Short Story: ‘Love under House Arrest’

B&BSome stupid fun. Enjoy!


At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.

‘Wh-who are you?’

‘I am the master of this castle.’

The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’

The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.

‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.

‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!

Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’

The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’

And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.

‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’

Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.

What do you want with me?’ she cried.

The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’

‘P-prisoner? Why?’

‘You were trespassing.’

‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’

The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.

‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’

Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’

The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’

Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …

‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’

Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.

The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’

Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’

‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’

‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’

The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’

Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’

Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.

Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’

‘That stays.’

‘What is it?’

Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.

Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.

‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’

With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.

The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’

‘A what!

The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’

Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’

The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’

Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’

‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’

Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.

Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.

The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’

Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?

‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’

Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.

Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!

The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’

Review: ‘The Girl in the Flammable Skirt’

the-girl-in-the-flammable-skirt smallThis collection, originally published in 1998, was on my to-read list for ages, but my local libraries and bookstores never carried it. Fortunately, with the recent popularisation of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender’s older works have gotten the reissue treatment (slash they’ve made it to backwater Australia in the first place). Even with the reissue, though, this was still a difficult find. I had to grab the LARGE PRINT edition from my local library. Ever read a large-print story about a promiscuous librarian during the morning train commute? Didn’t think so. Don’t scoff.

Fortunately, it was worth the trouble. Although The Girl with the Flammable Skirt feels a bit like the work of a writer still developing their voice, its stories were loaded with entertainment value. Bold, eccentric and dripping with originality, Bender’s short fiction contains highly memorable plots with unconventional subject matters. She trades in the sort of quirky surrealist style associated with writers like Francesca Lia Bloc and Miranda July. A strong sexual undercurrent also permeates these works, further accentuating this comparison.

Still, I enjoyed this way more than Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. Though they’re aesthetically similar, I find July’s writing gratingly cute and too far removed from reality; Flammable Skirt was, oddly, more grounded in real human emotion, thus I connected better to the stories. (I say oddly because, like contemporary fairytales, Bender’s subject matter is pretty out there: an incognito imp, of high school age, makes an unwitting sexual advance while stroking the hair of an incognito teenage mermaid; a woman’s boyfriend, disillusioned with the state of the world, experiences – perhaps initiates – reverse evolution, eventually becoming a salamander; two young women experience the hardships of adolescence – with added elemental burdens: one has an ice hand, one fire.)

Reading these, I was delightfully forced from my comfort zone (realist literary fiction). The stories were often trés silly, but Bender sells them, establishing the parameters quickly and upholding them, honouring them. Universality grounds even the most outlandish story, and so they read like strange fables, cautionary tales. I’m intellectualising what doesn’t need to be: at their core, I must emphasise, these stories are just great fun.

I had several favourites, including: ‘The Ring’, a story about besotted thieves whose stolen ruby ring permanently dyes everything it contacts; ‘Quiet Please’, a story about a grief-stricken librarian who decides to have sex with every man who enters her library; ‘Dreaming in Polish’, a story about a prophetic old couple who dream visions of the future in unison; and ‘What You Left in the Ditch’, a story about a military wife who finds it hard to love her wounded husband after he returns from war without lips.

A couple didn’t quite hit home (the sprawling, overambitious ‘Marzipan’ and the ineffectual ‘Legacy’), but theses don’t tarnish what was an otherwise compelling debut. I’ve no doubt I’ll be reading more of Aimee Bender’s work in the future.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.2 Story – ‘Snowman on the Lake’

ImageFlash! Friday is now in its second year! This is my response to the second prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). Enjoy!

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‘Snowman on the Lake’ (160 words)

Claire closed the door with her foot and carried the final box to her car. Michael was waiting, hands in pockets, down by the lake. She secured the box in the back seat and joined him.

‘Hey kiddo.’

Michael looked up. ‘Hey.’

She gestured to the stout, slouching snowman. ‘Who’s your friend?’

Michael shrugged. ‘Mum and I used to build them all the time.’

‘Oh.’ Claire looked out across the lake. She’d never been good with children. ‘Still can’t believe my sister lived on a lake. You know she hated water growing up?’

Michael smiled thinly.

‘This can work,’ she said. ‘You can leave this cold behind, meet some kids your age. Have you ever seen the ocean?’

Michael shook his head.

‘You’ll love it. It’s a whole other world, Australia.’

She held out her hand. Hesitantly, Michael accepted it. They trudged up the snowy path and piled into the car.

Michael’s snowman slowly faded from the rear-view.

Wilco Will Love You, Baby

I’ve been a fan of Wilco for a while now. They’re the only international act I’ve paid to see more than twice, and their diverse and ecclectic catalogue has variously appealed to my teenage and adult hearts. In my opinion, they haven’t put a foot wrong.

Naff as it sounds, Wilco’s music is a constant inspiration to me. I’ve discovered the seeds for stories and poems in the soundscapes of their songs. For instance, there’s an old story of mine, ‘Gun Grey Maverick’, that has many parallels to the song ‘Bull Black Nova’, and various other Tweedy lyrics have springboarded me towards my own writing ideas. As such, I have to credit Wilco and Jeff Tweedy as major influences. They were instrument in my formative years and played a part in helping me discover my writing voice. Continue reading

Review: ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’

thingsI would say Steven Amsterdam is one of my favourite Australian writers, but he was born and raised in America and I’m not sure which country he prefers to align himself with. Nevertheless, he shot up my list of favourite contemporary authors on the strength of his – in my opinion, criminally underrated – second novel, What the Family Needed, (my review of which can be found here). Continue reading

Flash! Friday #38 Story – ‘Directions’

Image

My response to Flash! Friday’s thirty-eigth prompt (the above picture). Two hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). Composed entirely on my phone (harder than it sounds!) and my own self-imposed challenge was to do it all in dialogue, without tags. Not sure how successful this was but, as always, it was good fun.

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Directions (258 words)

‘Jim, dear, I’m afraid we’re lost.’
‘I can see why you might think that, Margaret, but I’m sure we’re on the right path. You see, I recall that distinct set of mulberry bushes a few miles back.’
‘Oh, you and your vague landmarks …’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘I said, “Yes, oh brilliant husband, I’m sure you’re right.”’
‘Excellent. Now wait here. I’m going to purchase some coffee from that there vendor … I say there, my good man! Frightfully sorry, but I wonder if I might trouble you for two cups of Joe?’
‘Comin’ up.’
‘Thank you kindly. Oh, and not to be a further imposition but, since I have you here, might I trouble you with directions to …’
‘Ain’t no tour guide, mister.’
‘I understand that. It’s just … Well, you’re the only person we’ve seen in miles, and I … I can’t bear the thought of admitting to my wife that we’re lost.’
‘Aw’right, fine. Where ya headed?’
‘Heaven, sir.’
‘Heaven!? Mate, you gone about a thousand miles the wrong way; you in Hell.’
‘You’re joking …’
‘Ain’t joking — you think they got coffee this good on the outskirts ofHeaven?’
‘Aha, Jim! I knew you couldn’t be trusted with the map! You can’t even find my erogenous zones! What made me think you could guide us to the afterlife?’
‘Margaret, I … I’m sorry. What should we do? Turn back?’
‘No, Jim. I’m tired. Let’s … Let’s just see what Hell is like, okay?’
‘But Margaret, I …’
‘Don’t fucking argue with me, Mr Navigator Extraordinaire.’

Flash! Friday #35 Story – ‘National Pride’

This here’s my 198 word response to Flash! Friday’s thirty-fifth prompt. As I said in my previous post, I’m very rusty when it comes to writing flash/micro fiction. (Actually, that’s not true; rusty implies that I’m merely out of practice, that I was once good at it.) It’s about having fun, though, and I implore you to join in if weekly community writing challenges interest you.

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Gera, Industriearbeiter Sondermaschine justierend

National Pride (198 words)

From the beginning, Tom had seen the risks. He stood, watching and waiting, whole metres from Dr Fielding and his machines. Tom admired his colleagues’ tenacity, but that was all.

‘All right, Fielding,’ said Bill, the Commander of Operations. ‘Let’s see what she can do.’

Dr Fielding mock-spat into his palms. Then he rubbed his hands together and inputted his no doubt esoteric password into the terminal.

Tom took a subconscious step back. What kind of government took risks like this? He couldn’t believe he still worked here. For five years, the nation had unwittingly haemorrhaged money funding Fielding’s secret commissioned experiment. But for what purpose? To feed some inferiority complex? Optimistically, Tom hoped this was about more than getting noticed by our First World bigger brothers. Bill had given his signatures, yet he seemed to have no idea what Fielding had built.

Such misplaced trust unsettled Tom. Fielding was the brightest scientific mind in the country, but he was also nomadic, unpredictable. And whatever he’d created – a weapon or renewable energy source – it didn’t matter; in all likelihood, the world would always see Australia as its charmingly backwards cousin.

Dr Fielding reached for the lever.

Tom inhaled.