In early 2020, I don’t think any of us imagined COVID-19 would still be impacting our lives eighteen months on. And yet here we are.
We’ve been lucky in Australia. But with Sydney entering its fifth week in lockdown, and Victoria and South Australia also in lockdown (half the country’s population), the mood has darkened.
When will it end?
Below is a short, darkish, paranormal tale with a romantic twist. Not quite the story I expected to write when I sat down with the prompts – firefighter, ladder, secret and book. It was supposed to be a fun, sexy story, but the characters had other ideas…
A New Order
The sun slips behind the mountain’s twin peaks leaving them to cast long shadows across the buildings. I trudge down the empty street, my heart thumping like I’m running a marathon. The wind’s icy tentacles whip my bare face with frantic precision and tug at the book in my hands as if they know and understand the secrets hidden within the pages.
I shove the pub door open and stumble into the warm, smoky interior. All heads turn in my direction, expressions wary. Hopeful.
“You’re late,” Owen scowls as he locks the door behind me.
I grit my teeth. He’s always grumpy when he’s worried. “The roads were slippery.”
I slump into a wing-backed chair by the fire. The flames burn bright, chasing away the darkness and the cold. But especially the darkness.
My fingers remain frozen around the book.
“So?” Owen crouches beside me, his green eyes softer.
I swallow, and swallow again. “They’re all gone. Every last one of them.”
A collective gasp reverberates around the room.
Owen closes his eyes, cheeks pale, despite the fire.
I study his face. A face I know as well as my own. Maybe more. I’ve loved this man from afar for twenty years. Watched him marry. Raise a family. Lose them all to the temptations of the city.
And now the city is gone too.
Owen rests his forehead on my shoulder. “I thought the bushfires were the worst thing that could happen to us.”
I prise one hand from the book and run my fingers through his hair. “Me too.”
He clears his throat and pushes away to stand with his back against the fire.
“What do we do now?” asks Jenny, the local vet.
“What we’ve always done.” Owen straightens, shoulders thrust back. “Survive.”
The room spins. Survive? Is that what the virus has reduced us to?
I want to do more than survive. I want to live.
I stroke the soft tan leather of the cover. What’s so special about this book? I didn’t question Owen when he sent me into the mountains to ask reclusive Mrs Connor for The Tome. Owen had been very specific about the words I should use. It seemed an odd request, but since it was Owen, our fire chief, and love of my life, I did as he requested.
With trembling fingers, I open it.
What the hell?
A black and white sketch of a ladder stretches from top to bottom, a wolf circling the base. That wouldn’t be so odd, except it’s an exact replica of the ladder in the pub’s storeroom.
I turn the page. My stomach drops. It’s another drawing, but this time in full colour, of Owen and me, chest to chest, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes. I glide my finger along the caption.
“With love, you will rise again.”
I glance at Owen. His gaze is glued to the page. To the picture. I brace myself for the inevitable rejection.
Flames dance in his eyes, golden flecks sparking to life.
I tense. Fire had twirled in the old lady’s eyes when she handed me the book with a creepy, I see everything, smirk on her face. I thought it was a trick of the light.
“What’s going on?” My voice cracks. “What does it mean?”
Owen drops to his knees, a large smile on his face as he clasps my hands and slowly rubs his thumb across my wrist.
My skin tingles under the gentle caress, the warmth in his gaze.
“It means, Sam, you have what it takes to be one of us, thank God.”
He turns to the gathering crowd. “The rule of the humans is over. Now it is time for werewolves to take their rightful place as masters of this world.”
© Karen Lieversz 2021
Images used under licence from Shutterstock.com