Supernatural

Chapter reveal: The Beekeeper’s Daughter, by Jane Jordan

cover-artTitle:  The Beekeeper’s Daughter

Genre: Thriller

Author: Jane Jordan

Website: janejordannovelist.com 

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Find out more on Amazon and B&N

Beekeeper’s daughter Annabel Taylor grows up wild and carefree on the moors of England in the late 1860s. A child of nature and grace with an unusual ability to charm bees, Annabel follows in the footstep of her mother Lilith, a beautiful witch.  With her closest friend and soulmate Jevan Wenham by her side, Annabel’s life is a life filled with wonder and curiosity. But Jevan, the son of a blacksmith, lives his life on the verge of destruction, and his devotion to Annabel probes the boundaries between brutality and deep desire, passion and pleasure. When Jevan leaves Exmoor to pursue an education in London, Annabel’s world shatters.  Devastated without Jevan, Annabel is sure her life is ending. But everything changes when she crosses paths with Alexander Saltonstall. The heir to the Saltonstall legacy and son of Cerberus Saltonstall, the wealthy landowner of the foreboding Gothelstone Manor, Alex is arrogant and self-assured—and enamored of the outspoken Annabel.  Even though the two are socially worlds apart, that doesn’t stop Alex from asking, or rather demanding, Annabel’s hand in marriage.  But when Annabel refuses, she is forced into an impossible situation. To further complicate matters, Jevan is back—and so are those same desires, that same passion and intensity. But nothing is as it seems, and Annabel and Jevan are in grave danger.  At risk of being ensnared into the dark legacy of the Saltonstall family, Annabel faces the ultimate test.  Will her fledgling powers be enough to save those she loves most? Can she even save herself?

 

Chapter One – Gothelstone Village – 1698

                  The crowd surged forward, straining their necks to get a better view. Venomous whispers carried ominously through the air, and the words on their lips were full of condemnation.  Most of the villagers played their part in this madness. Only a few, saw through the falseness, they prayed silently and held back tears of sorrow. This small number hoped their presence might be of some comfort, they had not come to gloat or gain satisfaction at the spectacle. They came to witness the injustice.

Morning dew was still evident. With the earlier mist nearly gone, weak sunshine penetrated through low hanging cloud, throwing a subtle light across the young woman’s face. Her breath came in sobs, clearly audible to the people closest to her. She could not control the trembling of her body or the cold stark fear that caused sweat to run down her brow. Long dirty streaks, caused by earlier tears, marked her skin. Her hair, which was matted and long, obscured her face further.  Her eyes darted amongst the villagers as disbelief invaded her mind.

There was no justice in the world, and she could not leave on these terms. Lifting her head higher, she shook the hair out of her eyes and stared at the restless crowd in defiance. Reality was before her and fear numbed any more emotion.

From the back of the crowd, a figure pushed through to stand before her.

A coward. She thought, as his eyes refused to meet hers. After a few moments pause, a sudden hush came over the gathering. Then, her accuser’s voice filled the cold stagnant air with terrifying prose from the indictment.

Accusing murmurs mounted, and bile rose in her throat. She stared blindly into the mass, unable to believe they so easily succumbed to the lies. These people were neighbors and friends she had known them all her life, yet, even their betrayal paled into nothingness, compared to her mounting hatred for him.

His voice was booming in her head, drowning out any other noise or sensible thought, his intention to intimidate and threaten. It was incredible that he appeared to be a complete stranger to her now. No longer the man she once loved. As more lies spilled from his mouth, the gnawing sickness of moments before vanished. With his provocation enraging her further, something altered. Her mind let go of the fear, and replaced it with pure unbridled hatred.

In spontaneous effect, she pulled harder against the chains. They were unyielding just as before. In the mob, a few called upon their God to have mercy. It was an illusion; their pious cries did nothing to conceal the suspicion in their eyes.

Another man approached, his identity was of no consequence. Her gaze tore from her accuser and rested upon the fiery torch the other man held. He came closer. The breath caught in her throat, terror rendered her body rigid as he bent and lit the pile of faggots beneath her.

Blood coursed through her veins making her feel light-headed, and her heart pounded so heavily that it brought physical pain. Tears found renewed energy and streamed down her face. The heat seeped up, slowly at first. Then faster, surrounding her legs as the faggots smoldered for a few moments before catching alight.

A terrified gasp escaped her lips, as the first wisps of smoke invaded her nostrils. She twisted her body, fighting against the chains that bound her to the stake. The metal links were unrelenting, they cut deeper and deeper into her flesh.  The heat intensified, engulfing her torso and making her cough. The fire took hold quickly, and crackled ominously beneath her. Her tears, now a steady stream, clouded her vision. Then, she felt the first tiny shocks of pain, as the flames licked her soles.

“God save me!” she screamed, panic besetting her.  Frantically, she searched faces in the crowds, still believing someone would show compassion. Somebody would speak up and free her. As her eyes burned into theirs, she saw no reprieve, instead, the crowd grew quieter and settled down. They watched in morbid fascination as her flesh seared and pain surged through her.

Summoning courage, she tried to withstand the pain, but terror thwarted spirit.  The fire began to spew the sparks that caught hold of the hem of her ragged clothes, and an uncontrollable force made her shake violently. Smoke began to billow from the pyre forcing the congregation to move backwards. Only her accuser stood his ground.

“God will not save you!” he cried, “for thou shall not suffer a witch to live!”

A faint murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd. She was unable to look at them anymore. Terror had a firm hold on her psych as flames beat at her feet and lapped her legs.  She screamed again, a terrible sound that rang through the village square. The torture was unbearable. She could no longer stand it.  Blinking the oppressive breath of the fire out of her eyes, she prayed for the end.

Death was not far away. Suffocating slowly, and unable to scream anymore, she was slipping into unconsciousness from the agony. She managed to lift her head one final time and silently beg God for a merciful release. The smoke cleared for a few seconds in front of her face and quite by chance, she caught his eye. It took only a second to register that he was actually smiling.

Rage pulsed through her. She battled against the constriction of her throat and the creeping, burning agony that was melting her flesh. Her heart pounded so violently against her ribcage that it would surely burst from her chest. Then, on the verge of death, her unbroken spirit gave her the power to raise her voice once more.

It was surprising, shocking even, that her words rang so clearly across the gathering. The God fearing peasants clutched at each other, seeking reassurance. Afraid of her words and the unnatural power she appeared to possess. With her final scream echoing through their heads, they watched the hungry flames engulf her body. Some cried out in pity, others uneasily marked themselves with the sign of the cross. Only one looked on in satisfaction.

The witch was dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Historical Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Hidden Element, by Donna Galanti

?????????????????????????????????????????????Title: A Hidden Element

Genre: Paranormal Suspense

Author: Donna Galanti

Website: www.ElementTrilogy.com

Publisher: Imajin Books

Purchase on Amazon

In A Hidden Element evil lurks within…

When Caleb Madroc is used against his will as part of his father’s plan to breed a secret community and infiltrate society with their unique powers, he vows to save his oppressed people and the two children kept from him. Seven years later, Laura and Ben Fieldstone’s son is abducted, and they are forced to trust a madman’s son who puts his life on the line to save them all. The enemy’s desire to own them—or destroy them—leads to a survival showdown. Laura and Ben must risk everything to defeat a new nemesis that wants to rule the world with their son, and Caleb may be their only hope—if he survives. But must he sacrifice what he most desires to do so?

CHAPTER 1: The Beginning

Silent dark hung under a star-filled sky.

The dark deepened as they headed into the forest. Ancient conifers towered over them, blocking out the moon. Rain fell cold and lifeless. The nearest town of Benevolence, Oregon, was five miles northwest.

Caleb Madroc’s father stood across from him, waiting for his people to gather their belongings. Their pale faces glowed like orbs within gray hooded robes as they waited for his father’s instruction.

“We head toward town,” his father ordered. Caleb opened his mouth, but there were no words for his feelings of anger and loss at suddenly leaving the only home he’d ever known. It raged inside him, a tumult of emotion he must quell for now. At least his own black hair, like his face, was a constant reminder of his mother to his father. This made him glad.

Caleb shut his mouth and nodded, stepping in behind his father. Rain fell cold and lifeless. He fell behind as he helped the womenfolk with their bags. One young female sent him a furtive, desperate look as she touched his hand in passing.

I’m so scared. What will happen to us?

He smiled at her. Keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s safer this way. All will work out once we settle. She bit her lip, her eyes full of tears, and nodded looking back down at her feet.

“Father, how much further? Some of the younger females are struggling,” Caleb said.

His father’s eyes stung him through the mist rising up from the forest floor. They were eyes so different from his, and from his mother’s. Caleb had often seen sadness and pity for his father in his mother’s eyes. The day he had found her dead in the well her eyes held only nothingness.

“Can’t we stop and rest, Adrian?” A few in the group grumbled. They looked wet and tired, a sea of gray flowing before him. His father glowered at their weakness. As Caleb scanned the sodden crowd a female smiled at his father, holding the promise of submission. Perfect for his father, who wanted to breed another son to take his place. A worthy son.

“We do not stop.” His father’s voice rose over the line of people before him, and he smiled back at the female and a strange sense of relief washed over Caleb. If his father did create a new prodigal son to groom it might remove his first born from his watchful eye.

With that thought, anguish over his mother’s absence hit him fresh again. At eighteen and bigger than his father, he still needed his mother. She had been his kindred spirit, like Uncle Brahm. But now he was alone in this strange place. No longer did he have someone to be his true self with. He must step carefully.

His father continued to scan his flock. They stood still and silent, conveying their subservience. He nodded, apparently satisfied with their response. “You all took the oath to come here. Hard work lies before us in breeding our new community. Understood?”

They nodded in a collective wave.

Just like you bred with Aunt Manta while your wife lay dead? Caleb spewed out in his head without thinking.

His father moved closer, until his flaring nostrils touched his. Caleb stepped back, but his father gripped his arm. Dozens of eyes watched their battle.

Do not ever mention my brother’s wife’s name again, Son.

His father’s fingers pinched him hard and his hot breath pulsed across his face, but Caleb couldn’t stop. Mother’s dead because of you. And what about Aunt Manta? Did you kill her, too?

I didn’t kill anyone. And your mother should have been more careful.

You let her travel alone. She fell and died because she was alone.

It was your well, Caleb, she fell into. Your hideaway you carelessly covered up. Your fault.

His father’s accusations stabbed him with painful truth. He sucked in his breath. My fault. Yes. My fault.

He looked around the watchful crowd as his head reeled with the agony of what he had done. His people stared back at him, their thoughts hid behind blank faces. Why did they come? Didn’t they have dreams and wants and needs of their own, too? Or were they all obedient drones of his father?

His father thrust his arm away and turned around, plunging faster through the woods. Caleb hesitated then followed behind, trying to keep up. He envisioned himself standing still until everyone glided around him, leaving him to remain alone under a watchful moon.

Branches snagged his robe shooting him back to reality. His father’s people followed in silence. If they didn’t obey there would be consequences. As Caleb knew. He had no special privilege here as Adrian’s son.

At last his father stepped out onto a paved road. It stretched far into the distance, where welcoming lights beckoned them across the final mile. They reached the main intersection of town. A car flashed by. A radio blared. Faces stared out at them. He stared back. They were so different from himself and yet…not.

He broke his gaze realizing how out of place this group looked late at night. The people here wore jeans and shirts, the shapes of their bodies outlined under tight clothes. The female’s curves called to him, unlike his people who clothed themselves in shapeless robes to discourage free sexual thoughts. They were now to breed only with those chosen for them.

His father led them single file down the sidewalk. A handful of people sat behind windows drinking. They pointed at them as they walked by. “Gillian’s Bar” flashed in neon green above the doorway in the late evening hours. A man and woman, heading into the bar, stepped back from the sidewalk to watch them pass. Freaks, he heard the man say. And his father erased the memory of the encounter from these strangers’ minds in the seconds it took to pass them.

“Father,” Caleb whispered in his ear. “Where are we going?”

A large building rose at the far end of a parking lot. “Ray’s Lots” blinked over and over.

“Here is where we go.”

A woman pushed a cart filled with bags to her car, the only car left in the lot. She stopped and stared at them. Her hair framed her face in tight curls. A blue and white striped dress strained to contain her breasts and belly.

“Good evening, brothers,” she said with a hesitant smile.

His father motioned for them to stop. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

“Good evening, madam,” his father drawled.

“God bless you.” She grabbed his father’s hand. Caleb swallowed a laugh at the way his father looked at her with such a serious, doting face.

“And God bless you, my child.”

“What church are you with?” The woman fingered a cross at her neck. “Are you having an event in town?”

His father had said a church was the perfect cover. One of the many cultural ways learned before infiltration. All part of his father’s master plan.

“It’s the Church of Elyon,” his father said.

The woman took her hand away and frowned. “Never heard of it. You’re not one those crazy cults are you?”

Caleb stepped to his father’s side. Let me work her mind, Father. “What’s your name, Madam?”

“Sally.”

“I’m Caleb Madroc.” He shook her hand hoping his father didn’t have some depraved mission in mind. Caleb wanted to get food for their hungry group and shelter and have as little interaction with these town people as possible. “We’re simple folks. Our bus broke down outside of town. We seek food and a place to stay nearby. Can you help us?”

“What a nice young man you are. Of course I can help you.” She abandoned her cart and pulled Caleb toward the store. “My cousin runs this store and can stock you up with food. And the Mercenary Motel is down the street.”

He didn’t understand her eagerness as she dragged him along then it was made clear by his father’s mirthful laugh. His father had probed her mind and now controlled it—she would do whatever he commanded.

Caleb followed her into the store. Their people streamed in behind. Sally dragged him to a counter where a short red-faced man scowled at them. “Ray, these folks are here in town from a wonderful church. Their bus broke down and they need food.”

Within seconds Ray’s frown changed to a wide grin as Caleb’s father continued his mind games. “Come in, come in. Time to close up anyhow.” He flicked the sign on the front door and shut off the lights outside.

“Thank you,” his father said. “I need food here for my flock before we find a place to stay.”

“Help yourself to anything you want.” Ray ran his hands over shelves. “Pretzels, baked beans, cereal, Ding Dongs. We even sell the word of the Lord.” Sally and Ray beamed at them.

His father directed everyone to gather food and drinks. Sally and Ray stood by the counter, their minds blank except for what his father put into them. He dared not combat his father’s powers. Not here. Not now. But someday.

“Ray, I need all your money now,” his father said.

Ray clapped his hands together. “Of course.” He pulled money from a nearby metal box.

When his father’s bag burst full of items he handed it to a community member and cocked his head at Ray and Sally. “Time to go now, my new friends.” He motioned his people out the door. Ray and Sally stood with stupid smiles on their faces as the group filed out into the parking lot. All, except his father.

“Come on, Father,” Caleb pleaded, the dark knot in his stomach hardened. “Our job here is done.”

“Not quite.” His father moved toward the smiling cousins, a book in his hand. The Holy Bible. He thumbed through it to a passage and looked up smiling. “As for God, his way is perfect, is it not?”

“The word of God is true,” Sally sang out, clutching Ray’s hand. Her cousin nodded.

“Ray, isn’t Sally lovely? Look at her.” His father pointed at the heavy set woman.

Ray turned to Sally. His pants bulged and Sally’s eyes widened. She tugged on her dress top.

“Have your way with her Ray, you know you want to.”

“Father,” Caleb whispered, clutching at him but his father stayed his hand.

Ray licked his lips and nodded.

“Sally, unzip your fine dress and show Ray what you’ve got.”

Sally stepped out of her dress in a motion more fluid than one would have thought possible given her size. Her belly oozed over her thighs and her bra cut into her mountainous breasts. Ray panted, tapping his hands against his skinny legs.

Caleb moved toward the door.

“Stay, Son, I want you to watch this.”

“I won’t.”

“You will or you know what will happen.”

Caleb stopped and sighed, looking down at the floor. Eyes watched from the parking lot.

“Look.”

Caleb focused on the dirt in the floor cracks. His muscles twitched with anger. His father thrived on his hate, wanted him to hate—wanted his son to be a Destroyer like him. They had hidden their true selves for so long and now were free here to unleash it. Not Caleb. He refused to give in to the dark inside. He tried to release the hate for his father, but it now filled his every pore. He made a vow right then and there, he’d never allow himself to be controlled. No matter the consequences.

He finally looked up. His father nodded, pleased, and turned back to his playthings. Ray massaged his crotch. Sally moaned, squeezing her mammoth breasts, and stepped out of her underwear.

“Take her, Ray. Bend her right over the counter. Dive into all her lushness.”

“Lush, yes.” Ray moved toward Sally, fumbling to unbuckle his pants. She squealed with glee and bent over the counter to receive him, her white bottom rising like a pitted sea of blubber. Ray mounted her, forged a path through her two white mountains, and slapped up against her in his glory.

“Lordy, Lordy,” Sally sang out as she bounced up and down.

“Now that’s wholesome entertainment.” His father jabbed him. Caleb jerked away. “They’re both enjoying it.”

Caleb clenched his fists and shoved them in his pockets. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Son, only one more thing to do.”

His father pulled out something that looked like a handle. He flicked it open to reveal a small knife he must have picked up in the hardware section. He placed it next to Ray on the counter. Sweat flicked off the red-faced man’s forehead as he plunged into buttery flesh.

“Ray, enjoying yourself?”

Ray grunted and grabbed on to Sally’s hips, sinking into her expanse. She moaned again in delight as her buttocks shuddered.

“Good. When you’re done fucking, kill the bitch.”

His father strode out the door, pulling Caleb along with him.

“Father, no.” Caleb struggled against him as his father shoved him hard through the door. Caleb spiraled his thoughts into Ray’s brain. Stop, Ray! She’s your cousin, your family!

Ray stopped his thrusting as if listening to Caleb, but his father’s punch to his face ended his brain probe. Caleb staggered back, blood gushing from his nose. Ray straightened his head and rammed into Sally with a loud groan. Caleb drew his hand back but his father’s fingers crushed his forearm. He fell to his knees. Blood spattered down his gray robe. The flock widened their circle, silent and watching. His father led as both law maker and enforcer.

“These lowly forms of life must be controlled,” his father said. “We’ve studied their ways. Now, this first act is how we begin their demise and our rule. We will grow in number with our selected breeding and thrive as these useless beings die out. Watch this historic moment, Son, for anyone who turns away will be marked weak…and unworthy.”

All eyes turned to the inside of the store as the desperate carnal scene played out to the end.

“I hate you,” Caleb whispered, watching the forced lovers before him.

His father smiled at him in satisfaction.

Ray arched his back with a moan and finished his business. Sally squealed and pressed up against him. And when Ray raised his knife and plunged into Sally in new ways, she squealed again. And again. Her blood ran onto scuffed tiles and still she squealed. And then she stopped.

Tears filled Caleb’s eyes and he closed them against the evil scene.

His father laughed. “Don’t you see, Son?” He shook The Holy Bible at him. “I am their Way, their Truth, their Life—and Death.”

Caleb did not answer. He remained inside his dark prison and swore someday he would end his father’s rule.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Supernatural, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Lullaby by Mayra Calvani

Dark Lullaby by Mayra CalvaniTitle:  Dark Lullaby
Genre: Supernatural/Psychological Thriller
Author: Mayra Calvani
Publisher: Mayra Calvani
Pages: 250
Language: English

At a tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated by her beauty as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her…especially the way she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature…

In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON.

First Chapter:

Prologue

From across the tavern she watched him.

Adorable, that’s what he looked to her, with those mellow brown eyes, those rebellious waves falling carelessly over his forehead, down the sides of his neck.  Ragged, eccentric hair. He didn’t have lashes.  What he had were black velvet Spanish fans.  A man had no business with lashes like that. He was tall, well over six feet, and slender like a cheetah. But the best were his eyes.  They were generous and kind; they were ingenious; they inspired trust; they had that special spark.  They had angel.

To the Spaniards, having angel meant a lot more than being handsome or beautiful.  A woman might be beautiful, but if she didn’t have angel she was as memorable as a drop of water in the sea.  On the other hand, an ordinary-looking woman with angel would captivate.  A man or woman must be born with angel. It could not be learned. It was not a physical attribute.  It was in the voice, in the words, in the aura.

Yes… he had angel.

The sight of him was already reason enough to melt her distraction, her perpetual restlessness.  But what pulled her to him like a newborn to a breast was a single mental image he’d had while waiting at the table for his friend to arrive.

Over a tall glass of dark beer, almost in a state of stupor, his eyes fixed down on the flickering candle, he had envisioned a young woman humming a lullaby and pushing a pram in a beautifully wooded park.  A lovely young mother, yes, the picture of ecstatic bliss, once in a while leaning over the pram to murmur soft words and coo at the baby.  And the lullaby, what a lovely lullaby. Never in all her existence had she heard such a sweet and maternal lullaby.

When the vision was over he had blinked, startled, as if waking up from a distasteful and deeply disturbing nap.  He had appeared sickened.  He had taken a deep draught of his beer as if it were a drug.

But the image of the young mother had nailed itself permanently in her mind.  What a gentle smile she’d had, what wonderful radiance emanated from her face, from her very being.

His friend had arrived, and he was passionately arguing about the higher good, about vigilantism, about good and evil.

What innocent arrogance!  Good and evil!

Fascinating.

She put the palm of her hand over the flickering candle and closed her eyes until the pain became unbearable.

Yes, hurt me, burn me, scorch me, for only in feeling do I exist.

She opened her eyes and pulled back her hand.  Then she ran her tongue along the palm, soothing the tender flesh.

It would be impossible to keep away from him.  Already she could feel the texture of his stubble.  Even if freshly shaved his chin would be slightly rough, she knew it.  Already she could drown herself in the sensation of her hands through his hair.  They would tangle through his thick waves, drive her impatient with longing.

And of course, the thrill of tempting him a little, a little more, more more more….

Playfully make him fall.

Now his friend called him Gabriel.  His name was Gabriel!

This was too much. Surely it must be a sign.

She bit her lower lip until a bit of blood flowed into her mouth.  Gabriel.

Once again she closed her eyes to savor the intensity of the moment.  It was like subterranean heat, this sensation coursing through her.  She had fallen in love with the angel Gabriel.  That’s what he was, an angel.  With those eyes, an angel.

Perfectly enthralled, she watched him some more, stared at the movement of his lips some more, listened to his passionate words as if she were listening to God.  His looks, the beauty and honesty pouring out of his eyes, his silly proclamations about the higher good—all these had captivated her.

And the woman of his thoughts, yes, the lovely young woman humming the lullaby.

Yes… the young mother.

 

Chapter 1

 

Gabriel Diaz took a long sip of beer. Then, almost regrettably, he put the glass down. He wished his glass were bottomless so he could relish his precious prime Belgian beer forever. At almost ten dollars a bottle, Belgian beer was his most expensive vice.

Yet the buzz it gave helped him deal with Liz and her wild ideas. “You’re blind, Liz. Reading all those sociology books has shredded your spirit.”

“That’s not true. You’re only mad at me because I was fifteen minutes late,” Liz said.

“Not at all. I was enjoying my beer and meditating.” A fast-paced Middle Eastern melody was playing. He drummed his fingers in time with the music. “I only want justice.”

The tavern was quite packed by now. With so many colleges and universities around, it was a popular place among students, especially on Friday nights. Gabriel loved the smell here. Old wines, the sweet tang of anise, the strong aroma of Turkish coffee. Yet there was something gloomy about the place. The flickering candles on the tables cast eerie shadows on the walls, making the faces appear pale and distorted, malevolent even.  Old paintings of historic Ottoman battles hung from the walls; figures killing each other with long and pointed spikes against dark and desolate landscapes. He could clearly discern Christian bodies impaled on stakes.

“You’re an idealist.” Liz sadly shook her head. “Justice doesn’t exist. But you’re obsessed with it.”

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t you feel a sense of ease, a perfect sense of meaning, every time a serial killer is fried at the chair?”

“Yes, I do, but—”

Yet Gabriel went on, shifting in his seat and leaning forward over the table. “Let me ask you something. Let’s say a serial killer is—based on some trivial technicality—set free. Everybody knows he’s guilty. Everybody knows he’ll kill again. Would you—if you could, if you knew you wouldn’t be caught—eliminate him?”

“That’s beside the point, Gabriel. That would be murder. The act of premeditated killing, whatever the reason, would turn me into a being as corrupt as the killer.” Liz lifted a glass of red wine to her lips. She was calm, as if she were a patient and good-willed teacher talking to a raging child.

“Then archangels are murderers.”

“Don’t bring religion into this. You don’t believe in archangels.” Liz eyed him scornfully. “Human beings have made certain laws, and these laws are to be obeyed. If there weren’t laws, the world would be in total chaos.”

“Laws, laws, laws. You and your laws. Laws were made to favor the criminals, and you know it!” he burst out, making an impatient gesture with his hands. “Think of the good of the innocent people. Think about all the future murders you would be preventing. The hell with the laws. Justice. The good of the many. The end justifying the means.”

“Oh, no, not the higher good again!”

“That’s right. The higher good.”

“That higher good of yours is dangerous. It’s anarchistic. Goodness is subjective. Do you think a serial killer doesn’t have his own concept of goodness? What makes you think his is wrong and ours is right? We are forever impaired by our feelings.” She flinched, expecting another outburst from him.

He simply shrugged.

“I don’t know if I should have another beer,” Gabriel said. “I’ve already had two.”

“Beer will be your downfall.”

Gabriel made a face, a typical gesture that made her smile. Poor Liz. He suspected it would be a lot better for her if they didn’t see each other again. Or at least if they didn’t see each other so often. They had been together for three years and broken up only four months ago.

Love? From her part it had been obvious. From his part he had never been quite sure, and he figured if you’re not sure, it can’t be love. But they had stayed friends, which was more than fine with him. In fact, he was still experiencing a bit of ‘after-divorce’ blues, though this feeling was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of freedom. They had never been married, of course, but they had become so close it felt to him as if they had.

He could tell she still had romantic feelings for him from her eyes; the way they lit up every time she saw him.  The main problem had always been her jealous, suspicious nature, though now that they were apart she did a good job at concealing it.

“You want another sophisticated Belgian beer?” she mocked gently. “Order one. My treat.”

Gabriel ignored her jibe. “Elena’s due to give birth within a month. I’m going to fly to Brussels to be with her.”

For a moment he closed his eyes and massaged his temples with the tips of his fingers. Only minutes ago, he’d had the strangest daydream. He’d been sitting here, quietly sipping his beer, and then the vision had invaded his brain. He had pictured his sister Elena pushing a pram in a lushly beautiful yet desolate park, cooing and humming a lullaby to the baby, smiling and happy.

He had watched her from a distance, as if he were a far-off spectator. She had wandered round and round, every so often leaning over to peer inside the pram and whisper loving words to the baby. It was only at the end, when he had actually looked inside the pram himself, that he realized it was empty.

It had been empty all along.

Liz sobered up instantly. “So you’ve decided to go? That’s great, Gabriel. She’ll be so happy. Did you already tell her?”

He nodded. “A few days ago.”

“How’s she doing?”

“Very good—for now.”

Three years ago Elena had given birth to a baby girl. The baby, however, had died a couple of hours after delivery. Unusually rare situation, inflammation of the placenta or something. Maybe he was more worried about his sister’s pregnancy than he had thought. Over the phone, she was always overly positive and enthusiastic. Too optimistic to be genuine. His precious Elena, the eternal optimist, protecting him from her own fears, from her own pain.

“Gabriel.”

He blinked. “Hmm.”

It was past eleven o’ clock. He was tired, sedated by the beer, and he still had lots of reading to do. Along with a colleague of his, he was writing a paper about the internal structure of neutron stars, and the research was staggering.

“You okay?” Liz asked, placing her hand over his. She pressed it lightly, comfortingly. “Everything will go all right this time, you’ll see.”

“I hope so.” Automatically his body reacted at her touch. After their break-up, he felt awkward when they had physical contact, even though Liz always acted natural about it.

Liz was getting her master’s in Library Studies. Her rebellious brown hair was forever trapped in a long braid down to her waist. She had kind eyes, big and brown and luminous, which she heightened with black kohl and mascara. An intricately carved St. Christopher silver medal, the size of quarter, hung from a chain around her neck, a gift from him last Christmas.

He grinned, suddenly feeling a pang of old love. She had always known how to press the right buttons to distract him from distressful subjects.

“But then freedom—free will—doesn’t exist!” he said so loudly a few heads turned in his direction. “Actions resulting from desire cannot be free. Remember, freedom is to be found only in rational action. Any action possesses moral worth only when it is done for its own sake. In other words: justice for its own sake. When we kill that serial killer in that chair, we’re doing it for justice’s sake! It is rational! It is right!”

“Wrong. We’re doing it because it makes us happy. There’s no such thing as rational action. Our feelings, our desires are forever involved, and because our emotions are involved the action becomes irrational. It becomes worthless.”

Gabriel shifted in his seat, incredulous. “How can you not believe in free will?”

Too heated up for his own good, Gabriel was about to spew forth a cutting rejoinder, when the most captivating woman he had ever seen approached the table where he and Liz were arguing.  The stranger stood behind Liz, gazed down at him, and smiled.

Gabriel felt her magnetic force take control of his soul.

 

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