This week I bring you the first part of a short story that I described to my fiancé as a Gothic drama that takes place in 1920’s Texas. She said, “Then it’s not a Gothic drama…” Well, Victoria, agree to disagree (but of course you’re right)! Anyway, before we get to the short story, I announced a Summer/Fall Giveaway that closed on September 9th, BUT I’m going to extend the deadline to the end of September to allow more people to enter should they like to. The information on the giveaway will follow after the short story. Enjoy!
Seven in a Storm
Friendly Content Warning: This short story contains some violence. But endowed with knowledge, I encourage you to read on!
“I think it might rain, Mr. Ivan,” said the man in the red cap, with jet black hair pulled back in an unkempt ponytail. His voice fell heavy upon the quiet field, cast in the shadow of a monstrous storm cloud.
“You don’t say, Mr. McIntosh,” said the man in the blue vest, with a mustache curled to sharp points. His azure eyes searched the cloud’s black tendrils, slithering through the morning sky. “You don’t say.”
Mr. McIntosh prodded the earth with his narrow cane, his fingers wrapped around the form of a golden bat at its top. “The earth is wet,” he observed. “Fetch the shovel for Guenther, if you will, and bid him begin his work.”
“As you wish,” said Mr. Ivan, flicking his pipe with two gloved fingers. “How many will there be?”
“Four, I believe,” said Mr. McIntosh. “Four lovely people, I’m sure.” Mr. Ivan nodded and turned away from the dark clouds, walking tall and slender back towards their lonely hostel.
As Rupert McIntosh had suspected, a storm did come, and with it there came four guests to the hostel under his and Andrei Ivan’s care. Mr. Ivan waited at the door after Guenther had returned, slouched and shovel in hand, from his work. When the first drop of rain fell, Guenther was ordered to put dinner in the kettle. And then there was the first knock, and Mr. Ivan was quick to pull the door open with a low bow and a broad smile.
The first thing that Lady Roberta Fielding noticed about Mr. Ivan was the sparkling golden tooth fixed at the front of his smile. The second was the tightness of his pants. Mitch Hallaway, the driver who carried Lady Fielding across the country, only noticed the tooth. “Come in, if you please,” said Mr. Ivan in as inviting a manner as he could manage. And in went Lady Fielding and Mitch Hallaway.
“What’s it cost ya’ for the night?” Mitch asked with a tentative sort of glance around the humble cabin interior. His suit was mustard yellow; his skin was chocolate brown.
“Worry not, Mr. Hallaway,” said Lady Fielding in a deep, yet enchanting voice. Mr. Ivan was curious about her, unsure of the dissonance between her feminine appeal and the squareness of the body she had beneath her sparkling red dress and heavy silver necklace. “It’s nothing I can’t afford for the both of us.”
Mr. Ivan nodded assuringly and said, “Nothing she can’t afford.” Then he motioned to the refurbished sofa set beside the crackling hearth and invited them to sit, “until Mr. McIntosh, your other, gracious host, comes down from his office.” Lady Fielding hesitated before walking around the throw rug that used to be a bear, her crimson lips turned down in a sympathetic frown.
“What’ve ya’ got to eat around here, sir?” asked Mitch Hallaway, once he had sat on the sofa and let a button loose on his crusty coat.
Mr. Ivan licked his lips. “Our man, Guenther, prepares a meal as we speak. Forgive me, for I’ve not properly introduced myself. You may call me Mr. Ivan.” Lady Fielding and Mitch gave their names, and as they finished, the rain began to pelt the roof of the hostel with aggressive force, shaking the ornate electric chandelier hanging from the ceiling. On que, there came another knock at the front door.
As he had before, Mr. Ivan bowed low and grinned, opening the door with gusto. Kendra Dubrey and John Dickson, Texas Ranger, didn’t notice what the others had, but instead took note of Mr. Ivan’s impeccable mustache and the gentle scars at the base of his neck, almost like bite marks. “We’re searchin’ for shelter from this storm, is all,” said Ranger Dickson, his southern accent as thick as butter, and he pulled the toothpick from his mouth and motioned inside the door. “Miss Dubrey and I would very much like to stay at your little abode, given there’s room.”
“There is always room,” said Mr. Ivan. “Always. Come now, out of the rain. Dinner preparations are underway, and the hearth is warm. I am Mr. Ivan, and these are our other guests for the night, Lady Fielding and Mr. Hallaway.” And come in they did, Miss Dubrey taking a seat on a chair near Lady Fielding, and Ranger Dickson placing himself a good distance from the others, standing at the window to peer into the night.
Guenther came warily into the room then, the door to the kitchen swinging back and forth behind him. He greeted the guests with an attempt at a smile. He wasn’t short, Miss Dubrey observed, but he was stalky. Broad shouldered and bow legged, but not short. His skin was ashen and oranged from days working in the sun, but his eyes were green like tart limes, freshly picked from the vine. “Mr. Ivan,” said Guenther, a lisp nipping the ends of his words. Ranger Dickson looked away from the window for a moment, finding himself only disgusted by Guenther’s mud-caked boots. “Dinner will-a-be ready soon.” He wiped his hands on his dirtied apron. There was an accent there that Lady Fielding couldn’t place, something foreign. Perhaps he was from across the border, she thought, left to forever remember the Alamo.
“Ah, Guenther, our man,” said Mr. Ivan, motioning to him grandly. “He used to do much traveling, you know, when he was younger. Much like you all, indeed.”
Guenther grinned a grin of rotting teeth and fangs and clarified, “Mostly to the cities.” He looked at Lady Fielding in particular, squinting at her as though reading a faded book. Mitch sat up a little straighter, the couch creaking beneath him. He didn’t much like the way this fella carried himself, he thought, not one bit. There was something unsettling. Discomforting.
Texas Ranger John Dickson, who had been all but ignoring the others, finally turned from the window and headed for a seat. He glanced at the open cushion beside Mitch Hallaway, but grimaced and sat on a lone chair beside the hearth instead. Even so, his eyes remained for a moment on the black man in the mustard suit—a moment longer than Lady Fielding was comfortable with. The others were watching the ranger with interest now, and so he said, “Rain is comin’ hard. Your fields are floodin’, roadway, too. Ain’t nobody’ll be able to leave for two days time, at least, I’d reckon.”
“As we expected,” said a voice from the narrow stairwell in the wall by the kitchen, and from it was produced Mr. Rupert McIntosh in his red hat and sleek suit, his hair still pulled back into a ponytail. The hostel’s four guests looked up, some with unexplained fear and some unexpected intrigue. Mr. McIntosh leaned easily on his cane, his gloved hand gripped tightly to the golden bat that adorned it. “Rainstorms are commonplace in this country, are they not, Mr. Ivan?”
Mr. Ivan pulled his pipe from his vest pocket, placed it unlit in his mouth, and said, “Indeed they are, Mr. McIntosh.”
“Indeed,” agreed Guenther. And the three men smiled. “Dinner is-a-served now.” Guenther left the room, back through the loosely hung kitchen door.
Mr. McIntosh, walking across the uneven hardwood floor and retrieving a match from his pocket, said, “Lead the way, Mr. Ivan, to the dinner table.” He struck the match on his own glove and lit Mr. Ivan’s pipe. “A meal is included, of course, in every stay.”
Mr. Ivan led the way, and soon he and Mr. McIntosh were smiling with sharp teeth at all the guests sat along the long wooden table. Miss Dubrey gently touched Ranger Dickson’s arm, but Ranger Dickson was as firm as a board. Mitch Hallaway was sat just across from him, an unacceptable placement, the ranger thought. “Are we going to let him sit at the table with…the rest of us?”
“John,” Miss Dubrey hissed, turning her head so that her blonde curls covered her face. She whispered something in his ear.
Mitch looked at the Texas Ranger with placid indifference. “Have I done somethin’ to disturb you, Ranger?” he asked, his voice as flat as he could manage it to be. Ranger Dickson only raised an eyebrow.
“I dare say, Mister Dickson,” Lady Fielding said with an exasperated breath; “your own true colors are quite unappealing.”
“Now, now,” said Mr. McIntosh, seeing that Mr. Ivan was only staring uncomfortably. “We have one table, my friends. A table for all. Beneath your flesh, the flesh of each of you, there is the same hot, red blood.” He pulled out his own seat at the head of the table and lowered into it, extending an arm that invited Mr. Ivan to take his seat at the other end. And the matter of seating arrangements was dropped, though not without a few grimaced faces.
When the food did come, on the strong arms of Guenther, it was potato and beef stew, served with a small salad and wooden utensils. And it was eaten silently, besides compliments being given to Guenther and the question of, why aren’t you eating?, being given to the hosts on multiple occasions. “Well it’s not proper,” one or the other would say, “for the feeder to be fed alongside the guests.”
When eating was done, the guests were shown upstairs to a thin, undecorated hallway lit only by white candles. “There are five guest rooms, and only one with two beds,” Mr. Ivan explained. “So two of you will need to board together. Perhaps the gentlemen.”
“Miss Dubrey and I can share a room, if she’s all right with it,” the ranger said quickly. “I’ve been charged with her transport, after all.”
Mr. Ivan said, “Very well. This way, then,” and then turning to the others, he said, “You may decide amongst yourselves for the other rooms. Payment will be due in the morning, and Guenther will be by shortly, when he finishes cleaning up dinner, to see to any last requests before sleep takes us all.” After showing Ranger Dickson and Miss Dubrey to their room and verifying the others had found theirs, Mr. Ivan descended the stairs to see Mr. McIntosh standing in the lobby of the hostel, staring at the gently swinging chandelier. The throw rug’s bear head stared up at him in fear, in agony.
“Are they settled?” asked the man in the red cap.
“They are. But these are different sort of folk,” answered the man in the blue vest.
“No matter. It begins now, as it always does.”
Mr. Ivan crossed to the window and said, “The storm is harsher than usual.” Mr. McIntosh did not offer a response, but only looked at his colleague and gave a subtle flicker of a smile. Mr. Ivan nodded. “I’ll send Guenther up.”
Upon the command of his masters, Guenther climbed the stairwell, his shoulders brushing the walls on either side. One by one he knocked on the doors, asking for requests and receiving none and bidding them a good night. When he left Mitch Hallaway, Mitch was knelt beside his bed with an old Bible spread open in front of him. When he left Ranger Dickson and Miss Dubrey, they locked the door and silently unpacked six silver bullets from a small black bag, loading the ranger’s hand canon. A look was passed between them that, to any onlooker, might mean nothing.
Finally, Guenther knocked on the door of Lady Fielding’s room, and she invited him in. Her necklace was caught, she explained to him, and she asked if he would help her remove it. “Of course, of course,” he said, too eagerly. She swept her brown-red hair away from her neck, and Guenther’s calloused fingers wiggled and undid the clasp of the necklace. “You-a-know, Lady Fielding,” he whispered, letting the necklace hang limply across her shoulders. “When I was a city goer, I passed-a-time in the clubs.”
Lady Fielding turned to face him, her face falling a shade more pale. She took the necklace in her hands. “Is that so?”
“I enjoyed the Chicago burlesque shows-a-most of all,” he admitted. “The dancers made me-a-weak in the knees.” And he smiled, gently moving his thick fingers through her hair, gripping at the curls. Lady Fielding swallowed hard when she felt Guenther grip her wig and begin to pull it away, revealing the head of a balding man beneath. She caught his hand and righted her wig, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “Must be dangerous,” Guenther observed, “traveling the country in this-a-way.”
Lady Fielding didn’t meet Guenther’s emerald eyes, but with bated breath asked, “What do you want?”
“That necklace is expensive, yes? Real-a-silver?”
Lady Fielding’s hands were shaking then, holding the necklace. “Oh, Guenther,” she said mutedly. “I just can’t…I can’t have you knowing. I’m traveling to start a new life, you see? And if the word spreads, I could get shamed, or, or subjected to psychiatric treatments. Or worse even, I could get…” Her words fell short, her eyes raising to meet Guenther’s, and somewhere inside her mind a light flickered. “I could get murdered,” she concluded.
What Lady Fielding did next, she might never understand for herself. But one moment she was in a chair beside a vanity mirror, and the next she had lunged, wrapped the necklace around Guenther’s neck, and pulled it tight. He wheezed, trying to pull away, but Lady Fielding was not weak. They fell against the bed, Guenther’s feet kicking at the floor and his hands clawing at the necklace. “I’m sorry,” Lady Fielding murmured, crying tears plump and round. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated, but all the while she was pulling the necklace tighter, and tighter. Guenther’s eyes darkened, but his face never changed a hue, even up to the moment his body fell limp against Lady Fielding’s and she let him slide to the floor. She straightened her corset and righted her wig in the mirror, and then she cried.
Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Ivan did not hear the commotion coming from one of their guest rooms, even though Guenther had tried to send for help by kicking the floor as he died. No, Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Ivan were not in the hostel at all, but rather were outside, braving the beast of a storm and standing before the four graves that Guenther had dug just that morning to inspect their man’s work. And they were smiling. Broad, fang-toothed smiles.
But Mr. Ivan’s face wavered from the joyous expression, a feeling he wasn’t used to crawling through his mind: He was, of all things, uncertain.
End of Part One
This giveaway will be in celebration of Mordecai Episode One: Bloodthirsty‘s one year anniversary this month. Unlike my previous giveaways, this one will be US only. This is only because I have a wedding I’m saving for this November and international shipping costs a pretty penny!
The winner will receive a copy of Mordecai Episode One and this artwork by Matthew Myslinski, which depicts Mordecai, the titular African American half-elf, signed by both Matthew and myself:
If you already have Mordecai Episode One, you can still enter to win the artwork and your choice of one of my other books.
Here’s how to enter:
- Follow this blog.
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can verify that you’re following the blog. I’ll also be using your email to contact you if you win and to get a shipping address.
- Increase your chances by following me on Facebook (page name: Benjamin J. Law), Twitter, and Instagram (both @BJLBooks). If you enter on my social media pages as well, include your username(s) in the email for verification or just direct message me. You can find links to my social media pages by clicking here.
- Enter now! You only have until September 30th before the raffle is closed.
Be sure to leave a like if you enjoyed part one of Seven in a Storm, and if you have any predictions about what part two might hold, drop them in the comments!
On a personal note, September makes it two months until I get to marry the love of my life, and I cannot wait. I hope your September is lovely, and I’ll write to you again in a week or two. Fare thee well!
This Week’s Writing Prompt:
No creak nor movement in the house had awakened him, but rather the gentle whistling from downstairs…