by Michael Griffo
For a moment he almost didn’t see the lake. J was so focused on the uneven footpath that curved the edge of the densely wooded hill that if he hadn’t slipped on a loose rock and twisted his body as he fell, he would never have seen the beautiful sight a few yards to his left. But when Lake Montgomery finally came into view, he couldn’t look away.
At such an early hour of the morning, the inhabitants of the area – both human and not – were still asleep or at rest, so in between the occasional conversation among some birds, indecipherable, yet melodic, an eerie silence embraced the lake. The sun, still on its ascent, blurred sky, horizon, and water so all three appeared to be one entity. J was mesmerized and felt that the lake resembled a massive impressionistic painting, hazy, ethereal, and unnatural. But how could anything that wasn’t unfurled by imagination be so majestic? How could such beauty exist and J not have known about it? Was he that disconnected from the world around him?
He grabbed hold of a wayward vine for support and walk-slid down the steep incline until he reached the bank of the lake. Not particularly good at math and calculations, J didn’t know how wide the lake’s reach stretched, but he estimated its width to be, roughly, two miles. For several minutes he watched in silence, turning left, then right to take the entire waterscape in and smiled when the sun, having risen higher in the sky, altered his view. Sunlight replaced haze making the lake look even more angelic.
The surface was undisturbed, a smooth, flat platter of cornflower blue. The horizon line straight and strong, and the sky a deeper, darker shade than the water. It was tranquil and dreamlike until J saw a ripple and was startled by the sudden, desperate activity. He thought it looked as if the lake was trying to breathe, that its lungs, trapped deep below the surface in darkness, were gasping for breath. He was compelled to make contact.
Walking to the edge where water met land, J knelt on one knee and placed a hand into the cold, refreshing liquid. He cupped lake water into his hand and poured it over his face and sighed as the life of the lake melded into his flesh. If anyone was watching they would have suspected he was performing a ceremony, a ritual with roots in some form of religion. Religion, unfortunately, has always required sacrifice.
Whipping out from within the sky as if breaking through a canvas, an eagle swooped down on a diagonal aiming directly for the lake. Its curled talons opened menacingly and then disappeared just beneath the water’s surface for only a moment before it careened up, up into the sky with a fish, wriggling frantically in its clutches.
Even here, J thought, despondent.
“Yes,” the lake whispered back. “Even here.”
She stood before the chamber as she’d done every morning since her transition began. And like every morning since that spectacular day seven months ago, she was devoured by an unholy mixture of emotions. Both fear and pride battled within her and she was never certain which would win.
Her fingers strangled the metal handle and she repeated the process she was taught in order to combat the inevitable claustrophobia and sensory deprivation that would soon control her. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose, holding the air in her lungs and feeling it rise up the slender column of her throat, then exhaling. She repeated the process twice, each time envisioning a vast sky, expansive, blue, and interrupted, only slightly, by pure white clouds. A ridiculously simple procedure that infuriated her because it never failed to work. Marguax had been raised to distrust anything that came easily.
With eyes still closed and the view of a blue sky before her, she stepped inside the circular chamber and pulled the door closed behind her not letting go of the handle until she heard the familiar click. She stood still, the only movement was the rise and fall of her chest as a result of her constant, even breathing that would continue until the ninety-second treatment was completed.
Tufts of moist air pulsed out of tiny holes that were built into the curved interior of the chamber and sprayed onto Margaux’s naked body. For the next minute and a half she would be covered in multiple layers of antiseptic, biological disinfectant, vita-protein enhancers, and molecular restructuring agents. When she smelled the scent of lavender she knew the treatment would soon be over.
The door automatically opened and Marguax opened her eyes, but did not move. She waited, as she always did, to hear his voice.
“You look exquisite.”
Heat shimmied up Margaux’s spine and clasped her cheeks until they glowed deep red. Stepping out of the chamber, she turned to face her husband, and was not disappointed, his expression matched his words. She maintained her stare, reveling in his smile, so crooked yet natural reminding her of the ancient oak tree that stood watch in front of her childhood home. That and a swastika.
Turning to her left to view her reflection in the full-length mirror, she was momentarily repulsed, until she felt his eyes upon her. The impact of his gaze felt more powerful than if he was embracing her, pinning her face down against the hard-wooden floor, and keeping her there until she submitted to his hold. Heat returned to her cheeks because she knew she had made him happy.
“Wasn’t I right?” her husband asked.
Margaux didn’t turn to face him, only nodded.
“I told you the process had been significantly improved since Phase 1,” her husband declared. “Pain level is at maximum, what? A three?”
Again, she nodded.
“And recovery time is virtually NEI – a Non-Existent Issue,” he added. “Just as The Panel proclaimed.”
Her body tightened. She hated The Panel. Those oncologists, ethicists, lawmakers, all cowards who had never undergone The Procedure and could never understand the joy of LFK.
Margaux looked down at her legs with pride and rapture. Devoid of their restrictive encasement their beauty could be witnessed, the raw truth just underneath the foul layer of skin was finally on display, where it should be, in all its glory. Thick skeletal muscles, thinner ligaments, smooth bones exposed and intertwined in a colorful mass of red, pink, and white as vibrant as a sunset. In contrast, the rest of her body, from the base of her buttocks on up that was still smothered by skin, looked unnatural, grotesque.
Sensing her inner turmoil, her husband took hold of her hands and drew her toward him. “Soon,” he said.
When the first reports surfaced that cancer could be cured, the world was giddy. Disease, illness, and suffering would be things of the past, concepts as outdated as democracy or cursive writing, and life would once again be Lordworthy. But there was a caveat: Human flesh must be offered to annihilate human disease. At first Margaux was terrified of becoming a “Live Flesh Kills” donor, she was cancer free, why should she care? Why help? Why sacrifice? But her husband came to her rescue as he always did and made her realize this was her chance to be reborn.
“Soon you’ll transform into one of the De-Skinned, be celebrated as a Lifegiver while valiantly removing the shackles that bind you,” her husband assured. “And then . . . and only then . . . will you be perfect.”
Oh, that word. That beautiful, almost ungraspable, word. It made Margaux beam, it made her courageous, but mostly it made her remember that she was nothing without her husband.
And without her skin she would be everything.
IN THE BACKYARD
Standing on the back deck, wooden and muscular, as sturdy as it was the day Daddy built it decades ago, I listen. The sound could be the bees buzzing in the honeysuckle bush next to the shed or the creaky swing set getting wind-pushed, but I sense that it’s Adrien. Holding the coffee cup to my chest, enjoying its warmth even on this hot August morning, I follow the stone pathway until I reach the small mound in the right hand corner of the yard, the only mutation in the otherwise perfect landscape, and stand on it feeling myself grow stronger. Maybe I’m siphoning some of Adrien’s strength.
Although many followed him, Adrien, who was twelve at the time, was the first and so he wields quite a lot of power and holds a special place in our hearts, Daddy’s and mine. He has thick black hair and blue eyes, like I do, which is why Daddy was attracted to him all those years ago. He came upon Adrien in the fields, somewhere near the Kansas/Missouri border, while he was on one of his frequent sales trips. Daddy went to help fix Adrien’s bike chain that came off its cog, but stayed when he was overcome with a hunger he never knew existed until that very moment. Anyways, that’s what Daddy told me right before he disappeared.
The sound comes again and this time I know it’s his voice. What a relief! I heard Adrien speak to me so clearly back in the city, but since we returned he’s been silent and Adrien’s words are so important because he’s the spokesperson for all the others. Now don’t assume he’s being a bully or pompous speaking for the group, he’s only being efficient. Think about it, if all seventeen spoke at the same time none of their voices would be heard and it would only be chaos. I say a quick, silent prayer that Adrien is speaking to me again.
His soft, commanding little boy voice floats up from underneath the ground where his body is buried and rushes through me like a welcomed touch. I push away the sounds of the bees and the crickets chirping from some unknown place, I push everything away, thoughts included, and concentrate on the sound so I can hear what Adrien is saying.
I told you he speaks for the entire group, all the boys and girls living under the grass.
Yes, Adrien, I think. Tell me what you want. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I moved back.
Tears escape my eyes like blood dripping from a wound and I instinctively understand. It’s what we all want, another to join, another to bring new life to the group, to help it grow. I understand and, better, I can make their wish a reality.
“Yes Adrien,” I whisper in reply, making sure Malcolm can’t hear me from inside the house. “And tomorrow morning I’ll go on a drive to find the perfect little girl – yes, I think it should be a girl – and bring her back here to join all of you.”
I take a long sip of coffee and listen to the sounds of the country. It is so good to be home.
A Literary Past
So it seems that I might come from good literary stock! Click below and check out how another Griffo made his name in the publishing world!
The Name Game
One of my favorite things about writing is coming up with fun and interesting names for my characters. But it isn’t as easy as you might think. The trick is to make the name memorable without being ridiculous so it doesn’t overshadow the character. I actually keep a running list of new names that I’m constantly adding to and refer to it if I’m struggling with a name. Ultimately, I pick names that either immediately tell you something about a character’s character or – to be honest – a name that I just happen to really, really like! My hope is that you’ll like it too.
When I was starting to think about The Archangel Academy Series I knew that I wanted to name the lead character after an archangel. Well, if you know anything about archangel names, you know the choices are limited. Believe it or not, I briefly thought about using Uriel, but quickly realized that it was a bit too ‘out there’ for such a major character’s name so I settled upon Michael. Even though it’s my name and I’m a little biased, I think it works perfectly.
In contrast, I had the name of my leading character before I wrote a word of MOONGLOW, book one in The Darkborn Legacy. I love watching old TV shows from the 1960s and ‘70s and I stumbled upon a British anthology series called Thriller. Each episode is a self-contained murder mystery but the storytelling varies from gothic to supernatural to science fiction – all the things I love. One episode featured a character named Dominy. I had never heard that name before, but immediately fell in love with it because it sounded mysterious and playful at the same time. All I remember about watching that episode is scribbling down the name Dominy, giving her the surname of Robineau, and starting to think of a story that she could star in. About a month later The Darkborn Legacy was born!