Short Fiction: An evening to remember

Wow!

What started out as an exercise in a flash/short fiction exercise for the Inspiration Monday weekly writing challenge took on a life of its own barely a hundred words in and the result is below for you to read and review folks – it evolved into a short story, one that actually I think I’d very much like to turn into a bigger story. It’s a love letter (kind of, sort of, maybe…)  from me as a huge fan of the older school of story-telling, the pulp genres where things happened hard and fast, the women were to die for and literally anything could happen without having to spend all your time explaining!

I’m DYING to get feedback on this one folks, because I’ve really liked the way it turned out, so please do leave at least a couple of words as to what reaction this drew from you. Thanks and I hope you enjoy it!

(this story is the intellectual property of Akshay Dhar, the owner of this here blog!)

———————————————————

Vienna, 2006

“Barkeep! More Sex-on-the-beach!! Waahahahahahaha!!” bellowed the disgusting drunkard at the bar, enjoying his own wit more than anyone within earshot.

He’d stumbled in about twenty minutes ago and was already on his third round – or was it fourth? It didn’t matter but I had been waiting for near an hour and my contact was almost half an hour late already. This did not bode well for this little transaction or any future business I might do with them. Their loss then, no one had purer grade product than me anywhere on this side of the globe.

I was just about to ask for my cheque and depart when a glittering sea of deep green walked shimmering over to me. It was an all-too-brief moment as I looked her over as I held my comportment in restraint and stood up to greet her.

“Heartfelt apologies for being late Mr. Renhay, circumstance has not favoured me thus far tonight.” She said in that voice that sang like fine crystal, as I guided her to her seat across from me. Taking up the menu and waving the waiter away, her gaze fixed on mine, she went on, “I do hope that any displeasure I might have incurred as a result will not make you change your mind about tonight?”

And there was that smile. A brilliant smile that was at the same time almost apologetic for its loveliness, bright enough to illuminate a room and innocent – yet quietly inviting. She would be the ruin of me if I allowed it. The waiter had come and was pouring her a glass of the wine.

“No, my dear Ms. Singh. I was a little upset, but then while I remain a stickler for such things, I have learnt to be more understanding of others.” I said, “After all, if one cannot adapt and be accommodating (within reason of course!) then one will fail at any endeavour, sooner or later.”

Again that smile, “I could not agree more and thank you again for waiting.”

“Everything is in order then I take it?” I asked, wanting to move things along.

“Yes, I have ensured all arrangements are completed at my end – all specifically in line with your request.” she replied, her fore-finger circling the rim of her wine glass, “All the equipment is ready to ship at a moments notice and your initial payment is being transferred as we speak, divided between locations as desired.”

“Well then,” I said, raising my glass slightly, “this calls for a toast. To new endeavours and remaking the world.”

The glasses clinked ever so daintily. “To saving tomorrow.” she said mysteriously before sipping from her glass.

I savoured the spices that flavoured the lovely red I had ordered and waited silently for a way to progress the moment, gazing vaguely at the menu and ever-so-gently swirling the wine in my glass to get some air under it.

“Mmm…” she cooed softly, drawing my attention back, “Jayer Echezeaux, 1985 isn’t it? The black strawberry and jasmine is exquisite with the spices. Nothing quite like it in any other wine in my experience.”

I was pleasantly surprised and managed a slight smile of my own. Soon we were talking far more intimately and relaxedly than I would have ever intended or liked, but here was a woman after my own heart! Wine, music, art and human society were only a few of the many topics we skated around in that conversation that seemed to have a life of its own.

Our meal lasted over two hours and they were some of the most enjoyable in recent memory. But soon it was over and I had to take my reluctant leave of her – mixing business and pleasure has always been a tawdry concept to my mind. Here though was someone worth breaking that rule for, someone whom in just a few short hours had gotten so far into my being that a part of me had to be restrained by force of will from showing my excitement, something I was fairly sure she would have noticed by now.

Almost as if she sensed my indecision, she invited me to her penthouse to see some of the more detailed plans her employers had made and perhaps a drink. Were it not an intriguing enough offer by itself, it decided for me by itself, being a reason to spend a little more time in her company.

Minutes later we were exiting the lift to her temporary residence and she casually discarded her faux-fur wrap and clapped on the lights on her way to the bar. I hung up my hat and overcoat and then cane still in hand, walked over to where she leant almost suggestively in front of the wine rack and pondered – I could not help but stare, just for the briefest of moments before she finally decided and confidently withdrew her prize.

“I’m in the mood for a good Zinfandel! What do you think?” she asked, smiling brightly with a touch of questioning in her expression.

As I nodded my acceptance of her choice, she poured us both a glass each. We carried them with us, swirling lightly to let it breathe as we strolled to her expansive balcony, talking and chuckling the entire time as our conversation resumed. As we stood there, looking out at the beauty of Vienna all lit-up, I was on the verge of making a most uncharacteristically bold move when a beeping called to her from her handbag. With a hint of exasperation momentarily slighting her features she excused herself and I wrestled with myself as I looked back out at the city before me.

I had barely taken a sip and lowered my glass when suddenly I found myself lifted bodily off the floor and flying headfirst over the railing with such speed that I could not even react. Both cane and wine-glass were gone from my grasp and as I regained my senses I found myself dangling in mid-air, my shirt in the grasp of a dark stranger who was perched impossibly on the hand rail was the only thing keeping me from falling to my broken and bloody end. My mind raced a mile a minute and I looked frantically around me for purchase or relief, but I was totally at sea.

“Do you know who I am François-Dominique Renhay?” came a deep, rumbling voice from my assailant, bringing me back to a semblance of focus.

“I,I,I…” came the confused and fearful stammering involuntarily from my lips.

With a jerk he rattled me and then pulled me close, so close that I could hear a terrifying rumble as he breathed and then as he tilted his head slightly I felt my eyes widen and the blood drain from me. ‘Don’t fight it!’ screamed a voice inside my head, wanting to stay alive.

“Good, you know me then.” came the voice from behind the dark mask.

‘This cannot be real’ I tried to tell myself. This man was a myth, a fairy tale criminals told each other and their children! I had told myself this before, as did everyone who heard of him – yet here before me was the masked face of my darkest fears. His mask, I could not stop staring at it, half bright-tragedy and half dark-comedy, echoed the Grecian theatre masks of old.

“Wh–what d-d-d-d’you want with me!?” I pleaded, trying not to completely lose myself.

“You are a brilliant scientist and inventor Renhay. One of the best in the world today.” he rumbled, “but you work for all the wrong people. That I cannot allow.”

Almost immediately I shut my eyes in fear, anticipating a long fall in my future, intoning, “oh god, oh god, oh god…” as I did so.

But then I felt myself being lifted higher still and found this living nightmare now standing tall on the corrugated railing, how I could not fathom, looking me silently in the face as if deciding what to do with me.

And then he spoke, “You will continue your activities as you have been.”

For a moment my fear was shocked to silence, confusion now taking over me. “W-w-hat? I don’t… I don’t understand.”

“You will maintain your life, maintain yourself in the way to which you have become accustomed. But understand this” he said in a voice that nearly made me lose control of bodily function, “from hereon, you work for me in the end. Do what you will, keep you eyes open and your hands free of innocent blood and I will let you live. Prove useful when I call on you and you will remain so – cross me or my will and you will wish I had dropped you into the night screaming right here.” I felt his grip tighten on my shirt, constricting it around my chest and pulling me closer to himself, “Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes! Whatever you say! Whatever you want!” I offered up weakly.

With inhuman speed, power and grace he simply turned on his heel atop the metal bar and tossed me against the room wall behind him as if I had been a throw-pillow. I hit the wall and slid to the ground hard, scampering to gather my limbs and thoughts and try vainly to pull away from the dark figure standing before me. Panting, my gaze remained fixed upon him.

“Know this – you and your life now belong to me.” he said. I did not doubt the truth of it.

Then just as suddenly as he had appeared, he simply stepped back into the open air and with a rustle of his cloak, he was gone. I listened for a tell-tale “thud!” of a body hitting the pavement, but there was none. Long did I stare into the night before a dull click from the doorway pulled my attention, there she stood, lighting a cigarette. Even as I was and with the lack of light on her face and hands, I could see from the smoke wisps rising that she was shaking with a fear not unlike my own.

“It’s never easy the first time.” She finally said after several drags, “And it doesn’t get much easier if you ask me.”

Turning finally to look at me, she looked sad and tired, “I am sorry François, I really did like you. But I had to do what I was told and bring you here. It’s better for you this way – at least you will live to see another sunrise.”

With that, she sat on one of the chairs nearby and kept on smoking as she looked out into the night. Soon my gaze followed hers and as I looked into the darkness before me from my low vantage point, with the light fighting to be seen, I felt something had been lost in me this night – something that now belonged to that man, that demon… The masked face of Janus… The mask is real…

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. I seriously like this. I like the tone and pacing, I’m intrigued by this Batman/Joker-like character, and dying to know what the scientist does. If it was a book, I’d definitely keep reading.

    Couple of small things. Paragraph 5, “a glass of the” what? And I’d say “It doesn’t get much easier” instead of “easier much.”

    I hope you do write more of it. : )

    1. Spider42 says:

      🙂
      That just made my day!
      I’ll just double check the errors you’ve pointed out, I think I just typed this all out at one sitting and haven’t even read it over yet 😀

      Will definitely look into writing more of this, I want to go for a really non-heroic story and some darkness here with inspiration from some of my old pulp favourites.
      Thanks again!

  2. Love how you responded to the prompt! It’s so neat to see what different people do with it. I like how you paint pictures so I can envision the setting… “the lack of light on her face and hands…”

    1. Spider42 says:

      Many thanks. And I completely agree, its amazing how the same thing inspires such variety!
      Glad you enjoyed this, I will bear in mind the part you liked because that kind of reaction is very much what I was hoping to invoke in a reader. 🙂

  3. priyanka says:

    This reminded me slightly of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books especially the dark creature. Though his writings are more on the gothic dark mystery bordering on supernatural side:) You could build on this plot right like you said you wanted to. That would be interesting.

    1. Spider42 says:

      Humbled by the comparison and grateful for it.
      Watch this space and I will try my best to bring in another edition of this down the line.
      Cheers!

  4. ahblack57 says:

    Thanks for sharing. Even without knowing what the prompt was I was engaged by a great yarn. I like the noire feel and the mystery of the whole encounter with the masked intruder. Take a second look at what you have written. There are a couple of places where you might tighten things up. The dialogue at the beginning of the story seems a little stilted but loosens up as you get into the story. I noticed your spelling of “leant” and “learnt.” Where do you live? In the US, we would use “leaned” and “learned.”

    I love the quote “cross me or my will and you will wish I had dropped you into the night screaming right here.” Very menacing. Great stuff. Do tell us more…

    1. Spider42 says:

      Thanks so much for the feedback – there are a few errors in general I need to correct and I can look at tightening some of it up when I go back to it for a proper rewrite – working on this weeks short for now! 🙂 I’m really glad you enjoyed the story and the feel I was going for here.
      Generally I love narrating but I HATE dialogue because I’ve got this bit of my mind that always is convinced mine are horrible! 😛
      I live in India actually, I think we tend to traditionally have instruction closer to the British style when it comes to the language (at least did when I was a kid) but nowadays most are more American english inclined because its used so much more everywhere, especially with movies and music.
      I even find myself using bit of it here and there, makes for a strange new version! 🙂

  5. Oh, I like this one! You give the reader a great sense of intrigue and string them along at just the right pace. You have a natural talent for story telling that is clear in your writing. My only suggestions would be some technical issues; breaks in sentences, spelling errors, and a few structural things. But like I said, the heart of your writing is very good and any editor could fix the rest. Talent can’t be edited in!

    1. Spider42 says:

      Wow, thanks! 🙂 That really made my day, especially since its Monday afternoon and I just saw this!

      I will keep the suggestions you’ve made in mind, editors are critical to a story and can make it all that much better but I’d also like to be aware as I write and try and prevent too many avoidable errors from happening since I really don’t like rewriting if possible 😀

      I’m actually planning on making this concept (the Janus mask) into an old-school serialised pulp-noir kind of world with a bunch of random stories with just the barest thread connecting them.

  6. SS Kuruganti says:

    I liked the concept of it all – the idea of a Shadow-like vigilante crime fighter, his impossible physical movements, the description of the Janus mask, which I could picture quite clearly in my mind – all of it.

    That said, there were a few instances where I was jarred right out of the story. Keep in mind, I hope only to improve, not to knock you down.

    a glittering sea of deep green walked shimmering over to me

    As soon as you used the word ‘sea’, I had in mind a vast, wide thing – surely not the impression you were expecting to give of your svelte, femme fatale love interest. I assume you meant she was tall, but even comparing her to a tower, for instance, wouldn’t have worked. Generally, it doesn’t work to compare people to objects.

    voice that sang like fine crystal

    Crystal usually rings, it doesn’t sing.

    Your dialogue could use a little work. I understand you wish to make the characters sound cultured, but the use of big words seems inappropriate. The dialogue feels stilted, and unnatural because people don’t really say things like ‘…I do hope that any displeasure I might have incurred as a result…’ – they write them, usually in formal letters.

    A line like this, as well – …after all, if one cannot adapt and be accommodating (within reason of course!)…

    It just feels clunky, to have parentheses in the middle of a line of a dialogue. I usually find that reading the line aloud helps to eliminate clunky or overlong lines.

    The dialogue does get better when Janus appears and Renhay is scared, maybe because he doesn’t need to appear sauve, anymore.

    Another line that completely jarred me out of the story was this one:

    (…) as I regained my senses I found myself dangling in mid-air, my shirt in the grasp of a dark stranger who was perched impossibly on the hand rail was the only thing keeping me from falling to my broken and bloody end.

    Now, I got what you’re trying to say. But the ‘was’ appearing twice in the sentence threw me completely and I was sure you’d made an error. I had to read the sentence twice to get it.

    Maybe you could use: As I regained my senses I found myself dangling in mid-air, and my shirt in the grasp of a dark stranger , who was perched impossibly on the hand rail , was the only thing keeping me from falling to my broken and bloody end.

    Finally – and this is just the nit-pickiest of them all – I would suggest not to draw your main characters. Your artwork has nothing inherently wrong with it, it’s just that we can never quite match our readers’ expectations – what we see in our heads, and then describe and what they see in their head when they read our words – they don’t always match. We end up disappointing them.

    In my writing, I usually just fill in character descriptions in large brush strokes, as it were, to give the readers a chance to visualise it all for themselves.

    For example, your illustration of Janus wasn’t what I had in mind for the character (I’d imagined something along the lines of the Guy Fawkes mask) or, something like this:

    But this last one is just a personal opinion. In fact, the entire thing is in the spirit of constructive criticism, and I hope you take it as such. The story itself is an intriguing beginning to what seems like a fun series.

    1. Spider42 says:

      Hey! Thanks for stopping by and the amazingly thorough critique! 🙂
      Some of the stuff you pointed out like the sea of green reference – definitely didn’t occur to me and will be reworked for sure.
      A couple of things like the dialogue you refer to, I will try and make it less stilted but in part it is meant to be a little unnatural and pretentious – will try and see what I can do with that.
      The artwork part of it, to be honest that was more a personal exercise since I’m also training to do art and I’ve always felt a wee bit bad about swiping other peoples’ artwork to put on my posts. So trying to get better. You are right but at the same time, a single image doesn’t colour a whole story quite all that much I feel – kind of like covers of novels or such – it’s once frame at best and doesn’t have to be taken as hard and fast. 🙂
      By the way, the image you tried to reference for the mask, there’s no link or anything I can see.
      Thanks again and hope you’ll check out more of my writing if you ever feel inclined.
      Cheers!

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