February Contest Winner: When Winter Comes
Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For this month's contest, writers were asked to create an emotional rollercoaster of a love story. With no specific word count, the story or scene had to have a combination of love and hate, romance and violence.
When Winter Comes
by J.H. Schiller
(Note: This entry contains tasteful sexual content)
“Make it go away.”
Lily arched her body against Josh. Her pillowcase was wet with tears, and her heart pounded as the nightmare’s terror began to recede. “Baby, make it go away.”
Josh pressed his lips to hers, muffling her words. He always knew what she needed when she woke up terrified and desperate, endlessly reliving the worst years of her life.
Deep inside her, something awakened, as it always did on nights like this. A part of her that longed to be in control, that hungered for what only he could give her. A part of herself she thought of as her winter—a cold place that could only be fed by warmth. She pressed close to him, feeling him respond to her hands, her mouth, the slow grind of her hips.
Lily rolled Josh onto his back and straddled him. In the moonlight, she watched his eyes, still dreamy with sleep, wander over her body. His hips moved, seeking the heat of her, but she made him wait.
The helplessness of the dream was fading. She was in charge here.
His hands roamed over her warm, sweat-damp skin. Her arms, her breasts, the curve of her waist. He gripped her thighs, straining to slide into her.
“No,” she whispered. “Not yet.”
Josh shivered but obediently released her. Lily leaned down to kiss him. Her hair slid over his chest, raising goosebumps in its wake. Her heart swelled, and she ached with tenderness for him—this man who’d made her believe love had the power to thaw what was frozen.
He groaned as she trailed her lips along the ridge of his jaw. “Please…”
For a moment more, Lily held back. Then she too could wait no longer. She lowered her hips, closed her eyes, and began to move. The last vestiges of the dream fell away in the blaze of slick heat and murmured pleas.
Lily clung to Josh, shuddering, as spasms rocked her body. Her obvious pleasure pushed him over the edge, and then he too was spent. They lay panting, arms and legs entwined. A warm, languid torpor spread throughout her body, the blissful lethargy of la petite mort. Its hunger satiated for the moment, the cold thing inside her slept.
Soon, so did she.
“Baby, I neeeeeed your lovin’, got to have all your lovin’...”
Lily pulled her pillow over her head to drown out the sound of her very lovely fiancé’s very terrible singing voice. The soft patter of the shower told her it must be around seven thirty, and Josh was up and getting ready for work.
“Some say it’s a sign of weakness for a man to beg...”
She sat up and stretched, blinking in the early morning light. Today was supposed to be her rest day, but a quick run would feel good. The sky was clear blue through the skylight—a rarity in Columbus this time of year—but they’d been having a cold snap. She grabbed her phone to check the temperature.
Yet again, she’d let the battery die. That meant no music.
“Baby, I neeeeeed your lovin’...”
Music was overrated.
Lily clambered across the bed and grabbed Josh’s tablet. She smiled as she entered his passcode—0227, today’s date. The anniversary of their first date three years ago.
“Got to have all your lovin’...”
An email notification from his work account popped up just as she was about to open the weather app. She automatically moved to swipe it away, but the subject line froze her finger millimeters from the screen.
Re: Nonfiction Query: Escaping the Path of Righteousness.
A river of ice coursed down her spine as her winter stirred.
No. He wouldn’t.
“Empty nights echo your name. Sometimes I wonder, will I ever be the same?”
She opened the email.
Hell yes, I’m interested! I’ve been trying to get my hands on a former member since everything blew up in the press. Go ahead and send your proposal and the first three chapters. And don’t you dare sign with anyone else until you talk to me!
President, KDT Literary
“Na-na-na-na things have gotten worse,” he sang. “Any smile you might see has all been rehearsed…”
Lily scrolled down and read the original email from Josh. Each word pierced her like a knife, and hot tears stung her eyes. She clutched the iPad to her chest as a single, desperate cry escaped her lips. But before a second sob could break free, a frigid wash of shock settled in her heart, freezing her ability to feel. Her winter roared to wakefulness with the force of a glacier tearing furrows in granite. Its cold voice whispered to her.
—I told you this would never work.—
—I told you this would end in ruin.—
—I told you...—
But Josh loved her. He took her in. He cared for her.
—He used you. Manipulated you. Took your pain and your nightmares and made them into a story to sell to the highest bidder.—
She’d thought things could be different this time. After she fled from the Path, she’d vowed to change her life, to change herself so she could never be trapped like that again.
“This loneliness inside, darlin’, makes me feel half alive…”
—You can’t change what you are, what we are. Let me help you.—
—Let me out.—
And because she couldn’t bear this betrayal, because she couldn’t stand to feel the raw agony of it for one more second, she did. She closed her eyes and shuddered as the cold poured forth from deep inside her and settled into her very bones.
A slow, sultry smile blossomed from the petals of her lips, and she opened her eyes.
It felt good to be whole.
Humming along to Josh’s off-key singing, Lily opened his sent folder and searched for the word “query.” The email he’d sent to Rita Kennedy was the only result. She tried again: “Escaping the Path of Righteousness.” Still only the one message.
“Baby, I neeeeeed your lovin’...”
Lily deleted the agent’s response, then went into his trash folder and deleted it there too. Today was Friday. Ms. Kennedy would surely give Josh the weekend to reply before she contacted him again.
The water shut off.
She closed the email app, opened a browser window, and started typing. When Josh poked his head out of the bathroom a few minutes later, she was ready.
“You know what day it is, don’t you, babe?” he asked, flashing a crooked grin. His eyes swept over the suitcase open on the bed next to a neat stack of folded clothing, and his smile faded. He stepped into the bedroom, clutching a towel around his slim hips. “What’s going on?”
Lily’s cold eyes traveled over his lean body, resting on the vee of muscle that disappeared beneath that towel. Even now, even knowing the depth of his treachery, she still wanted him. Reverend Reade would’ve said the demon of lust had her in its grip.
She laughed—a deep, throaty chuckle.
“Happy anniversary!” she sang, waggling jazz hands overhead. “I booked a cabin for us in Hocking Hills.” She stood and nuzzled her face into his neck. “I thought about surprising you after work, but I know how your editor loves to drop Friday afternoon bombs.” She looked up at him, knitting her eyebrows in faux concern. “Do you think you could leave work around two?”
He dragged a hand through his damp black curls. “I don’t know, babe. My big piece is due Monday morning, and I’ve still got to rework the ending.”
Lily flashed a wicked grin. “Bring your big piece with you.” She slid her hands down his chest, along his stomach, underneath the towel. “I’ve got an 18-mile run tomorrow. You’d have a couple hours to work on your article, maybe even that top secret book project.” Her busy hands dislodged the towel, and it fell to the floor. Josh’s head dropped back and his eyes closed. “Say you’ll come, baby…”
He cracked an eyelid and looked down at her. “You’re terrible.”
She pouted up at him, and he sighed.
And at least on that point, he kept his word.
“Another scotch and soda?”
“You trying to get me drunk?” The slur in Josh’s voice revealed he was well on his way. “Planning to take advantage of me while I’m helpless?”
A frozen tide of righteous fury rendered Lily momentarily speechless.
“You okay, babe?” Josh fixed bleary eyes on her.
She forced her anger down, allowing a sweet smile to play across her lips. “I was just thinking about all the things I’m gonna do to you this weekend.” She leaned toward him and lowered her voice. “I have a present for you.”
“No fair! We said we’d skip presents this year to save up for the wedding.”
His eyelids were drooping. He’d drunk more than she’d anticipated. Hopefully, she hadn’t been too heavy-handed.
“This gift is for both of us.” She stood and walked around behind him, then started rubbing his shoulders. “What do you say we take this upstairs?”
“I say abso-fuckin’-lutely!”
Josh stood, staggered a bit, and caught himself on the table. The cloth placemat slid under the pressure of his palm, dumping his dishes onto the floor. His plate shattered against the tile with a spray of bolognese sauce.
“Shit, babe, I’m sorry.” He frowned down at the spattered floor. “What a mess. Just let me clean up before we—”
“I’ll clean up the mess tomorrow,” she said. “It won’t take long.” Cleaning up a mess was, in fact, the entire purpose of this trip. What was one more? “But right now…” She grabbed his belt loops and pulled him close to her. “Right now, there’s something else I need you to do.”
One sloppy kiss later, Lily eased herself under his arm and led him up the stairs. A queen-sized canopy bed dominated the bedroom, which she’d lit with dozens of candles. Gauzy curtains hung from the bronze frame. Josh walked to the bed and raised his eyebrows.
“Damn, girl,” he said, lifting the chain of a padded leather ankle cuff dangling from one corner post. “This is a side of you I’ve never seen.”
Oh, yes. He was most definitely going to see a new side of her tonight.
She traced a finger along the wet-look leather of a strappy black teddy. “It’s our three-year anniversary. I took a little field trip to The Lion’s Den while you were at work. Are you cool with spicing things up a bit?”
“You know it.”
“Good.” Lily planted a hand on his chest and pushed him down onto the bed. She worked quickly, stripping his clothes as she peppered his skin with kisses. She coaxed him back onto a mound of pillows and buckled his wrists and ankles into the waiting restraints.
“You forgot something,” he said, casting a significant glance at his tented boxers.
“Did I?” She smiled. What was under those shorts had no part in her plans for the night. “Now I’ve got you right where I want you.”
“And what’re you gonna do with me?”
“Something I’ve never done before.” She stood and looked down at him. Her lover. Her betrayer. “I’ll just get changed—don’t you go anywhere.” She turned and started toward the open bathroom door.
“You forgot the teddy,” Josh called. He eyes traveled hungrily over her body as she returned to the bed. “God, I can’t wait to see how that looks on you.”
Lily hooked a finger through the glossy black straps of the lingerie, and disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She tossed the teddy into the trash can and slid out of her dress. The mirror reflected her lean runner’s body, the muscles toned and taut from three years of running.
Running from the past.
Running from what the Path had done to her.
Running from who and what she truly was.
She was done running.
Lily closed her eyes and changed.
Power surged through her. It had been so long, so very long. She’d been too weak to change when Reverend Reade had her bound. And now that she’d done it, she couldn’t imagine why she’d waited so long. She met the coal black eyes of her reflection, allowing her rage to build.
It was time. Lily cracked the door.
“Are you ready?” she asked, her voice low and husky.
“Babe, I was born ready.”
She pushed the door open and stalked toward him, moving with predatory grace.
Josh squinted up at her in the dim light. “That’s a different outfit,” he said. “Is it a bodysuit?”
She paused in her approach and spun slowly. “Do you like it?”
“It’s… it’s cool, I guess. I mean, it looks so real. Are you supposed to be, like Mystique from X-Men?” He sat up and leaned toward her, straining to see. “No, she was blue, not gray, wasn’t she? And she didn’t have a tail.”
Lily flicked the serpentine appendage.
“It moved! I… I don’t—” He dropped back against the pillows and squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t get me wrong, you look super hot, but I think I’d like the teddy better.”
“Ah, but you’re not the one in charge here.” She sat down on the edge of the bed and dragged her claws lightly over his skin. “We’re going to have fun tonight, Josh.” He opened his eyes, and she winked at him. “Well, I am.”
“Your eyes… I think I’ve had too much to drink,” he stammered. He raised his arms. “Could you unbuckle these for me, babe? I feel—”
“I love the title you gave your book,” she said. “Very catchy.”
His eyes grew wide, and she saw the beginnings of panic. “Lily, I can explain. Just listen—”
“It would’ve been a great read. Sssuch a sssensssational ssstory.” Her forked tongue flickered over the sibilants.
“Oh, God! What are you?”
He tried to scoot away from her, pressing himself back into the mound of pillows and pulling desperately at the restraints. His hands whitened, but he was unable to slide free. She’d bound him tightly. He should be grateful she’d sprung for the padded cuffs. If these were regular handcuffs, his wrists would already be bloody.
She licked her lips at the thought.
“Help!” His eyes rolled in the sockets. Oh, he was wide awake now. “Somebody help!”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, Josh,” she said. “Make all the noissse you want. No one will hear you.” He opened his mouth to scream again, but she hit him with a vicious slap, her claws raking bloody gashes across one cheek. She leaned down and lowered her voice to a whisper. “No one will come.”
“Please,” he sobbed, his face streaked with blood and tears.
“You have it all wrong, you know. I wasss never a follower of the Path.” Lily shook her head as she crawled onto the bed and straddled his thighs. “I wasss their prisssoner. Do you know how long they had me?” He shook his head frantically, his eyes desperate and pleading. “Almossst ten yearsss.” She braced her hands on either side of his chest and leaned toward him, tongue flicking from her lips. “A decade of sssuffering, of sssermonsss and prayersss and pathetic attemptsss at exorcisssm.”
Lily threw back her head and laughed. “Can you imagine? Sssuccubusss is what I am. It’s like trying to pray the feline out of a cat.” She cupped his chin in her hands. “I thought it could be different with you. I thought I might be able to leave all that death in my passst.”
“Please don’t hurt me,” he moaned, his breath hitching in terrified sobs. “Please don’t—”
“That’sss what we eat you know,” she said. “We can either feed on la petite mort, the little death of orgasm, or we can feed on la grande mort.”
“Just let me go, I won’t tell—”
“But you know what they say… bigger is always better.”
Josh’s face was red and blotchy, streaked with tears and mucus. She was both disgusted and titillated. Deep within her, very deep, the part of herself that had loved and trusted him writhed in agony. But her winter was in charge now.
Besides, it had never been real. Josh must’ve targeted her from the moment he met her at the compound. The Dispatch had sent him the day the cops stormed in. He’d tracked her down—ostensibly to check on her. He’d earned her trust, convinced her that talking about her years of torture would heal her. And for a long time, she’d thought it had.
She’d been dead wrong.
“I… I still love you,” he said. “I was doing this for you, to tell your story. I—”
Lily gave herself over to her hunger. The last thing she was consciously aware of was wrapping her clawed fingers around his lying throat. Then the world dissolved into a fugue of devouring bliss.
Truly sated for the first time in years, she slept—deep and blessedly dreamless.
The next morning brought another clear and beautiful sky, perfect for a new beginning. A new name. A new life. She yawned and stretched, feeling the thrum of power in her blood as she looked around the destroyed bedroom.
Well, Josh wasn’t the only thing she’d been wrong about.
It was going to take all day to clean up the mess.