I went home with an astrologer once, not because he was an astrologer, but because he was wolfishly handsome with the stringy blonde hair that I associate with surfer dudes in movies, although he’d never been near a surfboard. In fact, I felt an attraction despite him being an astrologer, because I concur with Shakespeare that “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves…” I know my fate without consulting the heavens.
Asker’s apartment was at the top of a long staircase in an old house in Chicago, a crooked house full of gloomy corners, spiderwebs and odd nooks. The type of place to make a girl feel at home. I’m a night owl who avoids the sun, so I appreciated the blackout shades over the few windows. The walls of his labyrinthian lair were painted dark blue and he covered them with thousands of luminescent stars to form the constellations.
I noticed the layout and the exits, even as I caressed his hard shoulders, because I make a point of charting routes of escape. The rooms smelled of damp wood, mice and fetid decay, a stench only partially disguised by the scented candles he placed strategically in jars.
I basked in the loveliness of the night sky depicted on his walls, while he explained the significance of houses, ruling signs, planets, and trines. In those night rooms, lit only by candles and lamps with dark shades, I explored his silvery body with fingers and tongue, while he prattled on about the stars. I have known many men, but I still find a thrill in the arrangement of joints and sinews in living flesh. I seldom find that thrill in their conversation. I silenced him at last with wonder.
Afterward we lay twined in each other’s arms, his hair draped over my shoulder, and he whispered, “I must cast your horoscope. Do you know what time you were born?”
If he knew when I was born, he might flee screaming. I had met him at the Navy Pier, where he hawked his home-made astrological jewelry. His first question had been: “What’s your astrological sign?” And I blurted, “Capricorn,” because lying is my nature.
“Perfect,” he had said.
Asker wanted me to stay that first night, but I told him I don’t sleep well in a strange place. I promised to return the next evening. He wound me in his long arms and kissed me down to my belly button, trying to prevent me from leaving. I inhaled his patchouli scent and bit him lightly and playfully until he yelped. I tongued the wound and tasted him.
“You’re strange,” he said, “I can’t wait to find out what the stars say about you.”
“Why don’t you rely on your own senses to find out who I am?” I said, stroking his inner thigh until he groaned. An hour later, I left him sleeping, sprawled on his back, helpless as a beetle.
The next night, Asker made a meal of bloody steak, creamy potatoes, and dark chocolate souffle topped with crimson cherries. We sat on the floor, on fat, tasseled cushions at a low table. Candles surrounded us and the velvety night pressed on the windows. He poured a vermilion wine and we toasted to life, to pleasure, and to the constellations. His gray eyes glowed and his skin shone, ripe and taut. I watched the blood pulse in his throat, biting down savagely on my rib-eye steak.
“You had me at rare steak,” I said, sighing. “This is seduction.”
“Is this what you’d order for your last meal? Like, if you were condemned to execution?” He stared at me intently, with those incandescent eyes, as I sipped my wine. Surprisingly bitter for this vintage.
“I did your natal chart, from your birth time and date.” There was a note of accusation in his voice. “It doesn’t fit. You’re not a conservative loner, who plays by the rules. A homebody who doesn’t like to travel? This is not the chart of a performance artist who takes the kind of risks you do.”
I took pleasure in fabricating new biographies and personas. My latest bio was a performance artist who staged guerilla stunts in different cities, always on the move. I described my latest imaginary escapade to Asker: dressing as a spider, ascending a small-town water tower, and leaping off with a silken bungee cord, horrifying the small crowd of onlookers who hoped to see me smashed to bits. I imagined myself poised on the curved metal, the sun in my face, and then the long swan dive down, while people held their breath or screamed. Within feet of the ground, I’d snap back, flying into the eye of the sun, my mouth full of joy.
I bit into the too-sweet cherries, running my tongue around my lips, tasting the syrup. “Hmm, perhaps your stars are wrong. Perhaps they don’t tell you all their secrets.”
“No, I have faith in the stars. I think you’re lying.” Most people believed my lies and I thought of myself as a master deceiver. Perhaps astrology made him more perceptive. I’d need to investigate that. I had all the time in the world.
He glowered. “Drink your wine, it’s expensive.” I didn’t care for his nasty tone, but I drained the glass.
He pulled out sheets of cream-colored paper covered with notations and circles divided into pie-shaped slices. The houses. He studied them, frowning, looking like an angry detective with a difficult suspect.
I was intrigued. There was more to him than the surfer dude vibe, the hippie astrology kick; something darker, stranger and more interesting. I perceived the harsher lines of his face he had concealed under the long braids and the foolish manner. It was as if I were watching a mask dissolve.
“Alright, officer, you have me,” I said, holding my hands out to him over the table, as if ready for cuffs. “I lied. My birthday is March 12.” I smiled as I lied once again while pretending to confess.
“Why would you lie?” He leapt up in one smooth motion, his indolent pose shed like a snake sheds its skin.
“You’ve ruined everything. I need a Capricorn and you’re a Pisces!” He paced from the Aries wall near the kitchen to the Cancer wall next to the bedroom. This shadowy apartment held many secrets. An ideal hideout, with its small strategic windows and the hatch in the ceiling that led to roof.
I sat quietly, waiting, senses alert, the smell of death and decay keen in my nostrils. He finished his pacing and stood in front of me. He seemed to have grown larger and more menacing, his shadow blotting out the stars behind him.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now. If you had told me the truth, I would have left you alone,” he growled.
“Why do you need a Capricorn?” But I suspected I knew the answer. All those little clues: the smell, the obsession with the birth date, the walls with their cryptic notations, the tools for jewelry making that seemed anything but delicate, the doctored wine. We had more in common than the giving and receiving of physical pleasure. We dealt in death.
He bent over me, taking my head between his long fingers, my straight black hair between his knuckles. He looked hard into my eyes. Did he see himself reflected there?
“Don’t you feel anything?” Two vertical lines of uncertainty pleated his smooth forehead. “You drank two glasses of wine; you should be reeling.”
“My kind isn’t susceptible to your drugs,” I told him, pulling him down to sit next to me. “All they did was spoil the taste of what would have been a decent Pinot.”
“What are you talking about, your kind?”
“You swear by the stars and things unseen, surely you can accept my existence.” I watched confusion, doubt, comprehension, and anger cycle across his face like passing weather. His expression finally settled on fear. He struck out at me, pushing me away, but I easily blocked him. Then he tried to run, and I brought him down, pinning him, as helpless as a fly in a web.
“I didn’t intend to end things like this,” I said, looking into his terrified eyes, “I try to harm humans as little as possible.” I sighed. “But I will make an exception for you. I owe it to those oblivious Capricorns, Aquariuses and Pisces, the remaining victims of your cycle. I can’t help the others, except write a confession in your crabbed handwriting telling the police where they are.”
Then, I satisfied my craving. What a shame. I usually liked to leave them with a smile on their faces.
Bonnie Brewer-Kraus is a fiction writer and essayist who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in sight of Lake Erie. She is a former architect who is a member of Literary Cleveland, the NEO Writer’s Group and is a volunteer reader for the Gordon Square Review. Her fiction has been published in The South Florida Poetry Journal, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Gordon Square Review. Her most recent essay, “Dandelion Dreams” was published in Reflections on the Land: An Anthology.