Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bloody Valentine Blog Hop

We're on the road this Valentine's Day, so if you're reading this post on Valentine's Day, it means I successfully figured out how to schedule Blogger to publish a post in my absence. Feel free to congratulate me. If things worked out as planned, we've been in Flagstaff, where we snow skied at Snowbowl, and now we're driving back to Tucson or enjoying a long stopover in Sedona.

I set up this advance posting because I'm participating in a Bloody Valentine Blog Hop. That means several authors of the horrific variety are posting Valentine's Day stories on their blogs today, and we're all linked together to make it easy for you to hop from blog to blog to read our offerings. Here's the list of participating blogs.

Love, Romanian Style | plague of dissent | Dean Harrison| A Diamond In The Dark | A Bloody Kind of Lust | Keith Pyeatt: Horror with Heart | The Cult of Me | Bestiary Parlor: The Musings of a Zoologist | Sheila Deeths Blog | Yours in Storytelling | Bertrams Blog | Laughing for a Living Worldbinding | Pagan Spirits | Exile on Peachtree Street | A. F. Stewarts Blog

My offering is a rerun of a flash fiction story I included in my Horror with Heart Newsletter a year ago. If you subscribe to my newsletter and feel like you've already had enough of my story, "The Birthmark," and its multiple endings from last year, please hop on over to another blog.

If you're still here, I hope you enjoy "The Birthmark." There are four endings, so no matter whether you like your Valentine Day stories sweet and happy, dark and disturbing, or even with evil red gnomes in them, there's an ending for you. If you have a favorite, please leave a comment telling me which one. Happy Valentines Day!


The Birthmark

Adele risked her arm to stop the elevator doors from closing when a masculine voice floated in from her apartment lobby, "Hold it, please." The door bucked three times against her arm before receding into the wall.

"Wow," the man said as he entered, "I didn't realize how much I was asking of you." He smiled. He'd been pleasant enough looking before, but his big crooked smile made him handsome in a rugged, friendly way. 

"There's no button," Adele said. She caught the slight movement of his eyes, a subtle shift as he focused on her left cheek. To his credit, he made eye contact again almost immediately. His smile barely faded.

"What's that about a button?" he asked.

"No 'open door' button," she said, trying not to slur and doing a reasonable job. "It's an old elevator."

"Ah." He nodded, looking only at her eyes, not the rough, thickened skin that covered half her face like a red moonscape. "But I love these old buildings," he continued. "They have character." He had to reach close beside Adele to push the button for the fifth floor. She shuffled to the side, dropping her gaze and noticing his other hand held a heart-shaped box of chocolates, wrapped with a red bow.

"Corny, isn't it?" He held the box higher. "What can I say? I'm a romantic on Valentine's Day. If I can't be corny today, then when?"

Adele nodded, her way of smiling. She'd given up on using her lips for the gesture long ago. The birthmark pulled down and paralyzed the left side of her mouth, transforming even the slightest smile into something grotesque. "I'm sure she'll like it," she said.

The elevator opened on the third floor, and Adele crossed the hall to her apartment. She thought the elevator had closed behind her, but when she turned, the man stood framed inside the open doors. He used the hand holding the box to wave when the doors finally slid shut.

Inside her apartment, she shrugged out of her winter coat but left her lab coat on. She worked at a chemical company, where she was currently experimenting with high potency fertilizers. She took a vial of blue liquid from her pocket, placed it carefully on the kitchen table, and went to her bedroom to change into her slippers.

She thought about the man on the elevator, his smile and how kind he seemed. She wondered who on the fifth floor would get the chocolates. Was she pretty? Probably. Was she kind too? Possibly, but Adele had already considered the tenants she'd seen going to the fifth floor over the years. The only single woman of the right age was indeed pretty, but not kind. Adele heard her gasp the first time she entered the elevator with Adele. Ever since, the woman refused to look at her, pretending Adele didn't exist.

That was the worst reaction, really. Maybe people thought they were being kind not to look at her, but Adele would rather be ridiculed or taunted than ignored. At work, a few people spoke to her, but it felt forced. No one invited her to do anything outside of the lab, and no one accepted her invitation the few times she'd been brave enough to offer one.

It made her sad to admit her coworkers were the closest thing she'd ever have to friends. Exchanging brief pleasantries, like with the man in the elevator, was the closest she'd ever come to having a relationship. No one would ever look past her disfigured face and get to know her. No man would bring her candy in a heart-shaped box. She'd wasted years dreaming of a different life, using any kind gesture a male offered to launch an ongoing fantasy, but no more. The real world swallowed the last of her fantasies years ago.

Adele looked in the bathroom mirror. Sometimes she focused only on her eyes. They were beautiful, golden brown and shaped like almonds. The skin around them was smooth, untouched by the birthmark that lurked below her left eye, red and angry. But ignoring everything other than her eyes was just another way to fantasize. Today she took in her full face, the reality of what others saw, how they judged her. She stared at her reflection a long time. Then she returned to the kitchen table. She picked up the vial of blue liquid, removed the stopper, and lifted the vial to the functioning right side of her mouth.

A rap on the door startled her. She froze. Her eyes stung from fumes coming from the vial. Someone knocked on her door a second time, and she imagined the man from the elevator standing in the hall. He'd seen where she lived, so it was possible. The woman on the fifth floor always dated flashier men. She wasn't the type who'd appreciate the simple Valentine gift. Maybe it didn't go well.

Adele pressed the lid back on the vial, slipped it into her lab coat pocket, and answered the door, already visualizing a crooked smile.


********** ENDING "A" **********

No one was there, but a package lay at her feet. "Delivered to me by mistake," a voice down the hall said. Adele's neighbor already stood in front of her own apartment. She offered an awkward wave and disappeared inside.


Adele examined the package. It was a book she'd forgotten she ordered. She took off her lab coat and hung in the closet. No vial for her tonight. The fact that she'd hoped meant she wasn't ready. She'd give reality another chance to change.

She unwrapped the book. The cover looked cheap and cheesier than chocolates in a heart-shaped box on Valentines Day, but she'd read good reviews. Who was she to judge a book by its cover?


********** ENDING "B" **********

The smile wasn't where she expected it; it was three feet lower, on the face of what appeared to be a red gnome with pointy teeth. He reeked of sulfur.

"I can fix that for you, disfigured mortal," he said in a gravely voice. He lifted something that looked like a dirty pink chunk of Styrofoam. "Do you like my birthmark eraser? If you can afford it, I'll use it to scrub your face clean in seconds." He held out his other hand, displaying a picture of Adele without the birthmark. She wore a beautiful smile.

"How much?" Adele asked.

The red gnome's teeth glistened with moisture. "Nothing down, but we'll need something when you're done living, years and years and years from now." He seemed to gauge her hesitation. "You were about to cash out before tasting life. I'm offering you a bigger bite than you ever imagined." He mimicked taking a bite out of something with his horrible teeth and then made a chuckling noise that sounded like rocks in a garbage disposal. "What do you say?"

Adele focused on the picture, on her smile. She felt herself nodding.

"Good enough," the gnome said. He reached toward her face with the pink eraser. She didn't like the way he smiled. 


********** ENDING "C" **********

No one stood outside her door, but she caught movement across the hall. The elevator doors had just closed. At her feet rested a familiar box, shaped like a heart and wrapped in a red ribbon. A slip of paper was tucked under the ribbon. It read: "Thanks for risking your arm for me," and it was signed, "Jim." He'd written his phone number below his name.


********** ENDING "D" **********

He stood there, just as she imagined. Well, almost. Through his chest, she could make out the elevators his body should have blocked from sight. He offered her the heart-shaped box. When she took it, the pink color faded. The cardboard was dusty and warped with age, and the ribbon was frayed and brittle.

"I had to come back and find you," he said, "once I realized we're alike." He smiled, but this time it wasn't charming. His smile only looked crooked because part of his right cheek was missing. His face wasn't rugged, it was rotting. "I saw in you what I needed to see in myself." He reached up and cupped Adele's birthmark before she could back away from his touch.

"My birthmark?" she asked.

He pinched together what remained of his lips and slowly shook his head. "You didn't have that in life. That's no birthmark. That's your deathmark. It's time to go. Time for us both to go."

Just like that, Adele understood. She felt as if an orchestra had been playing nonstop, but she couldn't hear it until now. "What happened to you?" she asked.

"Jealous ex-husband with a baseball bat. Up on the fifth floor, one Valentines Day. You?"

Adele reached into her pocket and removed the vial. The glass was cloudy with age and dust, and it was empty expect for traces of blue residue stuck to the bottom. "Poison."

5 comments:

  1. Great story, and I'm partial to ending "D".

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  2. Wow. I'm hooked on that last ending.

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  3. I'm with the ladies. I like "D". Why?

    As usual, your writing is spellbounding, Keith. Excellent scene. Brief, yet, packed with emotion. I liked it very much.

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  4. This is awesome. Love the idea of alternate endings. And it's somehow satisfying, even having read the ones I didn't like as much. B bothered me because I really wanted to know whether the gnome killed her, tore her skin to shreds, or what. Anyway, very cool all around!

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  5. Thanks so much, A.F., Sheila, Joylene, and Traci. It's hard to hide that "D" is my favorite too since it's so much more detailed than the other endings. Dead give-a-way. Bittersweet in a peculiar way. Like me! Ha.

    Just returned from a 3 day vacation and I'm pooped, but sure looking forward to reading the other blog hop stories tomorrow!

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