Shadows of Souls
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by Allan W. Azouz
Description: A mother and daughter's mutual hatred draws an evil force into their home--disembodied, troubled souls waging a battle that unleashes an unstoppable power, hell bent on destroying everyone who gets in its way? Misery haunted Victoria Kayen, trapped in a dark, depressing world with her wheelchair-bound mother, Edith. She dutifully delivered medications, served meals, and cleaned up after the weekly visits from her mother's crony friends. Victoria's only escape was found in the pages of cheap romance novels. The confining house that stifled her life evolved and took on a life of its own with strange creaks and crying noises. Then the shadowy figure of a man appeared, watching from every dark corner. As if that wasn't bad enough, the rat population in the area exploded and they constantly scratched at the walls, trying to get in. Victoria made a bold decision one evening--to venture out to a bar and experience life as a normal woman. That's where she came face to face with her destiny, the shadowy figure that had stalked her, this time appearing in the form of a corporeal man possessed by two souls. One, a pious Reverend preaching hellfire and damnation on the street corner by day, the other, a passionate individual named Clay who enjoyed the pleasures of the earth by night. Her clandestine relationship with Clay fueled the dueling souls' war, and also spawned the Reverend's worst nightmare--an unspeakable evil--a thing both determined to destroy and impossible to fight?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2009 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [413 KB]
Reading time: 246-345 min.
"Victoria!" The thin scream, an invective in itself, permeated the house. The first syllable was clipped short, almost as if it didn't exist, the second was a sort of bored moan, and the last trailed off in an eternal dying cry. The walls and ceilings seemed to pick up the infernal call and repeat it until no other word existed. "Victoria!"
"Yes, Mother?" Her voice had the toneless volume to carry upstairs, but lacked the energy and vigor to make the concrete foundation tremble and vibrate in its earthen grave.
"Get up here, Victoria. I need you--now!"
Victoria walked toward the staircase with a slow, mechanical instinct. Her feet fell upon the carpeted steps in the exact spots and with the exact regulated pace that had animated them for a five-year eternity. Eons ago, an excited young girl had dashed up these same stairs to write in her diary that a boy had kissed her for the first time. She had taken the steps two at a time to announce that she was appointed salutatorian of her high school. That girl was dead, buried in an unmarked grave of the mind. Her vacant shell, once promising to bloom into a beautiful form, had turned stolid, unpleasant but more practical. It was the rigor mortis of life.
"Victoria! Put some life into it! I could die and molder here before you paid me any mind."
"It wouldn't be a bad idea. Things would be a lot more peaceful."
"What did you say?"
"Nothing, Mother." She opened the door.
"I heard exactly what you said. Watch your tongue girl, or I'll cut it out."
Victoria's mother lay under a mountain of sheets and blankets, which had outlined her form in the same position since the beginning of her term of invalidity. Her body might have decomposed, but the bedclothes would have retained that shape from sheer force of habit. The woman's entirety was comprised of a thin, many-veined neck, culminating in a sallow, gray-haired head. Her eyes, once an exquisite blue that brought young men courting from miles around, were now dull, colorless orbs. They lost their luster from constantly staring at the four hospital-white walls and the blue epileptic glare of the television.
"What do you want, Mother?"
"What time is it?"
Victoria looked at the plain-faced watch bound to her wrist by a strap of black leather. "Ten-fifteen."
On the television, a smiling man with too-white perfect teeth and perfect hair spoke to three jittery ladies. "One of you will win an opportunity for either a trip to Hawaii or a brand new car!" The audience went wild.
"I know it's ten-fifteen. What does that mean?"
Victoria sighed. "It's time for the blue pill."
"Well, where is it?"
"I'll go get it."
"I shouldn't have to remind you. You'd think that after establishing a routine for years and years..."
"And years and years, yes, I know, you would think I'd remember. I guess you just raised a stupid girl, Mother."
Before the old woman had a chance to say anything more, Victoria strode out of the room and back downstairs. The medicine chest was inconveniently located in the kitchen, the place recommended by a Feng Shui expert the old woman had insisted on consulting. That was the one room where the conditions were optimum for preserving the rainbow of countless pills and liquids, or so they had been told. She opened the small, hermetically-sealed door. The dark red bottle, inscribed with a pharmacist's logo and directions, teetered momentarily on its shelf, awed by the change in pressure. She grabbed it from precarious imbalance and turned emotionlessly back to the stairs.
Victoria recalled Dr. Tadisto's remarks of five years ago. "Many of your mother's symptoms are very real. Please don't make the mistake of underestimating them. They were precipitated by a weakened state following a severe physical trauma." He had hesitated a moment, knowing that subject was awkward ground best left untrodden. "The rest fall under the realm of hypochondria. A lot of my elderly patients, especially confined widows like your mother, invent little illnesses or complaints. In those cases, I usually prescribe a placebo, a pill whose sole consistency is glucose." That was the ever-popular blue pill, upon which the old woman insisted with vehemence.
On her way back upstairs, watching eyes crawled across Victoria's back. She wheeled around and saw a man-shaped shadow flee and merge with the house's darker recesses. She had seen it before and felt its gaze. It filled her with an unexplainable dread, although she sensed no malevolence coming from it. "Somebody just walked over my grave," she whispered to herself in response to the chill in her spine.
When Victoria entered the room, her mother looked worse than before. The remaining blood had drained from her face and her features stood out distinctly under the taut skin. For a fleeting moment, this woman who had borne her resembled some emaciated bird of prey.
"My pill, girl. I feel faint. I feel like I might go any minute, any second. Hurry up and please give it to me." She really did look like any delay would send her over death's precipice. The prospect delighted Victoria.
The woman's daughter hovered hesitantly, imagining the consequences of withholding the deceptive capsule. First, her mother would cry, then plead, then order. Eventually, it would sink into her brain that her lovely blue pills, the exact tinge of a clear June sky, were lies.
She handed over the capsule, along with a glass of carbon-filtered water to wash it down. Her mother breathed deeply a couple of times, clutched her withered chest and sat back up.
"You wanted to kill me!" she screamed, almost crying. "I saw you waver! Get out of my room and get out of my house."
"You can't kick me out. I own the house as much as you do." Her father, in his will, had made certain of the joint ownership. He recognized the animosity between mother and daughter and made sure that the both of them would always have a place to live. She wondered what his will would have revealed if he had the prescience to see his own death.
"I don't care. I want you out." The woman was sobbing uncontrollably.
"No, you don't. You need me and don't forget it." She softened her tone. "I didn't hesitate, Mother. I was just being careful. I was making sure it was the right pill. Who would you get to take care of you, anyway? Mary? We both agreed that wouldn't happen." It had been one of the few instances of the two women concurring.
Her mother's face tensed fleetingly, a sure sign that her mind was weighing all the factors.
Then she relaxed and the angry red, pulsing veins in her temples subsided. "I believe you, only because I know how absent-minded you are--how absent-minded and stupid. But watch your step, girl. If you weren't thinking about killing me now, you will be." The old woman's face was wan and bloated, a hangover from her brief and unusual expense of emotion. She knew her outburst was unwarranted; Victoria, the child of her old age, born when Mark still trod the right side of the ground, would not dare lift her vulgar will in defiance. The girl existed under her vice-like control.
On the television screen, an excited woman jumped up and down, shrieking, platonically kissing the game show emcee and passionately kissing the hood of a bright red, mint condition '67 Mustang. The invalid's attention turned back toward the drama on the set. Her daughter, her nurse, no longer mattered. She was annoyed that she had missed the all-important question. The answer brought riches, happiness and the approval of the crowd. She had missed seeing the woman delve down into her consciousness and summon the cabalistic spirits that delivered the needed formula.
"Damn," she hissed. She turned to Victoria. "Damn you for making me miss it."
The younger woman smiled. "Yes, Mother. Damn me." She walked out of the room and headed back downstairs.
The rest of the morning was almost her own. She had to attend to minor chores, after which she could do what she wanted--as long as her travels did not take her out of earshot of her mother's hellfire wrath. Usually that meant settling down with a book and getting lost in the fantasy.
Her first duty was to tend the few plants scattered around the house. The plants were her mother's. Victoria despised indoor horticulture. Greenery belonged outside. Ornamental bushes should grow in front of bay windows and block out the sun. Weeds should sprout in the midst of flower beds and strangle stems that produce bright reds, yellows and purples. Moss, ivy and luxuriant grass belonged on graves, with roots reaching down and taking hold of corpses' flesh.
Aspidistra and geraniums proliferated in clay pots on every sill. A tall dracaena loomed in one dark corner, near the elevator that allowed the old woman access to the downstairs. Victoria deluged dry soil and brandished sharp, pointed scissors. She attacked the parts of the plants that were dead and dying. She grabbed yellow and withering stems viciously and amputated them. She had long ago learned these parts could kill even a strong, healthy plant.
Her unwanted task was done and she sensed its futility. No matter how carefully she trimmed the plants, no matter how she vacuumed or dusted, her mother would never notice. She came downstairs once a week for a bridge game with her peers. If everything was in order, there was no comment. If, however, an inconspicuous speck of dust lazed on top of a tall cabinet, an obnoxious harping on the subject of her housekeeping haunted the following week.
Victoria walked into the kitchen and opened the medicine chest. The tomb-like air escaped. She breathed it in. The rows of medicines assaulted her. She remembered how she had briefly considered withholding the placebo. Now she had a desire, an intense desire, to wipe every vial off the shelves and stomp the pills into a powder that would dissolve in the spilled liquids. Every pill there was malevolent. Each sustained a life that should have ended long ago. Their noxious substances fused with the old woman's stagnant life fluids to result in a human quagmire. Victoria wished she could wipe her mother off a shelf and destroy her as easily as a bottle of medicine.
The thought appealed a little too strongly for instant dismissal.