Excerpt

The following excerpt is © 2016 P. Anastasia. All rights reserved.
It may not be altered or re-posted in full without permission from the author.

 

BORDER

 

     “I will belong to no other.” Muffled by the effects of recently ingested poison, my voice was nearly inaudible.
I clasped my hands together near my lips and closed my eyes to absolve myself. It is often said that you will find God when you are near death, but God was not who I sought.

     Lingering on the thought, I glanced down at the icy water sweeping over my bare feet. The rocks were slippery and the darkness made it difficult to see anything besides the reflection of the vigilant moon.

     With each step, my legs grew heavier—weaker—until I could stand no longer. I slipped and hit the water with a splash.
The current pushed and pulled at my limbs. Coils of seaweed and dead branches weaved themselves into the curls of my hair as my body swayed against the tide. My fingers glided across waterworn stone, indentations in the rocks catching my fingernails.

     Then I felt nothingness.

     Life and death battled for my soul, their claws tugging me violently from side to side. The outcome was easily decided once a wave crashed into my face, filling my mouth and lungs with seawater.

     Numb, my limbs no longer responded to my will. As I was dragged deeper through the blackness, my consciousness drifted in and out—my sacrifice to the watery beast, voluntary.

     Heavy. Weightless. Then suddenly falling forever. Death triumphantly possessed me, a ghostly hand wriggling down my throat to claim my soul. My heart surrendered to the trauma and control over my body faded from my grasp.

     One last thought fluttered by and I opened my eyes. Through my blurry, distorted vision, I almost thought I could see him gazing down at me through the ripples of moonlight.

     I almost thought I could see him reaching out to me.

 

 

 

     I pressed my foot down onto the switch and a dense buzzing noise filled the air. The needle pierced the soft flesh of the inside of her wrist and she flinched.

     I lifted my foot. The room went silent.
“Are you going to be alright?” I asked. She stared blankly ahead, preoccupied with something. Following my question, the girl swallowed hard and shifted her weight in the chair.

     “Yeah. Y-Yeah,” she stammered. “I’m fine. Keep goin’.”

     But she wasn’t “fine.”

     I could smell fear on her breath. The tension in her blood was undeniable. She smothered her anxiety by biting her tongue and lying. Female intuition led me to believe something terrible had happened to this girl, and she was concealing her memories with denial. And ink.

     It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people succumb to decisions born of anger. She would have this mark on her always, and yet she was hesitant to imagine herself ever being in a different state of mind.

     Pain fades with time, as all things do.

     The buzzing resumed and I carefully traced the arches of the broken heart tattoo with black ink.

     “S-So… where are yours?” she asked, motioning toward me with a nervous grin.

     I had known the question would arise eventually. It always did.

     “Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any,” I replied.

     Her jaw dropped. “B-But… you’re an artist. How can you not have any?” The sharp curve of skepticism in her eyebrows implied that she took me for an amateur, but I’d given the lecture dozens of times in the past. Tonight was like every other night.

     I smiled politely. “Tattoos mean something to those who get them, just as this one means something to you. They’re like a diary entry on a page of skin. That’s how I see them.” I strapped a smaller needle into the machine and then reached for the white ink. “There isn’t a moment of my life I want to carry with me forever.”

     “Oh,” was all she managed to utter. She seemed bewildered still, but acknowledged the legitimacy of my statement and looked back off into the distance.

     I was an artist, not a psychiatrist, but the emotions of my clients affected me. Each of them told a story without words, and those stories gave reason to my craft. It needed to be done. My drawings yearned to come alive on human flesh and fill a void within their masters’ souls.

     I changed inks and began shading the heart with red. Ink oozed against the lines of the pattern and I wiped it off frequently as I colored. The popular dark red I used resembled blood and haunted me always, reminding me of my thirst.

     “Looks good,” I commented, wiping off the final patch of colored ink. She took a deep breath and seemed relieved to know it was finally over.
“Good luck with everything,” I said softly to the girl, trying to mind my own business and be considerate as well. She didn’t seem to be listening as I rubbed a thin layer of ointment over the design and then taped a bandage over it. I peeled the gloves off my hands, tossed them into the trash, and watched the girl head off. There was nothing more I could do for her.

     At that very same moment, another person walked in through the front door. I could easily hear the heavy patter of his clumsy feet in the other room. Then my nose twitched and wrinkled in disgust. I entered the lobby and wasn’t even sure where to begin with the man waiting there.

     “Can I help you?” I asked, glancing over his tattered clothing and abhorring the overwhelming stench of alcohol on his breath. The man stumbled closer to me and fiddled with his belt.

     “I… uh… want a tattoo,” he muttered, the rings on his lips chinking together as he spoke. His neon yellow hair came to a spike atop his head and his body was already covered with tasteless tattoos—none of them my work, obviously. He wasn’t my usual sort of customer, but I humored him.

     “That’s what I’m here for. Do you know what it is you want and where you want it?” In my gut, I knew the reply wouldn’t be a simple “yes.”

     “Yeah…” He made a loud sniffing sound and dragged the back of his hand across his lips.

     I couldn’t smell whether or not there were drugs in his system, but that didn’t stop me from thinking it.

     “And… I want it on my stuff, here.” He fidgeted his hands and jiggled his belt buckle like he was proud of what he was asking for. The stupid grin on his face made me scowl. He was drunk.

     I had to remain professional.

     “I’m sorry, but I won’t do something like that.” I pointed to the door. “You’ll have to find another artist.”

     He took another heavy breath, wheezing as he exhaled.

     “What’s the big deal?” he groaned. “Nothing you haven’t seen before, right?”

     I clenched my teeth. “I already told you—I won’t do it. Now leave, please.”

     The rising of my voice drew attention. Another figure came from out of the back room and approached me from behind.

     “Is there a problem?” Matthaya asked, his velvety voice remarkably menacing. He took another step and stood beside me.

     The unwelcome man staggered backward with fear. Matthaya’s piercing green gaze and stern tone could stiffen the hairs on one’s neck. He insinuated so much, so subtly.

     “Sh-I-I didn’t wanna cause trouble.” The man’s pulse quickened, the fervent thumps resonating in my ears. “I’ll leave.”

     He did, and I rolled my eyes as the repulsive creep slid out the door and back into the streets from which he had come.

     “Are you alright?” Matthaya asked, his expression as concerned as always. His fingers brushed against my hand.

     I nodded and smiled. “Yes, I’m fine. I was better before he came in, but that’s business. Things don’t bother me the way they used to.”

     “I know.” He walked over to the front door, locked the deadbolt, and then switched off our sign and all of the lights in the lobby.

     “I’m worried about you,” he added. “You aren’t yourself tonight.”

     “It’s nothing.” I pulled the drawer from the cash register and carried it into the back room.

     This was my shop now. We had purchased it a while back after the owner had died.

     I had been there, too… when he’d died, I mean.

     I had been there, watching it happen.

    That’s a part of my past I will never forget. That and…

     “It was the dream again, wasn’t it?” Matthaya walked closely beside me, his gait in sync with mine.

     Yes, it was the dream, but I feared telling him the truth. It wasn’t the first time I had dreamt it, after all.

     “It doesn’t make any sense.” His voice became gruff and his fingers formed a fist. “There’s no reason for it to haunt you still.”

     Ghastly visions terrorized me as I slept and I could not bear the anguish and guilt each unwelcome visit brought. They had occurred for several days in a row and seemed all too abrupt to be a side effect of anything in particular.

     Matthaya took the cash drawer from my hands and set it on the table behind us.

     Money meant nothing.

     “Sit down.” He implored me to rest in a softly padded chair to which he had turned my attention. My head was weary with the endless horrors I endured each night and he found little comfort in his inability to stop the nightmares. The depression of helplessness slowly crept into his veins and I could feel his sadness growing.

     He didn’t deserve this. My love for Matthaya was great—so great, in fact, that I had given up my life to be with him. The least I could do was be honest.

     It was dark in the back room. Matthaya struck a match and lit a stout ivory candle for the sheer novelty of it. Gazing upon the warm flames tamed the beast in me.

     He set it down in front of me on the table and a soft yellow glow filled the room, bouncing from wall to wall and playing tricks with our shadows.

     My sensitive ears twitched from the clink of two wine glasses as he set them onto the table and tipped a bottle over them, filling them with rich crimson liquid. The smell teased my senses with intrigue and delight, like a crisp spring breeze. I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with the aura of its purity and youth.

     He took a seat beside me.

     “Where did you get this?” I asked, swirling the precious drink around in my glass. Such an indulgence was uncommon for us.

     His expression turned dark and defensive. “What difference does that make?” he replied firmly, implying that the source was no longer a concern.

     I shrugged and relinquished my query.

     My lips pressed against the rim of the glass and I poured the drink slowly into my mouth and swallowed. It left my lips painted with scarlet tint, which reflected back at me in the sheen of the glass. Matthaya mirrored my actions and we shared a much-needed moment of peace in the darkness.

     I still remember when a cup of hot milk could settle my tumultuous pangs, but those days are long gone. I set down my glass and ran the edge of my tongue across my lips, savoring the last trace of infant blood.

     Many months had passed since we had tasted humans. We sought to keep it that way indefinitely, but the violent churning of nightmares left me susceptible and weak to its sensual charms. Matthaya knew our eternal hunger well and he knew that a weakened state left me vulnerable to my lust for young blood.

     Modern formalities aside, you could call Matthaya my husband. He rescued me from the mortality that plagues you now. Together we share our lives in the darkness. Together we face our fears… our limitations.

     It was a choice that I made not long ago. A choice we were forced to make in order to preserve our feelings for one another. In exchange, we now face the monstrous truth that surrounds the myth that is “forever.”
There is no morning, no dawn, and no dusk. Spring and summer mean nothing to us. There is only the bitterness of winter and the darkness of night.

     And while the virile emotions of surrounding mortals infiltrate my mind, the fiery kiss of passionate love has grown cold to my anesthetized skin.

     Matthaya and I share our strengths and our weaknesses. This is our world now and, together, we are damned to spend eternity trapped in the icy shadow of the moon’s ghostly light.

     My name is Kathera.

     I was just like you once.