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The Burden
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-482-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Romance/Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 348 Pages
Published: August 2007
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

For Marduc, the love that he had for his mother was the only he had ever known, but her execution at the hands of the French monarchy was more than he could bear. His desire for revenge propels him into a world of passion, madness, brutality, witchcraft, and a deal with the Devil soon regretted.

Desperate to avenge his mother’s death, and betrayed by the women he comes to love, Marduc’s life spirals into a destructive path that begins with the French Inquisition and culminates with the horror of the Salem witch trials.


The Burden (Excerpt)


PARIS, FRANCE

SUNDAY, MAY 14, 1882

Black storm clouds move in as I look out from the window of my flat above the Champs Elysées. I could smell the impending rain, and it cast a chill over me; the spring air was heavy and damp. Closing the heavy red velvet drapes, I moved back into the dimly lit room. A fire was blazing in the hearth, eating away at the old wood I had brought in the day before, and as I went back to my antique writing desk, my unfinished memoirs sat there open and naked-the handwritten words no longer familiar to me.

Too many years had passed since my days in America, since my nights at Montségur. So many years and I had hoped the memories would not fade from my mind; I had hoped they could not. It matters little, though, for I can still feel the pain of those people, my people, and their screams of pain still fill my nights and dreams. I often awake in the darkness, my sheets soaked through to the mattress, my nightclothes pressed tight against my skin, but in the light of day, it all seems so faint, as though it had only been told by an acquaintance-a story passed down through the centuries. It is not as though I had been the one who had lived through it all.

Ah, but you must forgive me, for I am getting ahead of myself. Memories are strong tools, too strong if they are built on pain and suffering at the hands of others. There were times when I wished to end it all, but to this day it remains something outside my grasp.

In this room my life remains sheltered. The worn pieces of furniture are cluttered in a room too small to hold them. An armchair with a faded patterned fabric sits too close to the fire; two side tables rest near the bed with its blankets scattered about. My writing desk was placed near the door, and an empty bookshelf lined against the eastern wall finished off the adornment that made the room look less like a cold prison, but could do little to wipe away the claustrophobic feel.

Even the warmth of the hearth could do little to liven it, and I do not have the courage to leave the drapes drawn during the day. The harsh light filtering through the rips in the heavy fabric is enough to warrant me to shield my eyes. There is enough light to lay claim to the mounds of dust and grime thick upon the tables, the bookshelf, and the mantel of the hearth. The hardwood floors are rough, chafed from the heels of whores who may have visited in the past, elderly gentlemen buying their wares; all kept secret behind the scarred mahogany door sealing its fate from the world outside. Splintered and stained, it meets the same fate of the wallpaper plastered to the walls, torn, peeling, and faded from years of cigar and pipe smoke. It is a constant reminder that I am not alone, but haunted by the smells that creep to my nostrils from every crevice and crack that may have seen or heard things most are unaware of.

But heavy on the air is the implication that I may not keep this flat. I have fallen behind on rent payments, and I will soon be asked to vacate the premises. I do not know what will become of me if I am forced to leave, or what will become of my story. I am often tempted to pay my way in the blood of others, ridding this offensive building of its inhabitants: pimps and prostitutes, and the filthy old women who enjoy its comfort. I see whores each morning as I make my way back from the streets, young and old gentlemen alike hanging off them. I am sickened by the obviousness of it all.

Still, they keep away those that may inquire about the man who lives on the third floor, his door always closed during the daylight hours. He is unnatural, they would say, his skin so pale, his eyes so black they could burn a hole through you. He is evil, for what kind of monster sneaks out into the night only to return before the break of dawn? What does he do in the blackness among the whores and the beggars, within the filthy back lanes, the garbage-strewn streets, and the infested sewers where only the rats are brave enough to creep? They would be right in their assumptions-I am a monster, an unnatural being who sneaks out into the dead of night and…

A crash of thunder broke my thoughts. I could hear the rain slam against the windowpane, the thunder rattling the glass. It startled me, and I found myself trembling. Foolishness, for I have faced greater demons in my lifetime. What was a little storm to me? But I knew the rain often brings with it more than one sees. It is a deceptive act of nature, an abomination of God’s great work.

Sitting at the desk, the chair creaking, I turned to my diary. Inking my pen I added a few more sentences when I heard a knock at the door. The landlady, I knew, for only she would dare disturb me during the day in her drunken and tragic state. She had been up here the day before smelling of liquor and reeking of a wasted life. I informed her politely I would have the money for the rent by the end of the month, though I was still unsure of how I would come by it. Pickings were not good after dusk. The rich tended to hide behind their doors, locked away amongst the comfort of their insecurity, and I was not about to enter their homes without an invitation. I was not a common thief.

The knocking persisted. There was little I could do to have her think that I was not in. Again, she would inform me that the end of the month was not good. I was two months behind, and she was not in the habit of letting tenants live in her building without paying their share. Even the whores paid their dues, and I considered myself better than a common whore. Dropping my pen on the desk, I moved to answer the woman’s call.

As I opened the door, a great wave of liquor swept in on me. A weaker man might have drowned in the perfume of my landlady’s drunkenness, but I was not that weaker man. She was seldom sober, barely tolerable, and yet she feared nothing in her state of intoxication. Neither the roughest whore nor the most brutal of gentlemen stood a chance with her. Thirty years of abuse and battery from four husbands did nothing but toughen her; she swore never to let another hand strike across her flesh.

She stood in the frame of the door; her five-foot stature centered in front of me, her face ashen and gaunt. Her clothes, a dull gray, matched the color of her hair, pinned loosely behind her head. Her lips, flaxen and thin, were stained from the drink she held in her right hand, her coarse fingers holding tight to the glass. She was bitter, hostile, and urgent, all combined with a touch of scorn and indignation, but I could only pity her. A life such as hers was not worth living. Oh, how I could end it all so easily, but I dared not. I did not wish to arouse suspicion. I could not bear the circus of police, newspapermen, and questions they would all ask.

Without waiting for an acknowledgment of her presence the woman stepped into the room. She let her eyes wander about, taking in the scene. I sensed displeasure, though she said nothing. Finally, she looked at me, her eyes cold. I found it amusing if nothing, that she could keep her eyes on me without wincing. Others stronger than she had fled at the sight of me, but this small, frail creature did not.

"Your rent is due, Monsieur Rouen," she said to me, my face half hidden by the shadows cast by the light from the hall. "I will accept no more excuses. If you do not have the money by Wednesday, you are out on the street."

Behind her I could hear laughter down the hall as a door opened. One of the whores stepped from her room, her full breasts bared, and a man’s hand holding to her slender arm. She threw back her main of red locks, and laughed as he pulled her back, closing the door behind them. I studied the landlady for a moment, and could tell she meant her words.

"But, Mademoiselle Clouzot," I said, addressing her by the name of her last, and fortunately dead husband. "I must have until the end of the month. I am working on a book, and I am almost finished. By the end of the month I will have been given an advance by my publisher."

She spied me carefully. "You? A writer?"

I nodded. "Yes, so if you will just give me until the end of the month…"

My words were lost on her as she moved into the room. She examined everything as if she were an inspector investigating a crime.

"What do you write about in here?" she asked, disgustedly. "How can you live in such filth? It smells like a sewer."

"I’m sure it is no filthier than the rooms of those whores you allow to reside in this place," I let slip out, anger on my tongue. Though I regretted the words, I did not regret the attack.

"It is none of your business how others live in my building, Monsieur."

I steadied my tongue. It was more important to have my rent extended to the end of the month than to wage a personal assault on this woman.

"Poetry," I said to her, stepping away from the door. Leaving it open, I went to my writing desk and closed the diary I had been writing in.

"Poetry?" she returned to me. She came to me, her feet gliding across the floor. She still held the glass of liquor in her hands, and I watched as drops spilled from it. The woman’s hand was unsteady as she moved. "You write poetry?"

It was not a lie. For years I had written poetry. It was what saved me from the madness that threatened to consume me, but as of yet I have failed to have any of it published. Rejection slips filled one drawer of the desk, but I took it in stride. What did these modern day Parisian heathens know about poetic talent? I longed for the days when gentle prose was appreciated and I could express myself publicly without fear of eliciting screams of fear and anguish, without enduring a lifetime of taunts and torment.

"I shall have the rent for you by Wednesday," I lied. By then, I could come up with another excuse to stall her, and she may have become sober enough to forget of this meeting, of what she has said, of what I have said. "I must get back to my writing." I stood in front of the desk my body blocking the diary, but she was determined to have a glance at what I had written in the pages. "Mademoiselle Clouzot," I said firmly, "it was explained to you I would require privacy. You agreed to this. I cannot have you coming in here and interrupting my work."

She stepped back from me and took a sip of her drink. "I can throw you out anytime I want," she threw at me, "don’t you forget it. Don’t think you’re any better than me because you write poetry. I’ve contended with more than you, and I won’t stand you treating me like a stranger in my own building. You come up with that money by Wednesday, or you’re out in the street." She added, while walking out of the room, "I know a few gentlemen who would be more than glad to clear you out of here, so don’t you forget it."

When she was on the other side of the door I threw myself up against it, slamming it shut. I could hear the woman say something through the wood, but her words were unintelligible, slurred by the drink. Other voices covered her own as she slipped away down the hall. Letting out a long breath I went over to the desk and opened the diary. In my haste to close it, I had crushed a few of the pages bending them out of shape.

Though the confrontation had affected my state of mind, I was determined to not let it throw me. It was important that I concentrate on my book: the story of my life.