of Contents – Love and Darker Passions
Alexis Brooks de Vita – Prologue
A.J. Maguire – “The Man Who Loved
C.E. Murphy –
Ceschino – “The Argument”
Lee Barwood – “Rainsong”
Joseph Michael – “Lullaby of a
Karen Duvall – “Through the Looking
A.J. Walker – “The Witch Bottle”
Natalie L. R. Baker – “In the
Matthew K. Bird – “I Am a Smart
Christina St. Clair – “Ice Cream”
Joel Owusu – “Noisnam
Novella Serena – “Cacie’s Prism”
Max Balkan – “Long Knives, Sharp
Tenea Johnson – “Only Then Can I
Tedd Hawks – “The Vengeance”
Marie Brennan – “Kiss of Life”
Ezekiel M. Zachs
– “Blood Doll”
Alexis Brooks de Vita – “The Wakings”
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
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
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
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?
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?
Man Who Loved Medusa
A. J. Maguire
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
seemed preferable to a life of longing.
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.
pity you have to look at what you’re aiming at,” he told the dead man.
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?”
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.
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.
that he knew who it was that he’d been searching for, Eustace was grateful that
the mists had concealed her form.
a melancholy song!” He’d shouted the words, but hadn’t needed to. His voice traveled easily over the still
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.
mean you no harm!” He’d said, scrambling for cover in the naked ship.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.”
are you determined to kill me, now that you know?”
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.”
are a strange man, Eustace Panopoulos.”
stranger than a Gorgon who plays the lyre.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
held tight to the lock of hair as he approached the boat, and tried to
reconcile himself to the bargain she’d made.
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.
am Eustace Panopoulos, a fisherman.”
do you come to be on these dark shores, Fisherman?”
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.
master Perseus has run to fetch the Gorgon’s head. When he returns, we will ask him about taking
spurt of fear shot into his spine. “Your master Perseus? But I did not see him on my way to the
fair one smirked, “You would not have.
He wears a helmet that renders him invisible.”
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.”
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.
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.”
felt the words slam into him like a blow to the chest and staggered.
you all right?”
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.
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.
thought, seeing not the weathered rocks around him but Medusa’s face – her
beautiful, true face – as it had been just that morning.
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.”
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
he said aloud as he reached the ridgeline.
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.
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.
came to an abrupt stop.
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
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.
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.
would you like to do first?” He’d asked.
if you don’t mind, I’d like to sit and talk for a while … face to face.”