I became the keeper of a family secret. I guess that’s a standard issue inheritance for a never-married, middle-aged woman. Just call me spinster, or Bethany Ludlow, according to my birth certificate. I answered to either, and it was inevitable that my profession of choice was librarian.
Even before an unexpected familial delivery, hours were spent immersing myself in my genealogy to keep busy. I was much better with family on the page than in person. The multitude of nieces and nephews, cousins and seconds were easier on the nerves from this perspective. Somehow, I always ended up as the pied piper for the pre-teen set, a place I did not relish, but tolerated for everyone’s sake.
Fortunately, my spinster status wasn’t a fatal; I merely fell into an apathetic spiral after my last relationship ended a decade ago. Without energy or inclination, I must have been destined to be alone. It was surprising, recounting a few years later that I actually missed companionship; surprised because it had taken years, but there was nothing to be done about it. Too much time had passed and it showed. With not many regrets, I fell into the invisible although, I admit, it would have been nice to feel that once in a lifetime love and live it.
At least I had a project. My work life was a satisfying, a steady passage of routine, built over another, but it was a deliberate misdirection. Keep yourself occupied here, so you don’t have time to think of the rest. Having that strong outward face, occasionally I believed it. Fortunately my work continued unaltered. I needed that routine. I managed the rare book section, with texts often on loan from some remarkable locales.
And it was an ordinary Thursday that my aunt passed away. I had been named in her honour and it was a synergy of sorts. Another lonely woman. I thought she would have lived forever, at least I had hoped so.
The inheritance was more than figures on a cheque, an ancient leather-bound book, which could have been used as a prop in any medieval retelling, fell into my possession and I saw in it a perspective going back past the Middle Ages. Removing my white blazer, methodically, I began to comb through the text, a fascinating discovery on each page. So few personal accounts exist in a continual timeline, from that period to this and it laid bare the births and deaths, marriage and progeny of my ancestors, up to and including myself, but the majority of space was dedicated to the intimate thoughts “the keepers.”
“Perhaps I’d publish,” my academic mind whirled; this can’t be kept in the dark, such history. This treasure can’t languish in the forgotten trunk that it was delivered in. But just as quickly, my sweet aunt’s face swam into memory and dashed the entire prospect. One thing I knew, I needed to preserve it. It was my own biological imperative and the only one I’d ever have, so with micro-tongs in hand, I began to read.
Tracing the timeline backwards, starting with the most recent, I took careful steps to separate the immensely fragile documents.
Hours turned into days, and days to weeks and one name kept recurring. John Deacon repeated through the centuries, each entry as unique as the distinctive inks and styles of the women who put pen to paper.
Who was this man? The multitude of intertwined genealogical trees didn’t list his name anywhere, it was only in the keepers’ journals, which were so soiled with age, they were indecipherable.
Leaning back in my chair, I stretched, the lumbar support misshaping my sore spine. Removing my reading glasses, I rubbed the bridge of my nose and tried to realign my aging parts. Gingerly sliding down off the stool, I turned off the clinical looking lamp and walked around the tiny closet that I’d co-opted to be my office. Yawning so hard my eyes watered, the days labours had taken their toll. Or maybe it was because I had whacked my foot into the decrepit trunk that took up far too much floor space. Cursing, I shook out the pain, then bent to open the lid.
The smell of damp greeted my nostrils, musty and organic. I peered inside and was surprised to see the lining mostly intact. I probably should have brought in another expert to date it, but immediately photographic plates caught my eye, and the thought disappeared. Then tin types and drawings that seemingly depicted the same image, unending, forever frozen, left me gaping in wonder.
She slept, one hand under the pillow, the other brushing a stray hair from her face. Her breathing low and rhythmic, the movement accentuated the curve of her shoulder, its alabaster glory distracting.
Needing to focus, my eyes wandered back to the stretch of skin and the blue tank top that covered part of it. The slow heave of her breath while she inhaled and exhaled, was in time to the imaginary metronome in my mind and it made me ache.
My eyes travelled to the swell of her breasts straining against the thin material while the breeze from the open window created more than goose bumps. One nipple responded to the exposure of the cold pre-dawn air.
“Should I?” I thought, in a flash of unexpected concern, to reposition the blanket and insulate her from the cold that enveloped the room. But before I made my decision, she had done so herself. “Why do I hesitate?” I pondered. Her aunt had been my companion for many decades. With one death, my devotion turns to the next in line. Though I didn’t want to frighten her. These matters were delicate and I would slowly introduce myself, in dreams, as I have done for an epoch.
This family intertwined with my own existence and to take any chances with them, whom I considered, unlucky members of a very exclusive club was akin to suicide. I would take only small amounts of what I needed to survive and my thirst wasn’t as dire as millennia ago.
To control, I needed your trust and there was never a time when control was ever a question. I was good at what I did and my job was to become the perfect man for my mate, so I continue strong until the end of days. They can only see me in their minds, but the lack of variation has always fascinated me. Though each female member of this family was very different, in their dreams I was the same. My appearance did not deviate and it was now the only form I knew; they had willed me into solid reality.
Bound to this female line, I had never experienced other women; drawn to them, my lifeblood and lovers, who would only live less than half century or so, before I passed to the next. A blink of an eye in my eon of experience. My existence was because of them and their existence ceased all too quickly.
Favourites emerged over the years, some with more wit and vivacity that translated to their subconscious and one whose attributes still lingered, but the bond that held them to me was not one of mutual love and affection. I was a watcher or a cursed demon, destined to observe this plane for eternity. I was witness to the good and evil of this world from the time of man. But I happened across her family after enduring three-thousand years of carnage. Mortal women never held much fascination for me, but then I was only a wisp of wind.
I had never touched, smelled, or tasted one. I could not manifest form, but was decidedly male. Another eon would pass before I could gather myself through their wishes to form something cohesive and yet another eon to perfect it. By then I had the form I have now, entirely shaped by their desires.
As a watcher, I stretched thin over vast distances to encompass and witness as many wretched acts as my limitless limits allowed. As a spirit in human form, I squeezed into a shell that would not frighten. While I looked not of this world, I could pass into human memory without much scrutiny.
Tall with dark hair, pale skin, and full lips, my seldom-used voice was low and lyrical; though it was my eyes that forever caused discomfort. The incandescent green shifted from seeing what was in my immediate sight to the fathomless time that had ticked by, reflecting back to ones that looked too closely. And I never got tired of the reaction from mere mortals. Those that encountered it inherently knew I was not one of them. I could literally see their minds working while their skin prickled, flipping from one sphere of acceptance to the opposite, impossibly frightened, and confused.
When I coupled with my mate, she would feel the immense weight of me. It took centuries not to suffocate the all too willing victims. Nothing, even time, it seemed, had changed anything. I still looked to those human eyes like a fully-grown man, not quite approaching forty. It made me laugh each time I passed my reflection. I have to say my sense of humour has blackened over the endless years. If it wasn’t for the companions and their nourishment in my limitless life, I would have certainly gone mad long before now.
Often I believe myself teetering on the edge of it, tempting the grand leap into the unknown abyss. “Would I would relish the change?” I smirked, half expecting the idea to stretch me to the point where I lost cohesion. And, of course, before I understood that oblivion had taken hold, I wondered if the other witnesses would come and see my fall. The enemies I have amounted over my females, down the long passage of time could not be counted. But my women were my existence. I was their protector because I depended on them.
Yes, I fell in lust with the first of her kind. She made me manifest into solid form, but I couldn’t sustain it. It was an easy life and mutually beneficial, I her protector and she my sustenance. “What would this one be like?” I thought. Welcome to the fire. All creation was screaming, but I couldn’t drag myself away from the fragile, warm-blooded creatures that tortured and allowed every moment.
I dragged myself back from the vastness of my memories to focus again on the swell of her breast, her rhythmic breathing, and the dawn slowly lightening her pale, cool bedroom. Tomorrow, I considered, will be soon enough. I’ll wait for tomorrow then I’ll introduce myself.
Her bedroom pitched in slow moving shadows and the autumn morning beat a cool path across her bed. Her companion, other than me, was a small dog curled up at the foot of her mattress. Animals somehow sensed there was something different when I entered a space, but usually I calmed them into submission. We were similar in so many ways, just another kind of animal, but she was mine, the one I was destined to have and one who would keep me strong. Inevitably, my will became theirs, and were ever eager to satisfy my desires. Exclusively older women, grateful their empty beds were filled. Delighted by the form, I loved and lied. Creating the perfect climate for me to use.
All this, was performed in silence.
Filled with self-loathing, and unable to survive without them, I was an object of scorn from my brothers, but I couldn’t stop. This was my meaning. To watch and wonder and taste.
You may be wondering who I am. I am Nephilim, progeny, a son begot by the union of a fallen angel and woman. I am ageless, I am useless and this bewitching line makes me more powerful than my brothers. But they call me John Deacon.
The day brightened the room and shortly my lover-to-be would wake. The murmurs that escaped her lips hinted at nightmares. She would whisper and pant and sometimes whimper. I would like to see what she was so afraid of, what was chasing her in the dark recesses of that grey shadow world, but this too would have to wait. Only in spirit could I enter that heady orifice and my current corporeal entity wouldn’t allow it.
I scanned her room again, clothes, grey wool pants, a thin blue blouse and a white jacket for the morning already hanging on her closet door. Ready to face the world, though she may not yet be. Obviously exacting, with everything laid out for the day, it told me something of her character.
The deep, rich red of her bedspread contrasted richly against the snowy pillows and the dark wood headboard of her too large bed. It was a small room and the bed dominated. A tall dresser, upon which a flat monitor stood, crammed with her intimate apparel no doubt, and another door that led to her bathroom made up the tiny space.
The dogs’ white paws were twitching in no discernible pattern. Perhaps chasing rabbits, I smiled. Occasionally, a yelp escaped and his tongue lolled to one side. It didn’t disturb her sleep, so I ventured as close as I dared to see her face.
She permeated the room, heady lilac and jasmine and the deep forest, just what my form craved. My preconceived notion on what she would look like was based on the last ten or so generations and the childhood pictures her aunt had kept. Not petite, not small, but slim and soft. Although her colouring was not what I expected, the sheen on her skin, like porcelain. Certainly, she had seen the sun, but it didn’t look like it held her for very long. She seemed a creature of the night. Chestnut hair, high cheekbones, and a slight over-bite. I wagered it looked appealing with her full bottom lip against the smaller top one.
Her eyes will have to be a mystery for now, but I guessed them warm brown, like Bethany before her. She had the most compassionate eyes, while alive. I was with her when she took her last breath. I was the cause of it.
In a stifling room, just her hand on her heart and the other in mine, her last words were, “Thank you,” directed at me. Then I bent and stroked her face, whispering the first words to her in nearly fifty years. “Bethany…it’s time for one last kiss…let me take you there…”
It would have broken my heart if I had one. I always appeared to love my charges faithfully and because I didn’t speak, they just assumed and I didn’t correct them. My kiss drained the rest of her life away. But it wasn’t enough to sustain for long.
The light began to stream into the window and it was time for my departure, but my curiosity was nearly painful. I wanted to see her eyes and being the self-centred creature I was, I decided to wait.
An alarm began to shrill on her bedside table, which was cluttered with a bottle of water, a thick tome I had yet to spy and a little dish with lip balm. Her left hand reached out from under the blanket, groping for the persistent noise. The anticipation of being discovered heightened my senses. I could see every ripple in the air from her movement, from her breath and the breeze, every action that stirred my natural environment.
It is what I manage and manipulate when not occupying this form. I still didn’t know why I was drawn to this family. I had been spending time in the great libraries that surrounded my previous haunts and had yet to explore this new city to gain a grasp on the genetic or theological implications, but I’ve yet to have any luck.
Her hand fumbled with the alarm, but without opening her eyes hit the snooze button and silence ensued once again. The dog didn’t even stir. This must be something familiar…routine. Her arm crashed against the bed, willing her another ten minutes sleep. Maybe she had a late night before my arrival.
Once the last vessel departs, I am drawn to the next. It isn’t a wilful act or exhibition, the engrossing net of my invisible form, draws and gathers in on itself. Folding and folding again until I assume this form in the very place my next companion resides.
It’s like a leash. Or perhaps a choke chain. But I have no will nor desire to stop it. I am entirely dependent on this human for my continuation. She is the source of all that I am, I am tied. No choice. They think it symbiotic, but I know it is more of a parasitic existence. I am the monster under the bed.
Pondering as the alarm rang shrilly once more, this was my opportunity. I didn’t want to frighten her, but with her still warm from sleep, if she spied me, I could easily disappear to shadow.
The light cascaded through the long, low slats of her shutters, colouring her face with a patchwork of yellows. Thick eyelashes fluttered and her breathing stopped, “Finally,” I thought, as she opened her eyes and greeted the day. Unfocused she scanned the room, as though she was expecting something. But that was impossible, not a sound escaped in this body, it made no noise. It wasn’t grace, but with the years spent as the wind, I had no reference point being a clumsy, mortal, loud human. We were made differently, they of earth and I of air.
She slowly sat up in bed, her arms behind her, leaning her weight on her hands as she stared at me with certainty in her expression, not the fear that I anticipated. Her breasts reacted to the cool room again and became tight, straining once more against the flimsy fabric, then the corners of her mouth raised and she parted her lips as to speak.
Lost in this reaction and too shocked to move, she clearly said “Hello.” Her voice was rough from dreams, but slick as honey. She wasn’t shocked by my appearance in her bedroom as she should be. She should be in hysterics, a strange man watching her intently in her sanctuary.
In the second that elapsed, I dissipated to become the wind and vanish and the only reason and reward for my unexpected exposure was, “Green,” I thought wistfully.
With this connection, I felt the familiar tug of this family, the stirring, but now something more. I was summarily fascinated. When you have been in creation since time immemorial, little did.
Human nature fell into four basic elements, greed and survival, fear and passion. I’ve seen much of the first three, oh, butchery I’ve witnessed, but passion has caused more death than the rest. There was something unusual as I enveloped her, knowledge and truth emanated from this being.
I have always been quick to anger and now my own survival instincts overcame, I rushed out the window without pausing for another glance, causing the shutters to clatter with the force of my exit. Out into the brilliant blue of the cold, crisp morning, I spread out and began to watch humanity as it sprang to life around me, but was filled with anxiety and wonder.