You must login to vote
I haven't written anything lately, so let's see if the wunderkind's still got chops. Thanks to g.s vasu for a good idea, and to any kind and persevering soul who finishes this.
I sat in a café one day, sipping coffee. Most of us there were young, and rumpled by affectation. We were the unwanted elite of society, and we ventured to the café often in order to discuss abstract poetry and the finer things in life. In the midst of this vainglorious flock a rather plain couple sat sharing a muffin, and drinking hot tea. The woman was smiling, but it seemed to me it was a complacent smile, meant to encourage the man she was leaning over. She was short and voluptuous, and possessed the charm that seems unique to petite women, but it appeared to me she possessed a slight wrongness, whether in her manner or appearance I could not tell. I was quite taken with the man, however. He was tall and stooped, all bones and angles like a stork bent over upon itself searching for fish. He was smiling like a little boy through a haphazard beard, holding a magazine in his hands, and pointing to a page over and over again. He looked like a child who had caught a cricket in his palm for the first time. I smiled. A waitress’ body obstructed my view, and it occurred to me that I should replenish myself. I signaled her over, and asked for a refill, and her number.
She smiled slyly. “You’re a wicked man, Edmond. I’ve seen you try this on anything with two legs.”
“I’ll have you know, Laura, that my criteria are much more stringent. They must have two nice legs.”
She let loose a brief and unabashed burst of laughter, which quickly became the liquid titter which is the more fashionable mode of expression. “The next table’s calling.”
“And so will I, if only you would give me your number,” I replied.
“Come by tomorrow; I’ll be there, and Tuesdays are slow,” she said.
I grinned in triumph with a leonine display of teeth. “I’ll be by Tuesday. You’re beautiful, you know that?” I shouted as she left to attend to the table on my left. She didn’t acknowledge my parting remark, but I’m sure she heard. They always do; and how could they not, when such a promising young man talks to them?
My view of the couple became open once again. The woman’s eyes were wandering, but the man maintained his singular concentration on the magazine. He was fixated with an intense passion, and couldn’t stop grinning. I grabbed my steaming coffee, and weaved through the metal latticeworked tables towards them. It was time to meet them, as I had become intrigued.
“Good day. Would you mind if I were to join you?”
The man looked up, gaping briefly like a fish in confusion. “Huh? Oh, yeah, certainly.”
I sat on the uncomfortable metal chair. “I haven’t seen you before. Are you new to this restaurant?”
“Oh, yes. Well, I’ve been here before, but only lately,” said the man.
“He says this city is his inspiration,” the woman said, laughing. “We’re from Harrisburg, so we haven’t absorbed too much of this sort of thing. Eric here has gone crazy lately, running from place to place.”
Eric broke in here. “Well you see, I’ve had this story published, right here, yes, on sixty-seven, and I wrote it while in a café. So I assumed that I had only to find the café again to become inspired.
“So I’ve been hopping from place to place in search of the perfect café.” He grinned boyishly. “What do you do, Mr. …? Excuse me; I’ve forgotten to make introductions. I’m Eric, this is my fiancée Nichole. And who are you?”
“My name is Edmond Laslow,” I replied. “I’m a vagabond of the worst sort.” Eric laughed a little at this, but Nichole didn’t crack a smile. “How about yourselves?”
“Well, I’m a sports writer, but the company told me to take a sabbatical. Nichole’s a marketing consultant, so she can do a lot of work from any hotel with a good internet line.”
“Ah. And what about your article?”
“It’s not an article,” said Nichole. “It’s a story about a man who confesses to a murder he didn’t commit. Silly, huh?”
“No honey, like I’ve been trying to explain, it symbolizes redemption…” I stopped listening intently as I gazed upon the glossy magazine cover, and Nichole faded as well. She smiled, but her eyes were dull.
“May I read it?”
Eric stopped his proselytizing a moment, and handed the story over. He hovered eagerly over my shoulder as I furiously devoured its contents, looking for all the world like some mage’s homunculus. His doting was beginning to grate on me, but I finished the story in some ten minutes, and found that the writing far surpassed the writer. Eric was amiable and sensitive, a nice guy if a little eccentric. His writing was idiosyncratic, complex, well-paced, intricate, witty, and fantastic. That story was divine, twelve pages of shiny magazine paper crammed with a story so good I almost teared while reading the protagonist’s fate. The world I had become so engrossed in dissolved as I woke to reality.
“Eric, this is some phenomenal work! I really enjoyed it. You’re probably a better writer than every person in this café, or any café for miles.”
He blushed, and asked about one part where the hero woke up in his cell with blood on his hands. I said the symbolism was a little strong, but that I couldn’t have done better, so who was I to talk? He laughed, and shrugged, and preened. Nichole looked on with dim fascination.
“No, you deserve every compliment that comes your way, Eric. I’d be honored if you came back to my apartment. Would you?” Nichole was leery, but Eric agreed. He took her aside a moment. They had the same argument that’s always been had between couples about a stranger. But eventually, Nichole agreed with Eric. I paid both of our bills, and left, winking at Laura as I did. She smiled, and tossed her raven hair.
I hailed a cab, and we took a careening route to my home. It was wrenching, and I’m certain that he could have skipped a few extraneous blocks; however, I was no local, and grew angry at such flagrant robbery. As we left, I said a few choice words to him and didn’t tip him. Had I been reading this and not writing it, I would be understandably bored. But I am a man of diverse talents, and the driver left with a pale and sweating face.
Eric and Nichole went up before me, as I had instructed. Apartment 48. By my standards it was modest, but Eric and Nichole liked it. Therefore, I liked it better. I played a few songs on the piano for them both, and showed them a few sketches I had made of the city using the view from my window. One or two had been rendered in watercolor, and I offered to give it to them. They graciously accepted, and though Nichole seemed mystified as to my use of color and perspective, Eric was charmed by it. In truth, in pained me to part with my favorite cityscape, but if I were to win them over, I would need to show generosity and joviality. We talked over an impromptu lunch of salad and wine, and continued our discussion till it was about seven. My stomach had been making delicate rumbles all day, as the salad had been my only solid repast, but as the sun went down, my appetite waxed. I suggested we go to a restaurant I know with very ample servings. They agreed, and we left together to go.
The cab ride was uneventful, and the conversation unremarkable. But I could feel both Eric and Nichole beginning to lean on my presence. They talked less, and I more, as I told long-winded stories about my hobbies and the city, its sights and history. They were engrossed, and I can say without too much falsity that they were almost like moths to the flame now. I would smile broadly and talk, and they would listen. Inside my mind, I could feel a symphony strike up.
We arrived at the restaurant without much fuss, aside from a matter at the door. After bribing the staff magnanimously and explaining that I was a regular, seats were made available. We sat down, were promptly targeted by a waiter who took appetizer orders, and began talking.
“Edmond, you have so many stories! You don’t seem the type to travel often, and you read so much I don’t know how you ever manage to leave that apartment,” commented Nichole.
“The type who do so never appear to,” I replied. “Because if we did, we would be harangued at every foreign market from here to Timbuktu. I am a man of the world, and I try to appear as innocuous as possible. While maintaining my striking presence, of course. It’s a challenge to be handsome and easily forgotten.”
Eric and Nichole chuckled politely. “I hardly think so, Edmond. You’ve been such a wonderful host, and an interesting man, that I doubt anyone could forget you,” said Nichole. I smiled secretly, and Nichole looked askance at me.
The dinner came around, and it was delightful. Meals are always delightful when one is starving. The key to enjoying any meal is to come into it hungry and leave with enough room left over to enjoy thinking back on it. I ate a mountain of tenderloins, and Eric and Nichole shared a very large fish platter. The meals came with a soup that complemented the entrees well. I paid the bill, refusing to accept any contribution from Eric or Nichole, and we returned to my apartment.
“I am afraid that my habits keep me up rather late. And thusly, though I can see you are both tired, I won’t be heading to bed. You can use my bedroom for the night, if you wish. It’s the first on the left, by the curtained French doors,” I said.
“That’s very kind, Edmond. Thanks.”
“It’s no trouble, I assure you. Should you need nightclothes, or more blankets, just ask.”
“Thank you Edmond,” said Nichole.
“Yes. Goodnight, and sleep well,” I said.
They walked to my room, closed the door, and clambered into bed. I heard the whispered words and harsh intaken breath of silent passion. The noises ceased after about a half-hour, and I was able to concentrate better on my reading. The volume was thick and leather-bound, filled with detailed illustrations, and very precise, cribbed writing. I always read over it for inspiration, and tonight was no different.
I pored over the volume until the lights from the city’s midnight revelry made the sky purple. The sky goes from blue to indigo, and then on cloudy nights goes to a vivid purple as the result of the city lights. It was during the slow transition from indigo to magenta that I set down my book and arose. I crept to the bedroom, and gently twisted open the door. Nichole and Eric were asleep, covering most of my expansive bed in tangled limbs. I opened the door, and entered.
I waved my hand over the bed, and a shimmery curtain erected itself. I muttered a few words in singsong, and Nichole’s eyes burst open blankly. “Nichole, if you can hear me, nod. Good. Now, I’d like you to stand up. Oh, shit, this always happens. No, not on the bed. On the floor. Stand on the floor. Yes, much better, dear. Now, I’m going to give you back your mouth, as I’ll need it later. But please, don’t scream.” I waved my hand, and placed my index finger on the corner of my nose. She blinked a few times, and then screamed. Though the rest of her body was immobilized, her neck strained as she belted out her glass-shattering shriek.
“Ah, yes, that always happens. Well, witty though I am, I’ll spare you the melodramatic speech: In here, no one can hear you scream and all that. No, no, let’s just get down to business. Go ahead, feel free to ask me something.”
“Simple enough. I’m something more than a man, and less than a god. I began life sometime in the eighteenth century, and when I found that I was having much too much fun living to die, I postponed the event some.”
“What?” Nichole was able to think; what attempts I’ve made in the past to stifle this were terrible blunders at best. But she was still barely capable of forming cognizant thought, a useful side effect of shock.
“It’s all in my little black book. An exclusive list, of an unsavory nature. I call on my friends from time to time, and we come to arrangements. Demons are terrific hagglers, but their fondness for rapacious and violent behavior often precludes logical thought, so I can come away with the better end of the deal,” I explained. “They give me a set number of years, and in return, I give them things they may need. Mostly virgins, or unbaptised children, that general list, but sometimes eccentricities like religious essays from the Middle Ages, or transcripts of a Pope’s sermon. Even a demon needs a taboo, I suppose.”
“That’s…just crazy. You’re insane. What are you going to do with us?!”
“With Eric, sleeping so soundly over yon, nothing. You, I think I will use. Your life will be shortened, and mine lengthened. I was going to use Eric, though, so it’s really his fault you’re here. I always try to pick victims with at least a touch of genius, and Eric seems infused with an unearthly talent. Therefore, after I read his story, I decided he was to be my victim. Unfortunately, he was just too good. I really liked his work, and Eric himself. I thought to myself he was too valuable for the human race to lose.”
“How humanitarian,” commented Nichole. She seemed to be regaining some vigor.
“Your barbed tongue isn’t appreciated, and if you can’t take interest in what’s to become of you, I suppose we’ll just get on with it.” Nichole screamed again, and it might have been a drop of rain in the middle of a hurricane for all the difference it made. I walked around her three times, recited a brief incantation, and lit a candle. I dripped a single drop of wax near each of her eyelids, and one on her nose. I used the candle to light others of varying colors arrayed in a circle around her. When I completed, I began chanting a long mantra. It took a minute to complete each repetition, but because singing was unnecessary, the breaks were hard to determine. Some thirty minutes later, and all I had to do was place a cross between the enclosed circle and myself. I sat down cross-legged, folded my hands, and hummed a straight note for somewhere close to a minute. As my breath ran down, a mist coalesced about Nichole.
“I’m not sure about your choice, Edmond,” hissed a disembodied voice. “I think you might wish to use that man sleeping over there. He seems a much safer bet.”
“I would say so as well, Fraques. However, he is too valuable to sacrifice.”
“Don’t mix business and pleasure, Edmond. He is only a mortal,” replied the demon. The mist had formed into an impish red man with a potbelly, and coarse piggish-hairs concentrated at his wrists and shoulders. The back hair seemed almost a mane, an absurd concept on a three-foot-tall demon. His teeth were pointed, and his nostrils very wide, but he seemed otherwise human in countenance. “What shall I gain in return for this dubious bargain, Edmond?”
“Whatever your devilish heart desires, Fraques.”
“I should like platform shoes, three toads, and that green book on your shelf with the bookmark hanging out.”
“Fraques, I’m aware that she isn’t of the highest caliber, but is this a wise trade?”
“Certainly. The toads and the book together will give me a formula for enchanting harpies, and the platform shoes are axiomatic.”
I chuckled. “As you wish, my friend.” I hummed, and then got up. I held the note until I had retrieved the book, and slid it inside the circle. “The shoes. Are hers all right?”
“No, of course not. You can’t always swindle me, Edmond.”
“All right. The toads are in a terrarium, and won’t require more than a moment, but the shoes will be a while.” I left the apartment complex, fetched a pair of shoes that I could only hope would fit out of a shoe store I broke into, and returned. I found Fraques caught in one of the traps I had left embedded as a precaution, struggling to free himself from an ever-constricting barrel.
“Oh, yes, and the shoes also gave me more time,” said Fraques, looking like a cat caught with ice cream.
“But not enough, demon. Sometimes you push this gentleman’s agreement too far.” I picked up the barrel and set it inside the circle. I needed to improve my magical charms, as these circles proved flimsy.
“You’re not one to speak on etiquette right now, Edmond, on account of your uninvited guest to this ceremony,” Fraques guiltily replied.
“Yes, well…Have the arrangements been made?”
“Oh, assuredly. Those shoes took you about an hour.”
“Excellent,” I responded. I picked up the cross, used it to cross myself, and then pushed it into a melted candle so that it embedded itself. I then grabbed a maroon candle, and dripped some wax on Nichole’s mouth. She screamed again, as the wax was quite hot. “Don’t worry, dear, it will all be over soon,” I said. I loomed towards her as Fraques watched eagerly, then drew her into an embrace. I kissed her deeply, and forced my tongue into her protesting mouth. When our two tongues made contact, her soul began to depart her in a slick sensation, until she was left with no more than a few years to finish her life. Fraques smiled evilly, then nodded to me as he vanished, holding his things.
“You shall have a modest thirtieth birthday party, but I ask that you go away before the next day, as you shall die,” I said. Nichole smiled widely, peacefully.
“And you before then,” she said.
“I am not some cheap dime-novel vampire, to die whenever I encounter a disease in my victims. I don’t fear your melodramatic threats.”
“But you should! Before you stole my life, I was physically healthy. My mental health, though…I’m on pills for schizophrenia. Some of the voices urge me to kill myself. I tried once before, and while I recovered they diagnosed me.”
I blinked. “Ha! Admittedly, to date I’ve only stolen the cream of the crop, but every genius is a strange amalgamation of borders and desires, with eccentricities that border on psychoses.”
“That’s a load of shit. They might have been geniuses, but they weren’t actually crazy. And I am.”
I released the spell with an enraged toss of my wrist. When Nichole went to grab a statue to attack me with, I rushed into her body. I tripped her, and threw her to the ground. She began sobbing loudly, and I took her moment of weakness as an opportunity to throw her out. I pushed her into the bedroom, cast a hastily constructed spell on both Eric and Nichole that obscured their memories of that night as though clouded by wine, and called for a cab. When it arrived, I animated their bodies out of the artificial torpor, and like a puppetmaster, I guided them to the cab. They clambered in, zombie-like; I gave the driver directions in an alien voice, and then renounced my control. I collapsed against my kitchen wall, and put my head on my knee. What if she was right? Would I have to take pills until her soul withered, or would anything happen at all? Would I die, or kill myself, or recklessly kill others? I ran my hand threw my hair, furiously denying the possibilities one by one. As I lowered my hand, I felt it twitch.