Soulfire- An excerpt

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After her lover dies in a fire, Megan lets her dark side run wild.

 “THE apparition of these faces in the crowd;          

Petals on a wet, black bough.” Ezra Pound

Beauty is a trap.  Physical symmetry is the web in which to enmesh the unwary.  The official misconception, nay, delusion is that the inner package will match the outer wrappings.  It doesn't work that way.  It never has and it never will. 

Another misconception is that the soul has a choice whether to allow an event or a set or events to break or warp what was once whole.  Who can predict the darkness of the human mind?  Who can decide how that darkness spills out into the world as a dish of spoilt milk?  Clumpy, rancid chunks of misery for all. Darkness accumulates over the course of time, with each disappointment, each rejection, the struggle of the will to cope is lost. 

Numbness is dangerous.  But what is a sociopath really?   Someone who does not feel or someone who does not care to feel?  Very carefully feeling nothing as a state of being equals a human co existing on a barely human level.  It is most unwise to challenge such a person in that state of mind.  You cannot save a fool.

He whose ego is larger than his quotient for common sense will always push to see if pushed back.  He whose willfully ignorant manner is transparent, and goes well with his cheap clothing, trendy, expensive shoes, knock off watch, and small beady red rimmed eyes.  It will be his eyes that give him away.  Eyes that covet, eyes that see but do not observe the path of destruction that lays before them.  The path to oblivion is shiny and beautiful. 

He projects his socially inept inadequacies through his cross armed sneer across a crowded smoky bar.  He searches for a victim, someone weaker than himself with whom to share the venom of his soul.  Poison gathers in his bloodstream, growing in ever larger droplets of green and gold, meanness, sorrow, regret and pain that he cannot keep to himself.  He is lost to himself and others on these nights.  These nights when the cycle of his soul seeks to unleash the demons nested within.  Must feed the demons.

She regards him from her place in a corner booth.  Old brown leather upholstery, cracked wood polished by years of tears, beers, and desperate gropings.  She looks into his eyes, and knows he is just the fool for her.  Just the right fool for her growing rage, the red haze moves in front of her dark gaze.  Her vision unobstructed, she smiles. Her teeth are startlingly white against the black table, and her red and silver nails.  Her nails tap against the cracked wood, to the tune of her thoughts.  Musical numbness.  AC/DC, “If you want blood, you’ve got it.”

 Broken hearted, she lost everything in a fire a year gone by.  Her everything.  The love of her life, The only man who knew her true name.  Gone.  Flames destroyed what smoke took from her with his last breath, the words on his lips, “I love you”.  Numbness created by Dead Lover Syndrome. 

After the fire, she lost her will to live.  She breathes the air in harsh gulpfuls just to keep her lungs moving.  She eats food to sustain energy. 

She sleeps when she is tired. Rote movements that mean nothing to her.  Moving through life as though in a fog.  No one knows who started the fire.  Megan Turner has turned off her entire emotional system.  Her heart is frozen in time.  Her conscience is flexible.  Thirty three is too young to be so jaded, and yet there are so many people who would seek to push her out of the light.  Seek to destroy her just for the sheer joy of spite.  One of them is dead. 

No one wants to end up in a dumpster with gaping margins..  Dale did not listen.  Megan said No, and she meant it.  Dale laughed.  Megan stabbed.  The knife was sharp, it did its nasty work.  Megan didn’t care because she decided not to.  The white noise of his screams was as the consistent loud buzz of the vacuum cleaner. 

She did not personify or de-personify him.  She rendered him obsolete.  Then, she walked away and found herself a place to have dinner.  The steak tartare with garlic mashed potatoes  was exceptional that night.  Megan tipped the waiter an extra five percent for capable silent service.

And so the stranger, this new stranger ,regards her with covetous eyes across the bar, and she sees him see her as a Victim.  She sees him see her as Prey.  She laughs  and raises her glass to his perfidy. Amusing is the Prey who thinks himself the Hunter.  Megan sips her Dirty Martini and waits.  She has not long.  This new stranger is at her side in seconds.  “Hey there sweet thing.”  She says nothing.  Her eyes glaze over with boredom.  The grin transfixed on her perfect, petite features.  Beautiful nothingness with a thin veneer of civility.

“I’m Nick. What’s your name?”  Megan flips her long curly brown hair over one shoulder and looks at him.  For a moment, their eyes meet.  His green to her brown and he is lost in that heated stare.  Whatever he came over here to do is lost in the maelstrom of her spell. 

“I’m Megan.”  I’m nice until I’m not.  The change occurs very quickly. .She debated whether to give him the warning.  The standard warning. 

“Why are you here alone?” He asks, ungracefully plunking himself down next to her, causing the already cracked wood to creak further.  He licks his lips nervously.  Unsure of himself now, he wishes he had stayed where he was.  But it’s too late now.  Too late for his ego to escape the coming storm. 

“I choose to be.”

“It’s dangerous for a pretty girl like you to be alone.”

“Oh?”

Nick cannot decide whether to go back to his stool in pale, humiliating failure or continue to try to bait her.  She gives nothing.  Her smile is cold, against the warm beauty of her face.  Something tells him to go.  It’s time to go now, his mind screams.  She is not for you.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He asks, for wont of anything else to say.

 “Sure.  Dirty Martini.  The dirtier the better.”  Three sentences this time.  An improvement?  His heart beats soundly against the interior of his chest.  Nick fumbles his wallet from his back pocket and motions to the bartender.  He stands and then staggers, not from drunkenness, for he is completely sober now, to the bar.

“The lady would like a Dirty Martini.” Nick’s tongue is thick in his mouth.  He blinks rapidly, several times, and his knees knock together.  The bartender takes a good long look at this man, and then looks at the crumpled, sweat stained twenty dollar bill in his clammy palm. 

The bartender takes the twenty between two fingers as he would a rodent and changes it out before making the drink.

“What are you doing with this broad, Nick?  She’s trouble.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at her, for fucks sake!  Either she’s lost or she’s looking for trouble.”  Nick did look at her, pain filled beauty, broken winged bird, needing his protection, needing him, and he was already half in love with her. 

“She’s achingly beautiful.”

“That’s what I mean, Nick.  She’s dark, leave her the fuck alone.”  Nick looked at her again, really looked this time and met her gaze through clearer eyes, vision unencumbered by his own haze of suffering.  For one second, he saw her.  He saw her drowning in a sea of images. He slammed his eyes closed and shook it off, this feeling of foreboding.  When he opened his eyes, she was gone.

Nick sat back down on his previous stool, quietly nursing a new beer.  He had already paid for the martini, but told the bartender to dump it.  Nick was still there when the bar closed.  Chet let him stay the rest of the night in the cot by the laundry machine in the back.  Nick was a regular and he was a good guy mostly. 

Since his divorce, he’d taken a nose dive towards recklessness.  Chet watched over him like he would a young brother or cousin.  The fifty three year old ex cop from Chicago had seen the way the woman had looked at him.  The predatory smile.  He had seen it before.  Many times.  He was glad the woman left on her own.  Chet cleaned the bar, turned off the lights, and then bunked down in his apartment behind the bar, in the other little room with a futon bed and a small tv.  Damned glad she had left on her own.

No dreamless sleep for he who had been a night watchman.  Visions of violent death invaded his sleep.  Weapon with a beautiful face and a cracked heart.  She who burns.  Chet woke three hours later and made a pot of coffee as strong as Texas Mule Piss.  Shaking his head as he started breakfast didn’t ease the sense of dread he felt. 

Scrambled eggs with ham, Toast with butter, and a big bowl of grits.  He woke Nick when the food was done, and invited him to sit down at the surprisingly modern cherry wood dining table.  Chet put a large cup of coffee down in front of himself and one in front of Nick.  They did not speak during breakfast.  Chet waited until his friend was fed, sober and awake before laying into him.

“Have you got a death wish?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Nick.  Just because your wife left doesn’t mean you have to chase after every crazy, dangerous broad in the city or get drunk every night”. 

“Do you realize how close you came to being killed last night?”  Nick stared blankly at him, a forkful of scrambled eggs half way to his mouth when the question hit.

“She’s not dangerous, Chet.  She struck me as someone who’s been hurt.  A woman is like a wounded bird.  Fragile, beautiful needing the strength of a man to protect her.”  Chet’s booming laugh accompanied his meaty fist as it slammed onto the table top.

“What a crock of shit!  Stay the fuck away from her Nick!  I’m telling you, she is NOT for you.  You need to whack off for the next six months or so, clear your head and then find yourself a nice normal broad to settle down with and start over.   Not her.”  Chet stood up and cleared the breakfast dishes, rinsing them with soap and water and then placing them in the dishwasher.  He brooked no argument but knew in his heart that his friend was already in trouble.

Nick laughed and stood up himself, patted Chet on the back and thanked him for a lovely evening.  He had parked behind the bar.  In the chill morning air, the sun burned brightly overhead with few clouds.  Chet heard the car start up and then drive off.  He shook his head, wondering how much a friend could stand to watch another destroy himself before giving up.

Ch. 2 Trevor Keyes

Megan knelt on the grass of Forest South Cemetery, off Davie Rd and State Road 84.  Every Saturday, this is where she could be found.  Today she brought tulips, which lay on the wet grass next to her.  She took the roses from last week and scattered them over his grave.  Her ritual opened her mind to happier memories. 

Tears fell in a hot sheet down her cheeks to glisten on the petals of dead flowers.  His headstone read, Love of My Life b. 7/12/76-4/19/15.  He would have been 39 in less than three months.  They were planning to marry on his birthday.  Her wedding dress burned in the fire.  A white strapless dress she had bought off the rack at one of the less expensive bridal shops on Los Olas Blvd.  No veil.  She had instead opted for a wire head band, around which she had woven a pattern of red and silver ribbons that were to have cascaded along the back of her head through her curls. 

The white ballet slippers Megan bought to go with her dress had been wrapped in white tissue paper, the white ribbons tucked into the soles of the shoes as they lay in the box.  Her bouquet had not yet been ordered but would have been in the next few weeks.  The invitations had gone out, all 120 of them.  Her family.  His family.  Their closest friends. 

Five and a half years of courtship, some of it struggle and fight, some of it love and understanding, until finally Megan understood that Trevor genuinely loved her and then she relented and agreed to marry him.  She surrendered to him.  No more ego.  No more having to have her own way.  Trevor had never really insisted on having his way, he just wanted them to make decisions together. 

He had met a bitter, jaded, woman and loved her out of her own armor.  He had been there for her, not because he had been expected to be, but because it would never have occurred to him to be anywhere else but by her side when she needed him.

 Trevor bought their honeymoon tickets to Greece.  Three days in Athens followed by two days in Mykonos and two days in Crete, followed by another day in Athens before flying back home to the states.

Megan cancelled the trip a few days after the fire.  She had enough money to find a new apartment in the same neighborhood where she had lived with Trevor, but she didn’t want to live there anymore.  There were considerations.  One was that she didn’t need the memories, didn’t need to walk by the building and remember what she had, what she had lost.

The second was that someone started that fire.  No other buildings were affected.  The firemen said the fire started in the hallway just outside their front door.  That meant it was planned.  Intentional.  She had her suspects.  One of which was Trevor’s ex, Nora Lee.  Nora had been claiming for the last two years that she had a son by Trevor.  A DNA test was done by a lab in New Hampshire which showed Trevor did not father Nora’s child, but Nora wouldn’t let it go, and every few months, she would show up at their door asking for money.

The third Megan really didn’t want to think about.  A man had been following her around before the fire.  He had sent her notes.  She had burned them, after reading them.  She tried to tell herself she read them because it might give her a clue as to the identity of her stalker.  That wasn’t the truth.  She read them because she was curious.  There had been five notes in the few months before Trevor died.  Megan burned all five in the kitchen sink with a grill lighter .Had he seen from his vantage point on the street?  Now it didn’t matter.

Standing up and dusting the dirt and soil off her clothing, Megan walked back to her car, and drove to the police station.  This was her second chore every Saturday morning.  Walk into the police station, ask to speak with Detective Mueller, and sit down in one of the little blue plastic chairs until her name was called. It was routine.  She came in to see him and he told her he didn’t know anything.  Megan didn’t believe that it would change. 

Crushed faith does not grow back.  Maybe there was no evidence linking any one person with the fire.  Maybe there never had been.  Maybe she would go through life forever missing Trevor and never knowing who had killed him or why.  That would be hell.  But she was already in hell, wasn’t she?

Megan walked in through the double glass doors of the police station.  She signed in and walked over to the row of chairs along the walls.  Just as she was about to sit down, Detective Mueller himself walked out of the back room, and greeted her personally. 

“Megan, how are you?” Annoyance wears the mask of courtesy.

“The same, Detective, and you?” Frustration wears the mask of civility.  Such pretty games we play.

“I don’t have any more answers for you than I did last week, I’m afraid.” He looked sad.  How many times a week did he have to give this speech? How many times a day?  Megan offered him a small smile.

“Detective Mueller, is there a place we can talk?”

“Sure, Megan, follow me back to my office.  I only have a few minutes.”

“I understand, Detective, I want to show you something.”  Megan took a note out of her jacket pocket and handed it to him once they were in his office.  It was a new note.  One that had been written recently and made her wish she hadn’t burnt the rest.  But there it was.

“What is this?” His dark eyebrows lifted, reading the words.  It would be impossible not to react.  He had to control that reaction just now.  There were reasons.

“I told you at the time after the fire that someone had been leaving me notes, and I just found another one yesterday, just under my mat.  I don’t live in the same place anymore, Detective.  Whoever this is, has been following me, stalking me, since BEFORE the fire.  Do you understand?  The person who writes the notes could be Trevor’s killer.”

Detective Mueller got a funny look on his face.  He opened his mouth and then closed it.  Megan knew what that meant.  He was about to dismiss her, and tell her he would look into it and then put it into a drawer or something. 

He took a deep breath and then read the note aloud. “Dear Megan, Are you still so distraught over the burnt body of your lover that you do not look to be free from your grief?”  With Mueller’s awkward nasal voice tone, and the harsh words, insensitive to her plight, Megan had to stifle her own reaction.  Mueller stared at her now, openly.  Rage would only highlight her method of grief expression. 

“Megan.” The detective said her name, softly.  She looked up at the compassion in his eyes.  Perhaps the compassion in his brown eyes was not what she wanted to see.  Perhaps she wanted an avenging angel that would fly down from the sky and smite someone for her.  Perhaps she had to do that for herself. 

“Megan.  Are you listening to me?” He sounded frustrated now.  Had he been talking to her while she entertained fantasies of revenge in the police station?

“Detective, you don’t understand.  I have been in hell since that night.  Hell.  Please keep this as evidence and if I find any more notes, I will bring them to you right away, I wish to hell I had not burnt the other ones.”  She broke down, something she swore she would never do again. 

“What did the other ones say?” Mueller asked softly.  His heart went out to her.  He couldn’t do anything for her in the way of justice but he could be compassionate.  There were reasons for that as well.

“The first one said Dear Megan, so painfully beautiful it hurts me to see you like this.  That was after Trevor and I had a fight, well a misunderstanding, and I had been crying all day.”

“How long ago was that first one?” Mueller sounded more interested now, and his head was tilted to the side as he listened.

“About three months before the fire.”

“Did your building have surveillance cameras?” Megan stared at him aghast.

“How can you ask me that now, after all this time?  Wouldn’t that be something you should know already, Detective?!” Megan hissed in frustration.  Had the man done anything to investigate her case?

“Okay, I apologize.  After they rebuilt the building, did they install cameras?  Does your new building have them?”  Mueller was asking in earnest now, after her little outburst.

“Yes, they have cameras.”

“Okay, what is the building manager’s name?”

“Marty.”

“Does Marty have a last name?”

“I don’t know Detective!  I haven’t exactly been in a head space to go around memorizing people’s names for the last year, I’m sure you could understand that under the circumstances!”

“Fine.  I will come by later this afternoon and see if I can get the footage from when this note was dropped off.  When did you find this one?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

“What time?” She looked up at the ceiling, thinking.

“About three o’clock.  When do you think you’ll have an answer for me?  I really feel that these notes could shed light on who started the fire and killed Trevor.”

“Megan, it’s not that easy.  We have so many murders here all the time, and it takes time to catch them.  A lot of time.  Be patient.  I will look into this and have the lab analyze it for fingerprints and handwriting analysis, but you need to be patient with me, okay?  You don’t need to come in every week.”  The message there was, stop bugging me. 

Megan felt something within her snap at the inattentiveness, the negligence, the apathy of the police.  Once your case is cold, it stays cold.  They only solve the warm ones, or even the hot ones, the ones that the media chases after.

Megan walked through torrential rain to the parking lot.  Emotions churned violently inside her, a storm ready to break.  A decision had been made.  Feeling calmer now, Megan drove back to her apartment.  She would not have said it was home.  Home was the place she had shared with Trevor.  This place served as her base of operations.  Once home, she closed and locked the door behind her and walked through the central room while stripping off all her clothes and throwing them in the wicker hamper by the bedroom door.  Now naked, Megan stretched her muscles, doing her own version of Yoga.

Megan’s 5’7” frame held 125lb of petite strength, some muscle, a fit, athletic form.  Long, wavy light brown hair fell in a thick mane down her back to her slim waist as she performed kata.  It had been a long time since she had last attended martial arts of any kind, but she had kept in practice.  Her body remembered the poses, her mind remembered the words.  For a great length of time, she performed these excercises as much to get herself into a desired mental state as to calm her current emotional state. 

“You won’t understand.  I have to do this.  The police have done nothing.  They will do nothing.  Unless of course, they figure out what I am up to that is.  No, they’re too inept even for that.  Forgive me, my love.” Megan spoke aloud to Trevor, believing in every bone of her body that he heard her words. 

The key would be to attract men who actively preyed on others.  Killers, rapists, thugs, pimps.  A slim woman in her mid thirties with long brown hair.  That fit the victim patterns of most male predators, didn’t it?  She would give them a surprise and she would enjoy it.  Megan stalked into the master bathroom and ran the shower.  Once the water was as hot as she could stand it, Megan prepared herself for the night ahead.

It was Dale who kindly gave her the idea.  It was funny really.  She had thought he was her friend.  And he was. Right up until her crying on his shoulder became him copping a feel and then forcing her backward to lean against the brick wall of his apartment building.  She had been trapped between the bricks and the man, Trevor’s friend in life.  Megan’s nightmare afterward.

Megan had unleashed the beast in her soul, the demon of pain that had been caged since the night her life burned to death.  The knife she carried in her purse was an average kitchen knife, used to cut vegetables.  She had made a salad two hours before using it to kill Dale, the blade cutting into his body at least twenty times.  Perhaps it still had vestiges of spinach or carrot shreds on it which then made their way into his body.  That didn’t matter. 

Dale then went into the dumpster.  She had raised him up enough so that his long arms and big head dangled over the edge and then pushed him up more and then simply let go.  She had taken off her clothes and replaced them with a plain dark dress she had found in the alley next to his building.  It was dark, and there were no streetlights.  She didn’t care.  She used the clothes she removed to get the blood off her face and tied her hair up into a tight bun on top of her head. 

Now, thinking of that night, Megan realized that she really needed to plan better.  She couldn’t just go around throwing away her clothes.  During the time it took for her to paint her nails, a solution presented itself.  That will work nicely, she thought with a small smile.

The time had come for her to paint the town red.  Megan was ready.  She was now She, what she imagined the female goddess of destruction would be.  Long black dress, knee length leather boots, no heels.  Her hair was down but tied back in a red scarf.  Make up severe, red lips, black eyes, no rouge.  Dressed to Kill, just like the Brian De Palma film from 1981.  An elevator would provide too close quarters, Megan decided she would utilize a stairwell instead, if need be.

That night, she found Mark.  After several drinks at a local bar, he manhandled her outside into the parking lot.  “You’re coming back to my place.” He said, his voice slurred, giving the lie to his tight grip on her left wrist.

“That sounds like a command, Markie.”

“Don’t call me that!  You will treat me with respect!” his grip tightened as he belched, the stench floating upwind as his voice rose in volume.

“Oh, I will.  I will treat you with respect.”  Her stare was wide eyed.  Ooh, I’m so scared, you dumbass!

Yes, you will. Now get in the car!” He spun her around and gave her a hard shove forward.  Megan faced the other way so that he couldn’t see her smile.  Feed my rage, pig!

Megan re thought the car situation and in the end refused to get into his car.  Not for the reason he thought.  If they find his car and find his body, they will do tests on the car and then determine I was in the car with him.  Can’t have that, can we?

She reached into her pocket and pulled out her knife.  Similar to a scalpel, yet slightly smaller, the blade was wickedly sharp and gleamed under the muted light of the moon.  She held it behind her back, an oil portrait of covert hostility. 

“On second thought no, Mark, I will not be getting into the car with you.”  He had moved several steps forward and she circled back around towards the back door of the bar, the knife still behind her back.

The parking lot held fewer than five cars, including his.  The space was not large enough for a real fight.  Another consideration was timing.  The need to do this fast and then vanish into the night.  Her apartment was three blocks down and to the east. She had walked here.

“Why the fuck not?”

“I’m afraid our association will have to end here.” He had let go of her wrist and now lunged forward to grab at her again, which she quickly side stepped with a laugh.

“Don’t laugh at me, bitch!” His eyes were wild with ego.  Male ego.  His drinking habits put yellow into the irises of his eyes.  It was a contest to see if she would kill him before his liver failure did.  

“Why not? You’re just like a little clown.  Dance for me Bozo!”  Megan withdrew her knife hand and cut him, so quickly, each time he lunged for her. and she laughed.  All the things a woman should never say to an angry man came pouring from her smiling bow mouth as if from a fountain of acid.

Once across the arm, one on the forehead, one across the side of the neck.  By now he was sober enough, if sufficiently scared to understand the tables had turned.  She drank his fear like a dirty martini and smiled.

His yellowed teeth bared in a grimace of pain and fury, Mark side stepped her next swipe and tried to grab her arm.  He knew he was bleeding, hurt badly, but he had been hurt before, and far worse.  Megan switched knife hands and leaned down quickly. 

The blade made a pfft sound as Mark fell to the pavement, on his back.  He grasped for his left leg, feeling the jeans material sticking to his flesh as the viscous red glue of prannic fluid pasted the denim to the hamstring wound she had inflicted.  He would bleed out in seconds.  He screamed then, a high pitched wail born of frustration and fear.  It cut off mid stream as the knife made one final pfft sound as it cut through his trachea. 

Megan stood over him, “What were you saying?  Oh, you were done?  Okay.  That’s fine.”  Megan walked away, down a side alley, nearly colliding with a homeless woman looking for clothing or food.  She wiped a thick gob of blood off her cheek with her finger, and seeing a discarded towel laying in the alley, reached down and wiped off her hands. 

It wasn't the killing that made her feel exilerated.  It wasn't even the fight really.  It was the fact that again, an arrogant predatory man thought he could get the best of her simply because he had a penis.  She giggled.  Megan knew that she had gone too far.  That was not up for debate.  She knew she was now, nearly as bad, nearly as evil as the "other"killers.  The men who preyed on women or even other men, because of their own mental problems.  I could kill as easily as I could order a glass of wine.  

Memories of Trevor, her lost love, flooded her mind.  She struggled to picture him standing before her, that look on his face as he saw his lover, covered in blood, standing in a desolate alleyway, with a smile.  Would he want her then?  Would he still love her, knowing she killed now? She killed to get revenge on the one who set the fire.  "I'm doing this for us, baby.  Please understand."  She knew he wouldn't understand, not if he were alive and standing before her.  But then, if Trevor was still alive, she wouldn't be in this mess right now, would she?

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