Halloween is 2 days away. It’s time for the monsters in all of us to come out. No one does this better than Stephanie Ayers. In fact, we’ve got one for you today in her short story, “Tears of a Sinner.” In an alternate universe, Jackson Bruning is not all he appears (or doesn’t appear) to be.
Tears of a Sinner
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a good wife.” -Jackson Bruning
I read somewhere in an article about Jackson Bruning, the world’s most eligible bachelor. The most intriguing part of the article, however, was the fact that there were absolutely no pictures of the man anywhere to be found. In this technical day and age, that was very rare, but, I suppose, could happen. I wasn’t happy that the only information I had on my betrothed was an article written by an untrusted source and no pictures to swoon over.
My parents spent a great deal of time talking about him, his good fortune, and his generosity towards his fellow man, however. Whenever I asked them about his appearance, they never gave any description other than tall, dark, and handsome. Perhaps they did this on purpose so I would dream my own daunting idea of what and who he was. I do know that by the time we officially met, I was already in love with him.
The evening was a cold one, with the threat of snow tingling my nostrils. We were to meet at the esteemed La Chef Passionale, a place that required reservations made months in advance. I waited with trepidation to meet my mysterious fiance. He was late. Of course, he was late! I waited another thirty minutes and when he still didn’t show, made my way out of the restaurant before the tears began falling, one at a time. I imagined I could hear them splashing on the ground as I walked, following me like a bread crumb trail. A man approached me, his black top hat sinister over his handsome face. A teardrop tattoo rested just under his eye. I shivered, understanding what it meant. He stood in front of me, his dramatic black cape fanning out to block every time I tried to go around him. I looked around in panic, trying to find someone who could help, but to my dismay, the streets seemed deserted. It was as if when the clouds hid the moon, and this evil had stepped out from the darkness, everyone had scattered.
“You are very beautiful,” the man said, his finger sliding down my jawline. His voice was surprising pleasant. He pulled my hand to his lips and kissed it. “What are doing out here on these streets this time of night alone?”
He practically purred.
“I…I…I’m supposed to be meeting someone,” I stammered, my terror so great It felt as if my eyes would pop out of their sockets. I shivered again and attempted to shrink away from him. “He will be here any minute.”
“Indeed,” he said. “Perhaps he is here right now.” He stepped back suddenly and, in a grand gesture, bowed, his hat in one outstretched arm. “I am Jackson Bruning, and I apologize for being late. There was an emergency I had to attend to.” His tongue ran across his lips as he spoke this last. I shivered again. He was not at all what I’d expected. “I have confirmed that our reservations are still available. Clarice, would you please join me?” He turned and offered me his arm. I realized suddenly that as much I didn’t want to join him, I had to. I had to, for all the years spent pining away after him, I had to, for myself. I took his proffered arm and we walked back to the restaurant and were seated immediately.
To my delight, he didn’t look nearly as sinister in the soft light of the restaurant. He’d removed his top hat to reveal a head of thick and curly ebony hair. His blue eyes sparkled with life, and his very white teeth glistened beneath every smile, which happened quite often. Images of our imagined future life together distracted me, intensifying my feelings, even as my heart tried to warn me. Through the multi-course dinner, I was an apt pupil, studying everything about him and memorizing as much as I could. I never wanted to forget this moment as I feared he would find me dull. His was a life of adventure and excitement while mine composed the very boring, run-of-the-mill life of a secretary.
“Why are you so mysterious, Jack?” I asked over dinner.
“I don’t like people prying into my private life,” he said over dessert. “Believe nothing you read about me. They have glamorized it all. I work hard for my fortune, but they don’t want to tell you that.” He rose from his chair and discarded his napkin to his plate. “Come, beautiful, let’s carry our conversation somewhere more private.”
My heart beat ferociously in my chest as I allowed him to seat me in his luxurious coach. The carriage took off smoothly and before I knew it, we were at his house. Again my heart beat warning, which I ignored. I was too busy admiring my future home and the fastidious nature with which the home was kept.
“Does it meet your approval?” Jack asked.
I felt heat crest my face as I nodded, swallowing the lump I found in my throat. “It is beautiful. Any woman would be lucky to live here.”
“Not just any woman, however, just you, and you will be here forever.” He stepped closer to embrace me and I let my guard down, just as hungry for his touch as he seemed to be for mine.
“Forever sounds like a long time,” I said.
“You have no idea,” he answered, his breath tickling my ear. He took a step back and from somewhere in the house music played. He cupped my hand in his, and we spun together in a dance foreign to me. The rest of the evening filled with hospitality and courtesy. He was as much a gentleman as my parents had ever claimed him to be, and, by the end of the evening, I found myself desperately in love with the real man, who happened to be my dream come true.
He paused in the foyer and knelt down on one knee. He reached for my hand and slid a beautiful diamond ring onto my fourth finger. “Clarice Anastacia Garland, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife forever?”
A fortnight later, after a quiet wedding, I became a married woman. That night, now that he truly belonged to me, I felt emboldened.
“Darling, why do you have tear tattooed on your face?” I asked him just before he bedded me. His only response was to awaken my body in places I had never been awakened before. He was as gentle a lover as he was a rough one, taking his time to ensure my pleasure before gaining his. When we were spent, he tenderly tucked me into his embrace and I rested my head on his shoulder. He began kissing my neck, small splashes that tickled like a feather, to an urgent suckling that brought goosebumps to my flesh and aroused me once more. As a quiet moan left my lips, I felt him bite, soft at first, then so hard he broke the skin. My blood leaked down my neck, and he pressed me closer, drinking deeply.
He laid me back against the pillows gently. I knew it wouldn’t be long until I was gone. Stars danced in front of me and swam behind my eyelids, and the room spun madly. His tongue licked my neck and he whispered in my ear.
“You are not my first wife. I mourn her with this tear, just as I shall mourn you with this one. I may have taken your human life, but I give you eternity in exchange.” He pulled his head to meet my eyes with his. The last thing I saw before beginning my rebirth was a second teardrop, glistening underneath the old one.