Amber grasped the silk train of her princess gown. She wanted to forget her busy schedule for one night—especially her job and her ex-fiancée, Robert Frost. Even though she changed her cell, pager, and home phone numbers, she had the uneasy feeling he was stalking her. She swore he lurked near The Pantry yesterday before her mother came. Someone with dirty blonde hair and the creased tattered blue jacket ducked behind the back alley where she took the trash before closing time at 7 p.m. A physical confrontation with him made her blood run cold.
“He wouldn’t come here,” she thought to herself, rubbing the goose bumps on her right arm. “He’s been suspended till the spring term.”
The one with her mother rejuvenated her spirit. Smiling as she stepped onto the curb, she remembered the shocked, pale look on her mother’s face as she stood in The Pantry Office, hands on her hips as Amber closed the door. She was tired of hearing her mothers voice on the phone every day.
Her mother had put her brown Gucci handbag on the oak desk. Pulling out the black swivel computer chair, she sat down smoothing her black skirt. “Why haven’t you been answering my calls? Where have you been all week?”
Amber leaned against the big oak desk, folding her arms. Her heart hammered against her ribcage, but she kept her voice low and even when she spoke. “Mother, I’m grown. Can’t you get a life? I don’t monitor you 24/7. My cell phone and pager are for emergencies, not tirades about my imperfections. I moved on campus to get away from your scrutiny. I don’t now or ever intend to live up to your high standards. My good grades were never enough. You were never satisfied, always wanting more. If your life were as perfect as you wanted it, you wouldn’t be nit picking over mine trying to change things.”
Her mother’s lip quivered and she turned pale. Tugging at her white silk blouse with the pearl buttons, she stared at her daughter for what seemed an eternity. Amber met her gaze, determined to make this her mother’s last phone call, tirade, and visit. Picking up her purse, she turned on her heel and strode from the office without a word.
Her boss applauded; along with a few other employees who “pretended” not to listen. When she opened the door, everyone scattered. Her cell phone and pager remained silent that night, except for two or three wrong numbers.
She wanted to have fun, in spite of her trouble with Mother and break up with Robert. The unfamiliar high heels, together with the heavy weight of the dress caused her to stumble and turn her ankle. She stood for a moment, fighting back tears of pain and anger. Why couldn’t she get the courage to tell the district manager, Gladys Lehman, she wouldn’t come to her stupid masquerade party? The manager’s daughter didn’t feel well and Amber had to represent The Pantry because proceeds from tonight would help them meet their budget short falls. She limped to the seat by the door, wishing she had stayed home.
“Are you all right?” Amber’s heart skipped a few beats at the deep baritone male voice behind her. She turned around, glad of her mask. This man’s eyes glowed yellow in the dim light.
“I’ll be fine. I just need some ice,” Amber said, blinking back tears, as she elevated her right foot on the chair next to her.
“Your foot is swollen. Let me see. My name is Philip,” he said, removing her shoe.
“It doesn’t seem to be broken.”
Amber grimaced. “So much for dancing.”
“Sorry. I’ll get some ice. Stay here.”
It amazed Amber how Philip blended with the shadows. In no time, he returned with a Ziploc bag wrapped in a kitchen towel, placing it on her ankle.
Amber gritted her teeth.
“You didn’t even want to come.”
“What do you mean?”
If you had your way, you’d be wearing your favorite faded jeans watching ‘Law and Order’ with a pint of Fudge Ripple instead of wearing a silly princess costume with ankle busting heels.
“I need some air.” Amber felt light-headed.
“You can’t walk on that ankle. Let me help you.” She sighed, putting an arm around his
neck, allowing Philip to carry her through the open French doors to the patio.
Amber laughed. “What did you do? Read my diary?”
“You keep a diary?” Philip asked, setting her on her good foot. She knew this man from somewhere, but the memory was vague.
As if sensing her thoughts, he moved in closer, removing his owl’s mask. Amber smiled as her hand touched his clear olive colored skin. She gasped as his smooth, warm hands came in contact with her face.
“Would you kiss me, Amber?”
Philip whispered softly, stroking her auburn hair, nuzzling her neck, and kissing it. “No, she won’t. Kiss me.”
Her knees buckled as his other hand caressed her bare back. Could this be the same person she met at the Psychology Clinic? She would’ve fallen if Philip’s strong arms hadn’t steadied her. The thought of kissing him sent a warm sensation through her body. His hypnotic gaze enchanted her. His eyes shining like new copper pennies. Before she knew it, Philip lowered his head, pulling her closer. When their lips met, time stood still. Visions of a black Composition book and someone being hurt by an arrow smacked her in the back of the head. Where was that book? Whom did the arrow hit?
“It’s amazing what you’ll find in the shadows.” Robert grabbed Amber’s arm.
Jumping at the sound of that voice, Amber got goose bumps. She struggled against his iron grip. “Robert, what are you doing here? Let go! You’re hurting me!”
Ignoring her pleas, he yanked her arm again turning her roughly to face him. “I have no access to you for six months and I find you kissing this person.”
She wrinkled her nose, at the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. “We aren’t engaged anymore, remember?”
Philip’s eyes glowed yellow. “The lady is with me. Let go of her arm,” he pathed.
Robert’s movements were robotic as his gaze never left Philip’s. He slowly released his deathlike hold on Amber’s left arm.
“Go home. You must rest.”
“I . . .must . . . go . . . home?” Philip handed Robert his Jason mask and creased tattered blue jacket, which were on the floor, steering him to the patio doors.
Amber stared as Robert left, yelping as she stepped back. “What did you do?”
“I gave him a hypnotic suggestion. It’ll wear off in the morning.”
Amber ‘s stomach growled. She tried rubbing the cold from her arms, but that made her shivering worse.
“Come with me,” Philip said, scooping her into his arms.
“The buffet tables are in the front hall. What are you d-d-doing?”
Putting Amber on the couch in what looked like a conference room, Philip pulled a leather pouch from his shirt pocket, removed the cap, and placed it to her lips.
Amber turned up her top lip, pulling her head back. “What is that thing?”
“It’s a milk bladder.”
“A tightly sewn pouch that can old liquid. See, it’s milk.”
She tasted the offering on his finger. Both were startled as they heard two male voices in the hall coming in their direction. Philip placed her on his lap, covering her clammy skin with his cape. She refused the milk, turning her head to the side. He pinched her left thigh, ramming the nipple into her mouth to stop her from screaming. He snapped his fingers, dimming the lights.
“Aw man—no computers in here!” said one of the frat brothers.
“Let’s try the third floor,” said the second frat bother.
Amber turned red as tears streamed down her face.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Amber,” he pathed soothingly, rocking her and rubbing her left thigh with one hand while catching her free hand.
Unable to ignore her gnawing hunger, she sighed, accepting the warm, sweet liquid. Philip smiled, humming softly. In a few minutes, the bladder was empty. Amber squirmed, trying to stay awake. She heard heels in the hall. Philip helped Amber sit upright, put on his owl’s mask and placed the milk bladder back in his shirt pocket before the doorknob turned.
“There you are, Amber. I’ve been looking for you.”
“Jade, I thought—I thought you left.”
Philip cleared his throat.
“This is Philip. Philip this is Jade Flannigan.”
“A pleasure, Miss Flannigan,” he said, standing and taking her hand, kissing it with a slight bow.
“What happened to your ankle?”
“I hurt it thanks to those high heels you forced me to wear.”
Jade avoided her roommate’s glare. “I’d offer a ride home, but I’m on the clean up committee.”
“I’ll make sure she gets home safely.” Amber sighed, without Philip to carry her, there was no way she’d get up those steep stairs to the apartment.
Amber saw the questions in her friend’s face in spite of the clown make up she wore. The last thing she wanted was facing third degree over Philip.
Jade smiled, speaking after a long pause. “Goodnight then.”
Scooping her off the couch, Philip said, “The party’s breaking up. I’d better get you home.”
“I swear that woman is inconsiderate. I ought to slug her for making me wear these
“Surely she meant well. The costume suits you.”
To avoid the crowded foyer, they left using the shadows.
The crisp night air made Amber shiver. The black cape Philip ware was large enough for them both.
“I’ll be home and in my warm bed before Jade has time to question me,’ Amber thought, to herself, smiling. A few cars with stereos blaring startled her as they went past the trees that hid the limo. The wind blew stronger now. Philip placed Amber on the seat and squeezed in beside her, placing her back on his lap as he did in the conference room.
“Take us home, Jacob.”
“Very good, Sir.”
“Where am I? This isn’t my apartment,” Amber said, as she lain on a soft mattress.
She struggled unsuccessfully to sit up on her elbows, groaning as her sore, tired body
fell against the white satin pillows. Philip knelt by the four-poster bed, removing her right shoe.
“Don’t be afraid. I promise I’ll answer all your questions if you stay the weekend,” he
said, elevating her foot.
This room was fit for a princess with its old oak furniture and satin comforter. Even with the large bed, there was room for a wardrobe, dressing table, full-length mirror, and a round table by the window. “It isn’t proper.”
“How much sleep would you get if you went home right now?”
“There he goes again,” she thought to herself, adjusting her skirts with a shaky left hand.
Amber couldn’t remember the last time she had a quiet weekend with no interruptions. She was grateful that her cell phone and pager remained silent even though they were on during the masquerade ball. They were short two people at the Pantry because of flu season. Her supervisor expected her to work double shifts stocking shelves. She had to study too. Thank
goodness Amber enjoyed challenges. Her schedule would wear anyone out. She grinned and nodded in agreement as she turned her pager and cell off.
Between her job, Jade’s non-stop chatter, and her Master’s classes, something had to give. Philip cupped her chin, kissing her longer this time. Amber pulled away.
“I’ll stay on one condition, no physical contact unless it’s necessary.”
“Why can’t you allow yourself to be loved? Let go once in a while.”
Amber’s voice cracked as she spoke. “I did that with Robert and look where it got me.”
Philip took her left hand, brushing a tear from her cheek with his right. “I’m not him.”
“I know, but I don’t want to take this too far.” The truth was, she didn’t believe in having sex before marriage. It was dangerous enough that Philip could sense what she was thinking and feeling. She tried not to think of how wonderful she felt when he held her in the shadows and in the car. Why did this feel right to her?
“I’ve never forced myself on any woman. What happened on the patio during the party was totally natural, no special powers. I sensed that you wanted to see me, touch me, and kiss me. Your body language gave you away.”
“What about the ability of fading into the shadows and the glowing eyes?”
“I can control my emotions, Amber. What I did to Robert was better than knocking him to the floor.”
Amber rubbed her left arm. The red mark where Robert grabbed her would be a bruise in the morning. “He certainly deserved it, though.”
Philip kissed the hand he held palm side up, and stood. “Get some rest.”
A loud popping sound woke her. Not remembering where she was, she looked around the room for anything familiar. She sighed when she recognized her costume hanging on the bedroom door. She heard the noise again. It sounded like a gun.
“What’s going on?” she asked, limping to the window to investigate, alarmed to find bars on the window. Also, four men dressed in green military fatigues with guns, searched the bushes below. The sound of electrical fizz sent a chill up her spine.
“This place is a fortress. Why does Philip need so much protection?” she asked herself. Even though no one was in the room, she sensed someone watching her, waiting. Was it Philip? Why was he interested in her when so many other beautiful women with brains on campus were eager to stand at his side? Her father often said she was beautiful and smart, but every parent thinks their child has brains, even if they didn’t use them. Robert managed to keep his grades high enough to stay on the football team, maintaining his scholarship. He was by no means her academic equal. He fumed when she told him her plans to enter the Master’s program two years ago. The only reason he stayed at this local college was to keep an eye on her, since he didn’t possess enough talent to play pro ball.
Philip frightened her because he saw through her defense. He could’ve done more than kiss her last night. Her weakened condition made her vulnerable to passion, its delights and its dangers. He had an old world charm that faded with each succeeding generation after 1960. Not very many men would kiss a woman’s hand or bow when they introduce themselves. His ability to read her mind unnerved her. While he knew what she thought, she wasn’t able to find out what he thought unless he told her. Okay, so she wished to stay home instead of attending the party. That’s exactly what her mother expected after one of their fights. It would’ve been too easy to be found, especially with Robert lurking nearby. The mere mention of his name made her shudder.
Rubbing both arms, she hopped backward. Putting the burgundy curtain back in place, she turned and hopped to the bathroom.
“Why were there bars on the window in my room and men with guns searching the
bushes below me? It feels like I’m in Israel.”
Philip sighed, putting down his fork, standing. “I was hoping you’d wait till after breakfast to start firing questions at me. I have powerful enemies.”
“Is that why you have a force field?”
After seating Amber at the table, he squatted at eye level. Amber squirmed, feeling uncomfortable at being so close.
“I’m a prince of Eros, Amber. I wanted to avoid my birthright by blending in as a college instructor of humanities. By coming here, I caused a rip between the two worlds. My younger brother, Prince Edmund, is using that rip in time to eliminate me.”
“Where’s Eros? Is that some parallel universe or something?”
“Yes. Why doesn’t that surprise you?”
Amber remained silent. All the strange events of the last eight hours began to make sense. Philip’s other worldly quality would scare anyone enough to make them turn tail and run. His dark powers attracted her. It unnerved her that he could use his powers to bend her to his will. She decided to emotionally keep her distance. She ate her food despite the butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t shake the feeling that by staying with him, she put herself in danger.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, until the guard fired the gun under my window.”
“What were you dreaming last night?”
Lifting her cup, she spilled her coffee.
“That’s what you did before your screaming alerted security.”
Amber pulled at her turtleneck sweater, finding it hard to breathe. So, he was watching her! “Now you’re spying on me too? For a man that asked me to trust him you’re not scoring many points.”
Philip stood up, eyes locked on her. “Sorry. I wanted to make sure your ankle was high enough. Now that we’re being honest, Amber, the only thing keeping me from carrying you back upstairs is your wish to wait.”
Amber blushed, tugging on the neck of her blue sweater again. “Guess I asked for that one. I loved the series ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Mother said I should stop watching all those ‘Phantom of the Opera’ movies too. I’ve seen all but the 1983 mini-series with Jane Seymour and the 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber movie version. They used younger actors. I read that they changed the ending too. Current shows don’t have intermission. It would’ve been a better film if they used the original Broadway cast.
He returned to his seat opposite her. “You never answered my question about my being from a parallel universe.”
“You mean about my not being surprised? It might explain my ability to read people, especially when they’re lying.”
Looking at her empty plate, she wiped her mouth, blotted the coffee on the placemat and stood up. “May I go outside? I’m not used to inactivity after eating all that food.”
“Let me get a few guards to go with us.”
“I still sense something bothering you. What is it, Amber?”
“When you kissed me last night, it bothered me when I felt as if time stood still.”
“Once the tear heals, we only have to eliminate the Cleaners that exist here. I’ll be safe then.”
“How long will that take?”
“It’s shrinking about five to ten inches a day. Not long now.”
Philip pulled the golf cart into the rose garden along the west wall, shutting off the
engine. Amber picked a pink rose, inhaling the sweet fragrance. Even though she tried not to notice, she felt Philip’s penetrating gaze again. To hide her nervousness, she put her hands in her lap.
“Why was Robert at the party, Amber?” he asked, hands in his lap.
She didn’t answer immediately. Running a hand through her hair, Amber tugged at the collar of her navy blue turtleneck sweater. Even with a chill in the air, she wiped her sweaty palms on her acid washed blue jeans. This place looked like the one in her vision.
“He got suspended last December in a hazing incident that injured one of the pledges in his fraternity. The university handbook outlawed hazing. Josh’s leg was broken in three places when he jumped from the roof of the administration building.”
“Something else is bothering you. What is it?”
“I don’t think I should tell you.”
Philip touched Amber’s arm. Tell me, please?”
“I ‘m getting cold. We’d better go in.”
He grabbed her arm. “Amber, I don’t like this distance between us.”
“Stop it, Philip! You’re hurting me!”
“Just tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Please! Don’t ask me that again,” she wailed.
Everything she experienced in the last few hours hit her hard. She never dreamed she’d be living what she read in a science fiction novel. The shock chilled her to the bone when she pieced the visions she had together. They met before. Dr Harris, now an associate professor of English, shut off the voices that screamed in her head at age ten when people said one thing but meant another. If she hadn’t gone with that twelve year-old boy, who knows where she’d be now? Her stomach lurched. She vomited in the grass twice. Why won’t the visions that haunted her day and night just go away? Philip wiped her glistening forehead and the corners of her mouth.
Her voice cracked when she spoke, eyes round as saucers. “I know who you are. You’re the-the twelve year-old boy I met in the doctor’s office 11 years ago!”
He smiled, taking her hand. “I told you we’d meet again.”
He grabbed her to keep her from falling out of the golf cart. At that moment, darts whistled through the air.
“I’m hit!” yelled Amber.
Philip’s eyes glowed yellow. The male cleaner dropped to the ground after piercing his chest with the dart in his left hand. The second man shot himself with his own laser gun.
“I’m so tired.”
“You must stay awake. I have to get you back to Eros. That’s where the antidote to the poison on the dart is.”
“How do you get there?”
“Under the house. To go through the gate, I have to solve a riddle.”
“What’s the political situation on Eros?”
“We gave the land on the West Bank to the Palestinians.”
“Is there a Saddam Hussein?”
“He talked parliament into using nuclear energy to power homes and businesses. North Korea, China, and India did the same thing.”
“What happened to Osama Bin Laden?”
“He was jailed and executed by the Saudi’s for his radical beliefs.”
Amber sucked in her breath as Jacob rubbed purple liquid on her left leg.
“That should slow the poison until we get to Eros, my lady. You were a fool using your powers in the open, my prince.” Jacob’s tan face reddened, his corncob eyes turned ice blue as he glared at Philip.
“You won’t be going this time, Jacob. You need to put the force field back on when we go through the gate.”
Jacob, tall and wearing a black suit, patted Philip’s shoulder. “Safe journey, my friend.”
Amber grabbed Philip’s hand, squeezing it. “You’re worried about that riddle, aren’t you?”
“It changes at every gate. I only get three guesses, if they’re wrong, I forfeit my life.”
She patted his hand. “I hope I can help you solve the riddle.”
Philip wiped his hands on his brown slacks, pulling at his white sweater. “I hope we don’t run into any Cleaners.”
Amber’s lip quivered. She blinked back tears unsuccessfully. Wiping her face and nose with the back of her hand, she sniffed.
Sitting on the bed, Philip took her in his arms. “Go ahead and cry Amber, my love. We will get that antidote.”
Amber’s sobs shook her body, lasting for ten minutes. Reaching into his back left pocket, he wiped Amber’s tear stained face with a white handkerchief, with a red rose stitched in the upper right corner. “Blow your nose.”
She did, putting the material on the oak nightstand. Her voice was uneven. “Don’t go.”
“I won’t,” he said softly, kissing her forehead and holding her tighter. Another vision came to her of a field and a castle gleaming in the sunlight. Was this on Eros?
“May I--May I lie in your lap, Philip? I can’t stay warm.”
“Ok, but why not just get under the covers?”
“Because I can’t hear your heartbeat from there.”
Philip wrapped Amber in the quilt on the bed lifting her to his lap.
“You might hear better from my chest. Doesn’t this violate the physical contact rule?”
“For someone who can read minds, you are dense. I’m cold, scared, and want comfort, ok. This is under the ‘unless necessary’ part.” She squirmed, trying to avoid the hard metal buttons on his shirt that irritated her cheek and temple. Philip undid them with his free hand.
“Promise me something, Amber.”
“I want to share your feelings. Don’t hide them from me.”
Philip cupped her chin. “Look at me—look at me when you say that.”
“I promise not to hide my feelings from you, now kiss me. We need to seal the bargain. I’m not the only one needing comfort right now.”
Afterwards, there was a long pause before Amber spoke again.
“Isn’t that rose on the handkerchief from the House of Lancaster?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
Dr. Harris said that Anne Boelyn’s baby boy was still born here on Earth, but on Eros, he survived long enough to produce an heir. He wasn’t fit to be king, so he came to Earth. One of his off spring married my grandmother on Dad’s side. My father was born, and then came me. We are distant cousins.”
“You do know your history,” he smiled.
“Is there another Amber on Eros?”
“No. I need a few things before we go. I’ll return before dark. Go to sleep.” he said, removing her arms from his neck, standing and running a hand through curly, black hair.
His answer came too quick. Amber knew that Philip was avoiding the question. She remembered a portrait hidden behind some burgundy curtains of a ten year old that looked exactly like her at that efficiency long ago, but dressed in a white princess gown. Jacob helped him prepare for his return to Eros. She decided to let his lies slide, for the moment, at least. It was more important to handle the task, solving those riddles, not arguing with him over this mystery woman, if she existed at all.
Amber stared out the window at the blooming roses below her. While she looked forward to seeing Eros, it hadn’t occurred to her that she’d never see Earth again, until now. Philip had to solve that riddle if they were to survive. She wiped her sweaty palms on her brown leggings smoothing the creases from her flowered tunic top. She turned as she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s time to go.”
Philip led Amber down a dark corridor The light from the torch in Philip’s right hand revealed cobwebs that hung low from the ceiling and several dead rats on the ground. “There’s the gate.”
“Where’s the riddle?”
“Above. I can’t read these symbols. They don’t exist on Eros,” Philip said, running his hand across the top of the frame.
Amber grinned. “It’s the International Phonetic Alphabet. I learned it in speech class as a senior in high school and again when I minored in English as an undergraduate in college.”
“Do you know what it says?”
Amber nodded. “What uses four in the beginning, two in the middle, and three at the end?”
“I’ve never heard that riddle.”
Amber stiffened, wrinkling her nose at a ghastly smell from behind.
“You won’t live to answer it, Prince Philip.”
Philip turned around to see a Cleaner with a dart gun aimed at Amber’s throat.
Amber pathed, “You can do it, Philip. Answer the riddle.”
He stepped toward them. “Come any closer and she dies.”
“Which key is it? There are four here with pictures,” he pathed back.
“Does one look like a man?”
“It’ll save time killing you if you answer wrong!”
Amber stared straight ahead, ignoring the Cleaner’s cocky attitude.
“I’ll bet this place is booby trapped. He’ll be killed by the gate’s defenses.”
Arrows whistled through the air, missing the Cleaner’s arm as Philip tried using the key that hung under the penguin’s picture.
“Two more wrong guesses and it’s over, Philip,” sneered the man.
“I’ve never heard of a penguin walking on three legs.”
“That’s Prince Philip to you!”
“Stay calm. Remember what I said about adrenaline and that poison racing to your heart.”
Amber took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
“Whatever, make your second choice.”
Philip tried the rabbit key. This time, an iron gate crashed from the ceiling. It missed Amber’s right shoulder by a hair, but one bottom peg pierced the Cleaner’s foot, making him wail in pain. He put the gun on the ground and tried removing the peg. While the Cleaner howled, Amber kicked the gun to Philip, which he hid behind his back.
“Rabbits don’t use their hind legs to walk.”
“Make you’re final guess, if you dare!” yelled the Cleaner, through gritted teeth.
“That’s using your brain!”
Amber saw her chance. Grabbing the gun, she limped to Philip’s side without fear. The Cleaner still had the peg in his foot.
“Where’s the...Oh, no!”
Amber turned up her lip at the haggard, unkempt man with red eyes.
Philip smiled, showing the man his gun. “Looking for this?”
“Go ahead! Kill me! You still won’t solve the riddle!”
“I bet I can. You’ll die without my firing an arrow.”
Philip tried the key under man’s picture, the door clicked. The ground split open.
“Man is the only other choice. He uses all fours in the beginning as a baby, walks on two as a man in the middle, and uses a cane at the end. That makes three.”
“You got it!”
“Once we go through this gate, it can’t be used again. I read it in the library.”
“Will we make it back?”
“Someday. Castle Serenity is across the field.”
As the hole in the floor got wider, Philip grabbed Amber’s hand and pulled her through the gate.
“How did you solve that riddle?” Philip asked, as the gate disappeared.
“I heard it in my freshman English class in high school,” she smiled.
“Let’s get that antidote.”