Short Story 11
A pendulum swings, a heavy metal ornament at the end of an invisible line, moving back and forth with the motion. The call of an owl. Steady, cool, lifeless, darkness spreads out. The only light is coming from the metal ornament all glittering polished brass.
“Shandra, are you paying attention?”
The woman shook her head calling herself back it seemed from another world. The sun was out, the scent of fresh bread, coffee, and pastry emanated from the café where she and her friend Katlynn had agreed to meet. The petite table they sat at uncommonly high, their feet having to rest on the crossbar supporting the tall stool like chairs.
“Sorry, I must have blanked out. Go on.” The scent of her café crème calling her attention, the warmth bleeding into her fingers.
“You must have heard how Mark behaved. Olivia was devastated.”
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but I knew she was upset.”
“Upset doesn’t touch it. You should have seen her face. I couldn’t believe he would be late for the…”
The soft sound of clicking shoes, the pendulum waving nonstop in the darkness. There was a palpable feeling, a texture to the air. But was there air? It didn’t feel like it, and yet she could breathe.
There was an expectation of the approaching figure, a sense of anticipation deep and grating. They meant something, there existence would explain everything.
“So, you can understand why she would be so upset.”
“Oh yeah, how could she not be.” Shandra tried to play off her lapse lifting her cup to her lips with the hopes that Katlynn wouldn’t notice she had faded out again.
“Mark really is insensitive.”
“I totally agree.” She replaced her cup on the saucer, the bitter creaminess cascading down her throat.
“Of course, I didn’t ask you to come here to talk about Olivia.” Katlynn tore a piece off her croissant.
“I thought there might have been something else.”
In the darkness the tapping became louder and always the pendulum swayed. Its brass structure was reminiscent of old Russian architecture deliciously full of curves and gentle carved patterns. Anticipation was mounting, a tenuous vibration to the air.
Black shoes, leather and shining, stood out against the rest of the darkness, black pant legs brushing near the tongue, the hem pristine, hand stitched.
“So, what do you think? What should I do?” Katlynn had such a beseeching look it was impossible to admit she hadn’t been paying attention.
“Well, what do you think you should do? You have something in mind?”
“That’s true, but… I don’t know, it’s such a big decision. Man, this is when you wish you had a husband or something, you know. Someone to be the counterweight to such a huge decision. I mean, I know it will mostly only affect me, but I’m not sure I can afford it.”
A hand, whiteness, a glove of velvet. The hand opened and from it a long chain descended falling, down, down, down. The chain caught it at the last moment, the object at the end sending a rippling bounce through the golden links, up, then a jagged swaying. The chain was connected to the object by a hoop, the medallion shaped golden splendor spun in unfocused movements.
“I mean, you can see my problem can’t you.”
“Of course, of course. But I also can’t help feeling you might be over complicating things a bit.” Playing this game was becoming difficult.
But from one moment to another, Shandra could hardly remember what was happening. The dark room was vague, hardly memorable but she kept returning to it. She didn’t understand the point of the fantasy or daydream, or whatever it was. Katlynn was having some kind of existential crisis and she couldn’t hold on for five seconds to help her.
She felt like a terrible friend for wanting to understand what this all meant, for wanting in a mysterious way to go back to that room and discover why it was haunting her.
“Your right, maybe I am. But people dream their whole lives for an opportunity like this, and I know I’m thirty-seven, and it’s not like that is old or anything, but how many times is something like this going to happen in someone’s life?”
The object began to slow and in a methodical way settled into a gentle wobble from side to side. When it stopped at last it became plain to the eye that there was a seam across the side of the object, and as if in response to this notion the front popped open revealing a clock. The face was covered in roman numerals all in the wrong places except the twelve and the eleven. The second hand spun around in a mad dash, while the hour and minute hands bobbed in their set positions with an obvious sense of methodology.
The time piece started to swing, like the pendulum. There were times where one was visible and then the other. Side to side, side to side. Backward, forward, backward, forward. Mesmerizing, like a metronome.
“Shan, are you listening?”
“I’m sorry, I think my brain is in a weird place today. I’m sorry, Kate.”
Numb, her flesh felt numb. She touched her cup, the heat had already died to a mere trickle of its earlier vibrancy. There was nothing to stimulate the waking process. To ignite that sensation of being in reality.
“No, its fine, I’m really making too much of it.”
She wasn’t sure which was real anymore, that other world or this one.
“No, you’re not, any decision can be a difficult one. Look at me, I had a hard time picking what coffee to drink.” She wasn’t sure how she knew this, she couldn’t remember ordering.
“I know, but you start to feel like you’re just crying wolf for no reason.”
A tailored suit, the specific fabric unknown to the undiscerning eye. The texture and tone vibrant and glittering, catching all the light from the pendulum and the clock. The lapel was long with a cluster of begonias pinned against the black fabric. The dress shirt was starched white with a tie of the same tone as the begonia. The person dressed so sumptuously, the one that held the watch chain, wore a wolf mask of a most uncanny likeness for the beast it was to represent. It was only that the eyes were dead, mouth was perfectly closed, and the lifeless touch to the hair that gave the thing away.
From some place unknown the sound of an old phonograph having its needle placed on a record echoed out. You Always Hurt The One You Love began to play, slow, mournful, and eerie.
With an elegant turn of his hand, he began to gather the watch chain. There was a sense that when it reached his hand, he could close the front. A hemorrhaging burst of desperation, if he shut the watch, there would be no going back to the other place, the choice would be made.
“Well, no matter what it is nice to be out. It’s been a while since we’ve had time to do anything together. A friendship since childhood can still dwindle if not nurtured, Shan.”
The music continued an echo in her ears. The worlds were bleeding together, eventually one would win, Shandra didn’t fool herself to think she didn’t know which one would be the victor.
“What’s wrong with you, you look like you’re going to cry. Come on, it’s not like this is going to be the last time we see each other.”
The watch was in the white glove of the wolf, he was looking at it, or appearing to do so. The fingers against the golden cover began to tense.
“Wait.” The voice was very small.
The wolf’s fingers stopped its face turning to the sound, facing her.
“Don’t close it, don’t please.”
“Well,” Katlynn raised her coffee cup, “Let us cheers to the idea of the future, no matter which way it turns.”
Shandra lifted the ceramic mug tapping the edge to her friend’s, the gaps growing larger. Words stood behind her lips, but she couldn’t produce them. The liquid poured down her throat. Images of her life flowed like a movie reel to the beat of We’ll Meet Again. Childhood, adulthood, happy, beautiful, sad, vibrant remembrances and then just as if fire caught it they burned up, separating as the face of the watched clapped shut with an audible noise, cutting off even the music.
The wolf tucked the watch into a pocket before offering his hand. As if seeing it through the eyes of a mask Shandra extended her own, a long glove coming into view of the sheep’s mask she wore. Her legs extended beneath her, the fabric of her gown brushing down to her ankles.
The wolf led her out upon a great onyx dancefloor near the swaying pendulum. Where and When began to play as he placed her hand on his shoulder and his own came to rest beneath her shoulder blade. They’re bodies began to move, him leading and her following.
Time continued on an endless loop as they moved, their feet knowing the steps, as the pendulum swung endlessly in the darkness the gentle beat of their feet blending with the first notes of Time After Time.
Thank you so much for reading everyone!!
Prompt: Cry Wolf
Special thanks to Manjari Singh from Pexels for the use of the image!
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