“Suzan, dear, wake up, wake up!”
When she heard the voice above her, so beautiful and strangely hypnotic like the voice of an angel, she struggled to respond from the deep, black pit that held her captive. Suzan couldn’t remember how long she had been suspended in total darkness without sound and feeling, as if she existed in some universal warp of time and space where she hovered between a conscious and comatose state. Maybe she had died. But Suzan couldn’t believe that this was it, with not a flash of her life’s pictures before her eyes, no recollection of those special memories and moments she had held so dear, no familiar faces to welcome her from beyond, and no bright, warm light to guide her—just an abiding nothingness.
Until she felt herself floating upward, to the top of consciousness. Now she spotted light above, coaxing her to keep on going until she reached it, as if she had been drifting in the darkest part of the sea and now spotted the shimmering, shining surface of life just above, promising her feelings and thoughts once more. And then hands, hands reaching down through the light to help her.
“I’m here, darling, come to me!”
“Ellen!” Suzan reached the surface at last, coughing away the remnants of her spiritual drowning. “Where...how long was I gone?” She looked herself over, realized she was naked but still complete.
“Not too long, darling.” Ellen leaned over to give Suzan a hug and kiss, and then remarked with a little frown. “Oh, you’re so cold, darling. Here!”
From the bed where they now sat, she grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around Suzan’s shoulders. “There, that’s better.”
“I feel so strange,” Suzan announced, tightening the blanket around her. At first she had been cold, shivering, and now she perspired as if the room and the bed had suddenly heated up to an unbearable temperature.
“That’s to be expected,” Ellen explained, “But the strangeness, the confusion will wear off soon.”
“I remember... Yes, I remember...something...before the world went dark around me.”
“Yes, you will remember as you gain sharper and more astute mental faculties, my darling. But tell me now, what do you recall before you slipped away for a little while?”
Suzan absently touched her throat. “I remember we spent the evening together, here at home. We dined on lobster and caviar and drank champagne. You ordered the supper from that French restaurant downtown and we ate at the dining table, by candlelight.”
Ellen offered an encouraging nod. “Yes, yes, go on.”
“And then we danced to classical music.”
“To Strauss and Mozart, music for dancing.” She lowered her voice to a provocative throaty whisper. “Music for lovers.”
As bits and pieces of memory returned, Suzan remembered how they danced, slowly, cheek to cheek. Ellen wore a strapless, red chiffon gown and Suzan wore one of the same, hers in turquoise, their long skirts twirling delicately around them as they waltzed. The frangipani incense Ellen had burned filled the room with gauzy swirls and scented fingers that caressed their silken bodies.
As she recalled the waltzes and smelled the incense, Suzan swayed to the imaginary music; but she suddenly stopped as the events of the night came into focus and flew by her, one after another, like the rapid flipping of a book’s pages where the images took on a life of their own, caricatures come to life. She frowned with the disjointed memory. “Then I began to feel dizzy, funny, and yet, very relaxed. You gave me more champagne and then that awful-tasting stuff, the elixir. You told me to wash it down with the alcohol.”
She gave an involuntary twinge. “But it didn’t help. Still, I forced it down, and when you handed me the hypodermic—”
Suzan touched the area on the inside of her arm, just below the elbow curve, where she had used the syringe. But now, when she glanced down, she found no small red mark where the needle had penetrated her skin. “I shot the serum into me. It felt warm, tingly. And then...I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. My body felt like lead. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake and alert, to keep on standing, I couldn’t help myself. I had to lie down and go to sleep.”
Ellen donned a calm, gentle smile. “You did drift off, my darling, but into a different kind of sleep, similar to hibernation. Then it all began—your metamorphosis, your death and your rebirth, like the Phoenix bird rising from the ashes.”
“What happened? What did you do?” Suzan kept touching her throat. At first she thought as a nervous gesture; but when Ellen produced a hand mirror and told her to look closely at her neck, Suzan lifted her chin and ran her fingers around the flesh below. She saw nothing unusual, her throat and neck unmarked, unchanged.
“There were ligature marks there,” Ellen revealed, “all around your throat, red and raw. From this—” Setting aside the mirror, she produced a long piece of black silk cord. “I used this as a garrote.”
Suzan’s eyes grew wide with amazement. She knew it had been a part of the process, her death by Ellen’s hands, but it still came as a stunning, even horrific, revelation. “You...strangled me?” she uttered in a hoarse whisper.
Ellen almost looked triumphant. “Yes, an easy and simple way to kill someone. It took only a minute and you went beautifully.”
“Is it true? Did I really die?” As she regained her voice and faculties, Suzan pawed furiously at her throat, expecting to feel the lasting effects of the garrote. But now, she felt only a burning sensation as she scratched little welts along her skin.
Ellen offered a triumphant smile. “It’s true, you did die. And as the elixir worked its magic—and the serum, too, I hope—you transformed into what you are now, and always will be, my darling. You were reborn, new and perfect, unmarked, unmarred...forever.”
Grabbing the mirror, Suzan peered at her throat again. Any nail marks she had made had quickly disappeared. She would never have to worry about blemishes, cuts, bruises and scars. Like Ellen, she would now have a perfect face, body and skin. Suzan began to laugh, softly at first and then louder and louder as the irony settled in. “I will never gain weight! I will always be young and pretty, no sagging breasts, bags under the eyes, no liver spots or gray hair!”
Ellen joined in her lover’s amusement. “Yes, darling, oh yes! You are now perfection, my perfect lover and partner!”
Just as suddenly as she felt the rise of joy, Suzan tumbled to the low of despair as reality set in. “No, I’m a freak of science, of nature! I have...we have...broken all of God’s laws, the natural laws of life! And now, I can never go back to the way things were.”
Grabbing Suzan by the arms, Ellen sought and connected with the doctor’s troubled gaze. “No, but think! You have a brand new life ahead to do as you wish. You have been given what no one else has and wants desperately, a second chance! Wait a little, and you will begin to feel the affects of your new powers. You will feel it in your body and mind, so strongly that you will gladly forgo your former self and revel in your new life.”
She dropped her voice to a soothing whisper. “You will never look back again, Suzan, never. Now you must rest, rest easy.” Ellen produced one of her silk nightgowns and gently slipped over Suzan’s head and shoulders. When she had the gown fitted along her lover’s body, she gave a gentle push of her hand and coaxed Suzan to lie back against the pillows. “You must sleep now, for in sleep you will gain the kind of strength and vitality you could never have in mortal life.”
When Suzan opened her mouth to speak, Ellen laid a finger on her lips. “Hush now, my darling. I’ll be right here if you should need me.” She took Suzan’s hand and grasped it tightly, her Madonna-like smile never faltering. “Sleep now, my precious. When you awaken, you and I will embark on a new life together, one that has no boundaries or constraints. And better yet, we will have all the time in the world.”