Discover more from The Elysian
Obscurity, The Fifteenth Chapter
In which we meet the Comte, and discover him in the rather unfortunate company of his wife.
We last read The Fourteenth Chapter, in which someone was alive who was thought to be dead.
There are two types of fear. The first is fear of the unknown death. This is the kind of fear that, if left unmeditated, can cause one to become fearful of every ordinary thing: confined spaces, great heights, a seafaring voyage, etc. etc.
Because the human person has been known to perish in such conditions, these ordinary experiences can cause within the human person a fear that they too will perish by such unremarkable means. This, however, is merely a bout of anxiety. Though spontaneous death remains a possibility for all of us, fretting over its every unlikely occurrence is a rather useless affair.
The second type is the fear of the known death. This is the kind of fear that is actual, for death is indeed on its way and the individual has some premonition of it. In some cases, the human person is ill and can thus feel the imminent arrival of death. For others, murder lies in wait, and the victim can feel its eventuality. In either case, death has a way of making itself known and the person is merely biding their time until its arrival.
We must note, for those with no experience in the matter, that the second kind of fear is not so fearful as the first. For with the first type there is fear of the unknown, and with the second type there is merely fear of the known. There is a certain peace that comes with acknowledging death’s presence, meeting it by the dawn, and shaking hands with it when it comes to call.
The widow knew this second kind of fear well. She felt it through the dark years of her marriage when every evening carried the promise of her eventual demise, and now she felt it reaching for her again. Her mind felt the presence of a more sinister mind, her body felt the reach of a more sinister body. The grasp of death was ever approaching, ever searching for her across the swamp, and it was only a matter of time before it found her and had her in its grasp once again.
That knowledge made her bold. During the dark years behind her she was a creature held in captivity, now she was a creature escaped into the wild. She would not allow herself to be caught or tamed again, nor would she allow death even the slightest gain. Instead, she tempted it, taunted it, dared it to entreat her. Like a rose blooming in shadow ever safe for the sea of thorns around it, she defied her admirer to reach for her—all the while knowing that the predator had long ago become the prey.
As the widow sat on the terrace of her boudoir one evening, drinking a glass of red wine with the mercenary, a storm sparked to life across the river and they felt the welling of watching eyes upon them.
They looked at one another with a knowing recognition, watching the lightning as it crackled through one another’s eyes, the air trembling through their hearts, waking them from the depths of an enchanted slumber. The widow’s hair twirled in loose tendrils around her face and she breathed in the most delicate breath, a small hunger trembling across her lips as though she could feel the wind brewing inside her. Perhaps she could, for the same wind was swirling inside the mercenary and it raged against the piety that had thus far restrained him.
The two said not a word to one another and yet the silence of the coming storm sent currents through their skin. Apprehension sent birds scattering across the swamp, the warm, humid air waiting to break until at last a bolt of lightning struck the Earth, the rebellious flame slashing through the veil that separated rationality from recklessness, ripping life from death and death from life as the rain began to pour forth in earnest.
Their lips met the moment the thunder reached them, pulling their roots up from the ground, shaking their souls free from what tethered them to their bodies and scattering them violently to the wind. They kissed madly, the rain flooding their senses with unmet passions, their spirits no longer concerned with matters of life even as they were stalked by the figure of death.
Tears of rain fell into their eyes, dampening the current that held the air so taught until the last tendrils of the day tucked themselves behind the moon and they fell into the darkness of their dreams. The trailing rain of moonlight pulled them into its dust—gravity no longer confining them, space no longer bounding them. Just the floating sensation of being lost from the Earth and suspended in a sparkling ether.
Their bodies met in a collision of stars. A crashing of the cosmos. Comets streaked through their hair, galaxies dappled their fingers in color, and the spirals of the atmosphere circled their toes. Time slowed to a standstill. There was no aging to contend with nor death to concern oneself with. Just the ever-deepening pull of paradise and the lulling bliss of succumbing to it.
They held one another in the beyond, their bodies clinging to the last edges of the world even as their souls longed for the pleasures of the next. At last, the euphoria afforded them was too great for their earthly bodies to bear and they spilled breath from their lungs in heaping rivers of stars, their elysium lost to the skies that stirred them so quickly out of reach.
When the last tears of the storm pattered against the windowpanes, the couple lay by warming hearth. The humid air returned heavily to their lungs as they resigned themselves to the realm of humanity once more. Brushing the storm from each other’s skin with their fingertips, their clothing still dripping upon the terrace, they fell asleep in one another’s arm, hoping to return to the dream.
“What is your Christian name?” she whispered in the late reaches of the night.
“Remy,” he replied. “Remy Delacroix.”
“Remy,” she whispered in reply. “Je suis Séverine.”
His thoughts were consumed by his wife, as they always were, and now they simmered into a gentle rage—kindled by the fire that now burned in his wife’s bedchambers and brewed deeply within the basest nature of his being.
He had stood outside the plantation, half-hidden by groves of orange trees, watching as she kissed another man. He witnessed the ravenous way she drank from his lips, the thirst with which she tasted the dew of his skin. He saw them fall onto the terrace in a heap of limbs and silk, their hands wandering unchaperoned of their lust.
The sky broke with a violent fury then, the rain shuddering his wife’s gown to her breast, exposing the sweet crest beneath the silk, and clinging his trousers tightly about his groin. He watched the man’s hands stir beneath his wife’s skirts, the rain wettening their adulterous path up her thighs. The sighs of her lips went unheard against the crashing of the thunder. The thunder of their intensifying chaos unmet by his ears. The only sound the Comte could hear was the deafening depravity of his own thoughts and the drowning degeneracy of his affliction.
The couple removed themselves to her boudoir then, and the Comte remained perfectly still against the rain, his imagination wandering with them into the bedchambers and watching them undress. How their naked bodies warmed themselves against an idling fire, he thought. How she knelt before him in the prayer of pleasure. How she whispered words of absolution into her lover’s lap.
The Comte was driven mad by his visions and he fell into the distorted torment of them. Slipping his hand into his trousers, he imagined his wife’s mouth upon her aroused lover. Her tongue sated by his growing fortitude, her eyelids fluttering in perfect pleasure. How they would heave against one another in perfect extasy, her lover pressing her into the plush carpets as they fornicated on the floor.
His hands grew wet with the thoughts of his vengeance: The moment his wife would see him emerge from behind her lover, a blade gleaming from his hand. How she would fear her husband then, watching with wide eyes as he slashed the blade across her lover’s throat, spattering his blood across her naked body. How she would cry out in passion one moment, he thought, and then scream out in horror the next.
Perhaps that would reprimand his wife for her behavior. Perhaps that would punish her for her sins. His own wife—who never honored her marital duties, who laid like a corpse while he bedded her, who did not satisfy her husband, but left him endlessly unsated—now lay with another man, the very idol of her sins, and enjoyed it. She must submit to his will once more, he thought darkly. Crying in anguish, she would appear the very portrait of Mary Magdalene, the scarlet letter upon her, written in the very blood of her lover.
His grip tightened as he pondered her punishment. It would be up to the Comte to punish his wife for her sins—to return her to his righteous possession once more. He would pull her toward him, bend her to his will, and desecrate that wretched woman, the remnants of her lover still dripping from her legs as her husband reminded her what a good wife must be.
His grip grew violent as he imagined his wife’s face pressed into the floor, her eyes inches away from her lover’s. She would see the retribution she wrought upon his corpse then, and so repent from the wickedness of her sins. Her husband would not forgive her indiscretions—he would not stop until she screamed out in confession. By then the entire household would awake to find their mistress as she truly was: A fornicator, a sinner, the truth of her harlotry exposed of her.
He would once again be in control of his life, in control of his destiny, he thought as he relieved himself into his trousers, and heaven would reward him for his ardor.
We next read The Sixteenth Chapter, in which the couturier discovers something in the philanthropist’s quarters, and it reveals a defect in his character.