Percy Shelley had been reckless ignoring the storm warnings, and the violent squall would not be outrun. Moments before tumultuous waves engulfed the Don Juan and its sailors, Percy shoved a book of Keat's poems into his pocket. Most appropriately, poetry would be this Romantic poet's last thought before his death on that fateful day.
Adding to the trauma of their loved ones, the uncaring sea wouldn't spit their bodies ashore for another ten days. Shelley’s friends – Lord Byron, novelist Edward John Trelawney, and poet Leigh Hunt – claimed the remains, only identifying him by his clothes. His face, rendered unrecognizable within the water's depths, wouldn't be the most chilling aspect of his death. As his body was cremated on a pyre on the beach, his heart remained whole, refusing to burn in the fire. With others staring aghast, his friend, John Trelawney, burned his hand reaching into the fire to retrieve the indestructible organ. Eventually, the heart was given to Percy's grieving widow, Mary Shelley, best known for her literary masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Mary carefully wrapped her dead husband's heart in one of his last poems, Adonais. For the next thirty years, the heart lived in her desk – the centre of her literary output. It was an interesting choice by Mary, keeping his heart closest to her writing. Seemingly more devoted to Percy in death than in life, she spent decades labouring over his poems, editing, bring them to public attention. It was as if Percy's spirit directed her actions.
After Mary's death in 1851, Percy's heart was then kept by their son until he died in 1889. At that time, his heart was finally laid to rest in the Shelley family vault in St. Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth, England.
After crumpling the paper in my hands, I flicked my wrist, once again trying to hit the bin, and once again missing the target. Sighing, I stared hopelessly at the growing pile of crumpled paper on the floor.
It had seemed odd to many that I didn't use my laptop for writing. To be honest, I wanted to feel like one of the old-school writers, so the simple pen was my preferred writing tool. I chewed on my pen when deep in thought and rapped my forehead with it when frustrated. Right now, my head throbbed from the thumping it had taken over the last hour, unable to concentrate as his words kept echoing inside my head.
"Your writing lacks authenticity," he had said.
"It's planned. Calculated. A far cry from the poems of the Romantic writers you hope to emulate," he had added, twisting the knife.
And the one that really stung was when he had said, "It's like you are devoid of passion."
I hoped he hadn't noticed how embarrassment coloured my cheeks. It was hard to write with passion when you hadn't made love yet. In my teen years, I had prided myself on keeping my legs closed to those immature boys. I was a hopeless romantic who wanted to save myself for my wedding night. Sure, I'd been kissed a few times ... even had my plump breasts felt up a time or two ... but when I refused to lower my knickers for them, boys stopped asking me on dates. As I said, I was proud of my choice. Proud until I reached uni, and being a virgin at my age came to mean something was wrong with me. As a twenty-two-year-old virgin, I could hardly argue with his last statement about my lack of passion.
He, the man throwing the barbs my way, was Professor Wentworth, my Creative Writing professor. I valued his opinion because he was known for his connections in the publishing world. If he admired your work, you had a definite foot in the door – the door usually closed to unproven wannabe writers like me.
His last statement before I left his office had been, "Do something that scares you ... then write about it."
I knew what scared me ... that one thing that raised goosebumps all over my body. Hugging myself I thought, I have to visit a graveyard.
I intended to reach St. Peter's Church much earlier in the day. Really, I did. My irrational fear had stopped me each time. My heart raced, chest muscles clenched. Fighting fear was truly exhausting! I talked myself out of going a few more times, but eventually, my desire to improve my writing became bigger than my fear of graveyards. I knew which graveyard I had to visit – the Shelley family vault. Maybe, if I was lucky, some of the Shelley family brilliance would rub off on me ... if I could force myself to touch the gravestone.
Easy to find, the church was situated in the heart of Bournemouth. I always felt a layer of protection with a church on the grounds. The walking dead wouldn't dare disturb the Holy. Or would they? The Gothic architecture momentarily distracted me from my death-laden thoughts. Looming overhead was a towering spire with dramatic arched windows. Surely any Spirits floating around would feel God's eyes upon them and stay out of trouble. I stood shifting my weight from one foot to the other, glancing at the graveyard. Well, get on with it! I screamed inside my head.
My first step onto the grounds was tentative. I tapped my toe on the grass as if waiting for the ground to swallow me up. Of course, it didn't. All that happened was I drew a few odd glances from other visitors. Stop being so silly! I scolded myself again. Sucking in my breath, I set off up the hill to the Shelley family vault highlighted on my map and didn't release my breath until I reached my destination. There would be no browsing this creepy place. Nope. In and out was my plan.
I knew the massive stone was their vault before I read the carved names. It was appropriately larger than the others, spotlighted, making sure one knew of its importance. Upon reaching it, I closed my eyes, making a memory of my feelings to recall and describe later with my pen.
Without warning, emotions swept over me. With tears stinging my eyes, I blurted out, "I want to be a poet." I had spoken these words before but never with this much longing in my heart. Fear of this place was replaced with yearning. Yes, I yearned to know Percy Shelley. Craved the secret to his famous poems. I knew I had a hole within me that needed filling.
Without trepidation, my hand reached out and traced the letters of his name etched in the stone – Percy Bysshe Shelley. How I wished I'd lived during his time. I didn't want to be just any poet, but a Romantic poet. My world was full of robotic analysts; all of us had become digitized. Concrete jungles replaced the lush, green ones. I felt it was my purpose to reintroduce this world to the beauty surrounding us. Awe-inspiring nature should be respected once again. Imagination should be revered over reason. I needed to find the words within me to express these things. Show me a poet's soul, Percy!
Within moments, the air around me turned noticeably cooler. Looking up at the sky, I looked for the reason for the sudden temperature drop, yet saw none. I shivered, hugging myself. Maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Dead people. A gothic-looking church. All these things could give one an eerie feeling. Despite my uneasiness, I couldn't quite will my feet to move. Instead, I stood staring at the Shelley family vault, wondering about Percy. What did he have inside of him that I lacked?
Soul meets soul on lovers' lips. Percy Shelley's words drowned my thoughts. Without my intention, his face materialized in my mind. Handsome, yes, but also androgynous, I thought. His mouth was beautifully shaped. And his eyes – vibrant, captivating. But, so young was this picture in my mind. Sadly, he died just shy of thirty years old. "How tragic," I said aloud, wondering what else he would have created if he had lived longer.
My train of thought vanished as something brushed against my neck, covering me in instant goosebumps. My hand reacted, swiping at my tingling skin. Nothing there. Maybe a breeze tickled my skin. It happened again. Okay, now I was unnerved. Snapping my head around, I saw nothing. Calm down! I told myself, but my fears came rushing back with a vengeance.
A couple not far away noticed my erratic movements and stared. I walked away, trying to find a different spot away from the mysterious breeze or wind or whatever. No, that didn't work; more brushes against my neck, harder this time. If I didn't know better, I'd think someone was kissing my neck. Again sensations in my hair as if fingers were entwined with my long, dark tendrils. Quickly, I relocated again, attracting a few questioning expressions from a different couple. And again, more touches. Yes, they were indeed touches, no mistaking this time. This force I couldn't see was following me!
Icy dread stabbed my heart. Panic set in, so I hurried to my car, shivering with fear, needing to flee this rapidly terrifying atmosphere. Once inside my car, I inhaled a few deep breaths. Better. Or so I thought.
My body had finally quit trembling as I managed to drive myself back to the safety of my flat. At one point, my hand thumped my forehead, trying to rid my brain of scary words - ghost, demon, undead, evil. Once inside my home, I decided a warm shower would help settle me down. After quickly shedding my clothes, I jumped underneath the heated water stream. I stood still, letting the warmth wash over me, and my chills ceased. A few moments of peace pampered me before thoughts of the graveyard pushed peace to a corner. Thoughts of Percy Shelley were in the forefront. His horrid death. The chilling story of his heart that wouldn't burn.
To my extreme discomfort, a new thought entered my mind – the thought that I was being watched. It's the spine-tingling uneasiness one feels when unseen eyes are peering upon you. Despite the warm water, tiny hairs on my body now stood erect. Shutting off the water, I stood naked and dripping wet, listening. I even held my breath, attempting to hear the slightest noise outside my shower. Nothing. But, the feelings remained. Finally, I poked just my head around the curtain. As I somewhat expected, there was nothing to see. Grabbing a towel, I covered myself and stepped outside the shower, ignoring the water dripping onto the floor. After a puddle had formed at my feet, I moved, leaving the bathroom and plodding towards my bedroom.
Get a hold of yourself! Deciding I was suffering effects from an overactive imagination, I tried to push all thoughts out of my head. Turning on some soft music, flute mixed with waterfalls, calmed me. After changing into my sleepshirt, I slid underneath my covers and closed my eyes, visualizing the waterfall I was hearing.
I guess I had drifted off to sleep listening to the music for when I woke with a jolt, my clock said 4:10 am. What had awoken me? Then, I felt it – a soft peck on my lips.
Terror struck me. My fingers fumbled to switch on the light on my nightstand as I bolted upright. Time passed at a snail's pace the remainder of the night. I pulled the covers up tightly underneath my chin, remaining vigilant. Something was definitely amiss and sleep would not find me again that night.
The next day passed without any odd occurrences, however, I stumbled around exhausted from lack of sleep. My muscles ached from tension. I knew I was walking tentatively with hunched shoulders. Again I believed someone was watching me. If I had any friends they would surely have noticed my odd behaviour and inquired about me.
That night, I crawled into bed, cursing myself for my childish fears the night before, vowing to sleep. It was not to be. With eyes closed, my other senses alerted me to a presence. I knew someone was in my room. Open your eyes! I couldn't make myself respond. You must! I obeyed that voice inside my head, trying the best I could to prepare myself beforehand for whatever I would see.
Stunned upon first sight, the most vivid blue eyes stared into mine. Not just stared but penetrated me. My fear subsided somewhat as a feeling of intimacy warmed me. My eyes connected with the incredible eyes set upon me. The eyes belonged to Percy Shelley.
My love will inspire and create.
His lips didn't move, but I knew the voice was his. Then, I awakened confused, trying to shake the cobwebs in my mind. It had seemed so real! What is happening to me?
Another day passed with little consequence, but I was still not myself. My lack of sleep was taking its toll, obvious by my inability to concentrate. While true, those nighttime incidences had frightened me. Another feeling had crept in as well; I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
I vowed to stay awake that night and plugged in a small nightlight, so I wasn't left in total darkness. Clutching my pillow, I waited. My eyes watched for the tiniest movement. My ears strained to hear any noise that didn't belong. I lost track of time and then it happened. The skin on my cheek tingled. Then my lips.
My lips impress a lingering kiss.
The voice was back! I jerked the covers up over my head and then steepled my fingers in silent prayer.
Stop fighting me.
More words appeared out of nowhere inside my head. The voice ... it wasn't mine. Or was it? God, I felt as if I was losing my wits!
I popped my head out from underneath the covers and looked around. Nothing. Then, I cupped my ears, unreasonably hoping it would silence the voices. My lips ... softness touched them. Covering them with my hand didn't stop the kissing.
Stop resisting and drink of joy.
I quit trying to make sense of it all. The sensations ceased, and I had to admit they were not unpleasant but tender. Logic failed me here, so I resigned myself to just feel. Surprisingly, I found myself missing the tingling, willing it to return. Something inside me told me to obey the voice. Removing my hand from my mouth, I lay waiting. With the next touch of my lips, I bravely kissed back. Opening my eyes I saw nothing, so I clenched them shut again. More kissing followed and my skin became heated. Aroused. I had become aroused.
My neck rotated, wanting to feel the kisses everywhere ... over every inch of my skin. A nip of my ear made me gasp. Whatever or whoever was kissing me, I liked it. A lot. The kisses trailed down my neck. It was as if I lay naked, even though a nightshirt covered my body. These touches were directly touching my skin. Oh, what pleasure I had not felt before.
There was an unseen weight upon me, pressing me into the mattress. A weight, yet weightless too. Whatever was happening comforted me. I no longer felt threatened, but cherished. The most intimate connection I had yet experienced in my young life.
You are my beautiful lover! Open yourself to me!
Something explosive was building inside me. Terrifying, yet thrilling. Please don't stop...
There was no pain, only incredible pleasure ... indescribable pleasure which curled my toes.
"Oh, God!" I screamed.
This is no God, echoed in my head.
I lay on my back, clawing at the air, yet grasping nothing. My hands fell to my sides and settled for twisting the sheets.
"Percy?" I whispered into the darkness, struggling to regain my normal breathing. My soul knew the answer but needed him to say the words.
I was unsure if the voice came from within my own head or outside my body, but a male voice finally answered. He whispered, Yes ... and like Mary before you, I will fuel your writing with passion.
The heat escalating inside my body woke me. "Percy?"
Yes, my love.
"I was just making sure you were still here."
I'm always here.
It had been close to a month since Percy revealed himself to me. A month of utter bliss as he showed me, love, as I'd never known before. I did love him and I'll never forget that night when he said he loved me too. Our lovemaking wasn't typical since I was unable to physically touch him. I couldn't, however, imagine anything more pleasurable than what I'd been experiencing. His Spirit lived within me; he possessed the ability to make me feel whatever he wanted me to feel. I came to realise how vacant my life had been before him. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that empty hole inside me would be filled in this peculiar manner.
I pulled up the covers and basked in his presence. We usually talked after making love. Those were some of our best talks, actually. He enlightened me with his philosophies of life, having experienced far more than me. I was a sponge, absorbing it all as fast as I could.
"Why me?" I asked him, having wondered since he joined with me that day in the graveyard. "Why did you choose me?"
Why you? Carolyn, it had to be you!
His voice stopped and my lips tingled from his sweet kisses. He continued, You are a new soul, not yet tarnished by this world, unencumbered by the teachings of the ignorant.
"And you want to teach me?"
Yes, there are so many things I will teach you, Carolyn. You must carry on where I left off - show this world how things should be.
I had another question nagging at me, though. This seemed like an appropriate time to interject it, but I feared I might insult him. Curiosity made me ask anyway. "Percy ... should you not be in Heaven?"
He didn't readily answer me and I instantly regretted asking. Oh, please don't let him find my question offensive.
God and I do not see eye to eye, he finally voiced with a gruffness I hadn't heard before.
Suddenly, I felt ill, unidentified discomfort in my stomach. "I'm sorry if I upset you. Percy, my stomach-"
I believe organised religion to be the worst form of hypocrisy. It seeks to oppress. And I will say no more on the matter.
As quickly as it came, the waves of nausea left me. No doubt, I had angered him. Wanting to shake this uncomfortable feeling between us, I changed the subject. "Do you want to know why I was at your family gravesite, Percy?"
You told me you wanted to be like me.
"That's true, but there's more to it."
"My professor told me to do something that scared me ... and graveyards scared me."
There's more. You're holding back from me, Carolyn. I sense your hesitation.
Dare I say it out loud? I knew I must. If I couldn't tell my beloved, Percy, then who could I tell.
"I refused to go to my mother's burial." Tears clouded my eyes as I thought back to that dreadful day. "My father needed me and I wasn't there for him. I've never seen her headstone, brought her flowers," my voice retreated to a whisper, "or said goodbye."
My dearest Carolyn ... fear and regret eat away at one's soul. You must right this wrong."
"I can't. Don't you understand? I can't go back in time."
You can visit your mother now. Take me to her grave.
I drove to the cemetery and parked. Percy and I hadn't talked on the drive. Despite my reservations, I didn't want to risk upsetting him again, so I readily obeyed him when he told me to take him to her grave.
I had to admit, it was easier this time to set foot on the gravesite, despite the nightfall. As luck would have it, a storm was rolling in too. There was a full moon. All the elements were in place for a terrifying visit to a cemetery, but for some reason, I was not afraid. Maybe it was knowing I wasn't alone. I cautiously walked around in the darkness with my torch highlighting each tombstone I passed. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to find Mother. Wow, Father had obviously splurged on the headstone, noticeably larger than those around her. I was somewhat surprised as he had always been a frugal man.
Seeing her name unnerved me a bit, as if it made her death more final somehow. I tugged my coat tighter around me to keep out the sudden chill. Fear settled upon me.
I'm here, my darling.
He instilled the courage within me to bend down and read the smaller inscriptions. My name was listed as her daughter - her daughter who didn't even come to her burial. The wilted heads of flowers hung towards the ground as if mourning her. I frowned, thinking I should have had the foresight to bring fresh flowers for her grave.
What do you feel, Carolyn? Open your heart to this experience.
I ran my fingers over the smooth granite, tracing the letters of her name, much in the same way I had traced Percy's name on the Shelley family vault. Her face appeared inside my mind ... and she was smiling at me.
"I feel ... I feel sad, of course. But, strangely peaceful too. Why is that?"
You have faced a demon. One always finds peace when a weight has been lifted. Let me tell you a story about my wife, Mary.
"I would love for you to share with me, Percy." I always grew excited when he shared bits of his past with me.
Sadly, her mother died shortly after giving birth to her and Mary struggled to reconcile with feeling responsible. She eventually found solace, of all places, at her mother's gravesite. Many hours were spent sitting by her tombstone, reading, and writing. It became her secret hideaway from the world.
"That's incredible, Percy." I had read about her and some of the unpleasant things she encountered during her lifetime but didn't know about her mother. "Did she ever take you to her grave?"
She did. We revealed our love for one another and I took her maidenhood on her mother's grave. A very deep connection was forged between us that night. Despite obstacles, we vowed to be together.
My body flushed with his intimate reveal. There was just something so ... so eerily erotic about his story.
You are aroused, Carolyn.
I blushed, not knowing how to respond. At times his ability to sense my feelings was quite embarrassing.
Your energy has aroused me as well.
With those words, he embraced me in the only way he could. The wind had picked up, scattering the leaves, yet my body became warm. My skin tingled around my neck. He knew how sensitive my neck was. "Percy, I need you."
Bend over her headstone, Carolyn.
What he suggested was wildly inappropriate. Here? On Mother's grave? Yet, I wanted it. Wanted him.
Give yourself to me!
I freed all inhibitions, lost my modesty, and gave myself to him. When it was over, I lay down on the dirt with my hand touching Mother's headstone. My communion with Percy ... almost palpable. He whispered in my ear, telling me he loved me.
Sometimes in my lonely life, I had wished Heaven to whisk me up to its golden gates, but no longer.
The power to compose poetry arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it develops.
It was phrases such as those which stole my heart. Percy's intelligence and masterful use of language challenged me every day. No longer living as a hermit with my nose stuck in books, I explored the outside world ... with Percy. He was especially fond of the water. He was surprised I had never learned to swim and as such, I wasn't fond of boating. Consequently, he had to settle for walks along the harbour with me. On one such outing, he chose to talk about his tragic death.
I failed to respect nature, Carolyn. Arrogance stole my life as I thought I, a mere mortal, could outrun the awe-inspiring storm. Nature showed me no forgiveness for my grievous error.
"Did it hurt?"
"Yes. I had always imagined drowning to be particularly horrific."
As waves plunged me to the depths and oxygen left my body, it was as if my chest had burst into flames. You see, however, my love for the water has not waned, even in death. It simply humbled me to its power.
"I am happy you found a way to be with me now, Percy."
Carolyn, your gentle mind and innocence has made me feel alive again.
I sat down on a bench so we could watch the boats in the harbour.
"I love you, Percy."
I love you, Carolyn.
We spent the next hour in silence, taking in the beautiful day, watching the boats dock in the distance. Feeling inspired, I opened my notebook and began to write, reading aloud each stanza.
Stop. You must not say something is 'beautiful', Carolyn. Tell the readers what beauty smells like, tastes like. Use all your senses in poetry.
With each instruction, I ripped my paper and began again. Percy told me when my work was good enough and I didn't stop until I heard those words from him.
I had spent an enlightening holiday break with Percy, but life called again and it was time to return to classes at uni. Professor Wentworth had given us writing assignments over our break and with Percy's guidance, I think what I wrote far excelled anything I'd ever attempted before. My professor had been quite critical of me before the break and I hoped he would recognize improvement in my poetry. Sometimes I had to pinch my arm to remind myself this was real - the accomplished poet, Percy Shelley, was with me in Spirit, guiding me, teaching me, loving me.
On the first day due back at class, I stood pacing outside the classroom, waiting until the last second to walk through the door. Professor Wentworth intimidated me and I didn't like my newfound confidence faltering. That day, we were scheduled to read our poetry aloud to the class.
Show them who you are, Carolyn. Make them feel, Percy encouraged.
"I ... I don't know..."
Your words have no meaning to those listening unless you read them with powerful emotion, Carolyn.
I took a deep breath and walked through the door and took my seat. Professor Wentworth welcomed us back and then set about with the poetry readings. Unable to contain my building nervousness, I fidgeted in my seat. As I watched my classmates read their poems in turn, my ears heard nothing. I was reciting my own writing in my head.
Hearing my name snapped me back to attention.
"Carolyn, it's your turn," Professor Wentworth repeated.
Read with the passion I have awakened! Make them understand! Percy coached.
I rose from my seat and approached the front of the classroom. Uncomfortable with the eyes upon me, I kept my eyes focused on my paper. With a soft voice, I began to read.
Upon reaching an especially intimate wording, my voice stuttered. I felt Percy's lips on my neck. Percy, stop! He increased the pressure as I failed miserably in maintaining my composure. I gasped in between a few stanzas. My reading pace quickened, as luck would have it appropriately with the writing.
At one point, I peered down to witness my blushing chest and hoped my cheeks didn't match. When my reading was finished, I glanced over at Professor Wentworth. His opinion was the only one I truly cared about.
His eyes studied me for a few moments. Then, he clapped his hands - slowly, yet with heart.
"Bravo, Miss Carolyn. Bravo."
No doubt, my rosy cheeks flushed a deeper red from his compliment. I walked back to my desk, keenly aware of my fellow classmates' eyes upon me.
Once seated, the boy behind me leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "That was bloody brilliant."
I whispered, "Thank you," without turning around.
You performed quite well, Percy whispered.
After class, I felt a hand upon my shoulder in the hallway. "Carolyn..."
I turned around to see Edward standing behind me. "Yes?" I tentatively asked. No other classmate had chosen to speak to me before.
"I meant what I said. Your poetry was most impressive - it moved me."
"Thank you." I felt my cheeks warm. Edward was very handsome. I had noticed him before but didn't dare speak to him.
"I was wondering ... would you maybe like to get a bite to eat sometime after class?"
"Umm, yes, that would be nice." I tried to smile naturally but feared my shyness made it awkward.
"How about next week?" His voice was steady with confidence, but he bit his lower lip. Maybe he was a little shy too.
"Sure." I nodded my head, then turned and briskly walked away with my head swooning.
I drove back to my flat in silence, trying to absorb what just happened, and also wondering what Percy was thinking about the whole thing.
He sexually excited you, was the first statement he made once we were inside my flat.
"He did not." I grew instantly defensive.
I felt your arousal when he touched you. Do you want to make love with him?
"No, I do not."
"Do you want me to?" I wasn't sure where this line of questioning was leading.
If you wish it, yes.
"I'm not going to have sex with some guy I just met. I've waited this long and may as well just wait until I have a husband."
No! You should explore your feelings, make love. I have not yet taken your virginity. Only a physical form can break through that barrier.
A tiny voice in my head was relieved I was still technically a virgin. Closing my eyes, I visualized his face. His words didn't sound like the Percy I thought I knew. "I thought you loved me. But, you want me to be with another man? How can that be?"
My feelings were hurt. If you loved someone, how could you stand to see that person making love to another? Would he love another besides me?
Love is not confined to one person. We can love many in our lifetime and should explore those loves to their fullest.
"But, I don't want to sex it up with a bunch of different guys. I want it to be special. I've always wanted to save myself for one love.
Surely, you do not think of marrying one man?
"I do. That has always been my dream." It was before I met Percy, anyway. Since then, the waters had become muddied in that regard.
I forbid it!
"You forbid what?"
I forbid the ridiculous institution of marriage for you!
"Percy, you were married not once, but twice!"
And both were monumental errors in thinking!
Once again, waves of nausea hit me. This time I collapsed back on the couch, head between my knees, stomach stabbed with pain.
"Percy, it hurts..." I whimpered.
Do not argue with me, Carolyn. You are making me do this.
Do what? I panicked, doubled over in agony. Was he making me ill? Before I could think more about it, the discomfort eased and I felt well again. Alarm bells rang in my head, but I pushed them to the far corners of my mind, not wanting to think the first man I had ever loved could be purposefully hurting me. My heart rejected that possibility. Percy loved me!
We kept to ourselves as much as we could that night and some sense of normalcy returned the rest of the week - if you can call a Spirit possessing your body normal. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a short-lived reprieve from our fighting. It had become disturbingly clear Percy could not only ignite my body with pleasure but twist it with pain as well.
A month passed and I had enjoyed another afternoon with my classmate, Edward, getting a bite to eat at a local pub. His friendly demeanour whisked away my shyness. Our conversations freely flowed and we even enjoyed a few lively yet painless debates. There was no such thing as a painless debate with Percy. This was something that nagged the back of my mind.
I returned to my flat, somewhat concerned about Percy's emotional state. He had been quiet throughout my afternoon with Edward. He didn't make me wait long before sharing his thoughts.
Edward arouses you. I feel it.
Sighing, I replied, "Percy, we've been over this. He's just my friend."
When will you bring him to our bed?
"Never! I've told you I believe monogamy is best for me. I don't understand these ideas of yours, Percy."
That is your religion talking! Mary and I frequently invited our housemates to share in our lovemaking.
"You did? That just ... just doesn't seem like what God intends for me, Percy. The romantic in me believes in one man and one woman."
Each person found it fulfilling, Carolyn. I trust you will find it satisfying. And when he makes love to you, I will bask in not only your ecstasy but his as well.
My chest tightened. "Percy, please don't hurt me. Why do you hurt me?" My eyes filled with tears.
I'm teaching you the errors in your thinking, and as such, perfecting you.
"I don't like you angry. You scare me."
Then do not anger me, Carolyn. I do not like when you anger me either. It drains me.
Defeated tears wet my cheeks. I never seemed to gain his understanding of my beliefs.
I will give you time to reflect and accept and then you will bring Edward into our bed.
Fearing another painful response from him, I voiced agreement but knew it was something I could never do. At least, those were my thoughts at that time. Percy had a way of breaking my resolve, which was proving more and more troubling. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to separate his thoughts from my own. In truth, my greatest fear was losing myself entirely to Percy.
My heart, however, battled my head over Percy and wouldn't accept the man I loved wasn't who I thought he was, so I kept blaming myself for our uncomfortable fights. At times I grew anxious tiptoeing around his feelings, carefully choosing subjects for discussion. It became clear we had vastly different ideas about the world. I didn't understand why, but it was of utmost importance to Percy that my views aligned with his. Often, I questioned my well-being with him, then we would enjoy intimacy and those worries would be masked by love. Truly, I did love him and his passionate side and would resign myself, once again, to strive to keep him content and happy with me.
The next morning, I took Percy to the harbour, which he always enjoyed. We happily chatted and he assisted me in my poetry. I basked in his company as I had in the beginning of our relationship. That night, Percy and I lay in bed. He was stimulating the sensitive skin on my neck, being even more affectionate than of late. Somehow his kisses dissolved any hurt from earlier fights.
Despite the next few days passing without incident, worries of how Percy treated me resurfaced. I longed to see Edward and asked him to meet me at the harbour. It was nice to have a friend I could actually see. Not so long ago, I had treasured friends, but then I retreated from life after my mother died. I guess guilt and sadness, maybe a little depression, took their toll on me. And then I met Percy and he brought me out of my isolation, showing me the life I'd been missing.
As we walked, Edward stopped us to watch boats coming into the harbour. His scent was different today - sandalwood. I recognized it because my father wore that scent. Curious how I was becoming more acutely aware of things I couldn't experience with my love, Percy.
"I love the water, Carolyn. There's something calming about it."
"I have always loved the water too, despite the fact I can't swim."
He turned to me, mouth agape. "No? Seriously, you can't swim?"
"Nope. And many have tried teaching me."
"I bet I could teach you," he winked. "I was a prominent member of my grammar school swim club, you know."
"No, I did not know, but prominent or not, you couldn't teach me to swim."
"That sounds like a challenge!" His eyes widened in excitement, "I know ... I will teach you to swim and you will teach me to write like one of the great poets." He winked at me again and playfully bumped his shoulder against mine. “You know, your recent poetry keeps getting better and better ... reminds me of Keats.”
“Keats! That's quite a compliment, Edward.” I turned and sat down on the bench behind us, patting the empty spot beside me.
He joined me and continued, “I mean it, Carolyn.”
He stretched his arm behind me, resting it on the back of the bench. I felt his hand grazing my shoulder and couldn't help enjoying this closeness with Edward.
Of late, I had found myself surveying Edward's body - his broad shoulders, muscled arms, etched jawline. I would describe him as ruggedly handsome - a sharp contrast to Percy's pretty-boy good looks. His presence stirred something within me.
My gaze lingered too long and when I met Edward's eyes, his face was plastered in an all-knowing grin. His hand gently squeezed my shoulder and my body ignited. His touches had quite an effect on me.
My joy lasted only a moment before thoughts of Percy flooded my mind and the words spurted out before I could stop myself. “So, what about Shelley?”
He quickly responded. “Most definitely, Mary was a great writer. Frankenstein will always be one of my favs.”
“No ... umm ... I meant her husband, Percy.” Always aware of Percy's presence, I was hoping Edward would cast a few compliments his way to prevent any angry outbursts from him later.
“Oh." He frowned a bit. "He was a bit radical, wasn’t he? I think when most hear the name ‘Shelley’, they think of Mary.”
Pain stabbed my insides and I doubled over, unable to move. “Oh, God!”
“Carolyn, what’s wrong?” He put his hand on my back and leaned his face down to where my head was between my knees.
I struggled to form words through the pain. “Something ... I ate ... I think." God, this hurts! Percy, stop! My stomach cramped something awful. "I better ... go ... Edward.”
“Here, let me help you to your car.” He stood offering his hand, forehead crinkled with concern.
The pain subsided and I stood, slowly straightening out my body. “Whew! The pain is better now. I think I can make it, but thank you.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t drive?”
“No, I’m good now, Edward. I just need to lie down a bit.”
"I'm walking you to your car. No arguments."
I saw no use in arguing with him and he put his arm around my shoulder and held onto me until I reached my car. It was nice - the physical touch from him. I had missed someone touching me. My mother had been a hugger, never failing to hug me hello or goodbye. Enjoying it, I lost myself to his embrace and lay my head on his shoulder as we walked, temporarily forgetting about Percy.
When we reached my car, we stood looking at one another in silence. I'm not sure why neither of us spoke. His eyes darted from my eyes to my lips. For a minute, I thought he might kiss me. Fear and curiosity and anticipation all struck me at once. But, it was not to be. He leaned in for a quick hug and walked away, saying he'd see me in class.
Percy was quiet on my drive home, so I remained quiet too. Once back inside my flat and not wanting a repeat of the harbour, I thought it was a good time to bring up something I had been pondering. I thought Percy would enjoy me seeking his opinion on the matter.
"Percy," I asked.
Yes, my love.
I was relieved by his term of endearment towards me. His anger seemed to have evaporated. "I think I may want to write a romantic story. What do you think?"
Why would you think such a ridiculous notion? Poetry is the highest form of art, so why would you purposefully deviate from it.
"But, Mary wrote-"
Mary never lived up to her parentage! I forbid you to waste our talents on vulgar prose!
Our talents? Before I could respond, my throat constricted. "Percy..." I panicked, gasping for air. As I clawed frantically at nothingness, he repeated, I forbid it.
He held me in that choked state for what seemed like an eternity as my hands shot to my throat, thinking I could pry his invisible hands from my throat. When it suited him, my throat loosened and I fell to my knees loudly sucking in air amidst sobs. After that episode, I finally, finally, accepted the awful truth - Percy was a danger to me.
With my emotions raw and mind scrambling for a solution, there would be no sleep for me that night. My body felt especially weighed down by him as I tossed and turned. Of course, Percy felt my negative energy. I could hide nothing from him.
You made me do it, Carolyn. You alone.
His words haunted me the next day too. I felt ... trapped. There was literally no escaping him. With a heavy heart, I clearly saw the direness of my circumstances. There would be no more casting those fears to the side. He had finally broken whatever it was that had clung to the idea he was my perfect love. I had to get rid of Percy! But how? Finally, my tortured mind arrived at a truly terrifying answer. I would need help from my one and only friend.
When I met Edward for lunch, he immediately noticed my melancholy mood and asked what had happened. Of course, I couldn't tell him. How could I tell anyone with Percy always listening? And so, I put on a happy face, made idle chit-chat, and stopped his line of questioning. He couldn't arouse suspicion from Percy and I couldn't risk another violent outburst by Percy either.
No one noticed the note I slipped inside Edward's jacket as we hugged goodbye.
I awoke the next morning with purpose. Luckily, Percy was happy I wanted to go for a walk to the harbour and failed to notice my steadily increasing heartbeat and sweaty palms.
As I climbed over the railing, he caught on to my intentions.
Carolyn ... wait ... what are you doing? You cannot swim!
"I can't spend the rest of my life like this, Percy."
Gathering all the courage within me, I decided to face Death and peered down at the rushing water below. Tears stained my cheeks as I released my grip on the railing.
No! I forb-
The sting of the icy water cut through his last word to me.
As I plunged below the surface, my instinct to live hit hard. My arms and legs, having never accomplished the art of swimming, flailed about haphazardly in panic. Their efforts failed miserably as I continued to sink into the depths, my wet clothes weighing me down. Panic had a firm grasp; however, I couldn't open my mouth to scream.
Everywhere I looked was the same landscape - nothing but water. What had I expected? Cramping followed by numbness in my extremities set in, making movement all the more difficult. I, though desperate for the suffering to end, couldn't force myself to open my mouth.
One cannot know the agony of running out of air until you experience it for yourself. My head screamed for oxygen, feeling as if it might burst. The water's depths were silent except for the ringing in my ears. Worst of all, some unseen force had a death grip around my chest. I cried out to God in those last moments. Percy had failed in turning me against Him.
Right before the end, I heard a voice. I love you, Carolyn. It wasn't your fault. It was my mother's voice.
I looked up as a ray of light filtered through the water; an involuntary spasmodic breath dragged water into my mouth and lungs, drowning me...
I awoke with my lungs burning, cursing at me while I lay on my side spewing murky water tinged with blood. The few puffs of air I managed to inhale were helping clear the fog from my near-death experience.
"Carolyn, thank God you're alright!" Edward's warm body covered my wet, shivering one.
"Edward?" I sputtered. "You came..." My retching continued, but he didn't move. My lungs felt as if they were being clawed with each cough.
"Yes, just a few minutes late. I'm so sorry I was late, Carolyn!" His beautiful brown eyes pleaded forgiveness from me.
"No ... no, you arrived just in time." I gripped his body with inexpressible gratitude for saving my life.
He kissed my cheek. "Giving you CPR was not how I envisioned our lips first touching." We both giggled, squeezing against one another. "I hope to get another try."
I must have been a ghastly sight, but one wouldn't know by the smile adorning his face. By now, Edward was almost as wet as I was, but he seemed oblivious, never taking his eyes off me. I warmed thinking of the possibilities with Edward. I hadn't been sure he would get my note. If he did, would he even come? It had been my only way out.
As I clung to Edward, I noticed the silence. Percy Shelley was truly gone from me.
It took me some time to recover from my relationship with Percy. I guess that is the way with most first loves.
I never told anyone about him. They’d have surely thought me mad. Maybe they would have been right. Soon after my near-death experience, I had wondered about the realness of my time with Percy. Had the Spirit of Percy Shelley really possessed me? When I visited the Shelley family vault years ago, I was a very lonely girl, still grieving the loss of my mother. I hadn't told anyone about my mother's suicide - how afterwards, I had felt responsible for her sadness. Curious that Mary Shelley and I both bore the weight of our mother's deaths. Did heartache give birth to creative talents? Maybe my mind created the Spirit of Percy to comfort myself until I could face the world again. If what had happened to me was real and not a mourning girl's delusion, I hoped his Spirit ended up in Heaven. Maybe one day I’d know.
My life took a turn for the better. Professor Wentworth used his extensive pull to get a few of my poems included in some collections. With new contacts established, I published my first fictional novel, The Ghostwriter. Although perhaps it wasn't really fiction, over time, my doubt dissipated. It was my story of a wannabe poet who became possessed by famous Romantic poet, Percy Shelley.
I hoped to make a name for myself in the literary world with that publication. Maybe one day, my name would be mentioned with the likes of Percy Shelley. I had to thank him for freeing my passion and teaching me about writing with my soul. I forgave him for his dark side, considering it may have fueled his creative genius.
It's curious how the water he wrote about and loved so much would take his life once, maybe twice. Poetic justice?
~ The End ~