Threshold of Pleasure
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“Do you believe in monsters, Eden?”
Eden Swain ran a hand through her tangled blond hair as she shifted the phone from cradling it between her shoulder and head to her hand. Sitting up and leaning forward, she no longer felt drained. The woman on the other end of the line had her full attention.
“I don’t know. I believe in evil, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“The devil inside?” the woman asked.
“Yes, something like that, I guess.”
“I’m not talking about the evil inside men. I’m talking about the forces of darkness. Demons and the like.”
Cold tendrils of air caressed Eden’s neck and face like a lover’s touch. Instantly, goose bumps rose on her arms and shivers raced down her spine. She looked around the office, seeking the source of cool air, but no windows were open. Glancing up, she searched for air-conditioning vents. There were none.
“Do you mean scaly red skin, black horns and a forked tongue?” Eden joked, trying to lessen the tension she could feel rising through the phone line.
The woman sighed. “Don’t be stupid, Eden. You know better than that.”
Gripping the handle tightly, Eden pleaded into the phone. She didn’t want to lose this one. For some reason, the woman had opened up to her. She couldn’t let her fondness for sarcasm ruin the effort the woman had obviously made to pick up the phone and call the suicide help line.
“I want to understand. I want to help you.”
There was a long pause. Eden could hear the woman’s heavy breathing on the other end. It was labored, as if she had been running—or was scared out of her mind.
“I know you do, Eden. You tried before but I just don’t know if you can.”
“What? When? Do I know you?”
The woman disconnected.
There was no answer—only silence. Slowly, Eden set the handset down in its cradle. Rubbing a hand over her face, she cursed under her breath. She’d blown it again.
From the moment she’d answered the call, Eden had sensed a real opportunity to help the woman. It was as if the woman had phoned her, not just the help line. And maybe that was true, considering her last few words. Before the woman had started talking about monsters, Eden had felt she’d made a connection. A real one. However, it had snapped once the woman started rambling about evil and demons.
Maybe she had been on drugs and needed someone to talk her down. It was just that she’d seemed so lucid when they’d first started speaking. She’d sounded like an intelligent and very together person. Eden knew too well the dangers of drugs and drug users—they were unpredictable and potentially dangerous. She’d learned that the hard way.
Reaching for the glass of water on the desk, Eden noticed the tremble in her hand. She needed a real drink. It was getting harder to stay sober. She’d promised herself that she would not drink on the job, but with each desperate call from one person to another, her thirst had become nearly insatiable. Each time she picked up the phone, she imagined a glass of scotch in her hand instead.
The self-induced torture was killing her, which was probably what she was hoping for. Masochism 101.
“Why don’t you go home?”
Eden looked up at the shift supervisor, Allison, and nodded.
Putting a hand on Eden’s shoulder, Allison squeezed gently. “You’ve been here for five hours—that’s enough for one night. Go home and get some sleep. Some real sleep.”
Allison’s meaning was clear. Get some sleep not induced by alcohol. Eden couldn’t remember the last time she had fallen asleep sober. Maybe before the shooting.
Standing, Eden grabbed her leather jacket from the back of the wooden chair and slipped it on. She bent down, retrieved her bike helmet from under the table and slid it over her mop of disheveled curls.
“Be careful on that thing, hon. It’s supposed to rain later tonight.”
Eden witnessed the uneasiness in Allison’s eyes and winced inwardly. “No worries, Allie. I’m good.”
Saying nothing, Allison just nodded and went back into her little office in the corner.
The moment Eden opened the back door to the alley, the cool crisp air surrounded her and elicited shivers up and down her spine. A cold mist peppered her face. Glancing up into the dark sky, she hoped that she got home before the rain was unleashed. By the fresh tang in the air, they were in for a good downpour.
As she stepped on the metal stairs, she looked down the alley toward her bike. Good. It was still there. Since she’d started volunteering, she’d been parking behind the building, and so far, to her surprise, her motorcycle had remained untouched. The downtown neighborhood was high on crime. During her two years with the police force, she’d been on more calls in the area than she could count.
The last one ending her short-lived career.
She went down the steps and toward her vehicle.
Closing her eyes briefly, Eden swung her leg over her bike. The voices were getting stronger, as they did every day. She hoped she would make it home before the screaming started. If she could get home quickly, the scotch would soften the voices to a dull ache, an ache she’d been living with for the past year.
Eden kicked the bike over and revved the engine. Before she shifted into gear, she had a distinctive feeling of being watched. Her skin crawled as if a long, slimy snake was slithering over her body. She hated snakes—it was her only phobia, most likely developed by having two older brothers who’d loved to torment her with dead things tucked neatly in her bed at night.
Turning her head, she glanced down the alley. There was nothing there except an old green BFI bin, and discarded trash swirling around on the dirty cracked cement. She looked back to the opening of the alley. Nothing there either, not even the obligatory alley cat yowling into the night.
Eden released the brake and coasted out of the alley. She stopped at the opening and glanced down the street. At the late hour, it was nearly deserted, except for the few homeless bums picking through garbage cans for pop cans and bottles. After one last look, she revved the bike and roared onto the road.
Speeding down the street, Eden kept glancing in her side mirrors. Every once in a while she thought she saw something pale and quick like an animal behind her. But when she turned her head, the road was empty. As she zipped through the sporadic traffic, Eden was completely aware of her surroundings. She noted each vehicle, its color and make as she passed. When she glanced in her mirrors, she saw them behind her just as they should be.
Fifteen minutes on the road, and the sky opened up and sheets of rain poured down. She slowed her bike so she wouldn’t skid, but the urge to speed up itched at her hands. She wanted to be off the roads and safe in her apartment. As she zipped down each street, she felt open and vulnerable. She felt exposed.
As she turned onto her street, she spied a giant white wolf in her mirror. When she glanced over her shoulder, it disappeared. However, as she looked in her mirror again, it was there, stalking her a few car lengths behind. Fear wrapped around Eden, squeezing her with prickly, icy tendrils. Swallowing the bile that rose in her throat, she turned down the alley instead of driving to the front of her apartment. She pulled out onto the parallel street and doubled back. What the hell was a wolf doing in the city?
As she turned another corner, she glanced in her mirror. Nothing was following her. To confirm, she slowed and looked over her shoulder—still no animal or anything. Maybe she’d imagined it, had to have. Breathing a sigh of relief, Eden rounded the next corner back onto her street. She was obviously more tired than she thought. The rain must have produced weird shapes on her mirrors—with the lights reflecting off the slick black asphalt, it was no wonder she was seeing things.
After one last glance over her shoulder, Eden pulled to a stop in front of her apartment building. She parked, got off the bike and pulled off her helmet. She lifted her face to the rain and let it cascade over her sweaty skin.
If only it was that easy to be cleansed, she thought.
Wiping at the water as it flowed over her eyes, she spied a shape atop the roof of the building across the street. When she looked again, it was gone. Could just be kids out for some fun. Cautious, she eyed the building as she unlocked the front door of her complex. Satisfied that she was only delirious, Eden went inside.
Taking the stairs two at a time, she was out of breath when she reached the third floor and her apartment door. Quickly unlocking it, she went inside, turned on the lights, and tossed her helmet and jacket onto the floor by the door. Not bothering to take off her boots, Eden wandered into the kitchen and grabbed the half-empty scotch bottle on the counter. Putting it to her lips, she went to take a long pull, then stopped. It was too easy to take a drink. She needed to stop with the easy way out.
Cradling the bottle against her chest like a life preserver, she wandered back into the living room and collapsed onto the worn sofa. She put her boots up onto the scarred wooden coffee table and looked at the bottle. It tempted her but she battled the urge down. Her therapist had told her to take it one day at a time. Sometimes an hour at a time. This was one of those hours. Sighing, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and let her head fall back against the cushions.
She felt jittery and unnerved. Being inside the sanctity of her apartment did not make her feel safe. She still sensed that she was being watched, being followed. Jumping up, Eden walked to her bookshelf and picked up the small handgun she had stashed there behind a ripped copy of Pride and Prejudice. It had been over four months since she’d touched it. The last time, she had been drunk and in the middle of one of her furies. She gazed down at the snub-nosed Beretta, enjoying the feeling of it in her hands.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Eden set the gun down and returned to the sofa and talked herself down. Soon the voices in her head softened. They were now only inaudible mumbles.
Still carrying the bottle like a security blanket, Eden walked to the window overlooking the street. She glanced out and up at the neighboring building. Rain poured down in thick silver sheets, but she thought if she squinted hard enough, she could see movement on the roof. There was one last thought in her head before everything went numb.
He’s coming for me.