Villain, p.1Red Garnier
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Copyright © August 2007 by Red Garnier
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Printed in the United States of America
Cover Artist: Croco Designs
There were stories about him.
It was impossible to be acquainted with them all—there were so many. Stories spread well and fast throughout towns like this one. His were now legends, told time and again, particularly during stormy days, or windy nights. His name had been long ago forgotten, replaced by a single word. Villain.
Only a few remembered where the stories had started, and now the townsfolk refused to let them end. They had nothing else to talk about.
The elders loved to rock away on their porches, their hearts heavy with hatred, their tongues loosened by spite. They found comfort in blaming him for their troubles, spending hours at a time reminiscing on what “should’ve been.”
While the world had evolved, welcoming the latest technology and revolutionary ideas, this town had not. The years had introduced them to loss rather than computers, and the townsfolk were too stubborn to embrace the new, choosing instead to live in the old. With regret. With hate. With anger.
All the new millennium had changed was a number. This town knew no youth. No modern people. There were few births in town, only a handful a year, and even the children wore the same somber expressions of the older folks. Hope had died years ago. Now, no one expected the town to become the blooming, bustling place it had reportedly been before.
The mines had been deserted for years. Production had ceased one well-remembered “Gray Sunday,” when the town awoke to despair. Fire. Death and chaos. Not a single diamond had been found since then. The town had shriveled as quickly as a flower crushed in someone’s fist, and what had once shone brilliant had been dimmed by shadows.
They said it was his fault. He who stole the smiles from the children and the color from the skies. The townsfolk knew it was the Villain’s doing. He’d taken their lives, taken their diamonds, and left their hearts empty. Their caves empty.
“It’ll be thirty years come next month,” Mrs. Grimwald said that morning at the local grocer, “and all because of that man.”
Stella McKenna had been eyeing the string beans, but as soon as she heard “that man” mentioned and spotted Mrs. Grimwald near the fresh fruit, she felt suddenly famished for strawberries and quickly hauled herself and her basket around the corner and there.
At thirty, Stella was one of the few young people living in this town. She wasn’t known to be outspoken, but she was a good listener, especially when it came to him. She’d once believed she knew every single story about him, and yet she was frequently surprised to find there were more. Stories she hadn’t heard of, or old ones with delightfully morbid new twists from someone more knowledgeable than the last teller.
In a half circle beside Stella, eyeing the oranges in disdain, Mrs. Pierce stood shoulder to shoulder with Mrs. Grimwald, both of their attire bleak and dreary with all that black velvet and lace, their silver-gray coifs nearly identical. The clothing shop around the corner seemed to favor that mourning style, and now most everyone wore it like a fashion statement—proudly showing their grief for their dying town. Fashion and gossip magazines had no place in this town, where even the daily paper rarely arrived. This town owned nothing but long, sad memories and depression.
Mrs. Pierce was pursing her lips, her face furrowed like a prune. When she spoke, she nearly spat. “One cannot even die in this town in peace anymore. Imagine one’s body being stolen like he did with that Harrison girl!”
Stella had heard that one before. It was in fact one of the most famous, and the one which most affected her. She felt a familiar constriction in her lungs, and her head began to spin, but she refused to faint like she had the last time she’d heard it. She concentrated on breathing, but her body felt hot, and her world began to tilt.
“He bewitched her, he did, and this town has been cursed since he—”
“Ladies!” Mr. Richter bellowed from behind the counter, slamming a fist down in emphasis. “I will not have talk of that…that man in my store!”
“Why, Mr. Richter,” Mrs. Grimwald said, puffing her chest up in outrage, but she fell into silence when Stella’s basket crashed onto the floor, its contents spilling over.
Stella’s body was trembling, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t temper her shallow breathing.
“Why, Stella dear,” said Mrs. Pierce, “you look something pale. Are you all right?”
“Excuse me,” Stella managed shakily. She turned her widened eyes to Mr. Richter and whispered under her breath, “I’m sorry,” before she stumbled toward the glass door, pulled it open with a clumsy arm, and ran. Out of the store. Down the streets with its craggy old buildings and slow traffic. Past the “For Lease” posters and glaring “Gone Out of Business” signs. Away from the talk, away from the people, and away from the images gnawing at the edge of her mind, demanding entrance.
She couldn’t outrun those dark, tormenting thoughts, but she always tried.
They came in flashes, in unexpected moments, tumbling one against the other. Some were old, some new, but all of them as vivid as if they’d happened yesterday, as if she’d lived them in the flesh.
But she hadn’t. Couldn’t have.
Those visions weren’t hers. Those were not her thoughts, and not of her own making. How could they be? She was an optimist at heart, and only a masochist would have a mind to relive those phantom visions over and over again…
Only recently had Stella begun to suspect to whom those thoughts belonged.
As if with a mind of their own, her feet took her there in long, hurried strides. To the lonely cemetery, with its thin and crooked trees, bare of all leaves this time of year. The sun had begun its descent, the light waning to a muted red, filtering through the clouds and stroking the graves like the flames of a burning fire.
She had been here before. Something never failed to call to her. Perhaps curiosity about the stories so often told, or something else. Something eerie and maybe even unholy. It had started out as a vague interest in her at first, spawned by those stories, now so familiar, and yet through the years the pull had grown. Growing fiercer still as each day went by.
Now it felt all-consuming. The need to see, to know.
Slowly, she made her way to the
Still out of breath from the run, Stella gazed down at the inscription that read: FAITH HARRISON 1930-1958. Kneeling before it, she ran the tips of her fingers down the cold stone.
“What do you want from me?” she asked, her throat clogged with emotion.
There was no answer, except the creaking of a nearby gate that startled her. Her eyes briskly scanned the cemetery, her ears attuned to the crackling sound of dried leaves as the wind swept them across the ground. Turning back to the grave, convinced she was alone, Stella took the flower in her hand, only to swiftly drop it when a vision attacked, shocking her body as it took hold.
It was a dark, murky night, and rain pounded on his back—a man’s back—as he clawed his hands into the dampened earth. The sounds he made. They were so wretched, so full of misery and despair. Sounds that came from a place so deep and hollow, it was like an empty pit inside him.
She could see his back, head bent, and she could hear him sobbing like she’d never thought a human could. There were scratching noises as he toiled with the wood coffin, and suddenly he stood. He threw his head back to the rain, a small, limp body in his arms as he roared up at the skies, cursing God with such fierceness it chilled Stella to the bones. Cradling the limp body in his arms, he disappeared into the darkness, the sound of thunder following him.
Jerking back to consciousness, Stella gazed around, surprised that the skies had turned dark. Sparing one last look at the innocent lily, she rose to her feet and started home, her brow creasing with thoughts.
She could see things in her visions the stories didn’t tell. At first, she’d thought it was her imagination, though she was more the practical sort and had never been very creative. But more and more images had come to her lately, haunting her in her dreams, in every waking moment, and causing her physical discomforts that were all too real.
Stella had never believed in ghosts.
Now she did.
* * *
Kevin was there, a man she’d known since she was only a child, and whom her mother wanted her to marry. She caught a glimpse of his tidy brown hair through the window while he talked to her mother across the kitchen table. Stella didn’t feel the tiniest bit of pleasure at the sight of him, and when he turned his face toward the porch, she ducked low, then slowly turned around and crept away.
Although Kevin was a nice man—a good, hardworking man—he repelled her. She found the slightest contact with his body nauseating, and even the way he looked at her made her stomach roil. She’d lost her virginity to him a few years ago, one night she’d been determined to prove to herself she could be sensual, and yet lying stiff as a wood plank was all she’d been able to manage.
Her feet were the only two wandering along the cobblestone street that night. Moonlight bathed her body in a faint silver light, enough of it for any townsfolk looking out their windows to see her. Stella could almost envision them, feel their gazes piercing her back as they drew the curtains aside to watch and wonder where she was heading, voicing their concerns to those nearby. Of what a strange, quiet girl she was. Of why she was always sick with fever. Of what miserable luck she’d had, being born that day of all the days in a year.
With a certainty that almost frightened her, Stella knew where she was heading. To a place no one ever dared go, for fear of being devoured by the one who lived there. Townsfolk liked to call it his “hole,” and every day they thanked God he wouldn’t come out of it.
Stella would’ve loved nothing more than to blame the wind, chilling her flesh as it pushed her in his direction. A reliable accomplice in an act that was surely the most foolish of her life. But she knew that wasn’t it.
It wasn’t the wind.
Something else drove her forward. Perhaps it was Faith Harrison whispering in her ear. Perhaps it was seeing Kevin, and knowing that although she didn’t want to break her mother’s heart, she wasn’t going to marry him. Perhaps she was sick of living like this, mainly to please others, being a good, responsible, respectable citizen only to still remain the closest thing to an outcast. Or perhaps she was only one of a precious few people brave enough to admit, We all have a dark side, and I want to shed light on mine.
She went on, past a jagged, rocky cliff, down a sleek, curved dirt path between jutting rocks, and toward the beach. She walked over the powdery sand for miles. The sweeping darkness of night surrounded her, her eyes failing to see past a thick mist of fog, but her legs somehow seeming to know the way.
The beach was abandoned, the cave where once diamonds had been found standing big and lonely at the far end, its dark, rocky mouth open like that of a famished sea monster. Decades ago, the cave had been the town’s pride and joy, but the diamond pipe had long ago stopped producing, and the townsfolk couldn’t bear to stare its emptiness in the face now.
The sound of crashing waves accompanied Stella, and then her own breathing echoed in her ears as she reached the looming mouth of the cave.
Her steps faltered, and she slowed down, wondering why rather than walk into dark and dreary nothingness, she was walking toward light. Burning torchlight from afar beckoned her like a promise. The ragged roof went higher as she advanced, the path widening. She cursed under her breath when she stumbled upon something, and then realized it was a rope.
Searching the floor, she shuddered when she noticed how many there were at her feet, thick, knotted ropes lying coiled all around her like snakes in a pit. What a single person could want with so many ropes, Stella would rather not know.
“What do you want here?”
Stella jumped at the voice that boomed from the far end. Deep. Angry. Male. She turned around and watched a figure come forward, the light behind him outlining his dark, ominous silhouette and more than hinting at his formidable size.
No one needed to tell her who this stranger was—he looked the part through and through. The authentic, formidable, one and only Villain.
It was a miracle she found her voice, and the courage to look into the glowing embers of his eyes. Her voice surprised her, clear. Steady. “I wanted to see if you were real.”
He seemed locked in place, his eerie stillness prompting her to move. She took a step forward at the same time he did. His face came into a wide stream of light, and it robbed her of her breath completely.
He had the features of a ruffian and the expression of a very grumpy male. His jaw was stubbed with several days’ growth of beard, his black hair tousled, reaching his shoulders. His lips were oddly sensual, plusher than any she had seen, while his nose was narrow and somewhat arrogant. His brows were sleek and dark, slashing straight above his eyes and set low into a scowl. There was a slight flare to his nostrils, a severity in the angle of his jaw, as if he were permanently grinding his teeth.
It was not until now that she noticed his lean, hard body had gone so utterly still he could have been a tree trunk. Either unaware of her scrutiny, or unaffected by it, he remained ominously still while her eyes wandered over him.
Strangely overcome with a need to memorize, she shamelessly took in his wrinkled, dirty clothes, noting the sturdy muscles under the soiled, tan breeches and rumpled cotton shirt. No doubt he could accomplish many difficult feats with that big, muscled body.
No doubt he’d done everything they said he had and then some.
There was a musky scent to him that faintly tickled her nose, the mingled smell of sweat and danger, and it was strangely exhilarating.
She noticed how his breathing slowly became labored, betraying the stillness of his stance, implying he was indeed aware of her scrutiny. She wondered why he even let her continue.
When her eyes rose up to his narrowed black ones, she discovered why.
He was doing the same to her, taking in her cl
“Say something,” she said, unnerved by both his gaze and the silence. There was something odd about him, a power, an ancientness, like the town’s, as if he’d been stuck in time for ages.
He took a while in doing so, his voice velvety soft when he spoke. “You’re in the wrong place to be looking for a chat.”
She swallowed, wondering what in the world he was staring at so intently. There was only so much of her to look at, after all. Yet he was doing it again and again, studying her, over and over, his roaming gaze heating her body better than a bonfire would.
What could he possibly find so enthralling? she reflected. She’d never been looked at in this particular way.
She suddenly wondered if her ankle-length brown skirt had turned sheer. Or did the short-sleeved ivory cotton shirt display too much of her bosom? Or, dear God, did she miss hearing a story, perhaps one about him having X-ray vision?
“Have you spoken to no one all this time?” she finally asked, hoping to draw his attention away from her body.
His laugh came fast and filled with cynicism, the sound so craggy it was surely much more alien to him than his voice. “More than your years,” he said after he recovered.
He resumed his study of her, only this time, he slowly circled her. Things—she prayed they weren’t alive—crunched beneath his boots at each of his steps while his ruthless eyes explored her.
Stella felt like the ugliest fish in the market.
She even had to rein back the impulse to squirm, licking her lips instead, unconsciously fiddling with her fingers in front of her.
“They say you’re a witch. Is that true?” she asked.
Halting before her, he flicked his wrists upward, and with shocking speed, a rope curled up to wind itself around her waist, wrenching a startled gasp out of her.
Villain by Red Garnier / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes