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Monday, March 4, 2013

Short Story Based on "Baby Got Back"


Once again you have it, my little delicatessens, another short story based on a song suggested by a few strange people I know on The Facebook. This time it's "Baby Got Back," by Sir Lord Mix-A-Lot, Knight of the Realm of Booty. Or you know, the guy who sang about liking big butts and not lying about it afterwards. Since I could not come up with anything about butts, or anacondas ain't wantin' none, I stuck with the title.

I wound up stealing from myself. The character in this little piece started out as a one-shot bartender character in my NaNo book. I will very likely have to cut her in edits, but I want her to live on here, separate from her role in the novel:

(I'm also going to apologize ahead of time for any French words and phrases that I royally screw up.)

L'Enfant Terrible
(The Terrible Child)

Angeline walked down the nighttime streets of Montmartre, her familiarity with the haloed glint of gaslight off of slick streets giving rise to nothing other than her strict concern that she not fall in her heeled shoes. It would not do to have an unescorted lady out after dark fall completely on her bustle, lest she have some wayward fellow looking for easy prey and a good time see her so splayed out helplessly on the ground. Granted, she did not look like much of a lady other than by her tiny, yet perfectly tailored new dress, which the dressmaker had initially mistaken for a child's dress.

Her short legs took her down the streets, her tiny stature making more than one set of strangers pause to look at her as she walked on the opposite side of the street. She knew what they saw. And she wasn't one to correct strangers.

Let them see a small child, rather than the fetching dwarf she was.

It was not as if Angeline walked these streets unprepared. A lady so cast from polite society quite by her own choice, and wandering so near where prostitutes cried their wares at least had to have a weapon of sorts.

Her parasol was weighted. And sharpened at the tip.

She could hear cries in the distance, and she paused. It sounded like the shouts of children playing, though any children out at this time of night, and in this section of Paris, were certainly not children that she would wish to encounter. With a tired sigh, she began to cross the street when she spotted the group.

They were throwing rocks at a hulking figure cowering in the shadows. The children's cries raised, and Angeline could hear their cruel voices and vicious taunts. Against her better sense of self-preservation, she found her tired feet orienting toward this horrible scene, her heart hammering in outright fury. In fact the closer she came to this travesty, the more her blood sang in her veins, her heartbeat thumping in time at her temples. A wrathful sneer pulled at her tiny lips on her small, round face.

Closer now, she could see that the hulking figure was dressed in shabby monk's robes, the cowl of his hood hiding his face from sight. But while he hunched against the thrown rocks, he did not move to save himself. He did not flee.

"You there!" Angeline shouted. Oh, how her lady of a mother had always despaired at the unladylike tenor her voice could produce. She used the full force of it now. "Cease this at once, you terrible little ruffians!"

Three soot-smudged cheeks turned her way. Boys, all of them. And old enough to know better. She raised her parasol, and shook it at them as if brandishing some matronly cane. "How dare you assault this gentleman!"

One of the boys paused just short of hurling another rock. His bird bright eyes focused on her. "Go away, little girl."

She flipped the end of her parasol, and hit the boy on the arm with the curled handle. Staggering back from the blow, the boy looked at her in surprise. "That is Madame to you. Now, I'll have no more of this. If all three of you boys insist on this cruelty, I will have no choice but to either call for the police—" the boys chuckled at that, "—or I'll flog you all the way out of the city if I must."

This time she jabbed the handle of her parasol into his chest. The boy puffed up his chest as he reached to yank it from her hands when a low, basso voice rumbled, "Leave the mademoiselle alone, or I may have to forget my vows renouncing violence."

The hulking cowled man stepped forward, and at once Angeline felt the menace behind that huge frame. His massive bear-like hands came out from beneath his robes, curled into ham-sized fists.

Seeing that their tormented plaything was no longer easy prey, the boys scampered off into the night.

Angeline glanced up at him, his bulk seeming to tower over most mortals, much less her tiny size. She immediately found herself curtsying to him, more because she had no idea what to say. She steadied herself, lifted her chin, and said, "Ah, monsieur, I hope that you are not injured."

"No more so than any man with a soul," he answered, his deep voice seeming to rattle inside of her chest.

When he looked down, a flash of the gaslight caught his face, and she was surprised to see what was beneath the cowl. Angeline was not terrified of that face, and she searched his warped features for only a moment. His left eye socket seemed to droop, the skin of his eyelids deformed enough that they barely covered the overly large eye, which blinked as if the lids were a broken bird's wing flapping closed. The skin from his upper lip to the base of his nose was heavily scarred, as if some poorly skilled surgeon had attempted to fix a badly deformed cleft.

She noted that cold sweat dripped down his wide forehead, his skin abnormally pale.

"Are you certain you are uninjured, Monsieur—?" she asked.

He blinked down at her, his scarred upper lip curling in suspicion. "I thank you for your concern, Madame—"

"Renaud," she answered with her false married name. One had to pretend to be married to live, especially after one's parents had decided their embarrassingly independent dwarf daughter should live off of the estate. "Angeline Renaud."

She could see him struggle with giving her the gentlemanly response. He gave her a very slight bow, and the gesture to tip his non-existent hat was obviously ingrained in him as his large fingers touched his brow. "Pardon, Madame Renaud. I must return to the Brothers." He studied her again, as if taking in her petite stature for the first time. "Do you require an escort home, Madame?"

For a moment she considered asking him, but she shook her head. "No, but I thank you, Monsieur" she trailed off as he regarded her in silence.

"Severin," he answered finally. "Guillaume Severin."

"Pleased to meet you, monsieur." She stood uneasily as his eyes studied her, as if attempting to commit her to memory.

At that, he bowed slightly and turned around and walked slowly down the street. Staring at the back of his robes, she noticed that there were great swaths of blood soaked into the heavy wool of the cloth. She was certain that not all could be from the stones the boys threw.

As she cried out to gather his attention, he disappeared around the corner. Stumpy legs pumping, she gathered up her skirts most offensively in not one, but both hands, raising them far above what was proper.

But he was gone.

***

Her waiter was one of her favorites, a young fellow with the normally distressing tendency toward gossip. She knew that he gossiped to the other patrons about her whenever she was gone. A missing husband. A runaway marriage. A lady that walked unescorted. Angeline reveled in it. Even if only half of it were true. Or less than half.

In this case, she asked him about what he knew of the Brothers.

His nose wrinkled as he frowned in disgust. "The Penitent Brothers of the Dies Irae. They are—well Madame—I should not say this to a lady, but..."

But he would anyway. How splendid. Angeline nodded as she louched her glass of absinthe, watching the vibrant green liquor turn into a murky emerald, very like the Seine churning up her moldy colors during a rainstorm.

"They hit themselves," he said quietly. "Flagellants. None of them seek doctors either when they grow sick from it. I heard from Dr Guiseaux that they let their wounds fester. Purposefully. They welcome death..." here he whispered tragically, "as penance for the sins of the world."

Angeline placed a hand to her chest. Was that what M. Severin seemed to be suffering from? Festering wounds came with fever. Fever could lead easily to death. For some reason, she found the idea most distressing that the great bear of a man should be reduced to believing in such drivel.

"Some say that they are all, l'emotif."

Emotionals? If they truly had that talent, then it made their penitence that much more distressing. That they could sense the emotions of others...

"Hire me a carriage, would you?"

She wanted to find Guillaume Severin.

***

This was the fourth day that she had found him on the same street corner, begging for alms by the light of day. Those good people of society that saw him looked away, or cowered from the sight of his deformities. Though he never cringed at their reaction, there was something deep in his dark eyes that seemed to take the brunt of their hatred and disgust.

This was the fourth day that Angeline placed alms in the palm of his huge, rough hand. She could tell that his wounds had grown worse. Not only did sweat roll down his ragged features with alarming frequency, but he swayed on his feet and when he moved, she could smell the festering rot-flesh stench every time he staggered.

He peered at her as if she were here to either ridicule him, or to throw rocks. So she talked to him, a wholly one-sided conversation with all of the inane charm she had learned from being raised as a proper little lady. When that failed to move him, she moved on to raunchy enough topics that he could not help but show his censure.

When today she spoke of wanting to become a dancer in a dance hall, his head whirled around and he glared down at her. "You're lying."

"To irritate you, yes," she said pleasantly. "I am growing tired of your silence."

"Why are you here again, Madame Renaud?" Those piercing eyes narrowed, his deformed socket seemed to crinkle slightly. "I have thanked you for your contribution to the poor."

"I want to contribute to more than the poor," she said. Withdrawing the little glass vial from her purse, she held it out to him. "This is for you. My doctor says it will help with the fever."

His lips curled in suspicion.

"For Heaven's sake, Monsieur Severin, it is not poison," she snapped. "Read my emotions, monsieur, if you do not believe my candid words."

He started, taking a step away from her as if she were a physical threat. "I...do not do such things any longer. Reading the soul of another is against God's will. Only the Lord shall—"

"Rise on the third day," she said tersely. "But you are already on your fourth for dying. Read my soul so you believe me when I say I wish to help you. Use that Emotional talent of yours, monsieur. For more than sensing the hatred and disgust of little boys throwing rocks at you."

He took another step back, and his massive frame shuddered. His voice rumbled, "You have no idea what I feel."

Now Angeline could feel her own pounding anger at her temples. "I do, monsieur, I truly do. Do you think you are the only one who garners strange looks and disgust from people? The only difference, monsieur, is that I choose to live through it, rather than choosing to let myself die like a coward."

Fury contorted his features, the scar tissue of his lip creasing. "Go away, l'enfant terrible."

"That was quite rude, monsieur," she said with a sniff.

His face fell, and for a moment he looked unsure. "Apologies, Madame." Then he added as he peered down at her, a bead of sweat trailing down his cheek. "You were not truly offended."

"Did you read that in my soul?"

His good eye seemed to dart around as if looking for demons in shadows. "Yes...for some reason you seem easier to...sense than others."

"Because I do not hide," she said. She held out the vial of medicine to him again. "Read into my soul again, monsieur, to see that I do not hate your face. Nor do I pity you. Nor do I hate you for the fact that you appear different. Nor am I strangely glad that I do not look as you do."

When he took a step away from her again, he tottered. "How do you know? Are you...an Emotional?"

"No, monsieur," she said. "Just worldly. I know what others feel for those like us."

His eyes fluttered and his knee seemed to give out from beneath him. With a muffled cry, he fell onto the stones of the street, his great muscular bulk making a dull thud. Severin shook with the force of the fever, his teeth chattering, even as he desperately tried to focus on her.

Her heart dashed wildly against her chest. Madly, she leapt into the street to flag down the nearest carriage. When she got the driver out of his seat, she bullied him and three other men nearby to help her lift the great bear of a man into the carriage with a wildly concocted story about her long lost brother being a Penitent.

Once he was in the carriage, she knelt at his side, checking his breathing. With a gloved hand she swept some of the sweat-slick raven hair away from his brow. His disparate eyes rolled around in the attempt to focus. He muttered something low, and nearly incoherent, until she realized it was in Latin.

"That had better not be any prayer for the dead," she warned.

His voice trailed off at her censure, and his eyes closed.

"Good," she said.

***

Her hired doctor had given up trying to bleed Severin, who thrashed wildly in his incoherent state whenever the scalpel came near his arms. As always, Angeline was sick at the sight of the man's back. Not just at the criss-cross of old shiny scars, but at the runnels of jagged flesh barely mended together again. The gangrenous pus that oozed from poorly healed flesh, smelling of death and rot. But she was no wilting maiden, no matter how her mother would wish her to be.

When the doctor left, Angeline gently cleaned the wounds. As usual, she felt strange working in silence, so she kept up a steady dialogue. About her childhood home. About her work as a pony trainer for a few farms among the windmills. About her favorite café.  

"Do all ladies from Bordeaux talk as much as you?" Severin muttered into the pillow. He cringed as she wiped a little harder at one blood-crusted spot that had started weeping pus. "Are you trying to talk me into Heaven?"

"Do all men of the brotherhood give up on life so easily, insulting poor maidens as they die?" She touched his forehead with her small hand, and was relieved that his fever finally seemed to bank low from blazing fire to a simple uncomfortable heat. "There now."

His mouth curled up into a semblance of a strained smile. "Maiden? I thought you were married, mademoiselle."  

"Did you sense my lie?" she asked, wiping her hands on a clean cloth.

"No," he rumbled. "You are simply a poor liar."

When she jumped off of the edge of the bed, his massive hand shot out to catch at her arm to steady her. At her surprised squeak, he instantly let go. Resting on his stomach, bare to the waist in front of an unmarried woman, he seemed uncomfortable.

"Madame Renaud," he said, his voice smoothing out into a deep tenor. "I must return to the Brothers."

She wiped her hands and tossed the bloody cloth into a bin. "The hounds of hell cannot make me return you to them."

"But I must," he insisted.

"Why?" She walked back up the tiny stool-ladder to sit on the edge of the bed. For once, she was above eye level with the man. "What do you owe your bloody God? There is no shame in sensing what others feel. There are many others in this city who no doubt have the same talent. They flock here from other cities and countries who revile them."

His eyes seemed to blaze as hotly as his fever. "How can you know what it is like being what I am?"

"Not if you do not tell me, mon petite ours." Gently, she rested her hand on the fever-warm skin of his shoulder.

He flinched. "I am so often lost in the...miasma of emotions from this city. If I am in a room of people, I sense their chaos. Of men looking to crassly rut with a woman. Of that woman despairing at finding a good husband. Of the hundred little worries that people have every day. In passing a dancehall, I sense all of the joy of those within. The heady drunkenness. The bright joy at twirling about the floor. The deep seated need to explore...the body. I sense nothing but life. But more often is the never ending onslaught of disgust. Disgust. This is what I feel from others every moment they look upon my face."

"I do not feel that," Angeline said quietly, struggling to understand.

What would it be like not just to see revolted stares from strangers, but to actually sense it from them within her very chest? Would she be as strong as she was now?

"No," he admitted, chewing at his bottom lip. "With you there is quiet. And concern. Something almost like peace."

"Then why go back?" Her fingers smoothed over his muscular shoulder, as if she could smooth away the hurt from him.

Severin's brow creased, and his deformed eye swiveled in its contorted socket. "What I feel from others fills me. I am like...an empty wine glass. My own emotions are...this constant emptiness. An ache within. There is a desire to drown in the substance of others, because my own emotions are so bare. Empty. Sometimes I feel that the emptiness will never leave."

"But why the Penitent Brothers?" she growled.

"The pain sometimes makes the ache fade," he said quietly. "I sense nothing from them but overflowing bliss."

"And the pain," she accused. "You use it like some horrible shield."

His eye closed, and for a moment she thought he had drifted off into exhausted sleep. "It is the only shield I have."

***

She fought to bring Severin back to health for months. By the third doctor, she had finally found one willing to do more than try to bleed him. His muscular bear-like frame had withered much during his convalescence, though he still had an impressive Zeus-like form. Angeline ordered the finest cuts of meat from the nearest boucherie, and made for him elaborate meals heavy on the meat and eggs the doctor insisted on.

He finally had enough strength to sit at the table, and he prayed before setting to his food with vigor. Though toward the end of their silent meal, he seemed to realize his ungentlemanly reserve.

Angeline thought it was good to see him clothed as a proper gentleman. It only served to make him more imposing, his height greater, his strength more intimidating. She wondered at whatever woman would be fierce enough to resist him when he sat so at ease almost in a rakish kind of way. Pity the girl who would not look past the deformities of his face.

"I never had the chance, Madame Renaud, to thank you," he said, a shy smile warming the paleness his infirmity had given him. "For your hospitality."

"You are very welcome," she said, feeling a faint tickle of heat at her cheeks. When was the last time she had blushed? Ridiculous. "I made cake as well."

Severin snorted in amusement. "I meant more than the meal."

Again, she could feel her cheeks heating. Now this was truly absurd. She cleared her throat, and took a steadying sip of wine. A vintage from her parent's estate. "You may stay here, Monsieur Severin, as long as you like."

His larger eye twitched. But he smiled. "That is most kind...Angeline." He drank the last of his wine and he studied the empty glass with a strange kind of intensity. "You have gone far beyond what most God-fearing women would do for a stranger."

She leaped down to the floor off of her chair, and he got to his feet. Gesturing him back, she said, "We are no longer strangers, Guillaume. I consider you a friend. Perhaps, truly, my only friend."

He looked taken aback. His gaze seemed to drift inward, before he said quietly, "And I you, ma chérie. You will never know what this has meant to me."

She trundled over to the stove in her little apartment, and made as if to open the stove, when she heard his footsteps. When she opened the oven door, she looked back to ask his assistance with the tall stove.

He was gone.

***

To say that she missed him was like saying the moon needed rain. Or so she told herself. To hell with that ingrate. And still, she found herself walking the streets at night, coming down from the hills of Montmartre, seeking his old corner. But he wasn't there. He wasn't anywhere. That fool! How she had been taken in by his quiet, uneasy smile.

Friend.

She knew where he might be. Even worse than that, she feared what he might be doing.

Pain.

It is the only shield I have.

To all nine levels of hell with all of the Penitent Brothers of Dies Irae. They couldn't take him back, not when she'd spent so much time saving his life. Talking with him. Hearing his nearly shy voice break into something richer, more powerful and self-assured.

After putting on her most low-cut and daring of dresses, she called a carriage.

***

To say the Brothers were scandalized when she approached their house of worship would be to understate the situation. They did not allow women, much less one dressed as provocatively as her anywhere near their place of prayer. An older man in brown robes, the top of his head bald and shiny as could be, tried to wave her away as his voice cracked nervously.

"Please, Madame. Please! This is a place of worship for the Brothers. Please, you have no business here."

"I do," she said calmly. "I am looking for a friend of mine."

His white cloud-like brows lowered in anger. "You have no friends here."

She kept her chin raised and her gaze unperturbed. "I do. I am looking for my good friend, Guillaume Severin."     

The old Brother made a curt gesture for her to leave. "You are embarrassing yourself before God. Have you no shame?"

Shame had never been on her list of things to care about. Shame was something that would have crushed her long ago were she to be concerned with such. So much shame that her parents gave her all the money they could as long as she would stay far, far away from them.

"It is for God to judge whether I am shameful," she said curtly, "not you. And I will march my way into this house of worship to find my friend, and I would like to see anyone including your blood-thirsty God try to stop me."

The Brother's hands fluttered in sheer terror. "Brother Severin has lost his way! He has not returned for several months." And his steely frown seemed to imply that she might be the reason. "Some say that he has fallen to the vices of his...sinful talent. Some say that he has found some harlot of Pigalle."

"Thank you," she said with a graceful curtsy. "And I am from Bordeaux, not Pigalle."

***

This time when she walked the streets of Montmartre at night, she had forgotten her parasol. Which was unfortunate for her, considering that she could see several small shadows pacing along behind her, and several larger shadows. With a skip in her tired step, she moved along at a quicker pace. But still, she saw hints of children following along, and older men part of their thieving pack. The faster she walked, the more closely they seemed to follow behind. She knew that often times acknowledging their presence made them scatter like rats, but when she turned around, there were three disreputable wretches who were suddenly within arm's length.

"Take my purse, monsieurs," she said, realizing how very idiotic it was to leave without her parasol.

One unwashed fellow chuckled, even as his breath seemed to stream over her, fetid. "You must be part of one of the dance shows, eh? Looks like a little girl, but probably screams like a bitch. They got little dancers at Le Sirène D'Or, and they'll dance for you for a price."  

The boys along the street scampered away from her, even as the fellow with a missing front tooth reached down for her. Though she threw a brawler's punch at him, he simply cackled as he wrenched her arm. "How much, ma petite fille?"

This time she aimed her punch at the man's groin. Her tiny fist connected and the man stumbled backward with a high-pitched shriek. Moving quickly, she tried to dart around their legs but hands fell on her arms, around her neck. She opened her mouth to scream but a vicious hand clamped over her mouth. Panic sizzled in her chest. Her mind whirled as she struggled with all of the might in her small body.

Another emotion seemed to slam into her very core. An outside emotion, streaming in.

Blind, white-hot rage.

It seemed to slap against her senses, making her gasp around the hand holding her. The rage twisted to become more than pain. It tightened her head until it felt like heated glass shards were exploding inside her skull.

The men holding her screamed.

Angeline blinked and a large shadow raced forward, plucking up one of her captors into massive arms and tossing him out into the street. When she blinked again, Severin roared, and his towering frame moved with a speed no mere man should be able to. His massive hands fell on the jaw of the man with missing teeth, and with a violent wrench of Severin's hands, she could hear the sound of bone shattering. The man's mouth gaped open, his jaw a mass of pulpy tissue, blood pouring from his tongue.

She could still feel the vicious glee and searing agony of his wrath spilling forth from him as his fist pounded into the third attacker. This man had turned to flee, but Severin's foot lashed out to land with a crushing blow directly in the center of the man's posterior. Again, she heard more bones cracking, a sound like that of an overeager carriage driver employing his whip on tired horses.

Before she could say anything, or process what happened, Severin dropped to his knees in front of her. A steady pulse of terrified worry poured over her. It was enough to make her breathing into something panic-driven, and spots danced in her sight at her lack of air.

"Are you hurt?" On his knees, his disparate gaze was still two heads above her. "Angeline...did they harm you?"

His massive hands fell on her shoulders, engulfing half of her arm as well. For a moment she was unable to speak. Certainly, that was a sign that she was hysterical. Or mute. Perhaps irrevocably damaged.

"Angeline," his deep voice insisted.

"I am...unharmed. But I feel...something else," she panted. "It is you, is it not?"

His head bowed, and his hand trembled on her shoulder. "I apologize, mademoiselle. When things of this nature occur, I cannot help but...project my own emotions. Not very many Emotionals can do this, and I...cannot control..."

She blinked at his deformed face, not seeing it as such. Not with that worried crease to his brow. She fought with the desire to smooth away the little wrinkles there. "What about your vow of renouncing violence?"

His expression darkened. "There is oft times a need for violence. Besides, I was holding back."  

Before she could think, she blurted, "From what?"

"From killing them." His overly large eye seemed to grow larger, as he added in a deep basso rumble, "Or making them wish I had."

As one of the men stirred, groaning in pain, Severin instantly gained his feet. He stalked toward the toothless wonder, and reached down to palm the man's head in his hand. He raised the man's face into the air hand spans above the cobbled pavement, and crashed the fellow's face firmly into the stone. More teeth flew out of his ruined mouth and looked like spilled dominos in the weak gaslight.

"Would you like to learn about the cleansing nature of pain?" Severin growled, as he lifted the man's bloody face. "For if you do, I have much to teach you. I am a master of such artistry, monsieur. I lived through it every day, and I will tell you that it is the most pure form of prayer."

"Guillaume!" Angeline cried, placing a hand to her forehead.

His head snapped around in surprise, and not a little worry. Thrusting the man's head away from him as if it were a disgusting bit of rubbish, he sprinted to her side. As she saw the man Severin had tossed horselengths away from him beginning to stir, Severin placed his hands beneath her arms and lifted her.

She was forced to clutch at his chest as he ran. He ran so far and so fast, uphill no less, that before they knew it they were standing in a grassy field, windmills lazily revolving in the distance. Gently did he set her down, looking her over for signs of injury or distress.

"I am fine, Guillaume," she said to assure him. "I cannot tell you what debt I owe you—"

"Nonsense," he said firmly. His hands attempted to smooth out the waistcoat she had given him. How dashing he looked dressed as a gentleman. "We are not tally keepers for debts owed. We are friends."

The panic seemed to melt from her body all at once, and she felt a little faint. Again it was a ridiculous notion, her fainting. So irritating in fact that she stood up straighter, and motioned him down to her level. When his knees met the dewy grass, she leapt and threw her arms about his massive neck.

"Merci, mon petite ours." She squeezed him with all of the might in her tiny arms, relishing the fact that it would not hurt him in the least. "Merci."

This was the second time she had called him her 'little bear.'

He patted her back awkwardly as if afraid any other motion might either be misconstrued, or that he would unknowingly harm her. "Ah, ma chérie, ma petite lune."

His little moon.

A spray of silver-hot stars speckled the sky above, and the moon stood there, full and imperious. And very much alone in her sky.

Perhaps the moon did need rain after all.

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2 Comments:

At April 2, 2013 at 12:32 PM , Blogger Alice Knudsen said...

Angeline is fucking badass. I approve.

 
At April 2, 2013 at 1:38 PM , Blogger B.C. Matthews said...

Yeah, I don't know if I can edit her out now...Unfortunately, Severin is my antagonist and bad shiz goes down.

 

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