Read Mind of the Phoenix Online

Authors: Jamie McLachlan

Mind of the Phoenix

Mind of the Phoenix
Book One in The Memory Collector Series
Jamie McLachlan

T
his edition published
by

Penner Publishing

Post Office Box 57914

Los Angeles, California 91413

www.pennerpublishing.com

C
opyright
© 2015 by Jamie McLachlan

eISBN 13: 978-1-940811-23-9

ISBN 13: 978-1-940811-24-6

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.

Cover Designer: Christa Holland, Paper & Sage Designs

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To my sister—for the abandoned,

the completed, and the ones yet to come.

Prologue
Braxton, Fortland
January 7, 1903

O
n a clear evening night
, Charles Darwitt sat contentedly in the back seat of his motor vehicle as his driver wove at a brisk pace through the streets of Braxton. A cloud of warm air coalesced with the frigid atmosphere with each breath that escaped his lungs, and the darkening clouds above were a precursor to the flurry that would unveil later in the evening. But Charles was unperturbed, as he had spent a pleasant evening between Mia’s luscious thighs. He was House Instigator of the city’s dream house, and his lovely young wife Estella was pregnant with their first child. And, despite the progressive protrusion of his middle, he was overall a robust gentleman of thirty-three years and had all the luxuries his wealth could afford. Yes, he was quite proud to say that everything in his life was going to plan.

The motor vehicle halted in front of a fine estate on Parker Avenue and Charles gazed up at the brick exterior with pride. He had purchased the house after his marriage to Estella, and had chosen the estate specifically because it resided in the north district in ward twenty-eight—a ward that he himself owned as Dream House Instigator. His lovely wife was most likely on the second floor asleep in their bed. Estella had taken to retreating to the bedroom early every evening, ever since she had discovered that she was with child, which coincidentally was when Charles began to spend more time after work at the pleasure house with Mia. The beautiful young concubine was just as fresh-faced as Estella, but thankfully lacked the unsettling protrusion of pregnancy that Charles found sexually unappealing.

His butler, Arnold, greeted him at the door and informed him that his wife had retired for the evening. Charles barely acknowledged the statement before he entered his study. A young maid followed him into the room and smiled politely.

“Will you be requiring anything this evening, sir?”

“A drink, Sophia,” he responded cheerily as he took his seat in a luxurious leather chair behind the ornately carved mahogany desk. “Today has been a good day and requires celebration.”

“The usual, sir?” she inquired, her hand hovering over the whisky bottle.

“No, Sophia,” he said, beaming. “Today calls for the cognac.”

“Yes, sir.” She began to pour him a glass, and he watched the amber liquid with greedy eyes.

Sophia approached and rested the glass on the desk’s littered surface. “Oh, I almost forgot, sir. A letter arrived today addressed to you.” She pulled out a white envelope from the pouch in her apron and handed it to him.

Charles took a sip of the amber liquid before he eyed the envelope curiously. His name had been written in immaculate handwriting and there was no seal stamped on the other side. He opened the envelope and pulled out a thin sheet of paper that had been folded three times.

The letter read:

One by one the stars shall crumble, and into the depths of despair they will fall.

And amongst the ash, the Phoenix will rise and conquer them all.

“Is there anything else that you will require, sir?”

But Charles was oblivious to Sophia and everything else surrounding him, for as soon as he read those cryptic words, a power that was not his own washed over him. The suffocating will of an outsider crushed his mind in its deathly grip of authority, and he was overcome with a profound single thought. There was nothing to do but obey the building pressure commanding his body to act in accordance with the simple demand.

“Sir, is everything alright?”

Inaccessible, Charles blindly reached into his right-hand drawer and pulled out the revolver that had always been meant as a precaution. Without another thought, he placed the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

The gunshot echoed violently through the street, followed by Sophia’s horrified screams.

1
Braxton, Fortland
Churchill Prison
March 10, 1903

W
hen all your
life can be summed up into either painful memories or regrets, death can suddenly appear before you as a peaceful end to all of your suffering. You will not shed a tear, because your body ceased such foolish behaviour when you were eight. You will not rejoice in the little time you have, because to do so would suggest that your last minutes are precious. Instead, you will simply resign yourself to the fact that the end is near and there is nothing that you can do to change the reality that has been forced upon you.

But, unfortunately for me, the darkness surrounding me has a way of creeping into my mind and forcing me to revisit memories I’d rather forget. So, instead of peace and solitude, I’ve been forced to live my last days in a cold, dark cell—practically naked and starving—reliving the horrors that constitute my past.

In the first few days, when I would awake from a memory, I would become ecstatic with the fact that I was still alive and had not yet been sentenced to eternal oblivion. But after those few days, I realized that the chilly, bleak cell where I had nothing but my memories as companions was by far the worst torture I had ever been subjected to in my life. The next day I shouted and pleaded that they kill me that evening.

Of course, no one had heard me.

I’m stuck and have never felt so hopeless in my life.

I stopped counting off the days a while ago, but as I lie here motionless I have the unpleasant feeling that the day of my execution has passed. In fact, I’m positive. There are no windows to determine whether it is day or night, but I know that the Elite are determined to get rid of me as soon as possible. They want to set an example for anyone that thinks that they can rise above their laws.

I did kill someone, after all.

I hear something that sounds like the grating of rusty metal, but I’m apathetic to the unexpected noise. Not to mention that I don’t think I could move even if I wanted to. I haven’t eaten in weeks, and the scant amount of water I had is now gone. My body has become mere skin and bones, and it’s an effort to even breathe. All I want to do now is quit, but the voice inside me demands that I continue to inhale the stagnant air surrounding me.

Light flickers in the hallway before me, and I wonder if the hallucinations have kicked in.

“Are you even sure that this creature is alive?” murmurs a male voice that ends on a suspicious squeak. “What was that?”

“Just a mouse, boy,” responds another voice, deeper than the first. “Now keep up. I can’t see a damn thing.”

My heart skips a beat, and I try to lift myself into a seated position as the golden light creeps into my cell. Hope flares within me. This is it. Today is the day I will die. The thought breathes determination into my limbs, and soon I’m resting upright against the stone wall, greedily gulping down air. I try to focus on the figures that have appeared before my cell, and realize that two men stand before the iron bars. But my sight is slightly blurry with insufficient oxygen and nourishment, so that their features bleed into one another and make them appear as hazy apparitions.

“Where is it? Is it dead?”

The longer I stare, the more I can make out the man’s boxy silhouette from the lantern he holds. He’s wearing the dark navy uniform of the city policemen, with a matching hat to complete the ensemble. All I see is the illusion of authority, mere pawns, meant to enforce the Elite’s inane regulations on the people. There is no hope for justice in the carefully steamed outfit, only the stagnant stench of dread that permeates the air anytime a policeman is present. He smells of disgust and fear, and I automatically resent the young man.

“I have a name,” I manage to croak, the muscles of my neck grinding against one another with the effort.

The man lifts up the lantern in surprise and squints into the cell. “Ah, so you’re alive.”

“Moira.” I don’t have a last name because people like me are not allowed to keep the name of our ancestors. Instead, we bear the last name of our master.

“Moira Del Mar,” says the other man, interrupting the policeman.

Unlike the constable, this man is well into his forties with a balding head of what once was thick reddish hair, and, as if to compensate for the lack of hair on his head, he wears a red bushy mustache that curls at the ends and a fuller bush covering the length of his jaw. He’s not wearing a police outfit, yet he oozes authority and wealth by the pristine state of his suit. Though he’s appalled by the grime surrounding him, his posture is relaxed, suggesting that he is accustomed to such an environment. A memory flashes before my eyes, and I remember that I know this man. He is the Chief of Police in Braxton, and the reason why I’m stuck in the filthy prison beneath the city. He’s also the man who will lead me to the executioner.

“Yes, well, you must be baffled by my presence,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “I have come to inform you that the Elite have sanctioned a halt on your sentence in order to present you with a proposition.”

“Is that so?” I’m amazed that I’ve managed to keep my voice steady the entire time and haven’t crawled toward him, begging that he kill me.

His excitement seeps into my cell, spiking my curiosity. He needs something from me, but at the same time he’s hoping that I will refuse. I dislike him even more, but even I can’t deny that he has my interest. If it weren’t for the distance between us, I would have read the answer right out of the man’s mind. But, unfortunately, I have to resort to asking just like everyone else.

“Yes,” continues the intolerable man. “And if you accept, the Elite are willing to eradicate your sentence.”

In that moment, I want to laugh, because even though I can’t read his thoughts I know that he is lying. The crime I committed is punishable by death, and the Elite would never agree—regardless of the circumstances—to set someone like
me
free.

“Do you think me a fool?” I ask contemptuously.

The man squints into the cell. “You are, if you do not accept.”

This time, he’s not lying. He doesn’t understand how or why I would ever refuse the Elite’s requests, and because he is an authority figure himself he doesn’t tolerate disobedience. I can smell the stench of superiority that exudes from his self-satisfied stance and the careful grooming of his mustache. A part of me wants to flip him off, but another part of me wishes to hear his proposition.

“So, what is it then?”

He sighs in relief and turns toward the dust-covered chair against the opposite wall. The thought of ruining his suit seems to change his mind, and he turns back at me. He frowns, and I can sense that he’s not accustomed to standing for long periods of time.

“Well, there has been a string of suicides…” He pauses and considers his word choice. “Or murders. At this point, we’re not certain.”

“But you think the victims were murdered.”

He glances angrily into the darkness of the prison, and I let out a short laugh. “I didn’t have to read your mind to figure that out. For one, you decided to clarify your word choice, and second, you wouldn’t be here if it was just a suicide.” I push further through his defences into the swirl of suffocating emotions emanating from his mind. “And you think that one of my kind is responsible. The thing I don’t get is what this has to do with
me?

“You are considered amongst your kind as one of the best,” he answers. “And second, you’re one of the few who’ve managed to escape.”

“Yet here I am,” I sigh despairingly.

“Therefore, the Elite believes that your abilities are valuable to solving this case,” he continues as if he hadn’t heard me, “and they will pay whatever price they have to in order to put an end to these murders. Even if it means giving you back your life.”

“Really?” I say bitterly. “What life?”

The anger inside me boils over, and I pry my way into the weak defences that the Elite’s blockers have erected in the man’s mind. A glorious euphoria rises up within me as the man’s thoughts and memories spread out before me like a delicious buffet of desserts. I pick and prod at a few until I’ve found one I’d like to taste. It’s an image of his wife. She’s blonde with a round face, and has a bit of extra weight that she tries to hide beneath a stifling corset. Affection and frustration are intertwined with the image. He loves his wife, but like most married people I’ve encountered he has allowed the stress of his job to stifle his passion.

In that moment, I can’t contain the urge that has overcome me. I let the image of his wife wash over me as I plant a seed of persuasion in his mind. I shouldn’t, for many reasons—one being that no one can know just how powerful I really am—but my starvation and desolation has left me so weak that I can’t even fight the darkness within me.

“Do you mean the life where I was a slave?” I say scornfully, as I crawl toward the cell’s entrance. To my delight, the Chief of Police gasps in horror and stumbles backwards as he undoubtedly sees his wife crawling toward him. “Where my freedom and humanity were stripped away from my bones?” I grab hold of the bars to pull myself to my feet. “Or do you mean the life where I was forced to pretend to be someone else every day just to escape my captors?”

“How? No!” he stutters. “It’s not real.”

I let a feral smile distort the image of his wife before releasing the persuasion. I lick my blood-encrusted lips as if I can taste the magnificent aftermath of his resonating fear before his mood quickly shifts to anger. Red patches creep along his thick neck and face, and I suddenly feel giddy. I want to laugh, but I’m scared that once I start I won’t be able to stop. It’s one of those hysterical moments that I’ve become acquainted with during my stay at the Churchill Prison; they creep up on me at odd times, and the mirth bubbles out of my mouth in uncontrollable gasps that result in a violent fit of coughing and gagging. I’m in danger and stand precariously close to another outburst, so I clamp my hand on my mouth in hopes of stifling the hysteria.

“You’re not supposed to be able to do that!” he shouts, and he’s absolutely right.

I shouldn’t have been able to sift through his memories like flipping through the pages of a book, because like all my kind I bear the mark on my right cheekbone that prohibits us from manipulating others without the use of touch and the person’s assent.

“I’ll think about it,” I say when the mirth has finally vanished.

“You’ll
think
about it?” the Chief of Police says incredulously, as I turn my back on the men.

I crawl to the other end of the cell like a feral animal seeking the comforting presence of darkness, and ignore the men still lingering in the hall. I have no intention of
thinking
about anything, for my mind is made up. I would rather die than help the Elite in anything, even if it means the death of more people. What do I care? Nothing. No one has ever cared about me, so why should I be concerned with the Elite’s problems? As the glow of the lantern fades into nothingness, I smile with the cold realization that I have resigned myself to die.

And I won’t shed a single tear.

T
he sharp crack
of a whip resonates through the cell, and my mind snaps abruptly into consciousness. I don’t remember what I had been doing; perhaps I had fallen asleep. Thankfully, this time there aren’t the brutal remnants of nightmares that usually plague my dreams, only the blissful blackness of losing time. I wish it would be that way every day. The whip cracks through the air again, the violent sound reverberating through my bones as I recall every single spot where the leather rope split my flesh open, and a swirl of dust dances before my blurred vision. The hazy outline of a man stands before me, the muscles in his forearms tensing in a mixture of anger and anticipated pleasure. I know his face, for the features have been burned into the insides of my eyelids so that no matter where I am I cannot escape him. He is dead, yet here he stands before me, ready to punish me.

“Fuck you,” I croak to the ghostly apparition.

His thin lips spread into a wide grin, an invitation for me to challenge his authority. The bastard enjoyed a fight, and I had always given him exactly what he wanted. Even though I knew I could never win, I had never been one to give up without resistance. Despite his smile, his black eyes glare at my pathetic state and seem to ask if I’ve given up yet. If I succumb, he’ll continue to starve me. But if I show defiance, he’ll feed me a buffet. His large hand clenches the whip as if to say, “Get up, bitch.”

I hate him; I hate that he’s here.

If I continue to lie there, he’ll persist in haunting me with the crack of his whip and his leering grin. But if I get up, he’ll leave.

I want him to disappear, so I clench my teeth and force myself up on my knees. My limbs tremble beneath the scant weight of my body, but I manage to bare my teeth at him in defiance. His smile vanishes as his mirage fades away in the darkness.

“Alright!” I try to yell, but my voice cracks. I attempt to raise my voice again and manage to shout, “I’ll do it! I’ll solve your stupid case!”

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