Keepsake: A Story Written In Preparation for Foggy Nights

Still attempting to maintain radio silence in the department of poetry, I opted for this story. It is supposed to be frightening. It is supposed to be harrowing. And it is supposed to continue if I can find the gall to continue it.

Further adventures aside, enjoy. Let the chills run up and down your spine like five invisible fingers and tell me what you think once you’ve reached the other side. Let me know if the view is worth the trip.

TTFN

Keepsake

Cora’s lover had died two weeks before the package arrived and it had sat on her mantle for a month since then feeding shapeless waking nightmares of Paris and death. Dust rose into the air like smoke and stuck to her sweating fingertips as she peeled away the cardboard and slid the contents onto thighs. The box within rested on her lap with the weight and dimensions of a very heavy hard-back book. It was perhaps five inches long, eight inches wide and four inches deep. The glass from which it was formed was crystal clear and glinted in the firelight, but it was painted black on the inside so the contents would remain hidden. The solder that held the panes together was of a golden shade and on the top was etched a little Eiffel Tower, or La Tour Eiffel, as her lover had explained it was called. As she stared at the box’s gleaming edges and sharp angles, she remembered how quickly her lover had fallen out of love with the City of Light. The letters he had sent her lauding the gardens and the music and the art and the sun turned to mordent commentaries about the falseness and the duality and the loneliness he found there. And soon, letters of disillusionment had gradually become letters of desperation, sadness, and grief.

Cora swallowed and fought off a sob. Only a week before he had been reported found dead, she had written a letter begging him to come home, but something about the place ate at him and would not let him leave. He was going to find the key to the magic Paris held for artists if it killed him. She ran her fingers over the golden lock on the front of the box.

Key.

He hadn’t sent a key with the box, but she knew precisely how to get in. She began to lift a long golden chain from around her neck, but stopped halfway. The chain was long enough to reach the box from her neck. And, if not, either the box would come to her or she would bow her neck to the box.

She leaned over a smidge, lifted the box up towards her face and reached for the little key on the end of her necklace. The words Je t’aime, etched on the underside of the key, flashed at her as she put it in the lock and turned it.

Clever man,” she thought to herself. The key was a gift he had sent before Paris had become his hell. She had never imagined it was anything aside from a charm.

As the lock had admitted the key, the key admitted her entrance into her lover’s last gift. As she slowly opened the lid, a strange oriental perfume, drifted to her nose.

Shalimar?” she wondered, thinking that maybe he had bought her a bottle of that rare perfume. “How in the world had he afforded it”?

Expecting to find a cracked glass bottle, Cora finished opening the box and stared down at the contents of the glass reliquary, the perfumes of the Far East curling like dragon whiskers from the box to her nose, mouth and face.
Inside was a cloud of shimmering gold tissue that seemed to provide protection to a smaller cardboard container. Lying atop it was a small piece of paper bearing the watermark for her lover’s hotel and a few lines of writing scribbled in blue ink. Smiling sadly as she did it, Cora lifted the paper out of the box and did the best she could at deciphering his spidery handwriting.

But now the Caves of Hell I view,
Who shall I dare to show them to?
What mighty soul in Beauty’s form
Shall dauntless view the infernal storm?

Cora blinked. Her head was swimming with the scent of jasmine and musk. The vanilla rounded it all off, pouring over her brain and dulling its function like a heavy, poisonous cream. Still clinging weakly to thoughts of Shalimar and frowning at the bit of Blake her lover had sent her, she reached for the paper in the corner of the box determined to discover what all of this was about. But as her hand moved, so did her shoulder. And as her shoulder tipped over, so did her head, neck and entire upper body.

Cora dropped the papers on the floor and clutched at the green upholstery of her armchair as her fogged brain processed the pitch forward. Avoiding the fall, she shifted herself backwards into the chair and tried to catch her breath. She felt the thump, thump, thump of her heart being sent back to her in miniature earthquakes through her chair. Her eyes flitted from  looking for any clues at to what was causing this. Was it the perfume, was it the dust? Cora  felt her eyes roll back into her head and her body go slack. She gasped in fear as she groggily righted her eyes by lifting her heavy head like a baby doll.  When her eyes focused, Cora made a move to stand, to run away from the feeling, but a second wave of unconsciousness washed over her. Uselessly she clawed for the light, trying desperately to keep her eyes open. But she knew there was no avoiding this fall into the unknown.

The last thought she had was the anticipation of breaking glass, but the sound of oblivion reached her first.

To be continued…

Doran’s Talent

First order of business: The office has changed its name, but I am keeping my desk.

Don’t touch it. The desk is mine.

Second order of business, as promised, this week’s post is Part Two of a two part series on the effects of inspiration (or lack of it) on writing. Last week’s piece was an example of poetry written through inspiration. Today’s piece is an example of prose written without it.

This story was written for a competition and I went into it grumbling and arguing with myself, convinced I could make nothing of the writing prompt I was given. When I began, the first few lines I wrote were angry ones, petulant ones; they were the writing equivalent of throwing a fit. But as I stubbornly continued to write, even through the fit, I began to find satisfaction in creating it.

I apologize for it being so long, I understand what time means in the digital world. However, I wished to present you with what amounts to the director’s cut, what it was before I had to edit it down to meet the terms of the prompt.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your entirely objective and scientific (not really) reading pleasure: a piece born without inspiration…

Doran’s Talent

He rolled up his sleeves and dipped his arms into a cardboard box of hardback books, his eyes flashing to a 19th century painting titled “The Witch’s Daughter” inset into one of the covers

It was Samhuinn-an important night for his family-but he wasn’t going to join the festivities. He was busy, he told himself, unpacking in his new apartment. He had a lot of work to do and there was no way he could go to the festival now, especially after he said no. Especially after the conversation he had with his great aunt on the phone…

She had told him not to worry, that even though Colleen was coming to town and bringing her coven of dozens along with her, he was still needed. He was still missed. And what about what he needed and would miss, she asked? He had planned to come before Colleen announced her visit…

But no-he was busy. He had a lot to do…This is what he told himself to drown out the October wind and everything it said to him louder than his own thoughts or his Aunt’s words. And it was saying it louder and louder as the hours progressed.

Doran dropped the stack of books on his desk and leaned with his fists on either side of them. If he was going to get through the night, he was going to have to stop thinking about the festival. And he had to stop listening to the wind.

He took a deep breath and lightly tapped one of the crystal orbs that sat supported by candlesticks and bookends all around his desk to ground him. While he had never shown any talent for scrying, he had an attraction to the tools. He found comfort in the glowing orbs and their shining surfaces, liked how the world looked through them and how light slid over them. It was a comfort to have them on his desk in this town where he had no family and where he was the only one to hear the wind call.

Doran sat down in his squeaky leather swivel chair and opened the first book on the stack he had removed from the box, planning to bury his mind in the antique type and engravings, but the words and pictures couldn’t penetrate the constant murmur that was the wind. Stubbornly, he kept staring at the book, his leg bobbing up and down with nervous energy like a needle on a sewing machine as he tried to ignore the wind.

He clapped the book shut. It was no use.

The wind hushed and whispered like a hundred barely audible radios all around him.

Doran raised his eyes and tried changing his focus to the newest addition to his collection of shining orbs. It was a clock captured in glass and suspended from a delicate chain, the whirring and twisting of its gears magnified and warped by their housing and he wondered: does light bend time?

Thankful for the distraction, he let the thought roll through his mind: Does light bend time…does light bend time…does light bend time…

“IT’S TIME.”

The October wind cut right through his thoughts, blowing in his room under his front door and raking through his hair with cold, incorporeal fingers.

He closed his eyes and let his head drop back on his chair. He knew it was time, yes, of course he knew it. But he wasn’t coming, couldn’t face his great aunt’s sister and her swooning followers appropriating his family’s tiny, heartfelt festival with their superficial revelries and showy outfits. He couldn’t do it…

“IT’S TIME.”

The smell of the cold in the breeze tugged at his heart and he sighed, turning his head to the door as if he expected the wind to step in. For a while, the only sound was the ticking of Doran’s sphere-clock counting the seconds he stared into the invisible air.

Doran stood and crossed the room.

The French doors to his narrow balcony rattled as he lifted the latch and stepped out, the light of a waning quarter moon pouring over him. The wind pushed at his back, rushing at him through his room because the wind knew what was next.

Doran lifted one foot and then the other up to the inch-wide metal banister around his balcony and stood on top of it. The metal pressed through his shoes and into the place where his heels ended and arches began; It was all that supported him as he balanced a hundred feet above earth, the city even further below him, spread out in a field of star-like orange lights in the valley.

“Ooo, it’s time,” the wind whispered as it rushed past him into the night, drawing part of the breath from his lungs as it went.

From his perch, Doran looked once more at the city with the eyes of man obeying the rules of science. He withdrew his hands from his waistcoat pockets, letting them fall to his sides. He closed his eyes and exhaled pointing his chin sky-ward. He forgot everything about his body as the air rushed past his ears and let himself remember what it was to be part of the October wind.

The tips of his toes left the railing last as he rose towards the moon.

So, fellow pseudo-scientists, I turn to you. At the end of our first experiment, how does it measure up? Is the absence of inspiration tangible? Or are the results inconclusive?

In lieu of an answer, I say we strip off our goggles, turn on the black lights, throw on some Bach, and watch the specimens glow.