[mc, mf, ff, fd, bd, hm, hy]
((This is the third – and so far, last – installment of The Black Queen saga. It was first posted back in 2007. This is the longest piece of the set, because I went for something a little different whilst writing it, hence a much slower pace throughout it all. I’m very pleased with the outcome though and, hopefully, I won’t be the only one.))
Memories, Dreams and Premonitions
The night was cold, heavy and dangerous.
A lot of seemingly powerful and supernatural forces were active: some were at plain sight, disguised as great masses of clouds that brew in the sky or hazy grey spirals of fog gathered around the streetlamps; others lurked silently on the edges of the known spectre of things, phasing in and out of reality whilst spreading tentacles of darkness towards weak and unaware minds.
The atmosphere was magnetized by this extraordinary concentration of dark energies. As a result of that, innocent objects now moved suspiciously when someone passed them by and, up in the air, camouflaged by the increasing blackness, there were glimpses of ghostly birds whose singing was no more than a living herald for an upcoming disaster of gigantic proportions.
Amber Watkins was walking alone in the middle of this dreadful scenario, not knowing what was real and what could only be found in the winding labyrinths of her imagination. She felt pretty scared as she tried to keep up with the pace of the lonesome man up ahead in the street. His name was Sean Prescott, he was her ex-boyfriend, and she had been following him for the last twenty minutes.
It was the first time she was doing something like this, sneaking around through damp alleys like a thief looking for obscure secrets, but if she wanted to find out the whole truth about the strange chain of events that had been tangling her life over the last months she had no choice but to continue her journey, and hope that the twisted projections roaming around in her head didn’t end up plunging her in the all absorbing abysses of insanity.
As she walked swiftly after the man she still loved, she started to feel tired. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath but, before she could resume her chase, her eyes encountered a small signpost with a red arrow pointing to a poorly lit street to her right. Upon reading the memory awakening sentence displayed under the arrow, she realized she was on familiar grounds.
The message was very simple. It comprised of only four words, written in black letters:
“This way to Gino’s”.
* * *
Gino’s. That’s where it all had begun.
That was the name of the Italian sanctuary of cholesterol where Sean had taken her on their last date, the place where he left her all alone, both astonished and mad, screaming from the top of her lungs the most atrocious words of the English language she could remember.
When her throat betrayed her, allowing her mind to calm down for a while, she slowly sank on her chair and decided to kiss her diet goodbye. Amber didn’t feel like eating anything healthy anymore, so she surrendered herself to a large dose of fettuccini, drank three bottles of the most caloric soda available and finished the meal with two large slices of an irresistible chocolate cake. She paid it all with her credit card, and decided to walk home while thinking on what had just happened.
Sean’s behaviour that night didn’t seem like his at all. There was something odd about that phone call that made him leave in a hurry, stating he had more important issues to attend to… something very odd, indeed, considering he had always been so thoughtful and caring, as if she was the only good thing in his life… what had transpired in that call to divert his attention in such a radical way, making her seem unimportant?
As she sought for answers to appease her soul, the ghost of jealousy came rushing in, spewing the simplest theory of them all:
“I bet he’s seeing someone else… probably some hot-aired bimbo with a cheerleader uniform! Today he had to choose between you two and you were the one left behind!”
It was a possibility worth considering, if one took into account men’s more volatile nature when it comes to relationships, but she knew Sean ever since early teenage years and, even though she could be mistaken, her opinion was that he didn’t fit into the womanizer profile at all.
She exorcized the ghost, but not the anger. Due to that, her face became increasingly tense and the shadows all around made it look almost inhuman. Her usually soothing and intoxicating green eyes were now cold as ice, and her restless hair gave the impression of being alive as if the recent changes in her world had caused it to morph into a wiggling viper’s nest. The combination of all these elements was a clear warning for all possible perpetrators looking for an innocent victim: it clearly stated that she was feeling more menacing than fragile, and that whoever tried anything against her that night would certainly pay very dearly…
After crossing a dozen blocks on her way home she reached a rather flashy convenience store. One glance at the freezer near the entrance was enough to twist her mind again. It was painstaking obvious that the food in her stomach wasn’t enough to make her forget the humiliation which she had gone through and so she sought to resolve the problem with a king-sized pistachio ice-cream that was just too delicious to ignore.
In the sanctity of her bedroom, Amber proceeded to devour the cold delicacy, filling scoop after scoop, and never thinking about the possible consequences of such abuse. Afterwards, she grabbed her cell and repeatedly tried to call Sean, but all she got was the annoying sounds of the voice mail service being activated over and over again.
When the clock stroke two a.m., she got fed up. Her pride told her it was best to just shut eye and sleep on it. She would seek him the very next day to straighten things out (which, in her language, meant slapping him real hard before he had the chance to say anything whatsoever…). Then, she would probably release him from his boyfriend role so that situations like that would never happen again in the future… yes, it was definitely a great plan, an excellent way to feel good about herself once more….
Amber fell asleep with these thoughts waltzing in her mind and already feeling a little heartburn due to her gluttonous behaviour. The discomfort accompanied her into the realm of dreams, tantalizing her with grotesque metaphors of love and hate that lasted the whole night.
When sleep conquered her and the threshold of reality was transposed, she travelled into a strange building with lots of interconnected doors and stairways, most of them leading to huge and abandoned rooms. In this forsaken place, one could hear a compelling, feminine voice. It seemed to reach her from every possible angle simultaneously, as if it was somewhat beyond this world, a piece of Heaven (or was it Hell?) echoing within chains of ether….
As if trying to ascertain the origin of the sound, Amber walked around a bit, keeping her pace simple and steady. Her dream-self felt the urge to be extremely careful. She proceeded to a very dark hall, where unspeakable terrors were being unleashed. She couldn’t get the meaning of it all, because suddenly there was a noise that cracked the silence. As a result, the surrounding darkness was rapidly replaced by a set of blinding lights emanating from above her and she found herself on the run, being chased by mysterious biped foes.
At this point, her dream became even more confusing, permeated by quick flashes of light, screams and the sensation of tremendous physical effort, as if she was in the middle of a desperate struggle for survival. Then, there was a fade out into blackness and everything changed again. The next thing she knew, she was under a powerful spotlight. Its glow reflected on the surface where she stood, revealing what appeared to be a giant wooden chess board.
According to the system of coordinates, Amber was at square e1, the starting place for the white king in a regular game. There were no other white pieces to support her on the first and second rank of the board. On the other hand, the seventh rank was packed with a large number of small black pawns – way more than twenty. All of them had human faces, one of them being Sean’s. On the eighth rank, towering over them all, proudly stood the strongest piece one can control while trying to checkmate the opponent.
Amber observed the figure of the black queen. Unlike the other pieces, naturally deprived of conscious thought, that one had clear and defined human outlines encircled by an aura of seduction and corruption. She had a beautiful face and a pair of majestically enthralling violet eyes focused exclusively on her.
Upon that sight, the red-haired girl became even more restless and uncomfortable. There was a peering sensation growing within. It was if she was being evaluated, somehow put to the test to determine whether she was worthy of participating in the game that was about to begin….
Silently, the black pawns moved aside to let the ruler pass; the black queen floated across the fifth file and stopped in front of Amber. Her lips didn’t move at all, but still her enticing voice was projected in every direction, breaking the barriers of space and time. Ghastly fingers grew from that voice, fingers that touched the younger woman right in her soul, reaching for the core of her memories, unlocking the vaults where she kept hidden the foundations of her own world. Everything she respected and cherished for was brought out into the open by a single question:
“Are you with me, Amber?”
Her dream identity didn’t quite understand what was being asked of her and so she had no idea what to answer. She realized that the longer she remained silent, trapped in her own uncertainties, the bigger that mysterious woman/queen/goddess seemed to become. The light coming out of those eyes was a predacious one – it couldn’t be trusted as it continuously sought ways to engulf her freedom, scavenging and ransacking her past experiences, trampling her present goals and hoping to do the same with her future ambitions.
“Are you with me or not?” the queen asked once more.
The girl’s reply was a trembling “no”.
“Is that so?” said the Queen, as if mocking her. “Well… it’s your choice, but you’ll be sorry for standing against me, Amber!”
At the end of this sentence, the group of motionless pawns became alive and rushed to grab her. Amber was easily overpowered by the mob and brought to her knees to face the notorious superiority of the black queen. The monarch looked at her, waves of power encircled her mind and the floor began to deliquesce, transforming itself into a pool of cold water in which she began sinking helplessly, into oblivion. She screamed once again as the water invaded her lungs and then…
… she woke up completely embedded in sweat, with a horrible choking feeling crushing her throat and a taste of salt gathering around her lips.
In the anxiety of her dream, she had thrown the blankets aside, and her laced white night gown was wrinkled and messy. The window in her bedroom was wide open although she clearly remembered seeing it shut before going to bed. A howling wind was playing with the curtains, making them quiver as much as she was, still baffled with the intensity of what she had experienced.
As she regained all of her bodily sensations, she felt moist and sticky between her legs, afraid and aroused: to her, the latter feeling was something completely disconcerting; it didn’t make sense at all. There was nothing erotic in the dream, especially considering the way it had ended….
You see, Amber was brave in just about anything, except when it came to large concentrations of water. The reason for such a phobia that would most likely follow her like a second shadow for the rest of her life was simple and the story of its origins can be easily told in a paragraph or two.
The disastrous event took place in her Aunt Mary’s house in Florida, when she was only five. It was a beautiful summer’s day for everyone except her cousin Jacob, at the time nothing more than a seven-year old monster with bad instincts and bad attitude. On that particular day, when he was feeling bored, he decided to play a stupid prank on her, by pushing her into the backyard pool, even though he was fully aware she didn’t know how to swim.
Amber had no time to react. Next thing she knew, she was already sinking like a rock. Sitting on a chair by the low side of the pool, her cousin Jacob watched her face turn purple without moving a muscle.
His father was the first adult to take notice of the disgrace. Immediately, he rushed in to help. When the little girl was brought out, her eyes were lifeless, her heart had stopped and Jacob had this goofy smile upon his face, as if he was indeed happy. Amber’s luck that day rested on the fact that her uncle Marvin was an experienced lifeguard who knew CPR and all the proceedings necessary to save a victim from imminent death by drowning. The rapid and skilfully administrated cardio-respiratory massages made her return to the world of the living, and despite the fact that he managed to expel the majority of water from her lungs, there was nothing he could do to prevent the despair of the drowning itself from lodging in her mind, like a parasite.
She became afraid of water ever since that day and the dream had the terrible aftermath of causing those memories to resurface once again. In her head, Jacob’s twisted expression of indifference and satisfaction altogether fused with the fiendish representation of that humanized chess piece and she began crying helplessly, as if she was five years old again and that bedroom was a dark pool that was claiming her life as a sacrifice to an unknown bringer of chaos.
After pulling herself together, Amber went on to close the window one more time, and then slipped into the bathroom to clean up. The orgasmic fluids dripping over her thighs were rather displeasing at the time and she needed to feel cleansed in order to forget that devilish chess board and all the other worries regarding her love life.
An hour later, she fell asleep again. The moment this happened, the hideous vision tried to rampage through her mind once more, but the space in her brain was already occupied by a more appealing dreamscape that was to accompany her until sunrise.
Meanwhile, beguiled mind-slave Sean Prescott was coming home after serving his hypnotic mistress, visibly excited for being such a good boy and horny follower. It’s true he had been shamefully puppeteered in the process, but that was unimportant now, a minor issue that would never get his full attention, considering he had been given the privilege of worshipping The Black Queen in her own private chambers. That experience only made his submission feel sweeter – she now held the key to his complete happiness and that said it all.
When he entered his bedroom, his memories were rearranged in order to best serve her interests. The balance of reality shifted, as his conscious routines emerged from the now fading trance. In a fraction of second, maybe less, The Black Queen was reduced to a mere videogame character and the illusion of a wonderful date with the most beautiful future attorney of them all filled in the blanks in his brain.
As he yawned, the weight of normality fell on his shoulders, anticipating a well-deserved night’s rest. He got it on the exact moment his head dropped on the bed.
On the following day, Amber woke up feeling fresh enough to withstand any trial. The horrible nightmare was forgotten… it was time to move on with her life and that meant confronting Sean.
As planned, she went to see him after her morning classes were over. The moment they met, Amber was completely taken aback by the fact that he acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He kept repeating sentences like “Thank you for a wonderful time last night.” or “You really are one of a kind, my love.” while trying to smother her with kisses.
“Get your filthy lips away from me!” she protested, pushing him away. “Do you expect me to forget what happened last night with a display of affection or two?”
“What are you talking about, Amber?” he asked, as if he was genuinely shocked by her question. “Didn’t you enjoy our date last night?”
The answer came out rather abruptly intertwined with a fierce look upon her eyes.
“I would have enjoyed it if there had been one…”
“Look… if is this because I got a little late, I already told you it was David’s fault…”
“It’s got nothing to do with it! I’m talking about the fact of you leaving me alone in that place to take care of more important issues, whatever that means… what do you have to say about that, Sean Prescott?”
“I really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about…”
“Yeah, right… Who called you on the cell phone last night?”
“No one…” He was getting more and more confused. “Amber, are you sure you’re feeling alright?”
“I’m feeling just great!” she exploded and hit him twice, first in the face with her nails scratching his left cheek and then in a more sensitive part of his anatomy.
“Jesus… what was that for?”
“You still have the nerve to ask? It was the first and the last time you mocked me, Sean Prescott! Since you won’t tell me what really happened last night, there’s only thing I can do: you and me… we’re done! Find yourself a new girlfriend!”
She left him gasping in pain for the rough treatment inflicted on his genitals, and went looking for someone to talk about her miseries. That someone went by the name of Veronica Hollingsworth.
Due to a series of basic genetic mix-ups, Veronica Hollingsworth wasn’t exactly a pretty sight. This was made quite clear on the day she was born. She was a chubby baby with a porcupine-like face, long fingers and a pair of big brown liquid eyes that gave her a sort of extraterrestrial aura. The doctor who delivered her claimed she was the ugliest child he had ever seen and everyone else agreed, including the mother who thought that seventeen hours of intense child labour shouldn’t have gone to waste on such a strange-looking creature. Bridget Hollingsworth felt kind of nauseous when she held her daughter for the first time and, right on the spot, gave her the name Veronica out of sheer contempt: after all, it was the name of her mother-in-law, the only woman who she truly hated with all her heart…
Veronica’s childhood was far from joyful. She was the laughing stock at kindergarten and kept on being so until adolescence, a period when the sudden burst of hormones brought a flow of unexpected metamorphosis to every one she knew. At that time, when the high school corridors served as runways for never-ending parades of acne mutants, she didn’t feel bad about herself at all.
So, unlike her early expectations, it was in that transition period of her life that she managed to blend in and meet a lot of interesting people. Amber was one of them and, despite their differences – not only physical, but also psychological – they soon became intimate friends. It was that intimacy that convinced Veronica to skip her last class and accept to have lunch with her red-haired friend in the nearest mall, a place where they could eat greasy hamburgers and tons of French fries until their bellies burst.
When Veronica arrived at the mall’s main entrance, Amber was already there waiting for her. One could tell by her sad eyes that she had clearly been fighting the need to cry, and that was the prelude of something very serious.
“I’m here.” said the plump girl giving her a colossal hug. “What happened?”
Amber told her everything at a table at McDonald’s, after two Big Macs and three large colas. Veronica had never seen her eating that much and was beginning to feel even more preoccupied.
“You really shouldn’t be ruining your perfect body like that” she said. “When you’re feeling altogether again, you’ll be sorry for this abuse of yours.”
“When that happens, I’ll lock myself in a gym until everything is in its proper place again. For the time being, let me eat all I want. Right now, it’s the only thing that makes me feel better…”
Veronica shrugged her shoulders. “Suit yourself.”
“So, what do you think? I did the right thing by dumping him, didn’t I? I mean… he obviously deserved it…”
“I guess so… that’s what I would do if I were in your shoes… which I’ll never be, of course…”
“Stop saying that! You’re such a wonderful person! One of these days, you’ll find yourself a decent boyfriend… just wait and see!”
“I seriously doubt it. I’m not exactly the type of woman men like… I can’t really blame them, though… I often think I’m from Jupiter or something and ended up in this planet by mistake…”
“There you go again putting yourself down… You really have to stop being so insecure.”
“You know me… I’ve always seen the world in grey…”
“I’m feeling like that today, too. We need to add some colour to our lives… do you want to go shopping in the afternoon?”
“Normally, I wouldn’t say no but I’m low on cash on the moment, and my credit card is reaching its limit”
“Don’t worry. You can always use mine… shall we go, then?”
“If you put it that way, sure… let’s go crazy!”
“Now you’re talking. Let me just…” Amber’s face suddenly froze up. On the inside, her guts had begun rioting.
“I’m feeling sick. I need to go to the bathroom right now. I think I’m going to throw up….”
Amber left her in a hurry, as large chunks of fat food were about to be expelled through her mouth. She didn’t make it to the bathroom and a lot of good people immediately lost their appetite upon seeing her lose control over her stomach and deposit a large dose of messy leftovers on the tiled floor, so close to their belongings.
“You were right all along.” She said to Veronica as she approached to help her. “This is what I get for eating so much”
“Well, now you’ll think twice before repeating the stunt again, won’t you?”
“I sure will!”
“Good. Let’s get you something healthy to drink, and then we’ll hit the shops.”
“Lead the way. I’ll be right behind you…”
Late in the afternoon, when she got home, Amber found a dozen red roses on a crystal jar right next to her bedroom window and a note stashed in-between where one could read:
“My dear Amber, I was being sincere this morning when I told you that I didn’t know what you were talking about. You said I left you alone in the restaurant, yet I clearly remember being with you the whole night, kissing and cuddling… I don’t want our relationship to end like this, because of something I don’t remember doing… can we talk again soon, so that I can begin to understand what exactly you were referring to and make things right for you and me once more? Love, Sean.”
“Sincere? Who do you think you’re trying to fool, Sean Prescott?”
The moment she finished reading the note, her cell rang. His name appeared on the flashing screen. She ignored the call the same way he had ignored all of hers the night before, and proceeded downstairs into the kitchen where her mother was fixing dinner. Whatever she was cooking already smelled deliciously.
“Ah, there you are, Amber!” said Linda Watkins looking her way. “Have you been to your bedroom yet?”
“Yes, I’ve seen the roses if that’s what you want to know…”
“You don’t seem very happy about it.”
“I’m not. When did he stop by?”
“Two hours ago. He said he wanted to surprise you so I let him in.”
“I’m not interested in his surprises anymore, so do me a favour: if he ever comes knocking on this door again, send him away!”
“Why are you asking me that? Did you have a fight today?”
“It was more than a fight… Sean and I broke up!”
“Broke up?! But why? What happened?”
“He made me look like a fool last night!” Amber screamed.
“Calm down! Why you don’t sit in that chair over there and tell me exactly what happened?”
And so for the second time that day, Amber revisited the sequence of events that had meant the end of her relationship. Her mother listened to it all and frowned when she revealed all of the details. The only thing she forgot to tell her was her ghoulish dream, as she believed at the time that there was nothing to be told about it….
“Why the long face, mom?” the girl asked upon seeing her face.
“I was just wondering if you weren’t a little hasty in your decision of breaking up with him. Sean seems such a nice young man and for what you told me, you didn’t exactly give him much time to explain…”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing! I just told you he mocked me in a shameful way…”
“But you don’t know why he did it in the first place! If he wants to talk to you again, you should give him that chance…”
“Come on, mom! Do you honestly believe there’s a chance he doesn’t actually remember what he did last night?”
“I know what you’re thinking: it’s a lame excuse…”
“Damn right it is!”
“I’m sure he knows that, too. If he wanted to lie to you, why he didn’t he come up with something more believable, then?”
“Because Sean’s a lousy liar, that’s why!”
“Or may be, because against all odds, he’s being completely true… sometimes the truth is harder to believe than a very good lie. Give it some thought, Amber, and then decide what’s best for your life. I know you love him. Don’t let that love go to waste like that.”
And with that final sentence the conversation died, creating an awkward barrier of silence between them.
Although Amber listened to her mother’s advices, she didn’t exactly act according to them and continued to ignore Sean. If he came near her, she would look the other way after which she would run as fast as she could until he was out of sight… there was a deep wound in her heart, but an even deeper one in her pride and that was the primary reason why she felt so reluctant to talk to him again.
When the fourth month passed, Sean seemed to lose interest in her. There were no more calls, no more notes, no more sneaking up on her trying to get her attention. At that time, convinced it was really all over, Amber persuaded herself that it was the right moment to go hunting again. One day, she managed to drag Veronica into the centre of a neon-lit dance floor. That’s where she met a quite handsome Puerto Rican guy (whose name she was always forgetting…) who soon became the closest thing to a new boyfriend she could have.
During the five and a half weeks she spent having fun with that mysterious Latino, Sean’s presence never faded completely: it found a way to infiltrate her thoughts and the horrible nightmare she had had on the night that caused their separation, and in which he participated as a mere pawn of a dark and twisted force, came back to her repeatedly… growing stronger every day, enhancing her fears while stimulating her sexually in a way which she never believed to be possible.
Unlike her mother, Amber didn’t believe in the power of dreams to convey special messages and reveal hidden connections in the surrounding world. Yet, having the same vision three weeks in a row suggested a powerful supernatural bond of some sort. Could that dream be related with Sean’s unprecedented change of heart at Gino’s? It seemed preposterous, but the sensations she experienced while dreaming were so vivid and intense… utterly real… and the day of that incident had been the same day where she had felt that way for the first time… what were the probabilities of such coincidence of events?
Confusion entered her life, spreading through her thoughts in a full scale invasion. She had no idea what was going on, but knew she had to figure it out somehow. As a result, her mystic side became increasingly more alert and attentive to small aspects of life that could be taken as signs of what was to come….
Veronica was the first person to notice her new suspicious attitude, an obsessive trait emerging, and was obviously intrigued by it. She wanted to know more, to participate in the odyssey of her mind and, with all her heart, help her to overcome whatever obstacles she might be facing but, for the first time in many years of friendship, Amber declined her help, withheld information, started ignoring her… the lawyer to be was deeply engaged in piercing observations of the spaces all around and, because of that, their relationship was now on the wire, and there was no safety net underneath it.
On the day that was to change completely the way Amber saw the world, Veronica intercepted her near the college entrance and practically begged her to reveal her secret.
“I need to know why you’re acting so strange lately… Please, tell me what’s going on!”
Amber had no intention of letting her know any details of her conspiracy theories. Her thoughts and qualms on the subject were extremely uncanny, and her mind was constantly telling her that she was embarking in a dangerous quest. She couldn’t have Veronica meddling in. The battle was hers alone.
The red-haired girl escaped her friend’s almost inquisitorial appeal just like Houdini finding a way out of a deadly water-trap. On the last hours of that day, she focused all of her energies in tracking Sean; in getting to know his every move, for she was certain he was the key that would unbolt the doors of reality and lead her further into a realm of unforeseen discoveries…
As a result of her investigations, she found out that he had a date that night: he was going to the movies with Cheryl Johnson, an attractive and chameleonic young woman who, according to the vile rumours that circulated, had only two hobbies and both involved the innate art of sucking. He was sure to be desperate for hanging out with her, but if that was his choice…
She was waiting in the vicinities of the theatre when they arrived. Cheryl was all flashy as usual fighting against gravity in a pair of notoriously high platform shoes. Sean had a murky face and didn’t seem a bit interested in the company. Amber saw them approaching the ticket-stand. There was a giggle, a feminine hand moving suspiciously around his waist and then Sean’s mobile emitted the warning of an incoming message.
As he read it, his face became even more obscure. A terrifying vacant expression, just like the one Amber had seen at the Italian restaurant dominated him fully. Cheryl didn’t notice a thing and made no complaints as he started walking away from her, this time without saying a word. Sean passed right in front of Amber, but he didn’t see her at all; he kept on walking enthralled by an urge that conditioned his will.
“What the…? This really can’t be a coincidence” She thought after he disappeared behind a corner. It was now painstaking obvious that whatever had happened to him before was happening again. Sean’s sense of humanity had disappeared from all of his body movements. Something else inhabited his body now: a zombie nature, a robotic grip… Amber wanted to know for sure what sort of alien presence had possessed him, and so she began her anxious walk into the depths of The Black Queen’s most intimate undertakings….
The shadows watched her go and followed her, too: it was always a thrill to stalk a possible prey.