Ames had finally gotten it into his head that he had an arch-nemesis, which is of course another way of saying mortal enemy. Somebody who hates your guts, who would just as soon stab you as look at you. It was ironic, because if you were to ask Ames what an arch-nemesis was, he’d have trouble answering you. Well, he knew what it meant, but other than a few enemies like Captain Hook, James Moriarty, or the Sheriff of Nottingham, he couldn’t come up with anybody. He didn’t read anime or marvel comics, didn’t watch those sorts of films, and no way did he play video games.
When you had an archenemy, that meant you were forever threatened by that person, and could be killed. It also meant you might have to kill the enemy in order to survive. Ames didn’t own a gun nor any other weapon, unless you counted the three or so knives in the silverware drawer of his kitchen. Those knives weren’t all that big, either. Sharp, yes, but not big.
The question is, how did he acquire this enemy and how did he realize he had one? Was there any way of dealing with the problem without ending up in jail, or worse, dead? He certainly wasn’t willing to let anybody get caught in the crossfire, should his nemesis decide to take him out…
The first sign that something, or somebody, was lurking around was about ten or so years ago, maybe fifteen. Ames was a lot younger then - ten or fifteen years younger, as was clearly noted - and he had no experience with things evil. He was oblivious to the danger he was in, which was odd because most people who make it to forty are able to sense situations and people who can get them into serious trouble. He was no good at that.
Clueless Ames, you might say. Or naïve. Or dumb. Danger can be hiding under every rock and people should be cautious when they’re out and about. However, he was almost childlike in the way he dealt with people, letting them into his life, spending time with them, or moving on. That’s not being heartless, just realistic. Life changes, people, places, moods come and go. Nothing is ever permanent.
We can’t control our feelings for people - not very well, at least. Maybe that’s why he had been attracted to the woman with the long auburn hair. It had been years ago and she had somehow entered his life, which was when it all had started. Had he suspected the outcome, he wouldn’t have gone anywhere near her.
The auburn-haired woman was a real beauty. Her name was beautiful as well: Ligeia. Yes, just like the poem by Poe. No, wait, it was actually a short story, maybe a satire of Gothic fiction, and maybe just the result of opium or alcohol in excess. Not for Ames, for Poe. Ames’ Ligeia was quite real and she let him know it.
Ligeia was everything one might want in a woman, and that didn’t just mean her beautiful auburn hair. No, she had a voice that warbled or trilled or cooed. She moved like fireflies on a hot night in late June. She tasted of blackberry liqueur. She was willing to hold an unhappy, lonely person until the hurt had passed. She could heal any wound just with her gaze and her touch. She also told lovely little stories to aid sleep in coming to those weary of looking for it.
Ames was an intelligent man, and not hard on the eyes as they say. That did not shield him from Ligeia’s wiles, which he merely saw as affection and caring. He felt so fortunate, because he had not spent a lot of time with women since he’d lost one he cared about more than any other, more than anybody else in the world. He had become numb to love, you might say. Until Ligeia.
Then things had begun to change, and the auburn hair grew darker, the gaze had dimmed and dulled, the songs never comforted. The presence of Ames’ lover had become a dark shroud (probably bearing the name of a Poe protagonist didn’t help in that sense) and he felt he was unable to breathe the way he used to. Things became extremely problematic.
Ligeia spent a lot of time with Ames, always wrapping him in her arms and trying very hard to offer him what he wanted. During the day she would feed him abundant meals with exotic ingredients that stimulated his imagination. At night - well, most of us know what nights are for - she swaddled him in thoughts of obscurity, warmth, immobility. She surrounded him so thoroughly and thickly that he was no longer comfortable.
Ames had begun to have trouble distinguishing whether he was alive or dead. He felt so protected, so loved, that he stopped worrying about other things. Ligeia was like a drug, an addiction, like opium might have been for people in the past. She made him forget who he was. He started to just settle back and take what life gave him. As long as he had the dark, dim, dreadful Ligeia, he was content not to move, or to move very little.
He was dying, that was what he was doing. This gorgeous female being was eating her way into his brain, like the Conqueror Worm in the original story by Poe. She was sucking at his very being, then spitting him out, all mangled and sad. He lost sight of her touch and so was often spooked when she brushed against him, no matter how sensual she was, how subtle and all-encompassing her movements, how perfect her body.
At last it began to seem that this woman was not real. Nothing she did for or to him could be real. She had taken over - conquered - his life, just like that worm. He was suffocating, losing his grip on reality, becoming paralyzed. He knew he had to do something or he would die. It was like “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” like Roberta Flack, except in Ames’ case, he was being killed by her song, by what Ligeia was doing to him in the name of love.
Strumming my pain with her fingers
Singing my life with her words
Killing me softly with her song
Killing me softly with her song
Telling my whole life with her words
This was what depressed him the most. He had no life left. He only lived through his lover, whom he no longer was able to identify as a discrete being. He only sensed her when she came to him, and she came to him so often as time went on. There were days on end when she enveloped him, wouldn’t let him up for air. Hers was a chokehold. He was suffocating. He couldn’t breathe.
Ames was at a loss. He no longer considered Ligeia to be his lover. The woman who had seduced him with her gleaming eyes and hair had turned dull and lifeless. She drank a lot and encouraged him to do the same. (It was really a way of anesthetizing the mind.) She was slipping quickly into a turgid hole, blinking in a way that was not good, like a lighthouse that deliberately misdirects sailors as they near the coast. As she descended, she tugged at him, her hooks - despite being painted with a lot of pretty colors - set deep into his flesh.
In the end, and the end took years in coming, Ames finally figured out it was do or die. His own hair, which had never been auburn but was still a nice dark color, had acquired gray streaks. He didn’t walk as straight as he did. He had become moody, taciturn, fearing to speak because she might catch him in her claws, soar into the sky, and release him, just to watch him dash against the rocky shore of Casco Bay.
When he finally decided to take action in some primitive, last-ditch effort to survive, Ligeia legitimately turned into a monkey on his back. He could see her there, every waking (and every sleeping) moment when he turned his head. She sometimes put her long-nailed claws over his eyes and hummed, which made him feel paranoid and ended up with him screaming. Other times she put her arms around him and her talons drew blood, killing him softly, still humming. Forever humming.
Did you get help? Did anybody ever suggest a cure?
Of course these things - and people - have a cure. You can seek out the proper medical treatment or just poison them with things like gin, vodka, even wine in big enough amounts. Alcohol has disinfecting properties, although it’s supposed to be like 40% or higher in order to have that affect. Ames never went near gin or vodka, and wasn’t about to start. He had serious doubts that hand sanitizer would work, even.
This Lady Ligeia was the Devil. She had gotten hold of him so hard that she had become a little ball of grit and lava pulsing through veins and intestines, threatening to clog up his heart.
She is out to kill me. She wants me dead.
Ames finally had understood what was happening and that in a very short while he would slip down the rabbit hole forever. A dark mind is a real trap. Ligeia was no longer the monkey on his back. She was in his mind, turning the lights down low as she hummed, shuttering him from any new or bright thoughts. He was on the brink. There was only one hope.
Somewhere in Ames’ past was a lifesaver, the one piece of equipment that would rescue him. His lugubrious, tenebrific, saturnine lover had erased all the things that mattered that had come before her. She had consumed them all, maybe by devouring them, maybe by dismembering and tossing them over a cliff. She had annihilated everything that had mattered in his life up until he had met her.
One of us has to go.
The only way was to move back to the time of B.L. (Before Ligeia, of course.) Ames thought he might manage that if he went back as far as possible in his memory and caught hold of better times, better… memories. Because that was what the femme fatale who had barged in on his life had done: she had done away with everything that mattered before her arrival, just wiped everything out.
The Ligeia experience had very nearly been devastating. Like a leech - kind of like her name - she had taken the things out of him that he needed to live, then burrowed inside him to finish off the job. Kind of like a tick, when you think about it. Dark and dangerous.
Ames knew it was up to him to act fast, to do away with the situation that was depressing him so much - and the Lady L truly did depress him, as much as any chemical imbalance in the brain can. He decided to reconstruct what he could of his past, maybe in that way rebuilding himself into a person who would not succumb to night thoughts and feel forced to end his own life.
There was a problem, however. Certain memories were unavailable. The ones he wanted to locate the most were about his mother, whom he hadn’t known well at all. That was the real reason why he had gone to Amalia in the hope that he could find a connection to her if she could locate his mother’s picture. He thought she would be neutral and professional, would not be dangerous. She might be able to help, because she was an archivist and was good at identifying artifacts.
Amalia hadn’t seemed all that enthusiastic at first to take on the task of locating a picture of a mother who was a stranger to the man who approached her. She had sensed there was something about him that was truly unhappy and her own life had been deeply disturbed by her divorce. She had enough dark shadows and songs of her own, he suspected, but he wanted to try, wanted to get better, be healthy. Happy.
The dusk and murk Ames had brought with him to their first and subsequent meetings had been obvious to Amalia, who wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with demons. She had been very leery of talking with him and had at first refused to help. She said her work would keep her from devoting the time needed to locate the ‘picture’ that even Ames had never seen and did not know therefore if it was an oil painting, a magazine photo, a sketch. He hadn’t explained the real reason behind the need to find the picture, but it was a matter of life and death. He insisted on that.
Death had been the depressingly intense, intimate relationship with someone who ended up trying to eat his brain. He had barely escaped, and was determined to pull himself away from the ever-threatening pit that his former lover had built.
Poor Ames! He was only trying to stay alive, and Amalia was only able to read his fear, his dejection at not knowing enough to skirt the dangers of the Black Hole.
(Don’t forget the Conqueror Worm… )
Amalia is not responding as he hoped she would to his (muted but real) cry for help. She has no idea who Ligeia was, or that the Demon-Woman even existed. She sees an extremely uncommunicative, sullen man, lovely to look at because he has a beauty only awarded by life. A man who is not exactly restless, not exactly needy, not exactly demanding. He is almost threatening, showing up as he has out of the blue and expecting her to help him find a long-lost item.
Ames will not take no for an answer. He conjures up everything he has learned from Ligeia and plans to use it on the archivist he hopes to enlist in his search. He has become good at twilight and smoke, crepuscular dimness, brain-eating worms. They worked so well on him and would most likely be effective with her. He could control her, make her help him get his memories back. With the memories, he knew, would come sanity, a release from the dank wells of the mind that has been abandoned, and survival. She had to help him, she simply had to. He didn’t care what it cost. He was ready to initiate the process of breaking her down.
Then Amalia looked at him with her not-so-young eyes. She looked right into his own not-so-young eyes, in fact. She saw him in a way Ligeia never had, and that meant she didn’t see him as a lover. Neither one needed that any more - if they had ever had needed it - and so her eyes took him in as he was.
“I’ll help you, or at least I’m willing to try,” said Amalia softly.
Could Ames ask any more of her than that?