Curious about The Society in the Shadow of Civilization? This week I'm sharing Chapter Seven from The Shadow Watcher ... which is where he finally starts to explain himself.
A Bedtime Story
After Jay left, I went back to work at my computer. I found it hard to concentrate with the doubts about Bailey she’d planted in my head. It wasn’t long before I had another reason to be distracted.
This time, I knew he was watching; I could feel his eyes on me. I rose casually from my seat, and made as though I was heading for the restroom. I turned the corner and flattened myself against the wall. Inching back around to the sliding glass door, I caught a glimpse of him crouched on the balcony.
In one fluid motion, I pushed the door open and stepped through. I caught him off-guard for once, and he hopped back and teetered on his heels for a second. “Why don’t you just come to my front door like a normal person?”
“Because the circumstances of our acquaintance are not normal,” he replied as he stood.
“I see,” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, given the circumstances, it's probably best we have this talk indoors.” I stepped back across the threshold, “That is unless you were planning on drugging me and running off again.”
He followed me in, sliding the door shut and locking it, “No, I came back to talk to you, but I didn’t want to interrupt. You haven’t been able to get much work done the last few days.”
“No, I haven’t,” I answered while processing what he’d said. “Wait how….” I thought about it again, “Obviously, because you’re paid to watch me.”
My mounting frustration with lack of information must have been apparent on my face, and he didn’t ignore it. “You’ve been handling this well so far, Samantha.” He took off the sunglasses, and tucked them inside his coat. “It’s time for me to answer some of your questions.”
I decided on the right word for Jayden - striking. In a hot, dreamy way. “How about starting with your name?”
“Michael,” he answered.
I extended my hand, and a jolt of excitement rushed through me when he took it in his strong grasp. “Nice to meet you,” I exhaled.
He smiled, and I probably held his hand a second too long before reluctantly letting go. Embarrassed, I turned and gestured to the couch. “Shall we sit? Would you like something to drink?”
He sat down, “No, thank you. You might want another glass of wine though.”
I sat down, and started with what was at the top of my mind, “Why don’t you age?”
He knew exactly what I meant. “For the same reason those men are after you. Unfortunately, they think you know things that you don’t know yet.”
“Am I about to find these things out now?” To say that I was anxious would be a gross understatement.
“Some of them,” he leaned back, but maintained a serious expression. “Samantha…”
“Sam, please,” I interrupted. “My father was the only one who really called me Samantha; it makes me feel like a little girl.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“No, please, go on.”
“You know your father was a wealthy man.” I nodded. “His wealth extends far beyond what you know of, and he spent much longer amassing it than you think.” He paused before continuing, “It began with your grandfather in , and your father inherited it when he was killed in .”
My laughter interrupted him, “You meant , right?”
He looked perplexed, “No, I mean one-five-one-three. The sixteenth century.”
“But....” Math was never my favorite subject, but basic subtraction told me the dates didn’t add up. “? That’s ridiculous.”
“Sam, I need you to open your mind,” his voice sounded like it was coming through a tunnel. I was either dreaming or ready for the trip to the loony bin. “What I’m telling you is the truth.”
I stood and started pacing around the room, and he quietly let me digest the information. I consider myself to be a relatively bright girl, so when a man who appeared to have not aged a day in nearly seventeen years told me my grandfather was alive almost five hundred years ago, wine or no, I knew I’d entered the Twilight Zone.
I just spit out the next thing that came to mind. “You’re not a vampire, because you’ve been here before, and I didn’t invite you in until tonight. But, I also remember seeing you, a long time ago, and you haven’t aged. I am so confused.”
“See?” He smiled, showing his perfectly human teeth. “No fangs. As far as I know, they don’t exist. Was it at your father’s funeral that you saw me?”
“Yes, there’s a picture with you in the background. I’ve seen you other times since, and before the other night. I just never connected it all before.” I could tell he was holding back big things, afraid to shatter my delicate mind. “My imagination goes pretty way out there Michael. If my life is on the line, you need to deal me all the cards.”
“I would if it were that easy,” he sighed and leaned back. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to settle for bits and pieces for now, there’s too much to tell. It’s hard to know where to start; I wasn’t supposed to be the one to have this conversation with you.”
“Then who was?” I asked.
“Ideally, it would have been your grandfather. He was the best equipped to explain everything.” Michael laced his fingers behind his head, and continued, “He stumbled upon a plant - a very rare tree – which bears fruit with properties that reverse cellular damage so effectively, those who consume it are rejuvenated. Eating the seed will give an eighty year old the body of a twenty year old again.”
I gaped at him in amazement. “The fountain of youth isn’t a fountain?”
He shrugged. “That legend may still be, but the source of my youth is the Flamella tree.”
“I see.” I drank it in with another gulp of wine. The stories my father told me were coming true. There is a tree, and a Shadow Watcher. Does that make me the princess?
He cleared his throat and continued, “To harness this power, and use it to the fullest potential, your grandfather needed help. He initially enlisted six of his closest friends, adding more members along the way, and they began to refer to themselves as the Society in the Shadows of Civilization. We generally call it the Society for short.
“Under the direction of your grandfather, who became known as the Sovereign of Time, and with the assistance of his six Council members, the Society grew to a network of thousands, and eventually tens of thousands across the world. We have representatives in every developed nation, and eighty-eight percent of the undeveloped ones. Their occupations run the gamut - doctors, professors, librarians, lawyers, judges, mechanics, teachers, sanitation workers, politicians, scientists, bankers, restaurant workers, nurses, janitors, oil and real estate tycoons, artists and just about everything else in between.”
Curious, I asked, “Why do you need doctors if the fruit can heal you?”
“Sometimes, a medical crisis arises when no fruit is available, and a Society member may be admitted to a regular hospital for care,” he explained. “Then, one of our legally certified doctors flies in as the patient’s personal physician, can administer the fruit, if necessary, and bask in the glory of performing a medical miracle. The doctor then signs off on the patient’s release, and they return to life as usual.
“Every so many years, those who live a public life have to ‘die,’ and then reemerge in the world as a twenty-something. Having actual doctors and lawyers involved in the paperwork associated with death and leaving belongings behind helps, though we have some of the best document forgers in our circle.”
I put up my hand to stop him. “I need to make sure I have this right. You all go around living a full life, fake your own deaths, and then start over as adults with a new identity, again and again?”
He nodded, and continued, “This network has been operating now for almost five hundred years, and, as you can imagine, it is filled with certain perils.” Here he paused, gauging my reaction thus far.
“He who controls the tree is in the most danger,” I whispered.
He nodded, clearly pleased with my reaction. “Indeed, he and those closest to him, such as his son, your father. That is what necessitated the formation of another elite faction within the Society, of which I became a member in 1881, The Shadow Watch.
“Our function was to shadow and protect the Sovereign, and the others appointed by him to fall under our protection, such as the Council members. I served your father until he assigned me to you when you were eight.
“After his death, all the Society had left of the plant was what fruit was dried and stored, which will still last a while longer, but certainly not forever. The Council believes your father left you clues that could lead you to the plant.”
“Are you not just as anxious to find it?”
He gazed off, as if looking at something very far away. “If I cannot find the meaning of happiness in this lifetime, I never will.”
It was the way he spoke, more than the words he used, I found odd - cryptic - but I put it aside for later reflection, and continued my questioning. “So, what you’re saying is that my father’s former ‘friends’ are out to get me?”
“In short, yes. We face a multitude of enemies, including a number of factions within the Society. There are a few rather powerful people who have lived for centuries, and aren’t so willing to let that change any time soon.
“There are also, potentially, those who have discovered the Society, and want to get their hands on the key to longevity.”
“I thought you said the Society was a secret?”
“Just as with any so-called secret society, rumors will inevitably leak out. There have been a few groups over the centuries that sought out the Society. Now, it could be any number of people, conspiracy theorists, historians, and people like you and Jayden - who have the internet and insomnia.”
“That’s all fabulous for them, but I still don’t understand what any of it has to do with me? This is the first I’ve heard of all this, and Dad’s gone.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are his heir, which means they assume he has left you with the Flamella tree, as his father left it with him.”
“But he didn’t.”
“Yes he did.”
There was simply absolutely nothing I could say to that. What could be said? My father left me his book collection, a curious mind and a thirst for adventure. There was also the financial empire and real estate around the world. But I knew nothing of a tree.
I had never known my father to tend to a plant in his life. Then again, according to Michael, my father had lived a lot more life than I had known. Anything was possible, if I believed everything Michael said, which I did. I still can’t explain why, but I knew he wasn’t lying.
I just stared at Michael for a few minutes while I tried to assimilate all he’d told me. So this is what the other side of the looking glass feels like. Curious. I almost detached from myself, like I was watching a movie with me in it.
“Sam, talk to me. Tell me what’s going on in your head.”
I blinked my eyes at him a few times. That was about all I could muster.
For a moment the coolness of his exterior faded away, and it seemed as if perhaps he wanted to comfort me somehow, but he put his façade back up a moment later. “You told me you were ready,” he taunted me.
“I’m sorry,” I snapped back, regaining my motor functions. “Give a girl a minute, you’re asking me to absorb a five hundred year old story!”
He laughed, “All right, there she is.” It was frightening that he knew me well enough to elicit that reaction.
I tried to stay focused, but my mind was barely able to tread water in this sea of information. “If my father left me this Flamella tree, then where is it? Why haven’t I seen it before?”
“It’s hidden someplace where even we can’t get it for now.”
“But these people are trying to grab me, even though I know nothing about it?”
“They believe you do know about it. They can’t fathom the concept that your parents wanted you to have a normal life; that they kept all of this from you is beyond their comprehension.” He looked at his watch, “I’m sorry, but I need to get on to the rest. There’s not much time left.”
He gave a wry smile, “If you’re ready.”
“Ready or not, someone’s after me.”
“Right and we’re dealing with multiple potential enemies here. I’ve been looking into Mr. Morrison; he has been tracing lines of the Society for some time.”
“And he’s not one of you? Someone you haven’t met before?”
“He doesn’t have the mark.”
He pulled his glasses out of his pocket, and handed them to me. “Put them on.” So I did.
I was shocked to find the room was brighter, not dimmer as I expected. Then I looked at Michael and saw the glowing royal blue and teal symbol right in the middle of his forehead. I jumped to my feet, taking the glasses off, and the mark was gone. I put them back on, and it was there. “What are you?”
“I am human, just the same as you. I just have a tattoo done with very special ink, and a pair of glasses that allows me to identify anyone else with one.”
“And all members of the Society have one of these tattoos?” I removed the glasses, turning them over in my hands, examining them.
“Not all of them, but several of those who are no longer a part of the Society do. I wear the glasses to identify potential enemies. Morrison doesn’t have the mark, but when I went to his apartment after I left you here, I found out he’s been researching the Society for over a decade.”
“The police said that he had been following me for some time now, they didn’t say anything about the Society.”
“That’s because I cleaned anything related to the Society out of his apartment. I left enough for them to lock him up for following you. They think he was watching you for more than six months, though he only started following you about three weeks ago.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s when his first photos of you were taken, I made it look like he’d been following you longer for the police. I noticed him following you a day before the first pictures, but I just thought he was some random sicko and moved on because other concerns cropped up. I should have stopped him before that ever happened, I’m so sorry.”
“What other concerns?”
“The people with tattoos like mine that have been following you.”
“Are they the ones who tried to grab me coming from the Police Station?”
“Yes,” he admitted.
“I’m guessing that I’m missing some huge chunks of information here.”
I yawned and stretched. “So what happens now?”
“Tonight, you sleep. Tomorrow, I will tell you more and we will start looking for answers.”
I yawned again, “Just more? You’re not going to tell me the rest?”
He inhaled and exhaled deeply, “There will still be too much to cover it all tomorrow.”
The clock caught my attention for the first time in hours, it was and as if by mere awareness of the time, I found my eyelids drooping. “Then I’d best go to sleep. Am I safe here, for the night?”
“Yes, I will be watching, though the surveillance you’ve had installed on the building is a good deterrent. They don’t want to be caught on camera, which is getting harder these days.”
“My friend, Jayden, is coming in the morning,” I informed him.
“I know,” he smiled. “I can’t wait to hear what she comes up with.” His expression quickly grew solemn, “You will have to cancel your plans with Bailey though.”
“That may be difficult.”
“Well, you’re not going to be here to go out to dinner. You’d better give him a reason than have him call out the National Guard to look for you.”
“You’re right.” Besides, I was running out of fingers to count how many times he’d cancelled on me in the last few weeks. “When should I expect you?”
“Late afternoon, probably around four or . We’ll be taking your car.” He left me sitting on the couch, and opened the door to the balcony, “Now, go to sleep. You need some rest.” He closed the door and vanished.
I blinked my eyes and he literally disappeared from the balcony. He didn’t jump or climb, he was just gone. The more I knew about him, the more a mystery he was, and the more I wanted answers.
Turning out the lights before I plopped back down on the couch, I sighed and pulled my blankets over my lap. Artemis was next to me within seconds, rubbing her face against my left arm.
I hooked my arm under her and pulled her onto my lap where she immediately commenced purring. “He said I should sleep, Puss, ha! I’d like to see him try to sleep with all of the things he has and hasn’t told me, flying around in his head.”
Artemis turned her face up toward mine, “Merrrow.” She obviously agreed, but I knew I should try to sleep anyway. We rearranged ourselves so that I lay on my side with her curled up against my belly.The rhythm of her purr and the wine worked some kind of magic over me, and despite the odds, I soon drifted off.
Thanks for stopping by! What do you think of Michael's Story? (Share your thoughts in the comments below....)
Until next time, I hope you're having a beautiful day, night, or sometime in the between....
P.S. Links to download The Shadow Watcher, Fore Shadows: Escape 2169, and A Shadow in Doubt are all here.