The vase shattered against the wall, ceramic shrapnel rebounding an impressive distance. Kieran took a deep breath as he surveyed the destruction before him. His penthouse, once ordered and pristine, looked as if it had been vandalized. In reality it had been the victim of a rage far more powerful than any vengeful enemy. This was not the first time he had witnessed the true meaning of the phrase “Hell hath no fury…” Kieran searched for the right words to sooth the tempest that was his partner, but finding none, decided silence was a wiser tack to take. He took solace in the fact the projectile had found the only wall in the cavernous room and not one of the enormous windows that lined the other three borders.
Knowing from previous experience the unpredictable nature of these tantrums, he decided to make himself comfortable on the overstuffed sofa to wait things out. Kieran thought how odd he must look as he danced his way through the chaos strewn across the floor. He had heard of tiptoeing through the tulips and nearly laughed at his own spectacle, treading carefully in an attempt to avoid the antique shards and their former floral residents. At six feet six inches tall and fifty pounds beyond the two hundred mark, he was not what anyone would call dainty. After he had eased his way down onto the sofa beneath the largest window that overlooked the Hudson, the newly minted silence became apparent. His trip through the mine field had left him the sole resident living in the crosshairs of an eerily quiet woman. Kieran was now in the eye.
“And what exactly do you think you’re doing?” Gretchen didn’t even pretend to hide her contempt.
“Waiting for you to tire yourself out.” Now that she was talking, Kieran knew he had to match strength with strength.
“You should be just as angry as I am! You were the one made to look a fool!” Her tone was venomous.
“And what good would it do for both of us to lose control? I much prefer sanity.” He never took his eyes from hers. To blink was to surrender.
“Sanity?! You expect me to be sane when some interloper dressed like a druid just stole our moment, and our crowd’s loyalty? He made them think!! There is nothing more dangerous to a mob than a conscience.” Acid scorched his ears with every syllable she uttered.
“What would you have had me do? Should I have strangled him with my bare hands? Leapt from the podium and crushed him? Showing concern would have been worse than anything he did. That would have been the weakness you fear so much.” Kieran remained implacable.
“Weakness? You think I fear weakness? You may not be as intelligent as I thought. I fear losing control. I am afraid of what our benefactor will do to us if we can’t control the masses. What concerns me even more is that you don’t share my fears. Why is that? Why are you not smart enough to be afraid?” Her derision was palpable.
“I am not afraid because death comes for us all. When and how is beyond my control, so why would I waste time being afraid? If my life is forfeit over this incident then so be it. Somehow I don’t believe that will be the case however. There is far more going on than we have been led to believe. I don’t like being a pawn, nor will I continue to be one, for anyone. I want to know what is really going on and who we are dealing with. Does that seem unreasonable to you?” Kieran posed the question as calmly as he could.
“If you had wanted to know what was really going on you would have asked before we got involved to start with. Changing the rules now is going to cost us far more than knowing the answers to your questions will gain us. What we need to do is find the man in the robes and execute him in the most public way possible. It is the only way to regain the momentum we had. The deadline is nearly upon us, and we don’t have nearly enough people to serve our purpose at this point.” Gretchen had regained her composure and was doing her best to appeal to Kieran’s logical side.
“Maybe you’re right, but I don’t intend to keep making the same mistakes I’ve already made.” Quiet resolve shown in the set of his jaw.
“Enough!” Gretchen screamed, “I won’t allow you to ruin everything I’ve worked for! Maybe you’re ok with going back to having and being nothing, but I’m not, and I won’t let you drag me down with you!”
Kieran rose from his seat and turned to face the hulking outlines of black on black that was the city skyline. He had known for some time that he was a tool of convenience for Gretchen. She would stay as long as he was useful to her, but her ambitions far outstripped his own. The idea of losing her was not one he relished, but the events of the day had given him pause. He had to look at his life and consider what he wanted it to be. The truth was that he was not satisfied with things the way they were at the moment. This was not the vision he had for this new world.
When the man in the hood demonstrated a power that required no violence, no intimidation, only a call to something more fundamentally human, Kieran recognized what he and Gretchen had missed in their approach. The man didn’t call for punishment. Just the opposite. He called for self-reflection, and mercy. What amazed Kieran was how quickly the bloodlust was silenced in that once ravenous mob. The connection the man was able to establish between the accusers and the accused was the key.
Kieran chewed on the words he needed to speak for a long moment before he faced Gretchen. In that moment, none of the beauty that had drawn him to her in the first place was visible. All he could see was the greed, the anger, and the jealousy that she had poured out all over their home. It was the confirmation he needed.
Just as Kieran drew a deep breath in preparation for what he knew would be as difficult a sentence as he had ever uttered, the lights in the room were extinguished. He heard Gretchen scream, a blood curdling shriek that left him both breathless, and desperate to save her from whatever horrors may have found her. Her cry was abruptly terminated, its end even more terrifying for Kieran than its beginning.
“Gretchen!” Kieran bellowed as he groped his way back toward the last place he knew her to be standing. This trip a far cry from his careful crossing earlier. The debris splayed across the floor proved even more treacherous in the pitch blackness than he imagined it to be in the light. The lack of response to his stricken call propelled him forward. Fortune was not with him however, and Kieran found himself half running, half crawling after the voice of a ghost. The remnants of the vase mercilessly tore at his hands and knees as he lurched through the dark. He could feel his throat constricting in panic as thoughts raced through his mind. What if he couldn’t reach her in time? What if the next thing he put his hand on was her lifeless form?
Before he could slip any deeper into the abyss of fear he was creating for himself, the lights exploded into brilliant existence. Kieran rolled to his back and covered his eyes in self-defense. With his eyes squeezed shut against the glare, he strained to hear any sign of Gretchen. His own breathing was all that greeted him. Kieran shifted his position so as to be able to get up while still shielding his eyes. He was not prepared for what he saw.
The room had been returned to its original pristine condition. Gretchen was nowhere to be found. It was as though her entire tirade had never happened. Confused and disoriented, all he could think of with any clarity was that he had not reached Gretchen in time. She was gone, who knows where, and there was nothing he could do about it. How had this happened? She needed him and he had failed her.
“You have not failed her. Yet.” A soft voice, full of power and intensity, brought the torrent of his thoughts to a grinding halt. Terror gripped him as recognition broke over his consciousness. Kieran spun toward where the voice had come from. What he saw left him paralyzed.
A man in an impeccably tailored black suit sat on the sofa beneath the window. He appeared to be completely at ease, his hands resting in his lap. When he spoke again, his colorless eyes burned.
“Kieran, I am disappointed. You don’t seem pleased to see your master.”
Check out all the chapters of The Mountain by Duane Deats