The thought had crept in quietly and festered in the back of my head like a corpse. When I finally noticed it there, I managed to write it off as paranoia for a time, but at some point it had transformed into a certainty.
I had been so careful, too. I deleted my text messages, encrypted my emails, and changed my Facebook password weekly, just in case. I never took calls while we were having family time, and I had developed a list of fool-proof excuses over the years to explain my long nights, or the occasional odd scent of perfume or cloves. I had never intended to hurt her. The world is a screwed up place sometimes.
Things had been fine for the first few years, during the dating and courting. I was allowed to be aloof back then. And then, after the wedding, we soared on the warm winds of love for a long while, and nothing could come between us. It wasn’t until Lisa got pregnant that I met my Lady in Black. Sabella. So innocent at first: just a few drinks with a pretty lady while the wife was at home resting. But when She looked at me, She saw all those things that Lisa had never noticed, and the downward spiral began.
“Everything ends, Cole,” She told me one night, while puffing on one of Her clove cigarettes in the corner of a bar. “Nothing to feel bad about. It feels right, doesn’t it? Inside?”
I couldn’t argue with that. Who could?
That’s when the secrets started. The ‘long hours at work.’ When Lisa gave birth, we named the baby Ariadne, and I had to laugh at the irony of it. Oh, the webs we weave. We did our best to raise her well, and I gave that girl all the love in the world, despite my little secret. Lisa never would’ve believed that if she knew, but it was the truth. Afterwards, when they were both asleep, I would pack a duffle bag and ‘head to the gym.’ If Lisa woke when I came back, it didn’t seem weird for me to be sweaty and tussled if she thought I was working out.
Once Ari was walking and talking, life got hectic. Lisa got a part-time job, and I had less time for extracurricular activities. Still, there was the internet, so I was able to stay in contact. My Lady understood, She said, as long as I remembered all the promises that I had made Her. And I still had the weekends to take care of my extra business.
By our fifth wedding anniversary, the secret had grown beyond my control. Sometimes it felt like there was no space in my head for ‘real life.’ That’s when the problem really started.
“You okay, Cole? You’re so distant lately,” Lisa had asked, in a casual tone of conversation. I brushed it off with a laugh and a winning smile, some stupid excuse about how tired work had me. It wasn’t entirely a lie. Not entirely.
After that, tension began to grow. All of a sudden, she started wanting to know everything. Where I was at all times, exactly what I had done at the office that day. If I had a text message, she wanted to know who I was talking to. Never with an accusatory tone, of course. She wasn’t like that, she just wanted to know.
“Can you believe that Chuck was cheating on Trish? After all those years together?” She asked one night at dinner.
“Yeah, crazy,” I murmured. That sort of gossip had never interested me.
“I mean, can you imagine what the kids are going through with this divorce?”
“Sucks to be them.” She was quiet too long, and I realized I had said something wrong. “I mean--”
“That’s kind of a cold reaction, isn’t it?”
After dinner every night, we watched the news together, snuggled up on the couch. She was always so focused on all the humanitarian stories, though. Kids that had been saved, kids that were kidnapped, kids with cancer. I was there for the stocks and politics. I tried to be comforting when she got emotional over the other stories, but I just couldn’t seem to feel it. My mind was too preoccupied with my secret, too busy wondering what my Lady was going to have me do for her next.
Then came the month of radio silence. My Lady seemed to disappear completely. No reply to my facebook messages, nor to my texts. While Lisa bathed Ari, I tore through the forums She frequented, on the darker corners of the net. That’s where I found Her bulletin:
[ TRIO ALMOST AT THE DOOR. PRIVATE DETECTIVE ALMOST CAUGHT THEM IN VEGAS; OUR OPERATIVE IN SAINT’S BROOK HAD THEM, WAS DETAINED. CANNOT FAIL THIS TIME. KEY, MAP, AND SWORD ARE TOGETHER. STOP THEM. -s]
The post was days old. Everyone that She knew would be trying to stop them by now. I had to get moving. Moving with an almost panicked urgency, I began to pack my gym bag. A change of clothes, a porcelain mask, handcuffs--
I turned to the bedroom door with an enormous matte black pistol in one hand, two clips of obsidian bullets in the other. Lisa was staring at me with wide-eyed terror, hiding Ari behind her legs.
“Is that you?” Her voice cracked as the tears started. Behind her, I caught my own reflection in the bathroom mirror: tendrils of black energy crackled around my eyes, my skin was white as a cadaver. The transformation had come on reflexively, without me even realizing it.
Snatching Ariadne into her arms, she slammed the door, and I could hear her running down the stairs. And finally, she knew my big secret. What the Lady in Black had known from the first moment she saw me: I had no soul.