Chez Antoine’s

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This story started its life as a prompt from Terribleminds based on a cocktail (the Antoine Special). I finished it recently for a sci-fi Anthology (details to come!), the theme for which is mankind’s interaction with technology.

Chez Antoine’s

A.R Kelly

Angela pressed a finger into the lion’s mouth at precisely 7.30pm. Her instructions had been to not seek entry before this time, and tardiness was not forgiven at Antoine’s. So here she stood in the semi-darkness, shaking against the autumn wind and growing more impatient with each passing minute. She had dressed lightly for the occasion. The black satin dress which still gave some shape to her wilted body, her favourite pearls, and the old engagement ring which she now wore on her right hand.

The black door into which the lion’s head was embedded swung open a few seconds later and she was greeted at the door by a young woman. “Good evening Angela, welcome to Antoine’s. Please, this way”. She ushered Angela inside a dimly lit vestibule, not much warmer than it was outside.

“My name is Marie, and I will be taking care of you this evening.”

She led Angela down a narrow hallway illuminated by the soft ultraviolet hue of a fish tank built into the floor.  Tiny unsleeping fish darted away at each tap of Angela’s feet.

Other than the trickle of an unseen fountain, there were no other sounds. “Quiet night?” she asked, as she was ushered into a tiny room.

“We only host one patron at a time to preserve the privacy of our guests. In here please.”

The dome shaped room was completely bare apart from a small table and chair in the centre. The walls were completely smooth and glowed softly from within.

“This is your private dining room.  Please feel free to move around in here, but you are required to remain in this room until your dining experience is complete. Afterwards, you may choose to remain in here, or there are other rest places available if you want to continue your journey in a different environment.”

“So, how does this work? Angela turned to the girl. “I’m expecting to get more than just sitting around in the dark here.”

“Of course.” She pulled the chair out and held it for Angela, placing a napkin on her lap before walking around to stand in front of her. She poured some water into a tall chilled glass for her guest.

“No wine?”

“Alcohol can interfere with the dining experience of our guests.”

“All the water I can drink then, I suppose.”

Marie held a hand out to her guest. “May I take the contract now please?”

“The contract? You mean the card?” she pulled a small gold card out of her purse and handed it to Marie. “Now, I’ve made a special request to meet Thomas Jones tonight. My son. That’s in the contract too.”

“Thankyou. I will relay your request to Antoine. We try and accommodate our patrons where possible, but occasionally things can be beyond the control of even Antoine. Unfortunately, we can’t make any guarantees on what you will see.”

“Well the whole reason I’m here is to see my Thomas. That’s the arrangement. Are you telling me that you can’t do that now?”

Marie gave her a small smile as she studied the card for a few seconds before tucking it into her breast pocket. Angela watched the girl’s eyes move over the card as she scanned its contents. Not such a natural beauty after all then.

“It’s getting harder to tell your kind apart these days, isn’t it?” she studied Marie’s face with narrowed eyes.

She didn’t take the bait. “Was there anything else that you would like to confirm, or has anything changed in your circumstances which needs to be reflected within the contract?” Angela shook her head. “No, I’m prepared to go ahead as declared. I’m in as sound a state of mind and body as I’m going to be, so let’s get on with it. I’ve wasted enough time already.” She lit up a cigarette. “I suppose I can still do this in here?”

Marie dipped her head  as she held up a small silver bell. “If you need anything, ring the bell and I’ll be here. I will see you shortly with your first course. And please remember to taste every dish at least once in order to fully engage in the experience.”

Angela heard the soft swish of a door close behind her as she stared at the blank walls, waiting for something to happen. So this is what your life savings have earnt you. A menu lay on the table. Gold on black, like the lion at the door. She held it up without looking inside. Surprise me, Antoine.

Angela had stopped wasting her money on expensive meals since the treatment had killed off most of her taste buds. But she wasn’t here for a meal. She’d heard about Antoine’s through her friend Carol. And when Angela had mentioned to her that she wanted to see Thomas before she died, it was Carol who had suggested that she might still be able to see him.

“It’s expensive, but for a certain clientele it’s worth it. And, you never know what you’ll see, Angela. It’s not for everyone.. God I don’t think I would dare look into my subconscious.”

She glanced up as Marie walked back into the room carrying a bamboo serving tray which she placed in front of Angela. “Your first course. Enjoy your experience.”

A plate of sashimi glittered like jewels before her. A flash of blood red tuna against a pale, white-fleshed pearl of kingfish. Her mouth watered at the rich saltiness of sea urchin roe. She dipped her nose and inhaled, the smell taking her back to her childhood by the sea. She was five again, running through the sand with her brothers. Digging moats around sandcastles. Squealing as her father held her up high and dunked her feet into the freezing waves. The domed room lit up and came alive as her memories filled its walls, projecting long-forgotten treasures of her past before her eyes. Each bite purged a new memory. Her childhood by the sea, followed by an older Angela at the precipice of adulthood, her head buried in fat books about torts and crimes. Too busy now for the beach, or for friends.

A young Angela feeding her ambition as she fed her newborn baby. Thomas.

The tears fell unabated as she watched herself nurse Thomas for the first time. Angela back at work two months after giving birth.

She picked up the bell, just as Marie reappeared with another plate.

“This isn’t what I came for.” She dabbed a napkin under her eyes. “I asked to speak with my son. Not this. Why am I being shown this?”

Marie removed the bamboo tray and placed a white plate before her.

“It’s usual for our guests to occasionally face things from their past which they would rather not see, and I’m sorry if this is upsetting. As I said earlier, there are no guarantees with this process. You need to let it run its course.”

“Well, that’s not good enough.” Angela threw the napkin back on the table. “I paid for a service and I’m expecting to have it delivered. Do you know what I do for a living?” What I did. And if you can’t guarantee me what I paid for then the deal’s off. I’m done here.” She stood up to leave.

“I’m sorry Angela, but you know the arrangement.” Marie stood in front of her, blocking her way. “Once you’ve cross the threshold, once you walk in that front door, you have waived your right to rescind the contract.”

“Well, you can’t force me to stay in here.” She grabbed the water and threw it at Marie. The girl jumped back, instinctively pulling an arm over her face as the glass brushed past her hair and smashed into the wall behind her. “Why don’t you short circuit, you fucking robot?  You’ll never understand. You’re not real, you don’t know what real emotion feels like,” she cried.

Marie grabbed Angela by the shoulders and pushed her back into her chair, blinking to clear water from her eyes.  Angela grabbed at the plate as Marie took her hands and held them back down against the table.  “Please Angela, please. You chose this experience. Now please let it run its course.” She picked the bamboo tray up off the floor and turned to leave.

Angela tried to follow her out but the girl was gone. Angela looked around to see where she went. The door which she came through was no longer visible. She ran her hands over the smooth walls and found nothing. “Open the fucking door!” she screamed into the empty room. Her pounding heart filled her ears as she sat back down to catch her breath.

Before her sat a piece of meat. Blue. The way she used to have it when she still ate meat. The sight of it further inflamed her rage as she had told them that she no longer ate meat, and the smell of it made her stomach turn.

But Marie’s words played on her mind. You need to taste it to see what comes next. She picked up the cutlery with shaking hands and sank the knife into one corner. It came away like soft butter.

The room flickered back to life.

Waitressing at Joe’s Diner. Flirting with Ben on those first few dates.  First class honors. Her first job as a young law graduate, those grueling ninety hour weeks.  Their wedding night. Thomas’s first birthday.  Thomas in daycare, the last child left waiting to be collected. Thomas in primary school, waiting to be collected.

Becoming partner at the firm. The first time Thomas got in trouble with the police for vandalising a train.

She closed her eyes. No more.

She picked up the bell rang it till Marie stood in front of her.

“Please. Please I’m begging you. Just let me see him happy for once. For one last time. That’s all. You can end it after that I promise.” She was crying openly now.

Marie took her tiny hand into her own. “I am sorry Angela, I truly am, but we cannot show you anything but the truth inside your own self. We don’t make dreams here, or show you things to hurt you intentionally.” She paused before continuing. “I’m sorry.. but these are the truths inside your own self.”

Angela pulled her hand away and stood up. She was shaking now. “Don’t say that. You don’t know who I am. You don’t know the things I’ve had to do for my family.” She flung the plate at the wall, splattering it with meat juices.

“I gave up my entire life to give my son the life I never had, and now all I see is what a terrible mother I’ve been.” She crouched on the floor holding her face in her hands. “This is a nightmare.”

Marie placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that you see it that way.” She helped Angela back to the table and poured her some water before stepping back out of the room.

Through her watery eyes the room appeared brighter, as the walls become translucent and fell away.

“Angela.” another voice whispered at her. Antoine?

The restaurant was gone and she found herself lying in a hospital bed. “You know why, Angela.” “Thomas is, gone.”

“Gone.” Angela murmured the word to herself as she watched Marie adjust a drip into her arm. But it’s not Marie. “Am I dreaming?” she slurred, struggling to get a bearing of her surroundings.

“No Angela, you’re at the Regen Facility, remember?  You came here to experience your memories.” Marie was adjusting a monitor band on Angela’s arm. Her face was the same the as the girl she’d met earlier, but there were no smile lines around her mouth, her eyes not as forgiving.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”  Marie turned to look at her. The truth is that at our end we must face our true selves, Angela.  And that person may not be who we had set out to become.” Angela blinked, trying to clear her head as she watched Marie inject her with a clear liquid. A jolt of cold shot up her arm.  “Is this the end now?”

“The end? In this place, the end is whatever your minds tell you it is Angela. Now, do you want some dessert?”

 

Keeping Busy

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It’s been many months in between blogs, and in this time I’ve learnt some profound, life-changing lessons, which may forever transform the way that I write. Well, maybe for a month or two at least..

I’ve learnt that it’s possible to finish a writing project, and have discovered some fantastic resources to help stay on track to keep writing almost daily, such as The Write Practice, which sends snippets of writing goodness to your mailbox, and a very practical and easy to use book on outlining called Take off Your Pants, by Libbie Hawker.

And although this may not work for everyone, the simplest motivator for me has been to work to a deadline – not an arbitrary one such as whether it’s possible to write a story in the time it takes to consume a family block of chocolate, but a deadline set by another human being, such as for a writing competition.

By focussing on getting that story finished in time to submit, there’s a real, time-based goal to work towards, and one that you know that other people are also working to – so it’s a goal which is humanly achievable (because if ten thousand other people can do it, then why can’t you?). Another great thing about competitions is that they usually come with a theme to write on, so you won’t be stuck for inspiration.

I’ve set a realistic goal of one short story a month for myself, which is reasonably achievable in between work, babies, and life. You might want to set a more ambitious goal for yourself, but whatever you want to work towards, a quick online search will give you more writing comps than you can throw a laptop at.

And there’s no need to be overly harsh on yourself about your literary prowess. You’re writing to finish here – who cares about winning? It’s reward enough to see your story to its end. Don’t worry about it looking, sounding and smelling (for a full sensory experience) like doggy doo, because a) you’re probably just being too hard on yourself, and b) there’s always someone out there who’ll be polite enough to give it a smiley face, or a thumbs up at least.

If anyone else uses competitions or any other form of coercion to finish your stories, I’d love to hear what works for you.

 

The Momento

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This is a story I recently wrote for The Write Practice’s writing contest. The theme for this contest was “Scar”. This is still a work in progress, so would appreciate any feedback.

The Momento

A.R.Kelly

Mikah traced a finger along her new marking, inhaling sharply as a nail brushed over the raw skin. In her haste, she had dug in too deeply, but given the circumstances, it was the best she could manage.

She lay back, taking in her new surrounds in the faint pre-dawn light. Today she would become a Cassian agent, and a new life would begin. Her first act would be to give up the memories of her old life, although she didn’t have much of a life to remember in the first place. Only this. The wound throbbed against her skin.

This was the only thing left of a life that was no more than the snatches of memory, tormenting her sleepless nights. The dusty place of light and shadow that was once home. All this would fade today, even the reason why she had carved the symbol would be gone when she was wiped clean, to start her life afresh. But one day she would find a way to remember, and use the scar to find her way home.

Washing carefully to protect the wound, she dressed in the thin brown suit that was the closest thing a Cassian agent had to a uniform. Slipping her knives and vials into the folds of the suit, she pushed Riva, her favourite blade, deep into her left boot until it hit the familiar groove against her calf.

The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon as she made her way to the temple to complete her training.

The old man slowly picked his way along the damp pier, keeping a sharp eye on Arlo as he ran ahead. He pulled his heavy fleece scarf tightly over his shoulders against the morning chill. The River was at its most beautiful this time of day when its filth was still hidden beneath hues of silken gold. He stopped at the baker’s stall to buy a sweet roll for his grandson. “Arlo!” He waved the treat over his head. The boy turned and lunged at the roll before continuing his journey to the shrimp seller’s stall.

The markets of River’s End were a paradise, full of exotic sights and tastes from all over Arkala. This was where everything came to be bought or sold.

Out of the corner of his eye, the old man watched his watcher. A young woman, he guessed by the ease of her movements. Not long past twenty. The flash of silver against her ankles gave her away as a temple server, newly freed. Most temple servers remained in the trade to which they were once bound as it was the only work they knew, and the pay was much better than being a servant.

He walked over to the fish seller Bal, who had been trading here for over forty years. “What do you have for me this morning?” he inspected the baskets full of fresh glittering beauties staring up at the sky with their huge vacant eyes. “A rainbow Jewel this morning Master Jaro.” He pulled out a basket covered with reeds. “A female, fat with eggs.” The old man grunted his approval and dropped a few coins into the fish seller’s hand as he turned and called out to Arlo. The boy was busy poking the small river shrimp, making them jump in their prison of woven reeds. He ran over to his grandfather as they made their way back home.

The old man lost sight of the girl as they turned into a laneway leading back to the house. He pulled Arlo close and took his hand. “Almost home, child.” He quickened their pace as they entered the small boulevard leading up to the house.

“Hello, Jaro.” The girl was leaning against a tree. He grabbed Arlo’s arm and stepped in front of him “What do you want? Who are you?”

She stood and walked over to him. “Don’t you remember me?” she pulled the hood off her face and gave him a small smile. “I still remember you.” She spoke softly, looking directly at him. “It has been many years since we met, and the years have changed your face and stooped your shoulders, but I will always remember you, Jaro.”

“Please,” he dropped his purse onto the ground, as small copper coins spilled out onto the dirt. “Take what you want, this is all I have on me.”

“I don’t want your money.” She shook her head at him. “But you do have something of mine that you took from me when you took me. A blue stone. Do you remember?”

He started at her blankly. “I..you must be mistaken. I’ve never seen you before.” He cast a glance at Arlo. “My grandchild, he’s afraid.”

“Then send him home. I’m not here for him.”

The man whispered to Arlo and the boy ran towards the house. “Now tell me what you want, whore.” His eyes narrowed, and lit up with a familiar glint. “You’ll get nothing from me.”

“I was afraid of that.’ She pulled a small knife out from the folds of her robe.

He took a step back. “What sort of filth pulls a knife on an old man?” he snarled, looking behind her towards the house. The boy was almost at the door.

She kicked at his shin, sending him sprawling into the dirt. A fat silver fish rolled out of its parcel and thudded to the ground. He wheezed as she jumped onto him, feet flat against his chest. “What sort of filth snatches a five-year old girl from her mother’s arms and turns her into a whore?” she drew her face close, whispering softly into his ear before drawing back and hitting until his mouth was a red mess.

Loud voices were coming toward them from the house. She turned to look at the men running towards them. “I wouldn’t get too hopeful just yet.” She pulled him up by the hair. “There isn’t much point in continuing this if you don’t even remember me. I know it’s here so I’ll just have to find it myself”. The men had nearly caught up to them. “Goodbye, Jaro” she whispered, pulling the knife across his throat.

….

The house of Jaro Larz lay quiet, its inhabitants lost to eternal sleep, as Mikah Doran prepared the sacred ash with which to make her marking. The house itself was almost completely destroyed in the search for what she had come for. She cradled the tiny blue stone in her hand. It felt cool against her palm, a small piece of calm amongst the chaos around her. The black rope around which it had hung on her neck had broken worn away, and it had served, until recently, in the collection of stones owned by Arlo Larz. On it was carved the symbol of her people, the only connection to a home she never got to know.

Biting into a small twig from an Arch tree to dull the pain, Mikah took her knife and cut the symbol into her inner thigh, a place she no longer had to reveal without her permission. She took the ground ash from what remained of Jaro Larz and packed it into the cut. Even if her memory faded, she would forever carry the symbol on her now, scarred onto her skin. And one day, she would use it to find home.

 

 

The Onslaught

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This was last week’s prompt for Sunday Photo Fiction – couldn’t help myself when I saw it..

The Onslaught

The first assault came without warning. On a clear winters morning, a large lemon tart exploded into Sydney Harbour, answering the question whether we’re alone in the universe, in spectacular way. The tsunami which followed flattened the foreshore, and covered most of the business district with meringue.

Since then, the attacks have come more frequently. Last month, a volley of tiny apple filled assassins pocked the surface of Britain while she slept. They were small enough to go undetected by the GPDS –the global defence system set up to protect us from our tormentors.  Before that, the Red Sea was soaked up by the shell of a meat and cheesy number cocooned in pastry. Where they come from, we still don’t know. Or how they’re even possible. What we do know for certain is that they will come again.

And so we wait, with our eyes searching the skies. Waiting for the pies.

The Itch

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This is my response to this week’s prompt from FFfAW brought to us by Priceless Joy, and photo by momtheobscure.

The Itch

“And that’s how our world was created.” Professor Whimple swirled his hands like he did when he was making a particularly important point, before resting both knuckles on the table.

“Kronos scratching his back?” A brave soul tested the waters without identifying himself.

“What? Who said that? Speak up!”

The Brave Soul sealed his fate by standing up to repeat his question.

“Er.. Professor so does this mean that the world was created by Kronos? Because ah.. there doesn’t seem to be any scientif..”

“GETOUT!” The front row was sprayed with flecks of Whimple Special.

“Yes. As you can see from this archival footage, Kronos was scratching his back against this ancient temple, causing a series of earthquakes which resulted in the formation of the continents as we know them today.” The knuckles returned to their place on the table.

“Any more questions?”

Words: 144

The Feast

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Here’s my go at this week’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers prompt, with a photo provided by Graham.

The Feast

The Lady Orla sat watching her guests savour the delights laid out before them. Each table set with a sumptuous feast for the senses. Pink, juicy meats roasted to perfection, and oozing wheels of cheese served on pillows of soft warm bread. Exotic fruit from unknown places – and endless glasses of wine, glittering like liquid rubies in their hands.

She watched them eat and drink and laugh, listening to the clink of knives on plates made of gold, as her own plate sat untouched. Her slender, gloved hands resting softly in her lap.

She sat as the chatter grew quiet, and her guests feel asleep where they sat, waiting until the last hand dropped lifelessly against its owner before she moved. Her guests were arranged as she needed them to be, and only when they were ready did she bare her own hands.

The Lady Orla walked amongst her guests and caressed each one gently, pausing a moment to watch them turn slowly to gold.

165 words.