Authors: Sara Furlong-Burr
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Without limiting rights under copyright reserved below no part of this work may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Copyright© 2012 Enigma Black by Sara Furlong-Burr
Cover Image by George Arnold
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
Clothed in shadows, neatly tucked away atop a stone ledge, I wait for him. In the months since I'd been whisked away from my former life, waiting was all I seemed to do. Waiting for the day I could return to that life; waiting for the day I would die in triumphant vindication for the sacrifices I had made; waiting for the day I would finally obtain the vengeance I so dearly sought.
Vengeance. A simple word for such a complex action. How I’d dreamt of nothing but it for the last ten years. It consumed me, forcing me to drink it in until I’d become intoxicated with its essence. It’d been the single pervasive thought haunting my existence, continuously running through my mind in a sadistic loop. Unable to sober up, I’d stumbled through the last decade of my life plagued with the inability to think of anything else but my last memories of them and the day of carnage that took them away from me. Vengeance; it was almost within my grasp. Soon, I would have the power to attain it. However, such power—I’d learned—does not come without a price; and this particular price had been paid with my life.
The autumn air whipped through my hair caressing what little skin still remained exposed to the elements. Before becoming the property of The Cause autumn had been my favorite time of year. The smell of the chilled air was invigorating and the leaves on the trees aflame with crimsons and golds were positively mesmerizing. It always amazed me how something could be so beautiful as it lay dying. Perhaps, the same could be said about me now. I was an empty shell left abandoned on the beach unable to facilitate life. Even if I had wanted to feel alive again, it just simply wasn’t allowed of me. The colder and more desensitized I was, the more liable to kill without blinking an eye I would be.
My former home had fallen into despair these last ten years. Strewn throughout the once prosperous metropolis were dilapidated buildings and empty store fronts creating a virtual ghost town where life once reigned supreme. Most of these dwellings had been abandoned by those who chose to leave the confines of the city in favor of secluded locations where the presence of the New Order was not yet evident. Little did they know, however, these locations no longer existed but were merely destinations of mythological proportions.
I spent many a night now lost in my thoughts, and it was often during these times of contemplation atop my precipice that I would get what I was waiting for. For me, seeing Chase Matthews was the only remaining bright spot I had left in this world. He kept my heart beating, unwittingly providing me with reassurance that I wasn’t quite dead yet. Through his dimly lit window I watched him.
I knew that I shouldn’t be here, but his aura was like a magnet pulling me toward its glow. His grip on me was strong making my visits to this ledge so frequent that I was beginning to ponder whether a permanent imprint of my rear would become forever indented in the cement. My former life with him had been nothing short of perfect. In his arms, I’d regained the feeling of safety and security that was ripped from me in my youth. His blue eyes looking into mine always had a way of making me feel weak, a feat of which nothing else had successfully been able to accomplish. I’d been strong in my former life without even having been manufactured to be as I was now.
A tear streamed down my cheek, burning my skin on its descent. It was yet another sign of the weakness I was forbidden to display back at my new home; but this ledge was not my home and I couldn’t help it anymore. There was still a glimmer of the Celaine Stevens I used to be under the mask I was made to wear. That was something they would never be able to take away from me. I’d given them my life, my body and my mind but my soul was all mine and would remain so until my dying day.
Chase was every bit the awkward brand of perfection I remembered him as being. Often, I would find myself unable to break my gaze away from him for I never knew when or if I‘d ever get the chance to gaze upon him again. Closing my eyes, I envisioned our former life together and, for a moment, I could almost feel his lips on mine again—a feeling I hadn’t been able to experience in what seemed like an eternity.
He rummaged through his dresser drawer, pulling out a pair of neatly folded shorts and methodically laying them out on his bed. I could tell by the way he haphazardly stumbled around his room that this particular night had been a trying one for him. Fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, he proceeded to undress, causing a familiar burning sensation to spread across my cheeks. A part of me felt as though I should avert my eyes as the sight of my former lover half-naked would do little to help my present situation, but I couldn’t help it. Instead, I scanned every inch of his toned physique, affectionately remembering the nights when I would lay next to him with his broad shoulders encasing me.
Moonlight shone down upon my ledge as a passing cloud gave way. It was, in that instant, that he looked up in my direction as if suspecting my presence. He would never see me. I was trained to stay in the shadows; to be the perfect assassin. As the light in his room flickered out, I knew it was getting late and they would be expecting my return. Standing up, I braced myself for my descent from the ledge and, with one effortless leap, flung myself off it, letting the wind tear through my body. It was time to get back home to my prison; to my destiny; to my own personal hell.
MY FORMER LIFE
The Incident at the Flamingo Resort
He wearily paced the casino floor wanting desperately to join his sleeping family back in their room. Unfortunately, as a chronic sufferer of insomnia he knew that any effort at attempting sleep now would be fruitless and his restlessness would only disrupt his wife and son from their slumber. Instead, he forced himself to meander through the aisles of slot machines in an effort to build up enough fatigue to hopefully knock him out.
How he hated those machines. On top of the shrill, deafening noises emanating from them, he found himself having to shield his eyes away from the flashing lights the ones at this particular casino seemed to favor. Further adding insult to injury, the dreadful apparatuses were specially constructed to tie in perfectly with the ultra-annoying beach theme of the Flamingo Resort and Casino. When he and his son had first arrived at the resort earlier that day, he couldn’t resist whispering a quip involving a flamingo throwing up after an acid trip under his breath. This jab had naturally changed his son’s expression from one of horror to one of sheer amusement. His wife—needless to say—had not been amused.
Despite its attempts at depicting a cutesy family vibe, it was still a casino with the same droll neon signs marketing poker, blackjack, and craps all while using the potential of various monetary jackpots to lure the masses in hook, line and sinker. Like fish with torn mouths, its prey always took the bait, only to continue coming back for punishment time and time again.
Coming to Atlantic City had been his wife‘s idea. Had it been up to him, he never would have set foot in the place. But, for her, it was the perfect culmination of her love of the ocean and machines that flashed and clanged—or so he suspected—that lured her here. Certainly, none of what this eyesore had to offer held any interest to him. If he had his way, they would have vacationed somewhere sunny, warm and somewhat educational such as the Alamo or the Mayan ruins. Unfortunately though, as she so often did, his wife had won the argument, meaning that he and their teenage son were once again forced to endure yet another one-sided vacation.
After a half-hour of strolling aimlessly on the casino floor, he decided he’d rather not endure a migraine on top of his persistent insomnia, choosing, instead, to catch some air on the boardwalk—though, within seconds of his stepping outside, it became immediately apparent that the casino may be the lesser of the two evils. The frigid December wind caught him off guard, assaulting him with everything it had. Ignoring the stabbing cold, he walked across the deck where he noticed a solitary figure looming in the darkness. The sharp contrasts of the man’s face were revealed slightly by the small flame of the cigarette between his lips. As he drew nearer, he could hear the man mumbling while struggling to keep it in place.
“It’s enough to freeze your cojones off out here,” the stranger spoke. “If it weren’t for this damn addiction, I’d be curled up in bed snuggled up nice and warm next to the saucy redhead I picked up earlier.”
He smirked at the man’s vulgarity. Unsure of what to say but not really wanting to keep the conversation flowing, he offered up a quick retort, “What are you waiting for then? Put that thing out and get back up there.”
The strange man chuckled, flicking away ash from the end of the cigarette. Preferring to be alone, he left the stranger on the deck and walked down the stairs that led out to the boardwalk. Each of the weathered, wooden steps creaked violently under the weight of his descending footsteps until his feet hit the ground. Pausing under a light post, he put his hands in his pockets for warmth, gazing upon the ocean from the shoreline to the point where it became one with the night sky on the horizon. As another blast of wind cut through his skin, he found himself laughing at the irony of the moment. In that instant, his surroundings matched the mood that had hung over him like a dark cloud for the last several years.
He loved his wife dearly but was confused as to whether this love was coming from his heart or from the feeling of indebtedness he harbored for her having supported him during a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. He'd been diagnosed shortly after the birth of their son and the disease had struck him unmercifully, wreaking havoc upon his body until there was virtually nothing left of it. It was only after several grueling rounds of chemotherapy and an extensive amount of recovery time that the cancer miraculously went into remission. In its wake, however, he’d been rendered a frail shell of a man with the treatments not only having robbed him of his dignity but also stripping him of his manhood as well. Being unable to produce any more biological children with his young wife had ultimately stolen her dream of having a big family. And since they had neither the resources nor the interest in adoption, it’d all rested upon his shoulders, leaving him feeling as though he'd somehow failed her.
Be that as it may, despite his illness and her disappointment with the path her life had taken, her devotion to him never wavered. So it was, on a day nearly fourteen years ago, an unspoken promise was made by him to give his wife the world in exchange for the life he was unable to physically deliver to her. Years later, this well-intentioned promise felt more like a life sentence and he was beginning to see his debt to her as having been paid in full with inflated interest. In his mind, their son, Ian, was the only thing keeping him tied to her anymore.
He stood in placid contemplation staring into the black hole unfolding before him while the wind swept around him more intensely, chilling his body to the bone; the lone figure on the illuminated boardwalk. Removing his hand from his pocket, he looked at his watch. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. Figuring he should return to thaw out and attempt to rejoin his family, he walked back toward the steps to the deck of the casino.
A shudder overcame him as the casino came back into view, but oddly it wasn’t due to the cold. It was his body’s response to the mere sight of the garish pink neon flamingos whose animatronics seemingly made them dance around the entryway.
Why did I let her talk me into this
? he thought. Further frustrated, he opened the entryway door where he found himself simultaneously greeted by a rush of heat and a synthetic palm tree leaf slapping him in the face.
Being relatively deserted, the gaming floor stood eerily quiet. But even in the tranquility of the moment, a sense of impending doom overcame him. Invading his thoughts with each step, the threatening feeling followed him onto the gaming floor, persisting throughout his journey across the casino toward the guest rooms. On the news, he’d heard about a string of attacks that had been taking place recently across the country. These attacks, in the form of bombings, appeared to be occurring at random and without any clear purpose other than for pure shock value and the sick, homicidal amusement of their perpetrator. Such attacks had even prompted him to foolishly suggest to his wife that they postpone their vacation until the world returned to normal again, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She’d accused him of backing out on her, causing him to concede defeat immediately.