Night's Kiss

By: Amanda Ashley

Drowning in an ocean of loneliness and bitter despair, Roshan DeLongpre sat in front of the huge stone hearth, staring into the fire. The flames were vibrant, crackling with life, brilliant reds and yellows, dazzling blues and greens. He saw each dancing finger of flame in perfect clarity, each subtle shade and hue. Fire. His greatest enemy next to the clear golden light of day.

Firelight. Sunlight. Both had the power to destroy him.

A sigh whispered past his lips. He was growing weary of his existence, so utterly, utterly weary. Each night was like the last. Life as he knew it had lost its luster; there were no surprises left, only an age-old instinct to survive.

Now, staring into the writhing flames, he wondered why he bothered. He had no compelling reason to go on. He could inspire passion but not love, command obedience but not affection. He could change his shape at will, move with incredible speed, defy the laws of gravity, dissolve into a fine mist or disappear completely. And yet, on this cool October night, his supernatural powers meant nothing.

Night. He stared out the leaded window into the darkness beyond. He had seen the moon's rising every night for almost three hundred years but was forever denied the majestic beauty of dawn's first light.

Perhaps it was time to watch the birth of a new day one last time.

Rising, he wandered through the narrow, dark halls of the house where he had resided for most of the last fifty years. It was a big old house located on a quiet street in a respectable part of the city. He'd had the interior remodeled twice; once simply because he tired of his surroundings and wanted a change and once when he had been thinking about selling the place and moving on.

Going into each room, he bid a silent farewell to the treasures he had collected during the course of his preternatural existence.

He paused now and then to run his hands over a few of the items he cherished for one reason or another—a small ivory statue of Venus, a life-sized grizzly bear carved from a single piece of redwood, a unicorn carved from a piece of onyx. He paused in front of his favorite painting. It depicted the sun rising over a clear mountain lake set in the midst of a pine tree forest. He gazed at it for several minutes, trying to remember what it had felt like to feel the warmth of the daystar on his face.

Moving into his library, he stood in front of the bookcase that reached from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. He had loved books ever since he learned to read, had spent years wandering the world to collect the ones that lined the shelves. Many of the books were rare editions; a few were first editions autographed by the authors. Some were so old they were in danger of disintegrating. A few were truly ancient, like the medieval Psalter that dated back to the fourteenth century. It was a beautiful work of art, carefully written and illustrated by hand. His collection also included a Bible handwritten by monks. Each page was in itself a work of art. He had other books and writings that were truly unique. Some were written on tree bark, others on bamboo or cloth or silk. One had been engraved on metal plates. He had a folding book that came from Burma. Called a parabaiks, it told the life of Buddha in words and pictures.

So many books. No ordinary mortal would ever have lived long enough to collect them all, let alone read them. But he had read them all at least once, some many more times than that. And this was only one bookcase of many located throughout the house.

He plucked a thick volume titled Ancient History and Myths, Fact or Fiction from a lower shelf. Dropping into a chair, he thumbed idly through the pages, skimming over the words and photographs until one particular image caught his attention. It was a small pen and ink drawing of a woman bound to a wooden stake. She was surrounded by a mob of angry men waving torches over their heads.

The caption under the drawing read: "The Burning of Brenna Flanagan, Accused of Witchcraft."

He stared at the photo, captivated by her uncanny likeness to Atiyana. His beloved Atiyana. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the only woman he had ever loved. Atiyana, dead at the age of two and twenty and their newborn son with her. He had not known another's love since her death, nor did he ever expect to love again, not now, when he was cursed with the Dark Trick.

Shaking off the memories, he turned his attention back to the book in his lap. The accompanying story claimed that Brenna Flanagan had been seen chanting and dancing naked in the moonlight numerous times. On one occasion, her neighbors alleged that dozens of toads had fallen from the heavens. On another occasion, they declared that lightning had split the skies, setting several cottages on fire. It was said that she had warned a local man to keep his pig from rooting around in her garden, and two days later the man had died. She had reportedly sold magic elixirs and charms to the locals, everything from love potions to a promised cure for spavins. Several young women claimed to have seen her flying through the skies.

Finally, the people in the village had had enough. Afraid that witchcraft would take over their small community, the way witches seemed to be overtaking the nearby towns of Andover and Salem, Brenna Flanagan had been arrested and tried, all in the same night. During the course of the hasty trial, she had been asked to identify the evil spirit she was in league with, and if she had made contact with the devil. She had denied being in league with the devil but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She had been convicted of being a witch. In Salem, witches were hanged, but the village folk wanted nothing left of their local witch. Brenna Flanagan had been burned at the stake and her ashes scattered in a mountain lake.