Saturday, January 14, 2006

Caroline, Part 3 (Fiction)

(Just joining us? Go back to Part 1)

       David descended a few quick stairs into the dining room. It was narrow, stretching the length of the inn. And empty. Beyond tall windows, bushes in the courtyard glowed with squares of inside light. He counted his steps for no good reason.
       On the other side, he turned into an open parlor. Familiar, he thought. Perhaps the room in the photograph. Chairs angled into little circles, no longer filled.
       Through a last doorway, he spied the bar.
       "Here we are," he muttered.
       Inside, everything darkened into a brooding blur. The carpet. The curtains. The fanning wallpaper. But not the dazzling light behind the bar. Its shine seized all attention. Where it shattered on the liquor, countless colors sprayed, each a unique slice from a thousand tiny prisms.
       David took a stool, and moments later, soft footsteps joined him in the room.
       "Evening, sir."
       "Hello," David said, turning. "Great timing. How are you this evening?
       "Fine, sir. Fine. I apologize for the short staffing tonight."
       David smirked. "You look tall enough to me."
       The bartender chuckled and shook his head.
       "Sorry," David said. "I can't help myself sometimes. I do appreciate you for breaking away for a minute, though. Got a rowdy bunch back there?"
       "They're well enough behaved," the man said, taking his position behind the bar. "For now at least. What can I get for you?"
       "Normally I'm a gin and tonic man, but the gentleman at the front desk mentioned you have some interesting cocktails."
       "Yes. Our vintage cocktails are very popular."
       The bartender flipped open a drink list and extended it in the same motion.
       "Any recommendations?" David asked, not looking.
       "For a gin man, absolutely. I have just the thing."
       David smiled. "I'm in your hands."
       David tried to watch the ingredients, but he found his mind wandering. Far off, individual voices in the wedding party pressed to the surface, but fell back before they emerged.
       Ice clattered in the shaker. A quick rhythm. Then, the bartender strained a concoction into a glass. He slid it to David, who sipped and let it play on his tongue.
       "That's a fine drink," David said after swallowing.
       "Thank you. One of my favorites too."
       David tasted it again.
       "Shall we go with that one, then? Or would you prefer something else?"
       "No, no. This is very good."
       "If you don't mind, I'll let you have some privacy then," the man said. He motioned over David's head. "They'll be raiding the bar if I'm not back right away."
       He started to leave.
       "Whoa. What do I owe you?" David asked.
       "Our compliments, sir. For our short, um, under staffing."
       "Really? Thanks. I appreciate that. But let me give you something at least."
       "No, it's my pleasure. I'll try to stop back again in a little while."
       "No need," David said, "I'm set. Thanks anyway."
       The bartender wished David a good night and circled behind him. David watched him leave in the mirror. His outline melted away in the distant doorway.
       David drank again and enjoyed the heat in his throat. The sound of the crowd swelled to greet the returning bartender.

       Long minutes passed. David's gaze strolled around the room. In such muted light, details seemed uninspired. Drab. For a while, he stared into his own eyes in the mirror. No clear thoughts unfolded as he did. Just fascination. And curiosity. He stopped when he no longer recognized the face.
       More of the hour ticked away. David slid his drink along the bar, back and forth, back and forth.
       His mind was drifting towards sleep when the feeling struck him.
       A warmth. A breath of fragrance. He turned and started. A touch of his drink darkened on his pants. Someone had slipped into the room behind him.
       He didn't register her face at first. Only her eyes. He stared down at them. Blue as the winter hills before dawn. Brilliant as candles shining in dark windows.
       "My God," he whispered aloud. And it wasn't just the gin talking.
       The small face smiled, a work of art in flesh. Long sweeps of hair, nearly black, framed the breath-taking portrait. David guessed the girl to be around eight or nine.
       For several seconds, David was speechless. At last he managed to ask, "are you from the party?"
       She stood motionless, giving no indication she heard him.
       Never had he seen eyes like those in a child. Anchored onto him. Penetrating. Although impossible, those eyes were sharpened by many, many years.
       Indeed, she was dressed for a party.
       "Are you looking for someone?" David asked.
       Her lips parted. David's breath caught in expectation of the voice.
       "My father left me here," she said. "For a little while. He'll be back soon."
       An Earthy voice. Not the slightest apprehension.
       Didn't sound right. "You're alone? Maybe we should go find him."
       "He's coming back."
       Between the drink and the atmosphere, the moment suddenly didn't sit like reality. He tried to untangle his confusion.
       "Could I stay with you?" she asked. "For a few minutes?"
       "With me?"
       Her voice dropped. "I'd rather not wait alone," she said.

On to Part 4
Back to Part 2


mermaid said...

I'm still trying to figure out her role in your vignette. The whole thing feels like a dream, as if he is encountering an apparition, though she is quite real in detail.

anne said...

Yes, I agree with that, which was why I mentioned The Shining last time - because of the horror component of course (but I did get your point), and also for the past/present blur.

Bernita said...

Is it "for a gin man?"
A small typo?
Does sound like this is the sort of waiter who will address a customer as "man."
Good dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, actually I'm kind of happy you have no clue. Builds the suspense, don't you think? Caroline will be just as central a character as David.

Anne, the moment is a bit like The Shining (and Bernita mentioned Somewhere in Time in a discussion on her blog), but rest assured, I would never knowingly copy. ;) Something else is going on.

Bernita, dang typos! Thanks for pointing that out. Yes, it's "for a gin man." I fixed it. Thanks re dialog. I haven't used very much in my stories up until now.

anne said...

Oh come on now, you know I wasn't implying anything like that. That would be like saying that a love story that ends well copies Jane Eyre.

Anonymous said...

Peace, Anne, peace. I knew you weren't implying I was doing a knock off. These movie comparisons are just in good fun. I threw a wink in there, but maybe I sounded some-sort-of-way. I didn't mean to.

Bernita said...

Nor was I about "Somewhere.." I was just teasing.
But I think I shall not do that again, even in fun.
You are a unique and original talent - but
someone who has not read your stuff might take it seriously, and no one needs that.
No one needs that sort of allegation of immitation - especially in a field where it is apparently rife.
I apologize.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Mom*, thank you for the sentiment. No apology is necessary though. I suppose all writers have a sensitivity to being original; yet, comparisons are natural. In retrospect, I should've worded my reply more carefully. I was just acknowledging that indeed some comparisons can be made to this story. I apologize for creating controversy where I didn't intend to.

*For those who don't know, Bernita adopted me some time back.

Kara Alison said...

I'm really enjoying this Jason. Your strength is the ability to create suspense without being cheap about it. We obviously know something is coming, but it's not clear what it is...and it's not just a shameless tactic to keep me reading.

beadinggalinMS said...

You have me hooked Jason. I liked the part where he was staring in the mirror till he didn't recognize himself.

Kelly Parra said...

Good tone and setting, Jason! You are able to convey subtle intrigue in your writing. Awesome. =D

Anonymous said...

Kara, I always appreciate how good you and the others here are about leaving comments. It's nice to know when something (i.e., the suspense) is working. Thanks!

BeadinggalinMS, you're another of my most enthusiastic readers. Thank you! :) I once heard it said that women can look into a mirror for great lengths of time, but men cannot, because their faces become foreign. That's true for me. What about for you? Does this distinction between men and women really exist?

Kelly, a high compliment. Thank you!

Chemical Billy said...

Hm, I don't know if it really is a distinction between men and women. While women are (gross generalization here) socialized to assess themselves in the mirror constantly, and necessarily spend more time looking (while putting on makeup, etc.), I have had those moments where my face becomes unfamiliar...

Shesawriter said...

I'm with mermaid. It does seem rather dreamlike. Oh, and I loved this line: "The small face smiled, a work of art in flesh."

Wonderful. :-)


Anonymous said...

Chemical Billy, I had a suspicion the male/female thing was hogwash. If anything, perhaps men see the change a little faster because they tend to spend less time in front of mirrors (or let's hope so, at least). ;)

Tanya, thank you. :) Yes, I'm trying to capture that feeling of a waking dream--when a live moment takes on a feeling of unreality. Those tend to be the most memorable moments for me.

LiVEwiRe said...

You are so good with keeping the suspense going. Just the right touch, never too heavy. Makes me want to just sit here and hit 'refresh' on my browser until I get more! =)

beadinggalinMS said...

Jason sometimes my face is foreign to me when I look in the mirror. I am always trying to figure out who I am.
A mom, wife, friend but I want to be more than that.

mysfit said...

i can close my eyes and see my favorite hotel in this - just lovely - and the mirror-moment is really good, like real, like 'I know that feeeling'.. there's a moment when it all goes blurry, sentimental and then - there's the girl and nothing's going to be the same.. :)

R.J. Baker said...

Jason, this is a "for what its worth" comment.

Take the paragraph that starts with "My God" and put it at the very beginning of the story(part 1) and see if it makes the story a more compelling read.

Just a thought. It may take a little tweaking for it to work correctly but let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

Livewire, I'm working on it. :) These parts are longer than usual because of the dialog. I should post it late Tuesday night or so. Thanks for the kind words!

BeadinggalinMS, the fact that you're searching is a good sign.

Mysfit, those moments when "it all goes blurry, sentimental" are truly magical to experience. The setting in this story is based on a real place.

R.J., do you mean a teaser up front (like a little glimpse ahead), or do you mean move the first meeting with Caroline forward?

R.J. Baker said...

I don't have the overview of the story that you have but from what I've read the first two parts seem to be mood and setting. A few instances where the reader may pause and think, hmmm? But nothing that graps the reader by the...lapel and pulls them in.

I'm not sure what effect you are shooting for. But if I started reading a story where the protag meets some entity in the opening lines it would make me wonder what the? and why? and would make me read the mood and setting with an intense interest.

As I've said before, I'm not familiar with your genre, but I am with Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense so that's where my comments come from.

Try reading it as I proposed. Then after your guy meets the entity, flash back to him arriving, surveying the hotel, putting his clothes away, etc. See what you think. Its just a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

R.J., that could definitely work. I structured "Will-'o-the-Wisp" that way (link in the index to the right). I'll finish this one up first, then see about dressing it up a little.