(An excerpt from FIRE’S CARESS. Coming November 28th, 2020)
Even though he knew what he’d see, it was still an unpleasant surprise. Because there was always the whisper of hope that maybe, just maybe – the black patterning would be gone. As quickly and as unexpectedly as it had come. That the whole thing was just a bad dream.
But there it was. Covering the entirety of his upper torso, a filigree of black lines, slightly raised from the skin, as if someone had injected his veins with dark ink. Foreboding yet darkly beautiful against the chiselled expanse of white skin. It pulsed with life and as he studied it with horrified fascination, there was another roiling surge of pain followed by the prickling sensation of thousands of tiny needles. Or the gnawing of teeth? He’d long given up scratching at it, he knew that did nothing. Creams, lotions and skin treatments. They gave him no rest, no peace. Like some parasitic alien thing growing inside him. It wanted something, only he knew not what. The Hunger was constantly biting, always pulsing and pulling at his skin as if longing to get out, to burst free.
Except for tonight. When he met Teuila at the art auction and held her hand in his, the constant irritant had suddenly stilled, as if soothed by some unknown force. The longer he’d spent in her company, the more the hungry pain had eased to a quiet dull ache, enough to make him forget its presence entirely. There was something about her, an aura she radiated, that seemed to negate the dark foreboding that threatened to erupt from deep within him. He felt the same thing from her artwork. It too emanated a kind of healing, throbbing energy. It seemed inconceivable that no one else could feel it. And then when her agent described her as having hands that give life – it made total sense to him. Of course!
He had hoped her effect on him would last beyond being in her presence. But as soon as he had escorted the two women to their car and bid them farewell, the familiar pain had returned, with an even more vicious bite because he had remembered for a few hours what it felt like to live free of it. Now it seemed unbearable.
He swore as he gripped the table edges tightly and gazed down at himself with loathing. He couldn’t live like this. He wouldn’t. Not any longer.
Who knew if it were desperation or rage which drove him to get a knife from the expansive silver kitchen and then back to the hall mirrors for a better view of the task at hand? A deep breath, a mutter under his breath, “Screw you, Aitu!” as he braced himself. He intended to dig the blade into the side of his midriff, just an inch, carving away a section of the top layer of his skin. But his hands were shaking and the blade was sharper than he expected. It slipped and sliced his careless fingers. He flinched.
But unlike any blood he’d ever seen. A purple so deep it seemed black. It dripped from his hands, eager and quick, a thick fluid that seemed to have a life of its own. Marc stood by a cluster of decorative ferns, growing in enamel pots. Drops fell onto the lush greenery and instead of congealing on the leaves, the blood continued to flow, sinuous and sure, expanding until it coated every leaf and stalk. Marc stared, stunned, the pain of the cut forgotten at the sight of his blood – if that’s what it was – moving and acting as if it was an agent unto itself. A living, breathing thing.
What happened next made him stagger back in horror. The lush greenery wilted to a withered brown, sucked dry of life, the brittle remnants disintegrating until nothing but a pile of dust remained.
“What the hell?”
The blood was no longer dark. Instead it pulsed gold, as if brimming with light. Then, as Marc stood frozen in disbelief, the blood returned to him, seeking and finding its point of exit, even as he vainly tried to brush it away. It fed back into the blade mark and Marc was no longer resisting because he was flooded with the most exhilarating sensation, better than sex, more intense than any artificially induced high. He sank to his knees, cradling one hand in the other, as fierce joyous pleasure raced through him. The bleeding stopped and the violated skin sealed over smoothly as if it had never been cut. But Marc didn’t notice because he was lost in the pulsing wondrousness of life.
How sweet it tasted. How richly textured and redolent. Who knew a simple collection of ferns could contain so much essence and texture? Before they had been harvested by a landscaper and transplanted into pots for sale to the house owner, the plants had flourished in a tropical rainforest. They were rich in memory. The overwhelming bouquet of sweet nectar infused with sunshine. A hint of dark earth, teeming with life. Wind-kissed leaves tasting of faraway places. Roots strong and sure that anchored them to that which gave them foundation. The rustle of birds far above in the trees. A distant splash of water, wet rocks, the leap of fish and the ponderous movement of fat, lazy eels. Mystery and sunlight. The quiet peace of hidden places in the forest floor, the glorious tangle of bush undergrowth.
Marc drank it all in. Life flooded his senses and he was drunk on it. He wanted to feast forever on this unparalleled deliciousness.
He came to sometime later. Dazed and disoriented. He was lying spread-eagled on the floor, surrounded by brittle twigs and a light film of dust. Not a leaf of greenery anywhere. The cut was gone and in its place, the faintest spider web of a scar. He pulled himself to stand and confronted his reflection. Astounded. The black web on his torso was gone – no, not true. It was there but now it lit up his chest as if painted on with a brush dipped in white gold.
It was beautiful.
And it no longer pained him or ate at his skin like some breeding parasitic thing. Rather, it shimmered and breathed with a quiet kind of joy, in utter harmony with his breathing and the pulse of his heart.
“Unbelievable,” he whispered. He felt like a man reborn and he couldn’t stop tracing the vibrant patterns all over his upper body, marvelling at their beauty. For the first time in weeks, he slept that night without pain, without waking, without blood-laced dreams, and awoke refreshed and revitalised.
(Available now on Amazon for the special Pre-Order price of $3.99 USD. Hurry, this sale price ends after release day!)