Secret of the Blood
The unedited version
(Green Eyes on Ice Copyright ©) The moment of surrender had been coming for months. It was inevitable. It had been a failsafe vow. It had been as sure as the fading winter’s sunlight submitting to the sure darkness of night, with or without the promise of moon or stars…it had just been a matter of time.
With the prize being the pure and simple submission of destiny, will and soul, the odds were against such a conquest…especially in a town like Roslyn...above all with a girl like Kael…particularly at the hands of an outsider from the city, New York City at that.
The eleven word confession had come at the unlikeliest of times and places, or so it seemed to Lucian. He’d envisioned hearing them at the firelit end to a day of ice sailing on Little Kachess Lake or just before the shared glass of wine after scaling the icefalls of Sasse Mountain on a crystalline moonlit night. He’d dreamed of hearings the words “I’m ready my love, my heart is yours…take me away”… but not amidst the café chatter and clatter of a Wednesday night coffee-shop poetry slam. It just isn’t right, but I’ll take it.
Maybe she had finally gotten a glimpse of, and even felt a tingle of, that “harmonic resonance” he’d been telling her about…that haunting surety of something more…that promise of the unexpected and unseen, set aside for the chosen few who desired it purely. Whatever, I’ll take it.
Lucian smiled and grimaced as he sipped the froth off of his lukewarm cappuccino, recalling the first time he’d laid eyes on this beauty before him. It had been right at the turn…that one day that starts as summer and ends as fall. The day that marks the end of lake swims for no good reason. That one high day that shouts change and whispers anticipation. It seemed like yesterday. The four months had flashed by, full of everything rich and good.
Lucian had ventured out into the mountains for the first time since his move from the city. He’d been settled in for about a week. The firewood was in. The cabin was in order and stocked, finally, and he had felt the need to explore this new domain of his. He’d made one trip in to Roslyn for supplies but that was it as far as exploring had gone. Not much there to explore anyhow. What a reprieve from the clutter and garbage of the city. Lucian remembered the pure exhilaration of experiencing space…space with no people or cement.
Three sandwiches, a couple of U.S. Forestry maps, water and a compass and he was ready. Now show me what you got!
It had taken a mere ten minutes to find his perfect isolation, or so it had seemed.
He’d driven the marked dirt road for about half an hour before he stopped to consult his map and drink in the new air and North Cascade panorama laid out before him. A narrow jeep-trail had caught his eye, and the desire to try out 4-low on the 20-year old Land cruiser he’d picked up in Seattle won out over his usual cautiously analytical judgment. Straight up for another half mile had found himself at the top of some unnamed bluff, covered with soft tufts of bear grass and purple wildflowers, all waving to the lake and trees miles below.
Lucian could still feel that moment, that ethereal blast of primal beauty that had proclaimed his arrival and the advent of …..well….something….something vital and pure…something untainted by anything and everything he’d known before. He’d known that his metamorphosis would begin that day.
Now sitting here in The Roslyn Café, sipping a crappy cup of coffee and listening to worse poetry, he understood that moment. Lucian slid his barstool forward, leaning his face into the thick mane of long brown hair in front of him. A young woman’s gracefully sculpted arm with a gentle hand reached back casually and natural, cradling his face and pulling him closer, holding him tight against the smooth of her neck. Yeah, he’d take it.
The recital continued with another love-scorned sonnet, this one set to banjo music. Not too bad, thought Lucian, tapping his foot to the hammer-clawed tune and nuzzling in a little deeper. It had to have been something far beyond luck or even fate that day on the mountain, that brought this, all this, to me tonight.
Lucian pulled back slightly straining to catch a hint of the beauty behind all the hair. There it was… the full, red and white smile that lived on the edge of laughter, the green eyes that seemed too big and too deep. And here he was, going on like a smitten schoolboy. The hand pulled him down again…in again.
He’d forever been drawn to those eyes, that day on the mountain. He’d picked them out of a whole “group of eyes” that day on the mountain. He’d picked them out thin air, mid-flight, that day on the mountain.
That day on the mountain, Lucian had hiked up the grassy bluff to the towers of stone that loomed where the grass and flowers ended. From a distance the rocky structure had looked like any other rock-faced mountain top cliff. One he’d gotten to the base he had seen differently. The whole craggy precipice was comprised of many steeple-spired rock structures of various sizes and shapes. Some were interlocked and blended together while others did their own thing and rose skyward a good 300-400 ft. Just like the climbing wall back home at the club...sorta. He recalled that first look up between the twisting lines of fissured, fractured stone towers that reminded him of his old home. He had just started climbing. Climbing without fear…climbing without a rope or a plan. He’d known better, but, what the hell, it’s just a rock.
The climb had started out basic and really quite simple which only emboldened and goaded Lucian to press on. The feel of the stone was so much more visceral and personal than the composite farce of the sculpted mountain at the club. The connection was intimate and immediate, with the shadows of the sporadic clouds his silent partner in the dance across the smooth face of the granite tower. He was home. This was the interconnection that was missing…this must be what they meant.
He remembered the exact moment he suspected he might be in trouble. He had just pulled off the perfect dyno… …basically jumping off and back on to the rock face to improve his position. This had all been well and good, with ropes attached and comrades to advise and assist, but here he was, alone and ignorant to what this mountain had in store. The route was blind and uncharted… all the familiar hand and foot holds just weren’t quite where they should be…this wall wasn’t quite as friendly and warm. He had climbed himself into a dead-end…he had boxed himself up and out of any possibility of return. His only escape was to keep climbing.
Lucian’s natural ability had become almost legendary amongst the small group of climbers at Forever Lightless. It was a tightly knit group of friends and fellow believers that took climbing and Forever Lightless seriously. The wall at the club was legendary. Voted “biggest and best on the continent” by two of the top three climbing magazines, it was only accessible to a chosen few at the club. Lucian’s strength and flexibility defied the usual parameters for someone 6’2”, 210 lbs. His mentors had very early on realized his innate gift that covered anything and everything requiring speed, strength and agility…he was the perfect prototype
That day on the mountain, Lucian had faced his mortality closer than he ever wished…and only out of his own careless stupidity. He smiled, recalling the rage he had felt towards himself when he realized “the only way was up” and who knew what was “up there” waiting for him. He learned a lot, that day on the mountain.
Once realizing the desperation of his lot, Lucian had climbed with a passion and vengeance that bordered insanity. The handholds he risked and pulled off bordered insanity. Moves that defied gravity and physics, leverage that taunted the sacred rules of climbing mechanics, all became necessary…thus casual and mundane… all bordered insanity.
Lucian squirmed, there on his barstool, three feet high, recalling each toehold, grip and reach and release. He could never do it again…unless he had to.
He had reached the top after more than an hour of climbing and traversing the entire face of the rock in search of the one and only way. He’d exhausted all alternate routes and finally found that last little pitch of solid rock leading to salvation at the top.
Somebody sure as hell ought to write this down…this is the one and only damn way to the top and I’ll sure as hell never remember. Lucian laughed, there on his barstool. Like he’d ever do it again!
That day on the mountain, Lucian had lain there breathless and alone for nearly an hour, oblivious to everything except the pulsating flow and the quiet blow of his heart and the wafting breeze from the north. The sun was still high when he had opened his eyes for the first time since pulling himself over that final edge to the top. Lucian found himself gazing at the tops of six other columns more or less like the one he’d just climbed. Lord of the Rings stuff. This cluster of towers was all within a 200 yard radius, with the nearest column about fifty feet away, its peak slightly higher than the rest. The 20x20 ft. surface where he lay was mostly flat with a trace of mossy soil clinging to the granite floor. The entire rim of the shelf surface angled away into an extreme undercut except on the one small pitch that Lucian had just negotiated. His route had been the only way up or down.
“…Heah, Gumby…you O.K? Over here….no over here…down here.”
The voice was barely perceptible, hidden in the whistling wind that toyed with the bill of his cap and sunglasses.
A female voice, now quite distinct and removed from the breeze, had come from just below the nearest tower top, buried in the late afternoon sunlight. Lucian hadn’t seen a thing
“I’m fine” he’d yelled back, realizing that he’d just been tagged the lowest form of life as far as climbers were concerned. He’d broken just about every cardinal rule of climbing as far as safety and common sense went. He’d breeched the sacred code. At least it was a victimless crime…so far. Screw’em.
By now Lucian had heard more voices, all coming from the about the same spot. The metallic clink and jingle of climbing gear was unmistakable. Lucian remembered the sudden wave of relief that had loosened the tight knot in his stomach. No dying alone today.
The sun had finally ducked behind a big enough cloud for Lucian to venture a glance towards the action next door. The bright red of a climbing shoe was the first thing he’d seen, then a gloved hand, securing the hold…coming over the lip of the ridge. The green eyes were next.
Lucian looked down from his comfortable perch, here on his barstool. The Boreal Blades were just as red, though a bit more worn. The legs were just as long and strong, but a bit more tanned. The eyes were just as green…no...a bit more.
Five more climbers had soon joined Green Eyes on top. Soon all six were staring across at Lucian, talking amongst themselves. “What fool would ever attempt this 5.11 climb, alone and with no gear, and what kind of wicked-crazy climber he must be to have pulled it off.” Lucian had just seen finger pointing and moving mouths…and the green eyes.
“We’ll get you down if you just hold tight. We got some gear we’ll bring up…it’ll take about two hours… down then back up to ya….think you can wait that long?”
The tallest male of the three with the long black ponytail had yelled across to Lucian after a consensus had been reached by the group. The “waiting” question had been overtly derisive. Four of the group had already started the descent by the time Lucian had answered.
“That’s O.K….save your legs…if you can wait a minute or two, I’ll be right over.”
Lucian’s reply had seemed sincere and lacked any obvious sarcasm, his gaze riveted to the green eyes across the gap. He’d visualized what he was about to do with a lasered-clarity and precision. The launch, trajectory and target were as calculated as one could get, there on the mountain. He’d spent that entire hour just laying there, flying in his mind…flying high, straight and true… that day on the mountain.
With a deep breath and a final snapshot, Lucian had launched himself down the length of the mountaintop runway. His acceleration had reached top speed by his fifth step so he lengthened his stride the last three to sustain velocity and gauge his takeoff point correctly. Recruiting each and every fiber of every muscle in his body, Lucian exploded a right –footed leap off the last little inch of the mountain’s top.
Green Eyes and Ponytail had remained motionless and speechless after Lucian’s bizarre reply. They weren’t quite sure of what they’d heard. Both had remained obsessively fixated on the figure…midair, midflight, flying directly towards them. With arms cycling and a perfectly synched hitch-kick, Lucian had seemed to remain midair longer than natural…he had appeared to ride the wind more like a feather than the leaden combination of flesh and bone he was. The two bystanders had refused to take a breath. Lucian had finally taken his first since leaving the earth. He was on his way.
The green eyes had been his target, his steadfast goal. He had unblinkingly kept contact with those eyes…he had followed that line of sight, through the air…soaring towards them…..towards salvation.
Knowing in his heart that there was no way for the 50ft. gap to be spanned, Green Eyes’ friend had turned away, pulling his turtleneck up and over his eyes to avoid the looming tragedy. Green Eyes had stepped forward, to the edge, towards Lucian… arms outstretched and smiling, nodding slowly, breathing once again.
Lucian had tried to reconstruct and replay that moment countless times, striving to isolate and capture each perfect element that had come together, midflight…at that moment…that day on the mountain.
There on his barstool, tapping his foot and holding on, he knew that he had finally secured a big part of the equation of that moment.
What he had known and they hadn’t, that day on the mountain was that his goal had been far less noble and brave than as first perceived. Lucian’s momentum had carried him far out and away past what was humanly expected. As he had sailed by, the power of his leap spent, and falling short of the rocky landing, Green Eye’s smile and outstretched arms wilted and the breath left her again. The top of his cap was her last image as they shared that locked gaze during that last second before he’d vanished below her feet.
Lucian had hit his target, precisely and in rhythm. The angle of his descent had matched the sloped side-hill crevice that ran deep into the mountain. That jagged split in the mountain had been his goal, his target…those green eyes his incentive and reward. Lucian had been swallowed by the mountain without so much a sound. He’d hit the ground running, triumphantly sprinting between the stone walls of his castle tower, arms raised, proclaiming his victory.
Lucian would never forget the look from those green eyes, reddened and spoiled by the tears, when he had suddenly appeared behind her, back on the top. He had scrambled his way silently up and through the cracks and crannies before she had even left the edge. Her partner had just been sitting there on a rock, dazed, ipod cranked, staring north. Breathing hard and still sobbing, she had run to him without a word, arms and eyes wide open…running towards “her ghost …her Lazarus” she would later say.
The descent had been silent and hurried. Daylight was fading. With the added equipment and advice, Lucian had been more than able to keep pace with his two guides as the trio raced the shadows to the bottom. For some reason the rope that bound the three together had comforted Lucian not the slightest. Sharing each and every hand and foot hold, one after another, climbing together and close, with the green-eyed beauty, however did. Something about following her each and every move, hand to foot to hand…not together… but following… so exact… so close…same precise spot on the cool rock, shared…whatever, he’d liked it. That night, around the bonfire at the foot of the mountain, he had made friends and partied, celebrating that high day, there on the mountain.
That had been nearly four months ago… from that day on the mountain till this night in the café. The tight-knit group of friends had gradually let Lucian in and before long he was not only a welcomed equal, but he had actually become larger than the whole of the group. His mystical fireside philosophy had enthralled the deep thinkers and dreamers and his physical daring and superhuman feats had won over the brawn of the bunch. He had become their uncrowned leader of sorts, and nobody really cared even though he was a couple of years younger than them. What Lucian had exposed to these up and coming Brights was the cracked veneer of everything they thought they knew and stood for. Lucian had methodically dismantled, or at least called into serious question each and every sacred secular pillar that had been passed off as truth at the university.
The fireside chats that followed each adventure of the day always had the flavor of a midweek vespers, minus the hymns. They’d talked of things unseen. They’d wondered after and even dared to envision desperate struggles pitting angel against demon…wraithlike battles that intersected human dimension. Lucian had shared the secrets from Forever Lightless … secrets he’d brought with him to share. How all of this mattered, what this all meant in everyday life….this was the food for thought that Lucian served up continually. “A progressive evolutionary deist”…that’s what Lucian had tagged himself. He was a “true believer”… a “meat-eating vampire with a vision” he’d joked. Forget all that veggie-vamp stuff. They’re all missing the point.”
It was during a full-mooned swim two months ago. The six friends had just passed Arrow Point and were clustered together at the half-way point for the encouraging “group hug” and safety check before the two mile swim back home. The moonglow had blended and swirled the lake, with the night swimmers stuck right there in the middle… treading water…wondering where the sky ended and the milky water began. The scene had begged for some profound, syrupy caption. Instead, a challenge had been issued. That night, immersed in whatever the moon and lake shared in common, choices were made….choices that would change the world forever.
“Tell me…just tell me you can’t feel it…just tell me….it’s here…he’s here… he’s all around…can’t you hear…can’t you see…what more do you need to see?” The guttural words hung and mixed with a palpable presence that each swimmer felt in their own special way even though they could never describe it.
Lucian had whispered this to Kael, who just happened to be closer than the rest, swimming naked in Lucian’s wake. That’s how it had seemed to be, these last few months…Lucian and Kael …closer. Everybody noticed, but nobody really cared. It had seemed the natural and obvious thing, following the romantic dictates of biology, chemistry and physics. Whatever…it was meant to be.
“Feel what...who’s here…you O.K. Lucian…you O.K.?” Doren had been the first to respond. Being the strongest and most experienced swimmer of the group, he was well aware of the signs of fatigue and delirium in distance swimming. This sudden hallucinogenic outburst had come out of the blue and the whisper had been strained and hollow, so unlike the usually animated Lucian.
The swimmers had all paddled in a little closer together, each ready to assist or rescue after overhearing these first words since land. As the five had tightened the circle around Lucian, a deep agitation from somewhere beneath the silky smooth surface had encompassed them. The churning and foaming within the confines of the ring of friends had lasted a good 10 seconds, then vanished without so much as a breath of wind to blame.
“What the hell was that all about?” Sasha, the “quiet one” had spoken for all five. There had been a hint of apprehension and fear in her voice, that night on the lake. There had been no denying the obvious.
“It’s about nothing more than an answer… it’s the answer we all need... it’s what I’ve been hoping for… what we’ve been hoping for. You all have to decide, here tonight.”
Lucian had slowly swum counterclockwise, engaging the gaze of each for a moment or two before disappearing beneath the water. Only Kael had followed. For a full minute, the remaining four had treaded water, silently scanning the rippling horizon for their lost friends. One hundred yards away, towards the north shore, with a primal gasp that easily carried twice as far, the two had resurfaced together…that night on the lake.
Now here in the cafe, two months later, the six friends, each with their own version of that night on the lake, shared a cup of coffee and laughed at the silly rhymes of real people baring their souls. It was all good fun…picking out the one or two lines that “meant something” to each.
From his barstool, Lucian picked out the four scattered throughout the room. Each sat alone or at least with somebody else, someone new. That night on the lake had changed everything. Apologies and excuses had been made for missing the usual get-togethers. Conversations had degraded to polite and mundane pleasantries and small talk. The mystical bonds that had been forged by brave dreaming and a shared thrill or two had diluted and dissolved. Only Lucian and Kael remained after that night on the lake.
“Let’s go…before I change my mind.” Kael leaned back and whispered loudly as the buzz and applause hailed yet another mind-blowing summation of life, love and everything else that matters. The artist was some middle-aged guy wearing a gunny-sack hemp tunic and sporting a head full of gray dreadlocks.
Far out man!
Kael was now laughing outright at this last recitation feebly struggling to make a point or two regarding relativism and the implications of not being able to really know anything for sure.
“Never looked at it that way… “words can’t be trusted so why trust anything”. What the hell does that mean?” Lucian was up off his stool gently pulling Kael to her feet.
“ What it means, my dear Lucian is that you have to really think about the words I just threw your way….that poem….that promise….that pledge. Are you really ready for what I just confessed before the entire world?” Her words were presented as a challenge, an ultimatum…she was calling his bluff.
With a surprisingly strong and aggressive twist and pull of his arm, Kael forced Lucian around and to her, closing the space between till their foreheads bumped lightly, her squint-eyed glare lasting a second or two before the green eyes and red and white smile took over, once again. “Are you ready for me….me forever?”
Lucian shouldn’t have been surprised by this little outburst that somehow put him in a defensive mode that he was not all that familiar with. This was just a small piece of what comprised the subtle, overwhelming attraction that drew him to her. He craved her submission and her strength, her endorsement and criticism to keep him strong, honest and focused.
“I’ve... been waiting…for you…forever.” Lucian pulled her closer, the hint of a kiss hovering between them. There amidst the coffee and crumbs, with the promise of that kiss silently mirrored deep in each others eyes, the loop closed, the knot tightened, the bond cemented….Forever was theirs.
Nobody noticed as the two exited the tiny café, leaving their half full cups near the edge of the retro metallic table. The shared excitement of “new and wonderful” revelations exposed by the eclectic assortment of bards and rhymesters had transfigured the little coffee shop into a big tent revival for the bored, clever overthinkers in town. Quoting Dawkins, Hume and Hitchens as if best friends, marveling at the wonders of selfish genes and clever memes, the coffee talkers were quite content at finally being able to paint their little reality in the only way that made sense. Something finally backed up the way they lived their lives…..finally.
Lucian and Kael left for same reason....finally.
Deep, red blood …I drink you in… The life I live is life you give, past my deep ocean of pain, becoming my love insane. Forever it seems but a moment away sealed by the kiss we share…My body and soul bequeath I you…bestowed by my blood-taint prayer.
Lucian slowly and deliberately, reverently, recited the fifty words that had ended his quest that night. They had had come at the end of Kael’s recitation that night at the coffee shop. She had attached this handful of words seamlessly to the verse and flow of another, creating something unknowable and new for the two young lovers who had yet to love.
“What made you choose that poem, how’d you match those words to my heart?”
The smoky vapor of Lucian’s frozen breath wisped above, around and behind Kael’s face creating a misshapen, flawless halo.
“You are my perfect angel. I knew…. I knew it would be that verse... that very poem…I just knew.”
Lucian and Kael had walked the 2 blocks to her 2<sup>nd</sup> floor studio apartment with Lucian’s words being the only ones spoken to this point. Her words had come earlier. The stark winter shades of gray and white played off the
old shops and storefronts that made up downtown, creating a monotonous snapshot apart from the vitality and life emanating from the two. They were the splash of color and the spark the scene needed.
“It was that day in the cemetery….you remember…the picnic in the graveyard…when the leaves fell…when you told me about the secrets, the secrets of Forever Lightless…the secrets of forever. When you told me how you were set aside and chosen…the science and passion of the research… the science and passion of the blood…the secrets of the blood... that’s why I picked the poem, even though I’d never read it or heard it. I knew the thoughts; I felt the words that had to be.”
Kael pulled herself closer to the warmth of Lucian, remembering that fall day as another high day, there amidst the granite, grass and pine trees of the little mountain cemetery just outside Roslyn.
“Remember how we danced around and over the stones and grass, celebrating the stories beneath?
Remember my look when you promised me that eternal forever? You promised me I’d never need a stone to hold the story of my life. Remember? Remember later that day at the library, after we got too cold to eat…when we snuck our lunch in and ate in the corner by the window…right between Hemmingway and Keats? You’d called me your nightingale and then you left me…right after finishing your sandwich, you just left me.
Kael stopped walking and squeezed Lucian’s ungloved hand for a reply. Lucian laughed as Kael pulled away and shoved him towards the curb, a just punishment indeed for such a rude gesture. He remembered the day well. It had been a day of unveiling and sharing. It had been a day of risk with questionable return.
“I remember…I was afraid it was too much too soon. I was afraid you wouldn’t understand. But ….now I know….you did….you do.”Lucian was still laughing as he warded of the mittened punches to his midsection.
The two had now reached Kael’s apartment and stopped behind Lucian’s truck parked on the street. The street was silent and lonely with all but one anemic streetlight burned out or broken. One isolated little light from the gabled window of Kael’s bedroom was the only house light visible for blocks. The stone lamp that Lucian had given her 2 months earlier had been kept lit since the day he’d given it to her. Day and night, night and day, it remained in the window and on. He’d never asked, she’d never offered. It seemed beyond the need to explain away in real or romantic terms. The little rock lamp spoke for itself.
“The lamp will be o.k. …let’s just go.” Both of them had been staring at the frosted glow in the window as they huddled close against the icy back window of the Rover. Kael dug deeper into Lucian’s coat pocket and triggered the remote, eliciting a honk, click and flash from the frosty vehicle.
“Let’s go now.” Kael led Lucian to the street side door and opened it wide for him.
“We go now.” Lucian smiled and mumbled the reply as he slid onto the brittle vinyl bench seat and keyed the ignition. The cold engine struggled to idle until Kael entered and slammed her door. Once inside and locked in their own sparkling ice palace, the kiss that had been held hostage all night was unleashed and satisfied. Not until the faint hint of warmth and an uneven defrost of the windshield became evident did the kiss end…their paradise now open to the outside world’s intrusion.
“I took this, that day in the library after you left me.” Kael reached and pulled out a small leather bound book from her inside coat pocket. The pages were worn and dog-eared with only a hint of gold leaf still showing. She was still breathless from the kiss.
“All your talk of Forever Lightless…the science…the blood…immortality and evolution….none of it made sense until I read this. It all seemed so cold and calculating till I understood what this poem was trying to say. I will be your nightingale Lucian, and together we will find the secret…the bloodsecret that creates and sustains, that satisfies and endures forever….the red rose of immortality for both of us.”
Kael took a deep breath and closed her eyes remembering that moment when the poetry had connected to all that Lucian had been telling her. It was just a poem…and he was just a boy with visions, stories and dreams, but together there seemed a haunting clarity and purpose emerging.
Lucian had worked the little truck’s way through the snow-narrowed streets and onto Salmon La Sac Road which followed the east lake shoreline. A thick lunar glow filtered through the tree line above the road. Headlights were optional tonight, especially on such an occasion as this…this triumphant return… this victory ride… to the castle… whatever.
“I’ve dreamed of this night.”
Lucian broke his silence as he turned onto the lakeshore drive. The full force of the moon’s light glaring off the iced lake was blindingly beautiful. He reached for Kael’s hand after clicking off the headlights and pulling over onto a graveled turnout overlooking the shimmering expanse they’d swam in just months before. With the window open, the silent cold was broken only by the distant howl of some lovesick coyote or wolf singing to the moon above.
“The nights alone in the trees above Forever Lightless…I dreamed of this night…with you. The very words from your poem…from the book you took from the library… are carved and written on the trees, there at Forever Lightless. Carved and written by the hand of the author himself, many years ago…at Forever Lightless. I’ve even tasted his blood…at Forever Lightless.” Lucian was speaking as if to affirm the sheer magic and mystery of this story of theirs…this well-plotted, scripted tale that neither could escape.
“Carved trees…tasted his blood…. What..?” Kael wasn’t shocked, just inquisitively aroused and curious.
“I will take you there…you will see it all… you will taste it all.” Lucian leaned over, brushing aside the thick brown of Kael’s hair, exposing the smooth white of her neck to his deliberate, gentle kiss.
“Let’s go now. That’s my lamp-light across the lake…let’s go.” They both laughed as Lucian pulled back out onto the road, sans headlights. “We go now,” whispered Kael.
The flow and go of the moonlit ride was dizzying. The moving vehicle was just one of the elongated shadows unfolding along the lakes edge. It was a slow, jubilant, happy ride with both Kael and Lucian laughing and singing no particular song…laughing and singing because they had too. The moment demanded it.
With the ice of the lake a mere 10 feet to the left and a smooth snowy bank just above on the right, the little lake road dutifully worked it way around the shoreline to the nearing light of Lucian’s north shore cottage. The singing seemed to intensify as they neared their new home.
It was Kael that first sensed the presence….the intruder. She cried out even before she caught the glimpse out of the corner of her eye… above and to the right.
“Lucian...watch out!” The primal scream came mid song and laugh. The blurred forms of three animals running just above and now in front of their lightless vehicle flashed into view for both Lucian and Kael. With one fateful turn and step the creatures veered off the bank in unison onto the iced gravel road mere inches ahead of the slow-moving vehicle.
The instant and reflexive turn lake ward avoided the first but caught the second creature straight on sending its body skyward towards the lake with a thud and yelp. The third turned to escape but became impaled on the heavy metal grillwork of the front bumper. With no time or space to correct, the top-heavy truck caught the soft shoulder of the road, flipping it counterclockwise through the air and towards the flat of the frozen lake.
Lucian reached for Kael just as he felt himself being launched forward towards the windshield.
Damn! Forget the seatbelt again. His reflexes saved his head and face as his outstretched arms took out the glass prior to his flight out of the vehicle towards the lake.
The surreal, sequenced freeze frames of Kael, strapped in the truck, sliding along the ice, along with the limp carcass of whatever he’d just hit cart wheeling through the air, and his furry brother stuck to the front bumper, was Lucian’s last visual imprint before the dull thump of the ice rendered him unconscious, that night on the lake
Somebody needs to turn off that damn spot light…..turn it off….please turn it off! The blinding headache eased a little if he closed his eyes. Lucian forced a bruised eyelid glance towards the offending source directly overhead.
Get that damn moon out of here! “Kael! Kael!”
Lucian’s scream was as primal as any, with the naked, guttural passion of desperation driving it. That last visual imprint had rebooted and brought everything into an instantly focused frenzy. Slipping and sliding in the liquid red of what he knew to be his own blood, Lucian willed himself to his feet, swooning like a drunken street-mime, groping to find something real to hold onto.
Looking out and across the flat frozen expanse of ice, Lucian strained to find anything on top. Not knowing how long he’d been out, not seeing Kael, an unknown fear gripped him. Where was she, where was the truck?
Lucian scanned the shoreline, trying to gauge where they’d left the road. He followed the slight break in the snow at the road’s edge to the rutted track that mapped the course of the vehicle. Running and stumbling with purpose, tracing the gouged ice, Lucian knew the answer before actually seeing it.
The white line scarring the lake’s glazed surface ran out about 50 feet from the shoreline and Lucian now could see where it ended. The web-cracked fracturing began a good 20 feet from the gaping hole at the lines end.
Lucian ran with the focused attention of rescue and redemption on his mind. How in hell could he have let this happen? Approaching the hole where his Kael had vanished, Lucian noticed the protrusion of a black object angled, impaling the ice itself. He quickly identified it as a bent, metal crossbar from the brush guard that protected the Rover’s headlamps and grill. Peering into the black iced water that still bubbled and foamed from the recent violence, Lucian hoped against hope to see what his heart longed to see, but knew the real answer before seeing it.
The blue-white, broken ice chunks were all that floated in the pool…no truck…no Kael. As Lucian frantically circled the pool’s perimeter, his hopeful eyes came to rest on the only “non-white” object visible, save the impaling metal pipe. There, against the edge, wedged between one of the larger bergs, he noticed a blackened clump of what appeared to be a wadded blanket or piece of clothing draped over and around the floating ice. The slight movement from the black against white was more of a spasm or twitch, but Lucian noticed it none the same. Life of some sort…he dared wish.
Just as he approached his “sign of life”, the ice floor to his right, towards the north shore, lit up and glowed with an eerie, silvery luminescence that spread and faded….. a lop-sided oval tattooing the lake. More signs!
It was a good 50 feet from the pool and Lucian was there atop it in an instant, but not before the glow had vanished. Peering through that giant crystal looking –glass, straining to willfully create an image worthy of the night’s earlier celebration, Lucian threw himself against the smooth-cold in prostrate, humble supplication. Again the light flashed and spread, flooding the very spot he rested on…an instant, visible answer to his prayer.
Through the ten inches of frozen water, the very fluid of summer swims and midnight sails, the rippling image of green eyes too big and Kael’s face stared back at him…at him…the answer to her prayer.
It had been nights…weeks….months of foreshadowing ever since that day on the mountain. That irrefutable, expectant foreshadowing had encircled and possessed Kael’s every moment, thought and breath. That night in the café, in front of cowboy strangers and bright friends, she had with hardly a breath taken, poured into each and every of the 2333 words, the vital essence of each of those moments, thoughts and breaths. The words had been another’s from over a century earlier, but that hadn’t mattered. Somehow this ancient soul, this kindred spirit, had waited for her to read his poem. He had patiently waited for a strong, noble, perfect lover to ingest and understand the deep beauty and delicate placement of his words and thoughts that flowed in, around and behind his perfect tale. Kael had been waiting too. That day in the library she had found something worth becoming. That night in the café was her coming out, her debut, her unveiling.
Whatever…it was even better than I expected, seeing the look on my Lucian’s face…that moment after my final words, in the middle of all that awkward silence, just before they all realized something special had just occurred…cowboys and brights alike. And now here I am, back in our ice palace, but alone and cold, waiting for my love to rescue me.
Kael’s path to Lucian and that night on the lake had begun as far back as she could remember. She had always captured and painted the other side of beauty… always sensing and living in between the lines of “everybody else’s reality”. She’d been that way as a little girl, questioning her father’s bedtime stories and challenging her Sunday school teachers. She’d been that way as a young woman, defying convention at the university and plotting her life with her own template and pace. The undeniable physical beauty and strength she took for granted, overwhelmed most others thus, making her unattainable and unapproachable. That’s how and why Lucian had, without so much as an effort or agenda, totally captured her body, mind and soul….he had understood her without having to ask. She had surrendered without so much as a shot fired.
That’s how I’ll explain to you mom…you always taught me not to go with flow just to be floating…you always told me not to settle for the moon and stars when there is so much more out there…that’s how I’ll tell you why I’ve picked Lucian. I know I’ll tell you all about this …when Lucian gets me out of here and back up to where I belong.
By now Kael was beginning to feel the effects of the iced water throughout every fiber of her body. With the water level rising steadily up and over the seat in the cab of the Rover, there really was no place to go. It had been 1 or 2 minutes since that smooth slide across the ice. On its sturdy roof, the little green truck had casually slid its way a good 100 yards from the shoreline. The tiny clock on the dash was still ticking. Kael had noticed those little orange hands on the clock, midair, midflight, right as Lucian had flown out the cab, out of her life. Twelve after twelve. It was now twelve fourteen….nearly.
Seemed later…could sure use that coffee we left!
The tin-can hockey puck slide had been smooth and gentle after that first jolt coming down out of the air, off the road. Kael had felt secure and safe strapped in the cab. She had even compensated for the landing, timing it perfectly with a climber’s lithe bracing of arms and legs to minimize any shock or blow. Her training served her well…not a bump or bruise. As the sliding slowed, Kael had even started to unbuckle the seatbelt for her exit.
The cannon-shot crack and thunder had come just as the sliding stopped. The slight tilt of the truck’s nose and the deliberate slide into the water atop the fractured ice was beyond her comprehension. This couldn’t be happening. With the windshield gone, the lake water had rushed in with an initial surge that subsided only as the vehicle settled. The slow motioned somersault had tipped the vehicle upright once again …the liquid cold of the lake displacing the remaining air up, out and away from Kael in convulsive, frothing spasms.
Able to escape the clutches of her seat belt, Kael had scrambled up and over to the higher, drier back seat. Gotta get out of here now!
Kael could feel and hear the scrape and groan of sheet-metal on ice and the sense of surging motion was undeniable. Some sort of current or flow was pushing…pulling… drawing the little vehicle along, down and under the ice and away from the shoreline.
Where was he….why isn’t he coming for me?
Only the slightest hint of light from above penetrated through to Kael as she struggled to keep her orientation and senses from totally betraying her.
Thank God for the full moon! If only there was more light….to see where I am…where I’m going….where Lucian is…if only he knew where I was.
The sudden revelation jolted Kael out of her morbid, hypothermic reverie.
Lights…lights…more lights! We were driving with our lights off the whole way. Here I am Lucian, here’s my lamp in the window… here’s my light…always on for you!
With wooden, paralyzed hands Kael reached over the front seat and groped towards the submerged dashboard, pulling anything that felt like a knob or lever. The third knob pulled produced a tiny blue spark that buzzed her fingertips, penetrating the numbing anesthesia that was spreading from her periphery towards her vital core. With the slightest delay, the headlights lit up, bathing Kael and her icy crypt in a warm, lustrous glow. The light lasted 3 seconds before flickering and dying.
“No…no…come back…I need you…I need more…more light now…please!”
Kael recoiled at the scream that was hers as it resonated dully in the rapidly shrinking air pocket. It didn’t sound like her…she had never sounded this desperate or alone.
Even in her semi-lucid state, Kael was acutely aware of the steady, progressive tingle and burn as her tissue became more and more disconnected from the vital, nourishing flow of blood that now had more important places to occupy. Hypoxia, acidosis, cellular death, she knew the physiology…she knew the death spiral all to well. “Thanks so much for saving my brain so I can really appreciate all this finger and toe freezing stuff…..great….”
Kael meant to laugh but wasn’t sure if she did or not.
Seems like time to sleep right now…time to close my eyes and wait for my Lucian.
A millisecond before her heavy eyelids executed one final blink and close, another flicker and flash from the water-logged headlights lit up Kael’s world. As she forced a look up and out of her entombment, a rippling, distorted apparition materialized above her, vaguely familiar but too far away to recognize.
Need more light. Gotta get closer.
Needing more light to see, but knowing the answer, Kael mustered and directed her final bit of organized, effective energy towards comprehending the visage above her and holding her head above the rapidly encroaching water. With a painfully concerted effort, Kael marshaled a focus and clarity that slowly sharpened and defined the image into something tangible and familiar.
It was her Lucian, beautiful, alive and well….come to warm her blood and breath, her heart and soul… come to take her home.
Lying against the unforgiving cold, stretched out defenseless and vulnerable, Lucian fought back the initial surge of hopeless despair when he realized the depth and breadth of the chasm separating his Kael from him.
This damned crystal concrete has her….has her locked away... vaulted… safe and sound from the only one that can save her!
“Kael….Kael …can you see me…can you hear me? Let me know….show me something.”
Lucian shouted as forcefully as his voice allowed, mouthing each word slowly as he focused once again into the green of her eyes, hoping for a glimmer of recognition and response. He noticed the slender space that divided the lake water from headliner inside the truck’s cab. He also noticed that Kael’s nose and mouth were inhabited that small tiny bit of no man’s land that contained the secret of life for that particular moment.
The slightest flutter of Kael’s left eyelid was actually visible through the ice…no problem for someone looking….hoping…praying for it. The eyes turned just a bit greener and Lucian knew his Kael was still with him. The red and white of her smile was faded and blanched but it was a smile all the same. Silent, unknown words from pale, blue lips were formed and offered Lucian’s way. They all remained trapped below, filling the remaining air with one last poem of good-by, one final promise of return, one last… whatever.
Lucian chose the words he wanted to hear …words of trust and hope…an utterance that realized the impossible…a declaration of his power to yet defy this tragic moment. Even as he watched the horizon of air around his love’s face rising and shrinking, Lucian knew she would soon be in his arms, warmed and revived beside the crackled fire.
Knowing and seeing what he must do, and in a most profound and articulate way, Lucian motioned and mouthed “I’ll be right back, I love you” then sprinting back towards the pool with a renewed vitality and strength.
Focusing on the one object of his desire, Lucian approached the little pool, full of tiny icebergs and water, with a reckless abandon. Reaching for the metal pipe stabbed through the ice, he caught it full flight, midair, halting his charge and loosening the lake’s brittle grip all at once. Only once he had his weapon firmly in hand did Lucian notice anything else. The slight movement and the hint of a sound pulled his gaze again to the black and white iceberg of just before the earlier, jubilant flash of lights.
The splash and growl from the darkened ice flow froze Lucian mid step. With one final, surging lunge the jet black wolf scratched and scrambled his way up and out of the water a mere10 feet from Lucian. The yellow eyes of the animal remained fixated on Lucian as he shook himself dry, transfiguring into the massive furry beast he really was.
Damn, just what I need! Lucian laughed out loud, turning his back casually like a toreador to a beaten bull. Lucian’s first few steps were slow and deliberate, then again the full sprint back to the rescue at hand.
Sliding headlong the last 12 feet towards the now dimming underwater glow, Lucian again breathed the prayer of a desperate lover asking for that one last chance to pursue and persuade.
“Just let her still be there…keep the lights on just for her…give me power to reach her.” Lucian slid directly over to the “still green” eyes looking his way.
“YES! You waited! You waited! I’ll be there soon my love….I’ll fly to you!” Lucian directed these words to the fading paled white of his Kael, his nightingale.
The faint smile returned was all he needed. Rising to his feet with a spring-coiled leap, Lucian raised the metal pole overhead and attacked the lakes surface with a vengeance. Each plunge and blow contained a power, passion and precision that nothing earthly dared resist. With each speared lunge piercing closer and closer to his prize, Lucian could feel the breath of each kiss…each brush of the hand… all just inches away, each taunting and beckoning in their own way.
With one final mighty stroke through the heart of the ice, the wall was finally breached…the armor pierced. The metallic shaft glided just inches from Kael’s expectant face, then back up. Breathless and exhausted Lucian collapsed to the ice, pressing his mouth to the small hole as if to somehow force some bit of his breath to Kael. Only the slosh of water occupied the hole. Looking down, Lucian realized that as long as the metal prison of the truck confined his Kael, this saving gesture and tunnel was useless. She had to leave the safety of her dwindling air supply and tap into this endless supply he was offering her. Motioning frantically, Lucian tried to communicate this to Kael who wasn’t even looking his way.
The air pocket was now gone and the truck was sinking with an impatient longing to leave for the bottom. Kael had sensed everything Lucian had hoped she would. Her exit out the gaping hole from the missing windshield was labored and sluggish…arms and legs barely moving…muscles hardly working.
“Remember our midnight swims….minutes underwater….gliding together without so much as the need of a breath!”
Lucian exhorted her on as the body of the little truck faded from view with only a bubble or two to mark its passing. Lucian’s rant had caused the lone spectator wolf to pause, tilt his head slightly, then continue his grooming.
Slowly stroking towards the salvation of the tiny air hole, Kael focused on Lucian’s face…mid water…mid flight, inching towards the only connection available to her love and life.
Suddenly realizing the obvious, Lucian grabbed the pipe, shoving it through and below, as deep as he could, offering a handhold and the only access to his air above. Kael smiled weakly and nodded, grasping the shaft above as she sealed her ashen lips around the mouth of the pipe after Lucian had purged the lake water and replaced it with his own warm breath. Lucian removed his mouth only when he felt the slight resistance and puff of air from Kael as her long overdue exhalation and first breath filled the pipe.
Lucian stepped back, staring down at the scene below, trying to figure the next step required to accomplish this rescue, this liberation from the visible iced- hell that held his love captive. He knew time was short. The bitter frozen clutches of hypothermia already had a death grip on his Kael.
The sound of Kael’s respirations resonating the length of the pipe was an ultimate comfort for Lucian. He leaned closer to feel and…..yes…even taste the breath from just below him.
“Unto….death…..unto death….our love.” The words were chopped and disjointed, interrupted by a shallow breath and a gasp or two. “Our …love…is unto death.”
With an impassioned, imploring gaze Kael remained just below, attached to her lifeline…holding on for dear life. The tubular reverberation of her words made the message cold and robotic, but the green eyes more than made up for it. With one last taken from above, eyes fixed on Lucian, Kael released her fragile grip on the pipe and slowly began to sink from Lucian’s sight.
“No! No!…I’m coming…hold on….” Lucian wrenched the pipe from the hole and assaulted the ice once again, this time indiscriminately. Unable to stand the fury of Lucian’s relentless attack, the ice soon shattered, becoming nothing but slush in the foamy pool. Only the white of Kael‘s fingertips were visible when Lucian dove headfirst after her, splitting the icy debris momentarily before disappearing beneath it….reunited …this night on the lake.
Following the white fingertips and the green eyes, Lucian struggled to overtake his prize. This isn’t like our last midnight swim, that last night on the lake.
With one final desperate stroke, Lucian lunged downward, extending his reach to grasp Kael’s wrist which was floating lazily amidst her swirling hair. The green eyes were open but vacant and dull. A steady stream of pearled bubbles exited Kael‘s nose and open mouth, filtering through all the swirling hair, then past Lucian on their way up. He knew she had left him at that moment. Now he had to get her back. Her life was still in his hands.
With Kael’s wrist now firmly locked in his grip, Lucian began his ascent. Exhibiting the powerfully efficient, knifing strokes of a master diver, Lucian propelled himself and her lifeless body up towards the starry skies he could now make out between the bobbing ice chunks above. Reaching the surface, he amassed one last surge of strength, pulling Kael up and past him, vaulting her limp form out of the water and onto the ice. She was laying face down, motionless, when Lucian reached her side seconds later.
With no signs of life or breath visible, Lucian began her resuscitation immediately. His breath became hers once again…each beat of her heart given from him…with his. With each proceeding cycle of breaths and compressions, with each eager check for life-signs, Lucian replayed and relived the moments shared with his Kael over the last 4 months.
The words and thoughts that mixed and finally matched…that day on the mountain…that night on the lake…that day in the cemetery…in the library…this very night in the café. Perhaps she could sense and feel these moments too, together with him, right now. Who could not want that? How could she not return to him…to all this waiting for her?
Knowing the facts of cold water resuscitation, the diving reflex and hypothermia, Lucian was confident that the combination of Kael’s inner and physical strength along with his own would prevail over this little“inconvenient” accident interrupting his plans…their plans.
“If only she knew more of the secret…if only she had tasted and drank all that I have.”
Lucian lost count of the beats and breaths. He lost count of how many times his cold fingers gently probed and palpated the smooth white of her neck in search of that elusive throb and flow. He lost count of all the times he thought he saw her eyes flutter, as if to open, her lips quiver as if to smile or kiss. He lost count of everything, that night on the ice. The 2 hours of pounding on Kael’s fragile chest and filling her with his breath seemed like minutes at the most. Her return was always but a beat and breath away.
Still knowing and believing, that, by the warmth of a fire, they would soon share the kiss and wine promised, Lucian lay his head beside Kael’s, his cold fingertips lightly pressed against her neck…the warm moonlight and mournful howl persuading his heavy eyes to close…with hers.
It was the gradual shift from light to dark…the veil being lowered slowly…the darkening room that woke Lucian from his sleep. The solitary rogue cloud, all alone, had erased the moon from the nightsky. It was that absence of light that stirred Lucian from his deep slumber. It was that cloud that had given him back his life.
Struggling to move his nearly frozen limbs, Lucian sensed a haunting presence and heaviness looming over, through and around him. Gotta get up and moving… gotta get outta here…gotta get her home.
Lucian, against his will, was forced to face the stark reality of the night.
Then, as if a grand black stage curtain, the little cloud’s sister shadow drew back and away from the moon, exposing to Lucian, starting at her feet, the stiff, frozen corpse of Kael. Lucian tried to stifle the scream that erupted from his throat to no avail. That waxen ghostly face is fine for a china doll, but not my Kael!
With trembling hands, numbed and beyond sensation, Lucian shook the body, gently at first, then with a passion that bordered on violence.
“How dare you leave me…here…now. What have I done wrong…why….what else do I need….what do I lack?”
Lucian screamed aloud, his tears now streaming… dripping across and down Kael’s forehead and cheeks, filling those green eyes too big, then freezing.
As Lucian pulled Kael’s lifeless body to him, a small, waterlogged book fell from the inner pocket of her coat. Picking it up clumsily, Lucian brushed the powdered snow from the black-leathered front cover. The gold lettering could still be made out despite the obvious recent wear. The Nightengale and the Rose, by Oscar Wilde.
Swallowing hard and without a backward glance, Lucian pocketed the little book, eyes closed. Turning towards the north shore, eyes wide open, he ignored the not too distant howl and staggered off across the polished ice towards the now darkened window of his cottage….that night on the lake.
Written by Wayne Mussatto & Den (Lucian Wilde) Copyright ©