Sunday, 18 January 2009

Dark Enchantment - story 7: Chimaera

The title of the 7th story in Dark Enchantment, Chimaera, does not imply that a fire-breathing three-headed monster is one of the sexual participants. Well, not literally. He's certainly connected with fire.

Set in modern Turkey, this story starts at the Chimaera (which is a place) and moves on to Istanbul, as a newlywed bride is followed on her honeymoon by a stranger ...

I press on uphill, enjoying my anonymity in the crowd. Then I look behind me, down the slope, wondering if there is a view back over the Golden Horn from this side. And there he is trailing me, a head taller than anyone else, his eyes fixed on me as he cuts through the press of shoppers. My heart lurches in my chest, but that's not my only physical response. Suddenly I want to cry: it is so unfair! I already have the man that I want, the man that I love – why should my sex react so helplessly, with such heat, to this uncanny stranger? Why should I feel a suddenly slipperiness, an ache in my pelvis, the beat of my pulse at my wrists? Am I so faithless?

I turn away and keep walking, but I know he’s gaining on me. My mouth is dry but the skin between my breasts is damp. I wonder what Keith is doing. I wonder what will happen when my Chimaera catches up with me. I tell myself there is nothing he can do in a public place. I tell myself I will be a good and irreproachable wife, not the slut that Western women are reputed to be.

It goes quiet.

Like someone has switched off the soundtrack, it goes silent. The traffic, the voices, the screech of gulls – everything snaps off. I lift my eyes and see that everyone around me has stopped in their tracks, frozen in place. Hands are lifted, but do not fall. Mouths are open, but no words come out. A cloud of smoke from a wayside snack stall hangs motionless in mid-air, like a puff of candyfloss. I swing on my heel.

He’s almost at my side; the only moving thing in the whole city, apart from me, for all I can tell. He looks just as he did every other time I’ve seen him - still barefoot, even among the mess of the market. In sunlight his hair looks almost blue, it is so dark.

Still he doesn’t smile. He reaches out and lays his hand on the railing of the building at his right, and the iron gate swings open soundlessly at his touch. Let me get this straight: he doesn’t push the gate, but still it moves. I am distracted enough to glance at the structure beyond the rails. It’s the ruin of some traditional looking building, not too big. You see them around in the city, usually mosques that have for some reason fallen into neglect. This one doesn’t have a visible minaret though it does have a dome, so I assume it is a bath-house. Grey swathes of plaster hang from the stonework. The crumbling walls are overgrown with some sort of creeper that has withered to dried sticks in the Turkish summer. Back home kids would take one look and deliver the verdict Haunted.

He lifts his hand in a gesture of invitation.

I must be out of my mind. I must be begging for trouble. I walk past him through the gate, under the archway of the outer wall, into the derelict hamam. I hear him follow me, his feet quieter on the rubble than mine. We pass through an antechamber. We’re inside a room that must have been domed and tiled once, but is now open to the sky. Most of the tiles have fallen and are loose underfoot. I’m dreading the sort of squatter mess you’d find in any abandoned building, but not even a plastic bag defaces the artwork of time. It is absolutely silent in here too. My heart is in my throat as I turn to look at him.

He moves upon me with grace but with a terrible eagerness, gripping my arms and pressing me back against a pillar so he can kiss me. He tastes of cardamom. He tastes of sin. He’s more beautiful than I have words for, and my guilt at betraying Keith is no more than paper in the flame of my hunger for this man, burnt to ashes. His body presses against me, just at the groin so that there is no mistaking his intentions, and I feel like I’m going to melt or explode or both. His hands find my breasts, pushing up under my respectable long-sleeved blouse, fingers closing over the nipples jutting through the rough lace of my bra. I moan into his mouth, covering his hands with mine to make him squeeze me harder. He pulls from my lips so he can look down at me, his eyes alight with pleasure. We’re both panting.

‘Who are you?’ I ask.

He nuzzles my ear, licking the lobe, teeth teasing my skin. ‘Ifrit,’ he breathes.

It doesn’t occur to me that this is not a name.

Buy at Amazon UK : Pre-order at Amazon US

Next excerpt on Tuesday. Don't tell the vicar...

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