My Fearful Symmetry [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Denise Verrico
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: A boy becomes a vampire and fights to become a man. Only the most gifted and beautiful Immortyls are chosen to serve Mother Kali as adepts of the ancient arts? For nineteen-year-old Cedric MacKinnon, the promise of eternal youth and celebrity sounds like a dream come true. It becomes a nightmare when a master vampire plucks the boy from the London streets and spirits him away to India. In the fabled ashram of the adepts of the ancient arts, Cedric undergoes the grueling process of training as a temple dancer and courtesan. With the threat of revolution hanging over court, the chief elder employs the boy he names Shardul in dangerous games of seduction and intrigue. Hated by the chief's mistress and abused by those he entertains, Cedric struggles with visions of a violent destiny that seem to come from Kali herself. The stakes are heightened when the rebel leader, Loki, is brought to India for trial and Cedric is forced to choose between the protection and patronage of a powerful elder and his love for a beautiful female adept.
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, Published: London, Texas, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2011
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The usual kerb crawlers kept to home in their dry flats. I ducked under the shelter of a car park as a fresh wave of wet dumped on my head. Eyeing the downpour with disgust, I grabbed a bent fag from the pocket of my new jacket. A regular client had bought the jacket for me, and after this dousing the leather was going to dry stiff and nasty. I struck a match and lit up, cupping my hand round the flame to keep it from sizzling out in the damp. Inhaling, I savored the soothing burn of nicotine in my lungs. A cough gripped my body. Brilliant.
My mate, Ricky slipped up alongside of me. "Cedric, how's business?"
He shook his dark head. "Nah, but Denny says there's to be a party on Saturday."
"Problem is mate, you and I are getting too old for that crowd. They want kids. Perhaps it's time to get a proper job."
Ricky snorted. "Yeah, like who's going to hire us?"
"We could work in a shop of some kind."
"It's not like we can waltz into Harrods and hand them a CV. There's only one thing we're qualified to do." His tongue poked at the inside of his cheek. We snickered. When all was bleak we could always have a laugh together.
"Woman in the underground handed me a card for a posh modeling agency." I pouted my lips. "Said my bone-structure was breathtaking."
"I bet she did, but once the pictures you and I've done for Nigel turn up, they'll sack your Scottish arse. Face it mate, we're marked. We're every pervert's ugly little secret."
"Not so little anymore."
"I'm bloody sick of it." Another cough wracked my chest. "I want to get a proper job, a proper flat and join a band." My ribs ached from the coughing. I struggled to catch my breath. "Can't take another moment of this shit."
Ricky peered at me. "You okay?"
"You're white as a ghost. I mean, you're always pale, man, but you're almost glowing in the dark."
I drew my jacket around me and hunched my shoulders. "Sodding cold. Can't get rid of it. Had it a month now."
The sound of an engine rattled up the street. Two lights burned through the fog toward the car park. A dark sedan coasted to a stop in front of Ricky and me. We struck slinky attitudes. The window came down, and this old bloke perused us. He beckoned to me with a smirk. "You. Ginger. C'mere."
I strolled up to the window. Another fit of coughing overtook me. The man's face wrinkled in distaste. "No thanks. You with the dark hair then."
Ricky went around and got in. The car pulled away and parked down the street in the shadows. More coughs brought up a gob of something. I wiped the back of my hand over my mouth. Blood-streaked mucus smeared across the skin. "Damn. What now?" I found a wad of tissues in my pocket and wiped the phlegm from my hand. "Bloody hell." The tissues fell to the ground among used condoms, burnt out fags, and rusted needles. A wave of nausea overcame me. My teeth chattered. Christ, what kind of an existence was this?
A short while later Ricky got out of the car, stuffing money into his jeans. His face settled into a bored mask. I knew the expression. I feigned it myself every time I left a client. Ricky's eyes stared ahead, cold and vacant as a skull's. He got out a fag and borrowed mine for a light. "Serious wanker, that one." Taking a drag, he exhaled. "Let's eat. I'm starved."
"You're the best, man." I managed a smile for my friend. Ricky had always looked out for me, ever since I'd stumbled into this dubious profession. He'd been at it longer, since he was twelve. Ricky was the closest thing I had to a family, and when his fortunes were down, I helped him out as well. We'd vowed early on to stick together.
I hadn't eaten all day. Ricky and I walked a few blocks to a cafe that tolerated lads like us for an hour's time, provided we dropped a few quid. Every step I took grew heavier and heavier. My legs trembled, and my head pounded now. I'd never felt so tired and miserable. Chills shook me all over. I turned to Ricky. "Uh, I think I need to go home."
I stumbled over the uneven pavement. Ricky caught my arm and looked up at me. He was a wee fellow in comparison. "Christ, put your arm round me." I draped myself around the smaller boy and somehow pushed my feet along. Home was a run-down flat rented by our pimp, Denny, and inhabited by another dozen boys in the trade, a total shit hole, but it was close at hand and heated. The chills grew worse. I gasped for breath. Head and stomach throbbed. My knees buckled, and I collapsed onto the wet pavement.
Ricky knelt beside me. "Cedric, what the fuck?" He felt my forehead. "You've got to get to hospital." He stood up and hollered, "Help! Someone call an ambulance! My friend is sick!"
A crowd gathered round and stared down at me. Their mouths moved, but they spoke gibberish. Faces spun around, a weird carousel of eyes, noses and lips. Then all went black.
I woke in the emergency ward, as people all swathed in gowns rushed me into a curtained room and hefted me onto a bed. A nurse got an IV going in my right hand, while someone drew blood from my other arm. Everyone wore gloves and masks like I had the bloody plague. They wore pitying, worried looks in their eyes, with their foreheads all wrinkled up over the masks. All spoke in hushed snatches of hospital jargon as they took my not-so-vital signs.
I lay there for God knows how long, drifting in and out of consciousness until this green-gowned African woman came in. She smoothed my drenched hair back with her gloved hand. "How are you feeling, Mr. MacKinnon?"
"I..." Once another coughing fit passed, I replied, "Like the bloody Hindenburg disaster."
"I'm Dr. Oba, here to examine you." She conducted an extraordinarily thorough examination of me, including an orifice I didn't think related to a respiratory illness. When she was through, she removed her glasses and looked into my eyes. "Do you regularly engage in homosexual activity? Are you an IV drug user?"
"Guilty on both counts."
Sitting on a small rolling stool, she wiped her glasses and put them back on. "How long have you been a prostitute, Mr. MacKinnon?"
She'd seen the evidence. I had to confess. "Since I was fifteen, Mrs..."
"Where are your parents?"
"Dead, since I was five. I was in foster care in Scotland."
"How did you end up in London?"
"The school back home gave me this test. It said I was gifted, so the church elders set me up at a posh school in Edinburgh. Bunch of upper class gits there. I ran away and came here."
"No grandparents, aunts, uncles?"
She sighed and removed her glasses. "I regret to tell you this, Mr. MacKinnon, but you have HIV AIDS."
A roar echoed through my head. Bloody claws took hold of my insides and yanked. I wanted to pull the tubes and monitors from my body, run as far I as I could from that place, but my body was so weak that I couldn't even lift my head. Instead I cried. Eighteen was too young to die.
She took my hand. "You've never been tested before?"
Tears spilled over from my eyes. "I was careful..."
"Not careful enough apparently. You could have infected others."
"Only one time was I unprotected, and I didn't exactly have a chance to insist when they were holding me down."
Her look of pity wasn't exactly what I needed at the moment. "Why didn't you report the rape to the authorities?"
"So they could put me in juvenile detention for prostitution? No thanks."
"You got tested then?"
"I did--right away. It came back negative."
"You needed additional tests. I'm sure they told you it's not always detectable early on. You have a bad case of pneumonia. We'll keep you here to treat it and the host of other infections you've contracted. You'll receive antiviral drugs, and once you're discharged you'll need to report to a clinic for regular treatment." She took hold of my hand. "Mr. MacKinnon, you must give up prostitution, or you will be taken into custody. You seem like a bright boy. With proper treatment you can live for many years. There are people and agencies to help you. Don't throw your life away."
Her bespectacled eyes weren't as cheerful as her voice, and that worried me. A mate of mine had died a year before of it. "Tell me honestly, Doctor," I asked, "I've seen how this thing works. What are my chances?"
Her expression dimmed a notch lower. "Had the infection been caught in the early stages you would have a better prognosis, but you're weakened and your t-cell count is very bad. We'll have to wait and see how you respond to treatment." She patted my hand and heaved her matronly body up from the chair, while her team went on sticking, prodding and discussing my case until I felt like the elephant man must have. I was sure I'd hit rock bottom.
I reported faithfully to clinic and took my meds like a good lad, but I didn't get much better. Due to my destitute and infected condition, I received state support and gave up my illustrious career. I supplemented this meager stipend by playing guitar and singing in the Underground station near the room I shared with Ricky. My friend, scared by my experience, had given up the life and gotten a job serving coffee to commuters in a take away.
I had a lot of time on my hands now. My life choices may not have been very smart, but I did like to read and learn things. When the weather was miserable, which is often the case with London in December, I took refuge in the library. I'm sure my appearance frightened people, what with this dead white skin, fiery hair, and these ghostly, green eyes, but the librarian was a kindly old bird of my own country and didn't ask questions or scold when I'd doze off in one the easy chairs.
A few days before my nineteenth birthday, I browsed the shelves and found an old book on armaments. When I was a little kid, my dad had taken me to tour a castle. The swords and armor had fascinated me. He bought me a wooden sword, and we pretended to have a fight. It's one of the few memories I have of him. I devoured the book, losing track of the hour.
The librarian patted my arm. "Closing time. Get on with you, dear. A handsome lad like you must have a girlfriend waiting."
I grinned at her. "When I love you madly, Mrs. Gordon?"
She giggled like a schoolgirl. I would have liked a granny like her. I never had a granny or a granddad for that matter. Maybe I wouldn't have ended up in this condition. "Go on now and don't forget this," she said, as she handed over my guitar case and pushed me through the door out into the night.
My world came alive at night.
I made my way into the Underground station and took up my acoustic guitar from the case, leaving the lid open for the change they'd drop. The strings reverberated at my touch. Now I felt complete. Music flowed in my veins. My earliest memories centered on my mother, singing like an angel as she rocked me to sleep. When I played, I could somehow still feel her. For those perfect moments when melody and rhythm came together, heaven opened. I sang everything from the old Scottish ballads my mum had sung, to Jimi Hendrix. My secret hope was someone in the music business would hear and offer a recording contract. Spectators often gathered and applauded, but no one discovered me.
With nothing but a Mars Bar on my stomach all that particular day, the meds made me nauseous. Joints ached, but I went on playing until the commuter crowds thinned, and all that remained was a tall Indian bloke, wearing a black coat over a posh suit. I continued, as he seemed to be interested in the music, until my repertoire gave out. He moved forward with great dignity and dropped a handful of money into my case, as if he was scattering ashes over the waters of the river Ganges or something.
I grinned at him. "Thanks mate."
He looked me over with brown velvet eyes. "You sing and play well."
He stood watching as I slipped the guitar strap from my shoulder, like he wanted to ask me something. I flashed another smile. The look of his clothes indicated someone wealthy enough to be a possible benefactor. "Can I help you with anything, sir?"
A little smile curved up his full lips. "Perhaps."
Most of the time, I fancied girls, but he was undeniably attractive, and I'd had loads of practice in that area. He held himself like royalty. A burnished glow came off his face as in one of those pictures of Hindu gods, as if he had lights on inside of him. He continued to stare. Uncomfortable with his probing gaze, I knelt down to scoop up the cash from the guitar case and stick it into my jacket pocket. When I straightened up, he was gone--poof--without a sound, like bloody Houdini. I shrugged it off as a peculiarity of foreigners and packed up my instrument.
But all that night, he invaded my thoughts and fantasies.
The next evening found me at my usual spot by the fireplace in the library. The wood crackled and glowed in the grate. I'd been wading through the history of the Franco-Prussian war. My eyes got heavier and heavier. The warmth and smell of burning wood evoked a shadowy childhood memory. We'd lived in a cottage in the Highlands, a real cottage, many hundreds of years old. My dad was an auto mechanic and used the old stables to work on cars. I remember him as always fixing something. My mum worked as a seamstress, doing alterations and such at home, so she could take care of me. She sang the old ballads while she sewed by the fire. These vague images induced a dreamless sleep.
I sensed someone near me. When I opened my eyes, the Indian man from the night before sat in the chair opposite. Up close, he looked younger than I'd originally thought, maybe thirty-five at best.
He nodded to me, those fathomless eyes searching. Ah, he wanted something. In the firelight, I supposed I looked less wraithlike, and maybe the warmth lent some color to counteract my blazing hair. My features were still young and almost girlishly pretty, even if very thin. No lesions were visible. I gave him a smile. He returned it. If a cobra were capable of smiling, it would smile just like he did. A pair of well-kept hands took up the book resting on my knees and thumbed through it. "You like to read?"
"Yeah. I come here rather a lot."
He glanced at the pile of books next to me. "Tolstoy. Hawking. The Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. You have eclectic tastes. What else do you read?"
"Everything, novels, plays, history, science, even gardening guides. It's warm here."
"In answer to last night's question, yes." With the slightest inclination of his head, he beckoned, and I followed him out to his car. I don't know why. I wasn't in the trade anymore, but I couldn't resist.
At the curb stood a Rolls Royce. Christ, I'd hit the jackpot. This seedy hulk of a servant held the rear door open for his master, but I was expected to let myself in. I opened the opposite door to slide in.
A fragrance emanated from my companion, his cologne maybe, with a slight hint of spices and musk. His face remained expressionless when he spoke, smooth, like no emotion ever creased it. "I've listened to you singing and playing the guitar in the Underground for three nights."
"I haven't seen you--until last night that is."
He laughed a flat sound in reply.
"You some kind of agent then?"
"You might say that." Reaching into his coat, he took out an old-fashioned cigarette case all enameled with elephants. Elegant fingers selected a fag and clicked the case shut in one fluid motion. He tapped the tobacco to the end. Lighting up, he drew in the smoke. On the exhale he said, "You're actually quite good."
"Do you often go home with strangers?"
"You're infected," he said. It wasn't a question.
I sighed. "You can drop me at the corner."
"I'll pay twice what you'd be worth healthy." He scrutinized my face. "I daresay you once commanded a decent fee." He took another puff and then flicked an ash into a receptacle built into the door.
This casual attitude toward my impending demise irked me. "I'm dying. You don't have to mock me."
He pressed up close. "I'm fascinated by your decaying beauty."
"Sod off." I tried to open the door, but a granite-hard arm prevented me.
"Don't run. I want to know you better."
"You get off on disease then? Want to touch my lesions and have a wank, you sick bastard?"
"You don't have to die."
Now I had to laugh. "Tell that to the National Health."
"Obviously the poisons they give you aren't helping. There are ancient ways of healing Western doctors are ignorant of."
A whisper of a touch swept over my hair. The sensation of his fingers set my scalp to tingling. My beleaguered soul threw up barriers against an all-out siege. "Right--burn a little incense and charm a snake."
"Now you're mocking me. Come to my house and talk with me."
I studied him. Yeah, he looked better than the usual brand of pervert, but something more than sexual drew me to him, like we embodied opposing poles of magnets. God, what was my problem? You never fall for a client.
"Fine, whatever gets you off, love. I can use the money." I was dying for a smoke. "Give us a fag then?"
He pulled out the fancy case and offered it to me. I chose a cigarette and accepted a proffered light. The case snapped closed, the jewel-bright colors catching the light of streetlamps. My desire for pretty things often led me to unwise decisions, but I had to express admiration. "Right posh that."
He closed my hand around it with his. "Keep it. I've several."
His palm lingered. I extracted myself, not comfortable with this expression of intimacy, and pocketed the case. It would fetch a few bob at a pawnshop. "Right then. Thanks."
"What are you called, Beauty?"
The wanker's flattery chipped away at my defenses. My face and neck flushed, not exactly flattering to someone with my coloration. I didn't give my street name for some reason. "Cedric MacKinnon."
"I'm called Raj." He smile grew warmer. "You have remarkable eyes, like a cat's."
He ran a hand up my thigh, and for the first time in a long while I got really hard. The pressure of his hand on my body drove me mental. I'd seen all kinds of kinks, even those who get off on disease and decay. After nearly four years on the streets, nothing surprised me anymore. Sex was still possible with the proper precautions, and he was obviously rich. Maybe we could come to a little arrangement. In the present circumstances, I was open to any possibility. But then he pulled away from me, as if he'd remembered to show a little restraint.
We both smoked in silence until the Rolls pulled up to a town house across from a park. I'd been in its like before. Sweat broke out. A horror show, starring fifteen-year-old Cedric and five grown men, flashed before me. The hefty driver came round and opened the door for Raj. I let myself out, following him up the steps into an airy foyer. A wrought-iron staircase rose above our heads, art nouveau, quite the belle epoque in decor.
I gawked at the lofty entry. "Nice..."
Raj took my jacket and hung it on a hook attached to a mirrored piece of furniture. "They say the house was once owned by Disreali. Don't believe it for a minute. It was built years too late. The shrewd negotiator was well dead." He slipped off his coat and hung it near my jacket, taking a moment to look at the mirror and smooth his hair. "I'm not an admirer obviously. He was responsible for decades of misery in my country--Empress of India, indeed." A door opened to a luxurious sitting room. Raj ushered me inside. "English arrogance..."
"Don't blame me, love. I'm a Scot, another victim of Imperialist rule."
He smashed his cigarette into a brass representation of a monkey holding a scallop shell. "You're no idiot--even if you are a whore."
I pressed close to him, taking hold of his lapels. "Rent boy is the polite term, but who's arguing semantics?"
His body remained rigid and expression cool, despite my proximity. "The nights are dull with no one to talk to but that dolt Beeshom."
"No girlfriend--or boyfriend for that matter?"
"I'm here on business for several months."
"There's plenty of nightlife in London."
"Such amusements pall after a while."
"So you hire a half-dead hustler to talk to? You're one strange bird, mate."
He took my chin in his hand and studied my face, as if appraising an art object. "You have a certain elusive quality."
Save me, I was falling for him. This presented a conundrum. I seldom got off on my clients. I mean, I sometimes got off, but that was mere friction. In the spectrum of sexuality my preference ran to women, but I'd had few opportunities with them, what with my former line of work and recent diagnosis. It's not the height of romance to approach a girl with, "Hi, I'm Cedric, and I've got full-blown AIDS."
I knew I was the perfect victim, a shadow of what I'd once been, half in the grave, prey to all manner of exotic flora and fauna, no family, and only eighteen. Raj was so polished and enigmatic, unlike anyone I'd ever known. The ramparts around my untested heart crumbled to dust.
But there was no sex. We just talked, smoked, and drank his wine. Raj kept me up until I was exhausted, asking all kinds of questions, quizzing me on my knowledge, like a bloody A level. Alcohol and warmth made me drowsy, until yawns could no longer be stifled. Then the servant showed me upstairs to luxury accommodations. Man, I couldn't wait to tell Ricky about the royal treatment. I stripped to the buff and crawled under the smooth sheets on the massive bed, wondering when the host planned to join me. After waiting an hour, I drifted off to a disappointed slumber.
I slept all day, which wasn't all that different than my usual habit, until the servant knocked and entered my room with a tray full of marvelous smelling food. Once I'd eaten, showered, and dressed, I joined Raj downstairs. This went on for three nights. It was pleasant just smoking, drinking, and conversing with Raj. My host was well educated and even charming when he chose to be. I snuggled into my seat by the fireplace, cozy and warm. For the first time in months, my cough subsided, and I gained weight from the rich fare his servant brought in from fine restaurants. All night long, I nattered on, dying to touch him, while he watched me with his liquid eyes, as if I was a rare butterfly he'd captured. I'd resigned myself to thinking he feared infection and contented myself with his praise for my looks and the expensive gifts that he gave me.
On the fourth night, I woke once more in the comfy bedroom. I devoured my tray of food the servant brought and was told to bathe and then go downstairs. Shrugging, I showered and donned the emerald-colored silk robe that I'd found on the bed. Perhaps Raj had enough talking and was ready for a little action. I popped a handful of pills and washed them down with orange juice. It was a relatively quiet time for my contagion, only one lesion among the freckles on my chest. With the better food and rest, my pallor looked almost healthy. Maybe the anti-viral cocktail was finally working. The servant led me into a room I'd never seen before, oddly bare of furniture. There stood Raj, wearing not one of his usual fine suits but a velvet robe. "Restrain him."
Looking around, I saw no one but the servant and a lot of candles flickering on an altar that bore a many-armed female figure. The big ox lunged forward and removed the robe from my body. Shackles hung from hooks on the ceiling, with others attached near the floor. Beeshom secured me, spread-eagled. Not surprising, I'd done the BDSM thing plenty of times before. Actually, I'd grown to rather like it. A little restraint and pain freed untold pleasure.
"What's the word?" I asked.
"Safe word--for when it gets to be too much."
"This is no game." Raj moved forward and traced a lesion on my chest.
Sick rose up in my gullet. It occurred to me that I might be in danger. The possibility always existed that the bloke you went home with was a psycho like that one in America that ate his boyfriends for dinner. "You're going to kill me..."