The Quest for Tamsin — Three.
The Haunting of Hadleyburg.
“Louis,” a familiar voice was hissing. “You’re right, darling! One orgasm wasn’t enough.”
Louis Wentworth swam reluctantly up from the green depths of a watery dream. He had long ago told his wife Elle to wake him any time if she needed anything—and especially if what she needed was him. As his hypnodomme, Elle would have taken that for granted, but it was a point of pride with Louis anyway. His role in life, he often told Elle, was to do what she asked and give what she wanted. Everything else was just details.
“Come get me, big boy,” he heard now as he blinked open his gummed eyelids. He had no idea what time it was, but outside the window the Ozark night was inky black; inside their small cabin at the Mysterious Stranger Inn, the gas fire glowed dimly, and Elle’s eyes caught the light—or perhaps, he thought in confusion, the glass of the fireplace was catching the light and it was Elle’s eyes that were glowing.
Louis had been out cold. After driving two hours from Trilby’s, they had found the Inn—on the other side of Hadleyburg—as charming as Elle had remembered. Louis had, of course, done all the driving, and he had fallen onto the bed half-undressed and half-awake, assuming that he would be out cold before Elle got out of the shower. But the unexpected occurred; instead of gliding into sleep, he began, as if impelled by some outside command, to mull over new visions of Elle naked on the queen-sized bed. It was as if someone had surreptitiously planted these images in his brain, and the more he saw them the more awake he felt, until by the time Elle emerged from the bathroom—one towel wrapped around her waist and another wrapped around her hair—he found irresistibly drawn to put his arms around her from behind and cup her breasts in his two hands.
“Why, Louis Wentworth,” Elle said in a tone that was surprisingly unsurprised. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Louis buried his face on the back of her neck. “Have I ever told you that you taste just like ice cream?”
“You may have mentioned that,” Elle said. “Are you sulking because that Dairy Queen we passed was already closed?”
“Shh,” her husband said. Softly but insistently he pushed her down on the bed, kissing her shoulders first and then moving down her back. His hands meanwhile were teasing and caressing her nipples. “Just relax, Elle,” he whispered. “Feel my hands on your breasts.” He was halfway down her back when he heard his wife’s breathing quicken.
“Louis, slow down,” she said.
“Elle, remember, you are all that matters. I don’t matter. All that matters is how your breasts feel when I do this and this—”
“God, Louis, what do you think you’re—God, Louis, what are you—Louis, what, oh God—Oh!”.
Her husband’s mouth continued lightly brushing her back, lower and lower. “Come here, darling,” she said, placing a hand under his chin. Drawing him to her, she kissed him on the mouth, then pushed him down on his back. “You’re right, Louis. You don’t matter.” She kissed his chin, then down his chest, then quite swiftly she took his erection in her mouth and ran her tongue up and down it. Louis gasped; his eyes opened in surprise, then closed in pleasure.
Then she stopped. “That’s it for now, darling,” she said, patting him on the chest. “Your mistress is tired and needs her sleep. And remember I enjoy you in the pre-orgasmic state. You’re not coming tonight. Sweet dreams.”
Louis protested. “Elle, I don’t care about me, but one orgasm isn’t enough for you. I can do better!”
Elle laid the side of her head on his chest. “Louis,” she said, “What is the name of that charming klutz you write about in the mysteries?”
“Charles Winter,” he said, slightly miffed that she didn’t remember the name of his protagonist.
“And he collects classic rock albums?”
“Does he have ‘Disraeli Gears’?”
“Yes—that song is important in THUNDERBIRD.”
“Remember ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’?
“I didn’t know you were a Cream fan, Elle.”
“I possess depths you do not suspect, Louis. I love that song because the images are so hypnotic, it can take you out of yourself and into that scene of the Greek islands. I like to imagine being in the ocean there—can you imagine, ‘tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers’ in that deep deep blue water, far from any worries, floating down toward Aphrodite . . blue and bright and silent and deep . . . .”
Louis’s eyes fluttered, then closed, and his body went limp next to her. “That’s right, darling, sorry I was so tired ….” she said. Then she had turned off the light.
Now, as his head cleared, Louis realized that his mistress must have decided he was right, that she needed him in the middle of the night after all. That was his favorite feeling, because Louis was quite serious—so completely had he given himself to Elle that his own pleasure did not matter to him, all that mattered was the sense that he was pleasing to her, that he was a valuable possession, that she would not send him away, that she would keep him and use him any way she wanted. He moved toward her eyes.
“I need you NOW, Louis,” the voice said.
Then out of the quiet a second voice said, “Get away from him, you BITCH!” That second voice really was Elle’s—the first voice, the voice that called him out of sleep—was. . . Whose?
He heard the smack of a hand striking flesh, then a squeal that cut short. He fumbled the bedside amp on; he and Elle were alone in the room. The air was hazy with a strange oily dark smoke that was filtering rapidly out through the fireplace vent.
“Louis!” Elle said. “Louis, are you all right?”
“What the hell just happened?”
“Just look at me—look me in the eyes—did she touch you? Did you kiss her?”
“Don’t look away, Louis, look at me, look deeper, listen to me, Louis, only to me, you belong to me, Louis, there’s only me, no one else, do you understand? Louis, you belong to me and there is no one else. No one. Nod.”
Wordlessly he nodded.
“You can’t leave me, Louis. Not for anyone. I can’t lose you. You belong to me. Close your eyes and look at the fishes, Louis, while I think about what we do now.”
An indefinite time later he felt her hand on his brow. “Wake up, darling,” her voice—this time it really was her voice—was saying. “I made a mistake and we have a problem.”
He came back to himself. Elle had taken one of the sheets off the queen-sized bed and draped it over the antique full-length standing mirror at the other end of the room. “I knew these things existed,” she said, pointing at it. “But I never actually saw one until now.”
“What? Standing mirrors? My parents had one.”
“No,” she said. “I am talking about a genuine haunted looking glass. I set it off tonight and we need to deal with what came out of it.”
“Set it off? Elle, remember I asked you whether your witchcraft had anything to do with mirrors and you said no?”
“That’s right, Louis. I’ve never seen a haunted looking-glass before and I wouldn’t use one if I did—they’re dangerous. But there’s someone else you know who does use them—a lot.”
“There is? Who are you talking about—wait, do you mean Milagro?”
Milagro Hada was the sexy witch from his supernatural Charles Winter mystery books.
“Elle, Milagro’s not real—I just made her up. She’s based on you, if you want to know the truth—if your dark side was a lot more powerful….”
“Yes, you made her up, Louis—and made-up things sometimes come to life behind a magic mirror. You created her, but I brought her out.”
“Remember I … helped… you to sleep by talking about the tiny purple fishes? … No, don’t go to sleep now, stay awake, Louis, just remember it, okay? Well, I talked about your books and she heard me from the other side. That showed her the path out of the world you created. Now she’s loose here somewhere out there.”
“Why? What does she want?”
“Well, Louis, she wants to get rid of me because she wants you.”
“Me? Why? She has Charles.”
His wife looked at him with exasperated affection. “Oh, Louis, you are such a clueless boy. Let me explain why. First, I pretend not to remember Charles’s name but I have read those books closely. He’s charming but he’s a klutz. Second, you created Charles and by definition someone like Milagro would want the creator rather than the creation. She is based on me, after all. And, third, Louis—how shall I put this?—a lot of women want you.”
“Wait, really—you mean real women, ones on this side of the mirror?”
“Yes, Charles. How can you still notknow this? You are cute and smart and funny and attentive and, let’s just say, a dreamboat.”
Charles’s face flared red, and his first thought was that having his creation come out of the mirror wasn’t all bad if it got him such praise from his wife. His second was a surge of joy that Elle had actually read the Charles Winter books so carefully. Everything he wrote was for her.
And, finally, it had never occurred to him that a lot of women wanted him. It was an unfamiliar but agreeable sensation.
He had begun to wonder which specific women Elle might be talking about—not that it mattered, of course, but just out of curiosity—when he heard a key turn in the lock. He jumped up, raced over to the door, and put on the chain, intending to put himself between the intruder and his wife. “Yes?” he said, cracking the door.
“Oh, God, I am so sorry!” came a voice from the other side. “I thought you were out of here!”
“Why would we be out?” Louis asked. “It’s… what . . . 4 a.m.”
“Well, sir, when your wife checked you out just now—she said an emergency had come up and you were headed back home to deal with it—and she said that there had been a big problem in the room that I needed to deal with, something about a bed collapsing?”
“It was her,” Elle whispered. “She knows I’ll come after her and she wants to slow us down.”
“Well,” Louis said to the employee, “you can see there’s no problem—we’re both here. . . .” He swung the door open, and only then did he remember that Elle had stripped a sheet off the bed to cover the mirror. The cleaner’s eyes took in the hanging sheet. “That’s—well, we just spilled a little wine—we’re airing it out—we’ll put it back on the bed, thank you for coming by, we’re fine, we might try to sleep a little so I’m going to put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door now, thanks again, see you in the morning, goodbye,” and he swung the door shut.
“Louis,” Elle said. “Where are the car keys?”
“There’s nothing open at this time of night?”
“Let me put it this way, then. Louis, where is the car?”
“It’s right outside.” He strode to the window. “See? It’s right—hold the phone.”
The growing pre-dawn light showed that the parking place they’d picked the night before was empty.
“We have a problem,” she said. “We’re lucky I caught her before she could grab my ID or yours. And just to be clear, if you’d touched her or kissed her, we might be in a world of hurt.”
“Elle, I had no idea—”
“I understand, Louis. And I forgive you because after all she’s an imaginary version of me so the confusion is forgivable, if not entirely understandable. There’s no need to explain.”
“It was dark.”
“Shh.” She laid a finger across his lips. “When a woman tells you there’s no need to explain, Louis, that means you have nothing to gain from explaining, and maybe a lot to lose. Let’s think about what we do next.”
“I’ve got an idea,” he said, but she was deep in thought and didn’t hear.
Across town, a young man named Jerry Wilmon was opening up the Gaz-More Filling Station & EZ-Mart out near where Cane Ridge Road ran into state highway 65. It was a cool, misty morning. Summer was over for sure, though there would be some fine days and nights still before frost. Dove season had started two weeks ago, and Jerry hadn’t been out even once yet. Maybe he’d get some friends together this weekend. It wasn’t as if he had anything else to do—his girlfriend of three years, Nora, had asked him the week before for his thoughts about marriage; when those thoughts proved to be less fully developed than she had hoped, she decided they should “take a break.” Jerry suspected that the “break” would involve some intensive relationship counseling from Steve Schurtz, the new manager of her department at the Craft Nest Superstore. Steve Schurtz was the kind of guy who wore a button-down short-sleeve shirt and a clip-on tie, but Jerry had noted that girls like Nora—or maybe just Nora—tended to forgive fashion crimes like that if a guy had a good car, a good job, or a good body, and Steve Schurtz had all three. Whatever, Jerry thought; he was young and perhaps it was for the good. Nora had been great, but who knew? Adventure might be waiting around the corner.
As if in answer to that thought, the headlights of a car swept across the store as it pulled into the empty parking lot. Jerry went to the door, intending to tell whoever it was that the Gaz-More wouldn’t open for another 12 minutes—he needed to set up the register—but then he took one look at the babe getting out of the car and changed his plan.
In the parking lot lights, she had hair black as night and skin pale as a winter moon. It was kind of an eerie look, like Wednesday Addams’s big sister—but that would be Wednesday Addams’s hot big sister. This chick was of medium height; her figure was pretty much perfect—but the busty kind of perfect, really nice tits swelling up from a slender waist. Her clothes were a little weird—some kind of an all-black hiking outfit, even down to black hiking boots. She had high cheekbones and an inviting mouth. Her eyes were what caught and held him. They were as dark as her hair; she had carefully outlined them in eyeliner and then surrounded them with deep black pools of eyeshadow. OK, the effect was kind of Goth, but Jerry had always secretly thought Goth chicks were hot, and since none of his friends was around to laugh at him, he could enjoy a few moments of fantasy about this witchy babe.
She comes in to the store, he thought, then asks if there’s a place she can rest in the back for a moment, and then sits on the couch in the office and bursts into tears, and, with that makeup running down her cheeks she begs him to help her—drug dealers are after her, and Jerry takes the gun in the manager’s desk and he kills them without much mess and she’s so grateful she whispers “Whatever you want, baby,” in his ear and then kneels down right there in the manager’s office—
The storyline was interrupted by the tap a key on the glass—oh, yes, her. “Hey, can you let me in?” she asked.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, unlocking the door and flipping the sign to OPEN. He turned back to the counter, so he didn’t see her flip it back to CLOSED.
He fiddled with the register while spent some time wandering around the store. On second glance, she was a little older than Jerry had thought, but she had one hell of a body under that tight black shirt and even though he was no virgin, Jerry had sometimes imagined that a woman of the world like her might know a few tricks he could stand to learn. He was lost in that thought when she came up and knocked on the counter in a way that commanded his attention.
“Hi, there,” she said, with a secretive but promising Mona Lisa-type smile. She began putting purchases on the counter—a road atlas, a giant cup of the hot coffee Jerry had just brewed, a big box of saltine crackers, a jar of peanut butter—“Oh, look, Dove bars,” she said, bending down to pick out the chocolates and incidentally affording Jerry a nice leisurely view, unobstructed by a bra, down that sexy black hiking shirt. She caught his eye as she came back up and smiled—smiled in a way that told him that she didn’t mind that he was standing there feeling a stirring in his loins.
Then out of the blue she yawned, a big gaping I-just-got-up-and-wish-I-hadn’t yawn that reminded Jerry he’d been out pretty late the night before. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a half-giggle. “I guess I’m sleepier than I thought.”
“It’s all right,” he said, but then another yawn came over her face. “So sleepy,” she said, looking deep into his eyes.
“Yes,” he said, without quite knowing what he was agreeing to. Then he felt himself yawning and gave a half laugh. “Now you’ve got me doing it,” he said.
“It’s hard to be up this early, isn’t it?” She yawned again. ”I honestly don’t see how you stay awake.”
“Yes,” he said through his answering yawn.
“On mornings like this you feel like you could just drop off to sleep on your feet, don’t you?” Those dark-rimmed eyes were his entire field of vision now, as the brightly lit interior of the store seemed to dim until it was only the two of them in a spot of light.
“Yeh . . .”
She reached up as if to pat his cheek. He felt another yawn starting, then she reached behind his head and pulled it quickly forward. “Sleep now,” she whispered and Jerry’s head fell forward and his eyes closed—even though in his mind he was still staring into those eyes, falling into them, listening to hear what she wanted.
“Listen, Jerry,” she said, reading his nametag. “I am going to ask you a few questions and you know you want to tell me everything, it feels so sexy to know that I know all your secrets, doesn’t it? Don’t speak, just nod.”
He was nodding.
“Jerry, if I could grant you one wish, what would it be?”
“I’d like to . . . play bass for Vampire Weekend.”
“Yes, I’ll bet you would,” her voice said, as if to itself. “What would that feel like, if you did it?”
“I’d be . . . special . . . everybody would look at me … Nora would be sorry … People would smile at me wherever I went . . . and chicks . . . .”
“Listen carefully, Jerry, because every word I am going to tell you becomes true the moment you hear it, understand? Jerry, when you do what I tell you, you are going to feel just like you’re playing bass for Vampire Weekend, as long as you follow my suggestions, you are special, as long as you follow my suggestions, people are smiling at you, as long as you follow my suggestions, girls will want to flirt with you, as long as you do exactly what I tell you, Nora will be so sorry she will beg your forgiveness but she knows it’s too late because you are near me and you don’t need her any more, now you want to obey me and nobody else, do you understand? Of course you do. Now when I snap my fingers you will remain deeply asleep listening only to my voice but you will open your eyes and follow my suggestions exactly, one-two-THREE! Jerry, you just rang up all these items, bag them up, please.”
He put her purchases into a bag for her and handed her the cup of hot coffee. He was good at doing that. Chicks admired him for doing that.
“Now cut one of those burner phones out of the plastic for me, and give me three extra phone cards.”
He was very smooth cutting open the package. God, he felt good, like Baio but cooler, standing up above everyone with this girl smiling up at him. He pulled out the phone cards too and tore open the plastic.
“Throw away the wrappers.” He did. “Now put your number in this phone.” He did.
“Jerry, you know you can tell me the truth. Do you have a gun here?”
“The manager keeps a pistol in the drawer.”
“Is it loaded?”
“Yes, and there’s a box of bullets.”
“Go get them both.”
It seemed to take a while for him to float back into the office, and when he was there he wanted to be near her again so he floated back with the gun and the bullets.
“Good boy,” she said, and he wanted to turn a somersault. “Now authorize a fill-up on pump 7.” He did. “Give me your phone.” He did. She fiddled with it, then showed him a swirling image of a spiral. “Good boy,” she said. “Now listen very carefully. In a minute I will snap my fingers and you will look at this spiral, you will follow it with your eyes, you will let every other thought drift into the background as you watch the spiral, only the spiral, and as you are doing that your subconscious mind will be packing away everything we did into your double-secret memory where only I can find it because it’s special between us and you are my special one and no one else can know our special secrets, you’ll lock it with a key but only I have the key, you won’t be able to get in unless I tell you to, it will be gone, all memory that I was here, that you helped me so much, but you will remember feeling wonderful, you will want to feel this way again, you will do anything to feel this way again, and when you hear my voice and follow my commands and when you are my good boy you will feel this way again and that is the only way you can feel this way, understand? Of course you do. In exactly five minutes you will wake up with all those memories packed away where only I can get them. Good boy.” She snapped her fingers.
Five minutes later, Jerry found himself in the empty store looking at a spiral GIF on his phone. He wondered where he’d come across that image. It reminded him of the hypnotist at their prom night lock-in and how he’d made Jerry’s friend Roscoe cluck like a chicken and lay an egg and the guys were never going to let Roscoe forget it, because really, who is so weak-minded that some stranger can just say a few words and put him in a trance and make him cluck or think he is Madoona? And Roscoe didn’t even remember just because the lame hypnotist had told him to forget! What a loser . . . .
It was time to open up. Jerry went to the door and flipped the CLOSED sign to OPEN. As he did so, he suddenly felt a new feeling—one he would have for the rest of the day and maybe the rest of his life—a feeling that he had just been holding in his hands something wonderful, the best thing in the world, but that it was gone and that he would do anything to get it back.
He would do anything.