In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Fifty Four
BY AL BRUNO III
Friday November 22nd 1996
On those rare occasions when he truly slept, her lover's breaths were like those of a dying man; a flurry of brief gasps followed by a single long exhalation. Angie lay beside him, her arms wrapped tight around his bare chest, his every hitching breath shuddered through her. He never sounded like this when he was awake and she had begun to suspect that this was the only time he allowed his body to suffer the full weight of its years and injuries. It proved to her that he spent his every waking moment trying to be invulnerable.
And it was for her, only for her.
The blankets were tossed aside and only a sheet covered their naked bodies. It had taken some coaxing to get him to make love to her, it always did. In truth it was the one thing about him that truly frustrated her, she wasn't fragile to the touch, she wouldn't break when he held her.
They were a just as strange a match in bed as they were in all other aspects of their lives together. She was all kisses and sighs, her eyes closed until the heat of climax; Johnny never closed his eyes, never made a sound and his touch was as light as a feather.
He smacked his lips in his sleep and shifted slightly. He patted one of her wrists before drifting off again. The candles had been blown out and the bedroom was dark, her mouthful of pills and glass of water were on the nightstand but they could wait for now.
Laughter drifted up from the library. Another trick of Laurel House's acoustic mischief. You would find yourself hearing snatches of conversation from other rooms or suddenly be overwhelmed by a silence. Then there were the hollow notes that moved this way and that along the walls, swirling and doubling back upon themselves. Everyone called them windchimes at first but you soon learned otherwise, because those glassy tones were a presence that sometimes would stalk you for hours until you were sure that the noise was coming from within your own head and you were sure you were hearing a rhythm in the chaos of sound. Then it would be gone and stay away from weeks at a time.
When she had finally confronted Johnny about it he had explained that she was hearing was the spirit of the house, the consciousness that fed and hid them from view. He advised her to ignore it, that there was nothing they could do about it.
Angie still wasn't sure what he had meant by that only that his expression had become all the more gloomy for having said it.
Angie was almost asleep now but she began to realize they weren't alone in the room, that there was something standing in the bathroom. It wasn't a trick of the acoustics or the mysterious windchimes, there was someone there. Waiting for her.
And Johnny was still dozing. She couldn't believe it, usually he was instantly on his feet at the slightest creak of a floorboard.
Bravery had never been her strong suit but Angie extricated herself from her lover and waited for him to stir. Nothing.
She whispered his name.
"It's me Angela."
"Magwier?" Not only could she not believe the man was in her room, she couldn't believe Johnny hadn't woken and killed him yet. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.
"I'm not here," his voice was an ugly rasp, "And we need to talk."
She pulled on a blouse and walked into the bathroom, she found him standing in the corner furthest from her. "Talk about what?" she asked. There were candles and matches on a shelf near the sink, she reached for them.
"You don't need those," he said, "better we were just voices in the dark."
"How did you get in here?"
"One of us is dreaming. Probably you."
It looked to Angie that he was wearing some kind of a nightshirt but it was in bad shape, tattered in a dozen places and hanging over him like it was two sizes too large. She asked, "What do you want?"
"Why are you here? With him?"
"What business is it of yours?"
He pressed himself spider-like against the wall, "Is it because you feel obligated? Or because you've nowhere else to go?"
"No!" Angie couldn't believe she was having this conversation.
"There's no shame in it and it feels almost like love." his chuckle was empty.
"Get out of here Magwier," she said, "I mean it."
"Magwier?" the shape on the wall shivered, "Am I still Magwier?"
"I said go!" she shouted now.
"You're not the one. You're innocent." losing substance, the shape began to spread across the wall like a stain, "Innocent is just another word for doomed."
"...Angie?" Johnny was shaking her awake, "Angie?"
It was dizzying to perceive yourself as standing and then waken to find yourself lying down, "What happened?"
"You were talking in your sleep," he stroked her cheek, then her chin, "I think you were trying to scream."