II.The Harpines

21 Nov

Alpheus went out to swim in the bay of the Amphiscian Sea early on his first full day on Harpine Isle. He did not anticipate what might happen to him that early in the morning. In his ochreous trunks, he rose from the chilly but refreshing water and stepped onto the dry sand as dayspring brightened, not aware of any impending peril.

Tall, blond, and azure-eyed, he had a muscular body that possessed natural balance and grace. Though by no means an athlete, he could have easily passed for one. The swim at dawn had put him into a state of electrified vigor. But he stopped in his tracks when he saw something that startled every nerve and brain cell within him.

A willowy young woman of a stately, sculpturesque beauty stood a short distance before him. Where had she come from? His eyes had not caught sight of this magnificent vision while he had been in the water, but now her presence had become unavoidable.

Her physical form was both slim and curvaceous. He had never before seen any female exactly like this one, he was certain. A dark brunette with a frizette of tight natural curls, she wore a short lemon-colored dress that revealed slender, delicate legs. Alpheus was drawn to her velvety sloe eyes, staring at them as if mesmerized. It was she who spoke first.

“You must be the vacationer staying at the Harpine Hotel. And you only arrived late yesterday and are now having your first swim. Am I correct in my guesses?”

The man from the mainland smiled shyly and replied. “Indeed, that is the truth. Let me introduce myself. My name is Alpheus and I live in Diaema. I work as a botanic apothecary. My employment is with a large medicinal firm, one of the biggest. Yes, I came to Harpine for a good, well-earned rest. My plans center upon swimming in this glorious bay. Are you a permanent resident of the island?”

“I am that,” she answered him. “I have never been anywhere else but here.”

“That is nothing to be sad about. Nowhere have I seen such beauty as in this place of yours.” He felt an instantaneous embarrassment. Would she think he was referring to her own charm and grace of body? That was what he suspected had entered the deep recesses of his mind.

“My name is Electra,” she informed him with a radiant smile. It is a very old name on our isle, going back ages.”

The two studied each other, concentrating on face and eyes, no longer gazing directly at torsos.

“I hope to see you again, Miss,” muttered Alpheus with hope discernible in his voice.

She grinned with pleasure. “That will not be difficult. In fact, it is most likely. You see, it is my mother who is owner and manager of the Harpine Inn. Have you met her yet?”

“No, I don’t believe that I have. It was the hotel famulus who registered me last night. A young gossom boy carried my bags to the room where I slept. I will certainly look forward to meeting your mother. What is she called?”

“Celaeno.” She paused a few moments. “Have you eaten breakfast?”

“No, I haven’t. My plan was to get in an early swim before the daystar rose. It has refreshed and invigorated me. I am now ravenous to have some food. Then I intend to explore your island, so full of marvelous wonders, I understand.”

“Breakfast is just about to be served,” she informed him with a small laugh. “We can have a table in the canteen and have our meal together, and I can introduce you to mother.”

“I shall change and meet you there, then,” said the bedazzled Alpheus.

Their breakfast consisted of samp porridge with freshly picked ficos mixed in it. The side dish held bergamot pears with muscoval sugar on them.

The two who had met on the beach said little as they ate. But as their meal ended a plump mature woman in an expensive black gown appeared. There was a commanding aura about this person who was evidently the mother of Electra. Her chestnut hair was unlike that of her daughter. But the iridescent violet eyes had the identical velvety quality.

The buxom older woman introduced herself to Alpheus.

“I am Celaeno, mother to Electra and her sister, as well as manager of this hotel. I am sorry I was not available to greet you when you arrived late yesterday. But now we see each other, and I can welcome you to the isle. We are anxious to meet all of your needs. Just tell us whatever is necessary for your comfort and enjoyment, and we shall endeavor to provide it. For instance, you may need a guide to get about the island and see its highlights. I know that Electra is willing to assist you in that, aren’t you, my dear?”

“Of course, mother,” replied the daughter without any hint of shyness. “It would make me most happy to do so for our guest.”

She gave a sunny smile to the young man she had earlier watched swimming.

All at once, a sharply crackling voice sounded from behind Alpheus. He turned his head to see who was talking with such force.

“So this is the apothecary from Diaema! He looks quite fit and healthy to me. The fellow must be taking his own compounds and medicaments to have such strength and stamina. I watched him swimming in the bay before daystar rose. Why don’t you introduce me to him, mother?”

Alpheus saw a small young woman resembling Electra move around their table and stand beside the mother. The latter made introductions in a low, soft tone.

“This is my elder daughter, Aello. She is older than her sister and is a great help to me in running the hotel. Here is the man from the capital who wrote to make his reservation. Electra has agreed just now to show him our isle. Isn’t that marvelous, dear Aello?”

The latter was a smaller version of her younger sister, but for some reason not as fetching or attractive. Aello had the same brunette hair and velvety sloe eyes, but was not at all as curvaceous or statuesque. She lacked the grace, dignity, and self-control of Electra.

Suddenly Aello made a bold step toward the surprised visitor to the isle.

“I think it would be better if our friend had two guides rather than one. Therefore, I shall offer him my services as well. He can have both of us with him simultaneously. Or at different times each of us can be separate companions and guides. What do you think of my idea, mother?”

For a moment, the latter appeared to gasp for breath.

“It is not for me to decide,” she succeeded in declaring. “What do you say to my older daughter’s suggestion, Mr. Alpheus?”

The vacationer answered with diplomatic tact. “It cannot be for me alone to choose or decide. I shall allow these two charming girls of yours to agree between themselves as to that matter. However they arrange things will be acceptable to me. More than acceptable.”

Celaeno looked at Aello with severity in her eyes.

“That is how it will be, then. Tell our dear guest as soon as the two of you have it settled.”

Alpheus realized that he had little familiarity or experience with women. That did not mean that he lacked interest in them. Far from that. His professional education had absorbed so much of his time and energy that he had overlooked previous opportunities to get close to anyone of the other sex.

But now things were different. His condition had changed with his work and salary assured. His career seemed well settled. He could afford vacations like this excursion to Harpine Isle.

I have met two unusual sisters very quickly, he told himself resting on the bed in his room.

What does that mean for my future? Can I come to understand either one of them in the few days of my stay here? It all depended upon him and how he related to each of the pair.

Alpheus smiled at himself. He was treading in unknown territory and had to be watchful and awake. There might be some unpredictable adventure in store for him here. But he had no reason to be fearful. His decision was to try to be carefree and seek the lark of innocent joy.

Electra accompanied him by herself on his first trek by foot into the tropical woods.

Here the guide pointed out kingwood, satinwood, gumwood, and featherwood trees to him. She showed him the stumps of felled baobabs, cut down for their edible pulp.

A tribe of hanuman monkeys cavorted above them, laughing and jumping in the high branches. Songs of a bellbird and a zygodactyl floated down in a quiet part of the trail the two were on. All at once Alpheus saw something and stopped. He bent down and pointed to a purple-red flower with large black berries. “Do you know what that is, Electra? It is a nightshade known in the pharmacopeia as Atropos.The popular name for this poisonous plant is the belladonna. In small quantities it induces sleep, but beyond a certain dosage the berries kill. They are extremely lethal.”

Electra seemed to look away, as if troubled. “Yes, I recognize it. Let us proceed on and then turn and go back to the hotel.”

They walked a long time in silence, reaching the end of a long, thick bosk.

“Shall we rest here before returning?” asked the guide. “I can see that the walk is tiring you” She pointed to a large fiddlewood log lying near the border of the forest.

Alpheus sat down first, while Electra hovered for a time behind his back. Her eyes feasted on his neck and spine. With his own eyes pointed away so that she was not in his line of sight, her eyes of velvet were free to gaze with abandon on the patch of exposed flesh. Her mind measured his reserve of muscle and tissue.

The inner self of Electra became ensorcelled by his young body as she moved closer toward him.

All at once, a loud voice yelled out from some unknown location.

“Electra! Why are the two of you sitting and standing about like that? Don’t you have the energy to return home? I came all the way out here to accompany the two of you. Come on, let’s be on our way. We should not be wasting time. Mother is expecting us for afternoon repast. Everyone must be ready to march back now, on the double as they say.”

The surprised and interrupted Electra sent her sister a look of sharp anger and disdain. Saying not a single word in reply, she jumped over the fiddlewood log and grabbed the arm of Alpheus, who had risen to his feet.

“We have little choice but to follow Aello back,” she whispered to the young man from the mainland.

The three young people concentrated on eating the spicy burgout soup and budgerigar. Celaeno entered the private dining room as they finished their plates of baked parrot.

“I hope you enjoyed the native bird,” she said, looking at Alpheus. “It has always been indigenous to our isle. We think of the tender flesh as a native specialty.”

“I found it deliciously delightful,” said the guest. “It is a rare, expensive delicacy in the city.”

The hotel owner laughed. “I dare say there are edibles in Diaema that are scarce and infrequent  for us.” She glanced for an instant at her two daughters, first Electra and then Aello.

Alpheus began to think out loud. “I do not understand why the population of Harpine Isle is so small. The woods are full of valuable materials. Your plant life is rich and varied. Yet one sees few human inhabitants hereabouts. Just this morning I noted a wide herbal and medicinal inventory in the unique biota of your tropical forest. It was incredible.”

He reached over the table and took a stock of wild smallage to munch on.

Celaeno moved closer to him. “You appear not familiar with our ancient legend about the harpines. Fear of them may have prevented some from elsewhere settling here, I fear.”

“I read historical and geographic descriptions of the island before deciding to visit,” admitted Alpheus. “In other regions of Provincia, those female body snatchers were called the harpies, but on this isle their name came to be that of harpines.”

Electra decided to intervene.

“What do you know about such a strange subject as that? There are many fanciful, imaginative tales in circulation. Who can tell what may be true and what is pure fantasy?”

Alpheus turned his head so that he could focus his eyes on Electra.

“Some sources I have seen say that they began as wind spirits and that their original purpose was to steal the souls of all their victims. I remember some of the colorful names given to the harpines in legends: Stormwind, Swiftwind, and Swiftfoot. These spirits were eager to consume the bodies of children so that they could more easily get to the inner soul and swallow it. That was what they were ultimately after, to absorb and digest the psyche of the victim.

“Harpines fit into the category of supernatural anthropophagites. In other words, cannibals.”

“You call them unnatural beings?” questioned Electra, aroused but also puzzled. “Why do you say that? Aren’t the harpines corporeal rather than incorporeal?”

Alpheus looked deeply into her velvet sloe eyes as though searching for something. He was surprised that she used the present tense in reference to the ancient soul snatchers and flesh eaters. Unless she misspoke, did she believe that they continued to exist in her own time? That they were still about somewhere?

Suddenly Celaeno broke the prevailing silence. “It is time we enjoyed some dessert. I made my favorite orgeat today with fresh hesperidiums. I can bring the pot out in a jiffy. You will like its sweetness, Alpheus. I am sure that you will.”

Aello interceded to praise and describe her mother’s almond orange syrup. “It is unlimited in its sweetness, but does not overburden the organs of taste. That is how things should always be, of course. Excessive degrees of any particular quality can delight us, but can in time negate themselves. A small amount can be a good guarantee against overindulgence. Don’t you agree, Alpheus?”

The tourist smiled at her. “That is how it often turns out, though few can foresee the dangers that result from overdoing a sense or taste. In my apothecary work I have become conscious of how a very small surplus can ruin the positive effects that would have been ensured by a smaller, but adequate, dosage.

“Perhaps that is how it is with many of the situations we have to face in life.”

Celaeno directed a pleasant smile his way. “There is wisdom in what you say, young man. If only we all adhered to the necessary limits that exist in all sectors of the world we live in.”

She looked at her two daughters before going to fetch the orgeat she had made.

The visitor put off a second excursion, the one he had promised the older sister, each afternoon that passed by. She grew increasingly insistent, until Alpheus was compelled to relent. “I shall take you on the southern coast of our isle,” the small brunette told him as they departed from the hotel along a narrow pathway.

“We must watch out for grass anguines and forest aphidians,” Aello warned as they walked through the tropical woods. At last they arrived at the placid shore of white sand. She pointed out to him the tiny, bright yellow dragonets swimming in the shallow water, along with spiny-rayed gobies of a rainbow of colors. The two of them watched as newts and efts came forth from the sea, onto the pristine sand. Alpheus spotted a giant green terrapin a short distance away, moving toward the water. An eel-like lamprey, its teeth protruding, was devouring a small gecko it had captured.

Aello gave her male companion an unexpected nudge in the small of his back.

“You can see the battle in nature everywhere here on the Isle of the Harpines. All of life is a constant, unending gobbling, chewing, ingesting, and swallowing. Did you know that before making your trip, Alpheus?”

She looked squarely into his eyes as they faced each other. He could see how the velvety pupils engulfed and overpowered her shrinking irises. Had this young man ever witnessed such a strange sight before? Was he capable of withstanding its power?

An uncanny sense of impending danger struck his startled mind. Aello spoke to him in a new, impersonal tone of voice unfamiliar to him.

“You must never fear me, my dear. It is Electra, not I, who threatens to harm your body. She is the hungry one, not I.”

He could say nothing, gazing at her in helpless confusion as she continued.

“Why don’t you kiss me, Alpheus? I will do the same for you, then.”

As he gaped at her, she took a step closer, until her breast was less than an inch from his chest.

All at once, with open mouth she began to fall forward, until her face rested against his white summer shirt. He made out her hands coming upward as if to tear away the cloth covering his heart.

At that moment, a loud shout from the forest halted the assault about to hit him.

“Aello! Alpheus! It’s time for you two to come back to the hotel. Supper is going to be early tonight, mother informed me. You must hurry back.”

Both trekkers turned to the approaching figure of Electra.

Alpheus gave a sigh as he marched forward to meet the welcome intruder who had rescued him.

“We lost all track of time out here on the beach,” he said to Electra. “The afternoon slipped by with us unaware of it. Thank you for your thoughtful effort in walking all this way. We both thank you.”

He purposely ignored Aello as he joined her sister. The emotion that seized hold of him was revulsion. Talking only with the one who had summoned him, Alpheus allowed the embarrassed Aello to trail behind on their return to the hotel.

Celaeno realized there existed antagonistic rivalry between her daughters. The first to come to her in the kitchen that evening was Aello. As the mother turned a roasted entellus monkey on an open spit, she listened to the complaint of the disappointed sister.

“She intentionally interrupted me when I had him caught in a trance. Only a few seconds more, and his body would have been totally overpowered. What can her motive be for such behavior except a selfish hatred of me? She has always been the favored one in the matter of young male flesh. You tend to give her first crack at every man, How will I ever satisfy my deep hunger, mother? Am I to remain a starveling because of my sister’s greed? Is that it?”

Turning toward her, Celaeno spoke with rough harshness to the complainer.

“Both of you are to blame for this unacceptable situation. When haven’t the two of you quarreled and interfered with each other? You will not allow her to proceed toward Alpheus, while she blocks and prevents your satisfaction. What am I to do, if my pair of daughters are unable to solve the dispute on their own?

“Cannot this man be shared through division, half of him going to you and the other half to Electra? Wouldn’t that be reasonable and fair? That is my advice, though it will be very difficult to carry out for you two.”

Aello’s anger at her mother’s proposal exploded in a wild outcry.

“Difficult? I call such a scheme impossible. Why does Electra harbor animus toward me? Why such undisguised odium? Is it because I was first to be born? That I am senior to her?”

Hearing these words, Celaeno turned spectral pale.

“Do not talk like that. You only think that you are older. Your sister has the same idea about herself. She believes that she is the older one. The truth of the matter cannot be determined because of the years of amnemonic starvation that I underwent on this isle after the male population died out or disappeared. That was a horrendous period of my life. Two small girls and no masculine flesh for either me or them. Not till I started the hotel was there any reason for men to visit here. Today we enjoy a very limited number of fitting candidates. Are my two daughters to war over a single herbalist who is attractive to both of them?”

“But what should I do, mother?” pleaded Aello. “I must have him all to myself. There can be no equal sharing, no surrendering on my part.”

The mother thought a moment. “Let me discuss the matter with Electra. Perhaps she will be more forthcoming than you are. I must convince her not to fight over the one male we now have.”

Alpheus felt gravely ill, but was uncertain of the cause or the nature of his malady. Was there something malignant he had contracted? Aello had approached him in a frightening, sinister manner. But so, in a way, had her sister. Was there a kind of menacing danger in the pair of attractive siblings? he asked himself. The one person who could throw light on what he sensed to be bothering him was their mother. She might be willing to enlighten him about the eerie thoughts that were troubling his mind.

He decided to question the woman after supper one evening. First came the meal of entellus meat. All four of the participants shared a feeling of unease as they ate. Little was said among them. No one took the risk of opening delicate subjects that might prove disruptive.

“I know that we are all very tired,” said Celaeno once supper was over. “My own plan is to retire early and get some rest. I want to be strong for tomorrow’s demands and labors. What do we say to this idea of mine?”

The daughters and the guest agreed to her proposal. As the two sisters exited the room, Alpheus lagged behind, finally approaching the matriarch where she still sat, stolid and unmoving.

“May I talk with you before we all retire?” asked the apothecary.

“Certainly,” she answered. “Sit down here beside me.”

When he was comfortably seated, Alpheus got down to what was bothering him with his first words to her. “I am vastly troubled by a certain attitude of both your daughters, Madam. There is something that pains and mystifies me in their behavior towards me.”

She stared at him with equanimity. “My girls are inexperienced with the opposite sex. Their knowledge of men is limited to the few guests we have had here in the hotel and what I myself teach them. The attitude that you say disturbs you is a combination of curiosity and shyness. You must be tolerant of their awkward behavior. Please have some mercy toward them, I beg you.”

“They have met few outsiders, then?” said Alpheus, digesting her logic.

“Yes, that is the truth. They rarely mix with other residents of the isle. Allow me to reveal the reason to you. Their own ancestry is a cause of enmity. Yes, enmity. They are called hideous names behind their backs, as I was before their birth. The three of us live quite isolated from the other inhabitants. Hidden hatred has poisoned their lives, as it did to mine.”

“I do not understand,” confessed the guest. “What is the nature of the slander against the three of you?”

Her eyes looked downward and focused on the dining table’s surface.

“That because of harpine ancestors, we possess harpine blood,” she slowly declared.

Raising her head, the mother peered anxiously at Alpheus, waiting to gauge his reaction.

“That is a malicious sort of gossip,” he finally replied. “Why don’t the three of you leave this island for elsewhere? Why can’t you flee such libel? There should be some escape from evil tongues.”

“This isle is our home. Where else could we go?”

“I understand,” he said, rising and leaving the room for his own.

Fast asleep that night, tired Alpheus did not see or hear the entrance of a ghostlike figure into his bedroom. Nor was he conscious of what it accomplished once it dispersed itself beside him on the bed he lay on. Only a moment after their climax did his mind arrive at a degree of awareness that something strange and unusual had transpired, that he had been the subject of an unseen event.

As if emerging out of a deep sopor, the botanic discovered that he had been undergoing a completed coupling without his mind being awake to the act of copulation. How could that be possible? he wondered. Turning his head to one side, it became possible for him to identify who had been his partner, for there was a body beside him, sound asleep.

It had not been imaginary, he had not been dreaming. He had not experienced some kind of lonely nocturnal emission.

There had occurred actual union with someone, because at his side slumbered the beauteous woman named Electra.

How could that have happened to the two of them? It made no sense to him, but then he remembered something: what he had once read, before visiting this island, about the nature of the being called a harpine.

Such an entity only chose a male mate once. She then became his eternal slave, in a state of total loyalty that approached worship. An unbreakable nexus of love would then connect the harpine to the object of her devotion. She would forever be the adoring servant of her beloved. And from their physical conjunction would issue one or more new females as her harpine daughters. That was how the species continued on. As long as the male mate lived, she would be his follower.

Alpheus glanced at her head, aghast at her grotesque teratoid face, that of a monster. Was this the true Electra? he asked himself with dread. She was so unsightly and repulsive in this form. A pasty pallor gave her face a yellow, ashen cast. Twisted and malformed, freakishly wrinkled and distorted. Was this the true visage of the beautiful Electra?

He was unable to fall asleep again that night. How was he to survive tied to a harpine for life?

The two of them had to settle many matters when she awoke, he instructed himself.

She stood facing him with the glorious face that he was familiar with. Leaning forward, Electra kissed his dry lips.

“I have to return to my room,” she told him in a soft whisper. “You only fell asleep a minute or so ago. You must have more rest if we are to do anything today. I am planning a tour through the forest heights after you eat breakfast. We have a lot to decide about our future, dear Alpheus.”

All through his morning meal of birdling ovules folded into omelettes, he avoided speaking to his new harpine partner. Instead, he concentrated on asking general questions of the mother of the two female siblings.

“Does anyone know what the population of this isle happens to be, Madam?”

“No. We have never experienced a census of any kind here. No one knows that.”

“I take it that there are very few exports of any kind.”

“Correct. The mainland has, unfortunately, little demand for anything from here.”

“I have noticed in your tropical forest many plants familiar to me as a botanic. Take the zedoary, for example. We commonly use it as a stomachal to strengthen digestion or as a carminative to prevent flatulence. It belongs to an entire family of curcumas and zingeberis such as cardamom and maranta. I am quite knowledgeable about these ancient remedies. I have even spotted some santonica in the forest. Do you know what that is? A powerful vermifuge, a useful anthelmintic that  expels intestinal worms. Isn’t that something that can be exported?”

“That is most interesting,” grinned Celaeno. “But how could we who live here on this island take advantage of our numerous herbals?”

Alpheus smiled back at the mother. “Let us imagine that I was to stay on the isle for an extended period, surveying what was growing in the wild. I know that soon I would have gardens of things like medicinal rhubarb and licorice jequerity. My employer in Diaema would allow me to purchase all that I might find in these woods.”

“That is an amazing concept,” said Celaeno. “Let me think about it and how I and my girls could help you achieve the goals you envision. But at least today, you must continue your explorations. Electra will be the one serving as your guide this morning. It will soon be time to start out.”

Alpheus carried a memorandum pad given to him by Electra. He began to make notes on all the medicinal plants he spied in the woods of the isle. His hand pointed out the herbals he identified to his harpine lover.

“This is the euphrasy used to treat the eye. Some call it eyebright. And over there is jalapa, from whose roots I can make a purgative. Further on is a stramony plant, from which pharmacists concoct a strong sedative that always produces restful sleep.”

He stopped to write down what he had seen, using a cone-tipped stylograph. His companion said nothing. They started forward again, proceeding slowly down the trail.

“See that goldenseal plant? From its roots we obtain a traditional stomach medicine, hydrastine. And over on the other side is a ipecac bush, from whose roots comes the emetine that will cause vomiting and emptying of the bowels. And the common dandelion provides us with taraxaeum, a diuretic.

He stopped, wrote, and then went on with Electra beside him.

“That one is asafetida which stops muscular spasms.” He raised his arm and indicated a tree further on. “Do you know what that is called? It is the nux vomica, from the bark and seeds of which we extract the poisons strychnine and brucine. Those are deadly weapons in the wrong hands. But I know how to obtain them from the plants.”

It was Electra who suddenly stopped in her tracks and turned to him, forcing him to do the same.

“You are well-versed in all the poisons in the forest?” she asked excitedly. He examined her face, staring into the velvet-black eyes. His mind raced ahead, anticipating what her thoughts would be. But before he could decide what to say, she spoke to him.

“This afternoon, my sister means to accompany you on a tour of the farthest reaches of the isle. Her appetite for flesh will have been raised high by all that has happened since you arrived. She intends to finish what was not completed before. Can you foresee the danger for you? No man can survive the kind of attack she plans to make. All the signs for that are present and visible.”

He looked down at the empty page of his notepad, as if searching there for an answer.

“I need to leave the island quickly,” he told her, “but that is not possible for me without you along too.”

Electra stepped forward until she stood inches from him. Her head leaned toward him and she kissed him on the mouth.

An uncanny feeling took hold of all his body, mind, soul, and life.

Alpheus instinctively knew that he no longer belonged to himself. The harpine woman possessed him now, and would continue to do so in his future.

“I have decided that both of them have to die,” she whispered. “At once, before the afternoon is over. I need an instantaneous poison that no one can recognize.”

“Your mother, too?” gulped the botanic in shock.

“If only Aello is dead, my mother will chase after you for vengeance. I know that is what will happen. Both of them are impediments to our love for each other. Both of them must disappear, very soon, at the same time.”

Alpheus fell into concentrated consideration of what he had to do.

Nature, in all its happy anarchy, went about its unending activity on Harpine Island.

Arboreal frogs jumped about in their aerial homes. Tall grasstrees, fringetrees, tupelos, and black gums soared toward the sky. Shrill shrieking of butcherbirds, dickcissels, killdees, and rallines rent the air. Orange-colored butterflies and red bloodroots flew about. Diving coots and scoters were visible about ponds and lagoons.

A thick shaugh of ocote pines and annatto trees provided shelter for nests of grayish brown mangabey monkeys with white eyelids. Rodent gerbils crept around in the shadows. Horned moloch lizards lay in wait for insect meals under a jargonelle tree.

And Alpheus provided Electra the compound of poison that killed her mother and sister.

He lacked her fundamental duality. His own mother and father, like their parents, did not possess the binary character of the harpines. Could he ever draw Electra from her diploid inheritance? Could he bridge the profound chasm between them?

Life together would always hold potential risks. His hope was that their connection was strong enough to conquer the problems in their genetic differences. In the meantime, they had to steel themselves for what ordinary human society would label a criminal solution.

Alpheus and Electra became convinced there was only one way out for them.

In a week’s time, the two of them stood at the deck rail of a passenger bateau sailing away from Harpine Isle.

The large head of a gerenuk antelope was visible on the shore, then disappeared.

“They are now gone and we need never return,” quietly said Electra to her chosen lover. “In time, we will forget they existed at all. The fire I set destroyed the hotel, along with all traces of those two.”

Alpheus turned his head so that he could see her complete face, splendidly shining in the light.

“It was my mixture of island poisons that silenced them, though. No one, not even a harpine can survive belladonna, strychnine, aconite, and brucine, all at once. Those four deadly poisons were not noticed in the spiceberry tea that you brewed for them.” He drew a very deep breath. “We will not be under any suspicion, will we?”

She gave him an angelic smile. “Only the two of us know what happened on the isle, my love. There is nothing pointing to how it was done. We are now free to fulfill our dreams. Your own pharmacy! I can finance an independent business with my inheritance from mother. In a couple of years, we can set up a chain of dispensaries. I will make you a leading apothecary, dear. All your ambitions will be fulfilled.”

At that moment, the isle disappeared in the distance, falling below the watery horizon.

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