Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Shadow - Free Read

The Dreamspinner Press Halloween Howl has ended, and my contribution, In Shadow, is no longer available on their site.

I have it posted here, in the hopes you'll enjoy my walk on the spooky side.

In Shadow
By Eden Winters

A shadowy figure leaned casually against the side of the darkened building. Four am had come and gone and the city would soon be changing shifts. The law-abiding citizens of the world would be waking up soon, while those who dwelled in darkness hunkered down for a nice, long sleep. But not him, not yet. He had hours to go as carefully laid plans either came to fruition -- or failed miserably. He only hoped that when it was all over, the payoff would be worth what he’d risked.

A scrape of wood against wood, the click of an old fashioned lock, then the steady tap, tap, tap of his quarry's boot heels crossing the road, leading away from the darkened tavern. My, someone is working far too late these days.  The shadow blended with many others, following at a distance.

The man for whom he'd waited entered a secluded alley, taking the shortcut home. The shadow chose that time to reveal himself. "Hello, Peter." A voice long unused gave his words the smoky texture of fine whiskey.

"Y… you!" The man's eyes widened in fright, darting right and left, seeking help.

The shadow knew his prey's habits well, and he'd spent the last few hours studying the lay of the land. They were alone. "You didn't expect to see me again, did you?"

"Wwwhaat, what are you?" Peter froze, following his stalker with terrified eyes.

The shadow circled, wafting a fluttery breath against Peter's nape. "A wraith, a phantom, a ghost of a ghost. Does it matter?" Lips grazing the mortal's ear, the undead whispered, "Aren't you glad to see me?"

Peter's tangled emotions poured out in great, pulsing waves, the bittersweet taste lingering on the phantom's tongue. He traced Peter's ear with his tongue-tip, reveling in the extra senses of his kind. To taste fear, to smell darkness, to see music in the nighttime sky? How had he ever referred to his former "life" as living? "I'd far prefer your lust to your fear," he said, lowering his voice to a suggestive purr.

Applying his lips to Peter's skin, he lost himself in the familiar essence, sensing the hope/despair/joy/sorrow on the one he'd gambled for. He raised a finger, stroking it lightly over a firm brow, down one chiseled cheekbone, zigzagging across nose and chin, then back up the other cheek. The man at his mercy shivered as though in peril, unknowing of the rune of protection that now blazed like fire to non-mortal eyes. Protection bought at great price, a price that may cost the shadow dearly, yet that he'd pay willingly, and never think it too great.

Although not part of the ritual, he followed the glowing spell with his lips, relearning his former lover's face. He closed his eyes, employing senses that the living couldn't comprehend, touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, being at one with another, sliding into Peter's mind for the briefest of moments, then dancing away again, presence undetected.

Grasping Peter's cheeks between his palms, he forced their mouths together, hoping the rasping of his scaled hands didn't abrade that beautiful face. Peter mmmmppppph'd, struggling against the onslaught of a tongue stealing into his mouth.

Without pulling away the shadow murmured, "Hush, don't fight me. Remember me as I was before." A few more struggles, then the body against his became pliant, the tension draining away. He's remembering. Good. He'll need to.

"Martin." That name, breathed on a sigh, sent unexpected shivers up the shadow's spine.

"I am Martin no more." Peter stiffened slightly in his arms. "I'm afraid you'd find my new name unpronounceable. Tonight call me what you will."

He left a trail of phosphorescent kisses down Peter's neck, dipping into the V at the base with his forked tongue, tasting this man's loneliness, and the heady cocktail of apprehension and elation. Pictures formed in his mind, as they always did, of his prey's innermost thoughts and intent.

Sorrow filled him at what Peter had endured since Martin-no-more had left their home one evening for the market, never to return. The precious bundle of bitter-sweet memory whimpered. "Hush, love. In human form or this, I'd die before I'd harm you."

One by one Peter's flimsy garments fell to the cobblestones, gooseflesh rising on pale skin that the shadow kissed and caressed away, marking the man "forbidden." He wished Peter could view his handiwork; perceive the stunning, intricate patterns of the runes. From this night forward, no shadow-dweller dared approach, and any human planning ill intent would flee without knowing why.

Down work-muscles arms, across a well-made chest, down a flat belly, tongue teasing a light dusting of hair, down perfectly formed thighs, around the back to broad shoulders, tapered waist, and the buttocks Martin had once praised in a silly sonnet. No inch of Peter escaped the fluttering brush of lips and soft words incanted in a language long ago lost to the world of men.

Once satisfied he'd performed the ritual properly, the shadow began exploring. Peter's ball sack pulled tight to his body in the chill of the early morn. The shadow flicked it with his tongue, eliciting sweet moans.

He sucked the head of a full and leaking cock into his mouth. How I've missed this! Three years worth of other-worldliness drifted away with the tendrils of fog that ventured, curious, into the alley, banished by the shadow's low growl. Mine! Peter's human eyes missed the trio of lesser imps hiding within the mist.

The well-remembered taste of Peter's fluid hit the specter's tongue, so much sweeter/saltier/satisfying with his new senses, sorrow tugging at his heart to realize that Peter'd saved it for him. No other's scent marked the well-remembered body or mind. He'd kept himself in mourning all those years.

A fiery tear sizzled down the shadow's cheek. In the distance a bell tolled five, reminding him how little time remained. Still, he'd waited so long -- this moment deserved savoring, for the opportunity may never come again.

Sliding Peter's long-neglected member reluctantly from his mouth, the shadow dipped lower, extending his tongue to slither it back, back, back, teasing the sensitive muscles of his once-lover's opening. No, not once lover -- always lover. The angle proving too awkward, he guided Peter to turn, pressing him against cool brick to resume the task at hand.

So gradually that he barely noticed when it began, the muscles relaxed, Peter arching his back, wanting more, pitiful whines begging, begging. The shadow rose, disrobing with a thought, his attire merely an illusion.

He buried himself inside Peter's body, his organ amazingly unchanged from his former human form, and commenced the time-honored rhythm of the mating dance, humming a broken, disjointed tune. Sex magic blossomed around them, his thrusts timed perfectly with his wordless incantation.

Peter, so lost in the moment, either didn't notice or didn't care. The shadow pumped with a sharp staccato beat, the final notes of the spell trilled aloud, hidden in the wail of completion. He wrapped his hand around Peter's shaft, working it in time with his faltering tempo. Sweet seduction filled his nostrils, the tangy scent of sex multiplied by Peter's spurt against the brick wall that left a message for those who could sense it, "Here I was claimed."

The shadow held firm in the shudders of the aftermath, chest plastered to Peter's heaving back, recalling the numerous times he'd done so before. The rising sun approached, tingeing the horizon with pink, banishing the nocturnal ones to days spent cowering in whatever dark sanctuary they found.

The sands of time were running out; the question must be asked. "Will you come with me?"

The sated body stiffened in his grip. "What? Where?"

A bitter smile thinned his lips. "I cannot tell you -- yet. Remember only what I said before: I'll never do you harm."

No answer came. The belled tolled on the half-hour.

With renewed urgency the shadow hissed, "You loved me once. While I've changed in many ways, my heart hasn't. That's why I came back to you. He who made me what I am could not truly have me because—" Because I belonged to another, and wish to still.

"And what are you?" Fear gave way to curiosity.

"The stuff of nightmares to some, sweet salvation to others."

"And what of your soul?"

"That I kept." So far. His satisfied organ slipped from Peter's body, and the shadow turned the man, sealing their lips together. How he wished he could properly convey the importance of Peter's next words, but couldn't without breaking the terms of his agreement. The decision must be made without coercion. The stakes were too high to risk a breach of promise.

Peter faltered. "I…I don't know."

In desperation, the shadow recited their long-ago vows, "Wherever you go, I'll go. Whatever you do, I'll be by your side." 

Hot tears burned his skin, Peter burying his face in the shadow's neck. "Not a day goes by that I don't miss you. When you disappeared the priest said you might return for me some day, and that I must resist."

Good advice, or so I once believed. "I loved you, Peter, love you still. But the choice is yours." Even if you doom me for all eternity by saying no.

Wrapping his arms tightly around this man for whom he'd risk all, the shadow made the ultimate sacrifice. "Tell me no, Peter, for I would not have you exist only in darkness, lurking in hidden corners to rid the world of the evil that men do."

"What do you mean?"

"You asked what I am. To some I'm the horror that lies in wait, to others, a saving grace. My kind aren't what you've been told, not most of us. The priests call us demons because they know only the ones who serve themselves first and foremost, like the one who attacked me, wanting me for his own."

Peter gasped. "A… a demon stole you from me? What of him?" His white-hot fury appeared to the shadow as blazing spider webbed strands, tinged with red and blue.  

"I've been keeping him at a distance, thus far." Please say yes, please say yes.  

"And if I say no?" Defiant until the end, that was Peter.

Answering a direct question didn't compromise the terms of his bargain. "Then I cannot refuse him; the vows we made will be broken."

Gentle tears turned to racking sobs. Did Peter mourn for what they'd once shared or the humanity he'd soon give up? "I don't go back on my promises," mingled with his cries.

Hope was something the shadow barely recalled. He proceeded with caution. "Will you give up the life you live now to come with me?"

Peter barked a bitter laugh. "What life? It ended the day you left."

Do I dare to dream? "Is that a yes?"

The word was softly spoken, but spoken nonetheless. "Yes."

The runes on Peter's body rivaled the rising sun's glow, twisting, turning, writhing, etching themselves into his skin. Where once a man had stood, now stood -- something else. Not completely man, but not fully demon either.

Peter stared in awe at his transformed body, and at the one who'd turned him. "What am I?"

For the first time in three years, the shadow smiled, thinking his lover perfect in any form. "We're protectors. We stop evil ones before they carry out their schemes. It doesn't pay much, but you get all the scum you care to destroy."

Steam hissed up through the cracks in the cobblestones, assuming the vague outline of a man. "We have no further dealing, you and I," the shadow growled at the new arrival. "Be gone." The thing dissipated into smoke on an angry snarl, a sudden gust of wind blowing it away.

"Wha…what? What was that?"

"Him," the shadow replied, fighting the urge to crow in relief. "The one who changed me. He didn't know then that I belonged to another, and because I denied him he planned to destroy you. I made a bargain. In exchange for your safety I'd become his. And I would have if you'd chosen to end our vows. You see, 'til death do us part' matters -- we aren't quite dead and now we're not parted. You get me, he doesn't."
"So when I said yes…"

The shadow grinned. "You renewed our vows, love." He sealed their reunion with a kiss. "Come now, we have a lot to talk about and the sun is rising. Let's go home." Wrapping his arms firmly around his husband, the shadow added, "And I'll teach you our new names." 


  1. I actually have it from DSP, but I am so behind on reading... I'm pretty sure it isn't possible to catch up.

  2. I know what you mean. I forgot to collect them all before Halloween. Sigh.