Author's Note: In September 1998, all in a flurry, I wrote a piece of historical fiction (these days, it would be labeled paranormal romance). It ended up being about 200,000 words long and in desperate need of revision. Parts of it come together in later works (many of the characters from that initial, rambling piece ended up in This Heart of Flame), but I was never able to salvage the original book. I've picked and poked at it over the years, because there are scenes I wish I didn't have to lose -- but they exist now like islands that were once the tops of mountains, jutting up from the water after a terrible flood. One of these lonely fragments appears below. The narrator is Matthew, who also narrates This Heart of Flame. He's learned a secret about the artist Percival Lawrence -- a secret he breaks into Lawrence's house to confirm. Keeping Secrets

Percival's house was all darkness.  I let my horse trot up to the front lawn, then slid off his back.  Stroking his flank, I made certain he would wait for me.  He stepped out into the lawn and began patiently cropping grass.  Silently, I crept around the outside of the house.  I noticed a sliver of light, muted and weak, slipping out from one of the basement windows.  That was where I would look first.  I stepped around to the back door.  It was, of course, locked.  I planted my hands above and beneath the knob, pushing inward with gradually increasing force.  I heard the snap before I felt the thing give, and I caught myself just in time before all my weight carried me crashing to the floor.

The door swung inward, creaking.  I stepped into a kitchen as pristine as it was unused. The lack of foodstuffs hardly counted as proof, but I added it mentally to my growing list of peculiarities connected with Mr. Percival Lawrence.

Everything was utterly silent.  It was unsettling.  I closed my eyes, trying to feel where he might be.  Even to my subtle senses, however, the house seemed empty.  Either Percival truly was not home or his talent for going unnoticed extended even to the subtle level.  I suspected it was the later.  Regardless of what my senses were telling me, I was certain he was here somewhere.  The basement seemed the likeliest place.  I searched around for a way down, and was rewarded when I caught sight of a faint sliver of light creeping out beneath a door set into a set of stairs.  This door, too, was locked, but it pulled outward.  It was a relatively easy task to snap the lock and pull it open.

The stairs leading down were mostly in shadow.  Only a faint light filtered up from the rooms below.  I leaned cautiously onto the first step, hoping it would not creak.  I pressed my hands against the walls on either side of me to lessen the impact of my weight.  Satisfied that I could proceed in relative silence, I glided the rest of the way down.  All I could see at the bottom was a blank wall.

The stairs were enclosed, so I had to wait until the last step to even look around.  From what I could see of it, the basement had been made into a studio.  Crates and chunks of stone were arranged in a near corner.  The lightsource was coming from my left.  I crept round the corner of the stairs and started into that room when something leapt out at me.  It had been crouching in the shadow of the staircase, lying in wait.  Too quickly for me to react, I felt hands seize upon my shirtfront.  I was lofted into the air and carried backward, pinned against the wall.

I looked down at my captor.  If there had been any doubt in my mind what Percival Lawrence was, they were laid to rest in that instant.  Percival stood beneath me, holding me above his head, his features fixed in a snarl of rage.  His lips were drawn back from his teeth, and I could distinctly see his pronounced canines.

"You!"  he growled.

I let him dangle me in the air, the bricks of the wall pressing roughly against my back.  If he expected me to struggle or cry out, he was disappointed.  I was staring in wonderment at what I saw in his mouth.

He seemed to quickly realize this.  Not relinquishing his hold on me, he closed his eyes briefly, apparently trying to master himself.  The expression of fury seemed to melt from his face.  Abruptly, he let go of me, turning away with a snarl of disgust.  I slid down the wall, dropping heavily to the floor.

I crouched there, stunned to speechlessness for the next few moments, but not because of his rough treatment. Because of what I saw.

There were statues arranged throughout the room, half a dozen of them.  All were life-sized or a little larger.  They were magnificent, practically breathing with life.  Every detail was flawlessly evoked from the stone, nearly down to the pores on the skin.  I recognized a number of individuals from the club.  They may as well have been standing there before me.

"I thought you said your work was flawed," I said wonderingly. It was barely audible.  I had forgotten to breathe.

Percival rounded impatiently on me.  He was wearing a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  He was covered with a fine white dust, nowhere more thickly than his hands and upper arms.  It made his already pale skin as white as the marble of the statues around him.  Flakes of stone stood out in his loose, dark hair.

"What are you doing here?"  he demanded.  He made no attempt to hide his teeth now.  The pronounced canines were obvious and menacing.  "Never sneak up on me like that.  I could have killed you."

I straightened, dusting myself off.  My attention was still captivated by all the wondrous statues.  Even Halaina's work was not so fine.

"I don't break that easily,"  I responded a little tersely.  "Percival, you never said your work was like this.  These are amazing."

I walked past him to the nearest sculpture.  It was of Elizabeth.  I caressed her shoulder and arm.  It was like touching living flesh, except that it was cold.  Smooth, perfect, every muscle could be felt beneath the skin -- it was flawless.  Her face, the way she held herself, the tilt of her head ... he had captured everything vital about her in the stone.  I could have kissed those lips.

"Don't fondle the sculpture,"  he said, his voice sharp with disgust.

Reluctantly, I withdrew my hands from the statue of Elizabeth.  "Can we talk?" I asked, hoping that despite my rude intrusion, his answer would be yes.

-- M. Belanger

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