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.’


Vignette: ‘The Matador and the Bull’

IMG_3628Brittany shoves him once, twice, spits in his direction.

Her boyfriend, Glen, leaps back, stumbles on the lip of the kerb. His arms make sad little windmills. A passerby sidesteps the spectacle and Brittany laughs, first at the passing stranger, then at Glen. She thinks long and hard about ways to hurt him. She compares him to his father, but the words falter against him; he has heard this one too many times. She brings up that fat sheila again, the one he ‘rooted last month’.

Glen’s frustration finally bests him. He bites back, lists – for the fourth time that week – his reasons for the indiscretion. It was, he explains, a knee-jerk reaction, the unfortunate consequence of months of compounding stress. He reminds her that she is far from innocent herself. Her list of follies is lengthy: there was the handjob she gave Marcus, their mutual friend, at the football; the phone abuse she inflicted on Glen’s family (over an innocuous remark Glen’s father had made over dinner); the gross mismanagement of their welfare money; her endless stream of criticisms; the broken taillight she never replaced; the way she refused to find work, despite dire financial straits; and the … the …

He is shaking, has made a scene. The reasons why they shouldn’t stay together cascade over him. The Bundoora-bound 86 pulls up behind them.

Brittany – red-faced and full of piss and vinegar – boards via the front entrance. On the second stair, she stops, turns, a tear trickling down her cheek, and says: ‘Well, you’re a fuckin’ dud root, you are! Stay away from this piece of shit, girls! Never once made me come in two years!’

IMG_3616The doors close and the tram pulls away. From the middle of Smith Street, Glen watches Brittany exit his life. When at last she’s gone, he turns, walks the five paces to Woolworths and relays his story to anyone who’ll listen.

He misses her already.

* Published in INfusion 47.

Review: ‘Sweet Tooth’

ImageContrary to the way it’s been marketed, Sweet Tooth is not an espionage novel. Not really. Among other things, it’s a love story, coming of age tale and meditation on literature. By fictionalising elements of McEwan’s youth, it also works as a strange composite of fiction and reality. Long-time McEwan fans will enjoy the various nods to his past work. There are myriad references, and an interesting look at the relationship artists have with their work.

Set in the afterglow of the Cold War, Sweet Tooth details Serena Frome’s (rhymes with ‘plume’) unlikely ascent from plucky academic to MI5 agent. So far, so James Bond, but Serena’s mission is not to take down the irrepressible Jaws; she is sent, as MI5’s resident bibliophile, to covertly cajole promising young writer, Tom Haley. Under the guise of representing a national literary foundation, Serena commissions Tom in the hopes that she can get him to unwittingly pen novelistic propaganda. It’s the 70s, see, and an international war of ideas rages. Britain is facing industrial unrest, and MI5 are desperate to influence the national culture. One of their approaches is to use well-received fiction writers to lure left-of-centre European intellectuals away from the Marxist perspective. Continue reading

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.7 Story – ‘No Regrets’

court_of_honor_and_grand_basinFlash! Friday is in its second year! This is my response to the seventh prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). We were also required to incorporate ‘Destiny’ as a theme.

* * *

‘No Regrets’ (158 words)

His sixtieth had arrived, but Charlie was alone, thinking of 1935, of Pearl. He withdrew the framed picture, hidden in a study drawer, and placed it on the mantel. Looking at it, he felt ill. Estranged daughters, three divorces, and a career spent manufacturing soap, yet this regret eclipsed them all.

The statue stood in all its monochromatic glory. Not an especially romantic spot, but it was where Charlie and Pearl had promised to meet following his tour of duty. His reasons for not showing were trivial at best.

Depleted, Charlie touched a hand to the photo. The image rippled at his touch and he flinched. What was this?

Drawing on reserves of courage, he offered a finger, then a hand, then his entire arm. The portal received him like a body of water.

* * *

This world was colourless. Beneath the statue, an incredulous Charlie surveyed his twenty-something body. Pearl was smiling and waiting for him across the way.

Flash! Friday #42 Story – ‘The New Caretaker’

ImageMy response to Flash! Friday’s forty-second prompt (the above picture). Three hundred words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). Fantasy has been courting me lately, so I wanted to turn in something a little more grounded. This week, I was more interested in character than concept.

Have said that, though, there was also a moment when I flirted with writing a ghost story. See, the first thing this prompt brought to mind was Stephen King’s The Shining and, although this doesn’t really venture too explicitly into that territory, that book was certainly at the forefront of my mind when I started writing. A possible interpretation is that this little exchange between newlyweds foreshadows a later, Amityville Horror-style unravelling. Unfortunately, this piece got a little short-changed by the word count. There’s something faintly undeveloped about it. However, on the whole, I’m happy with it. It evolved organically and, as a quiet little moment, nicely juxtaposes my recent flashier flash.

* * *

‘The New Caretaker’ (309 words)

Erin stood at her husband’s side, arms akimbo, and took it all in.

‘Nuh-uh,’ she said. ‘Too much like the Overlook Hotel.’

Julian frowned. ‘I thought you were going to be supportive about this. Or, at the very least, show some maturity.’

Erin looked away. It took a moment, but eventually she swallowed her laughter. She cleared her throat, set her tone to sincerity.

‘I’m sorry, baby; I do support you.’

Like everything about him, Julian’s smile was ineffectual. But all, it seemed, was forgiven. Erin wasn’t surprised; Julian hadn’t the capacity for anger. Even Erin’s mother had remarked how bland he was.

Truly, she had said, the only remarkable thing about that man is how very unremarkable he is!

Erin couldn’t deny it: her mother’s disapproval had been a contributing factor when she’d accepted Julian’s proposal. But he was a nice man – honest, dependable, guaranteed never to lay a hand on her. Those were rare qualities. They counted.

In an uncharacteristic display, Julian drew Erin in near. His hands rested upon her hips. His grip was so gentle it was near-apologetic. They stood together at the mouth of Gretchen Lake. Behind them, a thick fog rolled by.

Julian looked at his wife. ‘I know being here … Me taking this job … It’s not exactly what you pictured for our honeymoon …’

‘Not what I—!?’

Julian silenced her with a raised finger. ‘It’s not the Bahamas,’ he explained. Julian fell silent. His head bowed. Then, as if coming back from the dead, he gestured grandly to the building. ‘What I’m trying to say is … will you help make this place home for the next three months?’

Erin smiled. The moment was charged with romance. She had to dispel it.

‘Only,’ she said with a nervous laugh, ‘if you refrain from going all Jack Nicholson on me.’