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The midnight club, p.14
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       The Midnight Club, p.14

           Christopher Pike
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  "There was no mirror because Herme had removed it while she had been delirious with fever. He hadn't wanted her to wake up and see how devastated her features had become with her skin cancer. He remembered how vain she had been. Also, because of her treatments, her hair was falling out, and she was almost completely bald. He put oflf her request for a mirror but she was insistent. Finally he agreed to bring her one the following day. As he stood up to leave, she stopped him.

  " 'Am I seriously ill, Doctor?' she asked."

  "'Yes.'

  " 'Am I going to die?'

  "He hesitated. 'I'm not sure. We're doing the best we can. Only God knows.'

  "She closed her eyes and nodded. 'That's some-

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  thing my boyfriend always used to say. Only Grod knows. It was his answer to everything. It irritated me at the time, but now I think it was a good answer.' She opened her eyes. 'Thank you, Doctor.'

  ** Thank you, Teresa.'

  "She smiled. Tor what?'

  ** 'For everything,' he said.

  "That night, on the way home, Herme stopped at an art-supply store and bought: paints, brushes, a sketchpad, a couple of canvases, and an easel. He hadn't painted in decades, but as he set up the tools in his tiny apartment he felt a rush of power and exhilaration. His talent had not left him, he feh. He knew he was about to create the greatest work he had ever made. He set to work painting Teresa as she had appeared to him the first day he saw her. He worked throughout the night, not stopping until it was time for him to return to the clinic.

  "There he was met with a shock. Teresa's condition had suddenly worsened and she was near death. He rushed to her side and tried to awaken her, but it was clear she was slipping into a coma. The other doctors at the clinic told him to forget her. But he refused, staying by her side throughout the day and that night, holding her hand. His painting was leaning against the wall, still wrapped up and waiting for her to see. Herme had not prayed to God in a long time for anything, but that day and night he prayed with all his heart. That she should not die not knowing that she had been the most beautiful thing in all creation to him. That she still was.

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "In the morning, at dawn, she awoke and opened her eyes.

  " 'Doctor?' she whispered. *Have you been here long? Have I been asleep long?'

  "'We've both been asleep most of our lives, Teresa. I brought you a mirror. Would you like to see it?'

  "Teresa nodded and Herme held up the painting for her to see. As he did so, she saw her youth and the very essence of her life unveiled before her. A light shone on her face. She stared at herself as a young woman, and then at Herme, and it was as if all her life was revealed there in that moment, in that room, and it hadn't been so bad. It was magical what happened, a magical moment in the eternity of time.

  "'Herme,' she said and embraced him. 'My love.'

  " 'Teresa,' he said, holding her tight."

  Kevin paused. "She slipped back into her coma not long after that and died later that same day."

  Ilonka had tears on her face. "What became of Herme?"

  "I don't know."

  "I understand." He was saying he was Herme, and he wasn't sure what was going to happen next. She leaned over and kissed him briefly on the lips and hugged him. "It was the best."

  He was pleased. "Really?"

  "You are the best. Did I ever tell you?"

  "No. Did I ever tell you that you're pretty all right yourself?"

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  She laughed. "Just all right?"

  He smiled, holding on to her. "You are special to

  me."

  She sat back. "Can I ask you a few things about your story?"

  "If you let me ask you a few things about your stories."

  "It's a deal. You said one of the reasons you told that story was for me. I won't ask you to explain that since you already refused, but I couldn't help noticing that certain members of the Midnight Club seemed to be in your story either symbolically or really. There was the wheelchair, which naturally reminded me of Anya. There was your talent for painting. There was the thing of doctors taking care of dying people. What I want to know is if everything in your story was relevant to the members of the Midnight Club?"

  She was asking because she wanted to know if he knew about Anya's experience with Bill, which had an uncanny parallel to what happened with Herme and Teresa. Also, despite what she had just told him, she wanted to know how much of Teresa was supposed to be her. Finally she wanted to know if there were things about the others in the story that she did not know. Unfortunately Kevin's response was not helpful.

  "The story unfolded naturally in my mind. I didn't consciously try to include each member of the group, but I suppose subconsciously I might have, since I knew they would be the only audience for the story."

  "That's another thing that's sad, that this story

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB should just die with us here. I wish it cx)uld be recorded and distributed, maybe even published."

  "Neither of us has the strength to write it down. And what about your stories? They deserve to be recorded as well. They are wonderful tales of morality and nobility."

  "Now you're exaggerating," she said, although she was flattered.

  "I'm serious. They meant a lot to me, Ilonka."

  She laughed again. "Only because you think you're the hero in each of them."

  "I never said that"

  "Oh, you did in your own elusive way." She paused thoughtfully. "And maybe you were the characters that I thought I was, Delius and Padma were certainly more together than Shradha and Dharma, and you are certainly more together than

  me.

  "I won't argue with that."

  "You!" She shoved him gently, never too hard.

  "Ilonka," he said, giving a mock cringe at her touch.

  She grabbed his hands. "I love to hear you say my name." She stopped. It was here, she coiild feel it—the moment of truth. It didn't have to be a big deal, though. Really, she thought, she preferred it like this, a quiet affair late at night in her room. "I guess you must know by now that I love a lot more than that."

  He acted innocent. "Huh?"

  She pulled his hands close to her heart. "In each of my stories there was always you and I. It doesn't

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE matter who was who. For me you have always been there, Kevin, even before I met you." A tear fell from one eye and she let go of hira long enough to wipe it away. "God, this is embarrassing. I don't want to start crying now."

  "Don't." He wiped the tear away for her. "You don't have to say anything. That's the beauty of meeting in the middle of the story. We already know each other."

  She couldn't stop crying. "But I just wanted to tell you before it's too late. I just wanted to hear the words." She leaned over and kissed him. "I love you, Kevin,"

  "I love you, Ilonka. You know that."

  "I didn't know that."

  "Well, now you do." He lifted her chin because it had begun to droop again. "Why are you still crying, sillyhead? Are you expecting me to give you a big yellow gem? Are you expecting me to unveil a stunning painting of you? I'm sorry, but I don't have anything in the pockets of this robe except morphine and Kleenex."

  She had to chuckle even though she started crying again a second later. She pressed his hands to her mouth and kissed them tenderly, bowing her head to him, too ashamed to expose her real self to him, and too afraid that she would never have another chance.

  "I'm afraid to die unloved," she said, weeping. "And I know you just said you loved me and I believe you. But I need more than that and there

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB isn't time for more. Since I first saw you I wanted to love you, really love you. Do you understand what I'm saying? I wanted to sleep beside you and feel you close to me. I wanted to make love to you, Kevin. I've never done that in my life and now I never will." She shook her head and tried to pull back. "Oh, God, I can't believe I'm saying these things
to you. You must think I'm a pathetic creature."

  "Yes," he said.

  "I know that I am."

  "No. I mean, yes, let's make love. I'll stay with you tonight."

  She ahnost fell off the bed. "You will?"

  "I would be honored to.'*

  He had shut her up quick. She was stunned. "But, I mean, can we? My abdomen is pretty scarred, and Dr. White says I have tumors bigger than oranges inside me."

  "Are you scared?" Kevin asked.

  "Yes. I'm bald."

  "What?"

  "This is a wig. I have no hair. Chemo killed it."

  "I know."

  "You know?" She was astounded.

  "Yes," Kevin said. "But that doesn't matter. I'm scared, too. I'm in worse shape than you. I can't even walk up a flight of stairs. But none of that matters. We can make love without having sex. We can take off our clothes and hold each other and it will be better than in the movies." He pulled her

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE into his arms and kissed her on the lips, slow and deep. Then he whispered in her ear, "I won't hurt you, you won't hurt me."

  "Will you get cold without your clothes on?"

  "You'll keep me warm."

  "You won't die during the night?" It wasn't the best question to ask, but it was a fact she feared. But for once her love was stronger than her fear. She pulled him close before he could answer and said, "No. That won't happen. I won't let you die."

  It was a promise she made to him.

  She had made him other promises—in the past, or maybe just in the land of imagination where things often were more real than reality itself. He had made her promises as well, but who knew? Maybe both their dreams were just "wishes come true" in another time, another dimension. As she slept in Kevin's arms, a jumble of possible lives exploded in Ilonka's mind. Most were simple fragments: a scene of her walking as an old man in a rice field; a glimpse of herself as a child running through a daisy-filled meadow. Others were of bizarre days: herself as an alien being traveling to other worlds in a spacecraft and collecting beings and subjecting them to experiments, some painless, others fatal; herself as a mermaid-like being that lived in an underwater city marvelously developed and complex.

  The main thing about all these lives was that in each one she knew a bit more, and didn't make exactly the same mistakes—although she had a

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB tendency to repeat certain patterns. Yet, from the perspective of that highest part of herself that could be called the soul, they were all happening at the same time. Everything was happening in the eternal moment, and that was the one place she refused to be. She was always looking ahead to something that might be better, longing for it, or else stuck in the past, worrying about what could have been. The one thing she never did in any of her lives was live fully in the present.

  She was always longing to be loved.

  She saw a life, more than a glimpse really, where she was a powerful king married to a devoted queen. This was in the land of Lemuria, the great continent in the Pacific that sank beneath the waters even before Atlantis reached the pinnacle of its civilization. She was happy until she met a woman whom some said was capable of bringing the highest delight, and others said was a witch. But she was intrigued with this woman—as a king, he was intrigued. His queen became aware of his fascination and told him about the woman and let him make his own decision about whether to go to her.

  "She is not a witch and she is not an angel," the queen said. "She is an ordinary mortal woman. But she knows a secret that enables her to bring the most pleasure to a man. It is called Rapture. In the sex act pleasure is confined to a small part of the body. But in Rapture, slowly, through a cunning sequence of caresses, the entire nervous system is brought to a climax. It brings two thousand times

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE the joy, and two thousand times the loss of vitality. All her men become addicted to her, and will never leave her. All her men are like thralls and have no minds of their own. They sleep all day and their only thought is when she will come to them again. But if you want to go to her, go. Even though she will give you physical delights it will never make you forget what you have here, which is my love."

  So he went to the enchantress, this master of Rapture, and she was glad to have him. Because even though she had many admirers, she had to struggle to get by, and here was the king of the land showing an interest in her. He resisted her seductions, wanting to get to know her better and wanting to see if she really was as formidable as he had heard. This was a peculiar quaUty of the king—he liked to stand close to danger, believing that he always had the wisdom and power to pull free at the last moment. And he was a powerful man and very intelligent, and the enchantress saw that and was impressed. She had never met a man who was able to resist her for even one day, and this king stayed with her many days without sleeping with her. Indeed, after more than a week he finally came to her and said, "It has been nice to spend time with you, but I am going back to my wife. I miss her."

  At this the enchantress was stunned. "But you have never even slept with me. How can you leave?"

  The king laughed at her boldness. "What is this thing you do that I hear so much about?"

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  She smiled. "Oh, it is just love. How can you flee from love?"

  The king was not fooled. "I do not feel around you what I feel around my wife, which is true love." But then he added, because he did find her fascinating, "But maybe another time we will meet and I will know the full pleasure of your company."

  At this the enchantress smiled slyly because she knew that the seeds of the moment were capable of becoming the fruit of tomorrow. "We will meet, and on that day I will be the master and you will beg to stay with me."

  The king acknowledged her proud words with a bow, although he thought she was wrong. "Perhaps" was all he said.

  He returned to his queen and lived happily ever after.

  But then, almost instantaneously in Ilonka's slumbering mind, he was bom again in a Scandinavian country in the Middle Ages as a poor milkmaid, suffering from a disease that made her completely bald from birth. Life was painful for her, with little joy. She lived as an outcast because many believed her presence brought bad luck. When she was sixteen years of age, however, she met a young man and fell in love with him. But although he treated her kindly and with respect, and was never afraid to be with her, he did not share her affection. That fact caused her untold grief. Never had she wanted anything as much as she did this boy, and she prayed to God to give him

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  to her no matter the cost. But her prayer was filled with a feverishness and a lack of concern for what was best for the young man. So as a result it was cursed, even though her prayer was granted for a short time.

  A wizard came into her life, a man who could start fires with the mere wave of his hand, and whose gaze was as cold as the harshest winter. This wizard was attracted to her because even though she was an outcast and far from charming in appearance she had a pure soul. That purity drew him like a powerful fragrance. He wished to use her for his own aims. He saw her as the light source he could use to power his most vicious spells. He came to her as she knelt in a stone church and prayed for God to bring the boy of her dreams to her arms. There, in that church, he taught her the most wicked part of all black magic— Seedling. He promised her the boy would soon be hers.

  Seedling was related to Rapture in that it used the sex drive to compel people to act against their wills. But it was far more subtle and dangerous. Rapture was completely physical, while Seedling dominated through psychic deceit. With Seedling she was able to draw the boy to her whenever it suited her, which was often. But she didn't just use her newfound power to get the boy, but other men as well because anyone who used Seedling quickly became promiscuous. They, in fact, became addicted to what they were forcing on others.

  For this gift the wizard wanted something in return, and at first that was her instant availability

  TH
E MIDNIGHT CLUB whenever he wished her. This she granted, although it repulsed her to be in his arms, especially right after seeing the boy she loved. For she really did love the boy, although she used him in the worst way imaginable. She sensed that she had known him from before. It was her love for the boy that made her question what she was doing. These questions came to her at the same time the wizard placed a great demand upon her. He ordered her to use her special powers to attract a certain count and seduce him, and then, while the man was asleep in her arms, to cut his throat. The count was an old enemy of the wizard and was the wizard's obstacle to power. She agreed to do as he requested because she was so afraid of the wizard, but once out of his sight she hurried to the church and prayed to God to free her from the wizard's influence. She be^ed that her evil power be taken from her.

  While she prayed the boy she loved came by, and with tears in her eyes she confessed everything. Even though the boy had been used by her, he loved her now. Indeed, he would have eventually fallen in love with her even if she had never used Seedling on him. He forgave her and suggested that they should run away together. The prospect excited her and she hurried home to gather her things for the journey. While she was packing the wizard appeared and cursed her for betraying him. She pleaded for mercy, but he showed her none. He stabbed her with the same knife he had given to her to use on his enemy. He left her for dead, lying in a pool of blood.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Before she died the boy found her and pulled the knife from her abdomen. It was an evil blade that had been forged with spells and dipped in poison. The girl knew she was going to die, and she wept how she had thrown away her Hfe and love. But he told her not to worry, that one day, in another time and place, they would be together again. This he promised her, but the girl had doubts because of all the wrongs she had committed. Then the boy made her another promise.

  "I will share your wrongs," he said. "So that wherever fate places us we can be together. Even if it should mean our future days will be dark and filled with pain. Because even in that darkness our love will be in the light."

 
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