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Something Of The Night

by Steve Sloane 7 months ago in Short Story
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(A homage to all us aspiring fiction writers who've yet to taste the full benefits of success....)

Tobias the prototype, after five full years of life, still viewed the world around him with a child-like sense of fascination and wide-eyed wonder. He looked to be a man of forty or so years, and his short time on Earth had given him a greater appreciation for life than many people in their old age would ever experience. With nostrils flared, he drew his wheelchair closer to the small circular table before him, breathing in the Starbuck’s café’s rich aroma of coffee, cocoa and cinnamon. Lucy, one of those responsible for his creation, sat opposite him with a notebook on her lap, engrossed in the ritual of her weekly chat-room session with other members of The Group.

Tobias noticed that since seeing her last, she had attended to her girlish pigtails—the braids were tighter than before—and the ends were now dyed blue, where before turquoise had always been her color. To Tobias, Lucy’s hair made her look younger, barely old enough to order a drink, though in reality he would wager that she’d soon be pushing thirty. He’d always felt both gratitude and reverence, not only to Lucy, but all those in The Group who had sacrificially invested themselves to give him life.

Before Tobias on the table stood a Venti Latte. His ear tuned beyond the cacophony of retro Christmas pop music and conversations to the minuscule sound of whipped cream melting into his coffee—a sound that he, and only he, could hear. He smiled, knowing his short life had afforded him similar countless pleasures.

Tobias lifted his right arm from the wheelchair’s armrest, bringing his hand close to his face before clenching his fingers into a fist. His eyes sparkled with intrigue, their focus darting from the spectacle of his tense, white knuckles accompanying the coarse protrusion of hairs covering the back of his hand, down to the steaming beverage just beyond reach. Fresh wonder welled within him as each sinew in his arm extended, then leaned forward as his long thin fingers descended and embraced the cup. Its warmth escalated through his fingertips as he pulled the drink towards himself. He smelled the aroma of sprinkled chocolate shavings while pouring the drink into his mouth and allowing a moment for it to ignite his taste buds before swallowing. But though the warmth of the liquid made its way down his throat to his stomach, it did little to fill the void he’d felt there for as long as his memory would serve.

Keeping her head down, Lucy looked up at him over the top of her wire-rimmed glasses. She closed the notebook, placing her elbows on the table and resting her chin in her hands. He’d gotten to look a little older since she’d last seen him—there were narrow creases in the corners of his eyes, and his cheeks were home to broken blood vessels. When he looked down, his chin doubled and his thin fair hair had receded even more.

Tobias caught a hint of her green eyes and freckled smile, his memory flashing to the instant he’d first seen her, that confident walk and well-toned complete body.

“How’s the twitching?” she asked, the question in Tobias’ opinion coming out of nowhere.

He leaned forward, his hands in his lap, and started to twiddle his thumbs. “Much better now,” he offered. “I don’t remember having had an involuntary wince for some time.”

“But you still contort your face, sometimes. I noticed it when we first sat down.”

“That’s voluntary, I assure you. When the twitching stopped, I felt I’d almost lost a part of me.”

“So you contort your face to somehow make up for the loss?”

“Look, I’m still amazed that this body you all gave me reacts to my thought patterns. The fact that I smile when I’m happy, without even thinking about it, well frankly, it continues to astound me. Sometimes I frown or smirk, just to notice the muscular chain reaction. The marriage of movement between my orbicularis and masseter muscles never cease to intrigue me.”

“Why not forget about the contortions and let nature take its course?” Lucy asked.

Tobias didn’t answer. He straightened himself in his wheelchair and smiled at Lucy. “We all need our hobbies,” he said, offering no more explanation.

Lucy decided not to press the point further. “The wheelchair. How are you coping now?”

“It’s just an extension of me. Even learned to do some tricks. I can show you in the parking lot before you leave, if you like.”

“When we put all the pieces of your body together, it came as a shock to all of us that you couldn’t walk. Some of the neural connections expired before we assembled you.”

“Yes,” Tobias replied, “but your focus was creating a being with talent rather than a perfect physical specimen. And for that, I’m grateful.”

“You did turn out to be a wonderful writer, and that’s exactly what we wanted to create—one of today’s best modern authors.”

“Harpers and The Atlantic think so. I must say I now read the classics more than contemporary fiction, though I think it’s having an effect on my work. Pacing is still a problem, but I’m happy with both my writing talent and the intellect you’ve given me. My disability doesn’t bother me. After all, I’d rather be Stephen Hawking than Ryan Gosling, any day.”

“A combination of both would be even better,” Lucy offered.

“Yes!” Tobias replied. “How is the new project going? I’ve told you before, sometimes the loneliness gets so intense, it feels like it wells up in the pit of my stomach.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

“Why is it good?” “That’s where you should be feeling it—right in your gut. Means in that respect we did our work properly there when we put you together. I’ll have to tell The Group—they’ll be tickled pink.”

“Congratulations!” Tobias barked.

“Look,” Lucy said, with an air of appeasement, “you know The Group’s primary directive is to create another writer like yourself—but even better. You’re a good writer, but we can already see things that are beginning to hinder your work. Like your inkling towards the classics, and your propensity to throw the odd “thus” or “hither” into your narratives. This time, we want a being with no writing weaknesses: one that serves the modern day reader, with present day speech and contemporary issues. I hate to say it, but the last story of yours I read in Reader’s Digest smelt a lot like a cross between Nicholas Nickleby and Barnaby Rudge. And yes, this time we want a perfect physical being. Nothing but the very best body parts.”

“But you did say your creation would be female. You told me that.”

“All the members of The Group have heavily invested themselves, as you know. We’ve even placed a classified ad for new talent, but we still have one more need.”

“Which is?”

“Someone good at character development, to lend a hand. I don’t know if you know anyone with that strength. Of course, the sooner that person’s found, the sooner you will meet our new prototype.”

Tobias looked down at the table, deep in thought. Lucy got up, pushing in her chair. She placed a copy of the ad on the table. “Perhaps somebody you know might want to read this. Let me know if you have any ideas.” She turned and left, not saying goodbye.

Tobias picked up his beverage, moved it from hand to hand and manufactured a broad smile. He felt the muscles in both cheeks contract, which forced his eyebrows to lower and result in the narrowing of his eyes. The hollow feeling in his stomach dissipated, as he placed the ad in his coat pocket and pulled out his cell phone. The number already in memory, he pressed SEND and waited for the connection.

* * *

Dimitri ran down a dark, rain-swept Paris boulevard, his feet feeling heavier with each passing step. Glancing behind him, the ominous hooded figure was gaining ground. Peasants in open doors and windows jeered, waving their fists in anger. “Futile!” they shouted. “Succumb to your fate! You dance with the Devil, but deny him his due?”

Dimitri felt his feet sinking into the cobblestones as he struggled to scuttle forward. His lungs burned, both arms causing pond-like ripples in the air as they swayed about him. The shadowy figure was almost upon him. Dimitri fell, his body being sucked beneath the ground as the figure lurched over him. Dimitri’s eyes bulged, his mouth twisted in a silent scream as he looked up at the face of Keith Richards.

“In the name of all that’s holy!” Dimitri cried, “Whatever you want, take it. Spare me this torment!”

Richards lifted one bony hand from beneath his cloak, the long thin fingernails glistening in the moonlight. “I command one thing, and one thing only,” his voice croaked. “A token of sympathy.” The hand reached down, its clammy touch gripping Dimitri’s throat as he heard the hollow sound of his own gurgling scream release from deep within him. Then, from somewhere, a faint echo of classical music: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons gaining prominence, his own scream fading as the ghastly vision before him melted into a murky gray.

Dimitri opened his eyes wide, looking down at his body beaded in sweat. His senses gained focus, the classical music still present. He fumbled for the “off” button, but miscalculated, sending the alarm clock by his bed crashing to the floor.

He waited for his senses to catch up with him, then rose and drew the curtains. As day shed its light on the small dingy room, he stretched and moved over to the table by the door. On it lay a pile of hand-written manuscripts, the dates of their latest entries ranging from three weeks prior to several years past. On the wall above the table was a single bookshelf supporting an ailing yellow-leafed houseplant and a single copy of the first—and last—novella he’d ever written.

In the middle of the table lay his unnamed novel: A family’s struggle for survival during the Bolshevik uprisings, its pages stacked into a four-inch pile. Dimitri picked up the last page, studying it closely. He’d committed the entire prior evening to finishing the current chapter. This resulted in no more than one seven-line paragraph and a coffee stain on the bottom of the page when he’d spilled his drink on the table.

Dimitri had slipped from seeing himself as a writer, to a would-be writer. It had taken twenty years of mediocrity and failure for him to regress to this personal viewpoint. He expected far less of himself these days, but wondered constantly over how success might actually feel.

He moved to the washstand by his bed, splashed some cold water on his face and looked in the mirror. His eyes, quite piercing in youth, now looked puffy as he entered middle age. His cheekbones once held a youthful refinement but now amplified his gaunt pale skin, almost hanging as if looking for charity.

Dimitri rubbed his face in his hands. He tried to forget the nightmare, one he’d had on countless occasions and conceived back in his college days at Berkley when drugs and rock music were seen as fertilizers for free expression and the creative mind. He’d burned all his Stones albums long ago—burned, not thrown out—but on nights when writing sessions ended in torment, that cold clammy hand would grip his throat, and he knew screams would shortly follow.

He wetted his hands and brushed his hair back while he noticed a blinking light reflected in the mirror. Turning around, he spotting the answering machine on the floor by the door, walked over and pressed the button with his big toe: “One message, ten thirty-seven am,” the machine blandly stated. Dimitri had always felt an attraction to the generic digital voice, the fact that it offered no inflection, no judgment, the facts no more and no less. Then to spoil it all, a human voice: “Dimitri, it’s Tobias. I’m at Starbucks on Pearson Street. I want to know how the novel’s going. There’s a mocha and chocolate cookie with your name on it if you get here by eleven thirty—it’s ten forty-seven now.”

Tobias, Dimitri thought to himself, why can’t he refer to himself as Toby for once? Anxiety began to grow in his gut, entwined with a hint of envy. He’d met Tobias at a writer’s circle nearly five years ago and liked the fact that he seemed a little distant at first, not really sure of himself or perhaps who he was. But then success had reared its ugly head with frequent pieces in The New Yorker, and a host of literary journals. He was the first writer to have two pieces in Best American Essays in the same year, as well as a published novel—and all this in a space of about eighteen months. Not bad for someone who seemed to come out of nowhere, like he’d popped out one day from under a stone.

At first, Dimitri had patted his friend on the back, wishing him every success. But in recent years, as multiple rejection letters made their way to his door, he felt that when he congratulated Tobias, it grew less and less genuine. Now, Dimitri’s words offered little more emotion or support than the digital voice on his telephone.

His watch showed fifteen minutes after eleven. Throwing on some clothes Dimitri grabbed his keys. Pausing at the table, he looked down at his novel. The last four months of work had produced little more than a short chapter, some days resulting in a couple of lines, at most a wide-margined page. Characters were well developed, but endings always eluded him. Over a thousand pages into his novel, and he felt no closer to the conclusion than he’d had three hundred pages ago. Picking up the manuscript, he threw it in the trash bin with half the papers spilling onto the floor. “Screw it!” he said as he grabbed his coat, kicked over the bin and slammed the door behind him.

* * *

Dimitri entered Starbucks, red-faced and flustered after his brisk ten-minute walk. He spotted Tobias in the far corner, waving and pointing to a mocha and cookie on the table before him. Shaking hands with his friend, Dimitri sat down and took a mouthful from the lukewarm drink. “You could have waited for me to get here first, before you ordered this,” he remarked.

“If you’d been two more minutes,” Tobias replied, “I would have drunk it myself.”

Dimitri broke the cookie into pieces over his plate, as Tobias reached over helping himself.

“So tell me, how’s the novel writing going?” Tobias asked, knowing his friend wouldn’t freely offer this information.

Dimitri didn’t speak. He took a sip from his mocha, picked up an empty sugar packet off the table, rolled it up and then used it to scrape dirt from behind his fingernails.

Tobias grimaced. In one of his first lessons of life, The Group had taught him cleanliness was next to godliness, a rule of thumb he had dutifully subscribed to ever since. He’d gotten quite used to his friend’s occasional lack of social grace, but the act of grimacing required such a splendid working array of facial muscles that he fully invested himself in this response at every suitable opportunity.

“If you’re asking whether I’ve written much of my novel recently, “Dimitri said, “the answer is no—frankly I’m not sure if I’m going to continue. I’ve been wrestling with the ending for God knows how long—I can’t decide if the whole family gets slaughtered, or whether the two sons forsake their parents, save their own skins and join the Bolsheviks. Of course, if I finish it one day I’ll be able to place it on the shelf next to the novella. Good thing really, it’s beginning to look lonely up there by itself with only a dying wall plant to keep it company. The wisest thing anyone can do—die, that is. If you ask me, dying is a very underappreciated part of life.”

“But your novella—you did send it out?”

“Yep. Each magazine politely reciprocated with the customary rejection slip—all of them generic. I wonder if there’s a factory somewhere where they’re manufactured? Should go into producing them myself. That way I’d be sure to get my work read by thousands. Millions, even. Thank you for your interest in our publication; at present our tastes lie in prose styles other than anything you have ever written (or are capable of writing). Sincerely, The Editor.”

Dimitri took a gulp of his Mocha, pulling the plate with the cookie remnants towards him. “FYI: I read your counter-argument in The New Yorker on special gun privileges for the disabled. Marred, but quite informative.”

Tobias smiled at this half-compliment. He felt his top lip sticking to his teeth and he held it there for an instant, suspended, the corners of his eyelids drawing together, feeling a slight rush of blood to his cheeks before he chose to release.

Dimitri looked at Tobias, a slight chill stirring within him. On occasion, he’d noticed his friend’s exaggerated expressions, but had never mentioned them. Usually he turned away, but in these instances Tobias would look directly at Dimitri, his eyes possessing a sinister quality, and Dimitri would feel repulsion or repugnance in his friend’s presence, a sense of menace, foreboding, something of the night.

“Tobias,” Dimitri said, “I’m forty-three next month and flat broke. Each day I face the void of the unpublished and feel the pressure. My desk is filled with work that in probability won’t ever be read by eyes other than mine. I wonder sometimes if my life has amounted to very, very little.”

Tobias leaned in towards his friend, looking down at Dimitri’s thin, slight, feminine-like hands. His eyes studied the thin fingers and small well-manicured fingernails as he spoke. “I know you take a dim view of writer’s circles, but perhaps if you attended my group, just for a few meetings, it might spur you on with your novel.”

Dimitri began to cough, patting his chest.

“You’re not coming down with a cold or flu?” Tobias asked, concerned.

“Just a crumb. Haven’t had as much as a sniffle in years, never seem to get them. My one saving grace—good health, that is.”

“Look,” Tobias added, “if nothing more, The Group will give you an opportunity to be a part of something.” He pulled the ad from his pocket, placing it on the table. “We’re in the classified section.”

Dimitri glanced over the ad:

WRITER’S NIRVANA: For writers of poetry or prose. Feeling downtrodden or dispossessed? We cater to the struggling writer or those with talents yet to be nurtured. Fiction writers are our specialty. 776 Gower Street. “End of tether” types welcome.

“If you decide to go, the head of The Group will meet you first, just to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Like an induction, almost. Go in the next few days,” Tobias joked, “and I might buy you another Mocha.”

* * *

Dimitri sat on the bus sipping his second mocha. He’d twisted Tobias’ arm into buying the second beverage as well as covering the bus fare, on the condition that Dimitri went to the “induction” that afternoon.

This, the second bus en route, dropped him off at the end of Gower Street. Making his way along the road he found 776, a small detached mundane property. A white picket fence with peeling paint edged around the front lawn, the grass overgrown in places, with brown patches where dogs had scratched and left their business for others to attend to. The single-level house was painted brown and had a low roof, with the windows beneath small and dusty.

Dimitri rang the bell, which resulted in a momentary pause before grunts and shuffles were heard from deep within. He looked in the window to his right noticing its broken pane, half of it missing. The room was dark inside but he made out a face, watching him through the shadows. It had two large bushy eyebrows, with one feverish eye studying Dimitri, the other looking straight out to the street.

A muffled voice came from behind the window. With the mouth hidden in darkness, the eyes appeared to be speaking: “Writer?”

Dimitri leaned in towards the window, before answering. “Dimitri. I mean yes, a writer.”

“Prose? I’ll wager prose by the looks of you.”

“Mostly prose. Course, I’ve tried most forms. Poetry, free verse, couplets. Travel articles. I’m well into my novel.”

“Strengths?”

He paused before answering. “My mother used to say I was courageous—when placed in a tight corner.”

“Writing strengths!” the eyes snapped. “No, wait. Let me guess. Bet you two bags of gravel you’re a dab hand at character development.”

“I’ll answer in the affirmative to that,” Dimitri replied.

“And your weaknesses? Bet you can’t finish.”

Offering no response, Dimitri wondered where this line of questioning was leading.

“Next time, start at the end, and work backwards. You should try it.”

Dimitri remained silent.

“Fine. Don’t try it!” The eye moved away from the window and the front door quickly opened. The owner of both eyes stood before him, a man pulling sixty and less than average height. His hair was white and unkempt, and he wore a shabby tweed jacket. In his right hand he held a walking cane. Looking down, Dimitri saw his right leg was missing, below the knee.

“My name’s Hieronymus,” he said. “My mother named me Hieronymus. My father’s name was Hieronymus. My family has an affinity for that name. She said that one fine day I’d be the spitting image of Dostoevsky. She was wrong.”

He moved back, allowing Dimitri to walk into the small room as his eyes adjusted to the low light. Before him, he could see a brick fireplace holding remnants of ash and burned newspaper. On each side of the hearth were identical armchairs, though the one to the right had duct tape covering the left armrest. Two large charts of the human muscular system hung on the wall above the fireplace, showing the front and back views. On a table by the duct-taped armrest sat a large plastic model of the human heart, some of its pieces lying on the floor beneath it.

Hieronymus lifted his cane, holding it like a tightrope walker, and hopped over to the left armchair. He sat, then moved both arms through the air as though conducting a stringed orchestra. Dimitri looked in confusion before realizing he was gesturing to him to sit down.

“It’s a glass eye, you know,” Hieronymus said, as Dimitri sat opposite him. “That’s why they don’t look in the same place. It’s what you were thinking, I’ll bet?”

“I assumed as much,” Dimitri lied.

The room had a musty smell of dirt and ash, and Dimitri felt his nasal passages begin to block. He placed his arm on the duct tape, but felt the armrest give way. He decided to put both hands in his lap.“You’re a medical man?” Dimitri asked, looking up at the charts.

“I’ve dabbled. Amazing what one finds out through dabbling. For instance, did you know that the human soul is located in the stomach, while erotic impulses make their home in the spleen.”

Dimitri slowly bit his bottom lip and pulled in his feet.

“Published?” Hieronymus asked, as he raised a hand and tapped his glass eye with a prolonged fingernail. The resulting sound took on a high dissonant tone, like two crystal glasses knocking together.

“No... not once, actually.”

“Never? Nothing to be ashamed of. At least you know your strengths. Good thing to know. Always play to your strengths.” Hieronymus took a pipe and tobacco from under his cushion. He used one hand to fill it and light up before puffing smoke rings in Dimitri’s direction. The smoke had a stale smell, which did little to aid Dimitri’s breathing.

“Bad habit,” Hieronymus said.

“Smoking?”

“Not playing to your strengths. But you’re here now. And that’s a start, isn’t it?”

Dimitri offered only silence.

“I assume that’s what you’re here for!” Hieronymus bellowed.

“Yes,” Dimitri said, not really understanding the question.

“Define paronym.”

Dimitri paused. A knot of confusion was growing in his gut and he wondered if Tobias had sent him on a wild goose chase.

Hieronymus sat puffing, waiting for his answer.

Finally, he acquiesced. “Paronym…is a word that uses the same root as another word.”

Hieronymus let out two more smoke rings. “Fascinating. Of course, it’s not your weaknesses we’re interested in, so much. It’s your strength. That’s the contributing factor we need to embrace. I can see you’ve got a lot to offer The Group, Dimitri.”

“As a writer, you mean?”

“…Yes, I expect so.” Hieronymus tapped his pipe on the side of the chair, the contents falling onto the carpet below. “I want you to attend The Group’s meeting tonight. Don’t be late.” He handed Dimitri a card with the address. “I’ll tell them you’re coming. Be there at eight, prompt.”

Walking through the front door, Dimitri turned to say goodbye, but Hieronymus closed the door before he could say a word. He noticed the two eyes again as he glanced through the window, one of them scrutinizing him as he moved away from the house. He could have sworn that the glass eye was following him now, the good eye staring out into space. Perhaps they alternate and take turns? he thought, making his way down the street.

* * *

Seven fifty-seven that night, and Dimitri reached the front door. Never being one for writer’s circles, he believed that most of them comprised of one, perhaps two, overbearing and under-gracious types who forced their prose upon you. They then expected the right to a glowing response, and questioned both your critical and writing abilities when they failed to receive one.

With three knocks, the door opened after an apt pause. A young woman sporting wire-rimmed glasses and blue-ended pigtails, stood firm on the other side of the threshold.

“You’re early,” she said.

“I could come back,” Dimitri replied, offering only a faint hint of politeness in his tone.

“Then you’d be late,” she retorted. “Best to come on time, next time. If there is a next time.” She opened the door wider, allowing Dimitri to enter. “My name’s Lucy. My writing strengths are establishing the appropriate cadence in both dialogue and exposition.”

“Oh. Mine’s character development,” Dimitri replied.

“I know,” Lucy said, ushering him inside.

Dimitri found himself in a large empty oblong-shaped room with dark blinds covering all the windows. At the far end of the room, a dozen or so people were sitting on beanbags, situated in a circle. Several candles of different sizes were placed around the outside of the group, offering the only source of light.

“There’s only half our usual number here tonight, but there’s enough to fit our needs,” Lucy said, guiding him into the circle.

All the people turned round in unison, eyeing Dimitri. “Welcome,” they said together. Dimitri gave a small wave, hoping his communal gesture would be sufficient. He lowered himself onto an empty beanbag between two blond-haired men, sporting similar multi-colored turtleneck sweaters. They looked to be in their late thirties, both of them showing several days of stubble. As his eyes became more accustomed to the candlelight, Dimitri noticed the man on his left was missing his entire right leg and half his left arm. The man on his right had bandages around his neck, protruding from beneath his shirt collar. Glancing round the room, he saw that all the people were either wearing dressings, or were lacking visible body parts that most self-respecting persons would rather not be without.

Lucy came and sat next to Dimitri on the same beanbag, paying little respect for his personal space. “We should introduce ourselves, for Dimitri’s sake,” she announced to The Group. “His strength is character development.”

Sharp intakes of breath from around the room accompanied a momentary silence. Finally, The Group replied in unison: “Hello, Character Development.”

One member brought Dimitri a glass cup of what smelled like mint tea. He didn’t like tea, but took it anyway, smiled, and started to sip.

The one-legged turtleneck to Dimitri’s left spoke: “Conflict,” he said as he offered Dimitry his right hand, before losing his balance and rolling off the beanbag onto the floor. Nobody moved to help, leading Dimitri to assume this was a regular occurrence.

An older woman with gray hair and thick mascara sat next to Conflict. Dimitri could see a scar, complete with stitches starting at her right shoulder, its other end lying somewhere beneath her dress line. “Close Third—or Distant,” she said to him with an effervescent smile. “Either name will do.”

Then, the other introductions: Second Person—Present Tense, Narrative Withholding, Pace, Exposition, Diction, Characterization—Indirect or Direct, Dialogue, First Person Singular, and the other turtleneck to Dimitri’s right, Interiority. To conclude, a crisp and collective “Hello Character Development” from The Group met Dimitri’s ears.

“I suppose I shouldn’t call you Lucy, should I, Lucy?” Dimitri quipped.

“I answer to either Cadence, or Narrative Rhythm,” she said, offering him a conceited smirk.

“So, what aspects of writing shall we consider tonight?” Dimitri asked, to no one in particular. The subsequent silence led him to believe that as a newcomer, he’d overstepped the line.

Cross-legged, Cadence leaned her head to the left, then right, producing three audible clicks from her upper vertebrae. “The Writer’s Sacrifice,” she said, standing in one smooth motion from her sitting position. “Separately our talents are not enough, but together we can epitomize writing perfection!”

“Writing perfection!” the voices shouted in solidarity.

All voices, that is, except Dimitri’s. Finishing the remnants of his tea, he felt a few tealeaves stubbornly stick to the back of his tongue. He was beginning to sweat and feel quite dizzy as the glass cup fell from his hand, shattering on the floor.

Cadence continued. “This night. This special night, we are in receipt of our final and much needed writing strength: Character Development!”

All eyes turned to Dimitri, who was attempting to stand and move to the door without triggering further attention. A sense of apprehension stirred in his gut, his disdain for writer’s groups never having felt stronger. His vision blurred further, with his right knee knocking into position as his left knee gave out, forcing him to crumble into a heap.

His head swam in a vortex of confusion, as multiple hands embraced him and lifted him up. Dimitri attempted to focus, rolling his eyes as he was carried at head height towards an opening door and into another room. His heart pounded as he looked down, making out the form of a man wearing a doctor’s coat, standing in the doorway. Moving closer, he recognized the face: two bushy eyebrows, one eye boring into Dimitri, the other blindly staring into space.

He felt himself being set down on a table as the glare of fluorescent lights from above dazed him. Hieronymus came forward as members of The Group surrounded him. The reflection of the lights flickered off a small steel scalpel, in Hieronymus’ hand.

Dimitri heard the sound of a gurney being rolled into the room. Straining to look, he saw a female cadaver lying upon it, its white skin hosting countless scars, complete with stitches.

“She’ll be beautiful, and so talented,” he heard Cadence say, as she started plaiting its dark, wavy hair. “Tobias will be overjoyed.”

For the first time in his writing life, Dimitri felt a yearning to remain one of the countless unpublished.

“You can watch, if you want,” Hieronymus whispered to him with a hint of reassurance.

Dimitri leaned forward, gazing, as his left hand was placed over a steel tray, the scalpel moving down, making contact with his wrist.

“Prepare to meet the proximal and distal flexor tendons,” Hieronymus said, looking first to Dimitri, then to The Group. “The ulnar and radial arteries, median, ulnar and superficial radial nerves—they must all become our friends.”

Dimitri’s mind fluttered to Caravaggio’s masterful oil Judith Beheading Holofernes, as the blade entered, slicing through sinew and vein, the sound of blood pattering and forming a circular pool on the tray beneath.

He watched, then screamed as the scalpel finished its work and his hand was carried away.

Short Story

About the author

Steve Sloane

Steve graduated from UC Riverside with BA's in Creative Writing and Film Theory, in 2005. Originally from England, he lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.

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