Kisses from strangers.

She had forgotten what it felt like to breathe. This man had unleashed something in her. She didn’t even know his name but he had laid bare all her secrets and freed her from them. She turned over to look at his beautiful face as he slept. His dark lashes emphasised his ivory skin and his mouth was parted. She recalled that mouth exploring her body and the unusual stillness of her mind.

They had seen each other across the crowded club and she had gravitated towards him as if being pushed by an invisible force. She had indulged in a couple of tequila shots only moments before with Carla and the girls but it would normally take much more than that to throw herself at someone. But she could not resist the lure of his gaze. Was it his smoky eyes that drew her or the amused incline of his mouth? She flushed when she remembering standing in front of him.

“Hello.” She had said as though it held hidden meaning.

“Hello.” He said and his smile splintered into a grin. His teeth were white and straight and she longed to kiss his generous mouth. “Drink?” He said and she nodded. He laughed and it was strong and masculine and unbelievably captivating. She remembers having to sit down on a barstool. Her knees were wobbling. I am absolutely friggin’ weak at the knees, she thought, wondering whether Carla was watching her make a fool of herself. “What can I get you? Beer?” He said, his eyes like the ashes of fires. She nodded again not trusting herself to speak although she hated beer.

They took the beers with them and stood outside leaning up against a car and he kissed her. The beer dropped from her hands splashing up against their jeans but they barely noticed. His tongue teased and probed her mouth until she felt all of her disappearing.

“My car is around the corner.” She said and he nodded. Her keys were in her pocket but Carla still had her bag. She thrust it from her mind and concentrated on driving. His hand was on her thigh, which felt feverish. All thought was driven away by sensation. She parked the car outside the apartment building and they were quiet for moments. She stared out of the windscreen acutely aware of his gaze on her. His hand was still on her thigh and he flickered his fingers further up her leg. She gasped and flung her arms around his neck and they kissed once more. He broke away and looked intently into her eyes.

“Should we go in?” He said.

“Yes.” She said and it came out strident as though she was trying to convince herself but she needed no convincing. This felt more right that the three year relationship with Drew.

She was gratified that she and Carla had tidied up before they left and the flat looked attractive and inviting. Her sketches were on the pegboard and Carla’s photographs fanned out over the walls.

“Do you want something to drink?” she asked although she couldn’t remember if they had anything. He shook his head and she opened her bedroom door. She had left her nightlight on that she’d had since she was a kid. Complete darkness still made her uneasy. It gave the room a pink hue. He sat on the bed and pulled her down next to him. He was unhurried, his fingers leaving a trail of warmth on her skin as he peeled the clothes from her body…

She slept better than she had in years.

“Morning.” He said smiling up at her. He smelt of dew and sunshine. She leant over and kissed him.

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Second chances

 

There wasn’t much going on, but there was a sense of expectancy today as Maggie McCloud padded to the front door in her slippers. Foster her sleek black cat was meowing piteously on the other side. She opened the door. Foster gazed at her for a second, juddered his tail in greeting and strode into the house.

“Good Morning Foster have you been out all night then?” Said Maggie filling his bowl with cat food from the tin on the sideboard. She turned on the kettle. It was still early and the sky, framed by her kitchen window, was flushed.

Maggie made it a rule not to rise before six. She did not want to become like Mrs Gillis next door who wore her carpets thin pacing the floors all hours of the day and night. Time is a strange one, to be sure, she thought with a smile. When she had the children living at home there were never enough hours in the day. Now she struggled to fill them. She was not one for the telly. David, her husband of forty–two years had loved the football and the game shows.

“Come now love, leave the cleaning and sit here next to me. Lets watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ together.” He would say and pat the worn sofa. She’d sit for a few seconds but it was torture doing nothing. Maggie wished now she had sat, held his hand and watched the programmes he had loved so much. There are no second chances in life she brooded, pouring hot water over the teabag. She shook her head and scolded herself. She was one of the lucky ones. She had enjoyed forty-two years with David. She still had two beautiful children and three adorable grandchildren who visited her on the last Sunday of every month.

She took her tea out into the garden and welcomed the sun’s salute to the start of the day. The garden called out for her attention and before long she was happily weeding with Foster weaving in and out of the flowerbeds.

Her doorbell chimed and she looked down at her wristwatch. Goodness me, she thought, it is almost lunchtime and I haven’t even thought about breakfast. I wonder who that could be? Visitors were rare these days. She shook the soil from her clothes, removed her gloves and walked back inside. The doorbell chimed again.

“I’m coming!” She called hurrying to open the door.

“Maggie?” A craggy face with a shock of white hair said.

“Yes…may I help you?” She peered up at him. He looked vaguely familiar but she could not place him.

“It’s Donny…er…Donald Masters.” He said shuffling. He looked embarrassed that she had not recognised him.

“Oh my word, Donny!” She flushed now. He had been her boyfriend before she met David. How had he found her? “Come in, come in.” She said standing back for him.

He walked inside the house and stood stiffly in the hallway.

“I’m sorry, I should have called. I have moved into the area and someone mentioned that you lived here. I should have called.” He said again.

“I’m happy to see you. My goodness, Donny it’s been years.” Maggie said. His face was lined but his blue eyes were unmistakable.

“Forty –six years this September.” He said and smiled.

“You remember?” Maggie smiled up at him.

“How could I forget? It was my greatest regret letting you go. You still look exactly the same Maggie.”

“Oh now that’s not true.” Maggie said and laughed. She blushed and turned to switch on the kettle. She made tea and brought out the biscuits she reserved for family visits. She felt an unusual fluttering of excitement. You never could be sure what life had in store for you from one moment to the next.

Atonement.

My chest fills with the thin mountain air of Tibet and my orange robe sways gently in the afternoon breeze. I have been here for eight months already and my past is finally fading into insignificance. I was older coming into this meditative life, all of twenty years. Most of the monks come as children.

It is quiet in the gardens as most of the others are resting in their quarters having been up since four this morning for prayers. I cannot sleep preferring to study the Buddhist texts under a tree. I have so much to learn. I still receive the odd thwack between the shoulder blades for yawning during morning prayers.

My mind wanders and I close my eyes to regain the sense of peace I had moments before. It eludes me and I put the heavy book down on the cool grass and lean against the trunk of the tree. Bells tinkle in the breeze and the smell of apple blossom suffuses the air.

I remember the day I arrived at the ornate doors of the monastery. The deep rumble of monks chanting evening prayers seemed to swirl in the valley. I was exhausted, dehydrated and near death. I fell down at the foot of the door weakly hammering the heavy wood. The chanting was without pause but someone lifted me up. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness as a cool hand mopped my brow or coaxed warm soup between my lips. Later I heard that it was many days that my sickness lasted. They asked no questions and I gave no explanations.

It is as though no time has passed and I am plunged back into that time.

My parents were simple farmers in the mountains. I had loftier ideals and left for the city to seek adventure and wealth. I met a man called Hassid with stubble on his chin and a shifty eye but I noticed only the coins he held out so willingly. If I had known accepting his money would lead me down a path so dark and painful, I would have turned away to look no more on his face. But I did not. He took me to a man he called Hakima, whose mouth held much cruelty and his eyes knowledge of evil that up to that point I had no inkling.

“You are now mine.” He said handing me a wad of more money than I had ever seen. I ignored the uneasiness in my body.

It was not even a day before I was ordered to deliver and pick up packages all over town. I did not open them preferring not to know what they contained. It was through Hassid that I took my orders.

“You go to Hakima now.” He said one morning and his mouth was sulky.

“I don’t want to.” I said, afraid.

“You go now or you go nowhere ever again.” He said ominously.

Hakima was like a tiger circling me. I held my breath as he prodded my chest with his finger.

“I am happy with your work but it is now time to prove your loyalty to me. You will go with Sadat and follow his instructions.” He held out a handgun. I shied away but he took a step towards me. I took the pistol from his hand although I trembled.

Sadat was a big man with a shaved head and I followed him without speaking. He walked fast and purposefully up and down deserted alleyways. I followed tripping to keep up with him. He stopped and took out a pistol tucked into his belt. The gun Hakima had given me was still clasped in my hand.

A fat man with sparse strands of hair plastered wetly over his scalp was standing smoking a cigar and talking to three men listening with furrowed brows.

“This comes compliments from Hakima!” Shouted Sadat and his gun exploded and the man fell to the ground. I dropped the gun and ran. I ran for days without food, drinking from stagnant puddles and finally dropped at the doors of the Monastery.

The bells ring out the start of evening prayers bringing me back to this place. I pick up the manuscript and walk back inside. The Monastery is my sanctuary. I have been called to this life of quiet contemplation and I will live out my days here.

Do unto others…

 

She felt a fizz of excitement, like an electric shock running through her body. What had felt overwhelming just moments before now seemed quite manageable.

Rayne had been in this position before. Why had she felt so trapped? Cape Town wasn’t the only place to live. She could move to Durban. The sea was a significant part of her life now she was reluctant to return to concrete and landscaped gardens. The constant humming in her head had confused her but that was starting to fade. She would move and leave it all behind. Like before. Disappearing had solved the problem of Kevin.

The cave wall was cool against her hand and the rumble of the ocean was background music. Her mood had fluctuated the last few days but today she felt more optimistic. She pushed aside the recurring vision of Jake lying in that awkward position on the floor of their apartment. She hadn’t hit him hard although the vase had shattered scattering glass all over the parquet floor. The shards were like diamonds catching the light from the huge picture window that had sold the flat to them both. She had panicked and run to the only place that felt safe.

Jake had brought her here right in the beginning. They met two years ago only a day after she arrived in Cape Town and the sea was thrilling and foreign. He had crossed through a throng of people on the beach to introduce himself to her. He had pursued her and looked intently into her eyes and said she was beautiful.

Perhaps they had moved in together too quickly? He changed when all he had to do was roll over in the bed to find her. She only wanted to be noticed, acknowledged. Was that too much to ask? But he had sneered, his lips curling in that dismissive way he had. High maintenance, he called her and then he turned away. It was instinct to grab the vase. Kevin had been the same. She chose the wrong people every time. Or maybe she was too eager when they chose her? Next time she will be elusive and make them work harder for her.

The cave was a good place to think. The rhythm of the waves soothed like a mantra and she felt rejuvenated. She repacked her beach tog bag, hitching it over her shoulder. The scramble up the steep path took all her attention so the two burly men holding badges out in front of them startled her. Her car was bathed in oily sunlight behind them but they barred the way.

She smiled and flicked her coppery hair over her shoulder. The men looked disconcerted and shuffled nervously.

“How can I help you fellows?” She said.

“You need to come with us to the station, miss.” They said in unison.

“Okay. You can tell me why in the car.” She said and smiled again. She had been in this situation many times before and always got out of it. There was no reason why she shouldn’t again.

 

 

 

 

 

Last Days.

The mist has come down and the swallows are flying low. Their wings brush the edge of the barred window. I am hunkered down below the windowsill trying to catch my breath. They have been coming all day, multitudes of them swarming like locusts. The stench from their ulcerated flesh hangs like a pall over the farm. The anguished bellow of cattle makes me cover my ears. They drink directly from the jugular puncturing the flesh with their sharpened teeth.

We had believed we were too far away for the legions of undead to infiltrate. We were wrong. I close my eyes to dispel the horror of the past few hours. The screams could be heard from miles away but still we were unprepared for the swiftness of their emaciated limbs. The trickle of water from the stream outside seems out of place amongst the sounds of carnage. We were split up. I ran to the packing shed blind with panic. I haven’t been here since I was a child. It was used to store wool and as a shearing shed but we’d closed it up when we sold the sheep.

“Flippin’ takeaways for the locals, these sheep.” My father had growled after a night of losses. My stomach tenses when I think of Dad. My invincible father buried by putrefying figures in a feeding frenzy. That was when we were separated, trapped in our own nightmare. My brother and his wife and my nephew, Blake disappeared in another direction. I stifle the sob, which is threatening to unravel me.

Appalling stories seeped down to the farming community, like surface water into underground rivers, about nine months ago. When it started the cities were the target. Television was the first to go. Now Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of years of technology have been obliterated. Our farm was always off the grid so we missed only the lack of contact with the outside world. The most frightening thing was trying to sift fact from fiction. The problem was that we had no reference points for this reality. I am no better equipped now that I know.

Squeals and grunts leak through the mist and I peer out of the window. I see a small figure running from a wave of shadows. It is Blake. Without thinking I stumble to the huge doors, throwing aside the barricade I’ve created with pallets and boxes.

“Blake here! Quick!” He turns and his mouth is a gaping hole of terror. I catch him in my arms and pull him into the entrance but the dark mass has seen us. I fling him inside whimpering and start to stack the pallets back into place. Drops of blood splatter onto the wood and I look in surprise at my hands. My nails have been ripped out. I feel nothing except the breath tearing from my lungs. Blake is screaming thinly from under a pile of woolsacks. I scramble under them too holding him tightly.

“Blake baby try to be quiet. They mustn’t hear us. I know it’s difficult. I’m here now baby.” My voice is rasping but he quietens trembling in my arms. Snuffling like truffle pigs the mass reaches the door, which starts to shudder as they push against it. I wonder how long the door will resist the onslaught and how it will feel to die. The door gives way with a crack of splintering wood and a familiar stench pervades the room. Blake has gone limp and still against my chest. The woolsacks feel insubstantial around us but I can see nothing. They bump and clatter around upending tables searching for us. I hold my breath and Blake is mercifully silent. After what feels like an eternity the scuffling quiets and I hear nothing. I ease the sack away and look around.

We are alone and safe, for now.

 

What if…?

There was something about the way the light fell across the room that reminded me of her. Sixty years have passed since I saw her last but my body lifts as though in greeting. Genevieve, my sister was my muse. She danced when I walked stolid as suet. She floated through her inadequate allotment of years and left me gasping for more.

“Tea, Ma’am?” The waiter said navigating the imaginary pebbles in his mouth. I nodded, resentful of his intrusion.

He bowed and left but she had already fled. Tears filled my eyes although I know I have mourned more than was good for me. When would I stop missing her? Time has done nothing to fill the hole that she left although I have lived an expansive life. As she predicted I would without her.

I squeezed my eyes shut and when I opened them she stood once more in front of me. A shaft of sunlight touched her flaxen hair tenderly and a grin flickered in her green eyes. The years and my aching joints have vanished and we are scampering up the wooden stairs and squealing like piglets. Gina weaves away from my grasping fingers.

“Girls! Decorum at all times! Genevieve, Madeleine stop that noise and come downstairs this instant.” Miss Claudine’s voice is a sharp bark. Gina flicks her head and disappears. I am frozen to the banister.

That was the first of three private schools we were asked to leave and not for running on the stairs to be fair to those institutions.

Father was in name only. His involvement with us was brief and brutal. If we were to continue to disrupt his work we would be placed in a reformatory. We had one last chance at becoming ladies. It was our choice. His moustache, stiff with wax, trembled but his blue eyes were cold.

He never forgave us for killing our mother.

It wasn’t murder but bad judgment. Although whose fault it was is debatable. We came together, Gina and me. It proved too much for her. We had one sepia photograph of our delicate mother, which we pored over to commit her into our memories forever. It was the only possession we fought over. Almost translucent from our yearning, it also pricked at our guilt and made us fractious with each other.

The new school was even further from Father than before. I decided that perhaps the way into his heart was to become a lady. Genevieve struggled to conform. Her body juddered with the effort of sitting still. I shook my head at her attempts to lure me into mischief. I placed my finger on my lips to silence her inappropriate outbursts.

“Maddy, I can’t do this. I should never have come.” Gina said tears flowing down her cheeks. I refused to walk arm in arm with her anymore. I made other friends and spoke in modulated tones. I flushed when they pointed fingers at my sister’s solitary wanderings in the manicured gardens but said nothing in her defence.

She crept into my bed at night and we slept in each other’s arms. When alone together we held our mother’s photograph and each other. One night about three weeks into the term Gina turned to me. The moonlight shone on her hair forming a silver halo around her head. She smelt of peppermint and sunshine.

“Maddy,” She said. “It is time for me to leave. I’ve always muscled in where I shouldn’t be. Even in the womb. I don’t belong here but you do. You will live a bigger life when I’m gone”

“Don’t be silly.” I said. “Maybe it was me who muscled in? One way or another we were destined to be together. We will both have a big life, you’ll see. Go to sleep.” Then I turned onto my side away from her and fell asleep.

It was dark outside when I awoke and the moon was gone. So was Gina. I leant over and touched her bed. It was empty. ‘It’s time for me to leave’, her words echoed in my mind and I felt my way to the door. I was struggling to breathe and a painful band was tightening around my ribs.

The hallway light illuminated the staircase and I pattered downstairs. The front door was gently drumming against the doorstopper keeping it open. I walked outside.

A cool summer breeze lifted the edge of my nightdress. I heard a faint sound above me and looked up. Gina was on the roof standing close to the edge. It took me a few moments to realise her chilling intention.

“Gina no!” I screamed as she flew in slow motion, the white nightdress buffeting like wings behind her.

The waiter placed the bone china cup and saucer down in front of me and I stared down at the amber liquid and wiped my eyes.

Nolavia’s Shadow Chapter Sixteen

 

 As we strolled back home a shower of stars swept across the darkness. A blood red moon rose from the horizon and hovered over Nolavia like a fiery sentinel. Davalast gripped my hand tighter and we ran into the town square. Everyone was outdoors staring in wonder at the sky.

“This isn’t good” Muttered Davalast as we joined the crowd.

“It’s great. Maybe Mundanim is tired of keeping us in the dark.” Said Assennav. He shook his head.

“You don’t understand. It is 11.30 in the morning. If he had revealed the sun I wouldn’t be so worried. How has he managed to switch them? Anaira said he was only obscuring them but now I’m not so sure.” I squeezed his hand reassuringly.

“Perhaps we are mistaken. It’s been so long…” Davalast interrupted.

“No I’ve kept a constant record. There is no mistake.” If what Davalast said was true then it was worrying. Could Mundanim really switch night and day? I looked around for Anaira but couldn’t see her anywhere. I felt a bit disorientated too. I could hardly believe it was only 11.30am when so much had happened in so little time. I needed to speak to Ruatnac and tell him of my conversation with my father but first I would feel a lot safe knowing Anaira’s whereabouts. Nobody seemed to know or care where she was. They were all mesmerised by the moon’s welcome presence and turned away from Davalast’s bad-omen speech too. The constant darkness had taken its toll and they wanted to believe it was over. I was longing to believe as well but I knew too much to allow myself that delusion.

I left the crowd and walked into my house startled when something flashed across my vision and disappeared. Was it the illusive Silky? I sniffed the air and smelt the distinctive sulphuric smell of a grosslin. I shivered with revulsion. Grosslins are disgusting creatures that lurk about in alleyways eating decaying matter. Having one in the house was sickening. I hated to admit it but I’ve been terrified of them ever since one got into my crib when I was a toddler. I was loath to attempt catching the thing.

“You’re back?” Anaira said coldly crossing the room towards me.

“Oh hello Anaira I was looking for you.” I said ignoring her tone. “Did you see that revolting grosslin? It scuttled under the sofa. Help me get it out of the house.” Anaira pointed her finger at the couch.

“Eradicate!” She said and the couch leapt aside and the grosslin inflated like a balloon and burst, splattering against the side of the retreating sofa. I looked up at Anaira in horror. The couch shook itself and bits of grosslin flew against the wall.

“Stop!” I yelled. “Clean up this minute.” A cloth and dustpan sailed out of the cupboard and wiped and cleaned until there were no more signs of carnage.

“You said get rid of it.” Anaira said with a smile. I shook my head and walked down to my laboratory.

“Where have you been?” She said complaint in her husky voice. I ignored her question.

“What do you make of this new turn of events?” I said lighting numerous candles with an irritated flick of my wrist.

“Mundanim raising the bar as usual.” She said. “You will struggle to bring him down.” Her dismissive attitude annoyed me. I’ve been bending over backwards to see things from her side but she did nothing to make it possible.

“I see you’ve dropped the ‘we’ already Anaira. Does this mean you are no longer our ally?” I was angry and wanted to lash out at her. I restrained myself but could not stop the violet sparks escaping from my eyes. They looked like fireflies briefly before fading. Anaira couldn’t help but notice.

“I’ve upset you? I am sorry I must have misunderstood. I thought you wanted the grosslin gone…?”

“It has nothing to do with the grosslin and you know it. Are you working with Mundanim?” We glared at each other for moments. The violet sparks circled my head again popping like soap bubbles. I hated losing control but Anaira was pushing all my buttons. She finally broke away from my gaze and flopped down on the sofa.

“You know I’d never do that? You don’t include me in anything. You go off with Davalast and I’m left here all alone most of the time. I keep hoping you will notice me but you never do. “ Her eyes shimmered in the candlelight. I sat down next to her and she turned to face me. “I need you to want me.” She said flinging her arms around my neck and burst into noisy sobs.

A series of sharp explosions came from outside and we ran up the stairs in time to see the moon explode with a bang that rattled the windows and shook the walls. Sparks flew across the sky once more before we were plunged into darkness. A theatrical laugh reminiscent of the wicked witch of the west rang out ricocheting off the buildings. Mundanim was definitely upping the ante and it seemed he was attempting a sense of humour, albeit it maniacal.