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Beyond the Island

by John W. Steele

Young Brian Mudd is proud of his ability to travel in the astral realms — until he encounters Lord Nagual, who prefers to be called “Max.” Brian becomes Max’s apprentice and finds him a harsh, even cruel master but nonetheless an effective instructor. Meanwhile, Brian is taken with Karen Frost, with whom he feels he has a karmic link. And Brian’s karma is trouble.

Chapter 18

At the outskirts of the Springs, I passed a florist’s shop. I went inside and bought Karen a dozen red roses. I wasn’t sure if I was buying them because I had feelings for her or if they were a harbinger of things to come. I knew that when Lord Nagual took her, I would never see her again. There would be no eulogy to commemorate her departure. In the end, I bought them for her because I wanted to.

As I approached Karen’s condominium, I realized she lived in a gated community. There was a small checkpoint at the entrance. The guard asked for identification and then allowed me to pass.

The grounds were well cared for, and a fabulous onyx fountain stood in the middle of a natural-flagstone courtyard. Bronze statuary adorned the manicured lawns. The grounds were dotted with flowerbeds, and the landscaping was impeccably trimmed and maintained. The residential area had an extravagant flair.

I wondered how she maintained such a luxurious lifestyle on an assistant bank manager’s salary. I suspected there were other reasons for her modus vivendi. I reasoned that someone like her would probably have an interesting and torrid personal history.

Though I was curious about her, I maintained a state of forced indifference. If I did not, things would get complicated. I decided less would be more, and I knew if I lost control, she had enough power to dissuade me from my mission. This was business, but a hard, cold heart did not come natural to me. It was a flaw in my nature that had always troubled me deeply. I sometimes envied those whose heart seemed to be made of stone. I took a long deep breath and thought about Chaos.

I parked in the circular drive in front of her condo and trod the brick walkway to her porch. The glass front door was etched with figures of polar bears and icebergs. I rang the gilded doorbell on the marble casing and struggled to contain my apprehension. I tried to remain natural, but the second I saw her gliding down the foyer, my facade came unglued, and I felt vulnerable and ashamed.

When she opened the door, I handed her the roses. “Hi, Karen. These are for you.”

“Oh Brian, they’re lovely. How thoughtful of you.” She touched my shoulder and kissed me warmly.

She looked beautiful and even more adorable than I remembered her. She wore a graceful silk dress that flattered all her curves. The dress was midnight blue with streaks of gold that augmented the luster of her dazzling flaxen hair. I noted the expression on her face when I handed her the flowers. Her eyes were full of light, and I could tell she appreciated them.

We shared a long sustained look, and her eyes fell on my nugget. I beamed with pride. “It came from Alaska,” I said demurely. “Oh... it’s... it’s... it’s big!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” She smiled. I lowered my head savoring the compliment.

“Come in, won’t you, Brian? We have a little time before we leave.”

I swallowed hard and went inside. We walked down a tiled foyer that opened to a spacious great room. At the end of the room there were three sliding glass doors that opened to an enormous terrazzo deck. The rear of her house had a magnificent view of the river and the sloping hardwood forest that ran along its far bank. A large orange, red and green painting by Paul Klee hung on the wall. I’d seen the painting before and the intensity of the color was spellbinding.

“Wow! ‘1914.’ I love that painting,” I said.

“Isn’t it great? I had it produced in Manhattan. The artist did it three times the scale.”

I admired the repro for a moment. The quality was superb. The painting took me by surprise. If this were my home, that is a masterpiece I would have chosen, and it hung exactly where I’d have hung it.

“The color is maddening,” I said. The eye in the design seemed to glare at me. A haunting premonition of Lord Nagual ripped through my mind like a tornado, and the painting lost its charm. We walked out on the deck and sat at a round wrought-iron table.

“You have a wonderful home, Karen.”

“Thank you. I’ve been here almost five years now. It’s quiet and convenient. It has a natural feel. I sometimes see bear and deer walking by the river. We’re right on schedule. Would you like a drink before we leave?”

“Iced tea would be nice.”

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

I sat very still, like a stalker. I didn’t want to lose my nerve and I really didn’t feel like talking. As I looked around, two tiny eyes peered out from the end of the wall in the hallway. The eyes stared at me, and an orange-green light reflected from the retinas. A chill ran down my spine but the eyes were curious not threatening. I focused on my paranoia and tried to relax. Karen returned with my drink.

“It looks like you’ve got gremlins,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

I pointed at the wall with my chin. “Over there.”

Karen giggled. “Oh that’s Sammy, my Siamese.”

She walked over picked up the cat and brought him to me. The cat grew restless and began to hiss. The hair on its tail inflated like a twist balloon, and its fur puffed out like a dust brush latent with static electricity.

“What’s the matter with you, Sammy?” Karen said. Her voice was playful. “This is my new friend Brian. Isn’t he beautiful?”

I felt uneasy about the compliment. Ursula’s face flashed in my mind, and I wondered if my victims had any kind words for me now.

The cat grew agitated and let out a long whine. He jumped from her arms and landed on the floor with a thud. Sammy spun in a circle and then tore across the tile into the bedroom.

“That’s strange,” Karen said. “He’s never acted that way before. I knew you were special.”

The cat’s behavior made me uneasy. The little bastard knew what I was up to. I wanted to get the hell out of there. I took a quick sip of my drink and stood up. “I think we should be going, Karen. We don’t want to be late. You did make reservations, didn’t you?”

“Everything’s been taken care of, Brian, everything. You sound edgy. Don’t worry. We’ll have a lot of fun.”

Proceed to Chapter 19...

Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele

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