Unbeknownst to Willis—and berating herself for doing so—she had returned to the hotel bar several times (after temporarily disabling her location app) looking for the man. She had even asked the desk clerk about him, but he wouldn’t even look for the man in the hotel’s computer system, saying something about a guest’s privacy. After that, she had given up.
Her final month of pregnancy was a haze of sleepless nights, and hunger, both literal and figurative. But she remained rosy cheeked with health, so all her strange moods Willis chalked up to out-of-whack hormones, sure that everything would return to normal once she had the baby.
Willis was at work the morning the labor pains started, six weeks before her due date.
Meryl remembered the drill: call Willis immediately, who was only a short drive away, and he would come home and together they would count the contractions until they were five minutes apart, then he would whisk her off to the nearby hospital. Her husband had thought out everything months in advance. He had packed her bag and set it next to the front door when she was barely into her second trimester.
But a beguiling, husky voice inside her head urged her not to call, to lay down instead. So, she climbed the stairs, clutching her cramping stomach, stripped off her clothes, and curled on her side in the bed she shared with Willis, arms wrapped around her hard stomach. The contractions were strong, much stronger than she had been told to expect the early ones to be. And closer together. Soon, she felt as if an enormous fist was inside her pushing downward. Vaguely, she thought of calling Willis or an ambulance, but no sooner than the thought entered her head than it was gone on a wave of pain that left her whimpering and sweating.
Meryl’s vision swam in colors—yellow, orange, and red. The pain intensified. She felt a warm gush and knew her water had broken.
Then the man was there between her legs, spreading her knees and pushing them up. “You came….” she sighed.
He glanced up at her face, and smiled, his large canines gleaming. “I came to claim what is mine, what has been promised.”
“Wh…what…?” Another contraction gripped Meryl, causing her to wail.
“Push hard!” the man ordered, one clawed hand resting on her heaving stomach, massaging. “He is almost here.” She bore down, her face red-hot and wet with tears and sweat. And when she thought she couldn’t take another second of the squeezing, stretching, tearing agony, she felt her insides give way, and the lessening of pain. “His shoulders are through…just a little more.”
Meryl felt a slippery, sliding, wetness, then blessed relief. Her eyes slipped closed on a wave of exhaustion—so tired. Then the cry of an infant. Her eyes flew open. “My baby!” And she took in the man sitting on the foot of the bed holding her child. The man from the motel room. The SD. The fog that had enveloped her since the contractions started cleared, and she saw him as she had in snatches that night in the motel room: large, muscular, naked. Horns, hair that flickered with fire falling in cascading waves to his shoulders, predator teeth, and stunning, golden, snake eyes. Her—their—child was cradled on his lap, seemed to be resting contentedly on his hair-covered thighs. She knew she should be scared but wasn’t.
She pushed herself up with her elbows, rested her back against the headboard. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am your husband.”
“No, Willis is my husband. You are…someone…something else.”
He shrugged. “Think of me as the father of your child if that suits you better. But make no mistake—you are mine, Meryl Blackthorn.”
“I don’t understand. I barely know you. How can I be yours?”
The baby whimpered. The man held him out to her. “Feed him.”
Meryl took the infant without question and brought him to her naked breast. He immediately latched onto a nipple, and she gritted her teeth against the pain she had anticipated. And again, her body surprised her: no discomfort and her milk flowed readily. The baby opened his eyes and looked up into hers. Yellow, like his father’s, and unlike what she had been told to expect, focused and alert.
“We have to go soon,” the man said.
Meryl’s gaze moved back to his. “Go where?’
“Home. You and our child will come to my home. You are mine.”
“Why do you keep saying that—that I belong to you?”
“Because you do. Before you were born, you were promised to me by your great-grandmother.”
Meryl laughed, the sound tiny and half-strangled. “My great-grandmother?”
“Alice Blackthorn. She promised you, my dear, the next female child born in the Blackthorn line, for services rendered.”
Alice…Alice…that name…. Yes, now she remembered. “The witch…er…rumored witch?”
The man—no, not a man…something else—smiled his pointy smile. “Yes, that one.”
“What were the services rendered?” Meryl asked, wondering why on earth this conversation sounded perfectly sane to her. The baby lost her nipple, fussed a little until she guided his rosebud mouth back to it.
“Power. What every human wants, some so badly they’ll do anything to have it.”
“And I am the first female Blackthorn since….” She thought back on what she knew of her paternal linage. Only sons were born to Alice and the proceeding women who married into the family. Until her.
“Yes, you are the first girl-child to be sired since Alice and I came to an understanding.” He stood, and hooves clicking on the hardwood floor, came around the bed to her side. He reached down and gently smoothed the flaming peach-fuzz on the baby’s head. His other clawed fingers found her free nipple, tweaked it. Meryl gasped.
Downstairs, there was a faint sound of a door closing, then a few seconds later, a raised voice shouted, “Meryl, you upstairs?”
The clawed hand moved to her shoulder, gave a gentle squeeze. “It’s time to go.”
Meryl heard Willis’s footsteps on the stairs. “Meryl!”
She glanced up into the eyes of her possessor. “Please don’t hurt him…er….”
“Azazel. My name is Azazel.”
“Please don’t hurt him, Azazel.”
“Come with me now, Meryl Blackthorn, and it will be as if you never existed.”
She looked deeper into his mesmerizing eyes and knew she would follow him anywhere, even to hell—which, she supposed, was exactly what was going to happen.
Willis Lanford stepped into his bedroom, wondered why he had come up here without first fixing his customary dry martini. He didn’t remember needing anything here.
He looked about, trying to jog his memory. Bed crisply made like he did it every morning before going to work, everything in its place. What had he wanted?
“Hey, Siri, why the hell did I come up here?”
From his trouser pocket, a female voice answered, “I don’t know how to respond to that, Willis.”
With a shrug, Willis went back downstairs. He fixed a martini, clicked on CNN, and sat on the brown leather sofa of his empty house to watch the evening news.
©2022 July Day
Brandon’s fingers curled around her forearm, rested there for a moment, causing a rush of heat that shot straight to the juncture of her thighs. She squirmed.
The two men talked for a while about sports, politics, the weather, their respective jobs, with Meryl occasionally adding a comment. Her stomach fluttered, waves of warmth ebbed and flowed. And shame overlaid it all. She wanted this man she had just met with a ferocity that surprised her, wanted him to rip off her clothes and stake his claim on her. Never in her thirty-four years of life had she felt a sexual attraction this overpowering. She wished Willis gone so they could get on with it. And she had no doubt that as soon as her husband left the hotel bar, they would. She saw it coming in Brandon’s smoldering eyes every time they caught hers.
“Well, time to head for the airport,” Willis said as he stood, their prearranged code that he approved the liaison. Though he could have followed Meryl and the man by car—and her Find My iPhone app—it was convenient that he wouldn’t have to leave the hotel. And safer for her if something went wrong.
“Nice meeting you,” Brandon said, rising from the barstool. The two men shook hands.
“Same here,” Willis said. Then, he hugged Meryl, who stayed seated, an awkward thing that was over quickly. “Love you, Sis. See you soon.”
Meryl twisted her head, met his eyes, and in that look, said all she couldn’t say—don’t go…I don’t want to…this is wrong…hurry up…I want him inside me…now! “I love you too,” she said softly, meaning it with every fiber of her being.
And Willis was gone, disappearing from view shortly after entering the lobby.
Meryl sighed, then turned to Brandon, lifted her eyes to his hot gaze. His body between her and the rest of the bar, he placed his hand over her mound. She gasped, legs falling open beneath her scarlet dress. She couldn’t look away from the roiling amber, couldn’t move, like a bird mesmerized by a snake’s deadly stare.
“Come,” he said simply.
Meryl stood, took his hand, and he led her into the hotel lobby, into the elevator, then down a long corridor to room 457. He inserted his keycard, the lock snicked open.
Then things got surreal, fuzzy in her mind, though her body felt every exquisite touch. No words were spoken, just sighs, moans, and occasional muffled screams. The man—what was his name?—made love to her as if she were fine china that might break if handled too roughly. Meryl floated on a cloud of erotic sensations. The man’s face came into focus occasionally, his glowing yellow eyes riveted upon her, causing her body to quiver.
She slept, or slipped into unconsciousness, a few times, and when she resurfaced to the feel of his hands on her again…and again…she glimpsed a hairy, muscled leg ending in a hoof. Another time, horns peeking from a mass of flaming curls. Pointy teeth with oversized canines. Golden, elliptical eyes. Then, he would be inside her again, and the strange illusions faded away, washed away on a tide of pure feeling.
The last time she woke, his hands were rougher, the lovemaking so fierce that pain mixed with the pleasure. Meryl whimpered. The man gathered a fistful of her hair, and as he planted his seed deep inside her, growled, “You are mine, Meryl Blackthorn.”
Willis was miffed with Meryl for spending four hours with Brandon Tyler, but when she explained she had fallen asleep and woken alone, he was somewhat placated. Her husband grumbled a bit, though, wondering how the man could have passed through the lobby, where Willis had sat in a chair hidden from view of the front desk by a sprawling Ficus tree, and he hadn’t seen the SD. But after a little probing from Meryl, Willis admitted, that he may have drifted off a time or two.
Now, the waiting started—fourteen days until Meryl could use the home pregnancy test. During those two weeks, both she and Willis were on edge, though for different reasons. Willis wanted the shopping for a SD to be over with so he could have his wife back to himself. He hated her sleeping with other men and was always wondering in the back of his mind if she enjoyed it more with them than she did with him. He kept his insecurities to himself, though, because he wanted a child just as badly, maybe even more, than Meryl. He mentally gritted his teeth and bore it. And he prayed that this time, a child had been conceived.
Meryl was anxious to know if she were pregnant but there was another factor preying on her mind: the man with the amber eyes and her time with him. Though those hours in the hotel room bed were a blur and she couldn’t recall the details, her body remembered the exquisite pleasure. Willis was an excellent lover, but the man was more than a lover: he was a possessor. She could still hear his parting words—You are mine, Meryl Blackthorn. He had not used her fake name, or her married name; he had called her by her maiden name. How had he known it? Or was it just her imagination playing tricks on her? No, he had definitely said it. Some things about that night had been fuzzy, but his naming of her wasn’t. Nor her strangled acknowledgment, “Yes….”
What would have happened if the man (She never thought of him as Brandon Tyler; it was always “the man.”) had been there when she awoke? Would he have asked her to stay with him? Would she have begged to stay with him? No, that was utter nonsense. She loved Willis, didn’t want anyone but him.
But the man with the amber eyes continued to haunt her dreams and sneaked into her mind in her waking hours as well. She would often come out of a sort of fugue state where she had been reliving that night in the hotel room. Thank God Willis wasn’t around when it happened. Sometimes, an hour or more had gone by with her having no recollection of time passing…just of him.
Two weeks after the encounter, Meryl urinated on the stick, and in less than two minutes a plus sign showed in the little window. At long last it was over; she was pregnant. No more keeping track of her fertile times, she and Willis seeking out a suitable SD. Now, she could concentrate on impending motherhood.
As the months passed and her stomach grew and rounded out, Willis was like a man possessed. He insisted Meryl quit her paralegal job, went to every checkup with her, saw to it that she ate properly, followed the obstetrician’s orders about the proper amount of exercise, and saw to her every want and need. And the upcoming new member of their family wasn’t ignored. Willis painted the bedroom next to theirs—the walls a sunny yellow decorated with white-framed pictures of cuddly, cartoon animals, and the ceiling indigo blue on which he affixed a plethora of reflective star decals, turning it into a night sky of twinkling lights. He filled the room with all manner of upscale nursery furniture made of expensive walnut. And when he found out at the eighteen-week ultrasound that Meryl was carrying a boy, he started purchasing a layette, bringing home new items almost daily.
Willis didn’t seem to notice that Meryl didn’t share his enthusiasm; he had enough for them both.
The growing baby made Meryl uneasy. It—no, he—was so active that there were nights she didn’t sleep much. And the days were no better. He rolled and kicked and elbowed, as if he were anxious to escape her body. He was strong. The kicks to her ribs were particularly painful. She ate all the time, her appetite enormous, but she stayed the same size except for her stomach and breasts. Her doctor said this was normal, especially for a first pregnancy, and seemed to dismiss her claim that she ate enough for ten, not two. She wished she had a friend who had children to consult, or a mother; but hers had died giving birth to her, and her dad had passed away shortly after Meryl graduated college. She had no aunts—both her parents had been an only child. She had no evidence anything was amiss, only the feeling this was no ordinary pregnancy.
And every night she dreamed of the man….
To be continued…
©2022 July Day
Meryl sat at the bar, gripping a whiskey on the rocks with both hands to stop their trembling. This was the third month in a row she had sat here, sipping a drink, and waiting for the right man to approach. If one didn’t materialize tonight, it would be another month before they could try again.
She glanced at the table in back where her husband sat. Their eyes made contact, and he gave a small smile of encouragement, raised three fingers above the rim of his glass. “This is the night, babe,” he had said before they left the house. “Three time’s a charm.” Meryl hoped so. She wanted this to be over.
But she wanted a baby even more. And so did Willis. And that old biological clock was winding down.
After they had been married about ten years, Willis had been promoted to a spot in the upper echelon of Bradford Investment Services that came with a seven-figure annual salary. Both had agreed they were now financially secure and could start the family they had always wanted. Three children at least. But after two years of charting, temperature taking, and almost always having sex when Meryl ovulated, there was no pregnancy to show for it. So, Meryl and Willis Lanford underwent the necessary tests to find out the problem, and it turned out to be a big one: Willis was sterile.
They debated artificial insemination using an anonymous donor, and adoption, but Willis wasn’t happy with either option, and Meryl wasn’t too keen on adoption either. She wanted to experience pregnancy and giving birth. Her husband understood but didn’t want to go the sperm donor route. “How can you pick a father from a profile and pictures?” he asked. “I want to see the man, talk to him, get a feel for him. And you’re an excellent judge of character, Meryl. You can spot a bad apple a mile away.” Willis was right about that—Meryl had an innate ability to have someone’s number after speaking with them for no more than five minutes, a gift passed on from her great-grandmother, who, when Meryl was a child, had been rumored to be a witch. She hadn’t told Willis that part, of course; it was too crazy.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” asked a deep voice to her right.
“Oh…” Startled, Meryl looked up from her drink into a smiling face so handsome it was almost pretty. “Not at all,” she answered, returning the smile, hers small and nervous.
The man slid onto the stool to her right and beckoned the bartender. “Scotch and soda, please.” Then turned to her. “You here by yourself?”
“Just waiting on my brother,” she said, using the line she and Willis had agreed on. “We’re having a quick drink before he flies out on business tonight.” Enough information to let the man know she wasn’t alone—a safety measure—but was available. She didn’t feel available, though, and was acutely aware of her bare ring finger.
“What a coincidence,” the man said. “I just flew in on business.”
“What kind of business?” she asked, but didn’t really listen as he talked about some legal matter that had brought him to the city. Instead, she took him in—hair and eyes the same shade of brown as Willis’s. About the same height. Similar features. In fact, they looked enough alike to be brothers, though this man was more handsome. And they dressed similarly: a tailored three-piece suit that fit like a glove.
“I’d ask if I could buy you a drink, but you’ve barely touched the one you have.”
“I’m not much of a drinker.” Meryl tucked a strand of sleek, shoulder-length black hair behind her ear, glanced down at the man’s hands. Looked like they were professionally manicured—elegant, but still strong. She liked his hands, liked that he took care of them. “Strictly social.” Her eyes flicked upward to meet his. She had been wrong about the color. They were brown, yes, but flecked with light amber. And the irises were ringed a darker amber. They were stunning, hard to look away from.
“I thought you looked out of your element,” he said. “Not the type of woman to frequent bars.”
She didn’t know quite how to take his somewhat patriarchal comment. “And just what type of man frequents bars?”
His smile widened, showing even white teeth. “The type that’s staying in the adjoining hotel and is winding down after a long flight because flying makes him…uncomfortable.”
So, he wasn’t quite perfect. Another plus.
Meryl’s great-grandmother had told her eyes were the mirror of the soul, that if one looked deep enough, and had the talent, one could ascertain character. Or the lack of it. And in this man’s eyes, which she couldn’t look away from, Meryl saw a good man.
He proffered his hand. “Brandon Tyler.”
Without breaking eye contact, Meryl held out her damp one. “Mer…” My God, she had almost screwed up! “Miranda Lewis.” The touch of his hand sent a shock wave through her body. Tingling all over, she sucked in a shaky breath, felt heat rise in her face. The man’s eyes darkened, widened. And when she pulled back her hand, he held on for a few moments before letting go. He had felt it too.
Meryl hadn’t expected that: sexual attraction to a potential SD (what she and Willis dubbed their prey…sounded less clinical than sperm doner) and was both elated and horrified. And filled with guilt. In all their years of marriage, she had been perfectly content with Willis, both in and out of the bedroom. And now here she was, eager to strip naked and crawl on top of this stranger. She wanted him.
The man—Brandon—laughed softly, ran a nervous hand through his thick, dark hair. “Well…didn’t see that coming.” He broke eye contact, took a gulp from his scotch and soda.
Meryl took the opportunity to glance at Willis, gave an almost imperceptible nod. Leaving his drink, along with cash, on the table, her husband circled the back of the dimly lit bar and approached them from the doorway that led into the hotel lobby. Meryl turned to Brandon. “How long will you be in town?”
“Just overnight. Have an early flight to—”
“Miranda.” Along with his voice, she felt the weight of Willis’s arm over her shoulder. “So good to see you.”
Meryl stood, was enveloped in her “brother’s” arms, felt a light kiss on her cheek. “You too, William, it’s been far too long.”
He slid onto the empty seat to her left. “Who’s you friend?” he asked, smiling around her at Brandon.
“Well, I just met him, so….”
Brandon’s right hand shot out in front of her. “Brandon Tyler.”
Her husband took the hand, shook it. “William Lewis, this beautiful lady’s brother. And in case you were wondering, I won’t be around long.” He smiled and winked.
He did everything but straight out say “she’s all yours” to let this guy know he has no claim on me, Meryl thought with a touch of irritation. Just going to hand me over like a piece of meat.
To be continued...
©2022 July Day
“Go on with ye, now,” Willow said, poking Dobie in the back with her spear point. “Yer pack’s ready. No use ye dawdling…day’s wasting.”
Dobie thought to kiss his wife goodbye, but she backed away, glared and raised her spear higher. She be giving no quarter, he thought. Eyes as mean and cold as ary grubber snake. He took in her rounded belly, barely noticeable beneath the thick, brown fur of her shift, wondered if he’d be back before the babe was borned—if he came back at all. “Well…I’ll be seeing ye when the yellow flowers come, then.”
She gave a jerk of her head toward the door.
Dobie pulled aside the door flap and stepped out into the cold, overcast day, joining the line of silent, stoop-shouldered men shuffling along the well-worn path between the huts.
Snow, soft and light, began drifting from the pearly sky, confirming what Old Turtle Woman had foreseen the day before, and by the time all the men had reached the gate, it was coming down hard, quickly covering the ground and their fur hats and capes. The north wind gusted, flinging the fat snowflakes into their bearded faces.
Lark and Mallow stood to either side of the open gate, hard eyes staring straight ahead. Neither woman met the mens’ gazes; until the cold time passed, they were faceless, useless, a burden to the village. They were now “The Turned Out,” and as such would be on their own in the Never-ending Forest until the snow retreated and warmth returned to the land. No home. No hearth. No wives.
Dobie glanced back when the creaking gate closed, heard the heavy log drop into its braces. And knew he nor the other men would be allowed back inside the walls for any reason—not for three or more moons.
But that was the way of it: at first snowfall, growed men became The Turned Out, leaving the safety of the village to live with Father Winter, while the women and young ones stayed inside behind the high walls, well provisioned.
Late in the day, three wolves took down Merdu, who had fallen behind, hindered by a crippled foot that hadn’t mended right after being broken five or six moons ago. Dobie and the other men chased off the attackers, though none of their spears found a target. Sly devils that they were, no wolf was injured or killed. Merdu wasn’t so lucky; both his throat and belly had been torn open.
Standing over the dead man, Kreek, the eldest of the men, said, “Be full dark soon. This be as good a place as any to make camp. Heath, take two with ye and gather wood for a fire. Fincher, ye set up the watch. Dobie, ye and Alreth tend to Merdu.”
Dobie and Alreth squatted to either side of Merdu, began stripping him of his furs and clothing, which would be divided up later. Then, with practiced ease, begin filleting meat from bone.
Alreath said, “We be eting good tonight.”
“That we will,” Dobie said. But what about the other frigid days and nights that stood between them and the return of the yellow flowers? How many more would go the way of Merdu? Would he go the way of Merdu, or worse, end up in a white bear’s belly?
Only the One Above knew.
©️2022 July Day
Inspiration for this story came from my brother-in-law–a beekeeper. In a recent conversation, he told me how drones (which are males) are driven out of the hive each autumn to preserve resources. This bit of information tumbled around in my mind and came out as a story.