The Edge Of Reality
The sheet of paper was ripped from the typewriter carriage, scrunched into a ball, and thrown at some invisible target across the room. It missed the wastebasket by a wide margin, adding to the growing pile of paper in the corner. For days Sharla had tried diligently to write this last story, the final installment on her contract with the Edge of Reality television series. But things just wouldn’t come together. For some unexplainable reason, she couldn’t seem to concentrate on work. Her thoughts kept drifting off in the weirdest way. Her usually vivid imagination was failing her for the first time in years, and she could find no logical explanation for the problem. She just couldn’t get past the first couple of scenes, and it was driving her crazy!
“Damn! And double damn!” Her usually soft voice rasped between clenched teeth, giving vent to her frustrations. She got to her feet, walked around the room, pushing slim fingers through her short brown hair, then sat down again.
Her desk was in one corner of her bedroom and ever since she had started working on the Edge of Reality, most of her time had been spent in that corner. There always seemed to be a draft in that part of the room and several times Sharla had rearranged the furniture, but always returned to the old arrangement. This was where she felt most comfortable, even if it was chilly. But then, drafts were commonplace in these old houses. The funny thing was that she couldn’t seem to write anyplace else in the house, except this one drafty corner of her bedroom. She had tried, but to no avail. Still, writers were supposed to be a bit eccentric, weren’t they? And now, even this spot was proving no inspiration...
“You’re a workaholic, Kelly,” her agent had told her yesterday. “You stay cooped up in here with your typewriter and research, and I wonder if you’re not too wrapped up in those ghosts of yours. You need a break from them.”
“Oh come on, Danny! It’s only make-believe. You know there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Maybe they become real when they possess your mind, your thoughts, and your time, like this is doing to you. You seem to have forgotten that you’re a real live, flesh and blood woman,” he said a little sadly.
Sharla knew what he was referring to. Danny Raymond made no secret of the way he felt about her but she didn’t feel the same. “I’m sorry, Danny. I know you’re only thinking of what’s best for me, and it’s very sweet of you. When I finish this last story - if I ever do! - then I’ll take a break from it all. Okay?”
“Promise.” She hugged him. “Now get out of here and let me get back to work.”
“You’re a puzzle, Sharla Kelly,” he said, shaking his head. “I wish I could understand what makes you tick.” Then he kissed her quickly and left.
Sharla smiled to herself, shaking her head slowly, as she closed the door behind him, and returned to her typewriter...
With a heavy sigh, she now placed another sheet of paper in the carriage and began again. Seconds later, another paper ball flew across the room. She was getting absolutely nowhere. She could feel the cold draft around her feet again, a draft that sometimes seemed to reach out and touch her, like a gentle caress. It was uncanny but that was exactly how it felt. Maybe Danny was right. Maybe she had been cooped up in here too long and did need a break from her ghosts. Still, she couldn’t summon up one iota of interest in going out, or doing anything different.
Edge of Reality was a series about a brother and sister team who travelled the world in search of ghosts to inhabit a chain of ghost towns as tourist attractions in the 23rd century. In preparation for the job, Sharla had read many books on the subject of ghosts and had even discovered that her own home was reported to have had a resident poltergeist at one time. Luckily, she didn’t believe in such things.
Work had been going great until recently. Her mind was constantly occupied with thoughts of other things, not ghosts and poltergeists, and Sharla knew there was only one way to get rid of those thoughts, this obsession that was interfering with her work - she had to put it on
paper. Her hazel eyes sparkled as another clean sheet of paper was rolled into the typewriter.
Sharla’s fingers flew over the keys as if they had a will of their own, trying to keep up with the frantic pace of her thoughts. She hardly noticed the cold draft around her feet as she typed...
Stiletto heels clicked smartly as Jayne hurried up the old concrete walk to her little cottage. It had been a trying day at school with every fifth-grader asking more questions than usual, and her head whirled. She shivered in the cold, damp evening air.
“What a miserable night,’ she thought, as she slipped inside and closed the front door behind her, keeping the fog outside. It was a good night for a fire, but she discovered that her woodbox was empty. And she didn’t really feel like going outside again. Especially with all the rumors of vampires going around.
“How can people believe in such things?” she asked herself. “This is 1950, the twentieth century.”
There had been a couple of unexplained murders in the area, but no doubt human hands were involved in them. Still, the people in small towns like this were very superstitious.
“There’s no such thing as vampires,” she said aloud to the empty room. And if she believed that, why didn’t she want to go outside for firewood? Jayne decided she was being foolish and pulled on her coat again. She would need a fire if she was to grade those papers in any degree of comfort tonight.
As she reached for the door, there was a knock, startling her, and she paused a moment before opening it.
A man stood there, the collar of his black leather jacket turned up against the same dampness which made his dark hair curl slightly. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car broke down just outside your gate, and I was wondering if I might use your phone to call the service station?”
Jayne stared at him, feeling her heart flutter rapidly. She couldn’t be absolutely certain, but this man looked an awful lot like the author, David Gallard. His picture, though it was only a painting, was on many book jackets and she was an avid fan.
“You do have a telephone?” he inquired, bringing her thoughts back to the present.
“Yes, of course. Please come in,” Jayne said, finding her voice. She blushed furiously, realizing that she had been staring at him. “The phone is right through there,” she said, pointing out the direction to him. “You’ll find the garage number on the pad beside it. I use it ofte, unfortunately.”
The man went through to the living room, dialed the number, and spoke to the mechanic. Jayne watched him closely. He was more handsome than the painting showed, and there was something about him, something different from other men. He could easily be the role model for the central character of several of his books, the campire, Count Gaylord Adolpha.
He replaced the receiver, then turned to face her, and smiled. “No luck with the mechanic until tomorrow morning, I’m afraid. Can you recommend a good hotel?”
“There are several,” she told him, “but I’m afraid you might not have much luck there either. There’s an annual fishing competition taking place this weekend, and everything will be booked solid. They come from all the nearby towns for this event.”
“This is not turning out to be a good night so far,” he said.
“Would you like me to try for you? I know most of the people in town,” she offered.
“I’d appreciate that, Miss...?”
“Dextra,” she supplied. “Jayne Dextra.”
“David Gallard.” He stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you,” he added as his strong, cool fingers closed around Jayne’s small hand.
“I’ll see what I can do about the room,” she said, slightly breathless. No man had ever affected her like this before.
The San Sebastian was full, with a waiting list two feet long, Marybelle informed her. It was the same at the Carson Plaza. She even tried several tourist homes, and private boarding houses, all with the same results.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gallard,” she told him, “but it’s just as I expected. This happens every year.”
“Thank you for trying anyway,” he said. “I guess I’ll just have to spend the night in the car. It won’t be that bad.” He flashed a dazzling white smile at her. “I was looking forward to a hot shower and a soft bed, but it can wait one more night.” He started towards the door. “Thanks again for your help. Will it be okay if my car remains parked by your gate for tonight?”
“Since it’s broken down, you don’t really have a choice,” Jayne reminded him, with a touch of humour in her voice, “but there’s no need for you to sleep in the car.”
He looked directly into her eyes, and Jayne realized what made them so unusual - they were black! She had never seen black eyes before, and they looked bottomless.
“As you said about my car, I don’t have a choice...unless you have a hayloft somewhere out back?” he suggested.
“No hayloft, I’m afraid,” Jayne answered, “but I do have a comfortable sofa bed here, and there’s plenty of hot water.”
“Thank you very much, Miss Dextra. I appreciate the offer but I can’t impose on you further. I am, after all, just a stranger.”
“Not entirely,” Jayne corrected. “I have been reading your books ever since I was in high school. I know you’re something of a ‘mystery man’, but I’m sure I can trust you not to murder me in the middle of the night.”
“Are you sure?” he questioned, his dark eyes holding her gaze.
“I’m a great fan of yours, Mr. Gallard, and I would never forgive myself if I let you sleep in your car all night.”
“Well, since you put it that way, how can I refuse? I’ll just get my overnight bag.” He paused, one hand holding the open door. “Is there something I can do to repay you? Maybe an advance, autographed copy of my latest book?”
“That would be lovely,” Jayne answered, “but what would be the most help right now, would be an armful of wood for the fireplace. And I’ll start supper. Have you eaten yet?”
“Er...yes, but you go ahead, and I’ll have a drink with you. Now, if you’ll just tell me where I can find the wood?”
“Just around the corner, to your right,” she said. “I hate to go out in this fog.”
And as the words appeared on paper, Sharla was exorcizing the ghost in her thoughts - or so she believed. Pausing briefly to roll her shoulder and ease the tension in her back, she became aware that the cold draft had crept up her legs, to her knees. She knew she should move around, or pull something warm on her feet and legs, but she was too absorbed in her story. “It really is possessing me,” she thought, and shivered as a chill swirled around her legs. She needed warmth but didn’t want to stop. She thought of the many times Danny had offered to keep her warm if she’d only give him a chance.
“Maybe I should give him a chance,” she said thoughtfully. “He’s really a terrific guy. Handsome, wealthy, sweet personality, and he’d certainly do all he could to make me happy.” But her work had become the most important thing in her life.
The tension began to ease a little, at least f rom her back. Those shoulder rolls helped every time. And her thoughts returned to her work...
Much later, as they sat quietly in front of a bright fire, Jayne held the open book on her lap, but she found that her eyes kept straying to the author. Gallard was studying a well-worn notebook whose pages were dog-eared and frayed. Was it research for another novel, she wondered.
He turned, as if sensing her observation, and smiled warmly. “How are you finding the new book so far? Has it caught your attention?”
“The beginning is as intriguing as all your books are,” she answered truthfully, for that was as far as she had gotten.
“Your mind doesn’t seem to be on reading,” he said softly, his dark eyes watching her closely.
“It isn’t,” she replied.
“May I ask what is on your mind?” His voice was low and Jayne felt a thrill of excitement sweep through her, such as she had never felt before. She had been strangely drawn to Gallard in the picture on his book covers, but looking at him in the flesh, that attraction was magnified a million times! Her gaze swept over his face, taking in the smooth forehead, the intense eyes beneath heavy brows, high cheekbones, and came to rest on his mouth with its sensuously full lower lip.
“I was thinking about you,” she said quietly, hoping that he wouldn’t notice the slight breathless quality of her voice. “Wondering how you come up with the ideas for so many novels. Each one is so vastly different from the others.”
“They’re not so different,” he answered, “not if you dig beneath the surface. They all have the same hasic ingredients, two leading characters, one male, one female; a mystery to solve, or an adventure of some sort; and a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.”
“And your heroes are always the strong, silent type,” she said.
“Not always,” he pointed out. “Remember the loudmouth in Breath of Scandal?” She nodded. “Which one of them is your favourite? Which character?” he continued.
“Gaylord,” she replied, without hesitation.
His eyebrows raised slightly, and the hint of a smile touched his mouth. “The vampire Count? What interests you about him?”
“Possibly the fact that he’s such a gentleman,” she said slowly. “I don’t really know.”
“Or,” he moved to sit beside her on the sofa, “could it be the fact that he’s a bit evil, a demon who promises the raptures of forbidden love?”
Jayne laughed a little nervously. “He is exciting, and I suppose, a bit dangerous. I...I was thinking earlier that...well, that you could...that you look a lot like I always picture Gaylord.”
“And does that scare you?” he asked softly. “Do you see me as Gaylord tonight?”
“I was never scared of Gaylord,” she replied very quietly.
“Because you never really believed in him?” he persisted, raising his arm to rest along the back of the sofa, touching her shoulder very lightly, as he gazed into her eyes.
Jayne’s breath caught in her throat and she could say nothing. The reflection of the firelight in his black eyes was hypnotizing, and she was incapable of speech. She was overwhelmed by his nearness, the scent of his exotic cologne, and the intensity of his gaze.
“Are you scared of me, Jayne?” He moved closer.
“No,” she whispered, drawn by the compelling force of his eyes, and leaned forward to meet his lips with her own...
Sharla’s fingers halted in mid-air and she drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly. This was getting heavy now, serious stuff, but she was getting it out of her system. She heard the phone ringing in the distance of the living room, but ignored it. Telephones didn’t belong in this
world of fantasy she was creating here. Nothing did. Danny would be furious with her for working at such a maniacal pace, but she couldn’t help it. She was driven by some unseen force to finish it.
The draft seemed to be getting worse, though, and she was feeling the chill seep through to her very bones. She really should have a carpenter look at that part of the house, especially on the outside, she thought. Grabbing the afghan off the foot of the bed, she wrapped it around herself, and turned her attention back to her creation...
His kiss was very gentle and she responded warmly, as his arms closed around her, holding her close to him. She could sense the strength and power in him and was amazed at his gentleness.
Then he released her mouth, and whispered gently, “Ah, my lovely Jayne, you are a very sweet, and tempting, woman, but I must remember that you offered me only a place to sleep.” He kissed her forehead lightly. “Will you forgive me for taking advantage?”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” she said quietly. “It wasn’t all one-sided.”
“No, it wasn’t, was it?” he said slowly, rising to his feet. Turning to face her, he held out his arms. “And if I asked for more, would you come willingly?” he murmured.
As she went into his embrace, face lifted for his kiss, she knew she would do anything he asked. For in the deepest part of her heart, David Gallard had ceased to exist for her - he had become Count Gaylord, her demon lover, a fact that only seemed to heighten her exhilaration. His mouth parted hers in a deep, soul-searching kiss that evoked emotions and feelings stronger than she had ever experienced before.
Gallard swung her up in his arms and, going through to the bedroom, laid her gently on the bed. Slowly, he undressed her, his cold hands trailing fire wherever they touched her body. No move was wasted. Every touch was an exotic caress. Jayne had not dreamed that such passion was possible. He seemed to know exactly where and how to caress her and he was unhurried.
Still fully clothed, but with his shirt unbuttoned, David lowered himself to the bed beside her, claiming her tender mouth in another drugging kiss. His hands seared the most intimate, sensitive parts of her body, seeking out her pleasure. Her senses reeled drunkenly and her heart pounded rapidly. She was so wrapped up in the sensations he was creating that she hardly noticed when he buried his mouth in the softness of her breast. And if his teeth seemed a little sharp, his bite a shade too hard, she put it down to her highly aroused state. She was caught and held in a whirlwind of incredible sensations, until she fell, trembling, over the edge.
He held her tenderly as her heartbeat slowed and her breathing returned to normal. Then she drifted off to sleep in his arms...
With a deep sigh, Sharla’s thoughts came back to reality. She had never been more caught up in anything she’d written. Glancing back over the neatly typed pages, she realized with a shock that Jayne was herself, and she had given Jayne fantasies that came from deep within the hidden recesses of her own heart. She had expressed her own longings and desires through Jayne.
Danny was right. She was becoming too engrossed in her ‘ghosts’ and she needed a break. She realized, too, that a vacation alone would not be the answer, for when she was alone her imagination was too active. She had to get completely away from it all, and keep herself too occupied to think. Perhaps she should go away with Danny. God knows he had asked her often enough.
A glance at her watch showed almost three in the morning, but she was almost finished now. Her ‘ghost’ would soon be exorcized, and then she would be able to finish the last story for Edge of Reality.
Out in the living room the phone started ringing again. Who on earth would be calling at such an ungodly hour? Then, with a little smile on her face, she went to answer it.
“How did you know it was me?” came the voice at the other end.
“Who else would call me at this hour?” she asked, laughing.
“Guess you’ve got a point there,” he conceded. “I’ve been trying to get you all night. Where have you been?”
“I had a heavy date with my typewriter.”
“I’m worried about you, Kelly.” His voice was strained. “You’re going to make yourself sick. Please take it easy, honey.”
A sudden rush of tenderness came over her. “I will,” she promised. “I’m nearly finished with the exorcism, anyway.”
“The what?” he shouted.
“I’ll explain later,” she laughed. “And Danny?”
“Is that offer to go away with me still open?”
“Oh Sharla, that’s cruel, even for you.” She heard the hurt in his voice and winced.
“No,” she said gently. “I mean it, Danny. Do you still want to go with me?”
“Of course I do, sweetheart. You know that.”
“Then will you please make all the arrangements?” As she made the commitment, her throat tightened. “I’ll be ready in a couple of days.”
“You won’t regret it, honey, I promise.” And he went on to tell her why he had been calling tonight but she wasn’t listening. All the loneliness she had enforced upon herself, making her work her life, had finally caught up with her. And it wasn’t enough!
“Danny?” She choked out his name on a sob.
“Sharla? Honey, what is it?” he asked, alarmed. Had his worst fears come true? Had she finally broken under the strain of working too hard? “Sharla? Talk to me, baby, please.”
She swallowed hard. “Danny, could you come over here tonight? If...if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Are you okay?” he demanded.
“I will be,” she whispered. “I just...I need you, Danny.”
“I’m on my way.” And the line went dead.
Drying eyes that were suddenly moist, Sharla went back to her desk. She felt better now, and wanted to finish this piece of work before Danny arrived. She knew it would take him close
to half an hour, even if he risked a speeding ticket, and she only had the conclusion to do now. That shouldn’t be too hard.
She found herself remembering the times Danny had kissed her, and the warm feling his embrace gave her. She tried to imagine how she would feel, waking up after spending the night with him, and decided that was how Jayne should feel after her night with Gallard, at least until she learned the truth.
Her fingers danced over the keys, and a happy little smile lit up her hazel eyes. As she typed, she failed to notice the thin, grey mist which started to curl around her ankles, and crept very slowly upward. Her mind was on Jayne and David...
When Jayne awoke the next morning, David Gallard was gone. She arose and showered, not noticing the tiny streaks of dried blood which she washed from her breast.
In the kitchen, she found a note attached to the book he had given her. “Thank you, sweet Jayne, for everything. Sorry I have to leave early. If there is ever anything I can do for you, just contact my publisher. Thanks again, for EVERYTHING!” And it was signed “Gaylord!”
She smiled, thinking that he must have guessed about her fantasy. She was a little disappointed that he had not awakened her before he left, but she might see him in town later, for the local mechanic wasn’t known for his speedy repairs.
As she got dressed, she noticed the marks on her left breast. She recalled the love bite which had seemed a bit hard, but had not thought it was quite that hard. Then the pieces began to come together.
When David lay down beside her, he was still fully clothed, and she could not recall him undressing. The love bit which was too hard, and the teeth which had felt a bit sharp. The note! “Thanks for EVERYTHING!” And signed by “Gaylord!”
Feeling suddenly weak at the knees, Jayne sank to the floor. Of course David Gallard had reminded her of Gaylord - he WAS Gaylord! And she had invited him into her house, and gone willingly into his arms. Her eyes grew wide in horror. She had given herself willingly to a demon!
“What happens next?” she moaned aloud
Sharla shivered violently. That cold draft was getting worse by the second. Something would have to be done before she could continue to work here in this spot. She stood up, clutching the afghan, not noticing that the grey mist had crept up to her waist and moved with her. As she walked across the room, she felt a weight, like some unseen force pressing against her. She looked down, and screamed.
The mist faded slowly, before her astonished eyes, and she found herself standing within the circle of Danny’s embrace. His eyes glowed strangely, holding hers with an intense gaze that rendered her speechless. He lifted her in his arms and crossed to the bed, laying her gently upon the covers.
“Oh Danny! Love me,” she whispered, raising her arms to draw him down to her.
She felt him tremble as he joined her on the bed. With his mouth and hands he brought her emotions to spirialing heights, ensuring that she was drifting in deep, sensual sensations
before his hot mouth came to rest against her throat. He felt but a momentary pang of regret that this would be their final contact. But such was the nature of the beast.
(Note: When I wrote this story, I had a desk in the corner of my room, which was actually the corner of the house.
Before the floor was redone there always seemed to be a cold draft there, which sometimes felt like it started at my feet and slowly crept up my legs.
All part of owning an 'older' house I guess.)
© 1988, F. Herridge
Winner of Second Prize, Senior Prose Category, Arts & Letters Competition, 1988
Printed in "The Newfoundland Herald", July 1988
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