Ayrold rushed through the shadowed darkness of the woods; his sure-footed feet landing softly and quietly as he ran. His sinewy body belied his age, having bonded with an elf, his features were more those of a young child than a mature adult. The full moon shone down, casting bluish-white shadows on the trees and countryside. Suddenly dark pines appeared ahead like dark jade spears jutting into the star filled night sky; he could hear the waters cascading over the stones in the small nearby brook. He was close and his heart fluttered at the thought of the soon-to-be encounter. Ayrold maneuvered across the log which bridged the gushing rapid cascades. He leaped to the safety of the moss-covered growth near the base of the tall pines. A few more steps and the meadow grasses greeted him with their moon-lit glowing flowers and incredible scents.
He softly pushed the tall grasses aside and strolled into the 'secret place' where he and his loved one, Arienne, met in private and away from prying eyes.
"Ah, my queen," Ayrold whispered. "You're already here."
The tall vision of beauty turned to face him. Her face radiant, the gossamer gown twinkling in the moonlight, the queen of the elves evocatively moved toward him. She carried a silver chalice in one hand and with her other hand, held a single finger to her lips to silence him. Her eyes searched his while they approached each other. She held out the goblet in an offering and nodded for him to drink.
Without a word, Ayrold took the vessel, lifted it to his lips and drank the heady scented liquid. He smiled; in two days they would be wed. He closed his eyes to think of Arienne, Queen of the elves, as his life-mate.
Ayrold's eyes bolted wide open, his throat muscles constricted. He couldn't breathe and he gasped for even a minuscule intake of air. Maniacal laughter began. The queen's facial features shifted and Ayrold stared at a different woman before him.
"Iardyth?" Ayrold choked, his eyes wide in shock. "Why?" He continued to pull at his throat as if he could somehow stop the tightening.
"If I can't have you," snapped Iardyth who no longer appeared as Arienne now that the transformation to her true self was complete. "Then neither shall your puny queen of the elves." She slowly pulled a small wand from between her breasts and twirled it in the air in front of Ayrold. Dancing twinkles and whirling patterns played before his eyes. She put it back then wiped her lips before spitting into her palm. "And now, my dear prince, be gone!" In a quick movement, Iardyth lifted her hands above her head in a loud clap.
A blinding white light, a loud roar and the 'secret place' no longer existed around him. He gazed at the lightly clouded sky; the stars were different, the air was different and he felt different. Ayrold was naked and blacked out.
Chapter 1: The Stranger
"Morg Shiloc," I whispered softly. A chill ran down my back and I shook my head. The image of the beast filled my mind causing goose bumps on my arms. Now, in the shadowed recesses of my imagination I knew it lurked there, waiting: fiery eyes of red, white fangs, and huge, ebony, ram-like horns which hugged the nearly human, but definitely demonic, face. "Please. Not now," I whispered to some Supreme Being like a token prayer request. I knew it was happening and I couldn't stop it. "Breathe," I hissed. "Do what the doctor taught you. Control yourself, Harry." Men can't have a breakdown, I thought. Yet, here I am, talking to myself and that's a pretty good sign of losing it.
Still, I hoped with anticipation, my left leg nervously jiggling up and down while I sat in the plastic subway seat. An annoying tapping of my heel could be heard in response to my left leg's action.
The subway's speaker squawked into life. "Next station, Woodley Park." I listened to the subway doors close.
Dr. Hancock had garnered a lot of information from the two previous meetings with his note taking, but he never seemed to have an answer. Could today be different? Three was my lucky number. The third time was a charm, they said.
It was hard to believe that less than an hour earlier while at work, I'd had one of the worst nightmares of my life.
A woman, a very beautiful woman, approached me, floating in the midst of a storm. When she was almost upon me she changed into a vile and skeletal hag. The stench, carried in the swirling winds around her, overwhelmed me and I wanted to throw up. I could taste the bile in my mouth. Suddenly, I was in my bed but I wasn't alone. My wife, Arlyne, who'd disappeared in a freak auto accident, now slept calmly beside me. At least it appeared to be her. I reached over her to turn on the bedside lamp. I slipped and lightly touched her arm. Arlyne's eyes flared wide; they were dark, cold and soulless. I closed my eyes to block the image, and when I opened them, it wasn't Arlyne but some exotic, intensely beautiful, young woman in her place. Her eyes echoed the knowledge of the ages and drew me in but it was her wings that awed me. I wanted this woman, this creature, with an intensity that surpassed my love for Arlyne and I could feel my emotions building. She called to me in a strange voice then touched me. I was instantly aroused and felt the swelling between my legs.
"A'lo. May I sit here?"
The impish gentleman startled me, breaking my thoughts. He sat down before I could reply. The memory of the woman was so vivid I grabbed a newspaper I'd seen stuffed into the corner against the wall and placed it over my lap.
"'Tis a beautiful morning, t'day." He smiled at me and removed his cap. "Aye. 'Twas blarney luck I were able t'get a seat."
I sat listening to his voice, the accent stirring odd memories. Suddenly I remembered an older man, his eyes alight with the fire of devilment while telling me tales. I smiled.
This surprises me since I never knew my grandparents, or at least had never remembered them prior to this. Yet, there was a face and it didn't look like any of those in the pictures I'd found after my mother had passed away. It is funny how those aged pictures, cryptic images of the past, squirreled away in a cigar box, discretely hidden in the back of a closet leave more questions than answers.
"Do I detect an accent?" I asked politely.
"It be Irish. Where ye be a'goin?"
"Uh, I get off at the next stop," I said. He certainly was nosy. I'm willing to have a small conversation but I wasn't about to put all my dirty laundry out there, I thought then let it dwindle away. Perhaps if I looked out the window at the tunnel walls and dark nothingness, he will leave me alone. I only have one more stop.
I stared at my reflection, only to see a failure looking back at me. I should have continued my schooling and perhaps become an attorney. Instead, here I was stuck and wasting my time as a file clerk in a law office. If only I had set my goals higher, to fight for something I wanted.
Visions of a sword, cutting through the air to defend a beautiful maiden came unbidden.
I smiled. A real sword, something with weight, something with meat on the blade; not that flimsy fencing instrument I'd used back in college. Kendo training had been nice. At first it had been satisfying but it never fulfilled the burning need, like the itch which, no matter how you scratch it, never is gratified.
My imagination continued as I pressed my right hand back to push the maiden behind me for protection. I then grasped my sword with both hands and held it forcefully upright before me, the tip of the sword hovering just above my head. The short, bearded man approached; I lunged. My Kendo sword cut the air, struck and was propelled sideways while sliding down my opponent's blade. A quick twist of my sword hand and I clipped his wrist. Point. My three years of martial arts training had succeeded in defending her honor and repelling the enemy. I closed my eyes and squinted them in an attempt to discard the silly image from my mind.
In the reflective darkness of the subway tunnel, the visions of my nightmares seemed distant. The haunting woman floating in the storm clouds, the cold, cruel image of my deceased wife and the provocative woman with wings all converged at a point of fear. My mind reeled again as I remembered the desk phone transforming into the beast I called Morg Shiloc.
"Then so be I, lad," the man said breaking my reverie. "Going t'yer office, eh?"
I wiped the cold sweat from my brow but couldn't contain my frown. If he wanted to depart the subway when I did, that was perfectly okay with me. He had leaned forward, watching me, his image reflected on the window for me to see: bright eyes that seemed to twinkle, a lock of hair that appeared to be uncontrollable and an engaging smile that now beamed. I suddenly felt happy and cast caution aside. I turned to him, and continued the conversation. "No, I have a doctor's appointment." Then I sat dumbfounded at my openness to this man's old world charm. I considered myself a loner and didn't normally speak to strangers, but here I sat spewing forth my information like to washer women at the community fence.
His face took on a somber look while he shook his head. "O', laddie, I hope ye aren't a'comin down w' an ailment."
I shook my head. "No, just a follow-up." I perceived a sincere concern and was relieved when the smile returned to his face. A warmness, a certain camaraderie with this strange, little man enveloped me. He cared. He gave a shit about me, or so it seemed. I wanted to talk with him. I wanted to go with him, to be with him. It felt as if I had known him all my life. I tensed in realization that this was not me. Who was this 'Pied Piper' sitting at my side?
"A body needs to express themselves, they do. Open their feelings if y'will, t'a total stranger sometimes, if needs be." I nodded avidly in agreement, again throwing away all my cautions.
"Woodley Park, National Zoo. This station, Woodley Park. Doors opening . . . " The mechanical conductor's voice droned on.
"Excuse me, this is my stop." I really didn't want to interrupt him, but I had to get to my doctor. He stood and I quickly slid out. Turning back to say goodbye, he was gone.
Passengers watched me with that pensive look given to those who talk aloud to themselves. A new fear seized me as I departed under their muted conversations, knowing smiles and scowling surveillance. Did I have another damn daydream? The man was nowhere to be seen. Had I been talking in my sleep? I thought and quickened my step. Worse yet, had I been talking to myself? A chill coursed down my spine at the final thought.
My knees buckled and I stumbled from the subway car.
The last few weeks of restless sleep, unwanted nightmares and that anxious, pervasive feeling of dread had drained me. I wanted to scream, to cry, but couldn't. Men can't have a breakdown and be considered reliable. Those words had become a mantra I whispered repeatedly to myself.
Reality can be touched. Dreams are but figments of the imaginations. I'd touched and been touched by my dreams. My figments had substance.
Suddenly I felt I could no longer separate reality from fantasy and know which was which. I knew a breakdown was inevitable.
I can't break down, not now, my mind screamed. I just couldn't.
Artwork and graphics are the sole
property of Denise Vitola.