Bakulu: (Bakulu-baka) He drags chains behind him and is such a terrible spirit that no one dares to invoke him. His habitat is the woods where offerings are taken to him. He himself possesses no one…
- “Descriptions of Various Loa of Voodoo”, by Jan Chatland
A rough, cool cloth is wiping her face.
She is lying down. Her eyes can’t open because of gentle grazing over her eyelids.
She notices the lingering odor of fire, but underlying that, she breathes a scent that she equates with safe and wanted. She should remember why she’s here, but, enveloping her mind is the distinct feeling that now is better than then, so stay in now as much as possible.
She feels a threadbare blanket over her and thin mattress beneath her. There is movement, discernable through noise and vibration. The damp cloth brushes over her lips, and a pause, then cheekbones, another pause, eyelids again, then forehead. When the caress is gone for a long time, she tentatively opens her eyes.
Blurred shadows fill the room. There are brick walls and a dirt floor lit by half-hearted candle light. The rest of the room disappears into black. It is a small, forgotten hole, but He is here, the one she loves.
How does she know she loves him? No specific memory breaks through the shroud encompassing her thoughts, but she knows him. Not his name, not at the moment, but how could she not know him?
He is magic.
He wears a white shirt that glows even in the dark room. It is starker for the dimness of the space and for the black cloth that he is using on her face. The fabric seems to be the edge of a large piece of … cloak, her mind provides.
It is how he hides himself, and he has taken it off, used it as it isn’t intended … for you.
He keeps you safe. He loves you.
Her attention is noticed, and he returns her gaze with an expression of concern and adoration. It is so familiar, recently seen, just before…
I HATE YOU.
She flinches and he startles at the sudden memory. She said—
No, I couldn’t have said that.
She pushes it away as fast as she can and reaches for his face.
He is beautiful, even if it is an alien beauty. No, not that … he has natural beauty, yes, of nature. He embodies the spirit of the world. He is from deep magic within the earth. She didn’t know she believed in the magic until she saw him, but he is more of the earth than anyone she has ever known.
Not that she can think of anyone or anywhere else beyond this place, not even his name. They are all gone in a haze that, strangely, she isn’t keen on fighting at this moment.
Something has happened to her.
Her memory unleashes on her again. Snakes, shells, spiders. She tries to breathe them away like a nightmare in the morning light.
She was terrorized, violated, but the poison is leaving her body now like a breaking fever. She was tricked, compelled to do things, although, ironically, not by Him, the one who has power over her, the one she is bound to.
They are tied. The how and why are lost, but she feels it—the call to each other. They are encircled, shackled within each other’s heart, yet she knows, somehow, he has only ever tried to make her stronger and free.
She strokes his face as if to say I’m sorry and I cherish you. She will not say the words. In the recent past, she has pushed him away; her words have hurt Him, so there will be none from her now.
He. Fascinating, He.
He has the power to heal her. He is wiping the remnants of the possession away with his cloth, but that is the least of it. He can chase terror from her. He can release her spirit. She was haunted, but He has the power to remove fear …
You must let me help you.
… even if he couldn’t do it fast enough.
Of course, it’s real!
It wasn’t his fault. He tried.
Tell me what I can do.
She was the one who couldn’t fight hard enough.
Failure grips her.
Don’t you ever come back.
I HATE YOU.
He pulls back from her touch, saying nothing.
Tears prick her eyes, and she lurches from confusion to trust and back again.
He came back, he saved her, he loves her, but he remembers her words. She can feel them in the air between them, see them on his face. He squints, anticipation and apprehension marring his exquisite features.
She’s made him doubt. She looks away so he will not see her shame.
And then she sees the dress.
She cannot remember where it came from, but it isn’t anything she would ever wear for Him. She detests it, wants to toss it away along with the weapon words she used on him.
Why would she say those things? He is hers. She can feel that. He is bound to her, and she is bound to him.
She wants him to know, but he turns away, and she realizes … the makeup. That’s why he’s cleaning her face. A flash of herself in the mirror, glaring cosmetics covering her like a mask, keeping her from him. He can’t look at her.
She focuses again on the dress and starts to pull on it, rip at it, rejects it as she wishes she could reject the memories. Nails bite into the back of her neck as she tears the fabric. Blood drips down her arms. It is a dark, rich red, and looks as right as the dress looked wrong.
“Stop!” he shouts, whipping back to her, but she has already ripped the outfit halfway from her body, along with flesh. He scrambles to catch up her bloodstained fingers.
One more memory slips through. There was another woman in a dress as revealing as this one. (Well, maybe not as revealing as now.) She remembers the girl holding offerings. (For a spirit, a god? They are for Him, she realizes. Of course they are.)
There’s a struggle.
Blood is shed; fire escapes, turning a room into a pyre. The girl runs.
Sitting here on the bedroll, the dress ragged and pooled around her waist, blood running down her arms, she cannot understand. Why would the girl run? Of course, there’s blood.
Blood is the sacrifice, even to love, especially, to love. Fire, too. We all burn to ashes in love, either in a conflagration, or slowly, after years. Love demands our tears, our blood, our flesh, our actions, our hopes.
He pulls her into his arms, trying to hold her safe and cover her all at once.
She can remember little of what brought her here, and what she does remember, she wishes she didn’t. But this she knows … she loves him.
She pulls back, and her heart beats to the sight and sound of his breath that comes now in open-mouth rasping.
Loving him is the truth at her core, and she thinks he can finally see it, just as she can see the truth of his innermost soul.
He is angel and man, demon and god, child of love, power and energy itself. He saves her. He has so many times. He can punish evil, stop the bleeding, release earthly bindings, but he can’t defeat the strongest chain.
He cannot save her from loving him.
He never should have brought her here.
He grips her hands to keep her from hurting herself again, tries to be wary of her wounds, while also attempting to keep his body from touching hers, and all he can think is, I never should have brought her here.
This is a place he comes after, a bricked up and forgotten room, somewhere deep in the countless old basements of the West Side near Columbia. It is where he goes, sometimes for days, neither Below nor Above, but an in-between point, to wash away what remains when his spirit is overtaken. Violence must be cleansed. He cannot bring it home.
I never should have brought her here.
And where should you have taken her? his second thoughts ask. She was unconscious, drugged. You couldn’t very well prop her on top of an elevator, or scale down the side of her building with her in your arms.
I should have brought her Below, Father’s disapproval and Tunnel gossip be damned.
But you didn’t.
If only she had slept.
You knew she must wake eventually. You were the one who awakened her, the inner voice argues.
Yes, the washing couldn’t wait. The heavy make-up, so unlike her, the stench of the powder, Ross’ sticky-sweet poison drink, and the ashes from fire – he has tried to cleanse her of all of them, to wipe the last days from her.
Of course, she woke …
And now she looks on him with pupils so wide, either from the drugs, the darkness, or—and he must admit it, because their bond pulses with it—desire. Her green irises are barely existent. The weakness from the drug is gone, her strength returning, but the powder still tramples her inhibitions.
He’d thought her gaze was piercing before, but now it’s as if she can see though his body to the soul beneath.
He shouldn’t have stayed. He should have gotten help.
You couldn’t leave her.
No, he couldn’t. The villain is dead, but his scent and the reminders of his intentions remain, despite any attempts to rid her of them.
Must not die, must not die, the mantra echoes in his thoughts as he smooths the waves in her hair.
He must keep her safe, but the possessive beast stalks every route of escape.
Mine comes unbidden, as he tries not to look down, but his vision, meant for hunting, takes in all of her—sun-touched hair, cream skin, proud breasts, dark nipples, curved stomach—immodest as a mermaid, as alluring as a siren.
Mine. The air is thick with it.
She isn’t in her right mind comes the last-ditch effort of logic.
Does it matter? the inner demon cajoles.
Still, he starts to fight, to pull away, but she rises to her knees, and her dress falls further down her thighs. There is nothing underneath.
She kisses him, arching, affixing her mouth to his, insisting, then her arms, still wet with trails of blood, spiral around his neck.
Desire—a drug unto itself—unfurls within his system, mind overcome, body pounding, on fire. His spirt, dark, broken on her fears and wishes, reforms around her.
She pulls back just enough to touch her forehead to his and says, “Vincent,” as if she has found something she’s been searching for. She takes his hand and places it on her naked breast. Her nipple rises to meet his palm. He can’t breathe.
Still kissing him, she urges him back to the wall, and he does not resist. How can he but bow to her power over him. She reaches between them, and he gasps. What little keeps them apart is plied and pushed out of the way.
He is paralyzed under her hands, and in an instant, almost without thought, she joins their bodies.
He invades her but is also overwhelmed.
Unbearable, he thinks, each time she sinks further down—unbearably good, unbearably close to pain. The discomfort is just a possibility, the boundary of this sensation, not realized … yet.
She is slow at first, undulating as she lifts and falls on his length. He clutches her hips, the remnants of her dress gathers there now, keeping his claws from piercing her. He begins to help her rhythm, then takes over, much to her joy, if her sighs and the bond can be trusted.
He can’t be trusted.
The demon ascends, as if from each pounding heartbeat, each moment, each stroke, gaining dominion.
She is begging now, panting and tempting the monster to kiss her lips, to mark her flesh. The demon indulges, leaving red rings of desire on her neck and shoulder.
In what feels like a taste of forever, but also the smallest of time, she begins to grip him, in all ways, tying him to her even tighter than before. She keens and he hisses as she strains and he surges into release.
Their breaths mix when she whimpers into his mouth. She is beautiful, luminous, and it’s not enough.
He must have her again. He kisses the blood on her arms away, and the sparks between them flare. He is barely spent before he is hard inside her once more. If before was flame, this is inferno. He lifts her, and while still connected in both body and soul, imprisons her beneath him.
Instinct escalates into redemption. He mounts her to begin their journey again, each invasion dragging them onward to where the last days mean everything and nothing, a place of no return and truth.
His ragged pace punishes, the ache lashes through the bond to them both. They want the pain, they need it. She lifts her leg to his hip, and he seamlessly takes it, knowing she wants more. She wants atonement, and bliss, and forgiveness.
He cannot forget the other man’s lips on her, the helplessness when unable fight her daytime terrors, the dread of loss, and she will know these with each claiming thrust, with every torturous stroke. He demands her pleasure, and she succumbs with a scream nearly drowned by his answering roar.
She is quiet now. His kisses down her shivering form. He roams her body, inhaling her scent everywhere he can find it, exploring her folds, and bringing her to another crest while nuzzling her breasts and sucking her nipples.
Finally, they sleep.
He almost got away—note written, clothes gathered, candles lit, water left.
He wouldn’t have had to face her … yet …
But she’s good at waking when you’re least ready, isn’t she?
He turns from the exit.
She rises on one arm, while holding his blanket just above her breasts with the other. He is almost dizzy with the ivory skin he can still see … and sobered by the love marks that bruise it.
She blinks out of sleep and into lucidity, then crinkles her forehead. It is the most endearing thing he’s ever seen.
“Catherine …” he begins, but can find nothing else to say.
She graces him with a smile—and it is truly grace, for what has he done to deserve such tenderness—and says, “Is the love of my life leaving me like some one-night stand?”
She is joking with him to fight his shame.
He loves her for it.
What can he offer her in return? Finally, he decides. The truth.
“It’s still night. I was going to your apartment to find you other clothes.”
“Oh,” she says slowly, her mouth making a small O shape. “Yes, I suppose this thing …” She looks under the blanket, to what must be her torn garment. “… is a loss.” She huffs a small laugh. “Good riddance.”
She sits up, still covering her nakedness with the smallest of comfort he has allowed himself here. He cannot help but think this place will never be the same for him again. He will never be the same again.
He sighs. If she’s awake, they might as well face what he hasn’t been able to put from his mind ever since he stirred next to her.
He crosses the room. “Catherine, when we …” He perches next to her as she shifts on the pallet. “We could have … I could have gotten you … pregnant.”
She thinks a moment, then says, “Well…” She looks up as if calculating, “…I missed taking my pills the last … two days, but I don’t think the timing is likely.” She caresses his arm. “Probably not, but we’ll have to face the possibility.”
“Catherine, that’s not…”
She interrupts his objection. “We’ll face it, Vincent, together. It’s all we can do.”
He gathers her comforting hand in both of his and kisses her open palm in supplication. She cups his face in response, and he must let go before thankfulness escalates into arousal.
Dear God, she is achingly lovely, even when sex and sleep-tossed.
They wait for long moments before she speaks again.
“Ross.” She shakes her head as if to clear her thoughts, but Vincent can also feel disgust, tinged with the ridiculous. “Was he wearing eyeliner?” she asks in a voice that wavers.
He wasn’t looking for that at the time. Before he can answer she looks away, and once again he feels her try to gather in her rebellious memories.
Her eyes find him once more. “Vincent, is he …”
“Ross is dead,” he answers with little sadness, and then adds, more so she won’t worry for his soul, “He died in the fire.”
His claws glanced off the stupid man’s ribs. He wouldn’t have died.
Oh, yes, he would have, the black spirit within him promises. Anyone who threatens her …
Her head bows, and she says into her lap, “He thought you were a god. He wanted you to take me.”
I did take you.
He shakes his head against his failing. “I’m not a god.” Just a demon who took advantage of your state. “Just a weak, dark spirit …”
“No, Vincent,” she counters, and he knows she is denying both words and thoughts. Her hand brings his face back to hers again, dangerously close. “Not a dark spirit. Just a spirit … like mine. If we were weak in the face of all that happened …” She shrugs slightly as if it was simply fate, inevitable.
He kisses her. He can’t help it.
She is breathless by the time they part.
“So,” she begins, her voice from the deep well-spring of desire inside her.
He can’t believe how lucky he is to share it.
“I’ve been taken by a god.” She coyly smiles. “Can I make love to the man?”
After everything, she still sees the man inside me. She still wants me.
She deserves music, sonnets and sunsets, wine and roses.
He would make it up to her for the rest of their lives, if she would let him, but until then …
“Catherine, it would be my honor,” he whispers, and begins to retrace the roads of passion he has discovered down her neck and chest.
Joe Maxwell drops a stack of files in the clerks’ bullpen, then rounds the corner in the busy office. He places his hands on the extra chair near Catherine’s desk and asks, “How are you feeling?”
“Much better,” she answers with complete sincerity.