As promised, episode 12 of “The Executioner.” Stay tuned next Friday for episode 13, and every week for much more.
When she meets heartthrob Damian Novac, shy student Alice develops a heavy crush against her best wishes. Hoping to get close to him, she joins Damian and friends on a winter trip in the Carpathian Mountains – a choice that will change her life abruptly.
When the train derails in high snow, they seek refuge at an abandoned cottage, but soon people of their group start losing their minds and dying. Alice barely escapes with Damian and some of their friends, only to realize she’s far from safe even back home. A shady corporation that conducts experiments on humans and which had ‘engineered’ Damian into something monstrous many years before is on their trail.
A man of secrets and obscure powers, Damian might be a villain or a hero. Though aware of the danger he poses, she can’t fight the obsession that draws her ever deeper. Will Damian become her lover or her executioner?
Telling her the conclusion I’d reached during the night was only a matter of minutes. Ruxandra listened with her usual concentrated frown. The discussion was shorter than I’d expected, since none of it seemed to surprise Rux. Hardly anything still could, she said. She asked no questions.
George still snored as we picked our outfits for today. It was an easy and fast process, with Ruxandra grabbing her bags from Marvimex, which she’d dropped on the chair by George’s couch when she’d stormed to him yesterday. I plucked from the wardrobe whatever my hand touched first.
The pair of thick black trousers and the brown sweater didn’t compliment my body the way the clothes from yesterday had, not to mention what an ill fit they were, but more creaking of the wardrobe doors would’ve woken George, so I had to make do.
Mom was up ahead of us, as usual. A rich breakfast was already on the table: marmalade, chocolate croissants, butter, scrambled eggs and, luckily, black tea, which is the only thing I managed to get down my throat.
Mom grinned, guessing what knotted my stomach. “Anxious about seeing Damian today?”
Ruxandra’s eyes flipped up at me over the rim of her teacup.
“He’s just a friend,” I muttered. The word prickled my tongue.
“Now that you mention it, I never got to ask,” Mom said, “how long have you known each other?”
“Um, about two months,” I replied, recounting our history in my head.
The first time I’d laid eyes on him in mid November. How I’d stalked him from afar for about a month and made plans over the Christmas break with Ruxandra to get his attention, falling deeper into a crush before I realized wasn’t even entirely human. How I’d stumbled into his arms in mid January at the party. How we started talking to each other in the cafeteria afterwards – most of this ‘talking’ consisting of short exchanges and jokes from my part – over the following weeks. Then the trip to the mountains and the events that had shaken me to the core. And now we had . . . Wow, already the 20th of February. “Three, maybe.”
“That’s a while,” Mom said. “I’ve seen great loves develop over that amount of time.”
“Not the case here,” I retorted, a little acrid.
“I really think he likes you,” Mom insisted, wrapping up sandwiches that I didn’t want to imagine what she’d do with.
“Are you and Rux hand in hand to make a sucker out of me?” – Not that it came into question that I’d still chase him, but I just had to voice the problem that had tormented me when I’d started to, at least for therapy. “The competition’s fierce for the guy, can’t you imagine already? And he’s actually seeing one of the campus Barbies,” I spat, a flash of Damian rolling his hips into Svetlana shooting me a headache.
As I’d foreseen, Mom moved with the aluminum-foil clad sandwiches in the direction of our bags. I instantly remembered the rice pudding she’d packed once back when I was in elementary, the entire classroom laughing and pointing fingers at me in the lunch break.
“What are you doing, Mom?” I snapped.
She ignored the question and stuffed the sandwiches in our bags. “He’s great looking and, as far as I can tell, darn smart, of course there’s competition for him. But all this must’ve concurred to his developing refined tastes. And setting his eyes on you.”
Ruxandra intervened. “Jenna, are you saying you have a good feeling about the campus Prince Charming? As far as I know, you hate the type.” She sounded and looked surprised, too.
“Yes, I actually do have a good feeling about him,” Mom replied with a warm smile and the look of wisdom on her face that I’d trusted all my life. Had I been wrong forever?
We took the bus to campus. It was packed and it stunk of dirty puffer and wool, onions and sweat, but Officer Sorescu would surely refrain from offering himself as an escort ever again, so crowds were the safest place to be. As was the constant company of trusted people.
The cafeteria was as loud and busy as ever, so Rux and I met there again after lectures, as usual. Though hating myself for it, I couldn’t help glancing around for Damian, while fellow students bombarded us with questions about the events in the mountains – They’d heard a mild, fabricated version.
Then I saw him walk in, looking stunning in a beige V-neck knit tight on his muscular arms, brown chinos and boots, backpack slung on one shoulder. My heart leaped into my mouth, but sank only instants later, as Svetlana appeared high on thin heels with a couple of giggling girlfriends.
Within a few minutes her arm coiled around Damian’s like a snake around a thick tree branch, her grin large and white, her hair falling long and glossy platinum down her back. Dressed in a fitted white blouse with a generous cleavage-view to her small but firm breasts, and slim khakis, she was beautiful and seductive.
She seemed to have recovered completely from the state I’d last seen her in. Not a shadow of distress on her smooth face, as if her whole life experience consisted of dolls and later beauty shops and cocktail parties.
Damian didn’t grant me one glance, as if he didn’t even know me, but Svetlana’s eyes did stop on mine at a certain point. I must’ve glared, feeling angry and impotent, unable to do my father justice, even though he didn’t quite deserve it – He had no one but himself to blame that his much younger lover and the only man he’d trusted with his secret banged each other behind his back. Nevertheless, he was my father. My allegiance to him before third parties was unconditional. Not to mention that jealousy I desperately tried to ignore if not deny ate at me like an army of rodents at a piece of cheese.
Svetlana sank her head. Though she’d already proved stronger than me physically, it was understandable now. I was so angry I would’ve stopped at nothing. I would’ve knotted her jugular around her throat if it cost me a whole bruised face, which must’ve been obvious in my glare.
She began rummaging in her designer bag as a man’s face suddenly replaced the sight. He stood real close, so I had to back up a couple of steps to bring him into focus. My mouth popped open.
He smiled a shy smile. “Hi, Alice.”
I stared at him, unable to utter one word. It had been many months since this man had stood before me with his round face, cheeks like red peppers, small eyes the color of bark and the ridiculous air of arrogance. But, unlike his usual self, he was sober. Even his hair was slicked back like that of mobsters in old movies. He looked halfway presentable with vest over shirt, suit pants, coat á la Clark Gable hanging on forearm. He brought cool winter air with him, so he must’ve just come in.
“I,” he began, voice shaky, “I saw you on the bus, I . . .”
“Aha.” Eyebrows high up, I still couldn’t recover from surprise.
“You were with Rux,” – who, I now noticed in a glance, was also staring with an open mouth – “Wondered if I should come and talk to you. I, I heard what happened, you know.”
“What did you hear?” shot automatically out of my mouth.
“The whole story, you know. The train, broken down in the mountains. The avalanche, you were trapped there. Until they found you, the villagers, you know,” he stuttered.
“Oh.” So the fabricated version.
“You’re looking good, Alice, really good.” Now he ogled me from head to toes, much the way Officer Sorescu had the evening before. Tony, too, seemed unable to control his slippery eyes despite my unflattering baggy brown sweater, overworn black khakis and leather boots with low heal. Un-fucking-believable.
“It took a while until I decided to come here and talk to you,” he said.
“Perfectly.” – Resentful grin.
“You still haven’t forgiven me, have you?”
“You still ask?”
Slam on the table, coffee mugs clattering, my heart jumping out of my chest. Ruxandra’s eyes stabbed Tony, her fist clenched, knuckles showing white. “Can you believe yourself, asshole?” she spat, so loud that every head in the cafeteria turned in our direction. My eyes darted to Damian, who was looking at us with the expression of a wolf ready for attack. I had an idea.
I placed a light hand on Ruxandra’s forearm. She gave me a questioning glare with a quirked-up eyebrow.
“It’s all right, Rux,” I said, looking deep into her bitter-chocolate eyes and praying for telepathy to work, “the man has good intentions. Why don’t you tell him exactly what happened up there, if you feel up to it. I sure don’t yet.”
Ruxandra glared at Tony. It took a few moments until she was able to address him again, eyes down in her books, hand angrily flipping pages to stay busy. While she presented in short the fabricated story as alien from the truth as E.T. from Earth, involving peasants welcoming us by their stoves until the authorities found us, I observed Damian from under my eyebrows.
Observing is an overstatement, though. I glanced at him once in a while, trying to read the emotion in his face. The flashes revealed tight jaw and eyes fixed on us, metallic. Maybe he feared we might tell Stranger too much, but I’d sure as hell make him believe a hotter version.
To be continued …
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