Authors: Nenia Campbell
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Contemporary Fiction
8. CHECKERED FRITILLARY
10. TIGER LILY
16. LIME BLOSSOM
20. BUTTERFLY WEED
Several weeks had elapsed since her death. Each
succeeding day felt more distanced from the last until
time, for him, began to have the feel of an archipelago
experiencing rapid continental drift.
The memory of her eyes had begun to fade from
the horizon of his mind, like drying paint. Once, they
had struck him as exceptionally vivid, as if she
cradled evergreen boughs from the forest in the
depths of her irises, but now he thought of her only in
terms of the abstract—when he thought of her at all,
that is. A palette of colors bundled up in geometric
Like a succubus, she possessed him, and he felt
nothing, and he did not know why. He knew he
should feel something. He had seen countless others
fall to pieces in the face of death, as though tragedy
were a blunt projectile that had been hurled with the
utmost violence into their fragile psyche.
But no, in place of that
je ne sais quoi
and a quiet sense of complacency that left him feeling
quite content. Yes, he was content.
He had killed her before in effigy, had even
imagined killing her in his mind. Killing her in
person, though, with his own two hands—that was
far more visceral; it contained the elusive qualia
inherent to experience, and it made him feel…
Death was a way of life and the natural order.
Like so much else, death became him; it flowed in his
lifeblood and pumped his heart, and it numbed him
so sweetly from within.
possession of her in stone. She had refused to be his in
life. Now, she would belong to him ever in death.
Poetic justice. Were all poets so cruel?
He had plenty of time to think as he worked his
way from West to East until, finally, he arrived at his
The house from his childhood was in a state of
disrepair. The cupola, with its ragged wood tiles,
threw off cruel blades of light from the hooked beak
of its bantam weather-vane, which were then caught
and reflected by the glass roof of the conservatory.
His eyes fell to the splintered whitewashed steps
leading up to the paneled wooden door. It had not
been painted in years, no part of the house had. Even
the roses had been allowed to languish and die.
Shaking his head, he rapped the iron ring against
the paneled wooden surface. Cracks rifted through
the oak where the ring had made repeated contact. He
wondered idly who had come calling with such
enthusiasm, to a house where not even death was
ashamed to unveil its face. What pitiful lamb would
trot so willingly into the lion's den?
A pair of clear gray eyes only a few shades lighter
than his own looked out over the chain. Her brows
arched, her lips forming a grotesque imitation of a
smile as she undid the latch. “Gavin.” Striking but
cold, she walked a fine line between hideousness and
beauty; it was a boundary that fractured more as time
continued its ruthless march forward. “Welcome.”
perfunctorily, to kiss it. Beneath the notes of violets
from the sachet in her gown, her skin was redolent of
hot metal and soured milk.
In a lightly accented voice, deeper than one might
expect from her small frame, she said, “It has been a
“It has.” The boards groaned beneath his boots as
she beckoned him quickly inside. Worried that the
neighbors might see and think he was the newest
lover in a long line of conquests? He sneered.
She saw. “Are you staying long this time?”
“Perhaps for a while,” he allowed.
“Your sisters will be wanting to see you.”
“Hmm.” His expression did not change. “And
Dorian and Luca?”
“Luca is away at college, studying psychiatry.”
“What about Dorian?”
Each word fell like a block of ice from her lips, left
to shatter in the silence that now spanned between
them. Dorian was the reckless one, too quick to anger
and to take offense where none was given. Anna
impetuousness instead of curbing it as was proper.
“Anna-Maria is coming.”
He favored his mother with a dispassionate smile.
He was pleased to see the wrinkles around her mouth
furrow a little as she tightened her lips.
“What a dubious honor that is.”
“It will be so nice to have the girls back home.”
She stopped outside the guest bedroom—his old
room. It was on the second floor with a private
bathroom overlooking the dead garden. The weather
was cold, chillingly so, but he hardly noticed the
prickling follicles on his arms as he moved to inspect
the room as his mother discreetly took her leave.
She had retained a surprising amount of his
belongings. He supposed this was out of a sense of
ownership, rather than of a sense of sentiment.
He slid a finger across the desk and studied the
dust before wiping his hand on his jeans. She had
kept his computer, along with everything else. He
wondered if it would still service after all these years,
and then laughed coldly as he realized the same
question could be put to his mother, as well.
Still smiling, he pressed the power button. The
monitor flared to life with a crackle of static. He
leaned his chin against his hand as he waited for the
computer to boot, and reflected, as he so often did, on
Val's final seconds of life.
His jeans grew tight in anticipation as he entered
her name into the search engine. He exhaled slowly,
deeply, savoring the constricting sensations even as he
fought to ease it, and dug his fingers into his thigh.
Her death would make the news, of course. The
beautiful ones always did. They would eulogize her,
praising her innocence and beauty as if she were a
virgin sacrifice from a bygone age.
Because she was, in a sense, for they feared death.
They, too, wished to be remembered.
wants to believe that existence carries on without at least
taking a stumble from their departure of this world
so, they mourned the dead.
A video link showed up at the top of the search
Californian Teenager Left for Dead in House of
Even murder could be turned into a cheap and
tawdry vaudeville act.
She was alive.
He growled low in his throat, slamming his fist
against the table. The computer monitor rattled. He
thought he had possessed her, fully, as no other man
would, only to find out that she had been out of reach
the entire time. This was the ultimate act of defiance.
Each rise and fall of her breast was an insult. Each
drop of blood in her veins, a taunt. Every second of
life was a second she had robbed from
He should not have attempted to gift her with a
beautiful death. Sentiment had entrapped him within
its snare. He should have slashed her throat like a
game hen the moment she had refused him.
Anger made his limbs heavy and put fire in his
blood. He swayed a little as he stood, drunk with the
sheer force of it, but his mind remained sharp. Lethal.
He knew now what he must do.
Death is one lover who cannot be spurned.
She had to die, by his hand. And his alone. His
eyes fell to the image of Val, frozen on the screen, and
But first—she must be made to suffer.
He picked up the monitor easily, despite its bulk,
and hurled it against the wall with a roar. Sparks flew,
engulfed in swirling clouds of plaster and drywall.
He stared blindly at the mess, the glorious
cacophony of it ringing in his ears, and his chest rose
and fell in quick succession as he leaned back against
the wall to steady himself.
“I heard a crash—”
Celeste entered, creeping into the room like a cat.
She was sixteen now, like Dorian, with magnolia-pale
skin and the cool blue eyes of an English china doll.
Her twin had the same coloring but there was a
hardness in Dorian's face that was not present in
She wouldn't meet his eyes while under his
scrutiny. That was unwise—but then, Valerian could
never meet his eyes, either. Not without effort.
He realized he had already made the mental
switch to the present tense and his hand tightened.
Celeste darted a nervous look at his clenched fist.
He waved her question aside with the hand she
was staring at, gratified when she flinched. “An
“Was there something else?”
“Anna-Maria is coming.”
“I know that.”
“Mother invited her.”
“So I imagined.”
“She knows that you don't like her.”
“It isn't quite that simple,” he said.
you fond of her?”
“I think you should go.”
She winced but persisted. “Be careful.”
“I want to know. What did you do in California?”
“You are too young to understand.”
. I know that you
her and you—”
He slammed her into the wall. “It was her choice,
damn you. Hers, not mine. She knew the rules as well
as I, and that was her move; it cost her life.”
“As I said, I don't expect you, a child, to
understand. Go now. To your room.”
She nodded tightly and left, close to tears.
He struck the space where she had been standing
with his fist. Blood burst from his skin and he brought
his hand to his mouth and closed his eyes, focusing
on the taste of copper as if it were a koan.
As the days passed, and his fury cooled to a
quietly simmering anger, his resolve focused. He
began to plan Val's death.
Returning to California so soon was out of the
question, he knew that. He bottled his frustration,
letting it ferment. One day, that frustration would
finish its alchemical transformation into revenge.
When that day came, he would savor it.
There was no satisfaction in killing what was
already half-dead, after all. The girl from the video
was a pale shadow of what possessed him. He would
bide his time. She would let down her guard,
eventually, even as she gained back her strength.
He sketched. He played chess. He killed the
minutes as only he knew how. Celeste came to see
him sometimes but never for long. Not after their last
confrontation. He whiled away most of his hours in
solitude and this was his preference.
It was on one of these occasions that Anna-Maria
stopped by his doorway. She did not announce herself
but the seductive swish of expensive fabric betrayed
her presence just as effectively.
Anna-Maria could be formidable. Behind the
feminine surface she took such pains to cultivate, she
was all hard edges and sharp, flinty lines. He kept one
eye on her as she sashayed into the room without
asking permission. “What are you drawing?”