Five Days on the Banks of the Acheron
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by Jason Brannon
Category: Dark Fantasy Bram Stoker Award Recommendation
Description: Five Days on the Banks of the Acheron is a collection of stories that will put you on the edge of your seat and grab you by the throat! "Each story is well written and unique, proving the versatility of the author. Jason Brannon is an author to watch out for. His macabre imagination and skillful use of imagery and suspense kept me riveted while quaking with trepidation. I was compelled to keep reading until the very end. This book is not or the faint-hearted, but will keep dark fantasy fans on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. I would read it again, but never after dark!"--Rhiannon West, Simply Ebooks
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing, 2002 DDP
eBookwise Release Date: August 2002
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [242 KB]
Reading time: 886-1241 min.
There was no turning back now, and Edward knew it. He suspected that Sara had been cheating on him, and now was his chance to prove it one way or another. And, yes, it would probably be a painful process. That was simply another cruelty of life.
He wanted to know what had been going on behind his back, but he didn't want to rush headlong into the shock. That would be like jumping into a swimming pool in the dead of winter. So he decided to ease into the murky, troublesome waters one foot at a time, inch by inch. He braced himself for the coming chill.
Slipping effortlessly into the depths of her memory, he grabbed Sara's hands. The images that flashed across his retinas were instantaneous but blurry. Edward thought of all the times Sara's hands had caressed him, explored each and every muscle, held him close. He hoped against hope that the man in Sara's memories was him. Yet, it was hard to glimpse the face that those dear sweet hands cradled. In one impression, those hands were preparing a candlelit dinner. That was one thing that Edward remembered. It made him feel a little bit better about things. What he didn't remember was those same hands pulling a bottle of champagne out of the ice. He hated champagne.
Edward's was the curse of touch and of trusting too much. He was an impressionist, and the memories of those he came in contact with were his memories too. For a brief moment, he regretted his habit of drinking a beer every now and then in bed. Sara had still been at work, and he had just turned back the comforter, intent on watching a little TV. before turning in. He had only taken a few swallows of his drink when he spilled it. Knowing that he would have Sara's haranguing to deal with if the sheets were wet when she got home, Edward raced to strip the bed. And then his hands found that one place on the bedclothes that still carried a faint trace of memory despite numerous spin cycles, that one place which still bore a stain of adultery despite all attempts to bleach it clean. Edward glimpsed Sara and another man in his bed. The lover's face wasn't clear, and at first, he tried to convince himself that the man with his wife was actually him. But never in his life had his hair been black and curly. His was straight, brown, and shoulder length.
Of course, Edward knew his job was partly to blame. It kept him away from home more than any husband had a right to be. And even when he did have a spare hour for Sara, the office was perpetually calling and interrupting their time together. That was no excuse for infidelity, but it was certainly a reason for seeking an escape from solitude.
Edward had never betrayed Sara despite the long hours and the days away from her. He had assumed that she could handle the burden of being apart just as well as he could. He had been wrong.
Sara glared at him accusingly as if she didn't quite believe that he had never looked at another woman during all the time they'd spent apart. Edward, however, was unflinching in his faithfulness to her. He let his fingers dance along her abdomen. Like spiders, they walked down across her thighs, down her shins. Finally, he arrived at her feet. He touched each toe first and then grabbed both ankles to see where Sara had been, what part of the city she had ventured to when he hadn't been around to occupy her time.
He saw hazy white-noise images of those feet walking to the grocery store, to the video store, to the liquor store. Sara had gone to the liquor store much more than Edward was comfortable with. He wondered how many times she had drank herself into a lonely stupor....and how many times she had done it with a friend. Edward wondered if Sara had thought of him at all during those nights she spent with that other mysterious man.
The impression he got was 'no.'
Of course, he knew that if he wanted real answers, he was going to have to guide his hands to more sensitive areas. The heart, the eyes, the lips. But he was afraid of what he might find. The heart might no longer be there. Someone else might have stolen it away. The eyes might not see him any more. They might have that faraway, wistful look reserved for someone who was home more and away less. Those lips might still bear traces of his kiss. But they might also bear traces of some new lover. Edward was frightened to find out the truth. And yet he knew he had come too far now to stop.
He placed a fingertip against Sara's lips as if shushing her. Once, those lips would have responded to his touch with a kiss. Now they were cold and impersonal. And the distance of time and space was growing.
"You're always there for me when Edward isn't," Edward could hear Sara saying to someone. Immediately, he jerked his hand away, unwilling to listen to anymore bedroom confessions. Disgusted at himself and at the way things had turned out, Edward wiped both of his sweaty hands on the legs of his trousers and went to the sink. He washed his hands three times with antibacterial soap. It wouldn't take away the impressions he'd seen and heard. But it would take away whatever trace remains of Sara's lover had rubbed off on him.
"Be a man and touch her," Edward told himself as the water splashed loudly against the porcelain. He couldn't bear to relive those few out-of-control moments he had spent with Sara and a hunting knife, but he was determined to get at the truth. So he did the only thing he could think of and kissed Sara for the last time, shutting his eyes to the world and opening them to the truth.
The impressions were instantaneous. And potentially lethal. Edward cried out as he saw Sara welcoming his younger brother into their bedroom.
"You're the only one of the Rhoads' boys I can count on to be there for me," she said, wrapping her arms around the man who had taken Edward's place. "Your brother might as well be married to his job for all the time he spends here."
Edward had been prepared to see something terrible, something disturbing. But he had never counted on seeing his brother's image trapped in his wife's dead gaze.
Suddenly, all the sacrifices he had made for their future seemed pointless. All the long hours, the dedication, the erratic work schedules he'd endured for a meager raise in pay. All of it was pointless now because the life he'd worked so hard to improve upon was now a farce. He hadn't been there when his wife had needed him the most, and she'd found someone else to fill the void.
Before he could stop himself, Edward had opened Sara up with the hunting knife and thrust his arm into her chest to find the stillborn heart. Before he left her to the worms and maggots, he wanted to see one way or another if she was as heartless as she seemed. Despite what he'd assumed, there was a heart trapped in that cage of bone. Edward wrapped his hand around the lifeless muscle and let the impressions tell him those things that Sara had refused to.
That heart belonged to someone else now. Sara hadn't meant for any of it to happen, but it had. Edward wondered if there was still a place in that heart for him, even though there was no hope now of salvaging what he had lost. Sara's heart, as he quickly found out with each careful touch, was more tender than most women's. Even now, Edward could still see the indecision at work there. He suspected it was a difficult job choosing one brother over another. Yet, it seemed he had simplified the choice for her. He had chosen his job, and she had chosen companionship over loneliness. Edward wasn't sure that he could blame her for that. Still, that didn't make any of this any easier.
However, it wasn't just the fact that she had chosen his brother over him in the end. Rather it had more to do with the possibility that she had stopped loving him. He couldn't hate Sara for what she had done because he knew that he was just as much at fault as she was. Women had needs of their own, and he should have been sensitive to that. Instead, he had responded to every phone call from his job and every demand they made. Never once did he balk. And now he was going to have to face up to his mistakes. Including the distinct possibility that Sara's love for him had died with her last breath.
Edward had taken things too far, and now Sara would never get to confess her infidelities. She would never get a chance to confess her love either if there was such a thing. Edward knew that he couldn't go on living without knowing one way or another. So he did the only thing he could. The knife was still sharp and did its work well.
Edward wanted to look through Sara's eye-slits and see the things from her perspective. Cautiously, he went to the mirror and did exactly that. He peered carefully through the gaps where eyeballs should have been and breathed a sigh of relief as the impressions flooded his mind.
Through his own eyes he had seen infidelity and rage and blood. But through Sara's eyes, all he saw was love.
As he turned away from the mirror wearing the face of his dead wife, Edward thought it was kind of ironic that he was going to get a taste of what it was like to be completely and totally alone. But whenever things got too difficult to bear, he knew that he could touch that dear, sweet face again and remember what love truly was.
Copyright © 2003 by Jason Brannon