Read Transfigured Online

Authors: Ava Zavora

Transfigured (4 page)

You know what is to come, and, although I, too, dread its coming, I cannot help but ask, as I do night after night, even knowing how you’ll reply.

“Will you stay with me tonight?" My voice begs on its own. Even I hate the way I sound.

You say nothing. Hope leaps to my throat. You walk me in the candlelit hall to my chambers, your hand still on my arm. My hope flies free, bolstered by the wine and your touch.

Outside my bedchamber, we stop. I try to lean into your arms, but you hold me firmly away from you as you open the door. You have already turned away by the time my tears start falling, these same tears that imprisoned us both, once upon a time.

You stop and turn back. For the briefest second, your lips touch my forehead, like a butterfly fluttering lightly against my skin on its way to the sun and then you vanish down the hall.

“Did you ever love me?" I call out after you.
My words echo down the dark, hollow hallway, then return in distorted mockery.

“Love me?”

My handmaidens have left for the night and I am again alone. I have finished my nightly bottle of wine and the draft that helps me sleep. I stare at my face in the mirror.

Was I brave enough, the old crone in the forest had asked. "Some curses may be broken, but never completely destroyed," she warned. "Those require a great sacrifice."

I close my eyes and from a great distance I hear the screams to come.

I know what needs to be done.

I open my eyes and smash the mirror with my hand.

Facing the broken image on its shattered surface, I take a shard and raise it to my face.

 

THE END

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Turn the page to read a teaser from my as-yet-untitled novel, to be published in 2014.

 

A historian becomes ensnared in a centuries-long quest to unearth Alexander the
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Venice, 1912

 

The package had been hand-delivered by a messenger who insisted on placing it onto
Halkan's care himself and vanished before he could be questioned. The postage stamps bore images of the Aya Sofya replicated in miniature, so Halkan knew it had been sent by the Magician. His heart sank in dread. Halkan did not think, or cared to know, that his old teacher was now once again in Constantinople, a city which had been dead to him since the day he left.

He had not been as careful as he thought
, if the Magician's messenger could find him so easily among the many gentlemen in Piazza San Marco. He had only been in Venice for two months, more time than he had originally planned. With no appointments to keep and no one waiting for him to arrive at any particular place, he was free to be at leisure. He was a man not bound by time and its earthly constraints. And because he could want for nothing, at least nothing that his purse of immeasurable coins could not purchase, he wanted nothing. Restlessness was his only constant companion - yet he lingered in Venice.

The palazzos floating on the Adriatic, the mosque-like Basilica - they reminded
Halkan of home, of Constantinople. The moment when he admitted to himself what drew him to Venice again and again, as he sat on the square at a shaded table at Florian's, which he had now come to regard as his, smoking his cigarettes and nursing his fifth cup of espresso indifferently - was the moment the boy - some dirty urchin - had dodged past the elegantly attired waiters and dropped the package onto his hand. Inside the package was a box.

He regarded the ornately carved, onyx box before him, decorated at the top with elaborately painted blue and turquoise
Iznik tile, reminiscent of those at the
Saray
. What possible treasure would his old master think to send him, as if anything could ever tempt Halkan to submit himself under his guidance or return to Constantinople ever again. He was no longer the naive and inexperienced student. He had seen for himself the world, its transient beauties and lasting cruelties. The thirst for knowledge the Magician had nurtured in him had long ago dried up. He could not think of the last time he had been surprised.

He briefly considered throwing the box to the sea, just a few hundred meters from where he sat, unopened. He knew no good would come of what lay inside.

He set his cigarette aside and took up the golden clasp, exhaling a cloud of smoke as he opened the box. A single object lay in a plush bed of dark blue silk, partially obscured by smoke from his cigarette. As the smoke dissipated, he was able to see that it was a photograph.

No letter of explanation accompanied the package. None was needed.

The photograph was of a young woman in sepia, her dark, abundant hair caught in a bun sitting low on the nape of her neck, pulled away from her face so that her features could be seen in startling clarity. She held her pose proudly, body slightly turned to the gazer, dark, sphinxlike eyes meeting Halkan's in a bold look that seared him, made him hold his breath in aching surprise. It was all there in the portrait - although the clothes were different, modern and all wrong. Wrong, he supposed because all this time he had imagined her as he had known her, in vibrant color, hair loose or flying in the wind as he ran after her, in billowy silk trousers and gauzy scarves. Despite the trappings of this century, however, there was no doubt it was her - down to that cipher of a smile.

The Magician, damn him, had been right all along. She was
so alive in the photograph, so healthy and young, almost just as she had been before that terrible day. It could not be - and yet, had not the magician proven to him that he had the power to subvert nature to his will? Was he not sitting here breathing when everyone else from his time had turned to dust by now? Almost everyone.

She lives, but how? The devious Magician knew no ordinary summons, no promises of power or mysteries revealed could sway him, except for this.
Except for her.

Was she a creature the Magician had created to lure
Halkan back? The resemblance was eerily exact, from the slight arch of her brow to the curve of her lips. Not in all his travels has he even come close to finding what the Magician had evidently procured. The photograph and the woman in it was a conjurer's trick, he was sure.

But even as he tried to dismiss the photograph's power over him, he could not help but gaze at the woman it portrayed, everything around him, the crowds of Italians strolling on the marbled piazza, the café, the present, receding in time as if he and the object before him were alone, suspended. He could feel himself trying to resist, but in vain for he was already fumbling for lira to toss on the table, his cigarette and espresso forgotten. He was crossing the square, photograph in hand, flagging the gondolier with impatience to take him back to his hotel, where he will pack quickly, and then be ferried to Santa Lucia, where he will take the next train bound for Constantinople.

He was finally coming home. To her.

 

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