Tempest

He sat in the middle of a vast expanse of white land, backed by ebony hills on the horizon that rose sedately into the tempestuous gray clouds. Though the weather threatened a sudden summer rain, he paid it no attention. His dark gaze did not rise to watch the accumulating storm above him, nor did he trace the jagged mountains that curved halfway around the desert of pale sand with his resolute eyes, nor did he flinch when the first strike of lightning flashed through the sky.

Nothing about him moved, save his black hair, which whipped about his face as the wind gusted around him.

Even the scarlet pool that slowly inched towards him across ashy sand did not distract his attention. He was altogether too familiar with the woman that lay in apparent repose beside him, graceful even in death. Though he had not looked her way for nearly two hours, he knew the exact placement of her limbs, the precise moment when a lock of her blonde hair rose up with the wind, and that her cerulean dress was no longer wrapped around her shapely calves as it had been when he had first arrived.

Her body was positioned just so; hips adjusted perpendicular to the ground, torso twisted to face the sky, hands resting against her chest. Empty blue eyes stared past his head and into the great beyond as her once-rosy lips fell open as though she were about to speak. Had it not been for the blood that spread beneath her, a casual observer might have assumed she and the man were resting in the desert to watch the coming storm.

But closer inspection revealed purpling bruises on her slender neck, bits of hair and skin stuck beneath her fingernails, a thin slit in the fabric over her left breast. An open locket lay beside her head. In it was placed their wedding picture; him meeting the intrusive focus of the camera with a protective gaze, her dreamily smiling up at her new husband. There was a drop of blood on their joined hands.

All of this, the man knew. It was he who had placed his wife on the gritty sand floor, who had washed her smooth skin clean of scarlet stain, who had arranged her perfect curls to coil tenderly against her neck and rest on her exposed shoulder. The trail of red that led to her body was his own doing. Had he cared to, he could have staunched the wound in her back with enough cloth to keep it from bleeding upon the ground, but that did not serve him any purpose.

She had been dead long before he had carried her body to this spot.

… … … Two Hours Earlier … … …

There was a blush on her cheek when he walked into the room. Her breath caught; her eyes flitted away from his face. Reluctance was buried deep within her expression. The vacillating smile that flickered beneath shaking, slender fingers bespoke a secret that raged to be set free. She took a deep breath as he closed the door behind him, and her hand dropped to clench the satin of her dress with a nervous strength that turned her knuckles white.

The stiffness that set her pose was unfamiliar, worrying. It sat upon her normally fluid body like a cage over a bird that longed to be unfettered and free, causing even her soft lips to become unwelcoming and harsh. As he traversed the bare floor, his boots thudding on the worn wood, her neck tensed. A tear rolled to the corner of her mouth.

Seeing the miniscule release of tension and fear, he immediately took her wrist and drew her to him. "What is it, Portia?" he tried to settle her head under his chin, but she pulled away.

Her gaze did not quite meet his. "I can't…" she stuttered. Something cut her off; she turned from him and did not continue, resting against the back of the plush settee for balance.

"Where is your locket?" He eyed the nape of her neck, where a silver clasp usually tangled with the tendrils of hair that would not be tamed into a bun. "Have you lost it?"

Slowly, her head shook. She sucked in two short, painful breaths and faced him. "I… took it off."

The necklace had been his wedding gift to her. Silver filigree, with a small diamond sparkling in the middle of its delicate round surface, and a picture of themselves within. She never removed it. Not even to sleep.

"Why?" He held back the uneasiness that spread over his chest and waited for an answer.

Haltingly, she came to him. She grasped his wrist with her right hand, turned it to face upward, and released a thin chain onto his calloused palm. The locket fell like a despondent thing, as did his heart. When she met his questioning eyes, her lips were trembling. "I think you should… keep it." She ended with a small, anguished sob.

He stared at the precious object and furrowed his brows. What did this mean? "Portia?"

Her breath quivered as tears slid from her eyes. "Goodbye."

The word slapped against his ears with a harsh reality that froze his mind. He could not comprehend the meaning of her actions as she pressed a kiss to his cheek, slid her fingers over his brow, and gave him a smile that did not lift the darkness in her gaze. What reason did she have to leave him? When they were so deeply in love, when she often professed her happiness here, when they had plans to start a family?

"Wait." The locket fell to the floor as he grabbed her arm. "Why?"

Tortured emotion ran deep in her face. "Please don't make me explain."

"I am your husband," he said, ignoring her request, tightening his grip. "I deserve to know." The voice that came from his lips sounded cold, detached.

Her eyes filled with shame. As the sunlight filtering through the window began to fade, so did her resistance. In a bare whisper, she told him. "I've had an affair, Vincent."

… … … Two Hours Later … … …

Finally, he glanced at his wife. Had she been alive, she would have wrapped herself in a long coat, settled against his chest, and watched the clouds with him. They would have predicted where the next flash of lightning would strike; she would have guessed close to the mountains, he, nearer the town. And when it began to rain, she would have laughed.

They had come out here many times before, to be alone. It was not a place that most people enjoyed; in the summer, the white sands made it unbearably hot. In the spring and fall, the winds all but obliterated any warmth the sun may have cast into the air. And in winter, it froze to a temperature that even the hardiest of men would not have survived for more than ten minutes.

But the view of the stars on a clear night was unrivaled.

Lifting his gaze back to the near horizon, where a column of angry men marched to bring him his death, he smiled. Soon, Portia's body would be drained of all blood. There would be no question in their minds what had happened. Without bothering to accuse him of murder, they would tie his hands behind his back, lash his feet together, and shoot him.

Not one man among them would mourn him; he was the magician. The weasel. Trust had never been something he could gain from any man, for his profession required him to deceive all. Thus, there would be no hesitation when they put him to death. No investigation of his wife's murder. No doubts in their minds that he had brutally attacked Portia, stabbed her in the back, and dragged her out here for a reason that they would not be able to determine.

Even if they had chosen to give him a trial, the evidence would have condemned him. His hand perfectly matched the size of that which had bruised her neck, his cane held the knife that had plunged into her back, his skin clung to the underside of her fingernails. Four thin streaks of red ran across the left side of his face as visual proof that she had fought against him.

And in his house, beside the grand piano in the front parlor, there was a pool of blood- Portia's blood-, that would distract them from searching for more.

Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back and let the rain slide over his skin.

There was so much they didn't know.

… … … One Hour Earlier … … …

"I'm so sorry, Vincent," Portia wrung her hands together and paced before him. "I didn't mean for this to happen. It just…" She looked at him, begging him to understand.

Slowly, he rubbed the tears from his eyes. His heart throbbed. "I thought you were happy here."

Portia knelt before him and took his hands. "I was. More than you'll ever know. And I would be happy with you… forever." There was an overwhelming sadness in her eyes. "But I can't live here knowing… what I've done."

Vincent leaned back in the chair and stared at her. "Will you leave with him?" He did not even know who it was that had stolen his wife from him. Portia would not say.

Sighing slightly, she shook her head. "No, I… I'll never see him again."

"Portia," Vincent entwined his fingers with hers and stroked her cheek, "If it's your reputation you're afraid for, we'll leave together. Your friends need never know what has happened." He kissed the back of her hand; he could not express how much he loved her.

Even after her affair, he was willing to forgive and forget. It would not be the first time they had moved to a new place and started over. They would accuse him of giving his wife an unhappy life, uprooting her so much, but he did not mind. He was willing to take the fall for her.

Tears filled her eyes, and she smiled bitterly. "I could never do that to you."

"We've moved before." He lifted one shoulder with indifference. "And I have no doubt that we'll move again."

Gently removing her hands from his grasp, Portia shook her head. "But moving… we can never leave behind what I've done. It will always haunt me." She lowered her gaze to the floor. "And it will always be a thorn in your side." Her voice was low, ashamed.

"No." Vincent stood and started to pull her towards him. His heart still stung with the knowledge of what she had done, but she did not need to know that. "I've already forgotten." He let his lips turn upward in some semblance of a smile.

His wife did not allow him to comfort her. Extracting herself from his embrace, she backed away from him, hand reaching into the pocket of her dress. "My love… you never forget," she said. She knew him too well. Her eyes darkened with sadness. "This will fester within you like an ever-gaping wound, gnawing at your heart with jagged teeth. You will never be able to defeat the monster I have created. It is a being that will never be hidden from the world, no matter how hard we try." The timbre of her voice cracked.

Did she not know how much more it ripped him apart that she was leaving him? Could she not see the despair in his eyes? Did she not know that without her, he was nothing? He stepped forward, held out his hand. "Love conquers all," he told her softly, pleadingly.

"No." She withdrew a small bottle from her pocket and let out her breath slowly, resolutely. "Not this time, Vincent." Unscrewing the cap, she licked her lips. "I cannot live with what I have done."

"Portia!" He lunged towards her, but she ingested the liquid before he could snatch it from her hand. The bottle dropped from her fingers and rolled beneath the piano with a rattle. "No!"

The love in her eyes shone, bittersweet. "Goodbye, Vincent."

… … … One Hour Later… … …

They were dragging him from the chair, striking the side of his head. He let them throw him to the ground without protest. Portia's blood stained the sand beneath his cheek; as two men tied his hands and feet, the others guarded her body with gentle respect. There was pity for her in their eyes. Disgust when they turned their gazes on him.

Because he had staged her murder, they would never think to examine her body for alternate causes of death. They would not look for the bottle of poison that was lodged beneath the piano, nor would they test her blood for its traces. He had washed her skin clean of the spittle; the bruises around her neck and the skin beneath her nails would distract them from any traces they might find of her true cause of death.

With such obvious evidence against him, they would not want to know more. He had finally given them a reason to be rid of him, as they had always wanted.

They would print it in the news- Deranged Husband Murders Wife For Reasons Unknown. The journalist would create the scene, and his readers would eat it up without a question. They would revel in the story, shocked and morbidly fascinated by the story of a dark magician who lost his soul to the devil and maliciously stabbed his own wife in the back with the blade hidden in his cane. It would be rumored that he was insane; that he had dragged his dead wife out into the midst of the desert in a rage of madness, to leave her body for the vultures.

No further investigation would be given to this case.

As they forced him to stand, he gazed at his Portia, and he smiled. She would not be disgraced. They would never know about her affair, about her suicide. Her infidelity was their secret; her weakness was known to him alone. She would never have to endure the rumors, the condescending glances; her family would be able to bury her with honor, and she would not be rejected from the church's burial grounds for the death she had chosen.

They started to blindfold him, but he shook his head. He wanted to see the bullets that killed him. He wanted to look into the eyes of his executioners; he wanted them to see his eyes, and shudder. One last precaution to drive home the assumption in their minds. He was insane. He smiled at his crimes. He laughed in the face of death.

Not one among them gazed at him with sympathy. He stared long and hard into the eyes of the men that stood in a semicircle around him, and he slowly nodded. They did not know that compared to life, death seemed like bliss. Without Portia, his existence was futile. She had been his everything.

They wasted little time. Cocking their guns, every one of them aimed at his heart. The heart that throbbed with pain and elation, triumph and sadness. His wife had been right. There was a monster deep within him that raged to be free. It raged at her for betraying him, at her lover for taking what was not his, at himself for being unable to make her happy. But as the bullets ripped through his body and threw him to the ground, he smiled.

In one respect, Portia had been wrong. Love did conquer all. Blackness closed in around him, and he felt his life slipping out of him onto the sand, yet elation filled his heart.

He had defeated the monster.

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I've started a challenge for all of you lovely writers out there- every Monday, I'll post a picture on my blog, and y'all can write a short story about it. Then any readers who want to can read all of your different stories, vote on them, and choose a best writer of the week. (My stories won't be included in the vote, since I'm the originator of the challenge, but I will try to participate every week unless... I just simply can't.) And I may find you a lolcat that accurately describes your story.)Hop over to my blog for more details, the rules, the picture, etc...

This is my short for the first picture. I'm not entirely satisfied with the writing; it could be MUCH better... but this was the best I could get out with all of my procrastinating. I will probably come back one day, edit, expand, and maybe make a novella out of it.

Please participate! This week's picture is up and on my Wordpress blog!

~Mara