Just a note: I’ve needed to set aside, temporarily, my Red Kiss serial while I immerse myself in the second round of edits and the polishing up of my mystery novel. I do intend to continue the series and I have many wicked ideas for future installments. I also hope to participate again in Friday Flashes – but for now, my creative attention is focused on the novel. Keep on writing steady, everyone!
* * *
The gray-suited men disappeared down another hallway as Reggie, Daniela, and Franco went to the speakeasy. The scene downstairs, Franco knew what it meant. Was there more to it?
Daniela wove through the lively crowd toward a booth near the bar. Those in the booth vacated quickly with a flurry of pleasantries, hugs for Reggie and Daniela, and searching glances at Franco.
“After you,” Reggie said.
“Sure thing,” said Franco, sliding into the booth with a nervous smile.
“I’ll get two gin martinis,” said Reggie. “Whiskey soda for you, Mr. Vinelli?”
Franco nodded and turned to Daniela, who had lit a hand-rolled cigarette. The smoke had a strange scent, like incense.
“What kind of tobacco is that?”
“I’ve added pinches of opium and cinnamon to the tobacco blend. That’s the sweet note you smell as it burns.”
“Opium – that’s heavy. I’m guessing it don’t affect you much.”
“If I smoke enough, I feel like I’m in an Impressionist painting.”
Franco didn’t know what she meant, so he kept quiet and studied the room. The band was gone and everyone was standing or sitting at tables or in booths and talking animatedly. Reggie returned with drinks and joined them. Franco took a gulp of his and said, “I’ve got an angle for the boss that should get him out here.”
Daniela exhaled a stream of smoke and the tobacco’s odd fragrance floated around them. “What is it?”
“I’ll talk up the floor with the guest bedrooms. If the boss thinks he’s getting a three for one – a speakeasy, a huge stash of imported booze, and a ladies of the night joint in one out-of-the-way place, I’m betting he’ll come see for himself.”
Reggie laughed. “So the Red Kiss has a brothel. What do you think, Daniela?”
“It’s rather perfect, actually.” After a pause Daniela continued. “It was only a matter of time before we had to scramble to protect the Red Kiss and its members, but now that the effort has begun, I’m already weary of it. Perhaps the Red Kiss is outliving its usefulness.”
Reggie frowned. “We’ve worked hard to unify our kind in this area, and we’ve kept them provided for and safe. Prohibition is an impeccable cover.”
Franco finished his drink. “Your kind? So you are – I mean, you’re that creatures of the night thing?”
“Yes, and what sweet music we make,” replied Daniela with a bored sigh. She rubbed her cigarette in an ashtray. “Prohibition won’t last forever, Reggie. Like you, many are tired of this lackluster way of feeding. You’re careful, of course, but others – well, we have the past as a guide, don’t we?”
As Daniela slid out of the booth, the light caught at the beading on her dress. “I have no plan to shutter the Red Kiss just yet. Mr. Vinelli? Will you stand with me please?”
The sensation of ice water trickling down Franco’s back caused him to straighten and catch his breath. With an anxious nod, Franco stood next to Daniela. She observed him, her demeanor as cold as the winter outside.
“Even if it’s with your last breath, Mr. Vinelli, get your boss out here. From what I’ve heard of him, he’ll not leave us alone until he personally learns the danger to him and his organization. If you fail, the consequences will be more gruesome than what happened to Lieutenant Brogan.”
Then Daniela turned and nodded to the bartender, who nodded to someone else, and so on. Everyone in the room ceased talking and one after another, turned to stare at Franco. Soon the room was completely silent except for the sound of ice shifting in drink glasses as it melted, and the unsteady pace of Franco’s anxious breathing.
“Look around you. We must seem quite civilized in our elegant attire as we engage in decadent frivolity. But beware, our instincts are feral. When threatened, we are sinister and dangerous. And we are treacherous, merciless, and thorough.”
Daniela’s voice was hypnotic and Franco stood motionless with fright. So many eyes staring at him – glittering like frozen gems of blue, gray, green and black. If Mr. C didn’t off him, Franco needed to get out of town, fast, and disappear.
Daniela leaned close to Franco, her breath a chill breeze against his neck as she said quietly, “If we aren’t left alone, we’ll rip through Mr. C’s organization in less than a week, tearing people apart like so much overripe fruit. All of you will be gone, and your rivals will reap the business rewards of the massacre. Eventually we’ll need to deal with them as well, but perhaps by then we’ll have scattered for new places to call home.”
Franco found his voice. “I’ll do my best. If I don’t get a bullet in my brain, you won’t be seeing me again. I’m getting the hell out. This is some evil stuff and I – I don’t want no part of it.”
The atmosphere altered as people returned to talking, laughing, and drinking, as though nothing odd had occurred.
“Reggie will go with you back to the city,” said Daniela.
A striking and curvy black woman wearing a pale green dress and a gold headband around her wavy bobbed hair slipped her arm through Reggie’s. “And I’ll accompany Reggie. I’m just dying for a taste of the city.” The woman gave a throaty laugh and turned her dark, gleaming gaze on Franco.
Reggie kissed the woman. “Don’t worry Mr. Vinelli, Marlene is teasing.”
“I’m not!” objected Marlene. “He’s safe, yes. But, I want to hunt with you, Reggie. I hear the city is a mess of spilled blood these days because of the gangster wars. How titillating!” With another deep laugh, Marlene pulled Franco to her other side and gripped his arm. “I’ll have two escorts tonight.”
“Only a short while until dawn, Reggie,” murmured Daniela.
“We’ll be quick,” said Reggie as they pushed through the crowd to the exit.
Part Two of my Prohibition era story, and to catch up, here is Part One .
* * *
Daniela turned a probing gaze on Franco. “If your boss had visited me personally less time would be wasted on meaningless threats.”
Franco took a gulp of his drink. “Mr. C don’t have time to meet with every acquisition. Shall we get down to brass tacks?”
Franco watched as Reggie lit another cigarette, inhaled deeply, and released the smoke into a cloud before asking, “Would you like a tour of the lower level?”
Franco finished his drink, set the glass aside, and pulled off his coat. “Now we’re talkin’.”
Daniela nodded at Reggie and as he left the room, she said to Franco. “How did your boss find out about the Red Kiss?”
Franco grinned. “We got friends in high places. One of them tipped us off.”
“Lieutenant Brogan, by chance?”
Franco was surprised. “Yeah. He told us the Red Kiss was isolated, swank, and had imported booze which fetches a high price. Brogan pointed Reggie out and I made my acquaintance first opportunity. The Lieutenant was caught up with some dame who disappeared. A short while later he turned up in pieces when the frozen parts of Lake Michigan thawed.”
Reggie had returned and sat again next to Daniela. “Ah Leona and Theodore. That was an ill-advised love affair:”
“You knew Teddy Brogan’s gal?”
“Indeed,” replied Reggie. “She was a member and made the mistake of bringing him here.”
Unease rippled over Franco. “Wait – so you guys chopped him up like that? We thought one of the other organizations done it. What happened to the woman?”
“She was banished,” replied Daniela.
Reggie coughed. “Deported. Leona was deported.”
Daniela gave Reggie a disinterested glance and nodded. “Yes, deported. English has many words that have nearly the same meaning.”
Franco was studying Daniela. “Foreign, eh? You did seem on the exotic side when I first saw you.”
“I’m from Catalonia, Spain, originally.”
Before Franco could comment, two sinewy men with slick dark hair wearing charcoal gray suits and watchful expressions entered the room. Franco quietly mulled things over. This place was definitely not run by lightweights. He needed to be on guard.
Daniela told Franco and Reggie to follow her. The two gray-suited men fell into step behind Franco, which put him more on edge. These guys brought to mind matadors, proud and strong. One of them had menacing tar black eyes and the other had the iciest blue eyes that Franco had ever seen.
Daniela led them through a thick iron door down a twisting stairwell. Franco’s first look into the cavernous space caused him to instinctively recoil and take a step back only to find himself pinned in place by the two men. Reggie had gone further into the room and was leaning against a wall.
Daniela’s attitude was glacial. “I’ll give you a few minutes to take it in.”
Franco’s throat was dry and he started to sweat as he surveyed the activity in one section of the room. In a row in a corner were six metal frame hospital beds and two gurneys. In four of the beds were men with what seemed to be long thin tubes stuck in their arms. The men looked ghastly – pale, thin, and barely alive. Individuals wearing lab coats seemed to be performing transfusions on the men. Franco was startled to recognize henchmen from a rival organization on two of the beds. After a horrified pause, he realized the people in the lab coats were siphoning blood from the prone men and then transferring it to jugs and bottles of various sizes. Others, also in lab coats, were applying handwritten labels to containers stored on a wall of shelves. None of them acknowledged the group that had just entered the basement.
Daniela gestured at the room. “The lower level of the Red Kiss has a collection of fine wines, beer, hard alcohol, and liqueurs – all imported and high quality. Some of our members are rum runners and bootleggers for those products. This area is also used by our blood runners and Prohibition bootlegging has been a convenient cover for them.”
Franco swallowed with difficulty and said in a hoarse voice. “Blood runners? Like for the medical black market?”
“Try another guess,” said Daniela and her eyes seemed to glitter.
Franco was nauseous. Was he going to get out of here alive? And if so, what was he going to tell Mr. C? A gun would be pushed into his ribcage if he tried to describe the scene here.
Daniela went to the nearest bed. She lifted the hem of her dress and from the top of her stocking, took out a silver flask. One of the lab guys took a freshly filled container of blood and poured it into her flask using a tube. Daniela then gulped a long drink from the flask before recapping it and placing it again in her stocking. When she turned to look at Franco, her lips had a glossy red shine.
Franco shook his head and grimaced. “Okay, I think I understand, but on the other hand, it don’t make sense. This just can’t be.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” recited Daniela.
Franco wanted to scream with frustration and fear. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Daniela gave him a look of disgust. “Do people read books anymore in your world?”
Franco tried to keep his demeanor restrained. “Look I’m – I’m just doing my job. I get that we need to leave you alone. But what do I tell the boss? How am I gonna explain about this?”
Reggie moved to stand by Franco. “You’ll have to figure out some convincing angle to get him to visit here, won’t you?”
Daniela motioned the two men blocking the door aside, and said, “Let’s go into the speakeasy. Perhaps a plan of action will occur to us there.”
Franco exhaled in relief. For now at least, he was safe.
I’ve been watching the Ken Burns PBS documentary on the Prohibition and was inspired to write this story. I’m guessing it will be at least three parts. This is Part One.
Franco smoothed his middle-parted brown hair with a swipe of hair cream. After cleaning his hands on a tissue, he tossed that into a waste can and adjusted his pale tan tie. Franco observed his reflection in the full-length mirror. Yeah, the brown striped suit was good on him.
“You lookin’ bored, Reggie, but I’m about done.”
Reggie, a tall slender man with neatly combed sandy hair and intense grey eyes gave Franco a faint smile. Reggie sat on a sofa, crossed his legs, and took out a cigarette case. “No hurry. Like most speakeasies, the Red Kiss opens just after dusk and doesn’t get hopping until later.”
Franco glanced at Reggie, who wore a black tux with tails. Fancy. Was Franco underdressed? Nah, this was just a business meeting.
“So Danny’s expectin’ me, right? Mr. C has wanted to meet the owner of the Red Kiss for a while. You guys done a good job of hiding. How’d you manage it?”
Reggie contemplated his lit cigarette. “You can ask Danny that question. I expect the answer will surprise you. And yes, Danny is eager to speak with you.”
Franco grabbed a raccoon coat from the rack in a corner. “Let’s get going.”
The car crunched along icy city streets until the landscape became rural. After driving down a narrow tree-lined lane, they turned on a crescent-shaped driveway of a huge estate. A recent snowfall had blanketed the property and the house gleamed, a beacon of warmth on a frigid night. Franco gave a low whistle as they exited the car. This Danny character was rich enough to have a fancy car, a private road, a mansion, and probably a bunch of bootleggers too. The building had three floors. The windows on the first two glowed with rich amber light and shadows moved behind drapes. The third floor was dark. Jazz music echoed as they approached the house.
“So this whole place is a speakeasy?” Franco’s pulse sped with nervous excitement. Mr. C was gonna move him up in the organization, for sure. The Red Kiss was quite a catch.
“The main floor is the speakeasy,” said Reggie. “The second floor has guest bedrooms and salons. The third floor is Danny’s private residence.”
“And the basement? A place this big, I know you got a stash of hard booze and wine, and maybe a still.”
“The lower level is where we keep our product, yes.”
Franco stood at the entrance to a large room dense with people laughing, talking, and drinking. A small band played in a corner. The smell of cigarettes and perfume was heavy in the air. A woman with bobbed auburn hair wearing a pale yellow flapper dress walked by and glanced at him. Was that an invitation in her gorgeous blue eyes? Franco did catch a strong whiff of gin from her martini. Oh yeah, this place was the real deal.
“Let’s not keep Danny waiting,” said Reggie and led Franco outside to a terrace.
A woman in a sable coat stood with her back to them. She was smoking a cigarette attached to a long red holder and the white smoke swirled around her.
Franco was confused. Who’s the dame and where’s the boss man?
The woman turned and gazed at Franco, who felt a chill slide down his back. She had jet black wavy hair that fell below her jawline and a fringe of bangs over deep brown eyes. A light snow had begun falling and her hair was dotted by flakes. Even though she studied Franco with a bored expression, her stare was unsettling.
“This is Mr. Franco Vinelli,” said Reggie.
The woman took a draw on her cigarette and exhaled. “So we have you instead of your boss?”
Something about her tone irked Franco and he frowned at Reggie. “Who’s this broad?”
The woman didn’t respond, but continued observing Franco, who fidgeted uncomfortably as another cold shiver ran through him.
Reggie gestured to the woman. “This is Danny. Or properly, Daniela.”
Franco paused for a few moments. “Wait – so Danny’s a woman? What gives here?”
Daniela walked to a round table. On top was a clear glass item in the shape of a hand, palm up. Daniela stubbed her cigarette on the palm, pulled the stump from the red holder, and tossed it into the hand. Then she slipped the holder into a coat pocket. “It’s easier to do business masquerading as male. If it becomes necessary for a face to face meeting, well, by then the professional relationships are usually in place. Now that we’ve met, you can call me Daniela. Anyway, come with me. We’ll talk in the warmth of my study.”
Once inside the cozy room, Franco went straight for the fireplace, which was ablaze with a good-sized fire. A wave of warmth hit his face. He sighed, plopping into a nearby chair.
“Something to drink?”
Franco turned to see Reggie at a small bar caddy pouring liquor into a martini shaker. “Yeah, a whisky soda. Thanks.”
While Reggie made cocktails, Franco turned his attention to Daniela, who removed the coat, revealing a silvery-white beaded evening dress. Daniela sat on a sofa across from Franco, tilted away from the fire, and traced the floral pattern on the upholstery. She wore the same bored expression. For the first time, Franco noticed that her lips were rouged in bright red. Yeah, Daniela came off like some evil snow queen in a fairytale. He wondered if she’d melt once the room got warm enough and almost chuckled at the thought.
Reggie gave Franco his drink then sat next to Daniela.
“Are you ready to hear my terms?”
Daniela sounded condescending and again, Franco was irked. “No offense, Ma’am but Mr. C is the one who sets the terms and it’s a good idea if you just go along. You play nice, then no one gets hurt later on, right?”
Reggie made a strangled noise that sounded almost like a laugh.
I had the good fortune to be asked by my friend Autumn of Dark Garden Corsetry to write a piece for her to use in Dark Garden’s fashion show presentation at the San Francisco Edwardian Ball. This year’s theme for the ball was Edward Gorey’s The doubtful Guest. I was asked to tailor the story for a lone narrator, who would recite the tale while a series of vignettes played out on stage by the Dark Garden models. The story was to be centered around the Mistletoe Bride myth. I enjoyed the research into variations on the tale, and selected the Norfolk version of the story to adapt. In keeping with the tone of the event, the narrative is written in a lyrical style.
So here it is, the tale of The Mistletoe Bride, as adapted from the Norfolk Myth. The three paragraphs of verse at the end are from The Mistletoe Bough,” lyrics by Thomas Haynes Bayly, music by Sir Henry Bishop, a ballad composed around 1830.
Good evening! I welcome each of you here on this – a brisk wintertime night. Please gather round and sit cozy for a spell while you attend upon an eerie tale I’ll tell.
Perhaps many of you are familiar with the myth of the Mistletoe Bride? Yes? No? No matter, let’s begin! Ah the Mistletoe Bride – tis the story of a jubilant wedding, indeed, but also a tale of bewilderment and woe. At the center of this forlorn tale is Genevra, the aforementioned Mistletoe Bride. Joining us tonight on this stage is the lonely specter of Genevra – who searches for the answer to her unfortunate demise.
Now Genevra had a wedding white and Lord Lovell was the husband of her blissful delight. A weekend of family and friends, and of feasting and frolic. Sounds divine, yes? Yet something went terribly amiss on that weekend of whimsy. During this, her wraithlike visit, she will indulge in a bit of poignant reminiscing as well as some woebegone sleuthing. Melancholy Genevra seeks to unearth the warped seedling of ill intent that had been waiting to sprout…oh no no no… I must refrain from racing ahead.
Wait, wait…what is this I hear? A whisper floats from the ghostly lass. Her weak uttering, her faint muttering, the shade of Genevra bemoans thus:
“The wings of memory take me back. My guests! My guests! They were trusted family, treasured friends, and worthy acquaintances. But what if there persisted within someone near, a darker mood? A simmering below the surface of malice subdued?”
Ah, what then indeed! Let us revisit with Genevra the first memory of her discontent.
See, there is Lord Lovell – a dapper groom, a happy groom, a lean, and clean and snappy groom! He seems ready enough to travel the connubial path with his beloved – once the nuptial celebrations have halted, of course.
And the ladies are all quite exquisite. Let’s get acquainted with these comely damsels. First we have Lady Edna Snide. I’ve heard tell that one glass of sherry too many and beware – her sharpened wit could make a biting appearance.
And then there is Miss Beatrice Bonny-Faire. And bonny and fair she is, as she sashays here and shimmies there!
Next I see the picturesque Miss Fancy Parlor. An equestrian beyond compare, and although she is without a permanent suitor, she does have a permanent box seat at the horse races.
Hmmm…who is that observing Genevra and stealing furtive glances at Lord Lovell? Ah, yes, that is Miss. Josette Bleu. Does a secret hide within her indignant stare? More sly than meets the eye, that coquette Josette!
I also spot the fey Miss Posie Rose, who is fond of indulging in late afternoon tipples, making potpourris, and then gifting them on unsuspecting friends. Miss Rose has been whispering with a distracted-seeming Miss Lucille Frets (Miss Frets carries an ample supply of smelling salts at all times). And now a dour Lady Constance Crabapple has joined the discussion. (Lady Constance carries an ample supply of snuff at all times.) What could those three ladies be discussing so vigorously? Are they telling tawdry tattles, perhaps?
I do notice that one of Lovell’s lads, a Lord Hurly Burly has been making the mischievous rounds with many of the sassy lasses in attendance. A bee tasting every flower – he seems a jolly sort, if a bit capricious.
And that other pal of Lord Lovell’s, a Mr. Reginald Rover. Is that a snarl I spy in his demeanor? A scowl upon his face as he passes his friend, the groom? Oh look! Did you catch how the frowning lad gave the side-eye of disdain to the winsome bride? Ah ha! Methinks this is a jilted suitor. And Genevra’s ghost agrees, for she has whispered these words:
“Oh one who feels betrayed, why do you malinger? You pine, you weep, and sneer and mope. I gave you my fond attention, but I did not give you my promise. My heart dwelt always with Lord Lovell. Was it you, disgruntled one, who locked me away? Was it you?”
He does seem a likely suspect! So, we have unearthed the first seedling of ill intent!
Now, let us see what the ladies get up to later that day. Ah yes, tis teatime. The bride, being in a playful mood, did read for them this Shakespearean verse:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never;
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny;
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into, Hey nonny, nonny.
Sweet sweet sentiment! Yet there was one in her entourage, Josette, that sultry yet sulky lass, who retorted with a pout:
“Sigh no more is fine advice for you, Genevra. After this wedding weekend, you will have a husband. For the rest of us however, the race continues.
Oh yes, the hint of envy smolders there. And the bride’s reply did bite back:
“Perhaps if you did not treat love as a horserace to be won, you would not find yourself languishing so far from the finish line.”
See how the other ladies titter behind fans and hands. And the rebuffed one – well she is none too pleased with this quip at her expense. Twas an offhand comment, spoken in jest. Yet sentiments said in jest still contain the kernel of truth.
So do the threads of uncertainty continue their wicked weaving. Was Genevra secretly resented by one or more of her lady friends? Could the hand of jealousy have been the one that latched the oak chest tight?
The mystery deepens!
Well now, what have we here? There appears to be petty posturing afoot! Lord Lovell’s erudite companions seek to remind him of dalliances past. It seems that, before pledging his troth to Genevra, the Lord Lovell was known as a flighty flirt. A dashing rogue who made a habit of besting his buddies in the pursuit of lascivious liaisons. But all that was just a lively rivalry between gentlemen, was it not? Or maybe not! There exists amongst these lads, a somewhat strained, and not at all tame, tension. This prompts the bride’s ghost to wonder:
“You joust for hearts and jostle for regard in an impish competition betwixt yourselves. What was festering underneath your friendly bravado and bluster? A vindictive scheme to spoil Lord Lovell’s happiness? Did one of you seek recompense for his bettering of you in the contest of love? Which one of you cads fastened that latch and so sealed my fearful fate?”
Which one, indeed.
Now – with the ghost of Genevra as a guide, we have revisited her wedding weekend. Together these various events form a latticework of revelry and joy – at least on the surface. I do detect, however, a subtle seething below the conspicuous merriment and glee. A dark and baleful current. But was this harbinger of horror from one known – or unknown? The answer seems close – but has not quite arrived.
What is happening here? What do we see? The glimmer, the glamour, the shimmer and clamor – such a charming array of loved ones, yes? And the glowing bride has suggested a splendid diversion:
“I grow weary of dancing and eating and talking! A game! Let’s play a game! We’ll take turns, but I go first. I shall hide – and you all shall seek. And, my cherished groom, my husband, my love, ensure that you are the first to trace the clue to my secret hiding place.”
And so Genevra disappeared to hide. And she hid very well. The guests scurried here, worried there, calling out: “Seek and find! Seek and find!”
Unfortunately, this seeking went on for hours. And more hours. Finally, exhausted and befuddled, Lord Lovell called out with increasing despair: “Genevra! Genevra! Where are you? Could it be you have actually flown from me? What cruel game is this? Where do you hide yourself, Genevra?”
The shadows of late night arrived. The guests, one by one, jittery and frightened, departed to their chambers for bed. Lord Lovell gazed out into the cold still night and cried to the icy stars:
“Alas my bride, you seem to have vanished. I shall seek no more.”
A disappearing bride and a manor brimming with likely suspects, yet the mystery remains idle and unsolved. So is this the end of the dismal tale?
Ah not quite, not quite. Here, let me append to it thus:
They sought her that night, they sought her next day,
They sought her in vain when a week passed away.
In the highest, the lowest, the loneliest spot,
Young Lovell sought wildly, but found her not.
[Narrator comes from behind the podium in Doubtful Guest garb, shuts the lid of the oak chest/trunk, and sits on it.]
At length, an old chest that had long laid hid
Was found in the castle; they raised the lid.
A skeleton form lay mouldering there
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair.
How sad the day when in sportive jest
She hid from her lord in the old oak chest,
It closed with a spring and a dreadful doom,
And the bride lay clasped in a living tomb.
This piece is all the way from 1995, when I was part of a writing/creative group in San Francisco. We indulged in frequent viewing marathons of Kids in the Hall episodes, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Dangerous Liaisons. We believed there was a quote from any one of those sources for almost any occasion. Clearly this piece was inspired by that! I was probably going through some sort of inner torment at the time.
* * *
I had the pear dream again
Hence my unsavory pallor
and my burning yearning for a
Girl Drink Drunk
Aye, there’s the rub -
or perhaps not.
May I speak horticulturally for a moment?
Yes you may. Please do. I so love plant life.
If you have only just begun to quilt, don’t respond.
May I speak horizontally for a moment?
Yes you may. Please do. I so love plant life.
It’s Germinator II, Judgment Day
and methinks thou dost protest too much.
Upstairs we are having a fabulous party
but we’ve run out of wine so I’ve come down
to steal some of yours.
My God! This room stinks of stupid women wondering
Wondering where, wondering how, wondering how much
My God, open a window!
I had the pear dream again
Was I there?
Yes. You gave me the pear.
And with this pear…
Still our party rages on into the night,
and I believe now would be a good time
to progress from exploring the inner child
to exploring the inner adult
or at least the inner teenager
My God, open a window!
Yes, there’s some business I need to discuss,
But first –
No no no
First we discuss business
And then the whores.
By the way, this next one is called Get the Guests
But it’s only being played with the Uninvited
And that big red sign over my head reads:
H E L L O.
Which translates to:
Thou shalt not go on the hook
in order to take someone else off it
And even a cold kiss
is still a kiss.
This Friday Flash is a fresh revamp of a story I wrote many years ago.
* * *
He wore a tailored suit of crisp white linen. A lavender hankie poked out of the breast pocket. His tie was an icy grey. He leaned in a casual pose against the balcony railing, staring at the full, pale yellow moon. It looked pasted on the hot, cloudless sky.
There was a soft clink of ice each time he lifted the highball glass to sip. The other sounds on this late balmy night were the buzz of cicadas and the languid rustling of bushes and trees decorating the courtyard.
I shifted on the sofa to see if the apparition would alter depending on my vantage point. It remained breathtakingly tangible if also transparent. I gazed through the translucent form at the cleverly painted shutters and ornate balcony on the cottage directly across the courtyard.
The gentleman sighed heavily. Or perhaps it was wind brushing through leaves. The apparition turned and looked at me. He smiled and said in a soft voice, “Good evening.”
This was lunacy, but it was happening. I wanted to flow with it and see where it led. I had chosen this particular guest house, this particular cottage for a reason. I’d heard murmurings that it was haunted. That it was graced by the ghost of my favorite tortured playwright, Tennessee Williams.
The gentleman moved to a wicker chair on the balcony. On a table next to the chair was a functioning gaslight lamp. The flicker of light bounced off him, and shone through him at the same time.
A robust breeze wove through the vines that draped the quartet of cottages. It sounded like ocean waves soaring and ebbing. I was momentarily displaced and dizzy. I shut my eyes. Would the apparition be gone when I opened them?
The next sound I heard was the lazy Southern drawl of a woman’s voice.
“I am parched is what I am. It is so devastatingly warm tonight. Just like a furnace of fire.”
I opened my eyes, startled. A woman’s amorphous form now stood in the doorway to the balcony. She was studying me. She addressed me in a condescending tone.
“Well there you are! Paying attention at last. Oh sugar, you should put that hair up off your neck. And why don’t you put on some cooler clothing. Something pastel and lightweight. You are so covered up, and in this heat! Why do you cover up so? And in such dark clothing too. It’s not becoming to be so morbid all the time.”
I glanced at the male form and then returned my gaze to the woman. Her voice sounded like my mother’s. Or rather, the tone did. I remained silent. The new apparition smiled indulgently and crossed to an open window. She stared out at the night. Her hands fluttered absently over her hair or smoothed over her skirt or fussed with the curtains that draped to the floor.
The gentleman remained seated on the balcony, one leg crossed over the other. His highball glass was full again. When had that happened? He stared at me. The gaslight gave his face an eerie glow. He took a sip of his drink and then said,
“She’s mine but she’s yours too. You might as well ride it out. I did.” He paused. “I do still,” he finished.
The woman spoke again. “I simply must get myself some of that delicious night air.”
She went onto the balcony to one of the other wicker chairs. She sat in shadow, away from the gaslight. The only light touching her was that of the moon.
The two ghosts conversed. They were playful and cajoling with each other or argumentative and vicious. I watched in rapt attention as the woman’s features shifted frequently. At times she looked young and intense or coy and flirty. At others, older, with a sharp watchful gaze. Her expression was prim and disapproving one moment, tender and wistful the next. It brought to mind Tennessee Williams characters, especially those portrayed in classic films starring the great actresses: Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, and others.
The gentleman ghost was melancholy and passive unless provoked by her. Then he was angry, callous, or aloof.
“We all have our mother issues.” It surprised me that I’d spoken aloud.
The man sipped. The ice clinked. He responded, “Not just mothers. Sisters, aunts, paramours. And fathers, brothers, uncles. Some say we can have the same relationship over and over even though we are interacting with different people. That those we interact with are, in fact, mirrors of our many inner selves. I find that a fascinating concept. However, I also find it appalling.”
I laughed. “I agree.”
The cicadas buzzed. Breezes pushed the fragrant scent of night blooms into the room. The ghosts were now silent except for the woman’s soft melodic humming, the clink of ice, and the accompanying sounds of the night.
A ribbon of orange appeared on the horizon. Night began drifting away. The woman had moved indoors to rest on a brocade loveseat. A thin band of sunlight pierced the room. She shimmered for a moment and then disappeared.
The gentleman had moved to the darkest area of the room. The highball glass was gone. Sunlight spread through the window and flooded the chair where he sat. His smile was faint but his voice was strong and clear as he drawled goodbye.
Alone with my thoughts, I contemplated last evening’s visitation and what it brought up inside me. I have an uneasy peace with my mother. Our relationship isn’t great but we maintain a tense balance. The bizarre, perhaps triggering experience of last night did not make me want to get any closer to her.
Life doesn’t always tidy up nicely. Estrangements can remain vast. Closure is sometimes never achieved. I welcome visits from other ghosts, for an evening thrill or perhaps a spot of insight. But the ghosts that hide in my psyche? Where they are, I prefer they remain.
The other night in a taxi, on my way home from a going away party for friends, I came up with this story. Just in time for Friday Flash because I’m at a temporary stalemate with my Dandy in the Underworld serial!
* * *
The taxi jolted into movement again. We are nearing the building. The building with the figure in the window.
At night when in a taxi, on a bus, or in a car, I like to glance at the lit windows of apartment buildings as we speed by. I enjoy fleeting glimpses into various rooms. It’s intriguing to catch sight of wall hangings, décor, and light fixtures. The ultra-blue glare of a TV screen flickering on walls gives an eerie glow to a darkened room. Sometimes I glance in and witness a quick slice of life moment.
There is a specific window that has become an obsession of mine. Whenever possible, I reroute my travels to pass the window, just so I can stare up and take note.
In this particular window, no matter what time of night or how infrequently I pass it, there is always the same figure. It looks like a person sitting at a table or in a chair. The body is tilted slightly away from the window so I can’t make out a face. The person seems intent on something. What is it? Reading? The person could be watching TV, although there is never any telltale flicker of blue light. Perhaps the person is listening to music in a contemplative pose? Or maybe playing Second Life on the computer? In any case, the figure seems to always be in the same position. The same tilt of the body, the same slant of pale, amber-gray light. There is something unsettling about it, though.
One evening a few months ago, as the taxi paused in traffic, I had time to study the figure in the window. I decided the gender is male. He looks to have a very lean build, or at least what can be seen from the sternum up. He has a smooth shaved head. I can’t tell if he is wearing clothing. The window is on a top floor, about three floors up, so picking up details is hazy at best. But it appears he is shirtless or always wears pale beige-blue shirts that fit seamlessly to the body.
After that, about once a week, on random nights, at random times, I traveled past that window. He was always there. I started to have belligerent thoughts like, “Change position, dammit!” “Glance out the window!” “Stand up!” “Be absent from the window for once!” But he was always there, in the same position.
A few nights ago, I decided that it wasn’t a person sitting in the window, but a mannequin set up to look like a person sitting in the window. And that irritated me. It especially irritated me tonight after consuming a few shots of bourbon and a few beers. Irrational? Yes. But now I have a frivolous mystery to solve. Man or mannequin? I intend to find out tonight.
I tell the taxi driver to pull over. I pay him and exit the cab. I’m a couple blocks away from the building with the window. It’s a nice night, a bit brisk and fog-draped. That, coupled with my booze buzz, adds to the aura of mystery I’ve woven around this figure in the window. I very much hope it isn’t a mannequin. I kind of want it to be a stuffed dead person, in a mother of Norman Bates way, because I can be gruesome like that.
I arrive at the corner market across the street from the building. There he is, sitting in the window. I lean against the outside wall of the market, take out a cigarette, and light it. Just causally pausing to have a smoke, with a good view of the window.
Please move. Please glance out the window at me. I want to see your face. I want you to see me.
My thoughts have an urgent appeal to them. I inhale, frustrated. I’ve been staring up at the window, aching to see any kind of movement. I finish my cigarette, stub it out, and toss it into a nearby garbage can. I feel almost dejected.
It must be a mannequin.
The thought rankles. I lean against the wall again, giving one last stare up at the figure in the window. And then it happens. The figure moves. He turns his head and looks out the window. He sees me.
A curdling, nauseated sensation, not unlike the first rush of food poisoning, grips me, washes over me. I inhale in shock. I’m afraid and have a desperate need to immediately put distance between myself and the figure in the window. My gut tells me, Too late. You’ve been marked.
I don’t know what that means, at least not comprehensively. But my survival instinct knows.
I’m glad for the busy street. I hail the first empty taxi, keeping my gaze away from the figure in the window. The mystery is solved but not solved. I understand, but I don’t. It makes sense but it doesn’t. It’s frightening. It brings to mind, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” except not that exact story .
Horror movies usually take place in isolated areas. Small towns, the woods, islands, abandoned buildings, etc. I live in a thriving, cosmopolitan city where the horror stories are crime based. Man’s inhumanity to man. But after exchanging stares with that figure in the window, I now know that a thriving, cosmopolitan city is the prime place to hide and wait until the time is right for –
I don’t finish that thought.
The taxi is going fast. The nausea ripples over me. I’m short of breath. Anxious.
“Creepy night, right?” The taxi driver’s voice is jovial. “Makes you think something is going to jump out around every corner.”
I don’t respond. I have learned something unpleasant tonight. I’ve learned that the human race isn’t really alone and we aren’t really safe. And the voice in my head just keeps repeating over and over, “They’re heeeeere.” But it’s not amusing in the least.
I’ve missed a couple weeks of Friday Flash participation and may have to miss a couple more. Life has turned busy and my Dandy in the Underworld serial has to be put on the back burner for a bit. If I can manage it, I’ll post some older stuff I’ve already written (after some fixes to meet the 1,000 word limitation). Hopefully one will be up this Friday.
Part 3 can be found here: http://inkyheels.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/dandy-in-the-underworld-part-3-doppelganger/
Jules stared out at the Seine. Nightfall was arriving. The city around him looked serene and pastel, yet Jules felt a tense pulse in the atmosphere, like the string of an instrument being plucked. He gazed up at the grand historic cathedral. The carved stone gargoyles cast peculiar shadows. As it darkened into evening, Jules recalled a part of a favorite Baudelaire poem.
Like chrysalids, a thousand memories
that slept among the silent shadows now
unfold their wings and soar into the light
Jules heard footsteps approaching. As the individual paused beside him, Jules said in greeting, “You’re early, Alec. I wanted more alone time.”
Alec lit a cigarette. “Yes, well, I was hoping to watch the sunset myself. Clearly I’m too late.”
Jules sighed. “Sasha and Viv went shopping today. I’m joining them later at a restaurant. You’ll want to meet them, I guess?”
Alec turned. A breeze off the river blew strands of dark hair about his face. His gray eyes studied Jules. “Maybe. It depends on whether you want to take part in my experiment.”
Jules took out his pocket watch and gave it an exasperated glance. “I don’t even understand your experiment. All you said was that it had something to do with my alternate self. I agreed to meet with you because you seemed to know a lot about…” he paused and finished, “things.”
“Let’s walk along the river,” Alec responded. “We can watch the crowds of people out for the night. The 1920s was an exciting time in history.”
Jules fell into step with Alec. “So questions must be answered before giving my decision about your experiment.”
Alec nodded. “I’ll answer what is explained simply. I don’t want to waste time on complicated discussion.”
“Are there more openings besides London and Montreal? Do they lead to different time periods?”
“Yes and yes.” Alec paused to watch a group of brightly dressed women hurry laughing into a bar. “I’ve found others. Their discovery was not the result of a cumbersome geographic equation though. At least not for some of the obvious ones.”
They started walking again. Jules said impatiently, “Well? At least give me the location of another one, Alec.”
Alec sat on an empty bench. He motioned for Jules to join him. “Where would you presume another to be? Think about historic places with mythical or mystical lore surrounding them.”
Jules was silent. “You don’t mean Stonehenge, do you? That’s too cliché. I refuse to believe it.”
Alec laughed and finished his cigarette. “I hadn’t thought about Stonehenge. I should check it out. Think of places with significant history.”
Jules shrugged. “Egypt? The Pyramids?”
Alec grinned. “Good guess. Yes. There is one near there. It leads, oddly enough, to the 17th century.”
“Oh wow!” Jules exclaimed. “Fops! I need to get to that Egypt opening.”
“Not a time period I enjoy,” replied Alec. “You probably have an alternate self there. But let’s discuss your alternate self here in Paris. I can take you to him tonight.”
Jules gazed across the street. He wished he was in a cozy cafe or bar with Viv and Sasha. At the mention of his Parisian alternate, he felt nervous and uncomfortable. He’d been feeling discomfited since meeting Alec a week ago. Alec cut a dashing figure so Jules had been flattered and intrigued when he’d joined his table at the café. Then Alec announced he knew Jules was using the London opening with Sasha and Viv to visit the 1920s. Jules had been taken by surprise and a little frightened.
After a few reassurances, Alec told Jules that he’d glimpsed his alternate self here in Paris but had been unable to find him again. However, he saw the duplicate Jules regularly. He’d urged Jules to participate in an experiment. Jules suspected there was a lot that Alec wasn’t sharing.
Alec’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “We could go to your other self tonight. We’re close to his regular location.”
“I’m a little afraid,” Jules admitted. “What if something horrible happens?” Jules stood, his voice slightly agitated. “I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this.”
Alec stood and faced Jules, grabbing his shoulders firmly. “Calm down. There’s more I haven’t told you. You just have to go through with it and you’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be great. The results will alter you.”
Jules raised his eyebrows. “Alter me? I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t know you so how can I trust you?” He tried to pull out of Alec’s grasp.
“Just listen, Jules. I’ve performed the experiment before. In other time periods with my alternate selves. I’m fine. I’m stronger for it. The alteration has to do with the personal power you can wield in various time periods.”
Jules stared. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Alec released Jules. His gray eyes darkened as he replied, “Visiting an alternate time period is fine until you come into direct contact with an alternate self. Then a bizarre, feral sort of struggle erupts to eliminate one of you. What I theorize at this point is that if you consciously search out and extinguish all your alternate selves, then you evolve into one powerful ultimate self. What happens after that, I don’t yet know.”
Jules blinked in disbelief. “You’re telling me that I have to murder myself? My alternate self? That’s crazy. You’re crazy.”
Alec gave Jules a cold smile. He shrugged. “Well, you don’t have to participate. But you’ll need to avoid contact with your alternate. It’s a kill or be killed scenario. Or at least I think it is. I’ll leave you to think about this. I’ll contact you in a couple of weeks. Until then, I’d avoid this general area. I’d keep it private from the others too, at least for now.”
Alec bid Jules a crisp good-bye and crossed the street. Stunned, Jules watched him blend into the crowd and disappear.