Interviews with Eidolon – Colton

To say he was handsome was an understatement.

Of course, I’d seen him on campus. The infamous son of a disgraced Senator. The golden boy banned from the Ivy League and thrown to the almost-but-not-quite community college wolves. A walking myth surrounded in stories.

Torture. Rape. Walk-in freezers that became prisons for unsuspecting girls dazzled by the name. Suicides and heartbreak. Immense cash payouts that silenced tongues, stole words and suffocated any threat of prison time. And at the center of it all stood this gorgeous, notorious, dangerous enigma.

Now this enigma stood in front of me.

My iced coffee sat in front of me, my book to the side, oversized purse on the floor tucked between my feet. The cafe wasn’t full. There was no crowd jostling. Nor was there a need to partner up with a stranger just to find a place to sit. There were tables free. Pockets of privacy to claim, a canopy of ominous clouds and the threat of sudden heavy rain keeping most safely at home.

Yet this “Colton the Cruel” – as one paper had blared in a garish headline during the height of his scandal – stood, coffee in hand, seeking sanctuary and, it appeared, my company.

“May I?” he said before flashing an impossibly white smile, the blue of his eyes damn near mesmerizing.

Intrigued by the Why of this What – him choosing me – I nodded. Besides, if I could get him to sit for an interview, actually get him on-record, not only would a second-year journalism student do what dozens of “real” reporters couldn’t, I’d also prove my dismissive, arrogant, idiot professors wrong.

Hell yes, he can sit with me!

Small talk ensued. An interesting dance that flirted with flirtation, edged back to the predictable safety of the weather, classes, school, life before creeping again toward the hopeful light of imagined kisses and secret fantasies, white teeth flashing, his blue-eyed gaze intense and hungry.

Yeah, this guy was good.

“So, you transferred from-”

He waved my question away. “Eh, no biggie.” A shrug, a sip of coffee, his gaze steady and sure. “Wanted something a bit more intimate. More real.” He returned the coffee cup to its place in front of him, his hands resting on the table, his long fingers pausing within reach of mine.

“You’ve heard about me,” he said. His deep voice was low, the words almost a whisper. “None of it’s true.”

I sipped my own coffee, the ice having long ago melted into a watery, sugary disappointing memory of what coulda-shoulda-woulda been. I avoided his eyes knowing there would be the hint of tears. Convenient vulnerability designed to elicit sympathy.

“What isn’t true?” I said. “I’ve heard a lot, some of it good, some of it a bit more unbelievable.” I slurped from my straw. “So, be more specific. What exactly isn’t true?”

He grinned. “The bad stuff?” Propping his elbows on the table, he leaned forward, rounded shoulders and firm biceps bulging through the short sleeves of his designer shirt. “I like you.” The fingers, once more claiming the middle of the small table and edging closer. “I’d like to see you again.” He ducked his chin to his chest, the eyes lifting to catch and hold mine, a small grin on his lips, the glimmer of an Arctic white smile barely, just barely, peeking through. “If that’s okay.”

I almost laughed. And I was tempted, truly tempted, to allow myself the dangerous dream of being with him. Of tasting those lips, feeling those strong arms around me. The weight of him on top of me, his breath on my cheek. Despite the stories and my friends’ inevitable warnings, part of me found itself thinking ‘Why the hell not?’

“You know, I live nearby,” I heard him saying. “Right around the corner.” His fingers finally touched mine.

That’s when I saw it. The cruelty in the blue. The psychotic savagery in the Arctic white. The threat of harm, perhaps death, in the grip of those long fingers and strong arms. The dark malevolence of the casual charm and carnal need.

All those stories, the myth, the uncatchable enigma, it all suddenly carried the weight of truth.

I quietly pulled my fingers from his. He reached, reconnected. Insisted I receive his unwanted gesture. Here in a public cafe, fellow students scattered among neighboring tables, books out, phones in hand. Baristas lingering at the register. Here in public, he forced me to accept his advances knowing he was immune from consequence. Knowing he, even as an infamous son of a disgraced Senator, was still inoculated from the rules that governed everyone else.

Despite all he’d endured, all the consequences, the very real price he and his family had paid, the ruin and disrepute, he couldn’t stop himself.

He was sick.

I stood. Gathered my bag from the floor and slung it over my shoulder. Spotted the nearby garbage can for the watery latte. Fished the small umbrella from the outer pocket of my purse, my eyes avoiding him.

He’d stood, misinterpreting my actions. Was slugging back the last of his coffee.

“I gotta go,” I said, my hand out for his to shake. “Class.”

Ignoring the gesture, he put his hand on the small of my back as he tried to guide me from the table toward the door.

I resisted. Gave a small smile. “No, no, no, I gotta go.”

“I’ll walk you.” The hand pressed, insisting we leave.

I moved away from it. “No, thank you.” My eyes caught his. Stopped. Held his gaze. Showed me to be defiant and strong. Not to be led or cajoled or controlled. “I’m fine.” A pause. “Some other time, perhaps,” I said, both of us knowing it was a lie.

Outside, a sudden storm pelted the sidewalk.

He laughed, the sound feeling small and unsure despite his small smile. “But I don’t have an umbrella.” Moving close, he tried to press against me.

My hand rose to his chest, stopping him mid-step. “Then you’ll get wet,” I said, my lips not smiling, my tone unapologetic and clear. “You’ll survive.”

And I turned and left, the door closing behind me as, umbrella up, I walked, quickly, truly afraid for the next girl he met, and charmed, and destroyed with his steely blue gaze and perfect smile.

But I was afraid. Haunted by the thought that, between here and his place around the corner, there’d be some innocent, unsuspecting girl with an umbrella eager to save this Prince Charming from the rain.

And, alone in the rain, each calm step moving me further from the nightmare that could’ve been, I wept for her.

***

Learn more about Colton Carryage from “Click” in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

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“Jonathan Winn’s writing is solid and assured, and EIDOLON AVENUE: THE FIRST FEAST is a big, sweeping, fantastical and exotic work that is as engrossing and thrilling as it is disturbing and horrifying. Winn is definitely an author to watch.” – Greg F. Gifune, author THE BLEEDING SEASON

“The strength of Winn’s writing is the excellent characterization – the unusual inhabitants of those five apartments are the stories. Put a magnet on a note with Jonathan Winn’s name underlined on the fridge, then watch for his byline. Recommended.” — Gene O’Neill, THE CAL WILD CHRONICLES, THE HITCHHIKING EFFECT, AT THE LAZY K

 

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Interviews with Eidolon – Lucky

Although the day was sunny, she’d led me to one of the cafe’s darker corners, the small rectangle of scuffed wood between us holding our tea, a carousel of sugar packets and my elbows.

Hers stayed by her side, her hands, I imagine, folded neatly in her lap.

“Call my Lucky,” she said when I first approached her days ago.

Even though we lived on different streets, I’d seen her in the neighborhood, back straight, head held high, chin up. Her stride perfectly even and smooth. Regal.

Older, Asian and simply dressed, she carried with her a feeling of calm and, I suspected, a lifetime of stories. Not too surprising considering most who found themselves living in this part of town only did so after a lifetime of stumbles, reversals and outright disasters.

This short strip of cracked and crumbling concrete known as Eidolon Avenue was a place where you died or came to hide. There were no futures to be found here.

So I’d approached. Suggested an interview. Nothing big. Really just something to stretch those wannabe-journalist muscles in me, my brain eager to distance itself from homework and move closer to real life people with real life tales to tell.

It’d be one question, I’d explained. A simple one that, on the surface, seemed easy to answer but, once looked at, considered, turned over, pulled apart, became more complicated than it first seemed:

What’s your biggest regret?

Lucky grinned, her thin lips lifting at the corners, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening. Her gaze left mine to scan the narrow room. Drifted toward the two waiters lounging by the register. The ding-ding of the door as a man in a business suit strode in. The other couple who’d claimed their own dark corner, their voices whispers, their heads low as they lingered over coffees, thick porcelain plates picked clean and shoved to the side.

“My biggest regret,” she then said. Her eyes returned to me. I sat up straighter. Wanted to sip my tea but feared seeming impolite. She stared, pondering the question, I suspected. Sifted through the decades of her life to land on that one thing she wished she could change more than anything.

“Yes,” I watched her, hoping I hadn’t started off too bold. That the question wasn’t too nosey or offensive. “The first thing that comes to mind, if that’s okay.”

A nod from her. And then a pause, her hands lifting, fingers laced, to rest on the table. Her knuckles looked arthritic and swollen. Painful. The fingers thin and tapered, the nails clumsily manicured, the skin as pale as delicate paper criss-crossed with a faint map of light blue veins.

As if sensing my stare, the fists darted beneath the table and out of sight to rest again on her lap.

“When I was young-” she said before stopping. Her eyes watched the cup of tea steaming in front of her. The one she’d yet to sip. She shook her head. Her narrow shoulders lifted in a sigh.

“I’m sorry.” I leaned forward, my elbows still propped on the table. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t-”

Her raised hand, palm forward, silenced me.

“When I was young,” she said again, the hand slipping below to reunite with its twin, “I had a choice.” She looked at me. “I chose wrong.”

“What was the choice?” I said, the words spoken before Reason and Manners could stop them.

“I drank the tea.” Another grin. “Everything that followed – the devastation, the heartbreak, the callous cruelty, the evil, the theft of my beloved Samuel – all of that came because of seven sips of tea.”

“Evil,” I said. “You mean, like, ‘evil’ evil, right?”

“This was in Shanghai,” she said, the question ignored. “There was a woman, a very powerful woman. One with shocking, dangerous secrets. A woman of great wealth. I worked for her. Scrubbing floors that didn’t need to be scrubbed.” A long pause, the tea waiting in front of her. “I worked for her and she ended my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re young,” she said, giving the room another quick glance. “You’ve yet to see how dark life can get. Of how surprising it can be.” She watched the couple bickering. She pretty and meek, he handsome and brutish, both young, the shadow of their far corner stealing their words. “You’ve yet to see how a ‘yes’ or a nod or simply doing nothing can give birth to events you could never expect and never imagine. You’ve yet to see how horrible people can be.

“Even the tiny old ones who walk quietly and give you small smiles,” she said, smiling as, with a ding-ding, the door opened and the guy in the suit left, to-go coffee in hand.

Although I smiled in response, I felt my skin crawl. Felt my bones grow cold. My flesh grow heavy. In her eyes, just below the surface, I saw a different woman than I’d first assumed. One perhaps chained to her past in ways I couldn’t imagine. I saw the flicker of a dangerous flame. The sense of something deeper. Unimaginable. Of things seen that can’t be unseen. Of consequences and painful regrets. Of anguish and silent screams and pain without end.

“Have you been evil?” I heard myself saying.

“I chose,” she said. “I drank the tea. More sips than needed, I remember. The job done in three, I took seven. Seven quick sips. But in the moment – only a girl, really, hungry, orphaned, alone, my family having thrown me to the streets like a useless dog – in that moment I believed there was no other choice. That my options were few. Even nonexistent.

“In that moment I wanted what Madame had, what she promised. Her power, her wealth, her freedom.”

“If you sipped the tea?”

She nodded.

“And did you succeed?”

“I was powerful, for a time. A long time.” Her voice was quiet. Almost a whisper. “And I was feared. Legendary for my cruelty, not that there should be pride in that.” A small laugh. “And I was wealthy. Even loved, briefly.” She breathed deep. Exhaled slow. “But freedom? Never. My choice was a cage, you see. A lock with no key. A hunger,” she said, her words becoming a rush. “A need, an unstoppable obsession with no end, a thing I needed to do, I had to do, I was forced to do-” She stopped. “Forgive me.”

She nodded, her head ducking chin to chest in the smallest of bows, as she slid from the booth.

“No, please. I’m sorry,” I said, angling from the booth to rise as well. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“In the blink of an eye, they piled up, the bodies, one after another.” She took my hand in hers. “It happens so fast.” Her hand let go of mine. “And for that, there is no redemption, no matter how many times I confess.”

And she turned, leaving the cafe with a ding-ding as the door closed behind her, her cup of tea forgotten on the table, untouched.

***

Learn more about Lucky in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

“a great read…powerful and jarring” – Cemetery Dance

Ten Horror Novels That Will Stick with You – Horror Novel Reviews

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