Flazie wheezed into the cold air releasing a spray of blood that steamed as it stained the bedding. It was mid-February and a clingy fog rolled off the river and into the neat shotgun houses on Algiers Point. Flazie coughed and smiled.
Perfect timing, he thought. Dying on her birthday was very poetic.
The house had grown too still and lifeless over the years. He was tired of coming home after weeks on the road to the cold stares of his neighbors and the bloody reminder of her death. No matter how much he scrubbed and painted, the front stairs of the house held tight to the stain.
For weeks after her death, he thought she might reappear. Drawn back by the blood, by her love for him, by the spells. Neither worked and he lived the next two decades half missing her and half fearing the cops would break down his door and drag him to jail. But he was the best there was at what he did and despite having shot her point-blank in broad daylight and in full sight of half the block, the official record stated she committed suicide.
Flazie hummed her favorite tune. The one she used to play over and over on the bright blue record player. It was gone now, along with her vast record collection. Had he sold it? Did the hoodlums take it? Flazie couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter, he was leaving this world. Finally! He took his hand off the gun shot wound and let the blood flow freely. One to the stomach. This would take a while, but it was worth it to be with her again.
Flazie woke up to the bright colors and blurred outlines of the other side.
“How long have I been in soul sleep?” He wondered. He lept to his feet, a man on a mission, and immediately sent out feelers for her.
“Come,” a shimmering grey being gestured to him. It was a guide! Flazie felt honored and very fortunate. He smiled as they set off through the mystic landscape. It was so easy to be humble and kind on this side. He vowed to remember these feelings and be a better companion to her this time around.
“There,” the guide pointed to a swirling portal. She stood next to the portal as beautiful as ever, but with a dark splotch on her skin where the bullet had torn the life from her.
Flazie smiled with relief. She still loved him! She had waited all these years for him and now they could step into the next life together. Flazie moved toward the portal
“Not you,” the guide put up a restraining arm.
“What is this nonsense,’ Flazie struggled to move forward. He was surprised at the guide’s strength. “Wait! Stop!”
It was too late. She touched the blotch then stepped through the portal.
“Let me loose!” Flazie cried, “I must get through before it is too late!”
“You will not be joining her this lifetime,” the guide said and with a graceful wave, closed the portal.
“What do you mean?” Flazie looked from the guide to the empty space left by the portal and back again. “Why can’t I go with her?”
“Your actions in your previous life changed the order of things,” the guide answered.
Flazie felt cold. The bright warm feelings that engulfed him before drained away leaving him numb.
“Why wait then leave me?” Flazie tried to feel angry, but it was nearly impossible to do so here. He settled instead for hurt.
“She needed time to heal,” the guide said. “To get over the betrayal. The sight of you was the final test. If she could look at you and feel nothing, then she could move on.”
“We are soulmates,” Flazie shook his head. “That bond cannot be so easily broken.”
“No,” the guide wrapped an arm around him and led him away. “But it can be worn thin and weakened.”
“It took us so long,” Flazie whispered. “So long to find each other the first time.” He closed his eyes and thought of their first lifetime together. She was a new soul so fresh and happy to have his guidance. He was old then and when he passed, she, by her own hand, followed. After that first mismatched meeting, they spun in each other’s orbit over the ages until this last life.
It wasn’t his fault!
The middle of the century found them on the wrong side of an awkward transition. If only she had stayed at home! A pretty little housewife. A dutiful assistant. A devoted mother. Like she had before. This time she wanted to take the Pill and, on that fateful day, register for college. She brought her death on herself and now he was being punished for it.
Flazie looked up at his guide.
“What must I do?”
“You must heal,” his guide said as if it was the easiest thing to do.
“I don’t feel broken,” Flazie said. He closed his eyes and tried to remember her as she was on that last day. Chipper and excited about creating a degree plan. Rattling off all the ways her education could contribute to his work.
“Here,” the guide extend a long, smooth finger and pointed to his chest. Flazie looked down to find a black web of cracks radiating from his stomach.
“What is this!” he exclaimed, trying to brush the marks away.
“Potential for what?’ Flazie touched his stomach and the memory of gun fire flickered across his mind.
“Your experiences have planted a seed,” the guide tapped the center of his web. “You can evolve to a new form and a new soul group, if you wish.”
“No,” Flazie shook his head. “I don’t want to leave her.
“If you want to return to your former cycle, you must mend your cracks,” the guide said, casually. “If you want to transition to another cycle, release this old form and let the new one take hold.”
“We belong together, “ Flazie growled. He could feel his love dissolving into something darker. It became a slow burning thing that lurked somewhere between longing and possession.
“Are you certain?” the guide asked. “You chose to take her life.”
“I know what I want,” Flazie declared. It would be hard to heal with someone reminding him of his one mistake all the time. “She is mine!”
“Very well,” the guide conceded.
“The first thing you must do is learn to love her again,” the guide advised.
“I do love her,” Flazie said and somewhere, deep inside, he did. It was just that she was being so mean, so aggravating, so annoying. She made it hard to love her.
The guide did not respond.
“How can I,” Flazie struggled with the words. “How do I love her better?”
“That’s a start,” The guide nodded, acknowledging his efforts. “You must want to return to your old self.”
“If you let me go to her,” Flazie offered. “I can ask for her forgiveness and this will all be over.”
“You must heal in the way that best fits your soul and forgiveness will be necessary,” the guide was calm, but firm. “Look forward, not back.”
“How?” Flazie asked. “I want what we had before.”
“Clearly she does not.”
The words hit Flazie hard. He looked at the shifting landscape trying to gather his thoughts. Was this a trick? Some type of test? No, the guides were not capable of lies or deceit. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. It had never occurred to Flazie that she would not want to be with him.
“What does that mean to you?” the guide prodded him. “How do you feel? Would you want to continue cycling with someone who does not want to be with you?”
Flazie felt the last bit of love slip from his soul. All that was left was a burning obsession to reclaim her.
“Yes,” he said, quietly. “We will be together, forever.”
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Sophary thought as she shifted in the uncomfortable shoes. They were delicate and useless just like the unflattering dress. Her plastered smile faded as she watched the last of her single friends recite the flowery words she wrote for this special day.
It was her own form of self-flagellation.
Her journey down this road started accidentally, back when it wasn’t such a big deal. A friend, who was more of an enemy, stole a post off her blog for wedding vows and rewarded her with the position of maid of honor. It hadn’t been such a big deal in those golden days of youth. Now, as Sophary stared down another landmark birthday, she felt foolish.
She felt foolish for letting that first transgression pass unpunished.
She felt foolish for selling her talent so cheaply.
She felt foolish for being an extra in someone else’s big scene.
Sophary let out a loud sigh. The bridesmaid behind her jabbed an anorexic elbow into her spine and the groom frowned. Sophary covered by smiling and dabbing her eyes with a hanky.
The ceremony concluded and she spent most of the reception graciously thanking the endless stream of people who praised the beauty of the vows. She humbly invited them to her blog, but she knew most of them would not click beyond the home page.
She flirted about with the groomsmen, but as always, a strange pressure entwined itself around her insides and squeezed. Her heart began to race and sweat poured down her face. The men grinned nervously, but danced around her bungling seduction. The internet insisted this feeling was anxiety, but her twisted gut told her it was something darker.
Sophary drifted home an alcohol-induced haze. She rolled into the cab and squinted at the seat beside her. In the darkness between street lights, she could just make out a figure. It was the same giant man that stood over her at night and appeared between the writhing bodies when she went out to dance in the clubs. He’d been haunting her for years.
“Looks like it’s you and me from here on out,” she chuckled as the pressure in her gut lessened. The figure became solid for a moment, then disappeared as the cab pulled up to her building.
Sophary hobbled through the lobby of her apartment building to the gilded elevator doors. She pressed her face on the cool surface and smiled.
Just minutes away from my bed, she thought. Then I can dump these horrible shoes.
The elevator arrived with a perky ding. Sophary entered the empty car and watched through squinted eyes as the doors began to slide shut. Suddenly, the doors shuddered as if something was caught between them. The doors slid back into their pockets and stayed there. Sophary blinked at the space looking for a hand or an umbrella and the connected person, but nothing materialized. She squinted again then gasped.
The hulking specter that dogged her dreams stood, frozen, with one foot still in the lobby.
“If you’re coming,” she said, trying to see its face, “get on.”
“Are you alright, Miss Harris?” The doorman, Mr. Al, peeked into the elevator.
“My feet are killing me,” she answered.
“Must have been a great wedding!” He laughed and pressed the button for her floor. “I’ll be sure to have Tion’s bring over a nice breakfast in the morning.”
“Thanks, Mr. Al,” Sophary gave him a weak smile and leaned against the wall.
“Sure thing, Miss Harris,” he said as the doors closed on the faint figure. “Have a good night.”
“Night,” she called. As soon as the doors closed, Sophary squinted to locate her ghostly companion.
She was alone.
The elevator sailed up to her floor coming to a gentle stop. She pushed herself upright as the doors opened.
Sophary choked back a scream.
The figure stood, fully materialized, in the hallway before her.
Sophary’s heart fluttered as her thoughts scattered from her mind like frightened birds. The man gave her a smile then disappeared.
“Miss Harris?” Mr. Al’s voice came through a speaker in the elevator. “Do you need some help?”
Sophray’s mouth opened and closed as she looked up at the camera in the elevator. She was perched on edge of the elevator, holding the car on the floor. She looked back at the empty hallway and shook her head.
“Ok,” Mr. Al seemed concerned. “Get inside. I’ll come up on my rounds to check on you.”
“Yeah,” Sophary nodded absently and stepped out of the elevator.
The hallway was warm and bright with nary a shadowy tract for anything unsavory to lurk. Nonetheless, Sophray edged along the wall keeping both ends of the hallway in sight. She reached her door and fumbled in her tiny purse for her keys. She dare not look down lest the strange figure pop up and… and…
Sophary let out a titter that grew to a full laugh. What exactly did she think that ghost man was going to do? Rob her? Ruffle her perfectly coiffed hair? Slither through her body? Her fear was ridiculous.
“Well someone had a great time!”
Sophary let out a small yelp.
“Easy, love,” Her neighbor, Kieran swaggered down the hall in his pajamas with a basket of laundry under his arm. His warm hazel eyes twinkled with amusement. “How much have you had to drink?”
A thousand witty things circled her brain as she stared at his handsome face, but she blurted out: “How are you doing laundry alone?”
It was Kieran’s turn to laugh.
“Here,” he said, walking past his door. A mischievous grin lit up his face. “Let me help you with your keys.”
Sophary blushed and offered her purse.
As soon as Kieran touched the glittering bag, the lights in the hall winked out.
Sophary gasped as total darkness engulfed her.
“What the…” A dull thud interrupted Keiran’s words.
“Keiran?’ She reached out for him but her fingers clawed empty air. “Keiran say something!”
The old familiar feeling writhed into her gut and she began to sweat. Only this time, it didn’t just squeeze her insides, it wrapped around her waist and, to her disbelief, began to pull. Sophary opened her mouth to scream, but the pull became a jerk and suddenly she wasn’t in the darkened hallway.
“It’s so beautiful!” Sophary marveled at the scene before her. Without a second thought, she entered the tiny whitewashed cottage covered in flowering vines. The sweet scent of the large yellow blossoms perfumed the air in the rustic kitchen.
“What is this?” She reached up to touch the glittering shapes slinking across the low ceiling.
“Are you happy?” A deep, smooth voice asked.
Sophary dropped her hand and gaped. A tall man emerged to stand in the warm sunlight pooling in the cozy living room. His limbs open gracefully, offering a hug, but it felt more like a strong magnet drawing Sophary to his broad chest.
“I know you,” Sophary whispered as she glided toward him. Her mind struggled to give him a name. His expression became cruel yet her eyes misted over as she drank in his beautiful face. The phrase “I love you” bubbled up in her throat, so she smiled to let it out. The noise erupted as a primal scream that dissolved the man and the cottage into inky blackness.
“Hello?” Sophary whispered into the thick silence. “Where’d you go?’
“Why’d you hit me?” Keiran moaned and rolled into her legs. Sophary crumpled to the floor just as the lights in the hallway flicked on. Keiran and his laundry were sprawled in front of her door and a small knot stood out on the side of his head.
“Oh!” Sophary looked around in horror. “Are you alright?” She pawed through the tumbled laundry for a towel.
“If you didn’t want company…” Keiran moaned and reached up to feel his head. His fingers reached the knot and froze.
“I..I … didn’t hit you,” Sophary sputtered, offering a useless towel.
Kieran bolted upright and stared at her. Sophary withered under his gaze and looked away. She watched in mute disappointment as he shoved his laundry into the basket and marched off to his apartment.
Sophary struggled into her apartment and shut the door behind her. As she drifted toward the shower, her thoughts went back to the tiny white cottage. A feeling of comfort and satisfaction swept over her. It meant something. The bright yellow blooms and the strange symbols were important. Had the symbols moved or did she make that up? The man entered her thoughts and she lost her grasp on the other things. A shadow passed through her mind. He was dangerous.
Her heart fluttered as she recalled the man’s gorgeous face. He wanted her.
“Who are you?” whispered aloud as she stepped under the jet of steaming water.
“I am all you ever wanted.”
Sophary slipped as she spun around to find the source of the words. She let out a yelp as her body smacked against the ceramic tub. The man stood above her, offering his hand.
Sopary studied his face as she pushed herself beyond his reach.
“We can be happy together,” the man’s face cracked into a large smile. It should have disarmed her, but it made her shudder instead.
“I am Flazie,” he moved a step closer.
A primal scream rose up in her mind and drowned out any logical response. She clapped her hands over her mouth to keep the sound inside
It should have been a question, but it was a command. Sophary’s head moved back and forth as if to keep the man’s voice, and perhaps his memory out of her head.
“It will be worth it,” he coxed. But all she heard was “pain.”
His beautiful face contorted in rage and the world went dark again.
Sophary removed her hands and let the scream fly into the darkness. The light returned, but something was different. Sophary stopped screaming and rubbed her eyes, but the grey veil distorting her vision did not move. The man was nowhere in sight, but she felt the weight of his anger.
The door to her apartment opened and the Mr. Al’s voice rang out.
“Ms. Harris? Ms. Harris are you alright?”
“We’re coming in,” Kieran said.
“The shower is running,” Mr. Al said.
The men poked their heads into the bathroom and looked right through her.
“Where are you, love?” Kieran called, investigating the linen closet. “Answer us!”
Sophary gaped. The men looked around the bathroom again and moved back to her bedroom.
“Is she under the bed?” she heard Mr. Al ask.
“They will never find you,” the man whispered. “You may as well give up and accept me.”
“Why don’t you check the pool,” Kieran suggested suddenly, “Maybe she’s took a dip?”
“Good idea,” Mr. Al agreed and left the apartment.
“I can’t see you love,” Kieran whispered as he returned to the bathroom. His brown eyes reflected fear and worry. “But I can hear you both. Say something.”
“She is mine,” the man boomed, “Leave her be.”
“Sorry, sir,” Kieran’s voice shook a bit. He cleared his throat before continuing. “I can’t let you steal her.”
“I can’t steal what is already mine,” the man sounded amused.
“She is her own person,” Kieran asserted and moved toward them, arms outstretched. “Take my hand Sophary, I’ll bring you back.”
Without a word, Sophary lunged forward and grabbed his hands.
Kieran slid his hands up her arms and grabbed her shoulders.
“Fight him!” he grunted as he braced himself against the tub and leaned back.
“What?” Sophary asked as she lurched into his arms and the grey veil lifted, but the the sudden gripped clamped around her waist answered her question. “No, No, no! Let me go!”
“What’s going on?” Mr. Al stormed into the bathroom. “What are you doing?”
Kieran and Sophary froze, mouth’s agape.
Sophary laughed as she pictured the scene from Mr. Al’s perspective. The force holding onto her lower body dissolved and she collapsed into Kieran’s arms.
“She’s hallucinating,” Kieran said after a moment. “I think she got a bad drink at that wedding.”
“Oh poor thing,” Mr. Al’s grew concerned. “I’ll phone the paramedics.”
“No!” Sophary and Keiran cried.
Mr. Al narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“Hallucinating was the wrong word,” Kieran stuttered. “I think she’s just way over her limit, but not in a medically dangerous way. Just, well, in a she can’t take care of herself kind of way.”
Mr. Al looked doubtful. The excuse was so stupid that she laughed.
“I’ll be fine, Mr. Al,” She giggled, standing upright. The doorman averted his eyes.
“Let’s get you dressed,” Kieran smirked and guided her past Mr. Al.
“Let’s let the lady get dressed,” Mr. Al gave Kieran a stern look. Kieran glanced back at the bathroom before nodding and walking away.
Sophary scurried into a cozy pair of PJs and grabbed her phone before joining the men in the hall.
“I’ll be up at the end of my shift to check on both of you,” Mr. Al warned as he headed to the elevator.
“We’ll be right here,” Kieran opened the door to his apartment and waved Sophary inside.
Sophary stepped into Kieran’s apartment and blinked. The place was filled with people who shared Kieran’s warm brown eyes.
“What the hell?” She turned on Kieran. “Who are all these people?”
“They are here to help,” he said, glancing back at the closed door.
“With?” She asked.
“You’re into some heavy shit, love,” Kieran brushed past her and whispered urgently to the gathered party. They sprang to life, rushing around the apartment. Some lit candles, others chanted, and, to Sophary’s horror, a group of tiny women dusted her with brightly colored powders.
“I think I’d better head over to my place,” Sophary smiled at the nearest woman and backed toward the door. This sent the women into a tizzy. They fussed at her in a strange language and gestured to Kieran.
“You can, “Kieran stopped his work and locked eyes with her. “But you’re under our protection, now. If you want to be responsible for the injury or death of anyone here, go for it.”
“What? Why am I under your protection?” Sophary coughed and waved the women away. “Is this your whole family?”
“Yes,” he smiled proudly and pointed to a woman tucked beneath a pile of furs on the sofa. She nodded and gave Sophary a toothless grin. “Auntie insisted.”
“She did?” Sophary frowned. “What made her think I needed protection?’
The room went still as Kieran’s family stopped to glare at her.
“Clearly I’ve said something offensive,” Sophary swallowed to loosen her tight throat. The ghost might have been her imagination, but these people were very real and threatening. And she was locked in an apartment with them. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Kieran walked over to her and grasped her hands. He took a deep breath before whispering,
“That thing in your apartment wants you dead.”
“No,” Sophary shook her head. She tried, unsuccessfully, to pull away from Kieran. “I don’t know what you and your family think you’re doing, but I’m certain there’ s been a mistake. “
“I wish it were, love,” Kieran said gently. He eased the grip on her hands and stepped back. “Trust me, they wouldn’t risk this trip on a hunch.”
“SOPHARY!” a disembodied voice called.
“Oh, it’s him!” Sophary felt her legs give out.
Kieran let out a hearty laugh as he tried to pull her back to her feet.
“What were you saying about a mistake?” he sputtered between breaths.
Sophary jerked her hands away from Kieran and looked around. The whole family was enjoying a good laugh at her expense. Everyone except the woman Kieran called “Auntie.” Auntie’s eyes were closed and her hands rested, palms up, on the glossy furs.
“It’s only dear Auntie, child,” the voice came again. “You are safe as long as any Nuallain of Fothairt draws breath. Have you always been able to hear things from the other side?”
“This is stupid,” Sophary ignored the woman. She jumped to her feet and set her features into a cold mask. “I want to go home.”
“After you,” the humor drained for Kieran and he gave her a sweeping bow.
“Charming,” she said as she tipped by, “but I’ll be going on my own.”
“Not a chance,” Kieran smiled again, but his eyes were defiant.
“I’m serious Kieran,” Sophary reached for the door knob and received a small shock.
“So are we.”
Flazie soared around the perimeter of the Celt’s apartment in a rage. There were no weaknesses in the wards guarding the gathered souls. The old woman was very strong and her serene presence drove him mad. He’d have to lure her out.
That shouldn’t be hard, he thought. She was such easy prey. So bright and fanciful, it was a wonder her feet stayed on the ground. But that was the problem. Now the boy was in there spinning emerald yarns around her silly head.
Flazie cursed and slammed against the wards again.
They did not waiver.
Flazie retreated to her apartment. Sophary could not be reached with anger. Even in that long ago life in Algiers, she needed honeyed words and heartwarming moments to get her through the day. Anger, fear, insecurity, and loneliness. They all passed over her like a light afternoon rain. Flazie wanted to storm back into her life. He wanted to rip apart the foundations that anchored her in this world and carry her away on a tide of blood.
Why couldn’t she see how much he loved her?
There was another way to get to her. To break the boy’s spell and make her come to him.
Flazie stilled himself and let his emotions wash over him.
The regrets, the sadness, and the loneliness welled up in him until his soul sank into the misery. He let the wretchedness swirl until he could take no more. Then, as the longing for their former life carried him to the brink of no return, he opened his mouth and let out a mournful wail.
Flazie’s wail undulated through the air like a living thing. It slithered, undiminished, through the old woman’s wards and sought out its target. Flazie felt the fear ripple through the boy’s family. They were descended from an ancient line of lightworkers and the power was in their blood, but it had been too long since they faced a real enemy.
Flazie smiled to himself. In the old days, he would have enslaved them when the battle was over, but he needed to make a point. She had to see that he meant business. The Celts had to die and they would do so screaming her name. Flazie nodded. Their blood on her hands was enough to reign her in. To bring her back to him.
“Stop it!” the anguish in her voice made him shiver with glee. The boy and his kin were doomed. Her heart was soft and she was not the type of person on which to risk a legacy.
He let out another wail. This one was stronger, darker, and laced with malice.
“No!” the boy cried out this time. “Stay put!”
Flazie chuckled quietly as they argued. Foolish boy. She didn’t listen to words,only feelings. A good smack would make her feel fear. It would make her stay put. But the boy was weak. Of course he was, his tribe allowed women to lead.
Their bickering ended abruptly.
Flazie nodded again.
The door to the boy’s apartment flew open and she stepped into the hallway.
Flazie listened eagerly.
“Hello?” She called timidly. “Are you ok?”
“It’s a trick, Sophary!” the boy tried to counsel her. “He is playing you.”
“You don’t know that,” She shot back. “What did you guys do to him?”
There it was. The tiny crack through which he could slide and reclaim her. Flazie rose up and approached them.
“Please, love,” the boy plead, his arm around her waist. “Come back inside and we can tell you everything.”
Flazie let out another wail before revealing himself. He relished the boy’s terror and her misty eyes.
“Who are you?” She asked as he materialized before them.
Flazie felt bold.
“Your soulmate,” he said and extended his hand.
“Lies,” the boy hissed. A thin cord of jealousy threaded his voice. “Don’t listen to it, Sophary. It’s trying to kill you.”
She hesitated at the sound of her name. He didn’t like it. It was silly and modern.
“Sophary, Marie, Eva, Alice, Charlotte,” Flazie threw her a sad smile. “You’ve had many names. Come with me. I can help you remember them all.”
She smiled as the old names resonated with her.
“Leave her alone!” the boy shouted. His tone made Flazie angry. “She is under our protection and you cannot have her.”
“You cannot hold her against her will, Celt.” Flazie composed himself. “That goes against all you stand for, no?”
“Fine,” the boy conceded, his voice was husky with emotion. “But I’m coming with her until she knows… until she is safe.”
Flazie looked at the boy and shrugged.
“As you wish,” he laughed. Maybe he’d let the boy live just to keep her in check. “Come, my dear. I will show you our love.”
“Where are we going?” She stuttered, taking a step backwards. “Why can’t you show me here?”
Flazie froze. There it was again. That outspokenness, that daring, that nerve!
How dare she question him about anything.
He suppressed the growl rising in his throat and tried another method.
“If you didn’t want me,” Flazie let a bit of his anger show, “Then why did you summon me?”
“What?” she shot the boy a panicked look. “No, wait. I didn’t.”
Flazie looked away.
“At least I don’t think I did,” She began to doubt herself. “If I did, I’m sorry.”
Flazie hid his smile. It was almost too easy to manipulate her. To mold her into everything he needed. The problem was keeping her that way.
“You didn’t, love” the boy spoke up. “It’s always been there. Watching and waiting for you to let your guard down.”
“And exactly what have you been doing, Celt?” Flazie turned to the boy.
“It’s not the same,” the boy raised his voice and took a step forward.
“Shh!” she swatted at the boy A bit of her old deference peeked out. A tremor of fear passed over her as she eyed them.
The tiniest flutter of victory entered his being. It wouldn’t be long before they were reunited on the same side of the veil, a loving couple, just as they were before.
“Close your eyes,” he said, going in for the kill. “Open your heart and remember me.”
It only took an instant for her to comply. No sooner had the heavy fringe of her lashes brushed her soft cheeks did the world around them dissolve into blinding white shimmers. The brightness faded and they were back at the cottage.
“Was this our home?” she whispered, reaching out for one of the nodding yellow blossoms.
“Yes,” Flazie gestured toward the cottage, “This was your dream. A tiny cottage in a meadow.” He left out the fact she was a virtual prisoner who could go no further than the boundaries of the meadow. “I gave this to you.”
“As a prison.”
Flazie gaped. The boy stood, solid and unwavering, blocking the doorway to the cottage.
“This whole meadow is warded, Sophary,” the boy walked over to them. “The longer you stay here, the harder it will be to leave.”
“How did you get here?’ Flazie demanded. “This is not your haven, you are not welcomed here.”
“Havens are not always places,” the boy quipped, then flushed. “This isn’t a real memory, love. “
“What is it?” she asked, plucking the flower and inhaling the scent. Flazie a smile. Those same flowers trapped her here the first time.
“It’s a trap,” the boy said as if reading Flazie’s mind, “ Take us back.”
“Get out,” Flazie commanded. The wards were cast in his favor and the boy had no real power here. “Leave us be.”
“No!” she cried and grabbed the boy’s hand. “He can stay.”
“He means to keep us apart,” Flazie tried to hide his rage behind a veil of sadness.
She paused then looked back and forth between them.
“I want to go inside.”
The boy gasped, but said nothing.
Flazie cracked a wide smile.
“Of course my dear,” he bowed slightly. “Welcome to our home.”
Sophary stepped into the cottage and felt a wave of relief. The place was just as neat and tidy as before. Now that she was not terrified, the cottage felt familiar and a sharp longing entered her consciousness.
It is so good to be home. The thought, unbidden, passed through her mind.
“This is not your home,” Kieran whispered as he latched himself to her arm. “We have to turn back.”
“I want to know what this is,” she gave him a flirty smile. “I know you will protect me.”
“Till my death,” Kieran replied with a grimace.
“You have nothing to fear here,” the entity inserted himself between them and pointed to the moving shapes on the ceiling. “You are protected.”
“What are those,” She asked breathlessly. Her hold on Kieran loosed slightly, as she gazed at the swirling shapes, but her neighbor pulled her closer.
“They are a spell,” Kieran’s voice was barely above a whisper. “ It is powerful old magic that has festered for centuries waiting for you, its target, to return.”
“The boy does not lie,” the entity’s smile did little to contain his rage. “I cast them in a long ago life we shared together to protect you.”
“This is a prison,” Kieran shook his head and looked back toward the cottage door.
“It depends on your idea of civilization,” the entity shrugged. “This is the path we agree upon together. I would not expect a wild Celt to understand.”
Kieran stiffened, but remained silent.
“Stop,” Sophary felt the anger rolling off her protector. It was distracting and kept the narrow fringe of memories pushing into her brain at bay. “I need to concentrate.”
Kieran let out a forced breath and reigned in his emotions. This had to be some little game she was playing. There was no way she could be this be this dumb.
Not my soul he thought, knowing he could escape at anytime. Auntie’s condemning eyes came to mind, reminding him of the family honor.
Fine, He steeled himself and followed her deeper into the cottage. A few more minutes and I’m pulling us out.
“You are free to leave, boy,” the entity said as it tried to get between Kieran and Sophary again.
“Not on my honor,” Kieran responded and maneuvered around it.
“You need more than foolish platitudes to get yourself out of this,” the entity whispered.
“How are you feeling, love?” Kieran focused on Sophary. “Is any of this coming back to you?”
“It’s just there,” she answered. She looked ill and uncomfortable. “right beyond my thoughts.”
“Like a whisper on the wind?” Kieran decided to help her along.
“None of your tricks, boy,” the entity glared at him.
“Then give her your name so we can be done with this bullshit,” Kieran snapped.
“I don’t know your name,” Sophary blinked at the entity.
“It’s a game!’ Kieran explained, exasperated. “And the longer it takes you to figure it out, harder it is for you to escape him.”
The entity froze, searching Sophary’s face for a reaction. Sophary turned away from them and continued her exploration of the cottage.
“Why would I ever want to leave my soul mate?”
Both men let out long, hearty laughs.
Kieran sounded completely unhinged, while the stranger’s tone was triumphant.
Sophary flushed as they continued to laugh.
“I’m glad you two are amused,” she muttered as she passed through the sunlit living room. “Maybe you two should hook up. It would be a perfect ending to this fiasco. Oh look, here’s your soul mate. Too bad you took so long trying to remember him. He got bored and eloped with your weirdo neighbor.”
Her bitter thoughts followed her into the dim bedroom where she stopped short. The cheery warm atmosphere of the cottage ended at the bedroom door. Here the ceiling was much lower than in the rest of the house. Rocks and mortar peeked from beneath crumbling plaster and the floor appeared to be little more than dirt beneath the faded rugs. An unmade bed with a cast iron frame hunkered in a corner as if to hide from the gaping fireplace stretched across most of the far wall.
“No,” Sophary shook her head. Something about the fireplace dredged up terror and shadowy memories from the depths of her soul.
“This can’t be right,” she studied the fireplace as she fought the urge to take refuge in the bed.
The dimensions on the fireplace were not possible in such a small house. As she stared at the low fire, the entire thing grew wider and higher, wrapping itself around the room. Smoldering coals threatened to tumble across the ill-formed hearth and set the threadbare rug on fire.
She opened her mouth to scream for help, but a name came out instead.
The vision broke as quickly as it had appeared.
Flazie looked around. The first rays of dawn were peeking through the window at the end of the hall.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Sophary uttered over and over, her face in her hands.
“Do you see now, love?” the boy whispered as he folded her in his arms.
Flazie cursed under his breath. At any moment, the old doorman would come off the elevator and ruin his chance to reclaim her.
“Kieran,” the old woman stood at the door of the boy’s apartment. “Bring her inside.”
“She hasn’t made her decision,” Flazie put himself between the boy and his kin.
“Bloody hell!” the boy and the woman exclaimed.
“Look at her!” Kieran eased his embrace just enough to show Sophary’s fearful face and his tear-stained shirt.
“I think we know her choice,” the woman stepped into the hall, extending the perimeter of protection to encompass the boy and Sophary.
“I want to hear her say it,” Flazie held his ground. “I have that right.”
“We have indulged you long enough,” the woman warned. “Be gone. You are not wanted here.”
“She has to say the words or we are unfinished,” Flazie tried to remain calm. “If you truly wish to help, don’t let me wander around for eternity, uncertain of her love.”
“You don’t deserve peace,” Kieran sneered.
“Kieran!” the woman admonished. “We are here to protect, not judge or execute.”
“Sophary,” the woman said sweetly. “Release this being. Tell him you no longer love him nor wish to see him.”
“No,” Sophary blubbered. “I want to know why he hates me.”
For a moment they all gaped at her in disbelief. Then Flazie laughed maniacally.
“Alright,” Kieran hissed, after a few minutes.
Flazie quieted down and considered Kieran a moment before turning back to Sophary.
“I always hated you,” he whispered into her ear. “Even as a I loved you, I knew it could never end well. All because you could not stop being you and I hated you for it. Every. Single. Day.”
Sophary let out a sob and crumpled to her knees.
“You are the reason I have suffered,” he continued, enjoying her misery. “You are the reason I am lost. Why wouldn’t I hate you?”
“Because I loved you,” Sophary mewed. Flazie shivered at the helpless noises issuing from her throat.
“Let him go,” Kieran stooped down, but did not embrace her. The boy’s defeat was palatable. Whatever saccharine ending he’d hoped for melted away with her tears. “Let him leave this world so that you…” Kieran faltered, scrambling for an incentive to lure Sophray forward.
“So that he will no longer suffer,” Auntie said gently, her voice barely above a whisper. “If you love him, let him move on.”
“No!” Sophary beat the ground, frustrated that she could not stop sobbing long enough to explain her feelings to them. To apologize to Keiran and his family and to beg Flazie to forgive her.
The air in the hallway slowly changed. The calm particles of midnight air turned chilly and grating. The warmth retreated without a pip of protest. Keiran and his Auntie looked down in defeat. There was no denying it, Flazie had won.
Her heart, mind, and soul belonged to him. Only one thing remained to end this chapter of their story. Flazie cracked a predatory grin and in his smoothest, most charming voice whispered:
“Come with me.”
The words passed along Sophary’s body like cool silk. She shivered once then stilled. For a moment, Keiran looked hopeful, but he was again crushed by her words.
“How?” She asked, fists clenched and grinding into the carpet.
“However you please,” he threw the old woman a meaningful look and she took a step back into the apartment.
The boy helped Sophary to her feet and went to stand by the woman. Sophary didn’t spare them the slightest glance.
“Tell me,” Sophary smiled, her pupils wide and glistening. “I want to be…”
“Yes?” Flazie felt a flicker of something less caustic than the poisoned love eating at his heart. It might have been hope, but he didn’t stop to ponder it.
“Take me,” She said after a moment of hesitation. “Take me with you.”
The boy saw the knife first and cried out for Sophary, but the old woman held him back. They watched in abject horror while Flazie carved up Sophary’s wrists.
“Forever,” she sighed, her face content, as her life drained away.
“Ms. Harris!” Mr. Al barked as he stepped off the elevator. The doorman ran to her aid, eyes wide with disbelief.
“I love you,” she breathed, her eyes focused on something just past Mr. Al’s left ear. He looked around for help and found himself alone with a dead body.
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