“Lover”

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"Lover"

Written by Craig Groshek, Nathaniel Lewis

Looking back, I should have ended things with Alison when she refused to take down the Christmas lights. That’s when it became clear to me that there was something very wrong with her. It was the middle of January, and she wouldn’t take the hint.

“Babe,” I said, “the neighbors have stopped waving to me when I see them. Don’t get me wrong… I love the lights, I just… isn’t it time to take them down?” The bit about me loving Christmas lights was a lie, but the rest was true.

“This is our place, Alwyn,” she said with fearsome intensity, her eyes flashing with an air of defiance. “We make the rules.”

I gritted my teeth. I didn’t want to upset her. Oh God, I did not want to upset Alison Finlay. I hated those damn lights, but if they were necessary to keep her from going off the deep end, then I could live with them for a while longer.

Another sign that things were wrong was that Alison didn’t seem to be able to keep track of time. She would either show up to our dates half-an-hour late, or else she’d already be sitting at the restaurant when I arrived on time (I’m always on time). I’d see that her eyes were red and swollen, and she’d tell me that she had been sitting there for the past 30 minutes crying because she thought I’d decided to break up with her. Rather than try to explain that it was actually her fault because she’d gotten the time mixed up, I would take the blame, apologize for running behind, and make up some doubly fake excuse. It was easier that way.

Once, when we were lying in bed together, she looked me dead in the eyes and asked, in complete earnestness, “Have I known you 20 seconds, or 20 years?” She looked genuinely concerned. As a professional stage and film actor, I’m certainly no stranger to that look, but the randomness of it caught me off guard and I felt a moment of anxiety myself, as if we were floating in the vast infiniteness of space, un-tethered.

So there were signs that things weren’t right with Alison, but I ignored them. In a very real way, I felt responsible for her. I’d found her one day at the Bleecker Street Starbucks in New York, just a few minutes’ walk from my apartment. There she was, sitting in the corner by herself, typing away at a laptop. She looked distressed. I guessed that it was due to external circumstances… a bad relationship, perhaps, or something like that. As it turned out, I was both right and wrong.

I was right because she’d just broken up with a boyfriend – some unfortunate gentleman by the name of William – and was currently living with her controlling parents. I was wrong because Alison was fundamentally unhinged. She was irreparably broken, and not by a hard life. On the contrary, her father was a wealthy financier. No, Alison Finlay was damaged from birth.

I personally believe in the existence of souls. There’s the flesh and blood, and all the building blocks that make up the physical universe… and then there is something else. Something intangible that cannot be seen beneath a microscope. Something that won’t show up in any scans, no matter how sophisticated the method or machine. Something that belongs to realms far different from those we see and touch here on Earth.

And it’s my belief that Alison’s soul itself was broken. She had experienced trauma in this world, of that there was no doubt. The stress she had experienced, however, was mild at best, and it was certainly not what drove her mad. No, Alison Finlay’s defects predated her very conception. Some people are just like that – flawed from birth – and no one knows why.

* * * * * *

“Mind if I join you?” I asked her the day we met, holding my grande coffee (with extra cream and sugar) in one hand.

Alison glanced up and the hard look in her eyes melted on impact. “Um… okay.”

I sat down. “I’m sorry for just approaching you like this… but you looked so distressed. Is everything okay?”

It didn’t take much prompting for Alison to pour her heart out. “Not really,” she began. “I caught my jerk boyfriend cheating on me and now I’m living with my parents. It’s, like… I want to be a singer, but they don’t care. They want me to go to college… not so I can learn something… but so I can meet a nice, educated boy and all of that.”

“That sounds terrible,” I said, humoring her. “I’m so sorry. Hey… you know what would really piss your parents off? If you just left town and changed your name so they can’t find you.” I laughed.

Alison didn’t laugh. “That would piss them off,” she said thoughtfully. “Are you offering?”

I feigned surprise. “Uhhh… I mean, don’t get me wrong. You’re a very beautiful woman, and I would very much like to help you, but I’m just in town for the week, on business.” She looked disappointed. I continued, “Why don’t we start by getting properly introduced, and tell each other our names?”

“There’s no need,” said Alison, closing her laptop. “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

Now that I think about it, that’s when the alarm bells should have started ringing in my head.

* * * * * *

With my assistance, Alison relocated from New York to England within a week, and changed her identity. It’s really easy to do that… if you’ve got the money.

That was in December. The first thing she did after we arrived was put up Christmas lights. And she kept those goddamned lights right up until the very end.

Aside from the decoration, things went well… at first. I introduced her to my friends, and she liked them. She enjoyed their company so much, in fact, that she insisted they spend the night at our house once a week. That seemed fine, initially… until the night she snapped.

It was 1 AM on January 16th. A wild party that we had hosted was coming to an end, and Alison and I were on the sofa. I was actually dozing off, but she was wide awake. Several of our friends were scattered about the living room, lying on air mattresses that Alison had set up.

Suddenly, Alison stood up on the couch and started screaming.

“YOU ALL WANT TO FUCK ALWYN!” she shrieked furiously.

Our guests began to stir. My mate Jimmy shot up and looked around. “What’s going on?!” he cried.

Alison jumped off the couch and ran into the kitchen. She returned with a massive butcher’s knife in her hand.

“YOU’RE ALL JEALOUS OF ME!” she screeched, waving the blade around.

“Babe,” I reasoned with her, now fully alert. “Please. This is unseemly.”

“THEY ALL WANT TO FUCK YOU, BUT THEY CAN’T! YOU’RE MINE, ALWYN! MINE FOREVER!”

That was the night we locked her in the attic.

* * * * * *

The next day, Jimmy and I sat awkwardly sipping tea as we heard Alison strumming her guitar overhead.

“I don’t know, mate,” I said. “I don’t know if the Lord is gonna accept this one. I think she already belongs to Him.” I pointed at the ceiling. “You hear that? Even after we chained her to the wall and beat her, she’s up there singing a fucking love song about me.”

Jimmy scooped another lump of sugar into his tea and stirred it. “You can’t show up to the feast empty-handed, Alwyn. You know that.”

“There’s still time to find someone else,” I protested weakly.

“Bullocks,” he replied. “That’s a lie and you know it. Look, I’m sure everything will be fine. No disciple of Satan would put up Christmas lights, let alone keep them up well into January.”

“But I allowed it,” I groaned. “It happened in my house.”

Jimmy tried his best to reassure me. “It’s not your fault, mate. You were following protocol.”

Above us, muffled by layers of brick and timbers, Alison reached the climax of her song. “You’re my loverrrrrrrrrr!” she crooned.

A chill ran down my spine.

* * * * * *

When it was time to retrieve Alison and bring her to the ceremony, my so-called friends were nowhere to be found. Left to my own devices, I resigned myself to my fate.

I pushed open the trap door and the stench hit me like a punch to the face. Alison was still strumming her guitar, and her mouth hung open, as if she was trying to sing. In her weakened state, all she could manage was the occasional grunt. It was unsettling. I wanted to rush back down the steps and forget that I had ever seen her. But I couldn’t. The ritual required a sacrifice.

“Hey, babe,” I said timidly. “I’m going to go ahead and remove your chains now, and then we’re going to go on our honeymoon. Does that sound okay?”

Alison stopped strumming her guitar and nodded eagerly, smiling, her eyes welling up with tears. Hesitantly I approached her, as teardrops fell down and splashed against her guitar.

I undid the restraints and took a cautious step back. “Are you ready?” I asked.

Alison rubbed her neck, where deep red impressions from the chain remained. She set down her teardrop-soaked instrument and stood up. “Yes, lover,” she said feebly.

* * * * * *

I felt on edge as we drove to the ceremony. Alison was handcuffed to the passenger side headrest, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in danger.  Something was wrong.

I worship Satan and have, on occasion, caught glimpses of Hell itself. What I saw in Alison’s eyes was something quite inexplicable, and far worse. It was the void itself, which is something that we don’t talk about.

The automobile ride seemed endless. I just wanted to get the whole thing over with.

“I noticed you took the Christmas lights down,” said Alison is a raspy voice. “I suppose it was overdue. Have you started planning for Valentine’s Day yet, darling?”

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Listen,” I said. “We’re going to cut your eyes out and place them on the altar so that Satan may see. You’re going to die.”

Alison laughed. It was more of a wheeze, actually, but it triggered all of the nerves in my body regardless. “No, silly, that’s impossible,” she grinned. “If I die, that means we can’t be together anymore. And we’re going to be together for all the summers. It’s meant to be.”

After that, there was nothing else to say. Alison started singing her creepy song about me again and I drove as quickly as I could without drawing attention to myself.

* * * * * *

By the time we arrived at the temple, I was an absolute mess.

According to our schedule, Alison’s sacrifice was to follow Jimmy’s, just before the goat.

“Please, let me go first,” I begged of him.

“I don’t know, mate. The orders must be followed exactly,” Jimmy said. “You know that. Now is not the time to make rash decisions.”

From behind us, Alison croaked out her favorite lyric. “You’re my lover!” she wailed.

Jimmy looked back at her and frowned in the flickering candle light. He shuddered. “Alright,” he conceded. “You can go first. I can see what you mean. Let’s get it over with.”

I let out a sigh of relief and grabbed Alison’s arm.

“Are we getting married?” she asked with an unsettling smile.

“Something like that,” I muttered, leading her down the aisle. By the time we got to the altar, my hand was shaking so badly that I was afraid I’d drop the knife. Don’t screw this up, Alwyn, I told myself. Everything must be done very precisely.

“We’re going to be together forever,” said Alison.

Without a word I reacted, driving the sacrificial blade into her face just below her eye socket, and jerked it around roughly.

Oh, no, I thought, realizing instantly what I’d done. I was supposed to recite the incantation first!

I’d made a huge mistake, I was certain of that. But the way she said that up there, just moments from being slaughtered, in that sing-song voice, no less… it set my nerves aflame, and the temptation was too strong to resist.

I pried one of her eyes out and then started in on the other as I mumbled out the prayer. “Oh, Lord, please accept these eyes so that you may see, and return to us.” The blood poured out of Alison’s empty eye socket, strewn with wet gore and the remains of severed veins… but she wasn’t screaming. They always screamed. Anyone would. Anyone but Alison, that is.

Alison Finlay wasn’t screaming, no.

She was smiling.

When I saw that, panic erupted throughout my entire being. In my stupor, I was caught off guard as Alison reached up and clutched my wrist while I was in the process of removing her remaining eye. That gave me a sense of relief. Finally, I thought, she’s fighting back!

But she wasn’t trying to push me away from her… she was pulling the knife deeper. I watched in horror as she guided my hand, carving out a shape around her eye.

It was a heart.

She was carving a fucking heart around her eye socket.

Terrified, I struggled to pull my hand from her grip. But she was strong – much more so than anticipated given her blood loss – and determined to finish her masterpiece. When she was done, she suddenly let go, and my hand jerked back, knife and all, sending the severed eyeball catapulting across the temple.

Fuck!” I cried, as I heard it land somewhere with a splat.

Still, Alison smiled. “You’re my… my… my lover,” she groaned, before falling to the ground face-first. Her body jerked once, and then stopped moving.

“Can somebody find that eye?” I asked, my voice quivering. “I… need a breather.”

I stumbled outside and lit up a cigarette. I stared up at the moon and wondered if it had all been worth it. Satan had previously incarnated just once, for the express purpose of giving us a brief glimpse of Hell, and to berate us for not working harder. It was a wonderful experience, truly… but was it worth what I’d just gone through with Alison? I wasn’t convinced.

I went back inside just as my colleagues were placing the second goat horn on the altar, and joined in for the final incantation.

We passed the goblet of blood to one another and drank deeply. Then we waited.

Nothing’s going to happen, I thought. And everyone’s going to blame me for ruining the ritual. I wondered if they’d kill me.

But then something did happen.

A plume of smoke appeared in front of the altar, and as it cleared, I saw a tall figure standing there, with magnificent horns and a fleshless, muscular face. It was the physical embodiment of our Lord himself.

With a nervous excitement, I watched as He stepped forward and pointed… at me.

“Yes, my Lord?” I asked shakily.

“Gaze upon me,” he commanded in a voice equal parts human and serpent.

I looked Him in the eyes.

A sharp pain radiated throughout my chest when I realized I recognized the eyes. They were Alison’s. Of course they are, I thought, in an effort to calm myself down. You gave them to Him so that He may see. What did you expect?

I scoffed at my childish insolence. It’s not as if He… absorbed Alison’s soul, her personality, her… her defects. I convulsed involuntarily. It was only her eyes.

“What would you have me do, Lord?” I asked, wavering on the brink of insanity. “Are the candles too bright? Shall I extinguish them? Your desire is my command, Lord.”

“No,” He said, an uncharacteristic smile forming on his fleshless face. “We could leave them up till February. This is our place, we make the rules. And we’re going to be together… forever.”