‘A PARTY BEFORE TEA’
Where am I, exactly? I look around with misty eyes and find myself in a forgotten train yard where the carts have rusted in place, unused for decades. Three men clad in the usual scavenger uniform: old athletic equipment, improvised kilts and vests made of pans and pieces of road signs picked up from the side of the old highways. Their lone prey: a dancing phantom draped in garbs of cloud gray.
I hear the crash of metal on metal and the sound is sharp and somehow refractive. A magnetic pull draws me closer to the conflict; there is a distinct rhythm within the sounds of strife. Now I find myself crouched down, hastily skirting along the length of a line of carts, sticking to the shadows whenever possible. Everywhere around me hangs a pervasive haze. Then, a sudden bellow, deep and guttural, followed by a weighty thud. Pause.
It sounds like one of my subordinates is wounded. I don’t feel much concern for him. He’s breaking an oath that he swore to me. All three of them are. This is one of my only rules: no preying upon women or children. Call me whatever you want, my reasons are my own. No women or children, at least so long as they don’t try to kill you first. I recognize there are reversals to every rule, but I also know these three animals well enough; just like before, my subordinates came here to quench their thirst.
There is no damsel in distress here, though. I peak under one of the carts and confirm that my ears did not lie to me: I spot one of my three subordinates, Gozz, now lying in the dirt, bleeding, and billowing clouds of crimson from a clean cut on his inner thigh. I pause in place, watching for a moment as he tries to drag himself away from the others. His strength fails. Just as he is about to expire, he looks up and spots me. When his eyes meet mine, my glare says it all: I have no remorse for those who choose to live like animals. Then he passes out in the dirt, his eyes still wide and pleading.
Unmoved, I crouch in place, scanning past the fresh corpse. I’m looking at the beautiful phantom and her swirling robes, watching as the occasional shaft of sunlight glints off of her blade or the sparkling sky accents on her robes. Slice. Her blade, evidently a genuine katana, sings through the air before finding the veins on the underside of Meeke’s forearm. I watch from beside the fight as my second subordinate’s overhand swing is methodically countered and his hand, now incapable of holding onto his weapon, lets his makeshift mace fall to the ground with a thud. Quickly descending into a state of blind pain and panic, Meeke grabs at his fresh wound with one hand, tunnel vision fixed on the blood red mist pluming from his leaking wrist. Just a moment after, the little phantom’s follow-up stroke takes his neck. Fwoosh. Another beautiful, precise cut leads to a sangria-colored fountain of Meeke’s blood as his head topples to the ground.
“She’s really good!” I think to myself. My lips part and I exhale softly. Now bewitched, I have no remorse either of the deceased and so I continue to make my way closer now, using the length of the carts for concealment. One underling remains, Necke, and he is the largest of the three by far. He towers over the little phantom now as they square up. She seems to hesitate. I don’t know why. She can’t see me, can she? For a moment, I catch a glimpse of her gaze. Her eyes are ethereal; two identical white canvases, each dotted with a single pearlescent opal radiating neon blue luminescence. Those eyes are unlike any eyes I’ve ever seen and they are certainly eyes that I will never forget; to this day, they still haunt my sleep.
“She sees me.” I realize as her eyes widen once they meet my own. Necke takes advantage of her distraction and takes the initiative. She’s caught off guard now and her rhythm is stuttered, but she is still able to deflect a two-handed swing from Necke’s spiked baseball bat. My body starts to move on its own: my boots, as if lifted by little ghostly wings, carry me soundlessly towards Necke and the dancing phantom. My right hand drops to my hip and I pull one of the straight knives from its sheath on my belt.
“Don’t move.” My last thought before I step into a throw, whipping the knife through the air with as much focus and muscle as I can muster. I squint, my eyes locked on target, and time seems to slow down. The bayonet sails through time and space as Necke pivots, recovering his nail bat to swing again. He is interrupted as the weighty bayonet manages to wedge itself deep into his shoulder blade. Now it is Necke’s turn to howl in pain. He still manages to swing, but without the aid of his strong-side arm, it’s just a feeble swipe.
The phantom makes good use of this opportunity by ducking down, well below the groping swipe, and hacking through both of Necke’s ankles with her katana. Necke bellows louder still as he begins his fall, but at the last second, he manages to catch himself using the baseball bat as a crutch. With both of his hands on the handle of the bat, he is helpless and unable to stop the little phantom’s final cut as it saws through his neck, immediately stifling his death wail. As Necke’s last moments of life pass him by, he finally falls to his knees, gurgling a moment before collapsing dead in the dirt. Now there is no obstruction between me and the little phantom’s murderous stare. For a second, it feels as if the ground is pitching beneath me, like I’m balancing on a raft in the ocean.
“Tell me your name.” She doesn’t seem to notice anything unusual as she speaks. Her words fall upon me like heavy, wet snowflakes, carried aloft by a full and mellifluous voice, airy, perhaps a soprano, with highs like wind chimes and sultry bass notes all rolled into one delicious auditory sensation for my ears to enjoy. I can’t help but feel obliged to answer her and I find my eyes cannot leave hers once they lock. She tosses her head to the side, clearing a stray bang from her eye, keeping both hands on her sword’s handle. Her hair is just as striking as her eyes and even matches, somehow; tousled, shock white hair running down to her shoulders with the occasional cornflower blue highlights streaking the length of her locks.
“My name is Trent. What’s yours?” I hold my hands up, palms exposed: the universal gesture of surrender. I stand square, exposing my belly to her and remain motionless, waiting. She seems to eye me up and for a second, I feel a wave of paranoia wash over me, almost like that feeling you get when you know you are being watched but you don’t know from where. The little phantom’s eyes flicker like soft blue candle flames. I start to take a better look. Her face is beyond fair; slender eyes, and her skin, a deep tawny, is smooth, unmarred by age, and dotted with the occasional walnut freckle. Without realizing it, my gaze dips lower and I find myself looking at her lips: soft and full, mesmerizing me with each movement that was to follow.
“I am Seles.” She speaks again with that sirensong voice. I wish I could coax more than a few words at a time from her. Who is she, or better yet, what is she? Is this a human being standing in front of me? Is she like me, maybe? Where did she come from? All of these questions and more rattle through my mind as her silhouette seems to bleed into the surroundings for just a second. I find that I am still staring at her lips so I notice her playful smirk forming right away.
“I’m up here.” I can feel my cheeks tinge in embarrassment as I meet her eyes once again. She’s still got that playful smirk on her face as she speaks once more.
“You’re wondering if I’m human? I’ll take that as a compliment.” The pitch and dynamic of the siren’s bewitching song trail off as she steps towards me. Her words seem to echo in my head, registering once, and then repeating again a moment later, softer, and then again, softer still.
“Wait, did she just read my mind?” I think she did. She moves forward one step. I don’t notice her movie. Now, two steps. I’m within her range and the tip of her sword hovers in front of my eyes, in line with the bridge of my nose. I force myself to keep breathing and stay calm. Her smirk grows wider still and for a moment, she appears sinister. I gulp, thinking maybe I’ve overstepped here.
“Your low-life lackies ruined my shoes and my clothes, you know. I know why you followed them, too, but that still doesn’t make us even. Blood for blood.” I can’t tear my stare away and her voice continues to reverberate throughout my consciousness, drowning out any other sounds as the sweet songbird’s words echo and crash into one another like velvet waves breaking upon my earlobes. I feel dizzy for a second as the earth seems to tilt beneath me again. This must be a magic spell.
“Hold still…” She says with what I detect as a teasing, feigned innocence. As soon as she finishes her command, I can feel the cold edge of her katana bite into my cheek, severing the busy blood vessels there and letting them leak through. I wince but I do not make a sound, nor do I move a muscle. After a several quiet breaths, the little phantom lowers her blade, removing one hand from its pommel and slowly reaching up to touch my face. I wince again as I feel her fingers push apart the flesh.
Her touch is cool and contrasts the singeing heat of the kiss left by her katana. She coats her fingers in red ink and then proceeds to smear it around my cheek, over my chin, my nose, my forehead, eventually covering my face. I scarcely dared to breath, much less flinch. Once she is done, she steps even closer and reaches up high, standing on her tip toes to streak my own hair, top to bottom, with a few quick swipes of her hand. Seemingly satisfied, she steps back and looks up at my face. Her smirk seems a little less cold now and I’d dare to call it a satisfied grin.
“You are mine now, Trent.” These are the last words I can remember before I wake from my dream, roused by my wristwatch’s shrill chirping, a sharp contrast to the mysterious songbird of my dreams. I sit up in my bed, looking around. It’s still dark out, but the sun is about to rise. I swing my legs off the side of my bed now and insert them into my hiking boots, one foot at a time, and then proceed to lace them up extra tight.
After all, I have a lot of ground to cover today.
A PARTY BEFORE TEA
Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.
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The first step towards getting anything done is coming up with a plan. The most important part of any plan is the goal. So, what is it that I want? Is it simply to survive in this shithole, alone, until I finally slip up and get myself killed? No, I’ve had enough of that. That’s not a life: that’s waiting to die. I want to at least live a little bit before I die. I also want to see her again, at least once. Miss You-know-who. The little phantom. Some know her as the Queen of Dreams….