Available Darkness: Chapter 38
(Serial and Milk: Available Darkness is a serialized horror thriller co-written by David Wright and Sean Platt. A new chapter appears here each Friday. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them here.)
October 2, 1999
St. Augustine, Florida
Hope lay in bed, mentally tracing her fingers over John’s angular jaw, across his chin, and then over his soft lips as his breath rose, fell, and whispered between them.
The soft blue light of predawn made her feel ridiculous for her mini-breakdown hours earlier.
The painting, which she’d started without any thoughts of what it was or where it would eventually go, had taken a dark turn in recent weeks. It was a non-commissioned piece and not something she planned to show at her friend Sergei’s gallery. She initially thought the new direction was some unrealized artistic desire bubbling up and pushing her to explore her boundaries.
However, as the painting progressed, she began to sense another power at work. Night after night, she was continuously pulled from her sleep, unable to rest until she returned to the canvas, adding bits and pieces of images, compelled to lay them across the canvas as though she were obsessively divining the will of the Gods.
She’d never felt so out of control and without direction, save for the first painting she’d ever professionally shown, Dusk Wanderlust. The one which drew John into Sergei’s art gallery when it first opened in the historic district of St. Augustine nearly two years ago. Just as that painting seemed to draw her and John together as one, this painting seemed more ominous, though she wasn’t quite sure why, as though it would rip them back to two.
The angel didn’t originally start out looking like John. He originally appeared a rather generic, golden-haired heavenly being. Prior to that morning, there was also another person in the painting—the broken body of a red haired woman, her body draped in black. A dark tattoo of a shooting star stained the pale flesh along the nape of her neck.
Hope wasn’t sure how she knew, but she was positive the angel had just killed the woman.
Then, last night, she was roused from her sleep with a sudden, burning desire to return to the canvas and scrub it with changes. Without realizing where her mind was moving her hands, she’d endowed the angel with her lover’s face.
Two hours later, sweat matting the hair on her forehead, she dropped her brush and lost the first of her tears. Shaking, she knelt down and picked it back up, then quickly began to paint over the dead woman’s body in violent strokes of indigo and violet.
Horror was bubbling to the surface of their lives. Hope could feel it burning beneath her skin and in every pore of her body. Well, at least, in the inky shadows of the night.
In the bright light of morning, under the down covers of a warm, soft bed, that fear seemed as out of place as a grandfather clock in the corner of a nightclub. John had talked her down from the ledge last night, helping her examine why she was so upset. She didn’t tell him about the woman in the painting because some part of her felt it had something to do with infidelity and she didn’t want to appear insecure. If there was one thing Hope knew about John without any doubt whatsoever, it was that he was a faithful man.
During his examination of the painting, John told her, with a satisfied smile, that she’d never been so happy for such a long period of time. That realization, in the face of the looming two year milestone of their dating, was bringing some nested fear to the surface and manifesting itself in the form of this unsettling painting.
“The fear will go away,” he’d said, squeezing her shoulder blades beneath his large, strong hands. He turned her around, then pulled her into his embrace, absorbing her tears as they soaked the thick cotton of his nightshirt. “You deserve to be happy.”
While other men in her life had analyzed her only to determine that there was something wrong with her and that it was her fault she was miserable because she must be afraid of happiness, or some such psychobabble, John didn’t search for what was wrong.
He simply told her what was right—them and their love.
And he was right. She deserved to be happy. She just needed to get past the fears.
Even though they’d been together for two years—her longest relationship by at least 14 months—they had never settled into the mundane routine which seemed to poison the wells of so many other relationships around her. She sometimes wondered why this man seemed so different than all the others?
She was far too cynical to believe in things like fate or soul mates. But the inner romantic in her, the one who existed at her core despite all the bad experiences life had seen fit to throw her way, secretly believed that John was the closest thing to a soul mate she would ever know.
They were different in many ways, but their differences seemed to work in harmony. While she was anxious, frenetic and prone to emotional flights and dives, he was calm, laid back and perhaps the most evenly tempered person she’d ever known. However, they also had many things in common, including a love for reading, art, and equally at home discussing philosophy or why there would never be a show on TV better than the X-Files.
John was also the first person who ever took such a deep curiosity in knowing everything about her—from what she was like as a child (a clumsy, scrawny introvert), to the consistency of her dreams (incredibly rare), to her deepest fears (being unable to conceive a child), to what inspired each and every one of her paintings. At times, John appeared like a scholar with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the subject of her, no matter how uninteresting she sometimes felt.
Perhaps the biggest reason their love was so intense, even after all this time, was that to her, John was still something of a mystery.
He worked as a cook at an upscale Italian restaurant just a short walk from Sergei’s gallery, and didn’t talk much about his life before moving to Florida, which he said was rather ordinary. With any other man, she would suspect such reticence to be indicative of an unseemly past filled with debauchery and selfish deeds.
John was different, though.
He grew up in more than 20 foster homes after his parents died, drifting from state to state, never really establishing roots in any of them. He spent his time working and reading and sometimes composing music on piano, though he never played for another soul. He had no friends, family or meaningful relationships. John was, in some ways, a blank slate, a guy who seemed to have been waiting for some spark to bring him to life. Hope was that spark, he confessed during one of their few discussions of his past.
Despite his claims to the ordinary, there were times, such as this, when she lay next to him in bed watching him sleep, that she felt there was far more to John than she might ever know. There was a deeper John somewhere inside, a John who had yet to look her in the eye. She suspected that perhaps he had suffered some great hurt which made him the way he was, so remote and distant to everyone other than her.
She moved a bit closer to him in bed, wanting to touch him, but not wake him.
John’s eyes opened and his left eyebrow arched.
“Are you watching me sleep?” he asked, a smile breaking through the surface of his tired face. It wasn’t the first time she’d been busted.
She slid towards him under the sheets, her hand sliding under his shirt and finding his warm chest as her leg wrapped around his groin. She felt his cock stiffen immediately. She smiled.
“Well, good morning,” she said as she climbed on top of him and reached down to slide him into her.
“Wow,” John said, still smiling, “it is a good morning.”
Suddenly, the sound of their doorbell shattered the intimacy of the moment.
“What the hell?” Hope said, climbing off of John and cycling through the possible selections in her mind—who could possibly be showing up on her doorstep at this hour?
John threw on some jeans and then flew downstairs.
He peered through the front door’s peep hole and glanced back at Hope, who stood at the foot of the stairs with the phone in her hand—just in case she needed to call the cops.
She didn’t need to, though. They were standing at her doorstep.
“It’s the cops,” John whispered, a confused look on his face.
He flicked on the porch light and opened the door. Hope, suddenly by his side, wrapped both her arms around his right one.
“Hi, I’m Detective Avery,” said the tall, hawk-nosed, dark-haired cop with raccoon circles under his eyes. “This is Detective Johnson,” he said, gesturing toward his partner, a thin black man with salt and pepper hair and a receding hair line.
“We’re wondering if either of you have seen this woman?”
Avery held out a photo. Hope’s throat closed and her stomach nearly fell through the floorboards. Staring back at her was a glossy image of a red haired woman, a shooting star tattoo leaving a trail of ink across the nape of her neck.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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