the look he was now being given by Mal, and worse, Petra made him think twice. Their friend was finally opening up; play time was over. Ben just looked at Ted with polite interest.

“So, this year I’m getting stuck babysitting on Christmas Eve. I mean, not that I mind having my little brother, but my parents and some of their grad school friends are going to the Christmas party at the ski lodge near the townhouse they booked. We’re sharing the place with my dad’s college roommate and his family, so I’ll have Kel, and four other rug rats, all under the age of eight, cooped up in what’s basically a hotel room with nothing other than a TV and whatever gets brought for toys. No cell service. And no Wi-Fi,” he added darkly.

“Man, that sucks,” Ben commiserated. “But what’s that have to do with Santa?”

Teddy made a face like he’d tasted something sour. “It’s Brad and Joyce, my parents friends …  They’re like super rational. They don’t really have any use for religion. They don’t like myths or legends. And they don’t really celebrate Christmas … I mean they sort of do, but like for its historical significance and ‘because it’s easier to observe than abstain’. Their words.”

“Jeez, they sound like a blast to have around for the holidays,” Petra said with a deep roll of her eyes.

Teddy shrugged. “I mean, they’re really great people mostly … But we’ve spent Christmas with them before. And it was so dry. Everything they did came with this big explanation and was so cold and intentional. For me, Christmas without the magic just isn’t the same.” He flushed a little, embarrassed to sound so much a like a kid, but everyone was smiling at him in an understanding way, so he continued. “And Kelly is still at the age where he really believes in Santa Claus. I just don’t want to see Christmas ruined for him.”

“I’m sure Kelly’ll be fine, Teddy,” Mal offered, garnering encouraging nods from Ben and Petra.

“Yeah,” Ben said with a shrug. “Just do the ‘Yes, Virginia’ thing. It’ll all come out in the wash.”

“The what?” Petra asked, looking annoyed. Ben had a habit of knowing things nobody else knew and then looking at them like they were crazy when he had to explain himself.

“You know, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’. Chicago Sun Times editorial from the 1890’s.” He glanced around. “Guys, c’mon. It’s like super famous. There’ve been movies and cartoons and plays?”

Mal raised both eyebrows at him and smirked. “You are such a dork.”

He laughed. “Me? What’s the chemical formula for glucose?”

“C6H12O6,” she rattled off.

“Yeah,” Ben grinned. “I’m the dork.”

She laughed and leaned against his arm, twining her fingers with his.

Teddy puffed out a long dramatic breath through his cheeks. “But see the Atherton’s have an older kid, too. She’s a sophomore in college now, but … When I was in kindergarten, like five or six years old, our families did the ski weekend for the holidays thing for the first time. That was the year Jenn told me there was no Santa.” Teddy paused. “And you know, maybe a little bit older kid being a jerk wouldn’t have been a big deal, but when I ran crying to the adults, Joyce jumped in before anyone else could say anything and … That was the day Santa died for me.”

Ben shook his head. What kind of adult did that to a little kid? “Wow, man. That’s rough.”

“Holy shit! I remember you coming back to school and telling me about that bitch!” Petra said, way too loudly, drawing stares from some neighboring tables in the café. She covered her mouth for a second. “Sorry … It’s just, well … So, Jenn is a real person that really did that … I’d always thought …”

“Always thought what, Petra Catherine Knapp?” Teddy demanded.

“That she was like, you know, one of those girls you just … made up.”

Ben whistled and Mal looked very uncomfortable. Ted stood up and walked out the door without a backward glance or another word. Petra moved to stand up but Mal reached out and grabbed the tail of the jacket she was slipping on. “I’d let him go. He’s being a little weird today and you know Ted … He goes full ginger temper at the drop of a hat, but he’ll cool off. He always does.”

Petra took her coat off and dropped back into her chair. They started talking casually about holiday plans to pass the time. Petra grinned at how Ben’s ears colored when Mal asked, “So you’re really going to come over?”

He fidgeted with his napkin and gave her a shy smile, “If your dad is really inviting me.”

They moved on to which dumb Christmas movie they could all watch as a group and the relative merits of various types of eggnog, which Ben claimed was ridiculous. All eggnog was equally awesome and should be consumed in buckets not cups.

None of them noticed Teddy return until he cleared his throat and telegraphed his toss of a foil wrapped packet at Petra. She caught it and raised an eyebrow at him.

Ben recognized the smell immediately. “No way! Five Guys! You shouldn’t reward her behavior with that, Ted. I was way meaner.”

“It’s their veggie sandwich. I only throw food my intended target will actually eat,” Ted explained with a wink.

“Ugh. Never mind. She’s definitely the one who sucks then.”

“You little shit!” Petra said, face breaking into a smile anyway as she unwrapped her favorite burger substitute in all of downtown. She loved a place that catered to carnivores but didn’t forget that people like her existed. “I actually felt bad and you were just doing a storm off as a bit! Unbelievable!”

Ben chuckled. “At least I know where the line is now. But if I manage to piss you off, I like a double with bacon.”

“I’ll file that away for future reference.” Teddy sat back down with a grin. “Anyhow … before I had my honesty questioned …” Petra stuck out her tongue at him before taking a gargantuan bite out of her sandwich. “I was about to say that I just want to find a way to my brother’s Christmas, no … that’s not what I mean. I guess I don’t want him to lose … I want him to hang on to that … what the word …” Teddy fished around in his mind for the right turn of phrase, but couldn’t seem to come up with it.

“His sense of childlike wonder?” Ben offered.

“Yeah, something like that.” Teddy nodded thoughtfully before he continued. “The Santa thing is going to come up … And my parents are going to handle it poorly.”

“Have you tried talking to them?”

“I did, Petra, but it went exactly like I thought it would. They got all, ‘He’ll have to hear it sometime, son’ and ‘He probably already knows from other kids’. It was so frus …” Teddy was interrupted by the chirruping of his phone as his friends shared incredulous looks that Ted’s parents could be so dismissive of him trying to protect his little brother.

“Hey, Mom,” Teddy said into his phone. “Okay … Yeah, no, it’s fine. I’m on my way.” He sighed. “Yes, really.” Teddy stood up, looking around the table at his friends’ expressions. “Half hour,” he said. “No, I need the half hour. I have to make a quick stop … Don’t worry about it, Mom, I’m already packed, and I took care of Kel’s toy bag stuff before the sitter got there. Yeah,” he finished and ended the call. “Sorry guys, I’ve been summoned. I won’t see you before break so, have a merry, okay?”

Mal frowned, “But there’s still two days of class.”

“I know, but I guess we’re leaving earlier than we had planned. Somebody’s surgery got canceled so my mom’s calendar opened up.”

“Sorry we didn’t help more, Ted,” Ben said as he stood up, offering Teddy a handshake and being wrapped in a quick hug instead. “Merry Christmas, man.”

“Merry Christmas. And you did help. You really did. Talking about it, joking around with you guys, it made it better. Thanks.”

Ben grinned, stepping out of the way so Mal and Petra could get their own round of Ted’s enthusiastic Christmas hugs. The kid was like hugging a bear. You could almost forget he was an even better wrestler than he was a runner until he did something like shake your hand or throw his arms around you.

“Glad we could help, although I’m not sure I understand how …” Ben trailed off.

“I think I have a really good idea,” Teddy smiled. “This is up to me, and I’m gonna keep Christmas for Kel if it kills me.”

“Let us know if we can do anything from here,” Mal offered, hugging him a second time.

“I will. I gotta get going; I wasn’t making it up when I said I have to make a stop.” Teddy turned to leave the shop, then called back over his shoulder from the door, “Hey, I’m back on the 27th, let’s get coffee.”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

*****

The Velvet Dark

Here’s the opening to a little trifle I started a while ago. No sparkles, I promise. Just a little darkness, easy to dispel. ~ J

Prelude

The dark pressed in around her from all sides. It felt as though the darkness was, itself, a physical thing, enveloping her like a blanket. And truly, it may as well have been. Her back pressed firmly against the pillow-like softness beneath her, and she could only move a few inches to either side. She could not even move enough to shift her position and lessen the prickly sensation in her limbs that she knew would, after a time, become pain, and then numbness. In front of her, she could just raise her hands to touch the satin lining of the lid to the box that held her here in the blackness. They felt sticky, yet dry, and she couldn’t imagine why that would be. When she awoke, it had come slowly, through a haze. She could not remember where she had been or what she had been doing. Her first coherent thought was that maybe she’d had too much to drink at the club. That was so easy to do, to just drink and lose yourself in the sensations of the place. It would not have been the first time that Nightingales had made her forget herself and take things a little too far. More than once in the last few months her roommate had helped her make it back to her room to sleep it off.  “Keep this up, Vicki, and I’ll start to think you’re really one of us,” Mere had said. She tried to roll over to get out of bed, but found that she could not even get all the way onto her side. She tried moving the other way, thinking dimly that she, in a fitful sleep, had tangled herself in her blankets. This time she felt her shoulder contact something very firm, but soft. Undeterred, she attempted stubbornly to sit up and quickly smacked her forehead on the same firm, soft surface that held her shoulder back. As she became more truly awake, she began to feel the closeness around her. It felt as though she was enshrouded in an endless smooth blanket. Her heart began to beat faster. Thump, thump, thump; a quick staccato beat in her ears. She began to struggle against her newly discovered bonds, thrashing first one way and then another. The atmosphere in her prison grew hot and close and she realized finally that she was in a very tight space. Conceivably, she could be wasting a limited supply of air. Her exertions and the accompanying surge of adrenaline had awakened her fully.

Now, regaining her wits, she tried to assess her situation. The blackness was total, as if the sun ceased to exist, or more truly, as if she were in a world that had no sun. The thought felt utterly melodramatic, but at the same time completely true. She tried to slowly move her hands and felt the firm silken softness on all sides. Her arms and hands ached inexplicably. She knew she was lying on her back because her weight rested there, rather than on her feet.  Her senses told her that she was in a box of some sort, comfortably lined with cushions and soft folds of fabric. Her pulse began to race again. Her predicament, this box, no, if she were honest, this coffin, meant that only one person could be responsible for it. And she began to remember why this was so. She tried to push against the lid with her hands, to force it open, but found that she did not have enough room to gain advantage against it. Then, she tried to bend her legs to kick at it, but neither could she get purchase with her feet. She was becoming as much frustrated as afraid. She knew that it had always been about keeping this on her terms. Despite her rising panic, she realized that if it were a simple matter of pushing against this lid to regain the light, he never would have left her here. No, he would have been sure to see that her captivity was total, and that only he could free her. He would want to return for her at his leisure. She felt a cool breeze disturb her hair. Air was making its way into her little cell somehow. Apparently he intended for her to be alive when he returned. Of course he did. The moment was still hers. She still had options open to her.

Remembering how she had caused the aching in her hands, she ran her fingers down the silken lid. She laughed, just a bit at first, and then with increasing hysteria. It had all seemed like such an amusing game when they met. The way he dressed, the way he played his part at Nightingales, the way he’d used her name, and her nickname for him. It seemed like they had known each other forever, on the first night they’d ever met. It seemed, in fact, that he knew her and her intentions better than she did herself. As such, she never would have expected him to intervene in her life in this way. He had brought her here for a reason, left her in this softly luxurious tomb. In a way, how he had left her here was too perfect. Left her; locked away in this soft lush place, waiting for The Velvet Dark.