Dine with Me
The slow, rhythmic grinding of a knife on meat. A clink of clattering forks. A tap on a glass with a stainless silver spoon. Polite laughter echoing off of rounded walls.
On a pleasant and storm-less night, a count had sent letters to benevolent figures of the community saying, "Dine with me."
The invitations were well and warmly received. His guests made quick haste to arrive on time. Such obedience was characteristic of the count's followers. After all, it was he who held most of the land around the area, and any chance to gain his favor was immediately jumped upon.
And so, there they were now. All thirteen of them, the count and his followers, dining at an expansive, stretching table that was covered with red placemats and lied on top of an equally lavish crimson-colored carpet. The doors in the north and south exits of the room were chained and locked, preventing any unwanted interruptions.
The dining room would have been dark save for the faint glows that came from the candelabras placed on each end of the table. Faces were conveniently hidden behind an artificial mask of wealth and elevated diction, when in reality their faces were just as dark as they were unseen.
Sitting a seat away from an unoccupied end of the table, a portly and rather rotund gentleman was nervously pulling some strings on the side of his frock coat, the result of his poor decisions when he shockingly came across the count's letter. Dissatisfied with the quickly deteriorating quality of his garments, the man would have called for and gotten a replacement immediately within the confinements of his own home. Such impeccable service was given only to the mayor.
But here, he couldn't have that fine service. He was dining with some good friends of his, after all. So, instead, the man beckoned to one of the servants looming in the background behind him, who came over promptly in light of his calling. The servant lowered his head and gave the man an ear. Once the request was reported, the servant reassumed his unassuming stance, and quickly left the room to fetch the man what he wanted.
A young boy burst into a room, slamming the doors behind him. Breathlessly, the boy cried:
The rotund man got up from his seat and went around his desk to inspect and welcome his visitor.
"Yes, what is it, lad?"
"Is it true that you forbade the village citizens from saving my little cousin in the well?"
The mayor scratched his chin.
"Ah, that is an interesting question, that."
The boy looked up at him curiously.
"Let me put it in simple terms, my boy. Your cousin was trapped within a thirty foot well, and had already been trapped there for more than a day. The situation was too precarious for us to have made any course of action, much less bring hope of any salvation for him."
"I... I don't quite understand, sir."
"We simply did not have the resources to have been able to save your cousin."
"But, mayor, couldn't you have pulled him out with only a rope?"
"Ah, but to do that, we would need a thick and heavy rope."
"But you have one! Isn't that one, right there?"
The boy pointed at the wall behind the mayor, where a glass case sat against the wall above the mayor's chair. In it was a thick and heavy rope wound up in the shape of a noose.
"Ah, yes. That would seem like a rope that would fit the job, but it would not do. That rope is an artifact from the gods, evidence of the efforts made by them when they reined in the horns of a bull with it to trample the ground we stand on into land suitable for living. That has been set in place since the first mayor, and if we want to continue having protection from the gods, we must keep it in place."
The boy began to cry.
"The gods didn't protect my brother!"
The mayor lowered himself down and clapped his hands on the boy's shoulders.
"You mean your cousin, lad. I understand that all of this is hard to accept, but I am sure that everything was done for a just cause."
And the man sent the boy home.
The man resumed his eating. With one sloth-like and hairless hand, the man was about to spoon a carrot slice into his mouth when a voice from the opposite side of the table interrupted him.
A woman, dressed in robes of the most vivid shades of pink, spoke to the mayor while surveying her own jeweled hand. She spoke in an airy, breathy voice, one that contained the tuned quality of songbird crows while also housing the shaded, grainy sound of a woman past her prime and in inebriation. The plate sitting in front of her lay nearly untouched, but the wine glass in front of her lay practically empty. Her appetite had always been small, but more than often it was her mesmerized fascination with herself and her many jewels that prevented herself from committing gluttony. The mayor's wife was the manifestation of undue proportions of decadence.
"Please, won't you sing for me, my love?"
A man holding a bouquet of flowers was crooning towards an open window. At the windowsill, a woman took a look at him before turning around to fix a vase of red striped carnations.
"No, I shall not."
"Why not, my most fairest of maidens?"
The woman paused in her flower arranging.
"Until I receive the physical manifestation of recognition I should receive as befitting of one of my status, I shall not ordain to your pearly requests."
"But is not my undue love fulfilling enough?"
"I am afraid, that I see it as not. Until you have proven to me the value I am of to you, then I shall perhaps entertain the thought of becoming wed to you."
The man clenched his own flowers tightly and carried a deeply set firmness in his jaw.
"Then... If that is what you desire, my love, I shall show you your worth."
And the man left her his corpse.
An exalted cry from the left of the mayor's wife was not enough to break her out of her bewitched gaze with a mirror.
Sitting next to her was a young man wearing thick shoulderpads that were far too big for a man of his size. They stood on his shoulders in a toppling manner and would have all but fallen if he were not sitting erectly as erect one could be. On his chest was the crest of a well-to-do merchanting family. This polite and upstanding young man was primed to be the heir of his father's legacy, despite being the youngest of three sons. The reason for his supposed success, and his cry, was his intelligence, primarily due to his lust for knowledge.
The young man was examining a set of four clay horsemen set on the table as decor rather curiously. He had a book on the table, and halted in his eating and reading to focus on the latter when he realized the intricacy of detail on the four horsemen reflected that of the designs of an old Altean tazza, as well as some trencher salts, as seen in the book he was reading. He was oblivious to the world around him, being so absorbed in his new discovery. The only reason he was present at the dinner in the first place was due to the influence of his father, who in turn wanted him to make a good impression on the count.
A blue-haired boy stood in front of a regal and fragile armoire, its contents full of delicate china plates and petite little teacups. He pressed his face into the glass, and stared at the designs on the plates curiously.
A book lay by his side. He took a quick glance at it, and then back at the cabinet. Then, in one swift motion, the boy knocked the armoire down.
In one moment, the sound of a deafening crash could be heard all around a house. A pitter patter of urgent footsteps got steadily closer until a woman arrived on the scene.
She saw a little boy standing alone in a room, surrounded by shards of broken glass and china. He was pointing accusingly at the shattered cabinet on the floor. Upon seeing his mother, the boy shouted out defensively:
"Those things are all lies!"
The mother was shocked. She quickly strode over to the boy and shook his shoulders.
"Son, what did you do?"
"I got rid of the imposters, mother! Aren't you proud of me?"
"No! Those plates and silverware were artifacts! They cost a fortune, and the money was earned in less time than the time our family has spent on trying to collecting them! Why did you knock the cabinet down?"
"But they weren't artifacts, mother. I checked. The designs on the plates were different from the ones in the book. Those things were counterfeit, merely worthless fakes, mother."
The mother bit her lip.
"That doesn't matter! Those counterfeits were worth a lot to me! I loved and cherished them!"
The young boy looked down and considered this for a moment. Then, he spoke:
"So, you'll lie to yourself about love, even if those things you love are fake?"
"Then, is your love for me all a lie?"
The mother screamed:
"Then why, when you came into the room, why did you come to me and first ask me what I did, instead of asking me if I was all right?"
The mother was at a loss for words.
"I got a gash on my leg, see?"
The boy pointed at a long strip of red on the side of his leg.
"Even now, it's still dripping. You didn't even notice it."
The mother stared at the spot blankly.
"Do you really love me, mother? Do you love and cherish me?"
The mother stared at him blankly.
"Face it, mother. You love your husband. You love your dark haired son. You love your red haired son. But you don't love your blue haired son. You don't love me at all."
When she did not give him an answer, the boy relinquished himself from his mother's grip. Shaking his head sadly, the boy turned around and left.
And the woman hanged herself.
The young man had now grabbed ahold the palest one of the clay statues without permission, wholly oblivious to the poorly concealed reservations of the man sitting before him.
A great, gaunt yet hulking brute of a man sat uncomfortably in his seat, fidgeting and growling at each and every disturbance he could lay his eyes on. His sharp, foxy eyes darted to and fro around the room, his eyebrows curling at any sign of improper or suspicious activity. Badges proudly emblazoned on the side of his vest signified a possible cause for his paranoia: the recognizable emblem of the high sheriff and chief inspector.
For all of his toughness, the powerfully built man was poor at concealing his emotions, be it affection or envy. Even now, he was visibly scowling - and growling - at an affectionate display held between a young couple sitting on the opposite side of the table. The chief inspector was one that preserved traditional and platonic values.
A man with a hooded jacket said:
"Why did you send her out there, chief inspector?"
The chief inspector sat on a barstool in a diner. He had a cup of steaming coffee in one of his hands. The other was placed on his forehead, pushing back at his hairline, making him seem despairingly distraught.
Like a frog, the inspector croaked:
"I don't know."
"She was young, she was nice, and she was a thoroughly good-hearted girl. But you knew that she wanted to take on things too big for her own good. A case like that would have killed any rookie - "
A fist slammed on the counter.
"I'm sorry, sir. But I'm curious. Why did you do it?"
The inspector paused, thinking.
Flashes. Of a smiling, energetic girl in violet. She had come to her interview wearing a stunning dress shining with purple crystals, her face covered with make-up that did little to hide her charming freckles.
The inspector was sitting at a desk, taking a look at some of the many papers in front of him. After a minute, he looked up at the girl.
"All right. What do you have that makes you think you're good for the job?"
The girl politely answered:
"Oh, I'm good at thinking on the spot, sir. I was once an assistant stockbroker to my father, sir. And business dealings with the market are often quick and fast-paced."
"The dealings we deal with are very different from those of finance, miss."
"Oh yes, I understand that very well, sir. But I can adapt very quickly to any type of situation."
There was something about her pluckiness that caught the inspector's eye.
"Very well. Now let us see the logistics of your score report, namely the results of the aptitude test."
Flashes. Of a smiling, energetic girl in uniform. Surrounded by a crowd that was taller and bigger than her, she was the only girl in a room full of men.
The chief inspector was standing on a stage, speaking at a podium.
The crowd cried:
"That is all. Dismissed!"
Everyone in the room began to disassemble. The inspector slowly waded his way through the crowd until he came upon his new recruit. The girl greeted:
"Ah, hello, chief inspector!"
"Really, girl, just inspector would be fine."
"O-oh! All right then, inspector. I guess 'chief inspector' is a little wordy. But why not be called 'chief' instead of 'inspector'?"
"Never quite got used being called that, ever since I got promoted to this position. So I stuck with 'inspector' instead."
"Ah, I see."
"Are you ready for your first case?"
"Oh, yes, inspector! I really am excited about this first case of mine. Here's to hoping that it turns out well."
"Any particular reasons why?"
"Why I'm so excited, you mean? Well..."
The girl turned her head slightly away, as though she were ponderously thinking. Then, she snapped her eyes back onto the inspector, and said:
"Well, I suppose that I have good reason to finish my case safely. After all, I'm going to get married soon!"
The inspector's eyes widened. Then, he said, with an emotion whose identity was unclear:
"That's great. Congratulations."
"Thank you, inspector."
Flashes. Of a smiling, energetic girl in a portfolio photo. The inspector was scribbling rapidly on some documents, all of which were labeled for a reassignment of operations. Next to the inspector, his secretary stood watching over him. Anxiously, the secretary asked:
"Are you sure this is the right decision, inspector?"
Without looking up from his writing, the inspector replied:
"Yes, I am sure."
"That case involves a serial murderer, and a dangerous one at that. Are you sure she will be able to handle it, alone?"
"I know what I am doing. Are you doubting my abilities?"
"N-No, chief inspector..."
The inspector blinked, watching his memories fade away. His coffee lay cold in front of him. Then, in a strained voice, he talked to his companion of the reasons for his actions.
If he couldn't have her, then no one could.
And the man sent her off to death.
A loud, rustic, smooching sound brought upon the growling of the chief inspector before a loving couple situated on the opposite side of the table in front of him.
The couple was too immersed in their activities to have noticed his disspproval. His or anyone else's, for that matter. They sat closely next to each other, the legs of their chairs scuffing in accordance to the rhythm of their touching and twisting hands, and more importantly, their lips. Gold necklaces and diamond brooches lined their chest, an even more ostentatious display riding across their shoulders in the shape of ermine pelts. Fitting, since the two of them were owners of a large fur company. The desire in their eyes reflected an insatiable greed that money and wealth could not complete. One wondered if the two of them tried to meet their hunger with overflowing love, although the genuineness of that was more questionable than the state of their abhorrent dress.
A man and a women rode together in a doorless car as an object, as a newly bound couple that had gone on an adventure to the outdoors for their honeymoon. The wife, wearing a pink, fluttery dress, said to her husband:
"I have to say, never once did I imagine I would be going shooting with you for our beloved honeymoon."
The husband, wearing a blue suit, replied:
"Yes, neither did I. But I saw it in an ad one day, and I thought it would make for a wonderful experience."
"Oh, yes, I am sure it will be quite the adventure! But heaven forbid I actually hit anything with this firearm of mine; more than likely I'll shoot myself in the toe with it than an actual animal! Like a native fool!"
"Honey, that was the most fitting and hilarious thing you've said!"
The two of them laughed together.
The car bumbled across a bunch of sandy hills. After a while, the car stopped at a clearing, surrounded by a small, yet densely populated thicket of trees. A river was flowing through whatever space there was in the forest.
"Ah, this looks like a good spot."
"Yes, indeed it is. The water and trees make this a likely place for animals to visit."
"So, want to give the thing a try and see if we catch anything?"
"Oh, yes, of course. I would not mind the size of anything I happened to hit. After all, we are here for the experience, not for the goods."
"Yes, and that is what the hunters are for."
The two of them clicked their guns.
"I never quite realized how heavy a rifle could be."
"Me neither, honey. And to think, these were the best they had. Honey?"
The woman did not move. Her hand was clenched on the trigger. She was focused on a spot in the forest, waiting for a hint of any movement.
"Ah! I see something!"
She let go of the trigger, and a shot pierced through the woods.
Much to their delight, they heard a pained yell ring across the area, and then the sound of something falling. Quickly yet cautiously, the couple drove closer to their prey.
"My, I didn't think I'd actually hit something! I just saw something move, and I shot."
"You were brilliant, dear! Like an ace in the hole! This is going to become a great story for us to tell the mountain climbing group back at home!"
The wife noted something strange in her husband's tone. She said:
For answer, the husband pointed at a bloody spot on the ground. The wife turned, and saw the body of a naked man on the forest ground. Blood pooled beneath a spot on his shoulder, presumably from the shot earlier.
"He... He was a native, wasn't he?"
"...Yes, I believe so."
The two of them jumped when they heard the man groan, clutching his shoulder in pain. The couple looked at each other.
"What should we do?"
"I... I don't know. But... I don't see any alternative other than leaving him here."
"Yes, you're right."
The woman took another frightened glance at the man.
"He does look in a condition beyond the state of repair. And he is... an animal, anyways."
"Then let us leave, let us leave and never speak of this to anyone."
The couple turned back around and drove away in the car, not sparing the thicket of trees another glance. As their car engine rumbled, the dying man in the forest weakly raised a hand in desperation. But the sound of rescue just kept getting fainter. Within a matter of minutes, the man took his last breath.
And the couple left the man to rot.
The couple had broken out of their lovesick spell. No longer were they in a caressing embrace. Instead, the two were now looking away from each other, pink blushes having appeared on their cheeks. They looked as though they had just noticed what they were doing, noticed the publicity of their stunts. But if they did indeed notice, they apparently reverted back to obliviousness, for they had the gall to look abashed amidst incredulous stares of understandable disbelief.
One of those staring was a woman in purple, whose only jewelry on her body was a necklace of four equilateral triangles, which was her pride and joy. She had paused with her fork halfway towards her mouth when she heard the couple break apart with a loud pop. Her face was creased with lines of disapproval. Those creases were gained as a result of many years of scornful scowls, no doubt due to troubles with the children she took care of as director in an orphanage. A series of orphanages, no less. The orphanage director had a spectacular business sense, having once been a part of a trading family. She opened her first orphanage when she had reached adulthood and opened many more not long after that. But the orphanage director was not a woman of benevolence. She looked like a stern faced woman, and she looked like that for a reason.
A woman sat hunched over her desk, examining a photo of a family. A knock sounded on a door. She placed the photo face down onto the desk abruptly. A voice from behind the door sounded:
"Director, you have a visitor. A gentleman."
"Please let him in."
The door opened. A blond man wearing ragged robes of green stumbled through the door. The orphanage director suddenly stood up, her face having turned a flushed red.
"Ah, hello, sister!"
"Although, I guess you would be called 'Director' if one were to use technical terms."
The man let himself take a seat.
Having recovered from her initial shock, but with her face still beet-red, the orphanage director said:
"What are you doing here?"
"Come, now! Is that any way to talk to your brother?"
"As far as I know, you are no brother of mine."
"Ouch. That smarts, you know."
"Enough of this riffraff. Why are you here?"
She glared at him. The man unwillingly complied, and said with a shake of his head:
"As usual, you're always to the point. You're blunt, sister. More like the attitude of a man rather than a woman, if you ask me."
"Very well. I have come to return home."
The orphanage director blinked. Then, she asked him:
"Would you like some tea?"
The man seemed surprised. Raising his eyebrows slightly, he said:
The orphanage director turned around and scrounged around her belongings. After searching for a moment, she pulled out an old kettle and some teacups. She poured some water into the kettle and set it on the gas stove to boil. Then, she sat back down, and said to the man:
"So you've come to return home?"
"Yes. I've hit, as you'd say, a rut in my financial spendings."
"So you are here now because you are broke."
"To put it in your terms - bluntly, yes. I'm rather hard up at the moment."
The orphanage director looked at the face down portrait on the table. After a moment's worth of consideration, she said quietly:
"So, now, you are trying to act as the prodigal son... Trying to be welcomed with open arms."
"Whatever do you mean? I've always respected my dear parents."
"You've always respected them?"
He said this unflinchingly.
"Well then, I'm afraid, that your respect must have been misplaced."
The sound of a piercing whistle flew throughout the room. The kettle was boiling. Getting up out of her seat, the orphanage director went to the stove and removed the kettle. She got out some tea leaves and sprinkled a few into two teacups, along with some hot water. She handed one over to her brother and took the other to sip for herself.
Finally, after the orphanage director sat back down, she looked at the man in front of her and asked:
"Why did you come to me?"
The man blew at his tea, and tentatively took a sip.
"Instead of our parents, you mean?
When the orphanage director didn't reply, the man continued:
"Well, simply put, I do not know where they are right now."
"You... do not know where they are."
She posed this more as a statement than a question.
The orphanage director suddenly began to laugh, causing the man to jump. It was a cruel, crow-like cackle.
"Well, I'll tell you where they went!"
The orphanage director screamed:
"They're dead! My parents are dead!"
The man had dropped his teacup. It shattered upon contact with the floor, sending a thousand shards of porcelain flying across the room. The spilled tea slowly drained into the ground, creating dark, unsightly splotches on the wooden paneling.
"And you dare show your face after all these years. Respect? All you've shown them was disrespect! Leaving the family, and then coming back with open arms? Absurd!"
The man had no words to say. Spurred on by his silence, the orphanage director continued:
"My parents tried to look everywhere for you! They tried to send letters, get in contact, anything! We lost everything since you left. Our name has lost its credibility, having had a renegade son. We lost our house, our land, our titles. Even my parents' faith was lost! Lost, I tell you! You left us in a broken shamble! And you think you could correct that? That you would be forgiven?"
The orphanage director fell silent, her chest heaving. The man looked stricken. He looked sick.
Then, after a minute, the man began to moan.
"O-Oh, what is this... Feeling?"
The orphanage director remained silent. The man's eyelids began to flicker.
"W-What did you do to me? Did you spike that tea... with a sleeping draught?"
The man began to clutch at his head. The orphanage director remained silent. She watched as the man in front of her tried to rise, only to slink back into his seat. After a few seconds, the man had slipped out of the chair and fallen to the ground with a loud thunk.
She looked down at the sleeping man before her. She took out a vial from the inside of her pocket. On it was a label showing a picture of almonds. The orphanage director said quietly:
"I shall not have anyone taint our family name. Not even you, brother."
And the woman poisoned him.
The orphanage director was about to put her fork to her mouth until she was interrupted yet again by a disparate sound that showed no reticence of character whatsoever.
Across from her sat a middle-aged man, shouting now after he had spilled his glass of wine onto the table. Immediately, two servants came upon the impact site and cleansed the cloth of any excess liquid. The man grumbled his apologies, his voice being much quieter than one would expect of a man his size.
Granted, the man was not larger than that of the chief inspector, but he surely had the same, rugged build. The only cloth he wore was less dignified; his black bandana was torn and tattered in some places. What he represented his wealth with, however, was the shining armor he bore. His gauntlets lay polished and proud on the table, and his full-body armor was glowing with oiled radiance.
This marvelous display of craftsmanship was the mark of one of the best blacksmiths the town has ever had. Crude though he was, both in language and action, the man was loved by quite a bit of the townspeople. In light of an absent church, the man would have had the most devoted followers by far (apart from perhaps the count), despite his reserved and modest nature, fitting of a man incapable of wrath.
The clanging sound of heavy iron resounded between steel walls. A hammer and a rod created sparks, laying flat on a sturdy anvil. The blacksmith was the wielder of the tool, and the champion of the forge.
He panted and gasped as he worked on molding his creation. After a few minutes of forceful pounding, he eventually set the hammer aside and let the anvil cool, having held up his final product.
One long, iron crowbar lay in his outstretched hands. Finally, after days of toil and effort, he had fulfilled his request.
The man then laid the bar on a nearby rack, allowing it to cool. After, he took off his helmet to cool off himself, placing his clothes on a stool. He walked over to a sink and grabbed a towel off a dangling hanger to clean his face. As he washed up, he could hear the footsteps of someone coming in.
He turned around, and saw a blonde, long-haired maiden. She was wearing a simple dress that defined her ample curves. In a melodious voice, she greeted him:
The blacksmith put the towel back onto the hanger. He greeted her:
"Why hello there, miss. I'm assuming you are not here to pick up a finished product?"
The woman slithered over and laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing her way into his chest.
"Maybe. Maybe not. But I know one thing I'm here to pick up."
"I've heard a lot about you. The man with an arm of iron, creating the most spectacular pieces of steel around, strong enough to be resistant to a dragon's fire."
She eyed him alluringly. Her chest was pressed against his. He caved. His breath cut short, the blacksmith asked:
"Would you like to go for a drink?"
"I know a good place for some spirits on the other side of the river."
"That sounds nice."
Before leaving, the blacksmith drew back the curtains, leaving them billowing near the entrance. The two exited the forge.
One bar trip and back later, a man and a woman stumbled through the billowing curtains, their faces pink and flushed. A sunset glowed brightly behind them. Slowly, the two made their way over to a bench pockmarked with paint.
The man flopped onto the bench, the woman having fallen on top of him. Breathily, the woman crooned:
"You're going to need to add some coals to the furnace if you want to keep it burning, hon."
"No... No need."
The woman reached her arms around the man's neck. She mewled:
"You're looking fuzzy tonight."
"And yet when you say that, your mind is clear without a hitch, right?"
The woman slowly got up. She viewed the blacksmith with a scrutinizing eye.
"You're less drunk than I thought you would be."
"And the same to you."
The woman began walking back towards the entrance. The sunlight shone from behind her back, casting the woman in a scene similar to an icon, but perverted. The blacksmith, though his eyes were squinted, could catch a glint of light coming from her chest. That was surely not the glow of the setting sun.
Immediately, the man scrambled to get up. He shouted:
"Those rocks! They're - "
The woman smiled, turned tails, and ran.
The blacksmith screamed something incoherently, looked around, and grabbed the nearest object: the now cool, glittering crowbar. Running out of the forge, the blacksmith caught sight of his running target. She was dashing towards the river.
Panting, the blacksmith raised his arm, and pitched the crowbar forward with the fury of a drunken god. He felt the piece of metal fly from his hand and heard the piece of metal loudly hit its mark.
The woman toppled over, her head knocked out to the side. Her ankles twisted, and something small flew out of her chest.
Shocked, the blacksmith saw the body roll towards and into the river. He had regained his precious diamonds, but at a costly price.
And the man sent the woman off down the river.
The blacksmith had now drank all of his wine, hoping to prevent another spill from happening. The consequences ended up with him entering a tipsy sort of state, with him carelessly letting out drunken hiccups. The man did not hold his liquor well.
A young woman wearing a curled hat giggled at this display. She wore a dress of light and sparkling pink. Her hands were not on her fork or plate, but were rather situated in her lap, twiddling her fat thumbs nervously. She did not eat, but did not suffer from any sort of famine either. Rather, she wanted to watch instead of participate - be it eating or talking.
The banker's daughter was never one good at socials, but now that she had turned legal age it became her duties to come in place of her parents, both of whom were sick at home counting money in a counting house. When she laughed, she laughed with a vicarious trill as though she were an opera singer singing with a vibrato.
A little girl wearing a black dress sat on the floor of a dimly lit room. She had a pug puppy on her lap, and was stroking it rather forcefully, though the dog didn't seem to mind.
She lowered her head down to the dog's ear, and began to sing a nursery rhyme:
"Poor Mary is a-weeping,
Poor Mary is a-weeping,
On a bright summer's day.
Why are you weeping,
Why are you weeping,
On a bright summer's day?
I'm weeping for a loved one, not I,
A loved one, not I, a loved one, not I,
I'm weeping for a loved one,
On a bright summer's day."
Finished, the girl looked at the door. She decided that it was about time. Depositing the puppy gently down to the floor - despite its whimpering protests - the girl got up and reached for the door's knob. As she did so, she remarked to the dog:
"Your ball is missing. I wonder where I've put it?"
In another room, an older, taller girl sat on a stool beside a large bed. Two figures moaned tiredly, plaintively expressing their state of sickness to the older daughter. The girl was collecting some dirty dishes, getting ready to make her departure.
"I'll go wash these dishes now, mother, father. I'll bring up two mugs of hot tea once I've finished."
Her mother moaned:
Her father groaned:
"You have always been our favorite..."
The sister bemoaned:
"Please, don't say that. There's no need to flatter me; all I am doing is upholding my responsibilities."
The mother said:
"Watch yourself too, dear."
The sister, her hands full with a tray of dirty dishes, walked out into the hallway and towards the stairs. On the opposite end of the hallway, the door was opened but a crack: a pair of large, blue eyes peeked out of it, staring at a spot near the stairs.
There, at the top of the stairwell, on the top step, a red ball sat obediently unnoticed on the dark carpet.
And there, the sister just so happened to step. Looking down, the sister screamed and threw the tray into the air, her body thrown down the stairs. The sound of dishes crashing onto the ground muffled the sound of a body rolling down the steps. A dog began to bark.
And the girl sent the sister tumbling down the stairs.
The banker's daughter had begun to touch her plate. But like before, she did not eat. Rather, she played with her peas, moving them around the plate with a fork. She did not want to watch and listen now: a man was giving a lecture.
A pudgy little man with a tacky checkered suit was handling one of the four clay horsemen the merchant's son was so eagerly examining. He was in the midst of telling the boy a story related to the history of those statues. Much to the puzzlement of the banker's daughter, the merchant's son was gobbling up the man's words with devout interest.
Such given attention was rare for the man - the museum curator. Granted, his droning voice would have put any person without interest in historic lore asleep. The greasy man was glad to have an audience, and he jabbered away about the wars of history behind those four statues.
A carriage drawn by horses stopped in front of a luxuriously build museum built out of bricks. Today, the museum was closed. A pudgy, greasy man stood at the museum's entrance, climbing down the steps when he saw his visitor arrive.
Tipping his hat in the man's direction, the driver of the carriage greeted as the curator approached:
"Good day, sir."
"Good day. Is that - "
" - Just what you've been waiting for? That's a yes."
The museum curator smiled.
"Let me direct you to the back of the museum, where you can deposit that..."
The carriage arrived at a small outcrop of land located behind the museum. The driver and director jumped off of the carriage after calming the horses.
"All right. Let's see it."
"As you wish."
With a flourish, the driver drew back the tarpaulin covering the carriage. The curator scrunched his eyebrows at the sight before him.
The bones were disfigured, having been colored with a pale, green paint. As far as the curator knew, no bones he had ever seen have been green. He was speechless. The driver, noting the curator's stunned silence, asked:
"Er, they're brachiosaurus bones. As you asked."
"Why... are those bones green?"
"I bought a rare exhibit from a smuggler, and this is the result I get? Nothing terribly surprising, though, in all honesty."
"What do you mean? They were like this when I got them. Nothing a coat of white paint and some sanding won't do."
"Very well. Let me examine the bones more closely, then, to see if they are satisfactory."
The driver let him pass.
"Eh? Fine, but don't break 'em. I still haven't accepted payment from you, yet."
"And what makes you think I'll be paying for this?"
The driver didn't have time to let out even a yelp when he fell to the ground.
The curator loomed over him, huffing. His mustache bristled with anger, his arms shaking from the weight of his actions. One of the green bones lay slack in his grip.
"You... I do not deal with those that defile history."
And the man bludgeoned him to death.
The museum curator's lecture had now turned into a discussion, with the little merchant's boy joining in, making some relevant points. But now, another person had also entered the conversation.
A short man bobbed his head forward as he spoke. He spoke with a light accent, but his diction was learned for a supposed foreigner. His vocabulary was so rich, in fact, that he spoke with better fluency and artistry than most natives of the language.
Which, considering the man was a lauded playwright, wasn't that surprising. The playwright was a man with many skills - a skilled jack-of-all-trades, if you will. Knowing his history was just one of them. He was a man capable of conquering all fields of the stage - being the a masterful scriptwriter, a producer, the stage director, costume designer. A man that aimed for perfection in every one of his endeavors: that was his motto.
A short man sat in a chair, examining a script with a pencil on his ear. His bald head shone against the light of a flickering torch behind him. The man muttered:
"Something... This script needs something more."
He raised his head when he heard someone calling for him.
A woman in a green dress was running down the stage to meet him. The man shifted slightly in his seat.
"One of the stagehands called in sick today. We need one more if we wish to proceed with the rehearsal."
"Ah, is that it? Let me see if I can do anything."
"As you wish, director."
The woman led the director to the back of the stage, where a crowd of men and women were getting dressed and made up for the performance. In one corner of the stage, a rope lay coiled on the ground. The two made their way there.
"It was the curtain raiser who called in sick."
The director looked up at the curtains. He placed his hand to his chin, a la Thinker style. He then told the woman:
"That can be easily remedied enough. Call the new boy managing the lights over and teach him how the apparatus works. It should be easy enough for him."
"You've gauged his abilities?"
The man twinkled at her.
"But of course. That boy is good with his hands, and is quite robust as well. We have too many lights, anyways."
The rehearsal went off without a hitch.
The night before the first live performance of the show, the director sat in his room, pondering over his desk as to what last minute edits he could make with the script.
He had a variety of assorted diagrams littered on top of his drawing board. The director grumbled something, scribbled something down, only to look at it in discontent and crumple the paper up into a ball. Soon enough, his trash can began to overflow with paper balls.
"This simply cannot be just a basic love story! After freeing the princess from the tyranny held Bulborb kingdom, the prince runs off with her to live together, happily ever after? An epic fairy tale is not what I am aiming for... I need something real, something so emotion instilling that will take my audience's breath away!"
The director paused. He thought for a moment, and suddenly, his mind became clear. Excitedly, the man exclaimed:
"That's it! A tragedy! That is sure to get hits from the presses."
The director paused once more. Then, he said:
"Now how should I incorporate a tragic moment? Separate the two lovers? No, that will require an edit and relearning of the script. Hm..."
He looked at a stack of books on his table. He stared at one of the titles. And once again, a light bulb went off in his mind. A surefire way to obtain the effect he wanted was now clear.
"Let us add a single line from Macbeth..."
On the day of the performance, the stage production was nearing its finality. A woman wearing green ran up to the director, who was once again examining the coil of rope lying by the curtain. The woman snuck behind the short man's shoulders and asked:
"Is something the matter, director?"
The short man turned around. He replied:
"Ah, no, there is nothing. Just overseeing some final modifications, that's all."
"Is there something the matter with the curtains that you need changing?"
"Oh, no. I've already taken care of it."
"All right, then, director."
"And? You are here because?"
"Oh, right. The peasant costumes need a quick run through, seeing how we've run out of burlap. If you would follow me, director..."
The woman walked off to another room.
The play was entering its final act.
"Is this a dagger which I see before me? A dagger, that has pierced through my heart?"
"Not a dagger, my prince, but rather, an arrow of love."
"You feel it as well, princess? Very well. Let us run, run into the sunset and carve out our future, with our own hands."
The prince swept the princess off her feet.
"Let us leave your ruined father, King Bulborb, behind, and let him think of the deeds he has done. Meanwhile..."
"Let us make our own benevolent deeds known."
"And create a good kingdom of our own, princess."
And the two began to walk away from the center of the stage, signifying the approaching end.
The stage hands began to work frantically. Light adjusting, platform raising, curtain calling. Contrary to the silence at the stage, there was a large hubbub in the back.
The actors began to line up at the stage, preparing for their ending bow.
A light manager lifted up a torch and climbed up the rafters. He looked over the sandbags that were above the rafters. There seemed to be nothing wrong. The man took a quick stroll to the opposite end before turning back. He had lights to take care of, after all. But, in rushing, he missed a rather important sight.
There, up in the rafters, an object shone brightly. As the curtain raiser began to lower the curtain, the shining object began to slip off its ring.
Some of the stage hands noticed, and began to point at the object, screaming. As the curtain kept getting closer to the center, so did the object slide further off the ring. Soon enough, the item fell in front of the light, revealing its identity: a knife with long, sharp point sticking out of the bottom. The impact site was on one of the actors below.
A girl shouted:
"A knife! There's a knife! Run, prince!"
The prince, who was bowing, looked around at the sudden noise. He looked up, but by then, it was already too late.
The knife had sunk in, and down the prince fell. A bloody carcass fell to the ground. People began screaming, and the light faded to black.
The curtains were drawn. The show had ended. The audience began clapping. The truth of what they had just seen was unascertained by all except one.
The director got up out of his seat, clapping his hands vigorously. With tears welling up in his eyes, the director bellowed:
"Perfect! Simply perfect! This is what I needed! A real, live performance of a tragedy!"
And the man ended another man's show.
The playwright bobbed his head forward, nodding with the curator's statements. A small cry of dismay caught the playwright's attention, however. He turned to his left.
Next to the playwright sat a twitchy, lanky man. When the playwright asked him if he felt sick, the man replied negatively with a slight stutter. The village doctor was not someone that oozed a very strong life force. After meeting death on more than one occasion when the plague struck, the doctor has since retreated into a shadow of sorts, becoming weaker willed. But even if he did not seem very dependable, the doctor made his namesake with his clerical, healing hands. With calloused fingers that shook with every movement, the doctor was to retire soon, his age being only slightly less than that of the mayor.
A man stood by a bed in a room with its curtains drawn. In the bed sat a woman, paralyzed with her eyes set on the ceiling. The man had placed his suitcase on a nearby chair, packing all sorts of medical instruments back into it.
The man declared quietly:
"And that concludes the check-up."
The woman in the bed did not respond. Rather, her droopy eyelids lifted slightly, and the pupils beneath them moved towards the doctor. Her hand, which lay by her side, twitched an inch.
The doctor, knowing full well the meaning of her movements, said to the woman:
"I am glad to have been able to be of service to you. Good day, madam."
The next day, the doctor walked into the dim room, with another person faithfully following him in.
The doctor quickly put his suitcase onto the ground. He said to his nurse:
"She doesn't look well."
"Indeed, she doesn't. Poor thing."
The woman in the bed was breathing heavily. Her chest slowly rose up and down, but other than that, she made no movements. Her closed eyelids made her seem as though she were asleep, but the doctor had known her too well to not have been able to see otherwise.
"Get me the syringe."
The nurse obediently handed it to him.
With a fluid movement, the doctor injected a dose of medicine into the woman's arm. Almost immediately, the woman stopped her heavy breathing.
The nurse seemed relieved. The doctor wasn't. He looked at the woman in the bed, who was now truly sleeping. The doctor said to himself:
"Only for a while."
The next day, the doctor burst into the room, his nurse holding his suitcase in tow. The woman in the bed was gasping, her chest rising and lowering at a much more rapid pace than the day before. Cold sweat was rolling down her forehead.
The doctor slammed his suitcase onto the floor, quickly performing a routine diagnosis on the woman in the bed.
As he did so, the nurse said grimly:
"The woman's life force is fading."
The doctor rearranged the stethoscope around his neck rampantly. He said to his nurse:
"The woman's in agony. There is nothing for us to do other than give her a larger dose."
"And what then? The woman will need a bigger one tomorrow."
"Yes... You're right."
The doctor took a glance at the bedridden woman. He saw her hand twitching, but unlike the many other times he saw her do it, this time it was involuntary. The woman's eyelids flickered between consciousness and unconsciousness.
"Are you feeling all right, doctor?"
"...Yes, I am fine."
"It must be difficult. She is your only living relative, after all."
After a few long, painstaking minutes, the doctor sighed. He said to his nurse:
"Get me the morphine."
And the man put the woman to sleep.
The doctor asked for some salt. Quickly, a servant rose from the background to hand a shaker to him. The doctor stuttered his thanks.
Sitting next to the good doctor, at the end of the table, was none other than the count himself.
The count was wearing robes of ruby red - partially because he was red. Haired, anyways. He smiled graciously at his guests, despite knowing full well all of their backstories behind their lives of wealthy grandeur. Coy and wile, the count was a man as benevolent as he was hostile.
The count was one who dressed sharply, had a sharp mind, and spoke with a sharp yet courteous tongue.
A summer lived in a summer house. A boy and his family were unpacking goods out of suitcases inside a wooden cabin. Or rather, the parents did, while the boy looked out the window.
The father, taking out a pocket watch out of a suitcase, said:
"Son, after we finish unpacking, let's go for a picnic. How's that sound?"
Without turning around, the boy said:
The boy was looking down below, where he saw a trio standing on a path to the beach. A dark-haired man and two red-haired women that looked alike. Too alike. The boy couldn't tell the difference between the two of them, aside from the fact that one had a glittering diamond ring on her hand.
He saw one of the red-haired women raise her arms and shout something at the other one. What, he couldn't hear.
The other red-haired woman started shouting too. They had this rally back and forth for a few more minutes, before the dark-haired man finally made his first sound: a scream.
The man took a matching ring off of his hand and threw it away, into the sea. He ripped at his hair in what seemed like despair, or frustration. As the two women watched him walk away, shocked, the boy heard another sound, this time from behind him:
"Son, we're ready, now. Let us go prepare the picnic."
Keeping an open mind about what he had just seen, the boy replied:
The family begins setting plates at a picnic table located on the shoreside. A slight breeze was blowing, making setting up the tablecloth a challenge. A picnic basket sits closed on the grass.
The mother called out:
"Son, would you please put out the plates?"
The boy answered:
As the boy got out the plates, he heard a small, high pitched whistle pierce the air. Whipping around, the boy squinted where he thought the source of the house came from: the nearby cape.
There, the young boy witnessed the fall of a long-haired figure, collapsing and cascading down the rocky, shoreside cliff. Standing on the cliff, watching, was a figure he saw before. He realized he had to go.
Without giving it a second thought, the young boy threw down the plates. He called out to his mother:
"Mother, I need to go to the restroom. I'll be right back."
The mother, who was focused on setting up the table, said absentmindedly:
"All right. But be careful, dear."
The boy began running off towards the cliff.
Within a matter of minutes, the young boy found himself at the cliff. On the edge of the cliff stood a woman with her back facing towards him. The boy would have recognized the characteristic red hair that fell down her shoulders anywhere.
Without turning around, the woman spoke:
"So you saw."
The boy, panting, replied:
"I suppose you know why, even though you are young."
The boy remained silent, releasing his hands from his knees after he had caught his breath. He tried to catch a glance at her hands, but she had them clasped in front of her, hiding them from view.
The woman continued:
"Tell me, boy. Do you think I should be praying for repentance, at this moment?"
It took the minute of a lifetime before the boy answered.
The woman, now having turned around slightly, looked at him from the corner of her eyes. She let out a small breath, which was too quiet to have been considered a sigh.
"Will my penance be delivered, do you think?"
When the boy gave her his response, it allowed the woman to soar. She said, as she flew:
"Thank you for your answer. No longer are we strangers, boy."
The boy now stood on the edge of the cliff, reliving a sight he had just seen. Everything was the same, except now the people he was seeing were different. A flash of red hair flew past him with the swaying wind.
He could hear the mermaid's words from the bottom:
"Resist the temptation..."
And the boy pushed her into the sea.
A delicate chatter rose amongst those dining at the table. Behind them, the servants watched with cool indifference, moving only when one of the guests or masters wanted them to. And in this case, the servants began to move, since dinner was almost ending. It was almost time for dessert.
The count cocked his head slightly, in a direction towards the door. The servants filed into a line and left the room promptly. Not many noticed the servants' disappearance, but not many would notice a servant.
Within a few minutes, the servants returned, bearing round trays of port and decanters. A main platter was placed on the center of the table. The guests stopped their chatting. Even the most oblivious of the guests took notice of the interruption, the sudden arrival of a pleasantly anticipated dish.
The servants began pouring out wine for each of the guests. With a flourish, one of the servants pulled off the cover of the platter, revealing the dessert for the night. Some of the guests recoiled, while others gasped at the sight of the dish.
There, sitting wobbily on the platter, was a block of congealed red gelatin. The color of the pudding was so crimson that it made the gelatin look more like square blood pudding. Immediately another servant came and began to slice pieces and place them on dessert plates for each of the guests.
The count, noticing the prevalent discord, stood up in his seat and tapped his wine glass with a spoon, drawing everyone's attention.
"Do not be alarmed, my guests. This is but only cherry gelatin. Accompanied by red wine, I think that is a fitting dessert for tonight," said the count in his low, booming voice.
Everyone nodded, agreeing for the sake of the count.
The count smiled gently.
"I am glad that all of you were able to arrive on time today, despite the suddenness of my invitations. Tonight, we shall dine, and then have a pleasant discourse on the current state of welfare of our town, our village," continued the count.
The count held up his glass of wine.
"I have specially prepared this wine for tonight," said the count. "It was made from the finest grapes my orchard could grow, and with it, I have turned water into wine."
He raised his glass slightly higher, prompting his guests to do the same. Some light, shuffling steps could be heard as the servants left the room. The count bellowed:
"And now, to us, I propose a toast! Let us gather here tonight, sharing the same juices, and partake in a secular, yet still holy, gathering. Let us drink to this night, and to the eternal darkness that follows!"
He raised the glass to his lips.
Before the count could take a sip, he could hear a chorus of sudden, anguished screams. The canonic sounds of glass simultaneously dropped proved the existence of someone's betrayal. Gasps and catastrophic cries shook the air, heads and bodies stressing the table.
The count smiled in grim satisfaction. His guests were rolling off of their seats, hands clawing at their throats. Every last one of them had their face turn blue. The mayor, the mayor's wife, the merchant's son, the chief inspector, the fur company couple, the orphanage director, the blacksmith. The banker's daughter, the museum curator, the playwright, the doctor. Every last one of them...
The count raised the glass to his lips once more. This time, he truly took a sip. As soon as he did, his throat clogged up, his sphincter turned tight. The glass slipped from his grip, crashing loudly down onto the floor. His body flipped towards the table, and his pale skin turned a beastly blue. But, instead of screaming in pure agony, the count used his remaining energy to scream his penultimate words:
"Die with me, my brethren!"
And the count smiled, letting some of the blood-red wine drip and congeal onto the table beneath his sullied, tainted lips.
As he took his last breath, the count whispered once more:
"Die with me."
A/N: What a difference a letter makes. Anyone care to take a guess who's who, feel free to. I'm not sure if I made the identities of everyone as clear as I wanted to make them to be.
Many thanks to Agatha Christie, whose books inspired me to create this piece. I'm betting that for those of you that have read her works, you know which book I heavily drew inspiration from. But a little bit - homage? - of Murder at the Vicarage and Dumb Witness was used.
Thanks for reading.