Love and Darker Passions by Alexis Brooks de Vita

EXTRACT FOR
Love and Darker Passions

(Alexis Brooks de Vita)


Love and Darker Passions

Table of Contents – Love and Darker Passions

 

Alexis Brooks de Vita – Prologue

 

A.J. Maguire – “The Man Who Loved Medusa”

 

Desmond Warzell – “Sirens”

 

C.E. Murphy – “Keys”

 

Ceschino – “The Argument”

 

Lee Barwood – “Rainsong

 

Joseph Michael – “Lullaby of a Hated Person”

 

Karen Duvall – “Through the Looking Glass”

 

A.J. Walker – “The Witch Bottle”

 

Natalie L. R. Baker – “In the Closet”

 

Matthew K. Bird – “I Am a Smart Maid”

 

Christina St. Clair – “Ice Cream”

 

Joel Owusu – “Noisnam Edicius

 

Novella Serena – “Cacie’s Prism”

 

Max Balkan – “Long Knives, Sharp Tongues”

 

Tenea Johnson – “Only Then Can I Sleep”

 

Tedd Hawks – “The Vengeance”

 

Marie Brennan – “Kiss of Life”

 

Ezekiel M. Zachs – “Blood Doll”

 

Alexis Brooks de Vita – “The Wakings

 


Love and Darker Passions – Prologue

 

Do you remember that psychological study that demonstrates that, without dream-image sleep, sane people become psychotic?  Keep that in mind as I tell you that Love and Darker Passions is an anthology of dark fantasy relationship stories.  Not stories of romance; or, at least, not romantic.  Here are stories about how love feels.  What love needs.  What love makes us yearn for and dread. 

These are stories of love like black holes:  devouring, cleansing and creating anew in ways we don’t quite want to understand.  Love like religion:  dragging up from the depths of our unspeakable fears a blind insensate faith.  Love like birth:  a bloody tide that exiles us onto arid sand where we stumble and fall, ignorant of the customs and the language, gesturing and grunting, trying to get someone to teach us how to belong.

This unspeakably visceral, frighteningly insistent love is probably vital to existence, like volcanoes firing up the ink of the midnight ocean where no one will see.  The following tales of primal want question our need to bond at a sub-atomic level and the ruptures from love that cost us self-obliteration. 

A.J. Maguire’s “The Man Who Loved Medusa” and Desmond Warzel’s “Sirens” present the sublimity of a man’s desiring what has as its nature to destroy him, while  C.E. Murphy’s “Keys” and Ceschino’s “The Argument” show how love seduces the true lover into. . .  . but I will let you discover that for yourself.

Lee Barwood’s “Rainsong” and Joseph Michael’s “Lullaby of a Hated Person” let love take us on a quest through what is perilous, drawing ever nearer to what we both fear and crave.  But Karen Duvall shatters our self-reflective illusion, for in her tale “Through the Looking Glass,” love and grudge are intertwined; “Yes,” says Natalie L. R. Baker, for without selfless love of the nameless, hidden other-than-ourselves, love recognizes neither its object nor itself.   

Matthew K. Bird’s “I Am a Smart Maid” further queries how it is that we choose whom we will love and how we cope when that gift of love is thwarted.  Christina St. Clair and Joel Owusu answer with love of self-annihilation, the ultimate immersion in what claims us.  Novella Serena’s “Cacie’s Prism” and Max Balkan’s “Long Knives, Sharp Tongues” suggest that this all-consuming power is as it is because love kills what it cannot heal.

Tenea D. Johnson’s “Only Then Can I Sleep” and Tedd Hawks’s “The Vengeance” surrender us to love’s spiritual cannibalism; the lover seeks to devour what is beloved.  But if love destroys its object and its enemy, then neither is safe; just so, agrees Ezekiel M. Zachs in his unforgettable story of multilayered love triangles in “The Blood Doll.”  But love makes such self-sacrificing seduction sweet. 

So what if we could be forced to love selflessly, blindly, strangers more than ourselves, taking nothing away except the knowledge that we have given all?   What, indeed. 

Here’s hoping we may close this volume able to say that we’ve learned what these painstakingly penned stories have to teach us.  For in this collection love proves to be that bloody splatter across the eons that moves at the edges of our lives, in our silences and secrets, drawing yearning hearts to hear what they were always listening for, in its indecipherable whispers in the dark. 

I can safely promise that you’ll love these stories.

 

—Alexis Brooks de Vita

 


A. J. Maguire reminds us that it was Medusa’s incomparable beauty that led to her suffering and her curse.  But shouldn’t a lover see past the outer woman to the soul hiding within?

 

The Man Who Loved Medusa

by A. J. Maguire

 

His right foot slid over the shale-ridden ground and he had to catch himself before his body could plummet over the cliffs.  Eustace took a steadying breath and waited for his heart to calm.  Moonlight fought its way through a turbulent sky, barely lighting the sharp path he had to follow.  The island around him was a barren, cursed place of craggy rocks and prickly brush.  He could still hear the trickle of pebbles rushing over the cliff face beside him, and for a long moment he actually considered jumping.

Death seemed preferable to a life of longing.

He realized at last that he had caught himself on the elbow of a statue.  Under his fingers was the curious roughness of stone.  He ran his hand up the arm, to the shoulder, recognizing even in the gloom what stance the man had been in.  An archer, Eustace thought grimly.

“A pity you have to look at what you’re aiming at,” he told the dead man.

Her voice came unbidden from his memory, “Oh, I do not know if they are dead or alive.  They are just … stone.  There are moments when I think I can hear them, calling out to me as though from a great distance.  Is that not strange?”

No stranger than when he’d begged her to turn him into one of them, to keep his fate by her side forever.  He shivered a little at the thought of being trapped in such an awkward position as the poor soul beside him.  Although it hadn’t been an empty request, it hadn’t been a pleasant one, either.

Reluctantly, Eustace started his trek again.  He had to smirk at his own capricious nature.  A year and five days ago he’d washed up on these strange, forbidding shores and had prayed to every god in the pantheon to be rescued from it.  While he hadn’t known it was Medusa’s lair at first, Eustace had the good sense to know danger when it was present.  Even in the weird, shifting mists, when he’d first heard her music, Eustace had the self-preservation to pause.  But the lyre-song was so haunting, so achingly lonely, that he’d paddled his wreck of a ship closer, hoping to get a look at the player.

Now that he knew who it was that he’d been searching for, Eustace was grateful that the mists had concealed her form. 

“What a melancholy song!” He’d shouted the words, but hadn’t needed to.  His voice traveled easily over the still water.

There was a great shifting of shadows on the shore; he could remember a hissing whisper just before an arrow chunked into the floorboards of his boat.

“I mean you no harm!” He’d said, scrambling for cover in the naked ship.

Her bitter laugh curled through the air. “No harm, you say?  Year in and year out, you foolish men try to make yourselves heroes by slaying the beast.”

Another arrow hit by his foot and he jerked back in defense. “Good lady,” – he’d heard from the voice that she was female – “Why would I want to harm you?  Poseidon was in a vengeful mood and my ship was blown off course.  I do not know where I am, much less who you are.”

Perhaps it was her unbridled hatred for the sea god, or perhaps it was the last vestiges of her humanity shining through, but she’d ceased her assault.  Through the fog, she’d relayed instructions for where he could harbor.  He could fix his boat and leave in peace, but was restricted to the southern half of the island.  There was a small pool of fresh water on the eastern side, and a few small fish he could catch in the cove, but if he was found wandering anywhere else he would be killed.

Eustace had built a small hutch against the side of a rough hillock laden with boulders and desertous weeds.  He spent very little time there.  By day, he worked on his boat – though the task was nigh impossible.  There were no tides in the forsaken place; no driftwood to find and what little trees populated the island were too porous to patch the small ship.  By night, he sat at the edge of the fresh water pool and listened to her music drift through the air.

His heart flinched and he stopped his downward trek.  There was no music tonight.  Eustace turned to stare up the mountainside.  Its jagged slope cast deep pools of shadow against the unfamiliar terrain.  He’d only been on this side of the island once before, earlier that day when she’d instructed him to leave.  He had an overwhelming desire to run back to her, to grab hold of her and let her know, once and for all, that no beastly countenance could hide the woman she was from him.

Carefully, he opened the small pouch she had given him.  Inside was her parting gift – a lock of her hair, her real hair, not the writhing snake nest on her head.  The thick, cool strands against his skin helped Eustace battle himself back to rational thought.

This was their agreement, the pact that had been made with the gods themselves, and he could not back out.  And so he took to the path again, heading for the northern harbor where he was to meet his ship, his mind replaying the last year with painful clarity.

It had taken him a full day to realize he was in the home of a Gorgon.  In his defense, many of the stone statues littering the island were old and crumbling, some of them so dilapidated that you couldn’t distinguish between rock and former man.  But he’d spotted one unfortunate soldier, crouched behind a boulder by the freshwater spring, his hands shielding his face in defense, and he’d known where he was.

Eustace wasn’t a man who called on the gods too often.  In his mind, the state of affairs on Olympus seemed busy enough that he preferred not to bother them.  At that moment, gazing at the hapless fellow frozen in stone, Eustace had beseeched every single god for some form of salvation.

There were three Gorgons he knew of; Stheno, Euryale and Medusa.  They were great monsters, Titans, known for their violence against mankind and their hideous form.  Eustace was not a warrior, never had been, and was nearing his thirty-fourth birthday.  An old man in many people’s standards, fit only for sailing and catching fish, not doing battle against such a creature.

“Your heartbeat has changed, Eustace.  I can feel it in the ground.” He could hear the sadness in her voice even now. “Do you know who I am?”

“I do not think Stheno or Euryale would know how to play a lyre,” Eustace replied, trying his damndest to sound brave. “So that would make you Medusa.”

“And are you determined to kill me, now that you know?”

“No.” The answer came so fast, he’d surprised himself.  After an uncomfortable moment, as he tried to understand his own words, Eustace said it again, more firmly, “No, I am not.”

“You are a strange man, Eustace Panopoulos.”

“No stranger than a Gorgon who plays the lyre.”

She always stood in the shadows, but he heard her small laugh, “It is a comfort to me in this place.  A piece of who I used to be.  Or perhaps, who I could have been.”

He came to the final switchback and paused again.  A finger of land made a crooked curl into the sea just below.  He could see a boat tied there, and two men standing on its deck.  One spotted him and waved.  Eustace waved back before forcing himself to move again.

It was curious, he thought as his feet shifted over more loose rock, that the memories haunting him were mostly of her in the Gorgon form.  Granted, they’d spent a year talking to each other through shadows and laughing over his pathetic attempts at a campfire, and they’d only had one day – one glorious day – with Medusa in human form, but he’d thought the sight of her would throw everything else into the background.  And in fact, Eustace had thought his heart stopped beating when she woke him that morning.

After months of praying, he’d begun to think the gods weren’t listening.  But Zeus had listened.  The King of the gods had not only listened, but granted Medusa’s petition.  She’d asked for just one day in her natural form, one day to show Eustace who she ought to be.

It was bitterly unfair, the way Medusa had been treated.  One god pursuing her and another shunning her, there was little surprise that her music was so sad.  Eustace wondered, as his feet slowed around the final corner, if Zeus’s mercy for one day might not be another form of torment.  Could the memory of one day truly outshine the misery of her existence?

He held tight to the lock of hair as he approached the boat, and tried to reconcile himself to the bargain she’d made.

“Who goes there?”

The two men on the boat were as different as they could be; one dark and one fair, one bearded and one not, but both wearing breastplates of the military sort.  He addressed his response to the bearded, darker one, assuming the elder to be in charge.

“I am Eustace Panopoulos, a fisherman.”

“How do you come to be on these dark shores, Fisherman?”

“A storm stranded me here.  I hoped you would take me back to familiar lands.” Eustace prayed they wouldn’t ask how long he’d been there.  It would be difficult to explain how he had survived for so long.

“Our master Perseus has run to fetch the Gorgon’s head.  When he returns, we will ask him about taking you on.”

A spurt of fear shot into his spine. “Your master Perseus?  But I did not see him on my way to the harbor.”

The fair one smirked, “You would not have.  He wears a helmet that renders him invisible.”

Eustace fought the urge to look over his shoulder. “But how will he take Medusa’s head?  She can feel a man’s heartbeat through the ground.  Even invisible, your master has little chance.”

The smirk got deeper and Eustace swallowed back a wayward remark.  The insolence of these men was so palpable that he actually wanted to fight.  They would certainly beat him; they were trained for such things.  He could see this by the swords and shields, but he still wanted to.

“Our Master Perseus will not touch the ground.  He has a pair of winged sandals that let him fly.” This time it was the dark one who smirked, “So you see, it is Medusa who has no chance.”

Eustace felt the words slam into him like a blow to the chest and staggered.

“Are you all right?”

Without answering, he pivoted on his heel and charged back up the path.  The two men shouted at him, called him several insulting things, but Eustace didn’t care.  Bargain or not, he couldn’t stand aside and let her die.

Disregarding the path, he scrambled up the mountainside, clawing at shale and rock that threatened to send him back down.  Half running and half climbing, he negotiated the treacherous slope without pausing.  His muscles strained and his chest tightened, his breath coming out in great wheezes, but he couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop.

No, he thought, seeing not the weathered rocks around him but Medusa’s face – her beautiful, true face – as it had been just that morning.

“Zeus has answered my prayers, Eustace.” Her smile knocked his heart in a million directions. “For today, and only today, you get to see the true me.”

His knee bashed into a boulder and a large slide of shale and rock pushed his body back down.  It hadn’t stopped sliding before he was up again.  Toes digging into the dirt, Eustace pushed himself upward, praying he would reach her in time.

“No,” he said aloud as he reached the ridgeline.

On easier ground, Eustace picked up speed, using reserves of energy he’d never known were there.  Something flew by overhead and he stumbled to a halt, thinking of Perseus and his damned flying sandals.  But the sky was dark and the moonlight too dim for him to see what it was.  And it wouldn’t have mattered.  Eustace was too intent on his goal.  He ran headlong into her cave, calling out her name, heedless of any danger that might still be present.

“Medusa!”

Feet slapping against the stone floor, Eustace sprinted into her innermost sanctuary.  Crumbling pillars and rusted braziers were strewn about the massive space, but he knew where he was going.  He called for her again and still she did not answer.  Grief burned in his chest before he’d even found her.  

Eustace came to an abrupt stop. 

Sprawled out in front of him was the great, serpentine tail of the woman he had loved.  The rest of her body was hidden behind a boulder, in the nest he knew she used as a bed.  The poor woman had been sleeping – sleeping, of all things! – and that coward Perseus snuck in, winged and invisible, and murdered her.

Vision blurred, he fell to his knees.  With a shaking hand, he reached out to touch the Gorgon’s tail.  Sleek and scaly, like water made solid, it felt nothing like the Medusa he had held in his arms earlier that day.  A sob tore from him and he bowed his head.

He could remember the feel of her hand on his chest as she’d told him the conditions of her transformation.  One day, she’d said, at sunset she would be the Gorgon again and he was to be banished from the island.  While he hadn’t liked it, he hadn’t wanted to spend their one day fighting, either. 

“What would you like to do first?” He’d asked.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to sit and talk for a while … face to face.”