Strung Up

By: Lorelei James

One Thousand and One Dark Nights



Once upon a time, in the future…



I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.



I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.



I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.



One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand

women.



Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.



Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.



Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.



As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.





Prologue



Cres



I believe that love is stronger than death.

That had become my mantra, my focal point in the last seven days, ten hours, and thirty-four minutes since the highway patrolman had knocked on my door.

I’m sorry to inform you that Michael Darby was involved in an accident and died at the scene. He listed you as his emergency contact.

The rest of what he’d said had been a blur.

At first I thought there’d been a mistake. Michael Darby and Mick Darby. I’d never called him Michael. He never called himself Michael. So maybe the cops had it wrong. Maybe there was another person’s life they should be destroying with this bad news that their lover was dead.

So I argued.

Then the officer calmly pulled Mick’s driver’s license out of the leather wallet I’d given him for Christmas.

And then I knew it was true.

Mick was dead.

How could he be dead?

How was that fucking fair? He’d survived four wartime deployments overseas during his military career. Four years in hell. Only to be killed by a jack slipping and crushing him beneath the wheel of a car.

The injustice infuriated me. Mick being a good guy once again. The Samaritan who always stopped to help. Only this time his helpful nature had gotten him killed.

I wanted to yell at him for being so stupid.

But I’d never get to yell at him again. Or laugh with him. Or touch him. Or tell him I loved him.

He knew. Because you reminded him of that every day.

“Let us pray,” the minister announced.

I bowed my head. But my focus wasn’t on the minister’s pointless platitudes. Instead I studied the shoes of the other four people in the front pew with me, all with one commonality—each pair was black. Mick’s father wore polished dress cowboy boots. Mick’s mother had opted for closed-toe pumps. Mick’s sister Aria had chosen wedges. Mick’s brother Sam had donned loafers.

I had Mick’s favorite pair of boots on my feet. It’d been a joke between us that since we were the same size in clothing and footwear, we’d doubled the size of our wardrobes when he’d moved in with me.

I’d felt the need to wear him today. His boots, his socks, his belt, his T-shirt beneath his white dress shirt. The suit was mine. The tie was his.

Had been his.

Fuck. Would I ever get used to thinking of him in the past tense?

“Amen.”

I raised my head.

Music played behind us. The organ made the tune nearly unrecognizable until the singer started “Let It Be” by the Beatles.

I closed my eyes. Please be a shitty rendition that’s way the fuck out of tune. Please garble the words so I can’t understand them.

But short of jamming my fingers in my ears and singing la-la-la…I couldn’t tune it out.

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