TWENTY FIVE – THE BOX
Tony waited until dusk before opening the door to the storage room. After discovering Whyte’s body, he’d fled the Titania quickly and without looking back.
A million thoughts played over and over in his dazed brain. He didn’t like any of them.
He knew why Angel was in that box. And he knew what he would have found in the other two had he dared to look—more bodies. He didn’t know who they would be. Perhaps other people he knew, perhaps names on the police reports and faces on the nightly news. Missing people. Lost people. A word out of superstition screamed into his forebrain, but he pushed it back into the darkest recesses of his mind.
Was Glory one of them? The box in the basement, the box with its shroud and thin layer of earth, stood mute testament to the damnation of her existence.
Still, Tony loved her. She’d inspired him a way no other woman had—a way no other woman could. He remained determined to possess her forever.
As the last rays of sunlight disappeared, he unlocked the door to the storage room, opened it, and pushed the rosewood box inside.
Glory uncoiled herself in the corner, the sheet falling from her face. She looked tired and worn, but she smiled at him. Then she saw the questions in his eyes.
“What are you?” he asked.
Her eyes filled with sadness. “You looked in the boxes,” she said accusingly.
“What are you?” he repeated.
“I am what you believe me to be,” she replied calmly. “I’m both everything you desire and everything you fear. At night I am immortal, but during the day I am vulnerable.”
“How did you come to be… what you are?”
“It is a long story, Anthony Frost.”
Tony sat down in the doorway of the room, his fingers running over the silver dagger hidden in his jeans’ pocket. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
She folded her legs under her and sat across from him. Her black eyes gazed longingly at his handsome face.
“When I was a young girl a very long time ago,” she began, “a man whom I did not love fell in love with me. He was handsome and rich and came from a good family. My parents thought him a perfect match for me.
“But I saw through his fair facade—I knew the cruelty and evil that lurked within him. I knew what he wanted was a trophy, a plaything to amuse him, not a wife.
“Still, my father made promises to him without my knowledge or consent.
“I loved my father, more than any other man in the world. And I trusted him. I said to myself, ‘If father thinks this man is good enough for me, perhaps I have been mistaken.’ I agreed to let the man court me.
“But his true colors did not take long to discover. He was, as I feared, a cad intent only on deflowering me and moving on to his next conquest.”
She took a deep breath and sighed, her body shuddering with the memory. “Father was furious when I refused to see the man again—but not half so angry as the evil man himself. He swore that if I would not be his, my family would suffer.
“When my parents and sister wasted away and died from illness, I fled from Boston to Providence. But he followed and found me there.
“Still I refused him. What more did I have to lose? He had destroyed everything I held dear. This angered him even more. He said, ‘If I can’t have you in life, I shall have you in death.’
“Then he killed me… and raised me again as you see me now—a soulless creature of the night, unable to resist his bidding.”
Tony felt tears forming at the corners of his eyes. Her voice, though measured and even, carried the terrible weight of her story.
She continued. “For many years he had his way with me. He brought me succulent morsels to prey on by night and kept me chained in my coffin when he didn’t need me. I did his bidding with great joy, laying his enemies like slaughtered sheep before him.
“But he had not entirely snuffed out Gloriana Williams, though my body was his alone. As time passed, my powers increased. He had not anticipated it, nor did I let him suspect.
“One night he returned from his business and discovered me gone. A long time passed before he found me again.
“For a time, I lived in Quebec City. It is an old town, quite suited to my kind. I had always wanted to be an artist before my life was cut short. Now, however I discovered I could no longer draw or paint. Without my soul, everything I produced proved hideous.
“But I could inspire others.”
“As you’ve inspired me,” Tony said quietly.
“But at a price, Anthony. Your cousin saw it. If I stay much longer, you will be like me.”
His eyes gleamed in the dim light. “I want to be like you.”
She shook her head. “I beg you not to.”
“Finish your story,” he said.
“Eventually, the evil man tracked me down. He destroyed my lovers, but I fled—again. This time by the Saint Laurence Seaway.
“He found me in the hold of the Titania, as the ship was harbored in Sault St. Marie. But he’d grown weary of the chase, tired of his disobedient plaything. He was a strong, wicked man. Even stronger then than I am now.
“He placed a silver dagger in the shape of a cross on top of my box while I rested. It prevented me from leaving the box or using my powers.
“When the sun had set and he knew I was awake, he said, ‘Fickle bitch. Since you shall not submit to me, even in death, I will give you no ending. You shall rest in your box beneath the waves, trapped forever yet knowing each day of your fate. You will beg for my forgiveness, but I will ignore you. You will cry for release, but no one will hear you. You shall go on and on in the dark and cold, ruing the day you spurned me.’ Then he laughed.
“I heard him leave the ship, but I could do nothing. I waited long days for his vengeance to reach its climax. He laid a spell upon the ship so that none of the crew or passengers could hear my cries or discover my resting place. By the time the Titania went down, as he predicted, I was begging for the release of death.
“But even the wicked man could not foresee all things. And the same storm that thrust my sunken ship upon the sandbar knocked the dagger from the lid of my box and freed me.” She took a deep breath.
“Still, I might have perished if I had not found you. It had been a very long time since I fed, but I knew you were perfect for my needs.
“Even as your blood gave me new strength, I could not bear to kill you.”
Tony shifted uncomfortably, feeling the cold weight of the dagger in his pocket. “Who are the men in the boxes? Are they your lovers, too?”
A single tear ran down each of her cheeks. “No, Anthony, I love only you.”
“What about Stef Klein, then? Why did you leave me for him? Why did you give him your body?”
“Because your cousin is right. I am destroying you. I do not want to destroy you. That is what he would want me to do.” As she said it, more tears welled in her eyes and streamed down her face. “Klein is worthless. The world will never miss him, but he fulfills my needs. I could have lived off him for months. But you found me, just as, long ago, the one who made me this way found me.”
She turned her head away and buried her face in her hands. “I am dead, Tony. My soul is lost. Destroy me before I destroy you! Destroy me before I become everything I despised in the man who destroyed my family.”
Tony shook his head. “I can’t,” he said softly. “I love you. And even if I could, I wouldn’t know how.”
“The dagger that held me in the box for all those years… It would slay me if it pierced my heart. Go to the ship, find it for me, and end my eternal torment.”
Tony stood. “No. I won’t.” He held out his hand. “Come. It’s time to work.”
She rose and reluctantly took it. He smiled at her but saw only sadness in her dark eyes.
“Never leave me again,” he said.
“I won’t,” she replied.
But he didn’t believe her.
They languished in the studio throughout the long night, making love when they didn’t work, working when they weren’t making love. Her coolness quenched the fire inside him and he renewed her life.
At dawn he laid down his brushes and took her to the cellar.
“Will the light destroy you?” he asked.
“No, but the sun is painful to me, and I am powerless in its brilliance,” she said.
He took her pale body in his arms. “Then make love to me now—without your powers. Show me that you love me as a woman.”
She nodded and kissed him on the neck. He took her there, on the cold floor of the basement. Afterward, Tony wrapped her gently in her shroud and placed her into the rosewood box. She folded her body up and closed her eyes like a child.
After she’d done so, he crept silently upstairs and retrieved his clothes from where he’d cast them to make love to her earlier. When he returned to the basement, he withdrew the silver dagger from his pocket and carefully placed it on the lid of her coffin.
Then he seated himself in the doorway to the storage room and waited for nightfall.