Estrange Achs boring existence’s is abruptly interrupted by a strange incomprehensible dream and which awakens an uncontrollable desire, mixed with an intense thirst previously unknown… Prompted by this new sensation, he decided to leave the tranquility of the Amazon rainforest and find Alma, a little girl he had rescued in a plane crash and who, meanwhile, has become a beautiful young woman.
Their overwhelming attraction, magnetic and irresistible appears at their first meeting and culminates when Alma risk losing her life and Estrange also fast and noiseless as a feline sprung his arms around her transforming his body in a shield. Alma has no time to react. Frozen, in spite of herself, fascinated by the captivating approach of man, she tries to resist the temptation to flee. Estrange, in turn, is overwhelmed by a strange sensation: a wave of uncontrollable desire, mixed with intense thirst and previously unknown…
Because the man is one of those that mankind hates and hunts but she does not fear him! When Alma understood that the man who saved her life on several occasions is a vampire will be too late because their love is too intense and there in no detour.
An intense love story, their attraction to the other magnetic and irresistible charms us, revealing to us the unknown and magical bond between souls, far above a simple destiny of life and even beyond interstellar dimensions.
Here is a detail of ACHES novel:
I spent my life until now, hiding from those who are different, living in a world where my talents are used to serve the GOOD. But when everything becomes unbearable and we want to give up, the hunt begins…
Am I the only one?
Was I ready for the end of this theater play in which the universe had cast me a role? Would I be prepared for such a test? Or, maybe… My mind was numb from all these years? Was it all in vain? Beyond my anger and my distress, I had a brief glimmer of hope. All this was over and I would soon get away with her…
I took a step, crossed the threshold… My view became confused… my breath had stopped, and in front of me, in a twinkling… I saw a nightmare…
The smell of blood, I had loved so much before, had twisted my heart with sorrow now. The desk was spilled, near a fallen chair. With a prowess, frozen fingers, unbreathing, I pushed the door a bit more to unveil another part of this agony…
A roar arose from my chest and I raged, trying to understand what had really happened…
The light changed, shadows sprang out of nothingness and twined together to formed deeply thick smoke clouds, which gradually morphed into a human form…
I screamed in terror…
Everything disappeared and the darkness reigned again…
At the end of the longest tunnel, I saw the one who had always accompanied me, lurking in the shadows – the predator… It was there… It was approaching… I heard its roar. It was ready. Its prey was at his feet…
I looked around me, bewildered. I saw only my own reflection… It sneered…
“Cessna 123AB, if you are reading this, squawk indent. Cessna 123AB, si vous m’entendez, enclenchez l’identification.”
The whisper of the forest was interrupted by an afflicted voice. Nature seemed frozen by this sudden intrusion, and the twittering of the birds ceased.
“MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, ici GS-ABC sur 121,5, à tout avion ou contrôle dans mon secteur, ma position est 6° 48’ 1″ 50.42″ Nord et 37° 22’ 1″ 27.30″ Ouest de EBLG, 5000 pieds, 90 nœuds, transpondeur 7700, réacteur hors service, pas de pression huile, demande assistance médicale et anti-incendie après atterrissage d’urgence dans mon secteur.”
The voice was meant to sound calm, but the message was not reassuring: “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is GS-ABC on 121.5, to any aircraft or control in my vicinity, my position is 6° 48’ 1″ 50.42″ North and 37° 22’ 1″ 27.30″ West of EBLG, 5000 feet, 90 knots, Squawk 7700, engine is down, no oil pressure, requesting medical and fire assistance for a crash landing in my vicinity.”
Certainly, something was wrong! The captain articulated every word clearly and relentlessly, calling for help in the heavens, hoping that someone would come to rescue him. The transceiver was placed on a rock while the whole team was meeting for a training mission.
Heads turned as if by magic, all at the same time, to the right. The voice continued to call for help and all eyes looked with curiosity at the transponder.
We took it every time we left the camp. Never really knowing why except that it was a part of the equipment. It was never useful to us. We did not need to be saved, we already were! The Colonel told us, at every meeting, about his most important mission in which the hero was… a Walkie-Talkie! This is what we called it, because it allowed itself to be carried instead of talking!
Well, one thing was sure – we followed the rules.
“The transponder! The Walkie-Talkie is speaking—”
“Oh, shit! You’re right, Victor,” said Thomas.
“As you say—” said Dorian.
“Is it you, sir?”
“Why would it be me, soldier?” I winced watching Thomas with curiosity.
“Because… you always do a little bit too much—” he said, chuckling.
I could not believe it. I looked at him, puzzled.
“What exactly do you mean by a bit too much?”
“With you, each training mission seems real, sir!”
“Well this time, it’s not me. It’s real, soldier!” I stared at those who had already arrived at the meeting point, and I seized my gun and commanded them: “Get your stuff! All Aboard! Victor?”
“Yes, sir! The distress call comes from the northeast. A plane, I think.”
“Do you think, Victor?”
“I know that the aircraft is unable to continue its flight to Cayenne Rochambeau airport, so we will be compelled to host it at our base, in Kourou, sir. We don’t have any indication about the number of passengers.”
He looked at the scanner. He turned it on quickly and, by connecting it to the computer found the exact location and details on the aircraft. The 3D view of the scanner showed a hologram of the flight path. The calculations appeared on the screen at a high rate of speed, but I knew that the final outcome would be as my intuition was telling me.
“Good—” I pretended to look at my watch; my biological clock was never wrong. “Time is limited! We must be there as soon as possible. After the control tower loses communication and the aircraft disappears from radar, the alarm shall be raised by the Rescue Coordination Center and recovery operations will be immediately triggered. Dorian?”
“Call the base in Kourou! Tell them we are coming! They have to prepare the main track because there are more than 700 passengers on board, and the firefighters, too. We must act quickly, because the plane is in fast descent. We’ve noted their direction. If the plane does not arrive at the airport, we will recover it in the jungle! Run Dorian—”
“Yes, sir, I will inform the Colonel of the situation!”
“Very well done soldier! Hurry!”
Grinning, I turned facing them, running in reverse.
“I think your virtual mission, gentlemen, has turned into a real Mission!”
They looked at me smiling, I had trained them to prepare for the unknown and I knew that each of them loved the danger. Every one should be well served by this event.
“Colonel, how do we get out of here?” Thomas coughed and looked up at me, while his arms were still fighting the water.
The plane crashed while attempting to land. It had failed to reach the airport runway. It had broken into three parts. A large hole had formed in the fuselage behind the cockpit. It had not fully caught fire – the tail of the aircraft struck the high trees, scraped the branches and the aircraft had come down. We had arrived too late. The pilot had brought the plane down between the edge of the forest and the river. The weight of the aircraft caused a breakdown of the riparian land and the fuselage was inclined 30° towards the river. Every second that passed risked the drowning of the survivors.
I began to roar: “Victor— ”
“Contact the General Manager for the National Airport in Kouru; if you do not find him, try the Colonel! He can help! I want a complete list of passengers and crew! We need to know the exact number of people on board. We must find them all! Dorien! Where are the rescue teams?”
“About two hours from here, Sir. The Rescue Coordination Centre, despite monitoring the frequency, did not hear the plane’s Mayday call! We told them about it! The telephone lines, which of course are connected with various and specialized units of air traffic control and adjacent agencies, have begun tracking the air traffic and they are waiting to act if needed. Currently, all land and air resources are being deployed. You know Colonel Harcourt! His staff is trying, in a race against time, to locate the crash site! Basically, they were not ready for such a huge intervention, sir! And they are waiting on our report. It is up to us to find the plane first!”
“Yes, they have always complained that nothing important happens in Cayenne… They said that if there was something they could show that…”
“745 passengers and 15 crew members, sir! Colonel Harcourt responded before the General Director from National Airport!” Victor interrupted me and forced his voice to be heard.
“Colonel! We found it! Look!” Axel stood fifteen feet away from me and pointed at a piece of metal jutting out of the river.
I heard a low moan far away and I turned to the soldier behind me.
“Axel! On your right! 20 yard away! Hurry! A woman! She can not move! Thomas, go with him! Everyone! Deploy! Victor! Come with me! Let’s see what happened closer to the river!”
Victor followed me in silence. We climbed the half crushed tree trunks, and we approached the edge of the river. I pointed out three people desperately clinging to a tree trunk floating on water. He jumped in quickly and helped them reach the land and reassured them. Then, I saw another group. In the middle, an injured person was lying on a piece of the fuselage. I reached him before he slid into the water.
“I’ll get you to the beach. Try to remain still. Do not struggle. It will be easier for me to help you.”
“Mr. …” said a plaintive voice that came from the trees along the river. I turned carefully, so as not capsize the survivor I was guiding to the edge. “Sir… There… Further in the swamp.” The woman held out her red and bleeding arm and pointed to a far away place. “My husband is over there. Can you go and…” She stopped, choking on her tears, and, overcome with emotion, she took her face in her hands.
“I’ll get him, don’t worry. Victor—”
“Yes, sir! I’m here! I rescued three people so far! The guys have set up a survival area and so far we checked and we found that most have only minor scratches! How is it going with yours?”
I turned around, watching those who were still in the river. Some of them were able to swim and find their way to Victor.
I tried to reassure them. “Go forward, slowly, to the edge of the river; if necessary, the Corporal Victor will help you to reach the rescue area. The rescue team is almost here.” I turned to Victor who gave a slight nod at my statement. Hmmm… We would have to act quickly because the end of the day was near and the survivors could not remain overnight in the jungle. “I’ll keep going, Victor. Hurry up! We must finish this before sunset—”
“Where are you going, sir?” he asked, troubled. His eyes scrutinized me while he moved his hands in his pockets.
“To the swamps there.” I pointed to the middle of the wide river, near the island. “Carry on, Victor! We must act quickly—”
“Colonel—” he said anxiously. “You know, the current is very strong there. There is also quicksand.”
“Yes, I know. If anyone can do it alone, it’s… you.”
“Yes, I can handle it, I think.”
My voice seemed slightly arrogant. I looked at him one last time and swam to the place known as Devil’s Corner due to a series of accidents and senseless deaths that occurred during the training simulations in the equatorial forest. I knew that if someone had fallen here, the chances of survival were zero unless they were born under a lucky star or had a guardian angel – which I did not believe.
The intertwining vines formed an impenetrable grid around the island. The trees, twenty feet high, were devoid of branches for at least two yards from the ground. It was impossible to climb and to hide or to use to them to get out of this swamp, if you did not measure more than eighty yards. The roots beyond the earth were intermingled with vines and covered the river in several places.
I swam ten more yards and I stopped to listen to the silence. I listened for particular sounds – a human heart sounds different than an animal heart. I heard no heartbeat anywhere. I tried to catch a scent, but the mixture of dead algae, wet wood and decomposing animal bodies filled my nostrils instead. I inspected the area again and I decided to leave. I swam a few strokes and stopped…
Aaahh— I yelled.
A kind of pain gripped me…
But what was it?
A mixed feeling…
I turned around and went back to the place that drew me like a magnet. I had the feeling that a harpoon had been launched right in my heart, well anchored, pulling me with force. Stunned by the pain, I looked at the extended water, but I saw nothing except the dead algae. The more I advanced, the more I was hurt. The fire that I felt was not hot but cold. This was strange, a fire without heat … How could it burn me? It was so bad that I immersed myself completely to calm my torment with open eyes, until I started to sink to the bottom…
And there, more than one yard under water, I saw something clear, almost transparent, that moved with uncontrolled movements. I approached cautiously. There were two legs in the middle of a core full of algae and tree roots. Advancing quickly, I realized that a canoe had overturned and that someone was stuck underneath. I felt a wave of merry warmth fill my heart and I smiled.
I raised the canoe with one hand and I caught firmly a body. Barely had I raised it, when I heard a cry, and I almost lost hold of it. It was as if the current carried the person’s legs to try to help save them, but numbed, they no longer responded. The lightness of the body surprised me. By increasing the pressure of my fingers, I succeeded in bringing it to the surface. It was a little girl about six years old.
The feelings I felt were overwhelming.
“I am dying, sir? Tell me.” she asked.
I was so cold now – the fire had done its job in burning me – I could not feel much except her heat while I kept her above the waves.
Her hair was mixed with seaweed and her skin was pale after all this time spent in the water. She looked like a dead body that was talking. I swallowed with difficulty, and gently rubbed her back to warm her.
“I’ve fished you out, right?” I murmured, looking at her with a smile. I squeezed her too tightly to see her face, but I heard her voice trembling slightly.
“Yes. How did you do it?”
These children! Always asking embarrassing questions.
“I am strong. Stronger than you, I mean.”
She wanted to reply, but the water decided to come out of her stomach instead.
“Okay,” I said. “I gotta get you out of here. Stand still.”
She was too weak and seemed terrified to leave her shelter under the pirogue and let the waves take possession of her.
I left with a kick the place where she had created with her beating feet, an abyss devoid of algae. I swam to the shore, holding her under my arm with her head above the water when a wave violently covered her face.
“No!” she cried, pumping her feet, panicked.
The agitation of the river had shaken us and she began to move wildly, and tried to turn and hang on to my neck with weak arms and pulling up her knees.
“Stop it—” I ordered sharply.
“I do not want to drown—” yelled the girl who thrashed again.
“Stop moving!” It was more difficult than I thought. “Let yourself float without moving. Trust me!”
I forced her to remain still, but it was impossible! It was incredible, how she seemed to mobilize all her strength to wriggle!
We were gliding through the waves as if we were being pulled over to the sandy shores. The water flow did not hinder my swimming. I advanced quickly, at a near world record pace. Then I felt sand under my feet but I continued until I was sure she could walk on it.
“We made it. Can you get up?” I let her go and she fell again, head first into the waves. I caught her easily before she choked and I threw her over my shoulder. I said nothing; only my breathing showed my irritation. My boots left huge footprints in the wet sand.
“We will reach the others, by this route,” I murmured while changing direction.
As I approached the rescue area, I saw her eyes linger on each face, but she was tired and she dropped her head on my shoulder with a sigh, her arms were around my neck.
It was getting darker and the sun was ready to set. The soldiers had set up this encampment in the only open area that they could find in the jungle. The rain would not take long to start. It was hot. Hot and heavy. The girl was trembling hard and her teeth were chattering
“Colonel, what have you there?”
Victor approached fast. His face was tired.
“Get me a blanket, Victor—” I cried, but I did not have to move more.
He immediately complied. I took the bedspread and I wrapped it around her tightly.
She shivered, her skin was cold… I sat her against the tree on which the last of the sun’s rays still lingered, near a tent, gently removing her arms from my neck.
“I am… cooold—” she stammered.
“It will pass,” I said and let her go, troubled, stroking her head.
I tried clumsily and in vain to remove some dead seaweed from her hair. I was just pulling her strands of hair. I felt ashamed. She was brave, so little… she made me realize that I was weak.
I walked away; Victor was at my heels.
“I can not help her more—” I muttered.
“It’s normal, sir, the children… uh… are special, as my mother said.” There was bitterness in his voice. He passed before me, preventing me from asking him what he meant.
I approached Thomas. I wanted to know more about the rescue team. But I could no longer concentrate. All my senses were confused. I did not know if this was due to the number of wounded. I felt the pain, the despair, and the weakness… a discomfort so deep…
Why had that plane crashed here? What was the cause of the crash? Experience had taught me that behind every event was one cause, a trigger and… a reason.
Make it stop—
No, I will not do it… again! I can resist… Oh! This attraction, this… Why now? Why here? What was causing it?
I stuffed my hands in my pockets. I tried to resist the temptation. I had to hang on, and find a reason to divert my attention. I was trying to understand… How could I make it go away? Millions of images passed before my eyes. There were hundreds of ways to do it. The easiest one – which I had almost forgotten – would renew my strength with the very pulse of life. All these images were only reasons for continuing, not to dwell on the why, to bow to the necessity. I rubbed my face with my hands.
I must pull myself together.
Then I smoothed my hair, pulling it back, sticking it to my scalp, repeating the gesture… Time went by… Unconsciously, I moved away…
“Are you planning to say what you wanted to do?”
“Tyrone—” I exclaimed with happiness in my voice. Incredibly, there still was a glimmer of hope! I almost thought he had specifically chosen this moment to make his appearance.
“You look as if you have been having a good time—” he continued, casually.
“It was fun, until I—” I turned to watch him: his arms were crossed over his chest, his eyes accusing me. My teeth were chattering, but he understood what I was saying.
“I’m here, right?”
I winced. He always had this arrogant attitude! Hmm! He would never change!
“Why this delay? How can they call it a rescue?” I said in a skeptical tone.
He growled and stared at me. “They were not ready for an event like this. I insisted that they come immediately with the equipment they had on hand—”
“But it shall take hours to get them all out of here. One night in this hell will cause them trauma for life,” I accused him, outraged.
“Stop screaming, it’s not worth it. They know you’re here, they all rely on you,” he said, staring at me.
“It’s really stupid, you know.” I spat the words out. I wanted to have a real leader in front of me, someone who thought like a leader, but not one which could jeopardize everything. I should have jumped at his throat.
“Your friends do it well, the work.” he exhaled loudly and I felt a slight reproach in his voice.
“They are soldiers and they are sturdy.”
What was he up to? Why this change of attitude? Why this difference from the way he was before? Was it only my impression? Was it me? Or did the situation have me hallucinating?
“They are especially well trained,” he said. “The rescuers also…”
“In a pool, they may get by.” I said. “Tyrone it’s the rainy season. Did they not realize this, or what?”
I was staring at him, and he was eyeing me, frowning and half closing his eyes.
“No,” he admitted. He nodded his head and pursed his lips, keeping his arms crossed over his chest.
“Stupid! This is stupid…” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he confessed with a sigh. He stared at my hands hidden in the pockets of my trousers, and, under the intensity of his gaze, I shoved them in deeper. He scrutinized my face, scanned my facial features. He was trying to decipher the nature of my turmoil. He wrinkled his nose and tightened his shoulders.
“And what are you doing here? When did you get here? Another stupid mission? I thought you would have permission for a longer period of leave, after you almost died like a bird with your feathers into the snow.” I wanted to joke about the mission when we met. A mission that finally had a happy ending.
It was almost dark in the jungle and I was, for the first time in over a decade, tired. The shadows around us, as well as the forest, were changing.
“Well, you’re awake. It’s always you,” he said laughing grotesquely, bursting the silence and shocking me.
“Stop it,” I moaned. “Enough.”
“So I’ll tell you…”
I did not want him to even talk to me and I closed my eyes.
“After.” I said, and I turned away from him.
I heard someone approaching our position – four soldiers from my company. Their march through the trees was barely audible. They were tracking my footsteps in the high vegetation. They stopped from time to time to find clues. I pricked up my ears when one of them stopped. He seemed discouraged.
“Colonel?” asked a deep and known voice.
“Go forward ten yards, Thomas. Straight!”
They advanced rapidly in our direction. All at once, the space behind me was filled with soldiers. I looked up. My eyes were full of anger which Tyrone had put there. Suddenly, I felt protected by their approach. The impassive face of Victor appeared first, and then his friends took their places at his right. Their faces went from me to Tyrone.
I stared at Tyrone, annoyed.
“Help has arrived, but they are only half ready!” said Victor, looking at Tyrone. “The missile patrol, which was dispatched by the National Airport General Director to assist the wounded, is scheduled to arrive shortly. We checked each name on the passenger list, and not everyone has been found yet. There are still two missing! The crew is also seriously wounded, especially the pilot and copilot. They will leave with the first helicopter. The Rescue Commander wants to talk to you, sir.”
“Alright. See you later, Corporal. Tyrone! Let’s go.” I ordered, and we moved off to the left.
A small path led toward the clearing. I had taken this path on arrival but the others had not found it. We quickly climbed the steep path behind us and the forest returned to tranquility. No one passed me. In my peripheral vision I saw Victor and the three other soldiers. As I watched them untangle the vines, they seemed to blend into the landscape. They were one with the environment. Hmm! I did a good job!
I cast a furtive glance at Tyrone; he walked behind me, and he also seemed to be one with the forest. He looked even more annoyed, more restrained, than during our conversation, or even the last time we had seen each other. It was disturbing.
We reached the survival area, which was a little lower than where I had ventured before. We swept an area of 250 square miles on the ocean side. A surveillance aircraft was flying over the disaster area and another one circled above the target. The emergency medical tents were surrounded by a barrier separating them from the common area. Men in white ran in all directions and the noise of helicopters (Panther and Puma) was overwhelming. Rain dripped from their hair and their uniforms were soaked but they did not seem to notice. Rain also fell along the large leaves of the trees, while the sun was struggling to break through the clouds. It was already getting too late! Too late for the wounded in the middle of the jungle in the rainy season. Too late for me if things did not change.
I must get away, and fast…
I wanted to continue on, but I heard voices complaining. I knew who was there. And that’s why I had to get away…
Why can’t I hurry on?
I turned my head. A group of six women surrounded a small gray spot. The soldiers were all stopped, just like me. It was at that moment that I realized that the little girl, under her pile of blankets, was shaking uncontrollably. I felt helpless because I could do nothing for her.
“Is she ok?” I asked Thomas in a hesitant voice. No one answered. There was something wrong. “Thomas?” I moaned, but no one answered. I touched her forehead, it was cold. At my contact, her tremors ceased. I felt the coldness of her skin pierce mine, like the bite of ice. “We must warm her while she is sleeping,” I whispered.
“No, Sir.” Thomas’s voice seemed far away, and one of the soldiers came closer.
He took my arm to get me away from there. I tore myself from his embrace with such strength that I heard him groan. My instinct told me something was wrong…
“Thomas? Where are the rescuers?”
“Colonel, the emergency team has been warned.”
I looked at him while I held my palm closer to the girl’s face.
“So? She is not important enough to be saved, is that it?”
“No, that’s not it. They cannot do anything. Apparently there is a problem with her blood type and we can’t give her a transfusion.”
My fingers were like claws, and in my rage I could have hurt her. I quickly withdrew my hand. I passed my fingers through my hair and massaged my forehead as if to remove a bad idea.
“Take her. ”
Thomas leaned toward her with open arms, but he stopped when I pushed him away from her. I realized that I did not want someone else to take over.
“I’m on it, Thomas.” I said, and with my arm under her back I lifted her easily when I got up.
Her body seemed lighter, as if something went away gently…
“Okay,” said Thomas. He got up and waited.
My legs gave way at the thought of life drifting away from her. Thomas caught me in my fall. Instinctively, I struggled against his hands, threatening to bring down the little girl. Several arms approached me. I did not want their assistance. It was too much. Thomas caught me again, keeping the others from me as if he understood my aversion. The little girl swayed in my arms. I frowned, angry when Thomas shook the blankets around her.
“What’s going on?” Tyrone asked, drawing near. His breathing was still calm and steady.
“The girl. He wants to save her, but it’s too late.” Victor replied in a mechanical tone before realizing what he had just said.
“Madness,” said Tyrone.
I gave him a furious look, but his face was impassive and determined. Sullen, I surrounded her with my arms. I struggled with the blankets to free her hand. I wanted to feel her pulse. Only I could be sure that life had not left her.
“Madness, you say?” I asked, disgusted.
“What for?” Tyrone said as he looked up to the sky.
In a sudden and quick movement, he nodded to me and grabbed her hand.
“Hey!” I objected. I was amazed and surprised at my outburst.
He gave me a wry smile and dropped her hand. Her arm fell heavily. “If you want to, well…” he said.
I knew what he was thinking, but at that time, I did not care in the least. If he asked me why I wanted so much to save her, I could not answer him. Even I did not know the reason. I had a strange desire to rescue this little girl, and I didn’t know why.
I walked to the first rescuer that I saw, with Tyrone on my tail. The girl had not moved for far too long. Her head was lolling back and forth, rocking to the rhythm of my steps.
“Sir, there are others.” the rescuer’s tone irritated me significantly. He seemed to expect an authorization (but from whom?).
I glared at him while I clutched the covers around her. I continued to approach him while raging inside.
“A doctor, I want a doctor.” I turned, shaking my head from side to side when, finally, I heard a voice.
“Here, sir! Can I help you?”
I almost fell in his direction, with the little girl in my arms. I nearly tripped over a root sticking out of the ground in the middle of the clearing among the tall plants. I handed him the girl.
“Please, you must save her! Apparently she needs a transfusion of blood, a donation…”
“Ah! Yes, a colleague had already spoken of this. She has a rare disease and is not compatible with any of the 800 people gathered here…”
I stopped him, begging: “I can do it! Do it now.”
“But, sir, you do not know if you are compatible.”
“I know exactly! You said that without the transfusion she will die, right, right?”
“And you think it is better to let her die, instead of trying to save her, right?” I roared so hard that all heads turned toward us.
He looked at me, and I saw a battle taking place in his head. He calculated the pros and cons.
“No. You are right. This way, if you will,” he said, nodding toward the tent behind him. He touched the forehead of the girl. “Provided is not too late!”
He half opened the tent, and then stepped aside for me to go first. He followed me and walked quickly to a table on which were several kits. He opened one and pulled out a bottle of antiseptic liquid. From another package, he took syringes and needles, and prepared to perform the transfusion. I posed the girl gently on a camp bed, being careful not to shake her too much and to keep the covers in place.
He handed me gauze and a bottle of antiseptic liquid. I pulled her arm from under the covers and rolled her sleeve up to the elbow. Her skin was so white that her veins showed through as purple.
I cleaned her arm gently until the doctor came, took my gauze and muttered, “Let me do it, please. Sit down and raise your sleeve.”
I sat on the ground, by the bed. I pushed up my sleeve, and I took another sterile gauze pad sprinkled with antiseptic liquid and cleaned my arm. The doctor, who had set up the transfusion, turned to me. He looked at me, as I was rubbing my arm as if I wanted to remove my skin.
“Enough,” he said, with a faint smile on his face, and then he frowned. “I’ll start. Give me your arm.”
I held out my arm to him, sighing.
“Go ahead. I hope it is not too late…”
He took my arm and tapped it hard to prepare it for contact with the needle. Nothing happened. Neither my muscles nor my skin moved, as if they were a dense mass…
“Hmm,” he said, and when he tried to insert the needle, it broke in two. The broken piece shot far behind us. “What the hell?” he said. His mouth had an unpleasant grin. “What kind of skin do you have?”
“I can do it,” I muttered and grabbed another needle without waiting for his consent. “It’s better if I do it anyway. Otherwise you’ll run out of needles.”
“But, where we are…”
With a rapid and nearly invisible movement, I pricked my skin at the right place, allowing my blood to flow. At the first drop, the doctor plugged the needle directly to the transfusion.
“I cannot promise anything. I don’t know if it will work… What blood type do you have?”
I swallowed loudly. “I am,” I smiled, but my eyes remained sad, “a universal donor.” I closed my eyes, anxious to be finished.
The doctor opened his mouth, but suddenly closed it without another word, then he went to touch the forehead of the little girl and, slowing shaking his head, he walked away, but not without taking a last look at me.
The canvas fell away gently. There was no sound for a long time, and the warm and moist air led me once again to the dark terrain of my resentments.
I was about to succumb to paranoia when Tyrone spoke to me calmly, “You do not want to leave her.”
“I do not like defeat, Tyrone.” I protested gently.
“Yes, I know. Unfortunately, that is your only weakness, I think.” He sighed and the air ejected from his lungs seemed endless.
“If she wakes up, I think she will have a life to live,” I murmured.
Tyrone did not answer immediately, he seemed on the defensive. I heard him approach slowly and stand behind me. “You cannot do that! Saving her life was the thing to do today, of course. But at what cost?” His voice expressed discontent and I had to bite my tongue to stop the acid response that I wanted to level at him.
I controlled my breathing and waited a long time before replying. I felt the seconds run away, as my blood flowed drop by drop. “Tyrone. I think I can do it. I don’t think there is any danger. They will not realize what happened. And then she will never have to worry about…”
“Have you thought about it? A moment is all it takes. How can you be sure?”
I did not answer straightaway, I swallowed my anger.
“I know how much this is unacceptable to you.” he hastened to say.
What did he know about me? Really? About my resentment? Of my solitude? Of my whole life, that I considered wasted in vain and forever lost?
“No, you do not know. You do not know the price of a life, Tyrone! Not like me.”
“I’m sorry, but I think about you, when…” he apologized in a low voice.
No! I wanted to cry.
“I know what you know,” I agreed. “She will have a real life to live afterwards,” I concluded bitterly. “This is what I hope for her!” And for me, I could add, but I knew it was a lie – nothing good could happen to me… No! Not to me…
“And for you?” Tyrone asked gently.
I did not answer, I was torn. I hated to agree with Tyrone. And I did not see why my true nature would make our friendship any different. I smiled, closing my eyes, and I took refuge in my own world.
My refuge was too pleasing for me to focus anymore. I did not want to continue this discussion, and in the silence that followed this strange exchange, I lost the battle against my weary spirit.
Nearby, I heard a key turning, a distant clicking, and an exquisite and familiar music enveloped me. Then I heard the regular creaking of a ghostly rocking chair, and a voice coming from somewhere else:
“I’m here, do not be afraid.”
I smiled and I knew that, finally, I had fallen asleep.
Twenty years later
What a nightmare! Another Sunday!
It was a day when I wished I lived my life elsewhere, so I could make a new start! I was aware of one thing though, there was a problem. Each day that went by made it more and more impossible to live – each day was worse than the one before. Lethargy was not something that I could get used to. I was closer to depression.
Maybe I was already in it and just not conscious of it?
I tried to tear myself away from day after day of laziness, but the best I could do was provoke a faint glimmer of hope – I thought it would be better tomorrow and that joy would return. I guess it was my way of defending myself, or of hiding my head in the sand. Yes! I was hiding my weaknesses in front of others without letting my anger take me into painful circumstances and unknown territories.
Around me – I was in the middle of the canopy – my piercing eyes could see far away, the cloud forest, a part of the Amazon, barely visible through the fog. It was a beautiful place where life beats every second of the day with the same impetuosity. The diversity of species of plants here are some of the most important on earth. The Lung of the Earth consists of humid tropical forests which covered an immense area. It straddles nine countries: Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Bolivia and Peru. It represents more than half of the existing tropical forests, and it is the richest and most diverse of tropical regions. It is everywhere. At the side of the river, on the other side of the base is an impassable double wall woven with vines, leaves and trunks. It is unreachable and not advised for beginners. And it remains the first and most popular training area for Special Forces. The Green Hell! I chuckled inwardly, thinking of those who ventured out, to prove to themselves and others that they could get out. This virgin forest – what’s left at least – protects its territory by the aid of inhabitants, who still refuse what we call civilization. Sometimes, after hours of walking, without a GPS, a village appears. The smell of wet ground and moist leaves filled my nostrils. I breathed in this perfume so avidly into my lungs that it flooded my senses.
It was useless to suppress my feelings by thinking about this place where I experienced the fires of purgatory. Yes. I discovered that this place did not only add pain but nothing really better could happen to me here!
I was lying on my back with my arms crossed behind my head and my legs over each side of the hammock. I watched the sky from a height of five yards, and I imagined a different situation. I dreamed I was somewhere else, sitting on the patio of a house beside the sea on top of a cliff. The sea lay before me, the waves rolled like enormous seahorses first showing their peaks, and then gradually emerging from the water, becoming gigantic, Homeric, until they crashed on the high rocks, at my feet, in large rolls dripping with foam. I closed my eyes and I pretended to sleep. Hmm… I imagined what was not to be.
“Maybe if I keep this attitude, they will leave me alone!” I said without much hope.
But I always knew what was happening near me. I could intrude into their minds, and sometimes I felt guilty for being so intrusive into their feelings. I confessed this ability to no one – it was one of the things that I could still hide from them. It was not easy to live with this, because their feelings disturbed me strongly and often my spirit suffered. To find myself in this in-between-world was like being in a vacuum.
I felt that they were all extremely active today. I wondered what was going on. I didn’t really want to know.
I closed my mind from any contact with them. But that would not last long! My eyes were still closed. I even hid my face with my hands. I tried to change my position, but it was no use. It was impossible to not hear their far away movements as if they were in my head, dragging their feet on the ground, slamming their boots on the pavement, rubbing their clothes, their hands touching their arms to clean up. I could even smell their sweat from dozens of yards away. I felt their sensations, their feelings, their fears, their dislikes, their sorrows and their joys. My heart felt overwhelmed and I began to lose my self-control. It was so easy to know what they thought after all. I tried not to pay attention to them, to act as if I was not aware.
Nick – Nicolas – kept his thoughts to himself. If I could describe the spirit of a mean man, it was Nick! He was superficial and selfish – filled only with himself. Not approachable to others, even his own family. They were all strangers to him and held no interest.
Kevin was like a crackling wood fire. He was thinking about the previous night and their favorite pastime: to prove which was the strongest. To do this, they arm wrestled; it was very masculine and fun to watch and perform. The vote was unanimous. Kevin apparently had decided to control his anger and negative impulses and to do all over again tonight. Surely Nick would not agree to a new match tonight.
And I was suffering. I sighed. Oh! Conrad!
A change is needed. I cannot go on like this!
“Colonel?” Conrad’s voice shook all my efforts.
I pulled myself together. I tried to clear my resentment, and change my expression. I let my hands fall to my knees. He had my full attention.
“Yes, soldier.” I stared at a distant point on the horizon. Looking directly at Conrad would be a mistake.
“The Commander asked for you.”
I did not turn my head. I continued to fix my eyes on the point on the horizon, as if nothing could touch me.
“Very well, soldier! Go.” I did not move my head.
“Something else, soldier?” I sighed, still focused on my point.
“How do you do it?” he asked. “I mean, how you are able to…”
I got darker – an imperceptible change in the top of my mouth. It was nothing that should concern him. I was able to easily change my facial expression when a conversation bothered me. Yet Conrad’s mind was now alarmed, and I felt a long discussion coming. I decided to cut it short. I formulated my answer quickly.
“Let’s just say I have more experience than you, soldier.” I continued to observe the horizon. I turned my head slowly towards him and continued on in the same detached tone of voice. “Fitting in, I think. Thanks soldier. You can leave now—”
“At your service, Sir! If you need me… just let me know!” He looked at me, and turned away.
I was happy to keep quiet. What could I say? I did not like to show myself defenseless. Such an experience – was it really necessary? Why do we feel safe only when we are able to control ourselves and push beyond our limits?
Why was I playing with disaster?
It all started two weeks earlier. A filmstrip of memories flashed through my mind in the smallest details:
It was a hot night. It was awfully heavy, as always during the rainy season. I felt electricity buzzing in the air. I sat near a tree, as was my habit every night, after a reconnaissance lap around the encampment and, surprisingly, I fell asleep. I thought back to the dream which I had…
A camera was filming a theater scene. In the background was a velvet curtain, heavy, dusty, and a deep red color. One spot light illuminated the left side of the stage. A low table, practically invisible, was placed on the right. Changing its intensity, the spot light took a softer hue and turned slowly to the right and froze on an extremely white hand – the scene was as black as ink – which came out of nowhere. The hand was not just lying on the table as I thought. Cleverly, it crawled until it rose up with something indescribable between the fingers. Then it approached a face that I could not distinguish. I realized that the hand was maneuvering toward the face.
In front of my eyes, the scene seemed to be growing; or was it me who was approaching closer? I no longer knew. It soon filled the whole space of my vision. But I couldn’t see what it was because of how it was positioned. It was somewhat angled. I turned my head when the face had made an unexpected movement. It had approached the thing to see it better, and I was fascinated by this movement, hoping to find out of what that face was like. I felt my senses awaken at once. The tracker hidden inside me was in his element, and a breathless race had started. My irises changed color, the pupils stretched. I tried to track down a scent, known or unknown, but at least something! Some detail that could help me, but there was nothing. There was no smell.
I looked back to the face…
It leaned forward to the right just when the hand had turned the thing between it fingers, and my eyes froze on the image they had discovered. My eyes left the face and settled on the thing. I identified colors, shapes, and a vibration – it was a picture! I continued to get closer to it, spying on it – yes, it was a picture! I saw a face in the picture. I scanned the details. I was anxious to find out what it was. I was suddenly in a hurry. The time was almost over and I had to discover the essence of this dream. Miraculously, I found myself looking directly to the picture.
“The face does not interest you,” a voice said to me. “The photo, the picture, look at the picture!”
The distance decreased and as if by magic time stopped for a second, and the image filled my field of vision, carrying me beyond. I no longer existed in this small space where it all began, I was transported elsewhere in the rain, and my hair was wet and long. It was me in this picture! My face was as happy as I had ever seen it before. I felt a tingling, a burning. I tried to locate the source of this new feeling – it was my right arm. It was hanging down. My hand was jealously embracing another hand. Our fingers intertwined such as two lovers. I was holding someone else’s hand. I wanted to find out more, but the dream hand folded the picture in half and kicked me out of the frame. Only my image stood in the foreground. I felt anger rising in me, and I turned to see who dared to make such a decision. Surprise! There was no one. I heard a merry laugh and a pair of gray eyes glared at me for a split second. An unknown fragrance sprinkled me, burned my nostrils, and the scent of amber had a taste that my tongue kept preciously. The hall was empty now. The spot light went out and I awoke.
The feeling of déjà vu I had was so strong that I could not distinguish between reality and dream. This dream was so deep, so real, and with my eyes open I searched for this scene in my environment. But I saw only the shadows of the forest, the twenty foot high trees and a moonlight ray illuminating a branch.
It looked like a silver arm pointing to the Old Continent. This strange feeling was not foreign to me.
The dream bothered me less than before, when they came only from memories of a past that I could not change. A past I had learned to live with because it was in my nature. At the time, that was the right choice.
This is not as difficult period of time, I said to myself, remembering – I did not know how many times I had had the same dream!
“It makes you a little uncomfortable. It will not last forever. You shall find yourself, and you will continue the life you have chosen—” my conscience said.
“You think? You believe you are still the same as you were forty years ago. Do you realize that this life has clouded your vision? But look up! Stop telling yourself that everything is fine!”
Certainly, an unknown part of me wanted to destroy everything. Apparently, I was really dangerous now.
“I am in control.” I muttered and I shook my fists.
“You do not control anything at all, it’s gotten worse over the past two weeks, and your mood has not changed. You make an effort, but you can’t do it. You have to consider the reality! Before this happened to you, without realizing it, you were already tired of your life here. Doing the same things over and over prevented you from noticing the change that occurred in you. Change your lifestyle—”
I listened. Nothing. Silence. A vacuum. This vacuum clearly meant that the conversation was over. It was ridiculous to take unnecessary risks.
I had to see the Colonel. I could not continue on this path. I sighed quietly and jumped to the ground. Reluctantly, I made my way to the military command offices.
By pure reflex, I turned my head towards the sound of Colonel Harcourt’s voice, and I nodded.
“Here you are! You are heading towards my office, I suppose,” he said, smiling at me.
“Good. Let go together then.”
I joined him and we walked with the same cadenced footsteps.
The Colonel was in his sixties, he was grizzled and his face was furrowed with wrinkles due to the stress of his profession, yet he joyously laughed as soon as he had the chance. Today he was preoccupied with something. His heart was beating wildly, and his every thought was focused on a single issue. Had he made a major decision which he wanted to share to me? From the corner of my eye I saw that his face looked disturbed, and I knew he did not know how to start. I also did not know how to tell him about my recent decision. I continued to walk beside him in silence.
I wanted him to be the first to start this discussion.
I looked in front of me to the horizon.
“Really, it becomes a habit! To wait for the impossible,” my conscience groaned.
“Ahem!” The colonel cleared his throat and looked at me furtively before examining the tips of his shoes. He raised his head again, and he peered at me. He folded his hands behind his back, analyzing the asphalt.
I stared at the horizon.
”Oh!” A sigh escaped from his chest.
We arrived at the entrance of the building where his office was. He mounted the steps first. I followed him, my eyes on the pavement. He walked to his office with a regular step, cadenced, and he opened the door.
“Come in, Colonel. Close the door behind you please.” He sat down and clasped his hands on the desk. I was near the door; we stared at each other. Voices of troops coming from the courtyard right in front filled the oppressive silence of the office. They were going into the forest for a highly controversial exercise. “Please be seated, sir. I called you here,” continued the Colonel after casting a critical eye in the yard, “because I have a request to make of you. You see, I’m getting older.”
I looked at him intently. I did not like this kind of talk about time passing and the effect it had on the body. I felt nauseous. Even though I knew what he wanted, to hear him say it hurt me.
“We are all aging, sir,” I said with difficulty while watching my own hands gripping the armrests of the chair.
“Do not tell me about that! Especially not you.” His tone was sharp, almost aggressive. His eyes were fixed on my features. “I’ve not asked you to come for a discussion of sympathy.” His voice was sad. He relaxed by lying on his chair. “When I said I was getting older, it was for another reason. Soon, someone will take my place, and I want that everything be in order.” He scrutinized me. He picked up a folder on his right and opened it, looked at the first page and closed it with a grimace, clenching his fingers. “So, I have a request to make of you. I want you to set up a final mission. Two teams – attack and defense. In your own way, of course. It is to be a real battle! Not cat piss! Mercenary combat!” His fist hit the folder on the desk, and his eyes pierced me.
“But, sir, you know that…”
He cut me off abruptly: “I must see them in action! I do not doubt your instructor abilities! I do not want to test you as an instructor or as an opponent! I want, and I demand, a real fight! I know what you are able to do! I’ve seen enough of the latest mission footage. I know your tactics, and I must say that I would not want be on the side against you! But I want them to be able to – not you – build a defense, do the strategic analysis of the plan and finally win the fight! Indeed, they know all that, but I want to assure myself.” He threw me one more look and got up.
“Hmm!” I whispered. I was embarrassed, but I did not want him to notice.
The colonel, his hands again clasped behind his back, began to pace.
The windows were open and the falling rain had changed the heat into sticky treacle. It was like a transparent curtain, waving with a deafening sound produced by the water falling on the trees large leaves.
He turned suddenly to observe the effect his speech had on me. “I have your word? That you will not spare them? That you will put them to a challenge?”
“If you insist.”
“Yes. This is very important. You never know…” He looked away toward the window, as if he feared something.
“Excuse me, sir. What do you mean?” I wanted to vomit. My muscles were stretched at once.
“Oh! Do not get me wrong,” his voice seemed to be making an excuse. “I know what we owe you! My superiors, and myself as well. I will never ask you to leave. You may act as you wish, and at the same time, assist us. But you have been here for so long that one day, in my opinion, you will decide to leave and I will not stop you. Nonetheless I want my troops ready.”
He raised his right hand to silence me. “Let me finish. I am familiar with how you lead them in combat and in instruction. All rescue operations which you’ve led around the world, and the assistance you provided during the Cold War gave me complete confidence in your abilities. But I also know that the team relies on you. While you’re there, they know that they will all get out alive and healthy!” His arms fell along his body in an almost child-like helplessness. His graying hair, well cut, had almost turned white. His electric blue eyes became opaque, a dull gray. He seemed, at once, very old. Doomed.
“Colonel. I just have one favor to ask.”
“What is it?” His eyes betrayed a deeply buried fear.
“I would like to leave for a while. I’m not sure for how long – I need to think and make a decision.”
“Hmm! I watched you this past week, and I hoped that you would find the answer alone. I want to say that I understand, but honestly – when I think of you, I do not understand you at all.” His eyes searched for signs of aging or tiredness on my face, on my features, on my skin. Their absence proved that time had passed differently for me than for him – his face was deeply lined and the shiny look of youth in his eyes was long gone. He sat in his seat. “I’ve known you for thirty years, and working with you has been a pleasure for me. You have my total support for whatever decision you make. Once you finish the last mission, you are free, my friend!”
He got up from his seat, traversed the distance between us with long strides and hugged me. Then he stepped back, looked at me and lowered his arm.
“Thank you. At your service, Sir!” I said. Then I left.
“Come on guys, the game begins!” They were all there, looking at me, smiling. They really like these missions. And why not? It was their choice, right? It was mine too at one time, so… “Good, good, good! Go! Everyone in training! Listen to me!” I eyed them warily. I observed their behavior, their position. I noticed each facial expression which was a good indicator of their physical condition. They were ready for battle! Backs straight, legs slightly bent, arms relaxed beside their bodies, ready to jump, heads turned almost imperceptibly in my direction. “I’ll call you one by one and you will move to a spot on my right and form the first team: Dylan, Conrad, Taylor, Mike, Kevin, Hugo, Nick…” I watched their slight movements. I had taught them mental resistance so they could push their limits to the maximum. Their physics, too, had changed: running like a cheetah, approaching their adversary like a cat in a deadly silence, attacking like a puma after chasing their prey for a long journey without weakness, attentive to any change. “Good. The Colonel wants to see you in action. He has charged me with creating a simulation… A very tough one.” I grinned. Their faces showed that they understood, but I could not go into details. This time, they would have to manage by themselves. I held out my arm behind me toward the forest. “The match will be played this time in another area. You will have maps and fifteen minutes to understand where you are and to make your plans.” I paused, still keeping my arm tight. “You choose if you want to attack or defend yourself. The choice is yours, as is the plan to follow. But you’ll have to stick to your original plan, because you won’t have time to change strategy. Either you attack or you defend.” I looked as their faces turned on me, watching their emotional changes. Some seemed very sure of themselves, others skeptical. One looked at me curiously. He understood the issue. My eyes changed and became black. My muscles were stretched and I scolded them. “You will fight to save your life! You will enter into this forest and do everything to stay alive! You will be hunted down and you will have to prove that you can get away, ladies!” Ah… They did not like that! They began to wonder. They did not dare question me. I stared at them, my hands in my pockets. I taunted them with my eyes. “Let’s see!” They were watching to me with dread, and someone cleared his throat – a sign that he wanted to talk to me, but he didn’t want to interrupt me. Without turning my head, I addressed him quietly: “Soldier Conrad, please ask the question that burns your lips.”
I closed my eyes and I smiled. Some of them realized that there was something wrong.
“We are all part of the first team. Where is the second, sir?”
“I am the second team. You are all going to fight against me!” My smile faded.
I took three maps from my pocket. All were folded in quarters; the back of each one was a different color.
“Shit!” said Nick.
I called them one by one.
“Take this map. Conrad!”
“Take the second map! Taylor!”
“Take his last map! You have three maps but none are complete. You will have to find the place where the match will be held! Whoever arrives first will have the advantage of field reconnaissance and will be able to prepare his strategy. It will be the strategy to be followed by both teams. Prove that you are able to change the original plan and make your own, or not. By finding the key to the puzzle, you will find the position. Your tactics will depend on the location, do not forget that! But if you arrive late, you will deliver yourself to your enemy. The green hell awaits you!” I stared at them again. I articulated forcefully. “Don’t worry; I do not know the position. I did not make these maps. They were given to me. Now let’s get started! Choose! Heads or tails?”
I flipped the coin into the air.
“Tails!” Conrad said fervently.
The coin rose in the sky and became smaller and smaller until it was nearly invisible. Sparkling flashes reached us from time to time, the golden texture of the coin reflecting sunlight. All eyes were on it, monitoring its track attentively and their faces were covered with anxiety. I saw the coin rotate a final time, remain suspended, and then come down like a bullet.
Conrad’s face was so concentrated that without realizing it, his lips opened slightly, his eyes dilated and I saw his arm rise. He grabbed the coin. The whole company looked at his fist jealously guarding the coin responsible for this advantage in this mission.
With a superior smile, Conrad looked at the others and said sharply, “Ready, guys?” He opened his fingers and the gold coin sparkled in the bright light of the morning sun. “Ha! What did I say?”
“Tails!” they replied in chorus.
“… For once,” said Taylor, speechless.
“Yes, as you say, Taylor.” Hugo laughed in his turn.
“Go, Children!” Dylan said, but he could not abstain from bursting out laughing and then they joked again.
They looked at me and my face lit up briefly, thinking how their youth and lives were much easier than mine. Then my face became a mask, and with malice my voice became a whisper.
“Airsoft, ladies! What color do you prefer? No one chooses? Too bad then, I’ll take the red!”
The smiles vanished one after another, as if an artist with an eraser decided to change the structure of each face.
“Oh!” Dylan replied.
I closed my eyes. They knew that I was not expecting this and the calm moment was over. I headed for the Safe Zone1. The R & D P.D.W. was there, and I chose the one with its MP7A1 loader full of red paint. It was ready. I pushed it to the ground behind the three filled cases.
“The Respawn2 is in 10 yards in front of you. It will be the starting point, but it is subject to a time limit: one minute if you are outs3! No need to specify that the mission will be an OPEX4. Not a Close Quarter Battle5! The Orga decided so! Remember, sometimes a voice tag will prevent someone from shooting you – so you can get back in the game after spending one minute to Respawn! We do not want Highlanders6! Do not forget to play fair!” My tone became pensive and I opened the last two boxes. “Let’s see what we have here… an AEG7 an AEP8 of course, and several PDW9 and SMG10. All replicas are equipped with Rail Interface System11 and the accessories are here: MALICE12, Double or BB Loader13, Drums, High-caps14, lamps, optical sights, canons, grips, silencers, Power Boost for a better kick, plotters, um… you will not need it, the game will be over well before you need any of this. You can upgrade your toys! Come on guys! 10 minutes for that!”
“Oh, H & K MP5, H & K G3 MC51, Ingram Mac11 A1, Steyr TMP, H & K UMP,” Taylor said with a smile. “That’s all good—” His fingers caressed the RD’s.
“Yes but all these SMG’s are for close combat,” Dylan replied, grinning. “Do you think you will be able to use one of them?”
“Hey, the FN P90 and H & K MP7,” Hugo said as he took a FN and began to customize it. His fingers were skilled, fast and even with closed eyes he could do it so easily.
“Yes,” said Conrad, “it has an effective range of 200 meters, small size, versatility, ballistic protection piercing.”
“Yes,” Dylan said, “it could work better.”
They looked at each other in turn and a smile appeared on their faces.
“A Glock 18C.”
“Shut up, Nick! What do you want with an EPA?”
I did not interfere. I was familiar with their fragile points and their team strategy: Conrad would be in front, Hugo was great in coaching – their weakness in paintball – Dylan will fall in with Nick, Mike and Taylor in the middle, there will not be any pit crew.
The 10 minutes were up.
“And you? Colonel?” Hugo looked at me and cleared his throat. “Your weapon?”
There remained only a few accessories; the weapons were all gone. I narrowed my eyes.
“There is a toy, right there at your feet! I’ll take it, thank you Hugo.”
He discovered the MP7A1 which was lying behind the open. It looked like a normal MP7, but it was not yet approved by NATO. It should be used with caution – I use weapons only in case of major force – this time it would only be to mark them, one after the other, and I preferred to take it in the case of technical failures.
My eyes clung for a split second to a pair of gray eyes wide open. That face… I knew it. I remembered seeing it before. It fled to the back of my mind, and it came back changed. What was causing this? I watched again without blinking. I wanted to understand. The eyes looked at me too.
I turned away, embarrassed. I decided to risk an inquisitive glance. My gaze ricocheted off, fell away and I looked again. I tried to take a measure of the strength of the other, but the eyes closed and the face disappeared. It took me a second to understand that the face was not there. Was I dreaming?! I looked around me, upset.
The boat was sliding towards to its destination. To the right on the quays were a cinema and a small terrace surrounded by bushes on the edge of the water. I had not gone to see a movie in a long time. I loved the old black and white movies. I had not sat on a terrace to talk about the rain and the fair weather for a long time either. The boat was sailing slowly and I decided that when I disembarked I would melt into the crowd, go to the cinema, and enjoy a drink on a terrace. In Paris to be alone on a sunny terrace means that you are seeking a soul mate. A part of me hopes never to find a soul mate, because I do not think she will accept me such as I am.
The boat went on his way. The light wind caressed my face and I breathed in fragrances, the emerging perfumes from a giant amphora, a mixture of unknown scents. A perfume shop was somewhere behind on the right. I hoped that these scents would carry me to my dream. But this smell had nothing in common with my dream. However, I could walk around trying to find a scent that did. The boat had come to the end of its journey and I decided to visit the cinema and its small terrace. With my hands in my pockets, I went on foot.
I was still annoyed by the conversation between my conscience, which was rebelling, and that other unknown part of myself that I did not even know what to call. It tried in vain to convince me of its purpose. I tried to stop their idiot chattering and clear of my head before their petty and trivial gossip drove me crazy. What a break it was when they stopped! I knew that someday one of the two would eventually lose and the other would keep quiet, because I will have accepted one reality and my life will bind to the new order.
I walked along the bank of the Seine, looking at the bridge. There was nothing interesting to see. I walked slowly, almost dragging my feet, and I arrived at the first terrace. A large poster on the right was announcing a theater performance on a canal boat nearby. It was a new piece, in contemporary style performed by a team of young actors.
I continued my walk peacefully. The air was fresh near the river and the sun, casting its last rays. It made the water a shining mirror. Hmm! The cinema?
No! There are too many people and it’s too beautiful to close myself in a narrow space. I will go to a terrace instead – that will be better.
It was a strange decision for me to follow this path near the wharf. I pinched the bridge of my nose. There was something in the air. I approached the first staggered terrace. My senses were alert. I explored the area and my heart started to beat more and more rapidly. This meant that an extremely important event was about to occur. I was familiar with that feeling. Something important was near. Something I was expecting for a long time, a fact that I did not know how to welcome and which my poor heart did not know how to govern. I saw a flash. A fleeting image formed before my eyes and vanished with the swiftness of a shooting star.
I felt nauseous suddenly, like I was about get sick. The girl I was looking for was there. I had covered this city far and wide to find her and, I was devastated with my lack of success! It was my impatience that led me to start searching, but it did not matter now. She was finally in front of me!
What did this girl have? Why was she so important to me? Why did I dream of her? Why did I feel this incomprehensible need to go searching for her? I had to understand and the key to this mystery was right there in front of me.
The terrace was packed. Two tables were still available, including one near the bushes very close to the table where she sat. I stepped forward and I felt that the ground would swallow me up. The earth moved, or my legs were stuck. This was no longer asphalt. My feet sank, my ankle descended and my legs were caught. My arms fluttered absurdly in the air searching for a support. But there was nothing. The air had become smooth and charged with a powerful scent that had the ability to change reality and prevent me from moving. A chasm had emerged under me. It was full of quicksand, binding me and pulling me down. If I continued to slide, I would go all the way to the bottom and transform it into a tomb.
I surveyed my surroundings.
This weird smell, a kind of perfume, was everywhere. I turned my head to the left for a breath of fresh air, but this flavor, her aroma, overwhelmed me! I felt as if I had weights attached to my feet. I wanted to move forward and I was making an effort to do so, to get closer to that intoxicating fragrance. I lurched forward but just couldn’t move my feet to the chair next to her. I nearly feel, but I caught myself at the last minute, drawing myself up heavily.
Two pairs of eyes looked at me as I had tried to move with dignity. Two girls smiled at me and at the same time one of them spoke to me. I heard the sound of her voice, I heard her words, but they had no order. I understood nothing of what she said.
I looked at the table where I wanted to be and it seemed to me that an illusion played tricks on me. The closer I approached, the more the table moved away. Was I really moving? No! I still could not touch the chair. I did not dare remove my hand from its grip on the back of a chair near the two girls. It was keeping my balance. I continued, leaning to stay upright. Yet I made an effort. I turned my head to stare when I passed near her.
It was her!
Her auburn hair was bright, shiny, turning red and it fell on each side of her face in heavy curls which were perfectly rounded. Her skin was clear, transparent, with a texture similar to silk. I recognized the hand which I had seen in the dream; the same hand which currently typed at a hellish velocity on a laptop keyboard. Her cheeks were delicately colored in a pink that only my sharp eyes could perceive.
I was enthralled by her and a kind of strange fascination had drawn me to lean on her table while knowing that I might, with each millionth of a second spent in her proximity, no longer have the strength to move away. She drew me like a magnet. Her eyes were still lowered, and I was unable to meet them. I had the impression of floating, a prisoner of her aroma and I could not detach myself. I pulled off the table with pain and my teeth chattered. She did not see my ordeal, or my torture. My distress was indifferent to her.
I had the audacity to continue. I regained my cool. I made the last step firmly.
I felt surer of myself.
Finally I let myself fall into the chair. I had to stay close to her. I had to control myself and resist the temptation. I would never be able to do that if I left now. I had to endure her amazing scent.
A phone rang on the left. Shrill music pierced my eardrums and I wanted somebody answer it.
Make it stop!
A mobile phone! I ground my teeth. Someone was calling me. And this ring, this song, made me angry!
Finally, the call was answered.
A bewitching voice invaded my ears. The voice came from nearby, and it was hers.
“Yes! Hi, Vera, how are you?”
Had I said there was a mystery to solve? Not anymore. All was forgotten. I felt like an animal. My predator instincts had returned and I did not remember having tracked down such aroma before.
“I am on the terrace. Yes, I know we have a test tomorrow in the Restoration Techniques of Old Master’s Paintings course. Exactly, that’s why I’m here,” she continued, her left hand typing on a keyboard while her scent prevented me from thinking.
Her skin had the appearance of parchment; it was nearly transparent, and so white…
“My Internet is down at home. Yes. A power outage. Last time it took them four days just to push a button and reboot the modem,” she laughed and her breath burned me even more.
Yes, I must resist, I have to understand that this is a priority— I said to myself.
“You bet! They didn’t know where it was.” She kept looking at her laptop, pointing at a sentence on the screen.
I watched her every movement, never missing a detail. I gluttonously breathed the air around me, hoping it could seal the enormous black hole left in my chest by her aroma.
“Yes, tomorrow after the test. Me too, I no longer have… Hmm, I do not know yet. I will listen to my instinct, as usual, you know. Even for that, yes.”
Listen to her instinct!
Not a very human statement, more like an animal. She laughed and waved her hand in her hair. Then she rubbed her eyelids as if they ached.
What was she doing? Was she crazy? Doesn’t she realize that she is in the path of the wind?
“No, I don’t know if I’ll go see a movie. Why? You want to go? I’m almost done and I will go home. Yes, that’s it,” she replied and turned off the phone.
The conversation was over and she put her phone on the table next to her laptop. I stared at the vast river as black as ink before my eyes. My eyes closed for a moment. I saw myself leaping off the bridge and drowning myself. The Seine, at least, would it welcome me? Could I drown myself in the water any deeper than into her scent? My hands clung to each other to prevent me from reaching out to her, from grabbing her and running away. My two arms fell with force on the table and crushed the ashtray with a sharp sound which went unnoticed, even though the terrace was packed.
She did not notice me! She didn’t turn her head even once! It didn’t bother her that I listened to her phone conversation.
I was of no interest to her. What interest could she have for me? I am a pseudo-human, a ruthless character out of a scary story.
Surely she does not talk to strangers…
What if I showed myself as a gentleman?
Suddenly, she stood up. Her laptop was already in her backpack, like all her affairs which were previously spread out on the table. Her hands were so skilled and so swift. I watched her again as she placed the bag on the table. Then she tried to fix her hair by pulling it backwards and twisting it into a bun which quickly untied. It fell right back to the way it had been before. Her head was now leaning back and her eyes were closed. They reopened and a sigh escaped from her perfectly drawn lips. She picked up the bag and put the strap over her shoulder. A belated ray of sunshine lit up her face. Her eyes had an imperceptible spark and I was caught in the trap of her gray eyes.
The laughter of my dream came to my mind, and a shiver ran through me. Her eyes lingered on me for a second, and then for another. They pierced me with their beauty, their inquisitive nature trying to understand my wild glance. I saw my reflection in her eyes which began to change suddenly under my gaze. Her heart seemed to panic and her cheeks went from a milky white to scarlet. She was surprised that I stared so long. What did she see, looking at me? Did she see my strange and distant appearance, my wild look? My thoughts were scattered.
She was going to leave and I had to follow her, I thought. I came out of my enchantment with a bound when she turned her back.
I must follow her! Quickly!
She went into the coffee shop at a high rate of speed. To the restroom, I suppose, like all the girls. I will wait. I did not follow her.
“Why like all the girls? You do not know any girls,” my conscience awoke.
She came out quickly, keeping her receipt in her hand. She stuffed it in the back pocket of her jeans, while continuing to walk with a firm step.
Ah, I see now! She is going directly home.
“So what? You’re going to follow her? You can’t do that,” said my old conscience.
What if I did? I chuckled.
“Oh, no,” my conscience continued, trying to make me change my mind.
“Oh, yes,” I said.
Silence. I was alone with my thoughts. I got control of myself and I decided to follow her as long as I was master of my own ego.
She walked along the dock and, arriving at the end, swerved to the left. She walked fast and her perfume whirled around me making me crazy. The wind was blowing in my direction and that did not help. I could follow her with my eyes closed from a hundred meters away, all the way to the end of the world. At the crossroads, she embarked on the avenue and stopped at building No. 115. It was an old Haussmann building with a beautiful entrance that required an access code to enter. I never took my eyes off her, but I stayed on the side of the avenue – I preferred to leave some distance between us.
The road was divided with a median full of green space. The trees inclined their heavy branches on both sides, powerless to prevent the wave of pedestrians who were in a hurry to cross. They took breathtaking slalom turns between the cars that came past at high speed. I stopped in front of a shop window and I watched her dial the entry code: 911.
Ah! I shall go and get bitten…
As she passed the receptionist’s lodge, she turned her head, greeted him with a smile and asked “Have you had a good day?”
After exchanging pleasantries, she approached the elevator, pressed the button for the 3rd floor and disappeared behind closed doors. She was no longer there, only her smell remained to accompany me.
Why did I do all this?
I could not let her slip away; I had just found her.
Yet this excuse did not answer my question? No. It was the instinct of a predator tracking down its prey.
The next book in Estrange Reality Series is CURSED