Pia Thomason is torn between two Dark Ones: her husband Kristoff-who doesn’t trust her-and his best friend, Alec, who is MIA. So Pia goes back to her humdrum Seattle life, but fate has other plans. And she realizes that if she and Kristoff are going to be shackled together for better or worse, she may as well start to enjoy it…
Read Katie MacAlister’s posts on the Penguin Blog.
“What do you see, Corazon?”
“Um. Mud.” I sensed the hypnotherapist’s disapproval of my answer, and qualified it. “Well, mud and grass and stuff like that. But mostly just mud.”
“Are you sure she’s under?” Patsy asked, her voice sounding dubious. “She doesn’t look hypnotized to me. CORA! Can you hear me?”
“I’d have to be five miles away not to hear you,” I said, cracking open an eye and peering at her from where I lay prone the couch. “I’m hypnotized, you idiot, not deaf.”
“Is she supposed to know she’s hypnotized?” Terri asked, sitting on the floor across from me, watching with bright, interested eyes. “That doesn’t negate the regression, does it?”
“Hypnotism isn’t a magical state of unknowing,” Barbara the hypnotherapist answered. “She is simply relaxed, in touch with her true inner spirit, and has opened up her mind to the many memories of lifetimes past. I assure you that she is properly hypnotized.”
“Let me get a pin and poke her with it,” Patsy said, bustling over to a bookcase crammed full of books and various other items. “If she reacts, we’ll know she’s faking it.”
“No one is poking me with anything!” I shot my friend a quelling look.
“Please, ladies,” Barbara said with a glance at her watch. Poor woman, I felt for her doing personal regressions at Patsy’s yearly “Girl’s Night In” party. Luckily, there were only three of us this year. “We have limited time. Corazon is in a light trance, also referred to as an alpha state. Through that, she has tapped into her higher self, her true Infinite Being, a state in which she is free to bypass the boundaries of time.”
“Yeah. Bypassing all that stuff,” I said, giving my friend a smirk. “So sit back and watch the show. What do I do now, Barbara?”
“Look around you. Examine your surroundings. Tell us what you see, what you feel.”
“I see mud. I feel mud.”
“There has to be more to her past life than mud, surely,” Terri said, reaching for the bowl of popcorn.
“Are there any buildings or other structures around to give you an idea of what year you are reliving?” Barbara asked.
“Um…nothing on the left side other than a bunch of forest. I seem to be standing on a dirt path of some sort. Let me walk to the top of this little hill—oh! Wow! There’s a town down below. And it looks like there’s a castle way up on a tall cliff in the distance. Lots of tiny little people are running around in some fields outside of the town. Cool! It’s like a medieval village or something. Think I’ll go down to say hi.”
“Excellent,” Barbara said, adjusting the video camera she was using to record the session. “Now tell me, how do you feel?”
“Well…” I examined the scene my mind had created, whether it was from a past life, or just a fertile imagination, I had no way of knowing. “I’m kind of hungry. No, really hungry. Kind of an intense hunger, throbbing inside me. Oh great, I’m a peasant, aren’t I? I’m a poor starving peasant who stands around in mud. Lovely.”
“We are not here to make judgments on our past selves,” Barbara said primly.
“Geesh, Cora,” Patsy said, looking disgusted. “Terri turned out to be Cleopatra’s personal maid, and I was one of Caesar’s concubines. You’re letting down the team, here. The least you could do is be a medieval princess in a big hat or something.”
I looked closer at my mind-self. “I have shoes on. Peasants didn’t wear shoes, did they?”
“Some did, I’m sure,” Terri said, stuffing a handful of popcorn into her mouth as she watched my past life regression.
“Can you walk to the town?” Barbara asked, moving a light slightly so it was off my face. “Perhaps we can find out who you are.”
“Yeah. I’m going down the hill now. Hey, watch where you’re—oh my god. Oh my god! OMIGOD!”
“What? What’s happened?” Barbara asked, looking worried.
“A woman with an ox cart just ran me over.”
“What?” Patsy shrieked.
“She ran me over. Her oxen were running amok or something. They just came barreling down the hill behind me and ran right over the top of me. Holy Swiss on rye! Now the oxen are trampling me, and the lady in the cart is screaming and—jehosophat! My head just came off! It just came right off! Ack!”
Terri sat staring at me, her eyes huge, a handful of popcorn frozen just beyond her mouth as she gawked.
“Oh, my. I don’t—I’ve never had anyone die during a regression,” Barbara said, looking more worried. “I’m not quite sure how to proceed.”
“You’re…decapitated?” Patsy asked, looking as stunned as I felt, staring down at the gruesome scene. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Pats. My head’s separated from my body, which is covered in ox hoof prints. A wheel went over my neck, I think. It…urgh. That’s just really gross. Why the hell do I get the reincarnations where I’m killed by two bulls and a cart? Why can’t I be Cleopatra’s concubine?”
“Personal maid, not concubine,” Terri corrected, stuffing the popcorn into her mouth and chewed frantically. “Are you absolutely certain you’re dead? Maybe it looks worse than it is.”
I shot her a look before relaxing back on the pillow. “My head is three feet away from my body. I think that’s pretty good indicator of death—good god! Now what’s she doing?”
“The ox?” Patsy asked.
“No, the driver. She’s not doing what I think she’s doing, is she?”
“I don’t know,” Terri said, scooting closer, as if that would let her peer into my mind.
“This is very unusual,” Barbara muttered to herself, checking her digital camera. “We should document it. Yes. Documentation is good.”
“What’s the lady doing?” Patsy said, sitting on the couch next to my feet.
“She’s trying to stick my head back on to my body. Lady, that’s not going to do any good. No, you can’t tie it on, either. Ha. Told you so. Oh, don’t drop me in the mud! Sheesh! Like I wasn’t muddy enough? What a butterfingers. Now she’s chasing the oxen, who just bolted for a field. Oh, no, she’s coming back. Her arms are waving around like she’s yelling, only I can’t hear anything. It must be the shock of having my head severed by a cart wheel.”
“This is just too surreal,” Terri said. “Do you think she purposely ran you down?”
“I don’t think so. She seems kind of goofy. She just tripped over my leg and fell onto my head. Oh man! I think she broke my nose! God almighty, this is like some sort of horrible Marx Brothers meets Leatherface sort of movie. Holy runaway oxen, Batman!”
“What?” Terri and Patsy asked at the same time.
“She’s doing something. Something weird.”
“Oh my god—is she making love to your lifeless corpse?” Terri asked. “I saw a show on HBO about that!”
“No, she’s not molesting me. She’s standing above me waving her hands around and chanting or something. What the—she’s like—hoo!”
“Don’t get upset,” Barbara said, taking copious notes. “You are in no personal danger. Just describe what you’re seeing calmly, and in detail.”
“I don’t know about you, but I consider a decapitation and barbeque as some sort of personal danger,” I said, watching the scene in my mind’s eye with stunned disbelief.
“Barbeque?” Patsy asked. “Someone’s roasting a pig or something?”
“No. The ox lady waved her hands around, and all of a sudden this silver light was there, all over my body, singeing it around the edges. Oh great. Here comes someone. Hey, you, mister, would you stop the lady from doing the light thing? She’s burnt off half of my hair.”
“This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard,” Terri told Patsy. “You have the best parties!”
“It’s all in the planning,” Patsy said modestly. “What’s going on now, Cora?”
“The guy just saw me. He did a little stagger to the side. I think it’s because the lady tried to hide my head behind her, and my ear flew off and landed at his feet. Now he’s picking it up. He’s yelling at her. She’s pointing to the oxen in the field, but he looks really pissed. Yeah, you tell her, mister. She has no right driving if she can’t handle her cows.”
“This would make a great film,” Patsy said, looking thoughtful. “I wonder if we could write a screenplay? We could make millions.”
“Well, now the guy has my head, and he’s shaking it at the lady, still yelling at her. Woops. Chunk of hair came loose. My head is bouncing down the hill. Guy and lady are chasing it. Hee hee hee. OK, that’s really funny in a horrible sort of way. Ah. Good for you, sir. He caught me again, and now he’s taking me back to my body, hauling the ox lady with him. Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
“Did he drop your head again?” Terri asked, offering me the bowl of popcorn. I shook my head.
“No, he just…holy shit! I want out of here! Take me out of this dream or whatever it is! Wake me up!”
“Remain calm,” Barbara said in a soothing voice. “The images you see are in the past, and cannot harm you now.”
“What’s going on? What did the guy do?” Terri asked.
“I want to wake up! Right now!” I said, clawing the couch to sit up.
“Very well. I’m going to count backwards to one, and when I reach that number, you will awaken feeling refreshed and quite serene. Five, four, three, two, one. Welcome back, Corazon.”
“You OK?” Patsy asked as I sat up, gasping, my blood all but curdling at the memory of what I’d witnessed.
“Yeah. I think so.”
“What happened at the end?” Terri asked. “You looked scared to death.”
“You’d be scared too if you saw a vampire kill someone!” I rubbed my arms. Goose bumps ran up and down them.
“A vampire! You’re kidding!” Patsy gasped.
“I wish I was. He just kind of pounced on the woman, fangs flashing, and blood everywhere, and then she collapsed and he had blood all over his mouth. It was horrible. I never, ever want to see anything like that again. Man alive! I need a drink!”
A half hour later, Barbara the hypnotherapist left, but only after giving me her card and telling me she wanted to interview me at length about my regression session.
I said nothing, just nodded, not wanting to remember the horrible scene.
“What really gets me is that the whole bit with me being run down and killed didn’t bother me,” I told my friends as we sat over a couple of bottles of wine. “But that man, that vampire…brrr. I’ll never forget the look on his face as long as I live. It was like he was in hell. I’ve never seen such anguish before, and then he was just on her, biting her. Urgh. It was terrible.”
“What did he look like?”
I thought, trying to separate the last images of him from the earlier ones. “Tall. Muscular. Dark hair. Green eyes. Squarish chin. Handsome, really. The kind of guy if you saw him in a mall, you’d do a double-take.”
“Sounds like my neighbor,” Patsy said, getting to her feet.
“You have a handsome neighbor you’ve been keeping from us?” I asked her.
“Well, I don’t see him very often. He works at night or something—I never see him during the day. But he’s gorgeous, really gorgeous. He likes to swim in the nude.”
“We’re you’re oldest friends,” Terri said. “You owe it to us to share gorgeous men who swim naked.”
“How,” I said, my mind slightly muddled because of the wine, “do you know he swims naked?”
Patsy hiccupped. “If you happen to be at the east side of my fence pruning the hedge, there’s a bare spot where you can see into his back yard, and the pool.”
“I wanna see,” Terri said, tipping over.
“You have had way too mush wine, misshy,” I said, pulling her upright. “But I agree. I want to see the naked gorgeous neighbor.”
Patsy glanced at the clock. “Normally I don’t see him until closer to midnight, but a little fresh air will do us good. Tally ho, ladies!”
“We’re off to get a fox,” Terri said, giggling as we clutched each other and staggered after Patsy, who carried a bottle of wine with her, pointing it toward the back yard.
It took a good ten minutes to get to the spot Patsy had mentioned, but only because we all had to troop back into the house, one by one, to use the facilities.
“Sucks having a tiny bladder,” Terri said, wobbling slightly as she returned to where Patsy and I were laying on the grass, sharing the last bottle of wine. “C’mon, let’s go find that neighbor.”
There was no one in the pool.
“Dammit,” I said, clutching a tree that stood next to the neighbor’s house.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Patsy said. “Maybe he’ll be out later.”
“Antimacassar,” Terri said, taking a swig off the bottle.
“Huh?” I asked.
“I think she means anticlimatical,” Patsy said with great precision.
“Ah. Gotcha. Well, hell. I’m all keyed up to see a gorgeous guy.”
“I know!” Terri said, heading for the house. “Let’sh peek in the windows to see him.”
“Ter!” Patsy said, her voice hushed as she ran after Terri. “That’s illegal.”
“No it isn’t,” she insisted. “He’s your neighbor, right? That’sh not illegal to look in a neighbor’s house. You ever hear of Neighborhood Watch? We do it all the time. It’sh good. C’mon. Let’s peek.”
“Somehow, that makes sense,” I said, following the pair. “I think it’s because I’m drunk.”
By the time we found a window that wasn’t curtained, and which looked in on what appeared to be a living room done in shades of cream and white, Patsy had to pee again, and was urging us to return to her house.
“What’sh the big deal?” Terri asked, having some difficulty navigating the one step that led up to the doors.
“He’s my neighbor! I don’t want him pissed at me.”
“It’s not like he’s going to know we were here,” I pointed out, admiring the intricate tile laid in the entryway.
“He’s going to know I was here if I leave a big puddle of wee,” she said, her legs crossed as she did a little hopping dance. “Let’s go back home. I really have to go!”
“OK. I don’t see him anyw—hoo! I see him!” Terri plastered herself to the glass on either side of the double front doors, loudly jabbing the glass with her finger. “Look! Do you see? Oh, baby, you’re right. He is gorgeous, although he’s not naked. Hey, he’s looking this way. I wonder if he can see us?”
“It’s night outside,” I said, waving my arms around to show her the night. “See? Black. Night. No one can see us. We’re like ninjas. Except for the wee puddles.”
The door opened, light spilling out from inside, the silhouette of a man clearly visible. “Can I help you?” he asked, his voice deep and alluring with a slight German accent.
“I have to wee!” Patsy wailed, clutching at herself. She shoved the bottle at me and pushed past the neighbor into his house.
“Second door on the left,” he directed her. She ran in the direction he was pointing.
He turned back to us, but I couldn’t see him clearly, what with the light behind him. “Is there something I can do for you ladies?”
“Pats said you like to swim in the altogether,” Terri said, looking hopeful.
“Ah. Well, I’ve had my swim for the day. Is there anything else?”
He stepped out of the doorway and onto the entryway, straight into the light cast by a standing yard lamp a few feet away.
I dropped the bottle of wine, pointing at him as my skin tried to crawl away.
“What’s wrong, Cora?” Terri asked, weaving slightly. “You look like you’re going to barf.”
“Vampire,” I said, the word coming out as a croak.
The man, who had been reaching out to steady Terri, suddenly whirled around to look at me.
“What?” Terri asked, wobbling her way down the lone step.
“Vampire,” I repeated.
The man narrowed his green eyes at me. “Who the hell are you?”
“VAMPIRE!” I screamed, and suddenly, the world started spin, and a great big back hole opened up at my feet, and I fell into it.
The last sound I heard was that of Patsy. “Oh, thank you, Alec. I really didn’t want to wee on your lovely tile work. What’s Cora doing on the ground?”