by Lord Malinov
“Please come out with us, Daniel. It will be fun for you, I promise.”
“Not tonight,” Daniel said calmly.
“I have plans, Elise. Maybe some other night.”
“What plans? You haven’t been out in almost two years.”
“I go out.”
“Haunting used bookstores isn’t going out. Besides, we’re just going out for a drink and then to the Avalon Theater. You like plays, remember?”
“I have plans tonight.”
“With whom, Daniel? A date with a book? A woman?”
“Yes. I mean no.”
“It isn’t healthy, Daniel. You’re getting a reputation as a real crank. People are talking about you. My friends are always talking about you. People always ask me when you’re going to start dating again. Just go out with us tonight.”
“You’re sounding like Mom, Elise. Some other time.”
“I’m going to come over.”
“Fine. But not tonight.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I love you, Daniel. I worry about you.”
“I love you, too, Sis.” Daniel hung up the receiver with a sigh. The idea that people were talking about him disturbed him slightly. Daniel didn’t consider himself a crank. The thought that Elise and Jim and Karen were going to talk about him irked him deeply. They didn’t understand what he was up to. No one could possibly understand. “Tonight,” he said to himself, “tonight has to work.”
The sun receded finally beneath the crest of pine trees and the huge space of Daniel’s study filled with creeping shadows, the dull orange glow of a distant sunset giving a ruddy tone to the pale wooden floors. Daniel rubbed his brow. A sense of possession stole over him. He began to pace, walking slowly toward the twenty foot windows that faced the bloody sky, and turning to walk back toward the blazing fireplace at the far end of the hall.
“Two years?,” he asked himself. “Two years, and when will it end?”
Daniel’s boots marked an even interval of time as his walk led him to the deepening night and back to the blossoming flames. A sinister wind stole through slight cracks in the upper reaches of the grand room with a howl. His heart began to thump when his resolve broke down and he stole a lateral glance at the long shelves of books covering the study’s northern wall.
“Once again,” he muttered in surrender. “The last time, again.”
Still trying to resist the allure, Daniel’s dark eyes fixed on a book standing alone behind his desk, an outcast from its mortal brethren, shimmering unnaturally in the nocturnal gloom. “Five hundred times,” he mused as his feet slowly drifted off the well-trod path and toward the dark shelves. “At least five hundred times. This has to end.”
Although the last gasp of Daniel’s resolve had been exhausted so many times before, the same shudder that had rippled through him on the very first night struck him again. The ritual was well defined, but the thrill was far from gone. Tonight, he thought and not for the first time, will be different. Even without the hope that gripped him on this night, there was no bravado in his thought. Every night had been different.
As he touched the ancient leather spine of the tall book, Daniel shook. It had been a week since he had opened the pages, an arduous week of incredible self-control since he had read the mystic words. It was the longest stretch of abstinence that Daniel had endured since he found the book in the tiny bookstore in East Berlin. There had been nights when he read the page three times in six hours. Resistance had been inconceivable, until he had a reason to hold back. Tonight would be the payoff. Daniel spoke a Latin prayer.
The old grandfather clock struck a sweet tone and Daniel nearly dropped the book in fright. Adrenaline poured through his ragged heart and he collapsed into the chair behind his desk. “Good,” Daniel said when he recovered his senses. “Tonight will take every ounce of my emotion. Blow storm!” he yelled.
The book fell open at a touch, directly to the page Daniel sought. It seemed his whole life had become contained in the words stretched across that single piece of parchment. At first glimpse, the words seemed to burn and writhe. Daniel knew he was tangling with ultimate darkness, an evil beyond any human conception. Still he continued. He couldn’t care for good and evil. He could only care for love.
Some nights he had to make a decision before he began, but not on this night. A single name possessed him, ached within him. His eye caught the first word of the incantation. Daniel braced himself, like a patient preparing for the undoped touch that would begin the cut of a scalpel.
“Katrina,” he said, giving in to the passion. “Come to me.” Strange words followed and the spell was begun.
A flame rose from the center of the study, a tiny flicker of orange and a dazzle of white sparks. The fire slowly grew until the heat touched Daniel’s face and called forth a wash of sweat. Smoke poured from the flashes, choking him cruelly. The root of the bonfire spread until ten feet of Persian rug seemed to be feeding the conflagration, flames shooting up as though it consumed a middle-aged pine. The last word left Daniel’s lips and he closed his eyes and turned away from the fierce blast of infernal fire.
A crackle tore through the roar and a cool breeze suddenly caressed Daniel’s burning body. He opened his eyes. A vision of white light nearly blinded him, but still he stared, knowing what sight awaited him. The light dimmed and the spirit Katrina stood before him. Daniel wanted to cry.
Every time she was conjured, Katrina appeared differently. On that night, her long golden hair was tied in ponytails, reminding him of a sweet girl he had met when he was young, a simple cowgirl at a country dance, hoping for a little dance and romance. Daniel had often wondered how much of Katrina’s form came from within him, but there could be no answer. She was always like someone, and yet like no one he had ever known. Katrina was whoever she was. Daniel could know no more.
“It’s you,” she said with a smile. Her voice echoed with the sound of crystal bells and young birds.
“It’s me,” Daniel replied, his heart bursting with longing.
“I’m glad,” she said.
“Do others conjure you?” Daniel asked, surprised by a thought he had never considered.
“It had never occurred to me,” Daniel said, frowning. “When was the last time?”
“I have no sense of time,” Katrina said. “I don’t know.”
“Do you . . . ?”
“They’re foul, twisted men, used to abusing power. I hate them.”
“I long for you, Daniel. You draw me to you.”
“I think of nothing else.”
“I can feel your devotion. It makes me live.”
“My life is in trouble. I have an idea. I need you.”
“What can we do?”
Daniel walked around the desk to where the apparition seemed to stand. Her lean body seemed fashioned of fog, a translucent shimmer in the form of a lovely woman. A silver gown hung from her shoulders. A worried look streamed in beauty.
“I believe we can set you free.” Daniel reached out to touch Katrina. His hand passed through her arm, as though he had grabbed a puff of smoke.
“I’m frightened,” Katrina said. She wanted to cry but no tears would come from her ghostly eyes.
“Trust me,” Daniel said.
“What will you do?”
“Have you noticed,” said Daniel, aching to touch the sad woman he loved so deeply, “that there are times when you seem to take substance.”
“Not really,” Katrina said softly.
“There have been nights,” Daniel confessed reluctantly, “when I have conjured other spirits. I haven’t always known . . . ”
“You’ve conjured other women?” Katrina said.
“Sometimes. Some evil spirits.”
“Were they beautiful?”
“Yes. Not like you, dear Katrina, but in their own wicked way. They seem to know something, or at least believe in it. They have tried to arouse me, to make me want them. And it seems to me that the more that I do want them, the more substantial they become.”
“You wanted them?”
“Lust is a powerful emotion. But I also feared them, and I don’t think lust is enough. I don’t know, but it has always fallen short. When the moment comes that my desire for them subsides, they quickly fade away. It is the nature of lust to dissolve in satisfaction. Love is different, stronger.”
“I see. So if I make you want me, I will be alive.”
“I don’t know. Maybe there is no threshold. But the substance they take is strong – some have even been able to touch me. I believe there could be some way.”
“They’ve touched you?”
“No. Don’t be sorry. If I could only touch you, for just a moment, I could forgive everything.”
“I know you, Katrina. I love you as deeply as a man could ever love a woman. I love the sparkle in your eyes and the curve of your flesh. Rouse my emotion, make me want you.”
“How?” Katrina asked, blushing as only a ghost can blush.
“Do you dance?” Daniel asked.
“I think I can.”
“Then dance for me,” Daniel said, leaning back against the mahogany desk and smiling. “What do the foul, twisted men ask from you?”
“They ask me to dance,” said Katrina. Fire seemed to spark in her pale eyes, a desperate hunger that began to move her hips, a lick over her grey lips. “I must do as I am asked.”
“I can’t bear to imagine you in the clutches of some other man,” said Daniel angrily, furious, ready to strike out at any man who would dare intrude.
“They’re handsome men,” said Katrina, picking up her skirt to reveal the smooth lines of her lean legs. Daniel felt his heart begin the throb furiously. “Do you like me?”
“Beautiful,” he replied, tingling with excitement.
“Can I take this off?” she asked with a coy smile.
“Please,” whimpered Daniel, his gaze fixed on her.
“It isn’t hot,” Katrina said as she lifted the robe up. Her wide hips gyrated slowly as she left them bare. Katrina turned to show him her creamy full bottom, a hint of form without color, like an old French postcard of a girl reason tells us has been long since dead. Daniel burned with desire, his attention caught by the swells and valleys of her shadowy body.
“I want you,” she growled as the robe fell to the floor. Full breasts bobbled slightly as though excited by his heavy breath.
“I want you,” he replied, reaching down involuntarily to scratch the tenseness of his loins.
“No,” she said sharply, ceasing her dance.
“What?” he asked, pained.
“Don’t touch.” Her head nodded toward his swollen crotch. “Don’t release your desire.”
“Yes,” he said, wondering if he could really restrain himself. “You’re right.”
“I’ll do the touching,” Katrina said, placing a finger at the shimmering crest between her thighs. “So hot for you.”
“My boobs, too. Do you want to taste my nipples?”
“I’ve always loved you, with all my heart. You make me hungry.”
“My pussy’s so swollen, so moist, so fiery.”
“I can almost feel your hands on my shoulders, your kiss on my lips.”
“I need you this way, can you touch me, do you want me?”
“I grow richer and fuller. You were right. I will live.”
“I will live and we’ll fuck.”
“I can almost feel you. Do you want me? Do you want me?”
“Come here,” Katrina said, her voice sultry and commanding. “Come kiss me.” Daniel shook in anticipation. Her body seemed almost alive, a woman’s naked flesh, aroused and drawing him near. A demonic look flashed through her eyes, lust overflowing her soft demeanor. Daniel rushed three steps forward and took the girl in his arms.
A kiss melted on his lips with the intensity of kissing a burning hot iron, yet at the same time luscious and sweet, a sudden sense of fulfillment, of holding all love in his arms.
“Lover,” Katrina moaned as she held him tight in her arms. Her body melded to his, caressing him gently as she kissed him with all her soul.
“No,” he said as convulsions exploded inside him. The woman suddenly began to fade. Her touch turned to a cool mist. “No,” he whimpered and Katrina vanished away.
Tears flowed from his dark eyes as Daniel collapsed on the floor of his midnight dark study. A dampness in his trousers echoed the tears.
“Tomorrow,” he said finally, desperate in failure. “I’ll bring her back tomorrow night. One more time, one more try.”