The bliss of innocence calls to my heart, calmly, irrevocably. My body yields and my mind wonders – will I regret my surrender?
Anna knew this wasn’t a nightmare, but it felt like one. Dusk sent its call to the night, releasing deep shadows to overtake the city. Vapor loomed over the empty streets like phantoms gathering warmth from the asphalt. Her rushed steps echoed through the streets.
She wrapped her arms around herself and briskly rubbed her sleeves. The slight warming did nothing to ward off anxiety. Street lights flickered on but offered little comfort as stories of disappearances flooded her mind. “Curfew breakers are never seen again.” Her whisper sent mist through the air. She wished she hadn’t spoken.
She glanced at her surroundings. Pulling her sleeves down over her fingers, she trotted to the shortcut through the park. She caught her breath as the block’s wide corner entrance came to view. The heavy iron gates stood closed. The ancient stone gryffin perched high on the gateway seemed to glare down at her, vowing to protect the area beyond. She shook the tall barriers with disbelief.
“When do they ever lock Shilo Park?”
She darted her eyes down each of the long palisades that fortified the town’s green. The expanse seemed horrendous. Looking up at the darkened sky, fear rushed her face. Tiny stars shown across much of the firmament. It was too late. “God! I’m a curfew breaker!”
She whipped around at the sound of a whispered thought.
Beneath the dim light of a street lamp, dense smoke rose through a gutter drain. In a billowing rise, it altered, taking the form of three men. Her breath caught in her throat, panic stabbed at her heart. She spun around and ran, taking the shortest of the long routes home.
“There’s no use in running.”
The words seeped through her mind like powder through a sieve. Throwing her hands to her ears, she tried to block out the voice. An abandoned shuttle van propped half way up the curb offered the only protection along the vacant street. She darted across the road to find refuge.
Awnings rustled in the wind. Neon signs that once invited late night commerce hung dead behind barred windows. Her long hair netted her face as she stumbled past street-side clutter. She swiped it away. Catching her balance, she raced along the storefronts and spotted a weak halo down an alley. The chance of an open back door gave her hope. She rushed into the darkness.
Discarded waste filled the air with a foul stench. Towering buildings enclosed the area. Her frantic feet beat the pavement as she raced to every locked door.
Steady footsteps followed.
A hoarse cry ripped her throat as she halted at the wall that blocked her escape. The small lamp flickered as if to mock her. She turned to the way she came. Her body trembled and she backed into a corner for support. “This is a nightmare.” Her shallow voice quivered and sent denial through her. “This isn’t happening!” The tomb-like closure briefly echoed her claim but resounded the measured steps’ that approached. Don’t breath. Her mind whirled with warning. They say not to breath when they’re near.
Such a scene could never exist but in a nightmare. Each unified stride caused their capes to furl with controlled motion. Their black hair blended with the shadows, as if the darkness was an extension of their very being. With eyes the color of midnight, they focused solely on her. Only when the lamp’s scanty offering lit their approach, did their stature become clear. She blinked up at the one that led them.
She snatched her breath.
He stepped up to her and looked into her eyes with a piercing stare.
Anna shrank under their presence, but with hope of resisting, held her breath.
The men waited.
Endless time filled her as she gazed at their resolute faces. Heat coursed in her lungs, the need for breath deepening. She swallowed hard to ward off the growing want of air.
Just as she felt her chest would burst, the man before her opened his hand and lifted it as if gracefully setting a butterfly free. A mist, the brilliance of snow crystalline encircled them and lingered, enchanting the air.
Anna’s eyes widened at the sight and she struggled to withhold a gasp.
“You have to breathe sometime.”
The voice sifted through her mind, taking hold of her conviction. Her burning lungs begged for relief, and she succumbed, taking in the smallest amount of air. The tiny crystallites flowed past her lips. The sweet taste of divinity lighted on her senses, offering the faint flavor of euphoria.
She looked up at him.
A small smile touched his coal eyes.
Every bit of logic told her to fight, but his eyes called to her with an astounding invitation. Resistance seemed to dissolve of its own will as pleasure carried her to acceptance.
Peace warmed her heart. Serenity channeled her emotions, and the promise of bliss sang in her mind. Anna conceived a distant want of completion, engendering a need to ply to this man’s will.
She watched as he inhaled the sparkling mist and stepped closer. Cradling her face in his hands, he touched his lips to hers. They were warm and seductive, unexpectedly tender. In a gentle gliding motion, she felt the loving caress of his tongue on hers. If air could consist of licorice and cream, it did then, and it seeped through every sense of her being.
With a breath, she was filled with the spell’s magic.
Heat steamed her lungs, filtering throughout her body. Every wave carried with it memories of her past. Loneliness, with the last words of her father became whispers, and were gone. Abandonment faded, as did the aged photo of her mother she clung to as a child. Fear dissipated as harsh faces passed before her inner eye, then turned away. Hunger and grief, fled before the blanketing mist and numb repression engulfed her mind, replacing her first driving lesson, the frantic search for employment, and the row house that waited for her five blocks away.
Gone was the gleaming city and its empty promises. Drowned were the drivers that blared their horns at the vagabonds on Begger’s Row. Hushed was the news caster that announced the new law instating the curfew.
All wonderment ceased under the seizure of her mind. Anna released her cares and rapture sealed her senses. The final will of identity vanished.
She wavered at the feeling of weightless concern, then with sharp clarity, her perception was renewed. She gasped a breath of rebirth and looked on the three. Her new sight brought to light their beauty.
The leader stood tall, like a pillar of strength, his gaze, that of the striking night sky. She awed at his regard. He was her purpose for life, her anchor. His hair was a sheet of black satin, its thick folds adorning his shoulders. The face of a seraphim graced his visage, strong, yet decorous, thin lips tugging into a natural frown.
To his left stood a guardian, his countenance omniscient, as if knowledge engulfed his nature. His stature was large and powerful. A dark crest sat unruffled on his head, trimmed neatly, with distinction. Dimple-kissed cheeks relaxed as her eyes lingered on him, softening to a wash of mercy.
The third looked at her with deep onyx eyes that were set in the face of a god. His defined brow and square jaw proclaimed his set course, firm, unyielding. On his head was a praise of glory with joyous corollas that defied the taming of handwork.
The leader turned, the others succeeding his stride. She quickly followed their every step through the quiet city. Little else stole her view and nothing else mattered, only that she had them near and they allowed her in their presence. Time stilled in their shadow. Structures parted the way to allow them passage. Only a mansion sitting high on an illuminated stage stood firm in their path. They approached and the wide doors opened to them.
They stepped inside. The sire of the house appeared and greeted the men, then scanned her with a look of satisfaction. He withdrew three coins from his pocket. “The addition, I see.”
The leading man glanced at the prize. “I believe the price is double for this one. Your requirements were steep. Far beyond that of a Grand Marshall’s standard order. As per your bid, she will comply completely. The transformation was a solid take.” He looked back at the master of the house. “And I see she pleases you.”
Anna blinked with questioning simplicity.
The sire chuckled and a crooked smile touched his lips. “Very well.” He pulled out three more coins. “The Wizards of Shilo Manor own up to their reputation.” Handing the man the requested currency, he looked back at his purchase. “And I am very pleased.”
The leader’s dark eyes turned to Anna. She flushed at his attention.
“Lord Dressen is now your keeper, Anna.”
The thought’s voice touched her mind like warm honey. She looked at the sire of the house, reverence flooding her at the new information. Gazing at him with unmitigated wonder, she couldn’t imagine a more magnificent face. Every line that accented his heavy brow and creased his narrow face declared his wisdom. His black hair was a majestic crown tinted with silver. Refinement adorned his every step to the door. His hand grasped the handle. Perfection. He thanked the men as they left. He was grace.
He turned to her, his brown eyes scanning her with a smile.
“Clair.” His deep voice vibrated in Anna’s senses. A woman appeared from the hall. “Anna has joined the household. She will have the room on the second floor. See to it she knows what’s expected of her.”
As he turned to leave, Anna began to follow, but Clair’s firm grip caught her arm. “Come with me, love.”
Confusion crossed her mind as her keeper disappeared from sight and her focus widened to take in the surroundings. Lustrous onyx, polished silver and a sparkling ceiling boldly commanded her view. The large foyer’s many eccentrics startled her and she absently searched for a familiar view to settle the disarray in her mind. She threw her gaze to her guide.
The woman’s brown hair was tied back into a tight bun at her neck and her ferrety features wore a tiny smile. Small comfort lighted her senses as she focused on the servant. The petite lady directed her to walk, guiding her to a wide staircase that led to a masterful stained glass window. Anna watched the enormous work of art that took up the space from floor to vaulted ceiling. The geometric shapes absorbed her attention before the tug of her escort’s hand pulled her to the left of the dividing flight.
“You will be staying on the second floor.” The servant opened a door at the end of the hall. “This is your room.”
Making her way to the balcony doors, she opened them, allowing the sheers to skim along the soft breeze. “The fresh air will help you relax. I know this must be confusing to you.”
She headed to the bathroom and turned on the vanity light. “Tell me, how does it feel?”
Anna blinked to the woman as she peeked back at her. “How does it feel?”
Clair smiled. “We were told his order had strict requirements this time. You’re a special one, you are, if you fit the bill.”
She gazed at the servant with questioning eyes and the woman furled her brow. “Well,” Clair went to the closet, withdrew a night gown and handed it to her. “Get bathed and dress for bed. I’ll be back when you’re done. There are a few things you need to know.”
A sense of panic flashed through her as she watched the woman begin to leave. She grasped the gown tightly in her hand and rushed to her side. “You’ll be back when I’m done?”
“You just get cleaned up and ready for bed – and welcome home.”
Anna watched the door close. Finality. Nothing. She slowly led her eyes across the strange room. A burgundy comforter hugged the wide bed at the center and tipped the edges of several thick pillows snuggled at the headboard. A chest of drawers and desk, the color of ripe cherries stood stately against the wall, polished to a shine. Stained-glass lampshades adorned the matching light posts positioned on the opposing bed stands and a sculpture of what appeared to be a human form stood off by itself in the far corner.
With wide eyes, Anna took in the scene as a whole. Afraid to blink, she stood lost, nerves edged. The items seemed to leer at her unblinking eyes. A warped sense of time enveloped her mind. The furnishings slowly morphed into rudimentary shapes, pasting themselves against the ivory wallpaper backdrop.
She blinked the striking shock away and ran through the vanity hall to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. The bath. Yes, she was to take a bath. Quickly turning on the water, she stripping off her clothes, and slipped into the tub. She watched the wide stream of water fall from the ledge to her feet. The splashing droplets sent disconcerting exhilaration coursing up her legs. Pulling her knees to her chest, she held them tight with her arms.
Flashes of bright light reflected off the flowing current as Anna sat transfixed. “She’ll be back when I’m done.” The words reassured her.
She quickly turned off the knob. Sliding the soap over her skin and scrubbing suds into her hair, she dipped under the water to rinse. She was done.
Donning the gown and throwing her hair over her shoulders, she darted back through the vanity and halted with a step. She looked back around the door frame at the motion she caught as she passed.
A woman. Comfort filled her at the sight and she stepped back into the little room taking a seat in front of the mirror. Big blue eyes stared back at her and when Anna smiled at the lady, she smiled too. Her angelic face was flushed red, her long dark hair straggled and wet. The gown she wore stuck to her body as if drenched by rain, but the lady didn’t appear to care. She simply watched Anna, smiling at her with childlike dimples. The urge to brush the woman’s flawless complexion cross her thoughts, but the twinkle in her innocent eyes caught her attention and the moment’s desire passed.
Anna could tell this person liked her. She kept watching and didn’t turn away like the others did. She waited to see what she would say, but the woman remained quiet, seeming content to just be there. This suited Anna fine. So together they sat, in timeless passing giving no head to Anna’s new home.
Droplets of existence litter my fall, unhindered by guilt, devoid of consequence – and I breathe.