"Why don't you simply confess, you wretched creature of darkness. End this now, and your soul may yet receive the grace of forgiveness when you will be purified by fire."
She mustered all her strength to lift her head and look him in the eye. Her body was but a sea of pain, she had been ravished, branded, stretched, cut, speared and strangled. Even if her body was broken, her spirit was still victorious. The inquisitor was aghast when he noticed that she even smiled at him, a calm, pleasant smile, with an innocence and sweetness that cramped his heart and sent chills up and down his spine.
"Confess ... you want me to confess. For my sake? Or yours?"
"Your sinister insinuations will have no effect on me, witch. For your sake, confess!"
"No, it'd be for you ... that you find some sort of excuse or justification for what you have done to me. Why me, confess? Why don't you confess, why you have followed me like a dog for years, ever leering at my body you needed to possess more than anything else on this world? Why did you, before breaking any of my bones or cutting my skin need to ravish me, and you alone, without all your henchmen? It was your lust that brought me here. To destroy what you could never call your own ..."
She groaned and whimpered, as her head slowly descended to the heavy wooden plank she had been tied to. Small rivulets of blood trickled from several wounds all over her body. He could not bear this sight and his eyes focused on a torch on the far side of the torture chamber.
"Look at me ... look at me. Look what you have done to me ... the woman you desire. Is this still the body you yearned for? This body will never be yours, and this image will haunt you in this life until it will drive you to insanity. So ... if I am a witch, do you think that will make you forget this? Or even that it will end here?"
"Silent woman, your wiles are useless on me, for I am protected by His Name."
"That's what they tell you, isn't it? Because you have never ever met a real witch; although you killed countless women, killed innocent girls even, you still believe it to be true. No ... my poor torturer, it does not protect you. For I am a witch and will curse you now for what you have done to me. You may kill this body, but this spirit will haunt you in this life and the next. You shall roam this earth again and again, and meet this spirit forever and ever until it gives you willingly what you have taken without consent. You will be aware of who you are and what you do, but I will not. This will be your punishment, for as long as your spirit is as dark and poisonous as it is now, all your heart will ever know is pain and anguish."
"You confessed. May the Lord have mercy on your soul."
"No, on yours. You will need all the mercy you can get. I ... will leave this body now ... but you will see me ... again ... and again ... and again."
Her body convulsed and a tortured sigh escaped her lips; then she was silent. He did not have to look at her to know that she was dead and not unconscious. Her blood was on his hands. And her curse on his mind and in his life, this one, and the next.
"Confess! There is nothing in this world you would rather do than going out with me tonight."
"Yeah, sure. Besides rather going out with any other man in this planet. Didn't you hear what I said? I want to get laid ..."
"I would do you."
"Sure you would. But I wouldn't let you. I don't do friends. You should know that by now."
"Maybe we could suspend our friendship for one night and just fuck the shit out of each other."
"You are so sweet. One day I will consider it. But not now ... damn Valentine's Day is coming soon too ... and I don't need just someone to fuck ... I need a man."
"Oh, I forgot. I don't qualify for that category anymore. The main advantages of the friend zone, you are being neutered for convenience sake. Thank you very much indeed."
"My offer stands, if you change your mind."
She rolled her eyes and grinned, a little too cocky for his taste, a little too emphatic to be real. Maybe he was getting through after all. He sighed as she went over to the CD player to put some different music on.
Well, she wasn't exactly a stickler for tidiness, as the copious amounts of clothes and garbage strewn around in the room strikingly demonstrated. Asking her to move in with him might prove to be anything but a blessing after all. However, the potential benefits for his advances would hopefully outweigh the grimmer consequences. Now she was bending over, great. Infernal temptations. So close to redemption, or still miles away, who would know for sure with this woman?
Her spirit had defied him, no matter who they had been on previous occasions. This was a different time though. Relationships sure had changed since his past life that tragically ended in World War II. He had almost had her then, they were even engaged. A German bullet ended his impending triumph prematurely. Sometimes he wished she could remember too.
"You should go out more too, you know. Meet some girls."
"There are things a girl can do for you ..."
"I've forgotten all about them. Come here and refresh my memory."
She tilted her head and displayed some mock indignation.
"Other girls. Not me. You should get that in your head, if you really want me to move in with you."
"Why? I thought that was decided?"
"Well, yes ... still. Your constant flirting is making me feel uncomfortable at times though."
"Those must be very rare I reckon. Every time I look you seem to enjoy it."
"Plonker, you wish."
She threw one of the sofa cushions at him but he managed to dodge it. It went somewhere behind his back and hit something that fell down and broke. Sarah started swearing and went out of the room to get a dustpan.
She bore a vague resemblance to the incarnation that got him into this mess in the first place. Small, just about five foot four, natural red hair and a body to die for. Five years ago they had met at the university. As always, he had recognised her immediately. She had been in a long-term relationship then, so it had been relatively easy for Humphrey to befriend her. With the expertise of several lifetimes he had no trouble scheming, plotting and interfering until they finally broke up. Their friendship outlasted all her following relationships too, but that's where it ended -- in the friend zone.
They were very close; he knew more about her than any of her boyfriends, talked freely about sex and their innermost thoughts -- well, at least she did, of course he couldn't let on about his little secret.
He grinned broadly while she cleaned up the shards of a small vase that had met with an accident due to her cushion missile. Again, he was smitten, so there was nothing he had to feign, which made it easier for him to pursue his goal with single-mindedness of purpose. Her spirit shone through the vagaries of personality traits from her incarnations, despite different time periods and circumstances, different experiences and situations. It was that spirit he desired, although her present physical frame was not to be marginalized either.
Her current personality had a tendency to tease and torture him to a degree that he would not have deemed possible. He snickered at the thought that he should buy her a rack or similar instruments and introduce her into torture proper. The memory of her curse in that quiet dungeon of the abbey made him serious again for a second, and absent-minded. She used this opportunity presenting itself and hit him over the head with the cushion.
"Gotcha this time."
"That's what you think. In reality, it's me who's getting you. You just don't know it yet."
"Dream on, buddy. And pucker up, it's time for some serious shopping now."
Hump, as his scarce friends liked to call him, sighed emphatically. That had become another torture device for her, dragging him along on endless shopping sprees. He longed for simpler times, when all he had to do was some courting, writing love poetry and being his usual scintillating self to impress her. He had tried the poetry thing in this lifetime too, but all it did was get her to pee a little into her pants from laughter.
He sighed again, it had never been more difficult than it was now, but still he had the feeling that finally he could get through. The change in sexual mores obviously was an asset, but the new confidence and self-reliance of women was something that counteracted this beneficial effect to a degree that drove him nuts.
She was looking for her key again, the ritual that preceded all mutual undertakings when he picked her up at her place, which could go on for up to half an hour. However, he had made it a habit to scan her flat with his eyes every time he visited her, knew her favourite hiding spots and usually found them before her. This time she was quicker though.
"Come on Hump, let's go."
"If you would find it in your heart to add a 'me' to that, you'd make me the happiest man on this planet."
"Now that is joke I haven't heard before. Come on, I need something pretty to wear tonight ..."
"So be it," he muttered, resigning to his fate again.
Fortunately for him, her evening out with two of her girlfriends was anything but successful. It was followed by the usual routine, namely telling him all the details about the guys she met and whom she found attractive, but managed to scare off with her rather rambunctious nature. She really was quite a handful, opinionated, strong, quick, witty and in total close to be completely intimidating to anyone who was less blessed with a strong personality. Apparently that stretched into the bedroom too, most of her shorter relationships had ended without his interference, simply because her boyfriends just couldn't keep up with her voracious sexual appetite.
Hump had been rather startled when she had told him what she liked, how, when, and how often. Fortunately, as far as he could remember the curse, the salvation of his soul was depending on getting her to sleep with him once out of her own volition and out of love, and keeping her sexually satisfied thereafter was not a requirement.
He almost overlooked an old lady crossing the street, as he was deep in thought. The dimensions of the van he had rented for the moving were a little unfamiliar too, and he would have to pay for the damage caused to one of the side mirrors when he had tried a little too quickly to park in her driveway on the first run. His two friends did not speak much anymore, everyone was fairly exhausted, and it was quite incredible what amount of rubbish she had collected during the few years of her current life. And of course she had not been ready packed when they had first arrived in the morning, so she stayed behind and the trio of men basically had to do all the labour -- typical for her.
"So ... Hump, what is the story? Are you two an item now, or what?"
Humphrey lit a cigarette. He focused on the traffic and gesticulated at a driver who wouldn't let him into his lane.
"Fuck you very much ... well, no, not as such. However, I think it could go that way, if I'm lucky that is."
"Sorry to burst that bubble mate, but if she hasn't made up her mind up till now, which is ... how many years now? Five? She simply will bleed you dry; you know how she is. I think it is a stupid idea."
Humphrey glanced quickly at his friend, who had his eyes half-closed, as he spoke.
"Well, we are very close friends ... sometimes it feels like we have been married for years already ... unfortunately in that state where one doesn't fuck anymore."
His other friend, Rich, contributed to the discussion.
"Why don't you just shag her and be done with it. Or move on. I don't understand why you are doing this. She is a great looking woman, no doubt about it, but I wouldn't touch her with a bargepole."
He took Humphrey's pained grin for a confirmation of his opinion, whereas Hump had flashes of memory of the instruments he had used to touch her. One had looked very much like such a device. The sudden hilarity flaring up in his mind was quickly replaced by a sombre mood, as it had not been funny for her back then, not at all.
"I think she's into me. It is just difficult for her to perceive me any different than in my current role. Living with me might change that to my favour."
"Dream on, mate. Why? Why the fuck does it have to be her? You could have shit-loads of other chicks, if you would put your obsession were it belongs, namely up your own arse and get out and shag a few of them."
"I have my reasons."
"You are an idiot mate."
"I know. That's why we get on so well."
She stood in the driveway, waving at them, and this time she had even carried a few boxes out of the flat herself. That must have meant that she finally did manage to pack all her stuff, and that there was an end in sight to this particular ordeal. The way she was standing there ... the tight jeans, her full lips, the radiant smile ... If he hadn't fallen in love with her several hundred years back, he would do so now.
"Well then, come on boys, let's get ready to rumble. And thanks for your pep talk and your help, but this is really something I need to do."
Rich and Tom looked at each other and sighed in unison.
"Useless ... he's beyond redemption ..."
"Ah, that is something I chose to disagree on ..."
"Never mind. Let's load up the pretty girl and all her stuff now. We have to return the van in two hours, or it will cost us extra."
Is she ever going to unpack these damn boxes? Or at least put them in her room? Hump was decidedly in a bad mood. Five days since she had moved in. Five days of constant torture. Now he realised more than ever, how much in love with her he really was. And now she was swaggering about in underwear, bathrobes and whatnot. Bright idea to move in with her, really. No infernal music this time, so she wasn't in yet. And she hadn't done the dishes either ... He sighed and picked some items of clothing from the sofa in the living room they shared and disposed of her breakfast remnants. Worst of all, she found someone interesting ... who had asked her out for a date.
Damned twenty-first century. He couldn't even challenge him to a duel anymore. No, he would have to outshine him; it was as simple as that. Well, they had planned a quiet evening in after all; the next day was his rival's turn then. Time to use the home advantage to get things going in his favour. Now having the full memories of his past lives would pay off -- after all, he had been a gourmet chef in France two hundred years ago. Hump sighed. First he would have to clean up the mess she left for him. Never mind. What doesn't one do for love?
Three hours of cooking, preparation, setting the table and the ambient to that romantic mood that never had failed to ingratiate him with her in his previous incarnations. After all, that was how he got her to get engaged to her in his last life. But those were simpler times. Everything was prepared perfectly, the Chateaubriand ready in the oven, the table laid out, the wine opened to breathe. Menuhin playing Beethoven's Romance for Violin and Orchestra No 2. Only one little detail missing to make it perfect. Her.
Nine o'clock. Wine bottle half empty. Sound at the door. Head swimming from sherry, wine and frustration. There she was, leaving a couple of paper bags next to the sofa and completely oblivious of what this had meant to him, as usual.
"Hi roomy. You wouldn't believe what day I had. First this bloody bitch from purchasing hadn't followed up the order we have been waiting for, although I must have told her a hundred times. Now we are really stuck. And whom are they going to blame? Me. As usual. Then I had to wait twenty minutes for another train, because the first one was too full to get any more people in."
She kicked off her shoes, sighed and curled up on the sofa.
"Hm, that smells nice in here. Did you cook or something? I had a pizza on the way to the train station. Why do they always have to put so much salami on those bloody pieces? Oh, is that wine? Would you mind pouring me a glass?"
Hump bit his lip and did as he was told. She got up and went to the CD player.
"Do you mind if I change the music? This is too depressing. Let's go for something nice ... ah ... have you listened to the new mix from Trade? It's fabulous, banging, wild hard house. You are going to love it."
She came over to the table and picked up the glass of wine.
"Oh, this looks nice ... Were you expecting someone? This almost looks like ... oh no, poor Hump, you've been stood up by someone, haven't you?"
Sarah came up behind him and massaged his shoulders.
"Poor sod, whoever that evil bitch was, she didn't deserve you in the first place."
For a few brief seconds Humphrey felt tempted to abandon his plans for this lifetime and get up to kill her. Slowly, very, very slowly. Now she was dancing to this jungle music, spilling the Lafite on the carpet in the process.
"Now this track is fab ... just listen to the bass drum. Bum, bum, bum, bum."
She took a sip of the wine.
"Come on, get up, dance with me. Forget about that sassy bitch, whoever it was. Maybe we should get out and get really wasted ... Hm? We could go to Heaven."
Fortunately she didn't see his eyes at this very moment; otherwise she might have got an idea of how close to heaven she really was at this juncture. Sarah danced her way back to the sofa, sat down and was still moving her body to the music.
"Yes ... bum, bum, bum, bum. I could ring Janice and ask her if she wanted to tag along. You like Janice, don't ye? Come on, I've seen you looking at her."
Hump poured himself another glass of wine. Although all he really wanted to do was either kill her or himself, the more pressing matter at hand appeared to be to dissuade her from going out, especially with that nitwit Janice, who had in fact tried to flirt with him on several occasions. It was high time; she already had picked up her mobile and started dialling.
"Um, sorry, I don't really feel like going out. No Heaven for me tonight."
She glanced at him and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, your decision. What else can I do to cheer you up? Come here. K, if you don't feel like going out, we'll have a quiet evening in, watch some telly and get pissed or something. This wine isn't all that bad ... is it the one from Sainsbury's for £ 2.99? Nah, that one was a little sweeter ... do we still have any of that one?"
He stumbled to the sofa. It was imperative that he managed to shut her up during the next few minutes, otherwise what he had done to her as the inquisitor might look like child's play in comparison to what he was about to do to her now. All that was wiped out in a second, when she threw her arms around him, pressed him against her bosom and kissed him on the forehead. She curled up next to him.
"Where is the remote? I had it here somewhere this morning ..."
Maybe it was the wine. Maybe the intoxicating effect of her body close to him. Maybe the frustration. Maybe just the need to shut her up. In any case, he took her head in both his hands and kissed her on the mouth, passionately, demanding, breaking all the rules of engagement, abolishing all plans for suave seduction, waiting for the right moment, everything. Her hands shot to his wrists in an attempt to free herself and she struggled to get her lips away from his. When her long fingernails dug painfully into his wrists, the surge of violent passion ended and he returned to reality. Hump let go of her and a slap on his face anchored him there forthwith. She withdrew into the other corner of the sofa.
"What the fuck has got into you? Are you out of your mind? What was that supposed to mean?"