The log snapped in the small warm blaze. Mario stared into it, wondered a moment idly what caused that sound to snap, and looked longer with his eyes unfocused. Looking beyond the hearth fire. If he looked, if he looked in the right way, if he looked long enough, and empty enough as she had taught him, might he see something?
He focused his eyes and looked away. That was what he did not want.
On the floor at his feet was a loaf of fresh bread. He could not remember if he had put it there. He looked at the loaf for signs of evil or strangeness, but it seemed like a perfectly innocent loaf of bread, except he did not put bread on the floor. He turned his eyes away to the fire, which seemed to move strangely, as though alive.
He looked at the bread.
There were now four bright yellow eyes growing from the bread. He grabbed it up and threw it in the fire. If not there might soon be other things growing from the bread.
The bread didn’t burn at first, which was worrying. He picked up an iron poker from the stones near the fire and stabbed in at the bread.
Teeth burst the crust fastened on the iron. He let go of the poker before the teeth could pull him in. The bread blackened, caught, burned.
She's having another one of her bad spells, he thought.
He left the chair, glancing fearfully over his shoulder for whatever might be taking form there. Glanced at the waving shadows, turned around once to be sure, and then crossed the room of the small thatched cabin into the bedroom.
They had loved this cabin in this obscure village in the Greek hills near the sea. His grandfather had lived here with his ancient olive trees. He was happy to walk among the long groves of painfully gnarled and twisted trunks and leafing branches. He loved the trees. He sensed the trees loved him if that was possible. The world he moved and lived in with his wife Damaris was a world he loved and the world loved him back. That had been before.
Now even the trees could be dangerous at night.
He pushed open the bedroom door and stopped, realizing he forgotten to bring a light. And she was in there and he could not see her.
He closed the door and stepped back out of the room, holding his breath. He listened, looking down at his shoes. Listened. Finally turned.
There was now a basket of olives on the floor by the chair. The chair was near the fire and he would need a candle. He gave the basket a wide berth, went to a shelf and took down a long white candle; thought again, reached in and took a black candle. Again avoiding the basket, holding the black candle out in front of him he approached the fire, glanced at it, glanced at the basket, and quickly lit the candle at the flame. He lifted it back and hot black wax fell on his fingers and hardened as he winced.
The olives continued to be olives. Putting his back to the wall he crossed the room again, approaching the bedroom and gently pushed open the door. He held the candle out into the dark.
"Agapomene mou?" he said. "How are you feeling, dear? Have you come back to me?"
On the bed, their once busy marital bed, Damaris was sitting up, looking vacantly into space. She was still wherever she had gone a year ago. Where ever that was, she was still sending - things - back from that place.
He feared for himself when he was alone. But seeing her there, searching her face for signs of her own fear, he felt a great wave of sadness for them both. This was not something either of them had asked for. There was no way to know what life was like for her at this moment in that place known only to her. He hoped it was being kind to her, but how would he know?
Yet somehow it seemed safer to be near her, to feel her own warmth than to be over in the other room with whatever briefly crossed the bridge that was his wife.
He moved close, sat on the bed and she sagged towards him. "Chokmah," he whispered to her. "Spirit of wisdom, come back to me. Don’t leave me. Come to me."
In the light of the candle, he saw her eyes move. Just a jig. But life.
He ventured a hand to her face, gently brushed her cheek with his fingers. "Agapomene mou? My beloved?" Touching her was like offering a hand to sniff to the nose of a very big and dangerous dog. You could not show fear. But the fear was there. And the dog always knew.
This, the shell of her had not eaten for two days or defecated or anything at all. Yet she was aglow with life from somewhere.
He looked out into the room with its sparse furnishings.
As his head was turned, she moved and blew out the candle. They were in the dark.
"Come with me," he said. "We will be together that way, whatever happens to us."
He led her from the bed into the center of the main room, still lit by the flickering fire. Her lips moved silently. The shadows jumped.
So powerful. Even in her fog and delirium, so powerful. Where was she in this moment? Locked away in some interior Hell? Or Heaven? He turned to her -
An empty moment.
And he was standing in the doorway.
How had he gotten there? He couldn't remember. He turned and she was standing behind him. Had she bewitched him at last? Run out of mercy and cast a spell on him?
And then the breeze from outside was on him, in his skin. All his skin, as he was picking himself up from the grass, feeling drowsy and dazed. He was naked. He remembered nothing of how he had gotten here.
And she was in the field where the grass had been pressed down a moment ago and she was naked also and glistening with the night dew from the grass and something else. A light of awareness in her eyes.
When the first demon appeared - it wore his face.
At first it had been an awareness on the edge of his vision, as though the air had changed and thickened. It was tall, male with his phallus erect as a pole. But with his face. And that face - the fear in that face.
The future, he thought. What horrors are in this future? Poverty. Age. Sickness. I will be alone and I am not prepared for any of it. And then there is her, Amity. When I am old how will I protect myself? This is the face of the future.
Kill her now.
The only way. The only way you'll be safe.
How will I be safe? I must be safe!
She was looking at him, and she was nude, and those breasts whom he knew so well and had not kissed in so long. But the demon wearing the mask of his face was breathing hotly on his skin. The future would crush him and he could not bear it.
He looked away from the demon, looked at Damaris. Looked at her eyes, which were strangely fearful too. Looked down at her calm breasts where no infant had nursed. He fell to his knees, clasped his arms around her and crushed her to himself desperately and savagely. He buried his face between her breasts, felt their swollen and flaccid warmth against his cheeks, closed his eyes to the dark and breathed in the scent of the wet grass on her skin.
"Damaris. No." He crushed her tight. Felt her arms encircle him.
There is a weapon in her hands - she'll kill you!
No. Not my woman, no.
"Damaris," he said, "You will not hurt me. You will not."
The next demon appeared. She wore his daughter's face.
She had died of a fever as he, a young husband without prospects had stood and watched. Damaris had begun to study Hermetic magic from her own intuition and from her aunt who had a name for the dark arts. Bargains had been rumored, but the girl had died all the same. There had been a night like this Damaris had lead him to this field, when drought had made it brown and barren as his hopes. She had made an altar with animal offerings. And a prayer in an unknown language. With a skill he would not have suspected, she seduced him, brought to the earth in the barren field and as he made love to her and in the moment of his cry of release she invoked a name he couldn't hear. The field bloomed and filled with crops. For three years they thrived. And then it all stopped and she went away to some place only she knew and could not return.
The face of his daughter. And with that face, despair. There was no hope. Death came to the innocent and there was no goodness and no justice. He felt himself stagger under weight of rage.
He held tight to his wife, let himself feel her warmth and beneath that warmth, the cool vacancy and something trying to get out.
And then he knew what he had to do. He lay on his back, gentled her and rolled him on top of himself. "If you're going to kill me I've made it easy for you," he said. "I'll be your lamb. But no other, no demon will touch us. Only ourselves."
Her breasts dangled, brushed his face. He raised his lips and kissed them, felt his cock fill and rise. She reached between their bellies, found him warm and stiffened, widened her legs and slipped him in with a sigh. The air trembled. She sat gently, pressing him deep and rocked.
She rocked and rocked, dipped down and pressed her breasts to his face, to his lips. Rocked and rocked and her sighs grew deeper and ragged.
The third demon appeared. He never saw it. But he knew if he turned his head, it would be a woman.
He pulled her down hard and let himself burst in her fullness.
The air flashed. There was a shriek in his ears that startled him, but then he knew it was her. Her sex clenched firmly over his, hugging his cock as her belly tensed and trembled over him. Relaxed and hovered.
He caressed her and felt the ground move under him as though it were alive.
He looked into her eyes, and she was there, fully there, startled and alert.
"Welcome home," he said.