3. The Creature
I'm sorry this took so long, but I couldn't submit the last chapter without the perfect ending. This wasn't so easy to write.
It was by a curse of fate that he had appeared at her door, expression set and courageous as if in protection against the fires and hail of some perilous mission. His stance was dumb and unsure, but his eyes rang of a determination that was all at once too childish, too adult. She did not know of his purpose, and he was unwilling to disturb the tense silence that emboldened every twitch of his limbs. It disturbed her. More than his sudden appearance at her door, the intention in his movements disturbed her.
Lucille made to look away. She did not wish to see him, not at this moment. She was vulnerable. For an instant she was reminded of a slaughterhouse, her beady eyes the eyes of the animal that knew it was to be killed. She thought of the animal's heart, her heart, nailed to a dissecting basin for the purpose of inspection. Lucille bowed her head, ashamed.
If he were any other man, he would understand. If he were any other man, he would not question the inglorious plea for privacy in her eyes.
But Francoeur was not any other man. He had resolved to stifle his anxiety like a bad cough, figuring that inaction was as ineffective a treatment as apathy. There is no use for doubt and little time to consider her protests, he reasoned, repeating the phrase in his mind like a sick mantra. He set aside his hat and coat as if to prove a point: He would not yield.
The flea proceeded to cross the length of the room, consuming the woman with his expansive chest and steel-hardened face. It was a sign of ego, she realized. The act did not suit him. She felt overwhelmed by this new Francoeur, his head hovering above her own, her face kept aloft by one long, bony finger. He looked her dead in the eye, and, oblivious of her self-hatred, the thing smiled—he smiled!
It did not stop there. He took her hand with what was quite possibly all the care in the world, crooning sweetly as if to ask of the woman's well-being. His eyes spoke of a creature who wished to know what had gone wrong, what had drained and churned out this ragged and tattered once-beauty.
She should not have been surprised by the courtesy, the gentle, naive spirit that he was. She had wanted to snatch her hand away, to cry out, to tell the poor thing to drop the façade of bravery and to face the truth with his mortal eyes. But she could not find it in her heart to do so (was it cowardice or generosity?) allowing Francoeur to comfort her in the only way he knew how. Still, she had resolved to not hold or squeeze him in return—she could not lead him into a false sense of security, not again.
She repeated this promise in her mind. The anchors of reason lined her face, entrenching the skin with a deep frown; her youth had faded too soon, like that of an addict of some mysterious substance. To ask for a smile would be to ask for too much—she did, however, manage a nod of approval.
He did not understand. He did not understand, and she was grateful for it. Thank God, she had nearly sobbed.
He chirped and sang gleefully in response to her reluctant approval, as if recounting a memory. Lucille recognized it, slightly surprised at the sudden shift in his demeanor. Frightened, unsure, clumsy. Their first encounter. She heard the memory in his voice; saw it as a vision reflected in his glass eyes: A flurry of emotions and a recollection only a little brighter than the black emptiness that was his past life. There was no space in his mind reserved for that past; no memory of living under and over hosts as an invisible killer.
Lucille shook her head, not grasping his purpose. As if to spare her, Francoeur moved her away from the dresser, cornering her where the bed met the wall. His voice smoothed into a softer, airier whistle, telling of his budding friendship with a people who wanted nothing to do with his kind. Comfort, belonging, laughter. Mutual trust and long-lasting relationships: Something worth remembering. This she understood.
Suddenly, it took a deep drop, as he recalled how he and his companions had nearly died at the hands of a greedy people...or rather, a single detective. He remembered hanging off a ledge, unable to see the bottom of the black pit miles below his feet. He closed his eyes for a moment. She had rescued him, both from social persecution and physical trauma. His lovely Lucille. His tiny, beating heart.
His smile was faint, his breath soft against her cheeks as he moved to close the space between their bodies. Francoeur's tenor was sweet, so sweet, as if he were the Angel of Music reincarnated.
By the end of it she could not see, her vision blurred by tears unshed. She was not smiling.
But it was time to follow through with his plans. So in love was Lucille with his music that she had been moved to tears, and that was all the confession he needed. He, too, had almost choked out a sob as he forced himself to relive what had been the pinnacle of both pain and beauty in his short life...
Still, his mind was set. The security of his slow music had ended, and the burning in his heart had cast away the tremors in his movements. He knew from this moment on that things had grown serious. It was time.
His eyes burned with a flame Lucille had never known, and all at once her uncertainty had returned to her with the full force of a natural disaster. She wanted to rip her hands away.
"Francoeur, we must talk."
But it was far too late to talk. Francoeur was rapt with attention, burdened with the most glorious of intent. He lifted a single foot and stomped it between her legs, twisting her arms so that she was pinned to the wall.
Lucille's eyes widened with horror as the full impact of his purpose seemed to strike her across the face. He had not been comforting her—he had been wooing her!
No, no! She nearly cried. The revelation that he at least had the potential for love was a shock in itself, but to discover that he had chosen her as the subject of his affections…it had ruined her. She wanted to run away. From Francoeur, from Raoul, from all of Paris.
But there was more to it than that, she realized: Francoeur would never let her go. He tightened his grip on her arms to the point of pain, as if making his intentions clear.
Was he truly a monster? Had she misjudged him all this time?
This cannot be love. This has to be...imitation!
Francoeur did not understand. His lips brushed hers, and she felt his smile on her cheek as he bowed his head and...kissed her.
He kissed her.
He kissed her, and with it spilled his adoration for her in a bloody mess on the floor. This was his heart, his life, the reason for his existence: To bring this woman happiness. His arms wrapped around her tiny body, shoulders, neck, as if in protection against the evil forces of the outside world— the cruel, unforgiving cold of Parisian streets. But she was so warm, and even shocked to silence, her body radiated heat. He had never felt happier in his life. He would always be her guardian angel…He would never let harm come her way.
He would never let harm come her way, but for once, Lucille was the one who did not understand.
All of a sudden, she screamed.
She screamed into his mouth, thrashing about and beating her fists into his chest.
"Let go of me! Monster!" Her voice was muffled, but her words were not.
Francoeur was suddenly hit was a strange sense of…something. He dropped her to the ground.
Lucille coughed and sputtered, her hands bracing the wall for balance behind her. "Oh my god," she croaked. The creature, so childish and innocent from afar, was so different up close, the horrible and disgusting monster that he was. The lines and details of his face were quite visibly not human, prickled with little hairs and a bony texture she had never noticed before. "Oh my god," she gagged. The bastard, taking advantage of her like that! She needed to run. She needed to run away, before he did something much worse!
Lucille made to stand, expecting physical retaliation. Her head turned, ready to spit in his face if he tried to kiss her again.
But to her surprise, he did nothing. He did not move. That's when she noticed it—his face, lined with an emotion she refused to place. An expression she had tried so hard to prevent, but that she knew to be inevitable.
He was ruined.
Frightened, heartbroken and tear-stricken—he was crying. She did not know how it was possible, and she wanted to vomit. She had never seen him so utterly broken.
"Get out." It was all she could manage.
Just like that, the creature ran out of her quarters and out of her life, never to be seen again. But not before he gave one last sob, screaming her name in what was the most pathetic and horrible sound she had ever heard—the sound of a life wasted.