Excerpt from In Dreams Begin
In Paris, Halloween festivities would be mocking the rites and devils Ida and Maud hoped to make real tonight, in the little village of Samois. Through the provincial streets to its tiny cemetery, Maud had walked, a priestess or a secret witch cloaked and hooded with Ida, her familiar bird, wing-in-elbow beside her. But inside Georges’s little burial chapel, Maud shrunk to an Irish crone, her ritual robes a weathered shawl wrapped over curling shoulders and the hollowed-out hole where her heart had been, and Ida, her carrion bird behind her.
Maud took glasses from the wooden crate they had provisioned over several trips to the little mausoleum. Ida lit the candles, humming to herself. Maud already had a reputation for pleasant evening gatherings, but Ida would raise the tone of the soirées. She and Maud would talk Art and God with their guests, not only politics. The tomb’s rich, under-earth smell of graveworms and mushrooms crept over Ida. Maud had been too frightened of tonight to eat, but when they entertained together, Cook would serve duck in whiskey sauce, or salmon with morels.
Ida plucked the pins from Maud’s hair. Lucien was on his way. Soon, he would take the robes and wraps from Maud, and place her on the pelts and petals Ida would spread upon the grave. He would open her legs, position himself upon the brown and pink, and dig and grunt his seed between them.
Maud did not move while Ida’s pecking fingers unwound the braided skeins of rust and shadow. It slithered free over Maud’s shoulders, and she absently pushed back the strands snaking into her face. She caught Ida’s hand in an icy grip. “Ida, I’m frightened.”
“I will stay here with you,” Ida lied. She touched her cautious finger to a tear’s path down Maud’s cheek. “You will feel nothing. I will make certain all your awareness and sensation have fled before Lucien proceeds.” Ida would not let Maud’s spirit suffer, although she would not vouchsafe the same for Laura’s soul. But Ida no longer needed Laura. All she needed was a ride to Hell.
“Do you swear it?” Maud whispered.
“I will make the trance so deep you will know nothing of what occurs, the way I did the last time, at the Matherses’ house, remember?”
Maud’s lashes quivered and more honey tears slicked her eyes.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I was initiated into the Golden Dawn that night, and I still remember not one thing about it.”
Another gift stolen from another humiliation. Ida would have nothing at all without her knack for grubbing through the wastes of hope. “I can command the magic we need tonight, because of that, to reincarnate your son.”
“I know, and oh Ida, I’m more grateful than I can say. I don’t know what I would ever have done without you!” Maud cried, but before the kiss might come, metal tore over stone, the small gate groaned open, and Lucien Millevoye ascended to Ida’s private paradise.
Maud, a hopeless pupil of Irish despite the earnest efforts of Douglas Hyde, spewed French like a drunkard pissed. Ida stayed kneeling while Maud poured her wine-sopped words all over Lucien—the ridiculous, married, minor revolutionary with his silly twisted-up mustache—with the same unstinting generosity she had given him her love. He was unworthy of her, and should die wretched and alone.
Maud’s fluid French explained she must be mesmerized and passive during the ritual act. The spirits themselves required it. But Millevoye was not unwilling to fuck his darling out cold as Maud had worried he might be. Ida listened to his barking, and translated clumsily in her head:
“And must this ugly chicken—maybe duckling?—remain while I make love to my white swan?”
“She is the priestess.”
“And will you, poor darling, feel nothing of your huntsman’s amorous caress?”
“You will be rendered quite insensate?”
“As if asleep, or even dead?” He made a moue of pity with his dishonest face, but his distended trousers spoke more honestly.
“It is almost time,” Ida said.
“C’est l’heur,” Maud translated for Lucien and turned to Ida, her face the stone of angels carved for children’s graves. Maud’s cold, unwilling fingers fumbled with the cloak ties, useless in the slick black satin. All her strength collected in the hollow of her slender throat where Ida saw the sobs shove and batter for release. Her eyes pleaded with Ida to say this was all a dream. Or unnecessary. A test—like Abraham, called to place his beloved son upon the cold rock altar of his god. But Maud’s child was sacrificed already, and underneath the stone.
They knelt before it: Ida, Maud, and Lucien. In the glassless window over the altar, the pregnant curve of moon hid for shame behind low clouds. The candles smoked black and flickered, but Maud and Lucien held their eyes to the little portrait of the dead child on the stone shelf.
Maud prayed. Her actress’s voice echoed in the closed stone and metal of Georges’s patrician tomb. How British, Ida noted, Maud had been in her architecture and grief. No banshee wail, no carved stone icon, only massive square blocks piled up in sorrow, and now the pitiful words of supplication.
All they had rehearsed was over. Kneeling before the shallow altar, their feet and shins rested on the metal doors they now must pull wide and descend. If Ida had not stood and gestured, would they ever have moved? Lucien helped Maud to her feet and Ida led her away from the grunting man and grinding hinges of the doors in the floor.
The sound of the tomb opening almost undid Maud, but Ida pulled the ribbons of her cloak and watched their bow collapse. Hanging in sad streamers down either sides of an unbreachable divide of visible flesh, they tied all Maud’s attention. Ida’s warm fingers pushed the halves apart, and the cloak fell with an expensive murmur in a pool of deeper black against the darkness of the hollow floor. Millevoye coughed. Maud’s bare bottom faced him. He could content himself with that and wait. Ida would not rush this moment. She had earned it with a patience he would not attain until his death. She took Maud’s hand in her own then, gold ring to gold ring, and turned Maud’s body toward the grave.
They climbed the ladder down.
Naked now, and shivering, Maud only must not faint. Ida glared up at Mr. Millevoye, and he turned away to fumble with his waistcoat and trouser buttons. He dropped his hat, picked it up, and dropped it once again. He believed he had the most to lose. A wife. A political career. And yes, his enemies would love to find him here. They could ruin him with Maud, like Parnell and Kitty O’Shea. His thoughts must touch his enemies every time he fondled Maud. How exciting that must be.
Ida spread the lap rugs on the ground and eased Maud to the furs and flower petals folded into them. She placed her hand in Maud’s unbound hair. “Close your eyes,” she whispered.
Maud’s terror shot up through Ida’s finger tips. Above them, Millevoye tripped over his shoes. Ida would say the phrase three times, and they both recognized the signal. After the third recitation, Lucien was to descend and approach.
“Close your eyes,” Ida said again. She looked up to find Lucien watching with eyes that mirrored her desire. She tasted it on the fetid air between them.
“Excité?” she asked and winked at him. He dropped his shoe onto his hat, his fish mouth gaping.
Ida smiled. Yes, she spoke French. Yes, they were both excited.
“Close your eyes,” she said the final time, and knew Maud had slipped away. “Excitement is the pleasure we feel from danger,” she told Millevoye.
No, he spoke no English. He cursed stupidly and stumbled in his naked ass-first descent. Let Laura deal with him; Ida had other fish to catch. The salmon of knowledge was slippery, but tasty with a thick mushroom sauce.
Millevoye gripped his rigid cock in his hand. Yes, Ida would follow Maud, down into the red quiet. Yes, Laura was already slipping in, eager, groping through Maud’s mind like Lucien across her belly.
Ida stretched herself on the ground beside Maud, but kept their rings aligned. Here, her spirit whispered. Here, fishy, fishy.
Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling, Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her on the web at http://www.skylerwhite.com.
Make sure to check out my teaser of In Dreams Begin and my review!