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   She knows.

   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.  

   She knows.

   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?”

She knows.

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.

She knows.

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--

   “Cole?”

   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.
*Flash-Fic-Month July 23, 2013

I've been wanting to write this piece, more or less, for a few years. Just today, it clicked what the context of the story was. I think I'm pretty happy with how this came out. It's a little vague, but it'll all make sense in the bigger picture, I think.

For the record, I think a soul is overrated. Nobody ever says "Oh, my favorite feature is your soul." Many people do just fine without 'em.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-06-12
In FFM 23: The Lady in Black by distortified, a seemingly simple plot takes a surreal twist. ( Featured by neurotype )
:iconsynn0nihm:
Synn0Nihm Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Lovely.
Reply
:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
Reply
:iconartbyfieldsofsage:
artbyfieldsofsage Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
And all along you knew that she knew.  Thanks for this very honest, cryptic story.  Here's how I look at it (at the situation, not particularly at the story): They say the wife is always the last to know.  I totally disagree.  The wife is always the first to know ... she's just the last to admit it.  Again, thanks for this story.  Well written ... with a burden of poignant regret on the side (just for good measure).  Good work!
Reply
:iconiamtherealherobrine:
IamTheRealHerobrine Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014
I'm sometimes told I have no soul. that's not true, though. I have a soul, it's just burned.
Reply
:iconthe-cat-loving-kid:
The-Cat-Loving-Kid Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Wow... That ending was NOT what I was expecting!
Reply
:iconstuus:
Stuus Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014
<3 it!
Reply
:icondaghrgenzeen:
Daghrgenzeen Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Not what I had expected! Incredible story-building skills you've got. :clap:
Reply
:icondemonlight:
demonlight Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Professional Writer
Pretty cool. I normally critique, but can't really find any glaring flaws. This reads like the start of a novel.
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:iconzjoriz:
zJoriz Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014
Wow, I didn't expect that. This story has just the right amount of drama and tension, but tops it off with a cherry of wit and irony. Hats off. Brilliant. Can't wait to read more.

I do wonder what exactly the guy does at night, though.

:salute:
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:iconjoe-wright:
joe-wright Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014   General Artist
Yayyy congratulations on the DD!
Reply
:iconharryeagle:
Harryeagle Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014
Wow. This was unexpected. Interesting DD. Is this part of a series?
Reply
:iconkirihearts:
KiriHearts Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013

I DON'T WANT ANOTHER PRETTY FACE

I DON'T WANT JUST ANY HAND TO HOLD

 

Sorry, your last comment just set off a chorus of very loud Beautiful Souls in my head and it was kind of hilarious.

 

I really liked the twist with the Lady in Black not being the big villain she was made out to be. I mean, obviously she is, but Cole wasn't exactly innocent himself.

Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Lmao, unfortunately I do not know that song.  Though i can definitely relate to the way a random line of something will immediately put a song in your head.

And I find it interesting that you felt she was made out to be a big villain beforehand.  Even when you thought he was cheating on his wife, wouldn't that make him the villain?  I mean, truth be told, Sabella is actually one of the biggest villains that I have in my repertoire, but I hadn't realized that the earlier parts of this story would give that impression.  This is why I love getting comments on dA: it's so hard to tell how things like from the reader's perspective otherwise.
Reply
:iconkirihearts:
KiriHearts Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013

I don't think it's unfortunate... that song was irritating to the extreme way back in my high school years.

 

Well, "Lady in Black", obviously having some sort of a hold on him, telling him that it's okay that everything ends... it just seemed like she's not at all concerned with his problems. I mean, I thought she was sort of a witch at first. And yeah, he came off as a callous jerk at first, but that doesn't mean he's the only villain around. VILLAINY!

Reply
:iconlobodiablolonewolf:
LoboDiabloLoneWolf Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Hobbyist Writer

You know, as soon as I saw the title my instinctive thought was 'Oh crap, Sabella's coming. Run.' I'm gonna say that reaction was justified. Also it's plain scary how many people are in on this thing. I mean, Stan, Ethan... if I'm reading this right, that is.

...and I'm gonna say I'm rather attached to my soul. XD

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:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You are ABSOLUTELY reading that right.  Though actually, her operative in Saint's Brook is the Bogeyman, haha.  Which is why Ethan was trying to get them for him.  But yes, yes 'Run' is always the appropriate reaction when Sabella shows up... Not that it'll get you far, but at least it's something.
Reply
:iconocolite-autorul:
Ocolite-Autorul Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Soooo much awesomeness. By far my favorite piece of yours. Goosebumps covered my entire body as I read the last line. I'm sorry that this is my first comment, but the pure greatness of this piece deserves all the praise in the world, even if it does come from an untalented hack like me.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Y'know, if anyone would get this story, I feel like it would be you.  I'm really glad that you had such a reaction to it--it lets me know that I did the job right. 

And I'm sure you're not an untalented hack.  Calm down on the self-hate, bro.  I miss your redneck ass. XD
Reply
:iconthe-inkling:
The-Inkling Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2013   Writer
Souls are totally overrated, for sure.

I like the twist on the A, J and M perspective, a view from the other side! Also enjoyed the imagery with the black energy and the cadaver white skin.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I knew someone would agree with me on that.  I feel like people without a soul are generally a few pounds lighter.

And I was kinda worried that black energy might be a contradiction of visual terms, but I imagine everything animated while I'm writing it anyway, so I let it slide. XD
Reply
:iconjeffreyrebowlski:
JeffreyRebowlski Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Yah, the ones without home are usually the lonely ones. 
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Haha, I'm sorry to say, but I don't understand what you're referring to.
Reply
:iconjeffreyrebowlski:
JeffreyRebowlski Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I'm not sure myself-it made more sense late that night-I think it had something to do with having no soul.
I apologize for the confusion 
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:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Haha no worries.  I understand how things often sound better late at night.  Thank you for reading and commenting, regardless!
Reply
:iconqueen-kitty:
Queen-Kitty Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013   Photographer
I was reading and impatiently waiting to find out what he was doing, because I knew much too well that you wouldn't write some silly drama about a husband cheating on his wife! Or at least...I didn't think you would. And also Lady in Black sounds way too creepy to just be the other woman. 

But anyways. I really enjoyed this.  I like that when I think about all of the little circumstance in the story that led the wife to "know," and realize it fits really well into not having a soul.  I love when stories with surprise endings drop clues all along.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I really considered just letting it be a silly drama about a husband cheating on his wife, just to throw off people like you who know me too well! XD!!  And actually, you've met the Lady in Black before in previous stories!  It's okay if you don't remember Sabella, she's only popped up once or twice, and in very subtle ways.  And by the end of the month, there'll be more clear reminders. 

And I'm glad that the clues worked out, too!  I tried to walk a fine line with them, so they could be read either way--to suggest an affair or the actual outcome.

Thank you!  You always leave such wonderful comments, and I'm always glad to hear from you!
Reply
:iconqueen-kitty:
Queen-Kitty Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2013   Photographer
You're welcome :)  I'm very sad that the month is soon coming to a close.

And I thought she sounded like a familiar character!
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Well, I'll be honest--I'm not going to be able to tie this arc up by the end of the month.  So the idea is that I'm going to keep writing stories about these guys after I move.  Now let's see if I can stick with that!
Reply
:iconqueen-kitty:
Queen-Kitty Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013   Photographer
I don't believe you, but I hope it will happen!
Reply
:iconwind-inu:
Wind-Inu Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013
I think I have actually heard someone somewhere say that their favorite feature was someone's soul. I mean, it was probably a hippie, but still. But the point remains.

I did very much enjoy that ending. And here his wife and I were sitting thinking that he was a cheating scumbag. But nope, just hiding his lack of soul.

Also, I've been watching too many Korean dramas, and you probably won't get the reference, but when you mentioned the porcelain mask my first thought was Bridal Mask and I was like Wait Mick knows? Oh. Derp.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh yeah, definitely a hippy.    And I've seen you mention Bridal Mask a few times on Facebook, but I still have no clue what that could possibly be.  By this point, I've accepted the fact that you actually live in Korea, and as such, every media reference you make stems from there.
Reply
:iconwind-inu:
Wind-Inu Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013
Ah man, I would love to spend a few years in Korea... Except I don't actually speak the language yet. I am terrible at teaching myself, and really need to find an online class or that damn Rosetta Stone. D: But so much monies...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI-g1E... This is a trailer for Bridal Mask. I feel like it doesn't properly convey the inensity of the show. Also, I learned recently that it was based off of a manga, which I really wanna read now...
Reply
:iconjoe-wright:
joe-wright Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013   General Artist
Jesuussss. I knew you were going to work the Sword, the Map and the Key into it somehow but I didn't know that was going to happen. Fuckk.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
XD I can't explain it, but I somehow love making you give that reaction.  "Fuckkkk" 
Reply
:iconwolfrug:
Wolfrug Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Ooooo. I figured it wasn't just a simple case of cheating on your spouse with you - of course there had to be something a wee bit more supernatural in there. And there was! Exciting stuff! And well written, with a kind of Stephen Kingesque vibe to it.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
XD  One day, I'm just going to write a story about a couple going through a divorce, and my regular readers aren't going to know what to make of it at all.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked it!  And I was particularly pleased with how the voice of it came out.  Hadn't considered it Kingesque, but now that you mention it, I can totally see it.  I shamelessly love that man, don't care how many people call him a hack. XD
Reply
:iconnamelessshe:
NamelessShe Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Wonderful pacing, wonderful voice. I love this--->  “Cole?”

   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.
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh thank you so much!  Pacing was a concern, voice was my primary target, and that ending was definitely a big question mark in my head.  So you've managed to clear up two of my issues with it, and also reinforced my pride in the overall tone, so yaaay! :glomp:  Thank you!
Reply
:iconc-a-harland:
C-A-Harland Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2013  Student Writer
Wow, loved that twist. This was a very cool piece, will there be a sequel where he catches up to them and A breaks out the ass kicking and one liners? 
Reply
:icondistortified:
distortified Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure if we'll be seeing Cole again during this month, but I wouldn't count the idea out completely.  We've definitely seen Sabella's other minions and employees hunting them over the course of the month, but I can't guarantee that Cole will show up again.  I'll probably be continuing AJM after FFM is over though, so we'll probably see him there?

And if so:  Ass-kicking definitely; One-liners, maybe. XD

Anyway, I'm glad that both the twist and the piece-as-a-whole worked for you! :D Thank you so much for reading!
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