June 25, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

Butterflies. Anna told herself it was from the jostle of the train and not her nerves. It had been nearly a year since she had seen him. Two since they had been together and it had been a difficult task to stay away. As the train slowed to a stop she promised herself - just as she had the year prior - that this would be the last time.

She had been careful last year not to let him see her as she spied on him from the back of a class he was lecturing, from across the courtyard where they'd first met, through his kitchen window as she lurked in the shadows of his neighbors house.

She had hoped to find him happy, moved on and loving someone new, but he was alone. She imagined he must have written enough for several books by this time as he poured all of his free time into his typewriter. Except for the time between typing and sleeping when he would stand at his back window and stare out into the back yard. He couldn't possibly see her she knew, with the dark of the night and the lights on in the house he would be looking at his own reflection. Though there were times when she felt as though he were looking directly at her. When she could almost hear him pleading with her to come back to him. Times when it felt as if he were actually seeing her - looking at her through his reflection, through the dim and the shadows and into her very soul. Past her heartache and torment and all the things she despised about herself and what she was. As if he were looking into the deepest depths of who she was to the buried part of her that still loved him. The part of her that wanted to escape the shadows and run away from everything that she was and into his arms once again.

She would trade eternity for a lifetime with him and as she wandered, chasing stories of mysterious deaths and hoping to run across the rogue immortals that Blue Blazer had told her about - the ones who lived free from the laws of Argus. Despite their misguided ways and the inevitability that they would one day be discovered and slaughtered. Not that she would have been a welcome addition after killing two of their group - one of whom was a breeder, but for the love of her life - her very long life - it was something she could never quite rid her mind of as she wandered throughout Europe trying to forget him, while concurrently trying to find a way to be with him.


Chapter 26 - Smoke & Mirrors

David picked her up from the train station. "Hello Anna," He smiled as he picked up her bags then set them down and hugged her. "It's good to see you again so soon."

"How is everyone?" she asked.

"As well as can be I suppose." David picked up her bags again and started for the car.

Their conversation was light and casual as David gave her the updates about Mary and Judy and school and how Jonas had commended him for his treatment of her with the magnets and had opted to give David a way to contact him in the future rather than let Anna create another catastrophe in flames.

"Does Gus still ask about me?" she asked casually.

David was quiet for a long moment. "I need to show you something," he said, then cleared his throat.

He turned the car down an unfamiliar side street.

"What is it?" Anna asked, her mind reeling with possibilities. "Has he... found someone?"

"If you'd rather, I could just tell you..." his voice trailed. "I should have told you sooner." He shook his head and gripped the steering wheel tightly. "I just hate anything that causes you pain Anna."

It was quiet for a moment while Anna considered if she even wanted to hear what was quite obviously going to be bad news. A few more turns saw them passing a large church and around the corner an expansive cemetery. David pulled the car to a stop and shut off the engine.

"David?" Anna choked on her words. "Why? Why are we here?" Deep down she already knew the answer.

"We don't have to be," David's voice cracked as he reached to restart the car.

"No." Anna said sounding more stern and desperate than she had intended to. "Show me. I... I need to see."

David took hold of her hand as they walked the short distance to the modest headstone that marked the grave of August Aurelius Ambrose. Born August first, Nineteen Twenty-Five. Died November Fifth, Nineteen Fifty-Nine. It was only two weeks after she had last seen him.

She tried to stay strong, to keep her emotions from overwhelming her. Humans die, she reasoned. He was younger than most but death did not discriminate based on age, she reminded herself. He was a year younger than her mother had been.

"How?" She managed.

"Car accident." David said, his voice sounding stern as he held back his own emotions.

Anna shook her head. Her thoughts were distant, tangled and confused: She never should have left him. He would still be alive if she had stayed. Or at least they would have had one more year. How could this have happened? He was such a careful driver. She would kill whoever was responsible. But what if it had been his fault. Could he have been depressed? Could he have been drinking? Was it suicide? Was it because of her?

Tears fell silently down her cheeks. She reached her hand toward the cold gray stone. She had to touch it - now that it was all that there was of him. As if touching the stone would somehow make it real, make her feel differently. Her hand hovered inches above the stone as she imagined his rotted corpse dressed in his best grey suit deep within the dirt.

"Anna. Breath," David said coming to stand close behind her.

Her hand touched the stone and she gasped for air. Wet filled her eyes, blurring them. She blinked away her tears, and inadvertently shifted to an immortal view.

It was then that her eyes caught sight of a soft blue glow near the base of the headstone. She fell to her knees, pulling at the scatter of fallen leaves and long grass to expose the small insignia near the base of the stone. A small peacock feather adorned with a small blue stone.

"No." Anna shook her head, her eyes locked firmly onto the small unmistakable marking.

The shock broke like a damn giving way. Tears and emotion welled from a place deep within her core, a slow moving explosion from the center of her being lifting and pluming outward. Her entire body trembled as she lifted her hand to her mouth as if to stop the inevitable scream.

David was by her side in an instant, crouched down next to her, holding her in a tight embrace as she wailed and sobbed.

They sat together on the damp grass for a very long time even after her tears had dried. "Tell me what you need." David said, his voice quiet and rich with emotion.

"Was there a fire?" she asked softly.

"Yes." David said. "You don't think-?"

Anna cut him off with a shake of her head and her hand over his mouth. "Take me home," she said.

Anna went directly to bed when they arrived, though she didn't sleep. She couldn't sleep. They brought her food, but she couldn't eat. It was only when Judy stopped by to check on her and the smell of her made Anna's mouth water that she was able to force herself to eat something.

A few hours after that Mrs. Morgan felt bold enough to suggest to Anna that both she and the bed sheets could use a good washing. She didn't object. She filled the tub with piping hot water and lowered herself in, amused by the thought of bursting into flames in a tub full of hot water. As she soaked in the warmth of the water she considered her mothers final moments of life and began to understand her heartache and her plight.

Judy had been tasked with assisting her, but the last thing Anna needed was a teen-aged girl hovering awkwardly, painfully unaware of how easy her life was and would be. So she sent her away, and locked the door.

She answered the occasional knocks and polite queries of assistance from anyone daring enough to tempt it with a simple yet effective, "go away!"

She sat in the tub until the water was cold, her lips were blue, her skin clammy and her hands and feet were well pruned.

Eventually David came, unlocked the door, and let himself in. "Anna," His tone was both scolding and sympathetic as he reached for her robe.

"I owe Judy an apology don't I?" Anna asked, leaning forward in the tub, and hugging her knees.

David sighed as he let the water out of the tub and helped her into her robe. "Well... it's not like you held a gun to her head," he said with a wry smile.

"Not funny." Anna frowned.

David tied her robe and rubbed her arms legs and back trying to warm her up then escorted her back to her room. The room had been cleaned and a vase of fresh cut flowers sat next to the bed.

Anna slipped into a blue dress and toweled off her hair while David started a fire in the fireplace. He finished first and took a seat on the settee under the window.  Anna considered the bed, and the chair David had set close to the fireplace then took a seat next to David.

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I'm so confused. I'm so Angry! And just... completely and utterly... hopeless."

"Give it time." David said.

"I'm afraid David." She met his eyes. "I... I don't know how to be in this world. I thought I knew the rules."

"I wish I knew what to tell you," David consoled. "I've been looking through some of the older books in the library I didn't find much, but I can tell you that the symbol and stone were placed after the marker was placed. I'm not saying that his death wasn't just an accident, but there is a possibility that the mark was placed by other Rogue immortals that ran with the two you dispatched. Perhaps as a message... a way to say we're even or maybe it was to make you question your loyalty."

"Or maybe it was a way to demand it. Either way, his death is on my hands."

"Anna, it was an accident Anna."

Do you know what happened? Do you know the details of the accident?" she asked.

David hesitated. "Yes. Dr. Lampley was the coroner on the case, I had to know more, but I didn't think you would want to know the details."

She stood and paced the room twice before coming to sit back down next to David.

"My mother never spoke of my father," she started. "Never. In fact she forbid it. Because of her loyalty to my mother my aunt Iona never said a word about him either. Jonas told us that he knew him and that he was a good and honorable man despite what had come between he and my mother, but he would never say more than that. It was my Nanna Grace who told me more about my real father than anyone else ever had.

"I was twelve. I was staying over at my Aunt and Nanna's house. I couldn't sleep. I'm not sure if Nanna ever slept. I had gone to the kitchen for a glass of milk. Nanna Grace was drinking what she called her whiskey-flavored tea. It was whiskey, with a splash of cream in a teacup. Sometimes she would even add sugar.

"That night she told me that her son Lyle, the man listed as our father on my and Meline's birth certificate was not our father at all. She, Iona and my mother had gone to great lengths to hide the truth. They did everything from forge a wedding certificate to stealing and changing official documents. They even had new headstones placed with more accommodating dates of death.

"Why all the fuss?" David asked. "We have resources for all of that."

"Grace and Iona were familiars but not really part of the organization. My mother was on her own when we were born. My father - my real father - never even knew my mother was pregnant. No one did. He left town, she disappeared shortly after and reappeared again more than a year later with two small babies and a fiancÚ.

"The immortal Grace and Iona knew is my real father. They called him their Angel because he looked after them. She would never tell me his real name. She said it was too dangerous.

"Lyle, Grace's son, the man on my birth certificate, and his father Frank used what Grace new to buy their way into higher society - a secret society - that lured and captured my father and tortured him in hopes of him revealing or granting them immortality. My mother, who must have been a different person entirely before she had children helped save him. In retaliation he killed everyone who had had any involvement in the secret society. Including Lyle and Frank.

"They died in a auto accident. Auto accidents happen all the time, but it's rare that they only involve one vehicle and they almost never burst into flames. If slamming into a tree or, driving off the side of a cliff doesn't kill them, or cover the damage done before the accident, fire - particularly a fire that burns hot enough to melt metal - most certainly will."

"Your father is an Elite." David said, matter-of-fact.

"It's possible," Anna sighed.

"He has to be. No other immortal would be given that much leniency."

Anna shuddered.

"I'm sorry," David said. "I didn't mean..."

"Just tell me it was a collision with another car, or that there were witnesses." Anna voice cracked.

"He drove into a grove of trees at the edge of some farmland," David sighed. "According to the report, it looked as though he swerved to avoid hitting something."
Anna scoffed and shook her head. "Probably a person."

"Or a sheep," David offered. "Some were found wandering not to far away."

"What else?" Anna pressed.

"Are you sure you want to hear this?"

She nodded once.

David took a deep breath before he continued. "He was partially ejected through the windshield. The damage was extensive, it might have been enough to cover up any pre-existing injuries if there were any, but the fire wasn't unusually hot. He had been smoking and the cigarette fell from his hand onto the seat and caught it on fire. It is possible that it was simply an accident."

Anna sighed, pulled David's arm around her and curled up next to him. David smoothed her hair behind her ear and kissed her on the forehead.

"Gus didn't smoke," she said softly.


(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart