General Disclaimers: While it features no ‘on-screen’ sexual activity or explicit adult situations, this hypnofetish story does contain examples of fictional characters doing illegal, immoral and/or impossible things to other fictional characters. If you are under the age of consent in your community, are disturbed by such concepts, or want hot wet thrusting sex in your on-line pornography, then for goshsakes stop reading now!
Permission granted to re-post for free to any electronic medium, as long as no one's being charged to view it, and this disclaimer and e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) are not removed. It would also be nice if you told me you were posting it.
Copyright Voyer, 2002.
Specific Disclaimers: Set in the same universe at ‘Shades of Night Are Falling’, ‘Cut Off’, et al, and you should really read them first.
Dedicated to Bobby Darrin.
The trees were old, very old, hoary moss-covered patriarchs of the sort that have become very rare in most places in the world. They ringed the clearing on three sides, spreading their gnarled branches wide and thrusting their massive black trunks high into the sky. The combined green of all the leaves shimmered in the bright spring sun. There was birdsong, and the flit of colorful motion from one tree to another.
The fourth side of the clearing was marked by the shore of a good-sized pond, a body of water ringed with reeds and cattails and artistically splotched here and there with clusters of floating plants. In the center of all this was a small island. At one time, evidently, there had been a structure there, but now only a single lingering corner of weathered stone blocks remained, while one or two wooden pilings poked up from the water. The stones were being further crumbled by the tree which had sprouted there, lower and more tangled than those on the mainland, but also much more bulky, a mass of roots and intertwined trunks. Its leaves drooped down into the water.
That water stood glassy and still, disturbed only when one of the bugs which circled above it came down too close. Then there was often a snap and a ripple that faded almost instantly to nothing, leaving behind only the reflections of the squared-off tops of the towers of the large house.
The mansion, perched on a low rolling hill, situated just beyond the trees. One tower stood higher than the others, and a flag drooped there on a pole, limp in the calm morning air.
Under the pole a single narrow window was slit in the stone, bringing to mind an eye in a skull, both squinting and unblinking.
A white-graveled trail wound its unhurried way down between the trees from the general direction of the house, finally spilling out into the clearing, where butterflies danced among the tall unmown grass and the flourishing wildflowers. Showing more wisdom than the other bugs, they stayed clear of the water.
A figure appeared on the trail, bits and pieces visible at first between the trees, and finally he came fully formed into the clearing, his pace slow and deliberate.
It was a boy, or perhaps he was better described as a young man. It would be hard for an observer to say how old he was; he was already tall and thin, and his fine wispy hair was so blonde it was almost white. Also, he walked with a certain calmness and self-possession that made him seem much older than he probably was. Now in the clearing, he stood for a time at the end of the gravel, his hands aligned against his sides, and he watched the butterflies, his expression one of scientific curiosity. Finally he moved on, this time towards the pond, where a sandy sloping beach and a wooden rowboat waited for him. The boat may have once been a fine piece of workmanship, but now it was gray and stained. Long-abandoned. Again he stood, ignoring the boat and watching the bug-eaters: large sleek fish that swirled complacently back and forth just under the surface.
Then, as if a switch had been thrown somewhere, the birds stopped singing.
He turned, his movements still slow and careful. Nothing had changed in the clearing; the butterflies still danced.
He turned his gaze in the direction of the voice, up into the branches of the trees.
The speaker was a girl, perhaps the same age as him, sitting on one of the larger branches several feet off the ground, her legs dangling. She was covered entirely in fluffy golden feathers and she seemed somehow to glow, even in the shade of the trees. Her eyes were large and colored a striking shade of violet.
Before replying, the boy studied her as he had studied everything else.
She slitted those eyes just a little.
“These are my woods, you know.”
He looked around, appearing to expect to see a sign neatly tacked up somewhere confirming or disproving this statement. No such sign was forthcoming, so he turned back to her.
“Am I trespassing then?”
She tipped her head, trying to bring something into focus. At last she shook her head and suddenly appeared disinterested.
“No. You are welcome to come here.”
The girl kicked her legs and looked up at the sky, or what could be seen of it from her position.
“I’ve seen you before, you know. Once or twice. Up there.” She used one of the legs to point towards the towers. “But I don’t remember seeing you down here.”
“They don’t let me out very often.”
“So you are a prisoner? They keep you locked up in a cage?”Her voice was teasing, but the boy carefully and seriously considered this idea, as if it was something that had never occurred to him before. His brows furrowed over his dark eyes.
“No. I don’t believe so. Prisoners sleep on straw, and eat bread and water, don’t they?” He cogitated some more, not seeing the look the flashed across her face. “Cook makes very good food. I sleep in a bed. There are books to read, and the music on the wireless to listen to in the evenings. Sometimes Father even has time to come down and we have dinner together. And they are always teaching me all sort of things, hours and hours every day.” He made an absent swipe at his hair. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Oh yes. I like having secrets.”
“It’s something that I’ve never told anyone. They teach me, fact and figures and names and dates and places, but I notice they don’t actually tell me much. I saw early on it was better not to ask about some things. To just watch and listen was better. You can learn a lot more that way. I’m not a prisoner, but...” He fiddled with his narrow belt buckle for a moment. “I think that they think that someday I might be very important. So they look after me, until that day comes, I suppose. Nana especially.”
“Nana. Is she the fat woman with the silly black hair? I’ve seen her, much more than I’ve seen you. I come over,” A nod away from the towers... “and I watch from the trees.”
He appeared indignant, the first real expression he had displayed.
“I wouldn’t say Nana is fat. That woman who comes to visit Father from the city sometimes, she’s fat.” Another brow-wrinkling frown. “But Nana does have silly hair, you are right there. Perhaps you’ll meet her later, and get a better look at her.”
“Perhaps.” The girl did not sound impressed or excited by the prospect. She got up, began walking down the wide branch, one oddly-shaped but purposeful foot in front of the other, her arms outstretched. “So you’re going to be important?”
She shot him a sly glance over one shoulder, and spoke with exaggerated carelessness.
“I’m already important. They tell me so all the time. Ever since I was born.”
“Why do they tell me?” She came to where the branch finally began to creak under her weight and she did a neat pivot, started back the way she had come. “Because it’s true, of course.”
He possibly rolled his eyes just a bit.
“No. Why are you important?”
“Oh. Because I’m me. Because I’m alive. All the others died.”
“Others? You mean... your brothers and sisters?”
“Yes. I suppose so.”
“They all died? I’m sorry. Your Father... and Mother... must have been very sad.” He sounded sincere.
She shrugged, continued walking.
“It happened a long time ago. I never knew any of them.”
“I never had any brothers or sisters.” He paused, as another new thought evidently occurred to him. “At least, they have never told me about them, if I did. I shall have to watch and listen more carefully.”
“Yes. You should always pay attention.” An comment spoken in a tone that seemed to strongly indicate she wasn’t following her own advice. She came to the midpoint of the branch, abruptly faced outward, spread her feathery arms even wider, and jumped. She tried to do a flip in midair and land neatly on her feet, but she didn’t quite make it, and crashed into the underbrush with an undignified squawk.
He watched all this and did not smile.
She was up in an flickering instant, looking more like a cat than a bird for a moment, walking with tearless and painfully-assembled dignity. She meticulously brushed a couple of clinging leaves from her feathers and looked at him, daring comment.
“Maybe we could be brother and sister.” He poked at a nearby rock with the tip of his shoe as he said this. A beetle as black and as shiny as the intruding footwear was disturbed by this action and scurried away to find a new hiding place. “Since we don’t have anyone else. Or do you have anyone else?”
She came slowly closer, not seeming to bend any of the blades of grass, until they were standing almost nose to nose, and her gaze was sharp as diamonds. Finally...
“You don’t have anyone?” He held his ground, but looked slightly nervous.
“No. There’s simply no way we could be brother and sister.”
“But we could be friends.” She abruptly broke gazes and did a little spinning dance up over the top of the grass, sending the butterflies scattering in a panicky cloud. “Best of friends, forever and ever.”
“Until the end of all things.”
“Yes, and beyond!”
He smiled for the first time, and he was almost handsome when he did so. Then the smile faded and he started fishing in the pockets of his pants, finally producing an object. A disk the exact same color as her feathers. It shimmered in the sunlight, and she stopped dancing to stare at it. He popped a lid, revealing a complicated watchface, many hands spinning fast and slow. He consulted this, then snapped the cover shut and put it back from where he had extracted it. She gave a little twitch as he made a noise, a sort of whistling sigh.
“It’s almost lunch time. If I don’t get back, Nana will be sending Karin to look for me.”
“The tall woman? With the blonde hair and the guns?”
“She’s very clever, I can tell. She’s almost seen me once or twice.”
He looked at the pond again, at the tree and the dying stones on the island, and for the first time showed signs of true nervousness, of fidgeting.
“Would... would you like to come with me? Cook makes very good lunch.”
She in turn looked even more uncomfortable and embarrassed than when recovering from her fall, her flitting grace turned suddenly to shuffling. “I don’t really eat... normal food.”
“But you do eat food.”
“Cook can make it. I’m sure. Come on.” He started to go, and still she hesitated. “If she can’t make something you can eat, I won’t eat either. I promise.” He crossed his chest.
It was just possible that a flush came into her cheeks.
They started up the trail together.
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Lorelei. What’s yours?”
“I know. I think I’ll change it when I grow up. That’s something adults do sometimes. I read it in one of Father’s books once. I’ll take on an assumed name, and wear a fake mustache and sneak into the heart of the enemy camp. Learn all their secrets and come back a hero.”
“I can help. I’m already good at sneaking.”
“You are? With all of ... um... those...?” He gestured at her feathers.
She smiled sweetly.
“Close your eyes.”
“Just do it.”
He closed his eyes. A few moments later...
“Now open them again.”
He did so, and looked around.
He was alone on the trail. Her voice came to him, giggling.
“See? Now I’ll sneak all the way to the house, and you won’t be able to find me.”
“Oh really? We’ll see about that...”
He never did find her.
Cook had some food Lorelei was able to eat, and as they were so often to do in the future, they ate lunch together.
The clearing hadn’t changed all that much. The grass had gotten taller, the rocks on the island a little more shapeless and weathered. The boat rotted slowly on the sand.
He came down the path from the house, walking as he had before, slow and deliberate and careful. His clothes were another thing that hadn’t changed much. A tie had been added, colors and shapes shifted just enough to stay inside the bounds of current fashion.
He had gotten taller, and his hair was mostly gone, his bald head catching the gleams of the wan autumn sunlight.
The birds were not singing as he came into the clearing, and the woman sat on the branch, her legs dangling. Even now, her feathers continued to glow.
He paused and they looked at each other for a long time before she finally broke the silence. Her voice was supremely indifferent, but she picked with pained concentration at the mossy cracks with a finger that wasn’t really a finger at all.
“You’ve come back.”
He nodded, as if she had expressed a deeply profound truth.
“Yes. Yes, I have.”
“And where have you been all this time?”
“As I told you when I left, there were many places I had to go. Had to see. I’ve traveled right around the world in the end.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing of great importance. I had no real adventures. Not in the traditional sense.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“I climbed mountains. I walked in the woods under the trees. Other trees, I helped to cut down. I went down into caves. I worked on a tramp steamer that carried... well... junk, mostly, back and forth across the sea. I worked on a cattle ranch.” A pause. “I really hate cows now, you know.”
“And you fell in love.”
“I... Yes. Yes, I fell in love.”
“I dreamed about it when it happened. I dreamed about her. The dreams have been coming more often lately, you know. Especially after I came back from... They are coming true more often as well.”
“I didn’t know. But I’m not surprised, I suppose.”
“She was tall and pretty, with shiny black hair. Much nicer than Nana’s.”
“She wore lilac perfume. I can smell it on you.”
He looked down at his clothes, made a strenuous but successful effort not to sniff at them.
“I haven’t... been with her in... five years?” His eyes got lost for a moment, and his face became something very different. “Has it been that long already?”
She shrugged, long and slow. Pick pick pick.
“What was her name?” Stab.
He squinted at her.
“The dream didn’t say?”
“No.” A strip of bark was peeled neatly away and discarded. “They always leave things out. Even now. Especially names.”
“Her name was Christina.”
“Did you marry her?”
“No. As I said. It didn’t work out in the end.”
“But you still love her.”
“Sometimes. But only late at night. When the sleep won’t easily come.”
She rose, and began to climb higher, moving from one branch to the other with slow careless ease. She didn’t slip or falter, not even once.
“So why did you bother to come back?”
“I suspect you know the answer to that question already.”
She looked at him calmly, hanging upside-down for a moment. A stray breeze caught her feathers and ruffled them.
“Tell me anyway.”
“My father is dying. I had to come back.”
“Dying?” She laughed, a cool sound that signaled the coming of winter. Ice crystals swirled on the wind. “Is that the word they use?”
“It’s as good a word as any. Soon he’ll lay down and stop moving, forever. They’ll take his body and put it down in the crypt, and it will eventually turn to dust.”
“Are you sad?”
“You know that answer to that question as well, Lorelei.”
“Are you sad?”
“Yes. Yes, I suppose I am. For him. For me. For you.”
Again she paused in her movements, and her eyes glittered.
“For me? Why should I feel anything? It’s not like he’s my father.” He offered no reply, but matched her gaze. Finally, she was the one who looked away, and it was clear from her stance that this was not something that happened very often. “So what are you going to do now?”
“Go back to the house. Sit in the study. In that big chair by the fire and read some of my old books. Wait for my father to die.”
“And then?” She was quite a ways up the tree now, and had found a particularly dramatic branch on which to perch. It was almost as if someone had meticulously pruned away all the surrounding foliage over a period of careful months, so as to offer a perfect and unobstructed view. She looked out across the pond, towards the brooding house, towards the window that was an eye inside a skull.
“And then... things will get interesting. Very interesting.”
“You’re looking forward to it.”
“Have you dreamed about it? Seen what will happen?” His voice sounded almost greedy.
“Beyond what will happen today... or tomorrow... or the next? No. Something’s gotten in the way. Something big and shiny, like...” She waved a hand and stared unblinking at the sun ghosting behind the clouds. “A big shiny diamond, glittering with all of those rainbows. I try to see, but it’s just too bright. Too bright.” She swayed a little on the branch, and dropped her gaze back to earth.
“Do you want to know what will happen? Do you want to find out?”
“No.” She hunched down between her shoulder-blades. “I have no curiosity on the matter whatsoever.”
“Oh. Well... I’m afraid that I do. I have a great deal of curiosity.” He shaded his eyes, and a frown slowly crept across his face. “Lorelei.”
“Come down from there.”
“No. You are not welcome here anymore.” The last words were almost a whisper.
“Come down at once.”
She stood up.
She looked into the eye.
She spread her arms, and she jumped.
There were no trees here, no living things at all. Cold glass and stone and steel, forming echoing corridors.
The echoing turned eventually into footsteps, two people walking side by side. A tall man in a gray suit, very grim looking, his face and bald head cut into hard sharp angles. A solidly-built woman, almost as tall her companion and wearing functional workclothes, with a tight thick ponytail of blonde hair that was beginning to show streaks of gray. She was still attractive, but lines had begun to etch themselves around her eyes and into the corners of her mouth, her face pulling itself out of shape under some great strain.
She had a large and wicked-looking rifle slung over one shoulder, the barrel oiled and deadly, glistening as if dipped in oil.
Except for their feet, they walked in silence, and they finally came to a door. It was a heavy thing, riveted together out of chunks of solid steel, and there was an enormous lock mounted on it. The woman dug in a pocket and fished out a key that was equally large and clunky. She started to insert it into the lock, but then hesitated.
“Sir. Are you absolutely sure? Last night. When your father finally...” She closed her eyes for a moment, as if feeling a stab of pain. She swayed a little, then was steady again. “She was so...”
His voice was both cold and weary.
“Physically, she has fully recovered? From the fall?”
“Yes, sir. Physically. As you know, she heals very quickly.”
“Then open the door, Karin.”
She thrust the key home and turned it. The lock clicked over, and Karin pulled at the door’s hefty handle. The portal swung open on hinges that were as oiled as the barrel of her gun.
He stepped into the room beyond, and she followed after.
Stone, slick and smooth, with a couple of very narrow windows, barred and set high in the walls. Stars were visible there, flecking a night sky. Hanging on one wall was a single piece of decoration, an enormous animal hide, hideous in its rippled splendor.
And crouched in one corner, on a disordered pile of straw...
“Get out. You are not welcome here.”
Lorelei spoke the words without turning her head.
“Get out.” She covered her ears, or at least things that were in that position on the side of her head. “He’s dead and gone, and now you are here. Get out.”
Karin had the rifle unslung and pointed at the bird woman. The barrel didn’t waver, but her voice sounded cracked.
“Sir, please. Don’t...”
He turned and studied her, his eyes very dark.
He reached into his pocket, and pulled something out.
A flash of gold.
Then the door swung shut, and Karin was alone out in the corridor, standing against the wall opposite.
She fingered the gun in her hand, fingered it again and again, the metal sliding under her skin...
She slid down the wall, her legs giving out on her, her booted feet spread out.
For a very long time, nothing happened. The stars turned overhead.
The door swung open again, and Karin lifted the barrel to her shoulder for the last time.
Lorelei stepped out into the corridor, one oddly-shaped but purposeful foot in front of the other. She saw Karin, and she smiled, a brilliant thing, and Karin’s mouth smiled back, even as her eyes continued to strain and scream.
Lorelei crossed the hall and knelt down. Her not-fingers stroked gently at Karin’s hair. It brought to mind the sight of one chimpanzee grooming the fur of another.
There were cracks in Lorelei’s eyes, deep shimmering cracks, so black, that just pulled and pulled and pulled...
A voice, icy and perfect.
“Karin. It’s time for you and Nana and the others to retire. Mr...” A thoughtful pause. “Mr. Black and I are going to sail away. Across the sea. Never to return.” The gun was pulled from Karin’s hands.
“Retire? Lorelei, no.” Just a whisper. “Please. I don’t want to-”
There was a crack, sharp and black.
There were birds and butterflies here, but there was no pond, and the trees were thoroughly tame ones, pruned and clipped and lined up in neat rows at the edges of things.
“Yes. Thank you.”
She poured in silence, and they both watched from the patio as the birds and the butterflies did the same old dance around the flowering shrubs in the garden. She had discovered that she had a definite talent for it, gardening. It surprised her, somehow, but it really shouldn’t have. She had spent most of her life out of doors, after all, on the estate.
She looked at the other woman sitting at the table with her. Still with the towering hairdo, still jet-black. The other sipped at her cup, staring at something far away.
The first woman shifted in her chair.
For several months after moving here and convalescing from her... illness... she had had the strangest dreams during the night. Unsettling, but also...
She had been holding something in her hands, something wet and slick and oh-so alive, it had been inside her hands, inside her head, and then one day someone had come along and smiled at her and...
“So. What was it you wanted to tell me, Karin? You sounded so important on the phone.”
She recalled herself with a blink and a twitch. She had been ill, and she had had the dreams, but then she had gotten better and stronger and they had slowly faded away.
Most everything about her time at the estate had faded away. It was all becoming a dream.
Life is but a dream.
Isn’t that a line from one of the songs they sing, in the land beyond the sea?
But she had more important things to think about now.
She smiled at the black-haired woman and pulled the small box out of her pocket, opened it, and slid the waiting ring onto her finger. The other looked at it, and then her eyes widened.
“Oh! Helmut? He asked you?”
“Yes. And I said yes. We’ll have the wedding in June, I think. I was hoping we’d... we’d be able to count on your help. Nana”
“Of course!” Nana laughed and they embraced. “Anything I can do. And if the two of you decide to have children... it’s still not too late you know, not nearly.”
“You’ll help take care of them?”
“Yes. Always. It was always so nice... back at the estate...”
They shared a puzzled frown.
Then the moment was gone, and life went on.
To be continued?
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