Friday, November 25, 2016

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 23: My Past Life as a Poisoner

This poison series was sparked by my research for my WIP, The Queen of Staves, #6 in the Camilla Randall humorous mystery series, which will debut in June 2017.

Lucrezia Borgia
Yes, it was originally scheduled for last June and it's way overdue to my publisher. I'm making progress, but it's slow. I have a terrible habit of taking on new challenges, like learning about the Tarot. And poisons.

Research about poisons led to starting this series. Then I let myself get led astray by all these fascinating ways to get away with murder.

I've been intrigued by poisons ever since I had a bizarre experience under hypnosis twenty-five years ago when I was quitting smoking.

I went through a series of hypnosis sessions, and one involved going back in my memory to recall the first time I ever wanted a cigarette.

But the hypnotist's time machine apparently had a major glitch.

I didn't go back to that time at Girl Scout camp when three of us shared a Parliament pilfered from a camp counsellor's locker and I almost didn't throw up.

Or further back to when my kindergarten friends and I bought a pack of candy cigarettes at the corner market and came home to play dress-up in somebody's mom's old formals and high heels so we could pretend to be grown-up ladies. All the grown-up ladies we knew smoked cigarettes.

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome
No. I somehow I zoomed all the way back to the 15th century. So it wasn't exactly a memory, unless you believe in past lives. Which I didn't, until that moment.

Seriously. I'm not making this up.

The hypnotherapist asked me what I was wearing and I could feel a horrible corset thing constricting my torso and lots of stiff clothing weighing me down. My hair hurt with heavy jewelry and netting.

I was in a smallish room in an Italian palace.

Now I know my Italian palaces because I majored in Art History. Mostly so I could spend a lot of time in Italy looking at all those palaces that used to belong to families like the Borghese, Farnese, Barberini and of course, the infamous Borgias.

And there I was in my hypnotic state, standing in one of those palazzi.

But I wasn't enjoying myself in spite of the gorgeous setting. 
I felt cold. And anxious. Footsteps echoed in the hallway outside. I was awaiting the arrival of a man. My fiancĂ©. He was returning from some battle and I was going to get hurt. So were a lot of other people. 

The man and I were enemies and my side had lost.

He stomped into the room—tall and handsome, with fierce, dark eyes and a thick beard. I gave him a big kiss and offered him some wine from a silver carafe. 

Alfonzo D'Este, Lucrezia's Husband #3

He drank and said something cruel and insulting, then drank some more. He kissed me again. I let him. Then I watched as he sat heavily on a brocade chair. 

I gave him more wine and started to feel less afraid.

I pretended to be worried as his face went pale and he grabbed his throat, which made a choking, gurgling sound.

He called for help, but his voice was weak. I pretended not to understand and started to smile as he tried to get up, but couldn't. My sense of relief was overwhelming.

I realized I was witnessing the last battle of whatever conflict raged between his people and mine.

And I was just about to win the war. 

I laughed while I watched the fury in his eyes turn to fear as life drained from his body.

The therapist brought me out of my trance. She looked distressed.

She said she'd just heard me give the most evil laugh she'd ever heard. The voice she'd heard laughing sounded nothing like mine.

I had no idea I'd been laughing out loud. 

She said nothing like it had ever happened in a hypnosis session and she'd been conducting them for twenty years.

There are people who would say I'd experienced a past-life regression. And that maybe I was somebody like Lucrezia Borgia in that past life.

But, as I said, I'm not sure I believe in past lives. And I certainly don't believe we were all famous people like Cleopatra and Ms. Borgia the way those past-life regression stories always go.

Besides, nobody knows that Lucrezia actually poisoned anybody. It's true that her daddy Pope Alexander VI was known for using poison to get what he wanted, which was pretty much everything in Southern Europe. 

Lucrezia was rumored to wear a poison ring, with a hollow space under the stone just right for a dose of the Borgias' favorite poison, arsenic. The symptoms I saw in my hypnotic vision would have been consistent with arsenic poisoning.
Replica of a Renaissance poison ring

But poison rings were probably something of a fashion statement in Renaissance Italy, so we can't be sure. (They were actually designed to hold holy relics which were thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits.)

Many women of Lucrezia's station were known to use poison to get rid of the occasional inconvenient rival or unpleasant spouse. In Italy it was a tradition going back to ancient Rome, when poisonings were rampant. Women passed down poison lore from mother to daughter, and it gave them great power.

At that one moment in my trance, I felt that power. I have to admit it was exhilarating. I don't know when I have ever felt so powerful, before or since.

I have no idea what exactly I experienced. It wasn't as wildly surreal as a dream, but it was far more vivid, say, than envisioning a scene when I'm writing, even when I'm deep in "flow".

There was no control. I could only watch and hang on as I felt the emotions of this person—this psychopath, I suppose you'd call her—who certainly wasn't me. 

It was a little like being an actor achieving that moment when you totally inhabit your role and lose your sense of self.

Only I'd never read the script and had no idea what the character would say or do next. The actor's nightmare in reverse.

A week later, I quit smoking.

Do I have Lucrezia Borgia to thank for the fact I finally stopped poisoning myself with nicotine? I don't suppose I'll ever know.

What about you, readers? Have you ever had a "past life" experience? Do you think you could poison someone if the situation were dire enough? Do you think poisoning an enemy is more evil than shedding blood if you are mismatched as physical opponents?  

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Here's a list of all the posts in the poison series