For my contribution to this week's theme of dreams and nightmares, I have chosen to share a short excerpt from my unpublished contemporary fantasy novel, Swimming North, in which a character discovers his dreams lie closer to reality than he could ever believe.
In the entire neighborhood nothing moved. The slamming of his car door sounded loud to his ears, as did the crunch of his footsteps on the frosty sidewalk.
He knocked. Called her name. It was early. He was going to feel stupid when she came to the door and demanded to know why he had wakened her from a hard earned slumber. But she didn't answer. Even when he pushed the ridiculous alarm, she didn't respond to the loud bleating.
The door was locked, but his misguided youth had furnished him with experience equal to its opening. His pocket knife, slid between frame and door, easily solved that problem.
When he pushed it open he found himself face to face with an unknown woman. His brain, trying to categorize her, came up with the word alien. The eyes a little too widely spaced, the nose too perfect, something vaguely wrong about the mouth.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end; he felt the familiar rush of adrenaline.
The woman looked up at him through thick lashes, hesitant, insecure. “Hello - you would be a friend of Vivian, yes?”
Her voice was lightly accented and he ran the gamut of known languages through his brain and failed to find a match. She wore low slung Levis and a simple, long sleeved black t-shirt. It was an ordinary black shirt, identical to a thousand others. Vivian had a shirt like that, with an irregular grey stain on the left shoulder, shaped like an amoeba. Vivian had laughed about that spot, told some story about bleach and the laundry that he’d missed because he’d been too busy watching her expressive face. There might be a thousand shirts like this one, but surely only one had that identical stain.
Before her hand emerged from behind her back clutching a knife, his own hand was already in motion.
He blocked the thrust, grabbed her wrist, twisted the knife away from her. Before she could scream he had wrenched her into the room and slammed the door behind both of them. She struggled but he was stronger. He pinned her against the wall and held her own knife to her throat. The blade was long, slightly curved, and stained with blood.
It moved him.
He leaned his weight against her, pressing the flat of the blade against her white throat so that the skin puckered along the sharp edge but didn’t quite break. “If you scream I’ll kill you,” he said.
With a shock of revulsion, he realized he meant it.
Her eyes never left his. There was no fear in them, but he read recognition of who he was, what he might do. The knife felt alive in his hand. An infinitesimal amount of pressure and beads of crimson would appear on the pale skin. He swallowed, tasting the desire.
With an effort he withdrew his hand, stepped back a pace.
Her chest rose and fell in a deep, involuntary breath. He expected her to flee, would have made no move to stop her, but she remained pressed against the wall where he had left her.
“Where is she?” A rawness in his throat cracked his voice.
“What makes you think I know anything?”
“You're in her apartment. You’re wearing her clothes. Tell me what you know.”
“Or what? You’ll cut me? Kill me? You'd like that, wouldn't you?”
In his dreams he killed. Swords, knives, the dull thud of flesh beneath his fists. Bones cracking, lips splitting. Always it was there, an undercurrent of violence that would not be quelled. He meditated daily. Put paint to canvas while immersed in the music of Bach and Vivaldi. And yet, his muscles knew how much pressure it would take to choke this woman; how wide the spray of blood if he drew the blade hard enough across her throat, exactly where to thrust between the ribs to pierce the heart, or the lungs, or make a slower death with a gut wound.
The woman’s eyes expressed contempt. She yawned, stretched her arms above her head, letting the fabric of the shirt stretch tight over her breasts, baring her belly.
"I understand you are some kind of artist. Would you really rather paint than kill, Warlord?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The lie felt rough on a tongue taught a rigorous discipline of truth. Warlord. They called him that in his dreams, the men who fought beside him.
“Come – I know what you are. You do not lie well. If you want her back, you will have to kill for her.”
“What exactly do you want?”
“Give me back my knife.”
He laughed, a harsh sound that grated on his own ears. “No.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. You should come with me. Your skills would serve me well.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. And you are going to tell me what you know.”
He took a step toward her. His hand raised the knife.
A smile curved her lips. “You are going to let me go, Ezekiel Warlord, because you know who I am.”