Saturday, May 5, 2012
Blog Tour : Dark Lullaby by Mayra Calvani
Dark Lullaby Excerpt
After Gabriel paid the bill, they walked outside.
The night had a shimmering, liquid quality to it. A warm summer breeze caressed his face and tousled his hair. He lifted his eyes to the sky. Perfectly clear, the sky looked like a black velvet curtain embedded with Swarovski crystals.
“I don’t have a car,” Kamilah said.
“Mine is that way.” He pointed to the end of the street.
The breeze played with the soft layers of her short hair. He had a hard time tearing his eyes from her face. Her hazel eyes were so luminous they seemed to possess a life of their own.
She held his hand, entwining her fingers with his. Once again, he was startled by the temperature of her skin. So hot.
They reached his red Porsche and he opened the door for her.
On the way to his apartment, Kamilah asked him many questions about his profession, about his work at the Institute. He found himself talking a lot about himself, not because he enjoyed it but because she seemed insatiable. He loved his profession, he told her. Yet, his present job was routine and he wished for something more challenging. He wanted research. This was his passion, but he needed a doctorate degree. His plan was to work one more year at the Institute, then give himself full time to graduate school. It meant living off scholarships and student loans. In other words: no more expensive Spanish paellas or bottles of Belgian beer. He would be the romantic poor scientist.
“Where are you from, originally?” she asked.
“I was born in Puerto Rico, though my parents’ family came originally from the south of Spain. I lived in San Juan until my last year of high school. Then I won a scholarship from the University of Arizona, where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. Later I moved here to do my Master’s at Johns Hopkins, and I have been here ever since.”
“Do you visit Puerto Rico often?”
“Not really.” He paused. “Actually, I haven’t been there since I left the year of my high school graduation.”
“When did you decide you wanted to become an astrophysicist?”
“I made the decision when I was in my last year of high school, but I’ve always been in love with the stars, ever since I was a little boy.”
How could he explain to her what looking at the stars had meant to him, when, as a terrified and miserable little boy, he had wished for the vast darkness of the sky to swallow him? At the age of seven, gazing at the constellations from the quiet darkness of his room, he had experienced a grand realization. Even lost in the endless void of space, he would be safer there than at home. How to explain to anybody that the sky and stars had been more than a simple escape? They had been his salvation. Only his sister understood.
All this rushed through his mind in a second. Kamilah sat very still. But he could feel her gaze gnawing at him. Electricity permeated the air. He resisted looking at her, his eyes on the road.
“What about your family?” she asked.
But at that moment, he made a sharp turn into the curving driveway of his apartment complex.
“Here we are,” he said, giving her a smile. Good timing. He hardly ever talked about his family with friends, much less with strangers. To distract her, Gabriel started giving her general information about the complex, its good location and facilities.
Did she really want to look at his telescope? This is what he really wanted to think about as they stepped into the elevator and he pressed for the fifth floor. One minute later, they were inside his apartment.
Luckily, he had cleaned up two days ago, so the place wasn’t a complete disaster. But it was muggy. He turned on the air conditioning.
“I love your apartment,” she said, looking round her. “It’s very warm—the feel of it, I mean.”
Books, books, books. Floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books covered one large wall. More shelves on the opposite wall displayed a medium-sized TV and stereo system. The coffee table consisted of a large rectangular slab of glass supported by four pillars of books instead of legs. The burgundy sofa looked worn and battered, but the leather was still beautiful. His apartment consisted of a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom. Propped against the shelves were several canvases, some unfinished.
“You paint?” she asked him.
“When I find the time. Helps combat the stress. But I haven’t done it in months.” He gestured to the sofa. “Sit down. Do you want something to drink? Are you hungry?”
She shook her head.
“Do you like bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon?”
“Delicious. My favorite meal. I’m always hungry for them.”
She smiled. “Bagels and salmon?”
“Sure. You’ll love it.”
Gabriel went into the kitchen to prepare the food. A few minutes later he came back carrying a food tray, two crystal goblets and a bottle of red Spanish wine. He placed them on the glass coffee table.
She readily accepted the wine, murmuring thanks without taking her eyes off him. In spite of her insistent stare, she didn’t seem like the aggressive type. On the contrary. She radiated vulnerability, like a lost child in need of protection. The intense glow in her eyes startled him. He could clearly distinguish the little yellow and green specks round the irises.
Gabriel sank into the sofa next to her. “You don’t look Turkish,” he told her, leaning forward to offer her a bagel.
“I’m from the north-eastern coast of Turkey, almost at the border with what used to be the Soviet Union, on the Black Sea. You can find many blond people over there. Many green and hazel eyes…Mmm…This is good. I’ve never eaten this before.”
He looked pleased. “I used to have them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
“How impetuous. Do you love like that, too—all the way?”
His face felt flushed. “Kamilah,” he scolded gently. “You’re embarrassing me.” He lifted his goblet of wine in toast. “To the purity and nobility of the soul.”
“To those special souls out there.”
They clinked glasses and drank. The wine caressed his throat, felt far too pleasant. With all the drinking he’d had at the tavern, he was more than light-headed by now. He felt hypnotized by the luster of her golden-brown hair, by perfectly unblemished skin.
“So…Where’s your telescope?”
“In my bedroom.”
Her eyes abruptly shifted to an ornate silver framed photograph on the side table.
“My sister,” he said.
Her eyes darkened as she gazed at it with deep concentration. “She’s beautiful,” she whispered.
Gabriel reached for the picture and showed it to her. “She’s my only sister.”
“What’s her name?”
“Elena. She lives in Belgium.”
“Belgium…” For a moment there was a dream-like quality to her as she studied his sister’s face. “You must miss her a lot, having her so far away. Do you go and visit her sometimes?”
He nodded. “Of course. As a matter of fact, I’m planning on going there soon. She’s going to have a baby.” He stiffened as the image of the empty pram flashed through his mind.
There was a silence.
Kamilah seemed to be examining his face. Gently she took the picture from him. It was a close-up of Elena’s face. Corn silk blond hair, bob-styled, enclosed a pair of mellow brown eyes, a small nose, and a gentle half smile. Her eyes were smiling more than her lips.
“Does she have other children?”
“No, this will be the first. She had a baby girl three years ago, but she died a couple of hours after delivery.”
“How awful…” Kamilah murmured, as if the fact hurt her deeply. “Why is she living in Belgium?”
“Her husband is working at NATO. They’ll be there for one more year, then they’ll go back to Boston.”
“What about your parents?”
Gabriel took the picture from Kamilah and placed it back on the side table. Tilting back his head, he downed the rest of his wine. “My parents are dead,” he said.
“Oh. I’m sorry. Maybe we should change the conversation.”
“No, it’s okay. I just…I don’t like talking…”
“You don’t like talking about them with a stranger.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said gently. But she was right. Some things were better forgotten or ignored. In this case, he couldn’t forget. He could only try to pretend that his childhood had never taken place; a sort of willful amnesia, a defense mechanism.
He ate the rest of his bagel and poured himself more wine. Kamilah was silently eating her bagel. Without asking, he refilled her goblet. “Well, do you want to see the telescope?” he said, rising to his feet. “Wait here a second.”
Gabriel walked into the dark bedroom to get the Meade telescope—a portable, computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain, one of his little investments. It stood on its tripod by the window, the lens directed toward the heavens. He hesitated. Should he bring it into the living room or simply tell Kamilah to come here?
He felt a strong presence behind him and swung around.
Kamilah stood in the doorframe.
For an eerie second his surroundings seemed to shift. The dark bedroom, the soft light coming from the living room, Kamilah’s dark silhouette at the threshold—all seemed to acquire a surreal quality. Her face was in shadow, a black mask. He was perspiring from the beer, the raki, the wine. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten like this. He didn’t want to deal with any damned telescope. Instead, he wanted to crush Kamilah against his chest and squeeze all oxygen out of her lungs.
He took in all the curves of her shape. The full round breasts, the snug waist, the feminine voluptuousness of her hips, her perfectly shaped legs, her…
He stood, paralyzed with shock.
Panicked, he fumbled for the night lamp next to him and switched it on.
A dim yellow light flooded the room.
He stared down at her feet, but everything looked normal now.
“What’s wrong?” Kamilah asked, alarmed.
He blinked, swallowing hard, his eyes moving down to her feet, up to her face, down to her feet again.
“What is it, Gabriel?”
His heart had given a skip nearly big enough to kill him. Relieved, he burst out laughing. He sat down at the edge of the bed and laughed some more.
“Jesus,” he muttered. “I’m fine. It’s nothing. I just thought I saw—nothing.” The semi darkness, the alcohol in his brain had played a trick on his vision.
Kamilah studied her own feet, her brows furrowed.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Kamilah. There it is, the famous telescope,” he said, making a dramatic gesture with his hand.
The distress on her face faded and a reassured smile curved her lips.
She went across the room and stood next to it. Then she touched it and, looking at him and smiling, trailed the length of it with her fingers. If she was in any way aware of the suggestiveness of her deed, he couldn’t tell. Her face was the embodiment of virtuousness. But he would never look at a telescope the same way again.
The window was closed and the curtains drawn.
She leaned over and peered into the eyepiece.
“Darkness,” she whispered.
“That’s the universe, Kamilah. Ninety percent darkness, empty voids. With only billions of tiny clusters of galaxies containing billions of tiny stars. Of course, it might help to uncap the lens,” he mocked gently, getting up from the bed and lifting the cover.
She giggled. “Oh. Sorry.”
“And to turn off the lights.” As he leaned over to switch off the night lamp, he shot a sideways glance to her feet. Enclosed in beige sandals, the toenails shiny with pink polish, feminine and pretty.
“Show me Jupiter!” she demanded with childlike enthusiasm.
“You can’t see Jupiter now. It practically rises and sets with the sun. It’s stunning during the winter months, though.”
“Oh…” She seemed disappointed.
Something about his voice must have sounded different, because she suddenly turned to him with a serious expression. Their bodies were very close.
“How did you overhear our conversation amid all that noise? In the tavern, I mean.”
For a moment she was silent. “I have telepathic powers,” she finally said.
“So am I.” She smiled, enchanting him again, displaying her sharp, perfect little teeth. “Show me the rings of Saturn,” she insisted.
In such proximity he could feel her breath, sweet, clean.
“I’m afraid Saturn is also a winter planet. But don’t look so sad. There’s much more to see at this time of the year. Mars is quite impressive. The Andromeda Galaxy, the Northern Cross, Vega, as well as several star clusters.” He cleared his throat, which had abruptly turned parched. “I’ll show you many things, but not from here. The window and balcony are looking to the north. Eastern and southern skies are the best. We’ll go to the roof. There we’ll have the whole scope. It’s quite spectacular.”
He glanced at the digital clock on the night table. “It’s almost two thirty. I guess it is a bit late for exploring the universe?” His voice sounded alien, husky.
She remained motionless, her eyes never leaving his.
“Tomorrow night,” he said. “I promise you. On the roof.”
“The glint in your eye…it’s perverse…for such a pure and noble soul.” She leaned her head on his chest.
“You will corrupt me,” Gabriel whispered next to her ear, while his hands firmly pulled her to him.
She gave a soft gasp, her arms instantly around his neck. “Yes, Gabriel…” she said breathlessly. “But for now you’re still the angel.”
He lost himself in her.
Then, for a split second, what he had seen previously struck him like an explosion: the sight of her legs without feet. Oh, her feet had been there all right, attached to her ankles, but they were facing the opposite way.
Her feet had been backwards.
Notes From the author...
"Dark Lullaby is about a young astrophysicist who is lured into the Turkish countryside by a mysterious young woman, of course, she ends up being something totally unexpected. In the end, he has to face his own demons in order to save his twin sister’s unborn child.
I’ve always been very interested in moral dilemmas and in the concept of a higher good. For instance, is it okay for a man to steal in order to have monbey to save his little girl, who is dying? In the case of Dark Lullaby, I went a step further: is it okay for a man to kill for the higher good? More than horror, it is a bizarre, suspenseful tale. It is based on Turkish lore. I lived in Turkey for five years and the culture, the people, the stories I heard there had a big influence on my writing."
Why I decided to use Turkey as my setting...
"The first part of Dark Lullaby takes place in Baltimore, but it was inevitable for the setting to move to Turkey. This has to do with the nature of the anti-heroine which I will not reveal here, of course. J I also wanted to add a primitive, exotic flavor to the story, and what could be more primitive and exotic than a small village in the Black Sea coast, a place surrounded by woods and influenced by strange lore? I don’t think there are many scary stories out there connected to Turkish lore, so I thought: hey, this is something different, something readers may find unusual and original. So for this novel, I felt the setting was very important for the plot."
What appeals to me about the supernatural...
"I detest gore. What appeals to me are the unknown, the unexplainable, and a good story with good characterization and a lot of dark atmosphere. Paranormal is probably my favorite of all genres, but I hesitate to say I like horror because horror has turned to trash these days. I like the classic, traditional ‘horror’ ala Edgar Allan Poe, very different from the average horror being written these days. I can think of a novel I read a couple of years ago, a ghost story with stunning writing: The Ghost Writer, by John Hartwood. I guess what I like falls more under paranormal or supernatural suspense, but the lines are so thin between genres and subgenres these days, sometimes it’s hard to categorize a book."