Part 5

I left for Philadelphia on a Friday morning. I packed my suitcase in the car, had an audio book copy of the World of Ruin to force myself to listen to (I hadn’t heard anything from Ellen in the previous two weeks, and thus assumed that she was unable to deter the bookstore from their choice of reading), as well as a selection of happier music for those times I get so fed up with my terrible prose that I need a change of pace. I expect the Beatles compilation that I made up specifically for the trip down to be of special utility to that effect. It’s about an eight hour trip from my town to the hotel, so I’ll have plenty of time to get myself mentally prepared not only for the reading (I easily could have put my foot down and cancelled the whole trip in a huff, but that defeats the purpose, now doesn’t it?) but the outside prospect of finding Victoria amongst the masses. There’s a lot of confidence that comes from being an incredibly successful writer at such a young age. That doesn’t mean I’m not a nervous wreck right now as I drive through central Massachusetts. The mind is a funny thing. We were together for nearly three years; I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin as when I was with her, and yet the possibility of seeing her makes my mind turn to mush.

I’m driving past the outskirts of Worcester when “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” hits the speakers. John Lennon doing his version of a Bob Dylan song. It’s one of my favorites. I roll down the windows, a cool breeze flows past my arm as I sing along, getting louder as I reach the explosive “Hey!” at the beginning of the chorus refrain. Music is often catharsis. You live through the lyrics and instrumentation. You relate to the singer, feel his plight, know you’re not alone. It’s not difficult to resonate with John Lennon. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is one of the better lovelorn songs in the Beatles lexicon, and I feel the emotion drain away as I sing at the top of my lungs, my audience the wind whipping across the car as I speed down the Mass Pike toward my ultimate goal. The next song, “Glass Onion,” brings me down to earth with a smile on my face. I can do this. Never should have been worried in the first place.

If I’m going to do this, I should do it right. I eject the Beatles CD from the stereo, light a cigarette and insert the seventh disc of the audio book. The dry, British tones of the man Harper Collins got to read the audio version of The World of Ruin is barely audible underneath the wind. I should probably roll up the windows, but I just lit this cigarette and I’d be damned if I’m not going to finish it. I flip the stereo over to the radio, there’s a low drone of station that is not quite there and fading fast. No sense in trying to hone in on a stronger signal; it’s not like I would hear any of it anyway. You can’t hear much of anything with the windows open going upwards of 85 miles an hour on a highway. The cigarette is burned down to the filter, so I flick it out the window and close off the wind. I turn the audio book back on and begin to listen.

Josephine ran. That’s all she could do. Her gnarled yew bow gripped in her right hand, she cursed herself for not striking the killing blow with her last arrow. She could hear the pounding feet of Andriphaele directly behind her.

Andriphaele? God, that’s a terrible name. What the fuck was I thinking?

She could feel his rancid breath on the back of her neck. She needed to do something, create some distance. Running full tilt through the Darkened Grove was not conducive to making strategic decisions. She was amazed she hadn’t fallen yet, her elven senses allowing her to instinctively dodge the underbrush, keeping her deceptively strong ankles from becoming entangled in exposed roots or shrubs. She altered her gait, stepped down on a particularly dangerous root and flicked her long, slender toes, pulling the root up further in one fluid moment. A few seconds later, she could hear a snap, an anguished yell and a thud as Andriphaele tumbled to the ground. She dared not look back. Her lungs burned, sucking in hot sticky air, stifling her breath. Her calves cramped, sending shooting pains up and down her body. She started to move erratically, hoping to lose her scent in the air among the trees.

Josephine dove behind a particularly dreadful tree. Decayed bark stuck out at random angles throughout the truck. Sometimes it was brittle and would disintegrate into nothing under the slightest external pressure. Other knots were sharp enough to draw blood. She could see the remains of sparrows in the deep crevasses of the tree. Bygones from an era long since past. Before Andriphaele. Before the dark times. Before death came to the land.

I don’t understand how anyone could take this dreck seriously. I’m impressed the narrator attacks it with such pathos. Makes it almost bearable. He’s doing a good job. Much better than I would.

Josephine should have kept moving. She knew this even as she stayed there, pinning herself against the rotting, desiccated tree. The weight of the day’s events seemed to hold her down like a blood-soaked animal fur on her back. Death was all around her, choking her, sapping her of strength. She knew Andriphaeale could not have been stalled long by her gambit, and he would certainly have been on the hunt and closing fast. She could see his giant, demonic slavering jaws, thirsting for blood in her mind’s eye. She could see those same jaws closing around the neck of Tristan just a few short hours ago. She began to weep. Her best friend, her greatest ally, her fiercest lover. All of it down the drain with one attack. She couldn’t even describe the feeling when she saw his ruined body, the gaping wound leaving throat open for the world to see, the straw-covered floor of their hideout stained crimson. And Andriphaele’s wrecked, twisted form towering over Tristan, licking the blood from his lips and curling them into the approximation of a smile.

She had been running non stop ever since she found Tristan. She couldn’t run anymore. It was pointless. Andriphaele would catch up to her eventually anyway. She would want to find him while she still had some strength left. She pulled a knife from the leather sheath hidden in her boot. It was small, but sharp. Maybe if she got a lucky shot in she could survive the encounter. She would just have to stay away from his teeming maw of shredding teeth. Easier said than done. She took a deep breath, calmed her nerves to the best of her ability and stepped out from behind her hiding place. She didn’t even see the giant hand swing at her the second she made herself visible. It connected with the side of her head with a sickening, heavy thud. She lost the knife, it careened away into the underbrush. She hit the sylvan floor and cut herself on the mass of roots and thorns. It was all over now. A powerful hand closed around her beck, pulling her up off the ground. She kicked feebly as Andriphaele smiled. He cut a long gash across her face with his claw. Blood began to seep, peppering the dead leaves below. Two more quick swipes of his free claw and Josephine’s shoulders were slashed open. The straps of her leather tunic fells away, exposing her breasts to the world. He was going to humiliate her before striking the killing blow.

She didn’t know how long he toyed with her. Her mind was swimming from the blow to the temple and the loss of blood. She was naked; Andriphaele had cut away every strip of leather from her shaking body. He had cut away the points at the top of her ears, a symbolic act of robbing her of her elven pride and heritage. She begged for him to kill her. She had nothing left to live for. Tristan was gone. Her kingdom, her world was shattered. Andriphaele refused to speak, refused to acknowledge her pleas. Blood and tears mixed together in her eyes, blinding her. It was excruciating torture. Eventually, he tired of the game and ended her with one quick, efficient snap of his jaws. All was blackness. He discarded her ruined body and moved on toward the town of Knutenheim with evil intentions on his mind.

I turn off the audio book. The prose, while not great, is better than I remember. It’s still too dark and shockingly misogynistic. I killed Josephine and Tristan, the main characters of the series since Songs of the Diamond was originally conceived with such malice and disdain. Maybe I thought doing so would kill the series. But it didn’t. Everafter was a strong return to form in my eyes. I don’t want to read this, but I might be able to pull it off in a way that is not completely embarrassing. We’ll have to see. I look out my window. Haven’t really been paying too much attention to the driving, which can happen when you’re heading down a long highway without having to worry about directions, exits, off-ramps, etc. I’m passing by Hartford now, getting closer all the time.