Can the Devil love?
It was a question that Connor MacAulay never imagined he’d be asking himself. He sat in his sad little bar stool in Kelly’s,which catered almost exclusively to the finest class of underpaid dock monkeys in Hell’s Kitchen, half maudlin and staring at the bubbling black beer in his hand like he half expected it to have the answer.
Connor was not a man prone to sentiment anymore than he was a philosopher. Like any man, though, he was curious. Besides, on a lonely night like tonight, what better way to pass the time than to ask himself something that, as far as he knew, had never ever been asked?
There had to be something else to Him besides cloven feet and infernal contracts, after all. Or so he reasoned.
The devil takes many forms.
At least they got that much right. The rest, he suspected, was just religious superstition making up for the pitfalls and shortcomings that life had to offer. The truth was there were so many more devils in the world than there were dwelling in the darkest pits of Hell itself. They just managed to go unnoticed; either because they didn’t want to be seen, or, more likely, because people failed (0ften outright refused) to recognize when they were looking them straight in the eye. That’s the way they preferred things, anyway.
The funny thing though was that they were remarkably easy to spot when you actually bothered to look.
So why was he able to see them so easily?
It seemed all his life they stood out to him plain as day.
Ma always chimed, ‘daoine íogair do na saol eile‘.
He was neart. That’s what she’d call him. A strong force. He had to be steadfast and ‘just leave it be’. They were like the bees buzzing in the field. Simply leave’em be and they’d fly off eventually.
‘Best not mention it or think about it, Connor. Few would understand. Just accept that it is and it’ll never do you any harm.’
Connor was steadfast by nature, and never one to let things stick to him for very long. He had to be. That made it easier to compartmentalize and push forward. He sat, inhaling the overwhelming scents of tobacco, drink and sweat coming from his fellow dock workers, each one of them trying in their own way to drown the aches and pains of a day’s labor in the bottom of a pint of ‘Kelly’s Finest‘ stout.
With no ready resolution coming to him, Connor permitted his mind a brief respite. He watched the game streaming on the wall. Score one for the Rovers! Followed by a resounding cheer from his fellow home-teamers, many of whom raised a toast in solidarity to what now promised to be an easy win for them. Connor absorbed the brisk smack to his back and turned toward Brutus, the foreman. Their mugs clapped together, before what was left of the contents were eagerly downed.
Brutus flashed his hand to get Kelly, the barman’s, attention. Another round was called for. Connor’s attention wondered to the wall directly beneath the flatscreen TV, peppered with dozens of tacky eight-by-tens of various union groups spanning throughout the decades. The old black and whites always gave the place a kind of Fuddruckers feel, only without the Ostridge burgers. He lingered on the 2011 picture of the #1804 Longshoreman Union Team. His father stood proudly in the center holding the Union Plaque.
Too many memories flashed by to concentrate on any one, but Connor remembered his da’s stories from the early days when they first arrived in New York City. He’d loved hearing the about Ireland back then. How they were taken in by the Daggett’s when they arrived. He still had the hand-written letter of recommendation da carried from their hometown, introducing them properly to the union and to the Daggett family. Daggett’s had been New York longshoremen for four generations, but their Irish blood ran deep just the same. No one forgets Ireland, and they all had deep roots to their original bloodlines across the pond. Connors’ great-grand uncle, his family’s stern Patriarch, was still well connected to the extended families living in America.
A flood of emotion tumbled in and Connor was struck with his deep love and admiration for the man standing in that picture. Then the shudder of his sudden death not four months after it was taken. Gone. Gone in a moment by some drunk driver who walked out of the accident unscathed, while both of his parents were left dead in their battered and burned out car. It was the motley group sitting around him now that saw him through those dark days. The union was much more than an “HR” office for the dock workers. It was family. The Daggett’s were quick to swarm in and take care of all the funeral arrangements. They also created the fund that everyone chipped into, leaving Connor with enough money to pay off the remaining mortgage of his family’s small condo, and plenty tuna casseroles to eat for the next six months.
Brutus grabbed the frosty new glasses and noticed where Connor’ attention had turned. He pushed one beer towards his friend with a nod to pick it up. In unison they lifted their dark brews into the air in solidarity, and with a loud, “To Paddy!” the barman rang The Bell—a relic from the old horse-drawn fire station that used to be in the neighborhood—attached to the wall. It was always a tradition at Kelly’s that The Bell rung as everyone lifted their glass in memory to a lost union brother. Suddenly, the air was filled with, “To Paddy! The best damn rouster in the 1804! Real Irish, he was, God Bless Him!” reverberated throughout before they went back to drinking. Connor got the usual consolatory slaps and pats as everyone returned to watching the game or talking in their own small groups about the room.
Finally, Connor could feel the buzz of the beer tipping in, grateful for the numbing sensation of intoxication. Then, a different burning sensation riddled his body. This one stinging and prickling his skin like needles, pushing from the inside-out. He shot around; his alertness as driven as his chest was pounding. A girl wrapped up in a dark leather jacket, zipped just tight enough to allow a deep green bodycon to squeeze down to her knees and carried on golden thin-strapped stilettos sauntered by at a brisk, steady pace.
Gael for sure. Auburn haired; and pulled back into a tight bun, exposing a long and slender neck. Surely, she belonged at The Rose Bar at the Gramercy. Not at Kelly’s beer bin.
How had he not noticed her before?
He had time enough to glimpse the resolute look on her face, etched upon a squared jaw. Eyes of emerald green set apart by a wide but soft-looking nose, awarding her a brazen—almost serpentine—sex appeal. By now she had drawn not only Connor’s attention, but most of the room as well.
“Hey!” The shrill voice of a man with a terribly accented edge cut through the discord of the room with the harmony of a blunted saw. Some boorish gobshite who couldn’t or wouldn’t even try to distinguish his O’s from his U’s, contrasting his own high-end looking black linen jacket and outfit (also a wee bit out of place at a joint like Kelly’s).
In his animal-like manner, he moved to cut the girl off before she could go any further. She never broke pace. Not even when his hand clasped around her forearm. A jerk of the shoulder was all it took to break free. Unfortunately, she was checkmated when Loverboy fell back on the human wall strategy.
Connor took in the scene well enough from where he sat. The loser was getting dumped by the sight of it, compounded by the occasional coherent outburst of “Stuck-up bitch!”, “My girl!”, “Not over!”, and, of course, the classic beggar’s “Please”.
Connor made it a point not to get drawn into others dysfunctionality. As much as he didn’t enjoy seeing it, like the bees in the field, it seemed better to leave them to their own devices…that was until Loverboy started throwing around words like, “I should snap your head off!” Now it had become the kind of drama no one needed to see. Yet one after the other, they started to follow. Mostly just studying her intently as she tapped her foot with dour impatience, all the while ignoring the veering gawks and ogles of the plebs.
Somewhere, in his half-cocked groveling, it seemed Loverboy managed to make eye contact with Connor, who by now was standing up to confront them.
Maybe it was the alcohol that boldened him, or the hushed cheers of support from his cohorts, but by now he’d had enough. It was bad enough to treat a woman with such brazen disdain. But to flaunt it so flagrantly and with such fervor offended Connor. It was unbecoming of any true man’s mettle, and it upset Connor to see the meek made to bare the brunt of such an uncouth manner with every fiber of his being.
“Wha’ da fuck you lookin’ at, ugly?” Loverboy scowled as he spoke the words.
Connor took his final step towards the unsightly pair and squared his adversary up and down. The sight made Connor wince with disgust and repulsion. The man’s foul breath reeked like eggs rotten and old. His yellowed teeth reminded Connor of a meth head that had once squatted in the alley near where he lived. They were jagged and decayed as the walking dead. What had initially appeared as sweat glistening on the man’s face from a distance was actually a sheer greasy gloss, covering a very spotty complexion. His shaven and short stubble, made his burly head look like an overly-ripened peach. Definitely shit-faced, judging by the sour perfume of whiskey permeating off of him—and ready to do some damage with his beastly, stub-nailed mitts.
“Don’t believe the young lady appreciates your treatment of—”
“No,” he rudely interrupted. “What she doesn’t appreciate is some pervert-“
Connor didn’t falter.
“-who has no sense of fashion—” the words seemed to belch out as he took in Connor’s admittedly underwhelming attire. Still, how else should you look after pulling overtime on the docks? When you go to work dirty, you come home dirty.
He was in for a rude awakening there.
“—and is such a scrawny lil’ faggot he’s probably never even had a girlfriend!”
His words did bite, but still Connor refused to back down. In response, Loverboy’s face and eyes seemed to get just a little bit redder, making him the color of a fresh beet.
“You can stand there and speak sweet nothings to me all night long—”
“SHUD DA FOOK UP AND FUCKOFF!” The red veins in his eyes nearly pulsating by now as he howled his demands.
“—I’m not walking away until one of two things happen. Either you turn around and leave with what’s left of your tattered ego…or one of us is a bloody smear laid out on the ground.”
The words seemed to resonate about the room (Brutus included), rousing several of the fellows from their inebriated meditations on the girl and spurring them towards her aggressor, each of them by now more than eager to teach the new plaything a lesson in longshoreman etiquette. Connor knew by experience; they could be quite thorough when it came to throwing shapes around in a pub. He only hoped it would be enough to make the point without needing to drive it home.
Loverboy raised his fist, seemingly more than prepared to dirty his hands, but thought twice when he actually registered the half a dozen or so chaps on either side of him; their stares easily as voracious as he was. Even Kelly, the barman— whose hands had disappeared beneath the counter to retrieve a very sizable aluminum bat, already well broken-in—had that fiendish “please do” twinkle in his eye that said he was itching to make an example out of the latest fool at Kelly’s.
“Should have mind your own fuckin’ bus’ness, Missur Hero,” was the last thing he croaked before storming off in a fury, leaving a fine long crack in the glass door slammed shut behind him as a memento.
“Hero? Whatever happened to plain decency?” Connor lamented to himself.
And he meant it.
Was it honestly so much to ask that in this day and age of rampant disillusion with everything that one person had the wherewithal to do a simple decent act every once in a while? Then again, who should expect a manky creature like that to have the capacity to do anything decent short of hiking his trousers up?
Brutus reached out a hand and placed it on Connor’s shoulder, nodding his approval at what he’d done.
“That was well played, McCauley. Not too smart if you’re banking on having a long life, though.”
Both men chuckled.
By now most of the lads had gone back about their business, leaving a few stragglers lingering about the girl, as if that would get them somewhere; until her cold glances made it clear it was time for them to go. Connor looked to Kelly, the barman, gesturing to send them all another round. What was a few drinks in exchange for a few spared ribs, after all?
“I didn’t require your help,” the girl spoke in a hiss of resentfulness, as indignant as it was condescending in that unique way only womankind has ever been able to master. She stood her ground, her attention firmly locked upon him.
So, that was how it was going to be.
“I wasn’t offering any. I was just escorting you both out.” His words bit back at her even harsher than he’d intended. He held open the door, gesturing with an open palm as he did.
Her jaw snapped open and shut again just as quickly in one decisive movement. Her face flushed with a white heat, and—while it might have been Connor’s imagination—her deep green eyes seemed to take on an even more impactful color as she glowered with an intensity that told him she was only just fighting back every urge to pick him up and toss him through the door herself. The spell only seemed to break with the clearing of Connor’s throat. An obvious directive that it was her time to go. She gave it up and made her way out; but never once abandoned that predatory focus on him. Even after she’d cleared half the parking lot, Connor could still make out her lambent gaze, trailing him through the foggy din of the night.
Another roar of victory erupting for the Rovers pulled him momentarily back to the world inside the pub. When he looked again, she was gone as fast as she’d been there.
Hours later and halfway home Connor still felt the prickling at his skin. Though alone in the alleyway shortcut he’d always taken from Kelly’s, he strode at a brisk pace, his peace of mind compelling him to check over his shoulder once in a while, just to make sure. What the Hell was that about, anyway? He’d done the girl a favor and she repaid him with a look of death? All too late, he realized, he should’ve just yielded to his instincts and not gotten involved in the first place. seems things always go arseways whenever you do–
An arm coiled around Connor’s throat, and constricted like a snake. The sharp cold tickle of a metal instrument traced across his belly, sniffing out the ideal location to puncture. The reek of rotten eggs and sour whiskey wafted uninvited into Connor’s nostrils.
“Money, now!” The knife punched its way through fabric and gave him a none-too-gentle prod. “Missur Hero!”
Oh, joy. So, Loverboy wanted to play some more.
“Don’t carry any. Let go.”
The blade pierced his skin, drawing the slightest amount of blood. Not that it made much difference. Not to Connor. For him there was no pain. It was another one of those ways that he was neart.
“Cut da horseshit! Money, jewelry—”
“Do I really look that much like a woman from behind?”
“SHADDUP! ’EFORE I — !”
The snake’s coil loosened and slipped away, leaving the knife dangling, suspended in Connor’s stomach.
He stood, momentarily petrified, as from the darkness behind him came a vulgar sound—an obnoxious kind of crunch! noise. Afraid to look back as he was, he somehow found the courage to. He was greeted by the sight of a slender and silhouetted outline, which cast off a vague luminous shine in the pitch black of the alleyway. Loverboy’s throat was clinched in a vicelike grip; his mass suspended just off the ground by an otherworldly strength. With the other hand the silhouette clasped his face and puckered his mouth, and from it seemed to draw the living breath from his body.
In the stygian light, Connor could vaguely see the aura of life dim as it abandoned him. The silhouette’s seemed to grow in response. Finally, a snap of the wrist and a taloned hand severed the head from its neck, chucking it through the air before landing with a resounding slam dunk into a nearby dumpster. The corpse followed shortly after, crashing with enough force to bring the lid down on top of it. As he watched the macabre spectacle unfold, Connor could not bring himself to envy the poor shmuck that was unfortunate enough to discover that nasty little surprise when trash day came.
The obscurity of the dim alley night did nothing to conceal the eyes of emerald which glimmered as they rested upon him with the same predatory regard as before.
Moments eked by with painful stillness. He was next. He had to be.
She remained still. Composed and attentive. The gaze never faltering.
Why didn’t she make her move?
His next move would decide if he lived or became another drained body in a dumpster. Backed into a corner with no easy exit, he was in no shape to run. Not with a fresh wound leaking out of him, held only by the pressure of the knife in his side containing it. Should he stand his ground? Draw the blade out and hope for the best, perhaps? No, he wasn’t running anywhere. Not like this. And to try and fight was all but a death sentence.
She shifted at his sound, intent to hear what he had to say for himself now. Hell, he was probably going to die anyway, what did he have to lose?!
“I didn’t require your help.”
“I wasn’t offering any,” she bit back with deliberate coolness, parroting his own words as he did hers.
It was her alright. That voice, still irrefutably feminine, now carried a kind of homorhythmic resonance, like silver and smoke, perfectly blended. Unreal as it was, it put him at ease, for some reason.
“That was for me.”
A nearby lamplight snapped on, and the silhouette stepped into the glassy overcast. Connor beheld was an unearthly beauty that would have left the hardest man distraught with longing. She was lithe and shapely, in clothes that only further emphasized the fullness of her figure. The jacket was gone, revealing the form-fitting dress which clung to her breast, waist and hips like a second skin, leaving bare and unabashedly elegant legs and feet exposed.
Even under the highlight of the lamp she glowed as if she were a sliver of moonlight. Weather-reddened cheeks with freckles sprinkled about her wide but soft-looking nose and luminescent marbled skin. Her head burned with an immense crown of bright red hair bounding off of her shoulders and descending down to the swell of her hips. And her eyes ever glimmering the deepest emerald green.
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
The girl—if that was the word for her—sauntered up to him in a motion more like floating rather than walking. Her hands tucked unassumingly behind her as she went.
Tilting forward like a dipping bird, she took in the full sight of his wound. Her tongue momentarily peaked out and wetted her lips, as if the sight inspired a hungry desire in her. “That’s in pretty deep. How bad is it?” Her question buttoned with a half-serious poke.
“I—don’t think it nipped anything important, if that’s what you mean.”
“Pity.” She made another go for it, but found her wrist caught in Connor’s grip. A very lethal candor overtook her precociousness.
“So, who are you?” Connor asked, releasing the hold he had on her, slowly, before she chose to bare fangs as well.
“Someone you’ll be happy not to be on the bad side of. Now shut up and hold still.” With no flicker of hesitation—or warning—she removed and discarded the knife as unceremoniously as she had its owner. She dropped to her knee, Connor watching—half-dazed and dumb—as the girl-monster-thing raised Connor’s shirt and pressed her wetted lips to his stomach, running her tongue over the fresh, trickling wound. The aggravating burn, with each stroke, became less and less, until not even a souvenir scar remained.
Connor scrambled for words as she looked up at him, lapping the bit of crimson staining her mouth.
The girl stood, smiling in a way that suggested nothing short of pure malicious intent, wrapped in a cloak of civility. “Remember, we’re even now.”
Silence prevailed for a long time.
“So…” Connor began, awkwardly, extending a greeting hand, unsure of what else to do. “…what are…you…called?” The girl’s brow crooked, scrutinizing Connor’s open palm intently, which he soon withdrew. “Do you…have…a name?” he tried again.
She seemed reticent. Uncertain whether or not to share this apparently precious information.
“Sirennia.” The word barely escaped her lips. “That’s my name.”
“Sirennia,” he repeated.
The siren calls and the helpless sailor plunges to his death at her beckoning.
The irony was so incredible that Connor had to smile. It had been a bizarre night so far, and each passing moment only made it stranger.
“You find something amusing, sir?” She sounded irritated.
“I’m sorry,” he replied honestly. “It’s just…”
“You’re the first to ever talk to me.”
“The…first?” she quizzically parroted.
“I’ve seen things like you—” Her brows formed a terse peak, followed by a flat grimace that suggested she took umbrage at being referred to as a ‘thing’. “—I notice them all the time. Now here you are, and I’m not sure what to say…” It was a moment of rapt contemplation—an age it felt like—but the words he needed to say finally came to him. “What…are…you?”
“You…have no idea, do you?”
“What do you mean?” Connor looked dumbly at her.
“What w—” She stopped. “Never mind.”
Connor’s face puckered in confusion.
“What are you called?” She asked, quick to change the subject.
“Connor,” he replied. “Connor MacAulay.”
“Do you have another name?”
What that was supposed to mean, Connor couldn’t tell. Still, it was far from the oddest thing that had happened tonight.
“If I ever find out, I’ll gladly share it with you over drinks. Just maybe not at that place.” He popped his thumb out, clearly pointing the way back toward Kelly’s.
That managed a soft smile from her. Progress, at least.
Then came the question Connor definitely wasn’t prepared for.
“Might you have a shower? I need to wash off before everything starts congealing.” She held out her blood-stricken ladyfingers, displaying a right mess, indeed.
“I do.” He extended an arm for her, though he couldn’t fathom why. “I’m just around the corner.”
For a moment Sirennia paused, perhaps reconsidering if she wanted to proceed down this path with him. But that ultimately recessed, and the affirmative sprite cordially took hold. “Then, if you would kindly,” she chimed, playfully.
What the Hell are you doing, man?
Why is she even here?
And Why, oh-why, did you hold open the door and invite her inside?
Those were the questions Connor knew he should be asking himself in this moment; alone, in his room, with a woman apparently able to transform into…what was she, anyway?
What the Hell is wrong with you?
He needed to clear his mind. Restore himself before it had a chance to run away with what was left of his sanity.
He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the water running from the bathroom, hoping the noise would purge his thoughts. Bad mistake. Instead, the image of that bare-skinned figure soaking herself followed by something else altogether inappropriate flooded his imagination.
How do I get her out of here? What could I do to get her to leave?
Why would you want her to leave?
God, help me!
This unproductive contemplation was cut short when he heard the door open, and out the divinity stepped, wrapped up in a poly-cotton towel. Her red hair, slicked back behind her shoulders and contrasted by her alabaster skin, dewed with moisture, was more than enough to send all the blood rushing from any true man’s head to his pelvis in a heartbeat.
By the way she looked at him, Connor felt certain that she could sense how fast his heart was racing right now. With one hand on her hip, and a curling ‘come-hither’ finger, she gestured to him. He shot to his feet and marched up to her, his brain never permitting itself a moment to object. Arching up slightly on her forefeet, she stopped just short enough to tickle his nose with a sweet little peck. Her smile professed that she found the dumb-founded look on his face gratifying.
“Thank you,” she trilled, rather affectionately for once.
Random thoughts stabbed into Connor’s mind that anything she wanted was hers, as long as it meant she’d stay. He couldn’t silence the impact he felt as he studied her face. Whatever was happening, it infected his mind and tore at him body and soul. He had to devise a plan to excuse her from his flat. Or, failing that, excuse himself—anything to put some distance between them, really. He sucked in a deep breath and held it as he turned away from her with every drop of willpower he had.
“I don’t know about you, but I need a drink.”
He dove into the kitchen, where a lifesaving bottle of Bushmill’s sat prominently on the counter. He fought to keep her out of his field of vision as he poured the whiskey into his glass, followed by a single large ice cube. Knocking back the shot, he crunched the ice between his teeth, hoping that the cold agony would help numb the boiling impulses he felt pulsing through his veins right now.
His head cooled slightly and seemed to return to normal.
Then he felt the tickle of a pair of dainty hands enwrapping him from behind, the fingers unfastening the buttons of his shirt as they danced down his torso.
He would have said, “What the Hell are you doing?”, but out came, “Umm…excuse me?” instead.
The words, “You should get out of that,” whispered into his ear, chilling him worse than the ice he’d just swallowed.
He looked himself over, realizing for the first time that he’d neglected to change out of his soiled clothes. Between the bloodstained hole, and having a sleeve stained with whatever bits of matter that had clung to Sirennia’s hands when she took hold of his arm earlier, there was little doubt that his shirt had seen the end of its use. He finished the job she started, and balled the it into a disheveled wad.
“Damn,” he said to himself as his last good pub-crawling top dropped into the waste bin under the sink.
“Might I have something to drink?” she asked, flagrantly studying and admiring the smooth stretches and contours of his toplessness for all it was worth.
“Yes,” he responded immediately and compulsively began to reset the glass on the table.
Was it possible that being alone with this “girl” who could kill him as readily as kiss him (in no particular order) was about to become the best thing t0 possibly happen to him tonight? He didn’t exactly have much to lose at this point; even if she was a monster—maybe even the Devil himself in some twisted, starry-eyed, red-headed form! As perfectly molded as she was, could he really fault her for that?
The large cube of ice clinked! into the glass, shortly followed by another amber flow of whiskey.
He turned and held out the drink. Her fingers wrapped ever so delicately around the glass. It was all Connor could do to keep from gawking with his mouth open as she closed her eyes and took a long slow protracted sip, before offering it back to him. He could only assume that she meant for him to finish it, which he did, despite his better judgement. Still, maybe if he got drunk enough it would break him out of whatever spell he felt like he was under.
“Kiss me,” she instructed.
“What?” he asked, unintentionally coughing up a bit of the burning liquor.
“It’s what you want to do, isn’t it?”
With that she unwrapped the towel, which fell to the floor, revealing every uninhibited inch of her. ‘Perfectly molded’, it turned out, did not do it justice. What choice did he have? Barely tilting his head forward, her mouth overtook his as her fingers ran through his hair, locking together behind his neck. The taste of her whiskey-laced tongue was more intoxicating than the drink. He took her in his arms, and the entire world around them seemed to dissolve as Connor closed his eyes and surrendered to the wild passion and heat driving through both of them…
Connor opened his eyes with no small degree of effort. Then clamped them shut again just as quickly. Trying to rub away the ache, along with the pounding sensation in his temples, he finally managed to get up from what he realized was his bed, still made from the day before.
“Come to me, my dear.” The caped black and white Count on the TV gestured towards the buxom young object of his wicked seduction. “Come!”
Just as his lips lowered to the neck of his mesmerized victim, the scene cut to an Elvira lookalike announcing the commercial break. “We’ll be right back with more ghoulish delights momentarily on this, the fifth night of our ‘Classic Terrors from the Vault’ marathon in a bit. Don’t go getting cold feet…at least not until we’ve had a chance to finish the job! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-HA-HA-HAA!!!”
The power button on the remote discontinued the agony-inducing drivel coming out of that woman’s mouth.
Connor sat on the edge of the bed and immediately buried his face in his hands. In between the pulses of pain that he felt, the first thing that registered was a glass, alongside a significantly emptied whiskey bottle settled next to it on the nightstand. Well, now, that explained everything, didn’t it?
Doin’ your ol’ Irish ancestor’s proud now, aren’t you, Connor, me boy-o?
The thump-thump-thumping of his brain admonished him as he swirled the bottle and its contents in his hand.
Somehow managing to get to his feet, he tried to stretch out the pangs of an uncomfortable night. Rolling his neck first to one side, then another, he suddenly noticed what shouldn’t be there.
The shirt lay cleanly folded and unassumingly hung over the rail of his desk chair. At that moment, the events of the previous evening flooded back with enough force to kick him squarely into bed. Taking it in hand, almost trembling at the thought of examining it, the shirt unfolded. Nothing. Not so much as a stray thread out of place. Never mind the blood stains or the hole that his memory told him should be there. Assuming he was remembering correctly. Was he remembering correctly?
There were no strewn about lacy unmentionables. Nor any other indication of a woman’s presence. Hell, he was still in the same pants and shoes he had on yesterday. No sign of disturbance in the bathroom. All towels clean, dry and accounted for. No moisture suggesting recent use of the shower. Or an affectionate note left on the mirror with a cell number promising future encounters anywhere in sight.
Just him, alone and with rushing palpitations that had him praying to God in all His mercy to end it now, and make it as peaceful as possible.
The infernal BZZZ! BZZZ! BZZZ! of the alarm clock hitting 5:00 AM returned him to the here and now. Such an ungodly hour. The law should forbid being awake so early.
Still, Connor didn’t make the schedule, and docks didn’t work themselves. Just the same, the notion of listening to grinding forklifts and sputtering delivery trucks was nothing short of dread inducing right now.
What he needed was coffee. Wandering into the kitchen, he managed to locate the precious grounds needed to bring himself back from the edge of oblivion. He poured the aromatic elixir of life into a mug and sat, alternately blowing, sipping, and repeating until his raw mouth was able to tolerate the burn. He sat awhile, peacefully. Just trying to kill the time. Killing time…
How long ago was it that he’d left that county and that name behind?
How old was he? Three, four years old maybe? One wondered how he could even recall it at all.
Ma and Da were gone by now. Certainly, no one else in Hell’s Kitchen had any connection with Killead. Hell, all that Connor had were vague childhood images and the stories his parents carried with them to their new home.
He could recall fields of green that seemed to have no end. Crystal blue skies and that one damn cloud that always managed an afternoon rain.
The more that he thought about it, the more it seemed to take shape in his mind. The more it took shape, the more overcome he was by the notion. He had to go back. Something deep down told him that. It had to be. He didn’t know how or why yet, but the thought couldn’t have popped into his head randomly.
The alarm clock reminded him again that the morning needed to get started. He mustn’t be late on the day he planned to ask for time off, after all.
Just enough time to shower and leave.
One or two Tylenol to help ease the head pain. Maybe three. Or even four. Fuck it. Take the bottle.
That’s when her image standing beneath that lamplight returned.
Dear God, what was she?
A dream? A nightmare?
The Devil, perhaps?
Or some apparition of the Fae?
Maybe even something worse!
He drowned his thoughts and fears with what was left of the coffee.
But he could only hope that the cold water of the shower would be enough to completely wash her away.