Monday, August 10, 2009

The Stillness of the Hunter

The noise of the Cellar receded and disappeared in a “poof” as the front doors swung together and blew a gust of stale air out from the club.

The warmer air from inside circulated around Cati’s ankles. She huffed one last time and looked upward into the stars. On the verge of enjoying a restful breath of night air, she remembered her purse and removed a cigarette.
Henri was at her side holding a match. “Now what, mademoiselle?”
Cati leaned into the matchlight. “Do you think it’s safe to just go home?”
“I do not know.” Henri looked to Thelonius questioningly, but the reporter’s back was to them; he was looking at the interior of the club through the porthole on the front doors. Unencouraged, Henri asked Cati if she would require an escort.
“Oh!” Cati realized. “I had one! Should I tell her I’m leaving?”
Thelonius didn’t turn around. He said, “There’s something wrong.”
“What, did he follow us?”
“See for yourselves.” He stepped away from the tiny windows on the front doors.
Cati and Henri crept up and drew their faces near to the portholes. Inside, the breezeway, the coat room, and the Cellar’s ground floor ballroom, people stood around, striking cockish poses. A man was leaning over the counter at coat check, his hands behind his waist, peering after the attendant. In the breezeway, a woman was approaching him at an exaggerated trot. She stood on her right toe, with her left foot posed in the air ahead, extended almost as a dancer’s. She and the man, and everyone in the ballroom: they were hung in time. The effect was nearly photographic.
Cati pushed open the doors. “Hey! Hey you!” she called, as if upbraiding the Cellar’s patrons. Henri turned to the bouncer, who had been standing by quietly listening. Already assured in his heart of what to expect, Henri snapped his fingers in front of the bouncer’s nose.
Thelonius sized the bouncer up, and wondered just how to capture the scene on film. How does one photograph the act of standing still? Perhaps if he could take a series of pictures with Henri and Cati in them and simulate the passage of time . . . but just what would that be demonstrating? That a roomful of people could stand quietly as Henri and Cati danced among them? At least the wind is blowing, he thought. Then he remembered Rashfal.

The front doors were swinging again. They closed, separating Cati from the men. She tapped the coatless man on the shoulder, to no effect. Behind coat check, the attendant was holding coats apart with his gloved hands, frozen as the others were. “They’re all like this,” she murmured to herself softly. She couldn’t pull her eyes from these people – the old money, the nouveau riche, the descendants of nobility, the gifted young bankers and businessmen – all the people that her family had been mingling with for generations, all the people from whom she had failed to escape time and time again. Before her, a mass of living mannequins, just as she had always known. Finally! she felt like cheering – as though she had for once managed to transcend the stagnant worlds of her father and her husband, the dead foreign bloodlines, the weight of her inheritance and the demands of her ancestors. She smiled and let her hand dip into the man’s pocket. His wallet was there; she dropped it back in; it wasn’t fun this way.

A foul scent wafted in on the breeze, of rot, or of fluids repelled from the innards of an animal. Thelonius caught it and winced.
Henri saw his companion’s face wrinkle and, as if by mimesis, the scent appeared deep within his own nasal passages. It had snuck in. It burned a little and Henri thought to rub his eyes. He remembered a rule of thumb that had been meaningful to him once in a far away place, a truism that he had muttered to himself hundreds of times as a sick kind of reassurance: If you can smell it, you’re in it!
“Thelonius! – we are in danger! We must go back inside now!”
Thelonius would not have disagreed – but in an instant, the wind intensified – Henri saw the streetlights behind Thelonius pull like taffy and blurrily suggest movement – the lights stretched over Thelonius – no, more like something translucent and wet had been flung across points of light – Henri thought to compare it to observing the headlights of an oncoming car through a dirty windshield – it barreled into the reporter – Thelonius fell to the ground, the camera clattered against the cement - the wind turned up into the sky, refracting the lights of buildings' highest windows. The bouncer’s jacket had been disturbed.

Thelonius cursed as Henri crouched and scanned the air around them. Before he even bothered to get up, Thel checked his camera. Henri took note of a drip of blood, trailing from somewhere near Thelonius’ crown, underneath the brim of his hat. Henri pushed a door open. “There is no time! Come!”

(Upon realizing that the world had stopped around him, Thelonius was able to keep it together. Henri and Cati were not able to adjust as well to the realization. Henri has suffered -1 sanity and Cati -2. Due to a surprise attack by goodness-knows-what, Thelonius has suffered -1 hit point. Thelonius and Henri are in combat rounds – please declare your actions. Cati is not in combat yet, but could still act.

Corpus Clock and Chronophage conceived and designed by John Taylor, Stewart Huxley, Matthew Sanderson, and Alan Meeks. Image from A Blog to Read.)