Read Once Online

Authors: James Herbert

Tags: #Thrillers, #Fiction, #Cerebrovascular Disease, #Fantasy, #Horror - General, #Contemporary, #Fiction - Horror, #Horror

Once (27 page)

He was startled, but it was oh-so-pleasant, so reassuring. She still slept, her breathing shallow, her lips opened slightly. He could see the tips of gently pointed teeth.

She faced him and Thom took the opportunity to study her elfin face. The tilt of her dark lashes was somehow beguiling, as if they alone spoke of her other-worldliness. Her skin was very pale, but had a pinkish hue to it, and it was incredibly smooth and unblemished, somehow pure. Even in repose, the line of her neck was graceful and her hands, laid flat before her face, were long, the fingers slender and pointed at their tips. Her golden hair spread over the ground beneath her head like some untidy but soft blanket, and her knees were raised, one resting on the other. She was exquisite and Thom felt a stirring inside that, at this moment, was spiritual rather than sexual.

The questions still begged, but he was able to suppress them for now, while he drank in her presence. She was so real, beyond hallucination. Yet she claimed to be of the

faeries themselves, a mythical being that the world today had little time for, save for tales told to children. And in their innocence, the children believed, so was that the key? Did you have to be pure of heart - pure of soul, Jennet might say - for these mystical creatures to take on form, become visible to human eyes? Yet he was no child and certainly no innocent. Even now he could feel desire awakening in him again, creeping through his body, arousing nerve endings, creating sensual sensations, quickening his blood flow, more questions easily put aside.

Tentatively, his fingertips touched her pale cheek and, like before, he felt a current run through them, a small shock that quickly encompassed his entire body. Perhaps he had doubted his own vision, perhaps he needed to touch her warm flesh to assert the reality; perhaps he just needed contact to placate his physical feelings.

Her eyes flickered open and he gasped at their silver-violet brightness once more. The pupils dilated when she saw him, blooming deep and dark, so that the irises shrank, their vivid colour subjugated a little.

Thom…?’ she murmured, aware of his hand on her cheek. She smiled and her fingers curled around his hand, pressing it firmly against her.

He remembered when he had first set eyes on her by the lake, the act she was committing upon herself, her unselfconscious audaciousness when she must have realized he was watching. Her pallid skin, her small breasts, her total lack of inhibition: could he be blamed for wanting her now that she was here, lying so near to him, close enough to feel the warmth of her breath on his face, close enough to touch like this …

He was almost afraid, but when he leaned his head towards hers, she came forward, met him half-way. Their lips touched and it was soft, hesitant, an exploration rather than bold contact. He tasted her, for her mouth was moist and sweet, momentarily withdrawing an inch or so, as if to

seek unspoken permission. The permission came with her returned kiss, her own pressure against his, and this time the contact was firmer, more ardent.

Her mouth opened and he felt the ridges of those softly pointed teeth bite tenderly into his lower lip, nothing harsh or aggressive about the deed, rather an invitation to him, letting him know her passion matched his.

Thom’s free arm swept down to the small of her back to bring her forward so that their bodies were in communion, pressed tight against each other’s, hips to hips, breasts to chest. His fervour roared inside him, his hunger made him tremble, for it had been a long time since he had made such contact with any woman; yet a fear also nagged at him, for he could not know how the illness had affected capability. Had the stroke blunted his sexual drive? The growing hardness between his legs told him it hadn’t, but desire was one thing, performance another. Thom despised himself for the doubts, but these were soon swept away by their mutual passion.

Jennet’s hands touched his face, his neck, his shoulders, her fingers sliding beneath the short sleeves of the T-shirt to explore hidden flesh, the mere sensation of that alone causing Thom to catch his breath. And when the hand glanced down his spine to rest a moment before pulling him even tighter against her, he gave out a soft moan. Her legs parted and his thigh pushed into the gap.

He whispered her name and she cried out his.

Dear God, he thought, this can’t be happening… But it was and it was overwhelming, all doubts of his ability easily vanquished by the growing ardour of their caresses.

Their kisses varied from harsh to tender and he felt a heated whiteness in his mind, one that usually came with climax and never before, never as this. Their tongues touched, their lips crushed each other’s before drawing back to jab and peck, to moisten and savour, fervour giving way to soft murmurings, gentle responses, and then back again to more passionate kissing and fondlings. He felt his

own wetness, a rising that would soon break loose and he was now concerned that it would be over all too quickly, but it was Jennet who calmed him.

“Wait, Thom,’ she whispered close to his ear.

She pulled herself away and sat up. Lest he should mistake the movement, Jennet quickly reached for the hem of his T-shirt, tugging it up over his body and raised arms. Although they were in the shadow of the oak it was not deep shade and the air was warm against his bare skin; the sense of freedom he felt there in this secret little grotto deep in the forest was intoxicating. He reached for Jennet again, wanting to hold her in his arms and kiss her, to tell her of feelings that went beyond mere desire, but she held a hand against his chest.

Without speaking she unbuttoned the top of his jeans, then helped him pull them off. For the first time that morning, he realized he wore no shoes. As a child he had invariably played in the woods with nothing on his feet and the soles had soon hardened; but now he was surprised he’d felt nothing treading through the usual woodland debris of twigs, fallen acorns, stones. Entirely naked, he looked back at Jennet as she stood and slowly removed her only garment.

The sight of her slender body and cascading golden hair falling almost to her waist left him in awe.

As already observed, there was no body hair to conceal the delicate cleft between her legs and her small breasts stood proud, pink nipples erect. She sank to her knees, her legs parting so that nothing was concealed and he reached a tremulous hand forward to touch between her thighs. She was wet, the lips there open to him, and the thrill was almost unbearable.

He said her name again as he brought his whole body closer to kneel before her, his eyes gazing into hers, his body losing its shiver as she calmed him once more, this time just with her look.

‘I love you, Thom,’ she said quietly and his heart - his soul - soared again.

‘But you don’t know…’ he found himself saying, as if unable to believe her words.

‘I do know you,’ she said. ‘I know you’re good and I know you’re here to help us.’

He shook his head, unwilling to lose the mood, yet wanting desperately to be honest with her. “What can I possibly do for you, Jennet? Until a couple of days ago I didn’t even believe in the existence of your kind. Frankly, I’m not even sure that everything that’s happened, including right now, isn’t just some grand illusion brought about by damaged brain cells.’

She gave a little laugh. ‘You think you’re going mad? When I touch you here …’ she leaned forward to touch his chest, her fingers pressing a nipple, and he almost yelped with the pleasure ‘… you think you’re imagining it? And here…’ she touched his stomach just above his groin and he drew in a sharp breath ‘… and here…’ her fingers encircled his engorged penis and he almost cried out with the ecstasy of it. ‘You think it’s all in your mind, Thom?

‘Jennet…’

yes?’ Her smile was teasing. And so was her stroking.

‘Jennet, this is all impossible.’

yes, Thom.’

‘I mean, the faeries and elves, and witches and monsters, and tame animals …’

‘And making love with an undine?’ She continued to stroke him, a soft, easy movement that made him shudder with delight.

yeah,’ he said, between short breaths. ‘Impossible. But then …’ his turn to smile at her ‘… to hell with impossible.’

He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her to him, his mouth crushing hers with wild, excited kisses that she returned just as enthusiastically, laughing when together

they fell to the forest floor, their hands feeling each other, their lips seeking other parts - shoulders, breasts, any part of each other’s body that was accessible.

She squealed when his tongue made circles around her nipple, and it was with joy; and he groaned when her tongue ran down his chest to his stomach, to linger in his navel, before journeying back up to his mouth. Once more, his hand reached between her legs, this time his fingers entering and becoming moist with her juices. It was Jennet’s turn to groan and she arched her neck in a delirium, the feel of his strong fingers inside her wonderful. The tips of her own fingers dug into his back as she pulled him over on top of her, and then he was guiding himself into her, both of them murmuring each other’s name and giving out small moans.

Although she was small in stature, his entry was easy and smooth, as though their body parts had been made for each other’s, measured and apportioned by whomever planned such things - a silly notion that ran through Thom’s head as he thrust so deeply and so effortlessly. She tensed beneath him, then relaxed with a pleased sigh. His hand found her breast and his mouth quickly followed, his back arched, their stomachs apart for a moment as she pulled at his neck, forcing his head down on her. His tongue smothered the nipple there, wetting it, making it grow hard, and when he withdrew his lips he blew air on to the moistened tip so that it swelled, grew even more proud of the fleshly little mound. Thom nuzzled his way over to the other breast to repeat the act and her hips writhed beneath his as she moaned and sighed and gave out small gasps as though she were short of air.

Resting his belly on hers again, Thom moved with her rhythm, the thrusts sometimes long, sometimes shallow, and her hips moved sometimes with him, other times against. Her hands were never still, palms gliding over his back constantly before moving to his buttocks, the backs of his

thighs, pulling at him, pressing his flesh, urging deeper entry, then pushing him back, but never too far, never allowing him to leave her completely.

They kissed, and he had to bend his neck for their lips to meet, his hands at her waist, his knee digging into the soft earth; the kiss was emotional for both of them, not just affected by their mutual passion, although, in truth, that was part of it. Thom had never loved another before, not in this way. Certainly there had been girlfriends, lovers, but while his affection had always been sincere, he had never been in love with any of them. Now this. Falling fast, even instinctively, with someone who was from another realm. An undine she called herself. As was his mother, Bethan. How could it be true? Yet he knew, he just knew, that it was. And he gave himself up to it.

Jennet was whispering his name in between kisses, imploring him for more, for all he had to give her, and he was not about to deny her. He lunged into her, drew back, lunged again, and suddenly had no concern about anything: just being with her, inside her like this, was so intoxicating that stamina was no longer a problem and neither were questions about her very existence. It was … it was … magical. It was magical and for a moment he could not be sure if it was because of the circumstances, the forest environment, her elfin beauty, her uniqueness, or if it was because of love, genuine, startling, newfound love. He quickly realized it was for all these reasons, but it was what he felt in his heart - no, he chided himself, remembering her words, in his soul - that prevailed above all others. As he plunged even deeper into her, into this mystical girl who had taken on human or part-human form for him alone, he felt his whole being sink with his body, as though her physical opening was the entrance to her realm.

And that was when the magic really began.

He was aware of his own presence there in the forest glade, aware of his own skin as it were, but part of him had


left, perhaps his persona, had travelled further than his intellect had ever before travelled, even in sleep, even in his near-death experience a few months earlier. This was a path journeyed by invitation only, for it took him into dimensions where even dreams did not belong. He was among stars and planets, a universe of white whose constellations glittered all colours and shades, many of those shinings surely never witnessed by mortal man before. Gases hung like gauze or sheer lace - except they were millions of miles in length -swirling among the stars in incredible ever-shifting patterns. There were other smaller shapes in the whiteness, gossamer forms that he instinctively knew were souls - spectres would have been the wrong word, for these were not apparitions, they were real entities, forces that were individual, yet somehow making up the whole.

And he, Thom Kindred, for a few brief moments that felt like eternity (for he sensed there was no time here in this place) floated among them, joined them in their euphoric exaltations, feeling their warmth, their peace, their quietude. But most of all he felt their devotion.

Then, having glimpsed the rapture, he hurtled back to the physical, back to the forest, back to the arms of Jennet, and he was stunned by the moment, stunned but not mystified, for he knew what he had witnessed. He knew he had been allowed a glimpse, a privileged insight, of something profound. Thom immediately understood that this had been Jennet’s gift to him, that she had taken him to this place, and as tears dampened his eyes, he realized it was not casual, it had some future purpose and it was this that became the new mystery.

‘Jennet…’ he began to say, wondering about its significance.

‘Hush, Thom.’ She soothed his neck, his cheek, for he had lifted his face from hers so that he could study her eyes. ‘No need for words. Just feel now, Thom. Let your mind and body soar again but together this time.’

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