Written By S.C. Barrus ( Away and Away - Home of Writer S.C. Barrus )
The chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling, great beads of glass caught the sun which gleamed in through the sky lit windows, refracting droplets of light in a grand mime of a fireworks display. And, not a soul gazed up at that brilliance simply because the fact, not one of the souls perched around the massive oak dinner table, polished to a glorious shine, set with antique plates and silver and crystal, all from different exotic locals, not one of them cared. Finely dressed individuals, great business men in hand tailors suits, mother of pearl cuff links; elegant women in silken dresses, diamonds on long, beautiful fingers, dangling about sensuous necks; each snuck sideways glances at the others with looks of confusion, determination, or high minded lip curls of snobbery. Most of their eyes glanced particularly in the direction of the shivering boy in the tweed jacket, the busted out elbows, sweat on the upper lip. But, awkward as the affair already was, the host’s chair was barren, even after three glasses of Merlot had been served by a tuxedoed butler who played violin in the kitchen as he waited to be called upon by the awkward guests. “To lift the taste buds in preparation for the meal,” he said, “Our Host has quite the surprise for you, your patience will not lead to disappointment.”
Mr. Johnson, who’s head rocked with relaxed self important banality; a posture he had learned from self impressed business men and oil tycoons whom he had heavy handedly overtook through hostile takeovers and sheer unfulfilled virility; lifted a white gloved hand lazily, calling over the waiter who appeared quick over his shoulder after gently setting down the violin. Mr. Johnson took his time before he turned his head, and then only a fraction, and he hurrumphed, “I must ask,” as he pulled a ivory embossed silver cigarette case from his pocket, flipped it open with a thumb, and allowed the waiter the honor of plucking up and delivering to his free hand a scented cigarette. Impatiently, he grumbled and waited for the waiter to light a match and smolder his incensed cigarette. “No accounting for service, I suppose,” he chuckled as he glanced around the table and frowned when none guffawed, or even chuckled. “I say,” He took a hearty drag, and continued, “I say, sir, when will our mysterious host arrive? I know the life of a butler is chalk full of waiting, but I, sir, haven’t the whole night to be waiting in suspense, as it were, delightful as your silly music must be to you. You see, while your masters offer was tempting, I did not expect this magnitude of competing bidders,” motioned to the others, “and I don’t care for bidding on something I was convinced to purchase in the first place! Where, sir, is our Host, sir?”
“Not much longer now,” the waiter as he bowed low, procured another bottle of wine and inquired, “May I freshen your drink?”
“By all means, freshen! Freshen!” Mr. Johnson, his voice raised, the vein between his eyebrows thumping as if near bursting. Collecting himself, as his glass was filled, he chewed on his cigarette butt, his teethe gradually covered with the brown leaves of tobacco, and the red stains of wine. “I dare say, take heed you, if the man of the house is not here by the time this wine is digested, I will no longer entertain his impertinence. So, for his sake, fill her up if you’re going to pour at all!”
Others followed in suit, motioning for wine, shouting out about the preposterous nature of the situation, “Doesn’t he know who I am?”, “I for one have never been treated like this in all my life”, “Disgusting the manners held on this end of town. I think he’s new blood, and new blood is bad blood, wouldn’t you say?”, all but the young man in the tweed, who’s knuckles were white as they clenched the table and ignored the higher classes statements entirely, his gaze steady, straight ahead, out of focus, and heaven knows, he didn’t drink. This will end today, he thought, his jaw clenched tight, and the weight of the gun so heavy in his pocket he leaned to the side as his back sweat with the effort of the simple lame attempt at sitting straight. No longer will I be afraid. Whatever it takes, this will end today.
Mrs. Williams leaned upon the table on elbows covered with long, shoulder length gloves. Diamonds in her ears which dangled as she spoke, and in a cavalier voice, she said, “You sir, what was your name?”
“I am known as Mr. Johnson, if you must know.”
“And is there a first name, dear?”
“I see. And am I correct in assuming you are here because of the promise of a business deal?”
“Why, yes.” Mr. Johnson grew a wary eye. “And I assume that is why you are here as well.”
“Not at all,” replied Mrs. Williams. “Very strange, wouldn’t you say?”
“Well then,” Mr. Johnsons eyes matched his stained red teeth, “Why then are you here, ma’am, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“It’s private, and we’ll leave it at that,” she said without a sparkle of emotion. “Suffice to say, Mr. Johnson, I think it might be possible that we’ve been hoodwinked. You there, sir, under what pretense were you invited?”
The questions flew around the table, and as the realization dawned upon the group, a growing sense of unease spread within the chamber, lit high with that ominous chandelier, the violin playing in the kitchen. After an uncharacteristic moment of silence, Mr. Johnson raised to his feet, drained the oversized glass of wine, and raised his important hand to inform the table they were being addressed.
“I say,” he said, raising his voice with vibrant gusto. “I dare say, I do believe that we have been duped.” He rose an eyebrow and let his gaze wander from face to face, a smug sense of importance and their air of an inquisitor, as if someone here knew what the meaning of the faux dinner was and hadn’t yet let them in on the secret. His gaze rested upon the young man who leaned funny to the side; the sore thumb amongst gilded fingers. “Unless our host reveals himself,” he shouted in order that his voice might shake the house, “in the next ten seconds, then, I dare say, I will be force to take my immediate leave of this horrible house.”
A shuffle past the arch caught his attention. Past the arch imported from italy, past the two wide marble pillars with great veins of white, and on down the hallway lit with grand chandeliers, leaned a man against the wall covered in shadow, a cigarette peaking out of his mouth illuminating his face in a glow of red, his eyes covered by a black fedora. He wore a powerful grin. Chuckling, the man in the hall took a long drag, took his time with the exhale of effortless smoke rings. When he spoke, he did so without reveling his eyes. “Mr. Johnson, I believe. Yes, it is you, isn’t it? I should have known it would be you who would start the riot. Please, I would consider it a personal offence if you left before dinner arrived.” His voice then took a dark turn as he uttered the malevolent words, “Sit back down.”
Mr. Johnson’s eye’s opened wide as he recognized the face in the hall, that nameless smile. “You’ve been here the whole time? You, sir, led me here in good faith.”
“Good faith,” spoke the man in the hall, “You don’t know the meaning of faith! I assure you, you have not an inkling on the matter. And as for ‘good’, Mr. Johnson, you are nothing of the kind, not one spec of goodness hangs about your loathsome person, your horrendous ideals, your shot ‘em in the back business practices or your exploitative mannerism and back room dealings. No, sir, do not point your finger at me! No, sir, do not try to raise your voice! For once in your life you will be silenced. Even the tycoon of a stolen empire deserves an iota of humility before he dies!”
“I will not thus be insulted! You, sir, can rot!” spat Mr. Johnson with wriggling jowls. “Ladies and Gentlemen, excuse this out break. You may fear for your life by this man with the gun who claims moral superiority, but he is a liar, a fact I have on good authority, and a thief. Now, you sir, there in the dark corner, you do not frighten me, I have ruled nations! Ladies and Gentlemen, please follow my lead,” he announced as his demonstrative figure raised quivering with a dark rage, ready to lead an uprising, “I,” he announced with an air of unfathomable superiority, “am leaving.” Pushing back his chair, he checked his pockets habitually, then stood, determined eyes not moving from the Host in the Hallway.
The violin played in the kitchen a sweet yet longing melody, long steady pulls on the horse hair bow, meandering like a stream directed by mortared rock walls through a large city.
The eruption of an echo, it shook the marble walls, the chandeliers, the foundations of the guests; a crack like a bull whip, then a piercing ringing in your ears. Mr. Johnson was pushed back a step by an invisible hand, then stood still, confused. He sniffed the air, looked around the room as if lost while blood trickled down the hole in his chest. “There are others like me, you know old boy,” he whispered, red collecting around the cracks on his lips. He stumbled back, into his chair, “You can never win against my kind. While the meek wait to inherit the Earth, here are we. We have a strong grip, and a hearty grasp on reality, and while the meek wait, we have already taken over. Oh my, I feel as though…I’m slipping away,” and slowly hunched forward, as his eyes rolled back in his head, until his face met with a crystal wine glass which held him for a moment before shattering under his weight. He the table with a dull thud.
Eye’s from around the table looked at the fallen man, blood began to collect on the floor, his cigarette still burning off to the side. The bullet hole in his chest gurgled and burped splashes of blood until the mans black heart, pierced by the lead crown, pittered, then pattered, then all together stopped beating.
Eyes from around the table looked at the man in the hallway, a revolver in his hand, cigarette and grin held firmly on his face, grey smoke from the shot and the cigarette whisking around him. He stood like a cowboy in a shootout, a pose which looked practiced in front of the mirror on rainy days, one hand out to the side, the other pointing the heavy gun at its victim. Gradually he relaxed his pose, rested the cigarette between two fingers, revealed his eyes with reckless abandon and announced, “Your Host has arrived!”
A woman screamed, a man ducked under the table, men tripped over their chairs, crystal shattered spilling the red wine over white dresses. The air erupted with the voices of the diners, and the smell of wine and smoke wafted around the room with sickly sweet elegance, a tango of chaos, and from the kitchen the tango was made complete as the song from the violin changed its tempo, du du du, dum dum dum. The floor rumbled with heavy footsteps as the patrons danced and slipped against the polished tile sending themselves careening smack against the floor.
The Host, savoring the chaos, watched for a moment before asking far too politely, “May I have your attention please?” The dance continued. “Please,” he said a bit louder, but only the boy in the tweed jacket, with the busted out elbows, sat still, a hand slipping below the table ever so slow. “Please,” The Host shouted angrily, while guests scrambled at the door to the kitchen which had been locked shut by the violinist. The Host eye’s narrowed. “Sit down, sit down, sit down!” he shouted, emphasizing his demand with a gunshot to the air which in turn rained down bits of ceiling. The voices quieted, and the guests, having realized their folly, sent him their quivering attention. “That’s better,” he said in a whisper.
The Host reached into a pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Looking down at the paper, he squinted, and pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his suits breast pocket, placed them lose on the tip of his nose and scanned the note, looking through the spectacles like an old man. He cleared his throat before he began to aloud. “Dear Ladies and Gentleman,” he read aloud like a circus maestro, arm swinging theatrically. He began to speak his next line, but he choked, coughed, cleared his throat, and looked up at his guest over his glasses. “Excuse me,” he apologized shrugging, “Just needed to clear my throat. Too many cigarettes I suppose.” He coughed again, then continued to read.
“Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I have called you all here today for a purpose.” He looked at them over his glasses, read their reaction, the terror on their face. He flashed a brief smile before continuing. “You, each and every one of you, have wronged me in the past, significantly. Some have wronged me in business,” he looked up at the extinguished Mr. Johnson, and he pointed to the man, “like you, Mr. Johnson. Some have wronged me in a much more personal manner.” He looked up at Mrs. Williams who trembled at the familiar face, her hand on the kitchen door knob, he pointed and said, “like you.” He read, “And one of you has hurt me to the quick, snuffed out the only love in my life without regard to common decency, without regard to her pain, and without thought of these the repercussions of your abominable act! Like you!” He bellowed and aimed two fingers squarely on the boy in the tweed jacket who remained trembling, a gun in his hand hidden under the kitchen table.
* * *
It was a night, could have been years ago, and the boy had been out of a job, penniless, hungry, but somehow providence had placed a gun in the holster of a passed out drunk man on the dark city streets. Feet light to the step like a rat, he scuttled to the drunk, picked his near empty pockets, then spied the gun, the ticket to his salvation. He took it, walked to the other side of town, miles he walked, to where theatre’s held the wealthy by the scores as they listened to horribly violent operas. When a show let out, he picked a couple out of the crowed for their solitude and her jewelry, then followed them until they were alone in the dark off a side street, the closest lamp two blocks ahead of them. The boy, aching, approached them, nervously shaking, hardly able to carry the gun steady. His stomach let out a loud gurgle, and the couple turned. Here they saw him, the boy clasping his stomach in one hand, holding a massive revolver in the other, shivering, the weight of the gun pulling his hand down.
“Excuse m-m-me,” he stuttered. He walked closer, his shiver out of control, “G-g-g-g-give me—“ and his shivering finger pulled the trigger. With a click, the hammer was released where it smacked down on the bullets casing, gun powder lit up in a blaze, leas shot whistling through the air, through a silk dress, soft skin, belly of a woman. The dark street echoed, and she looked down on him, on his wide struck eyes. Oh God! What have I done? She let out a whimper, and fearing for his life, he fired the gun again, and again, and again, and again, and again, click, click, click, click.
The pretty woman in the long dress fell to the street as did the man by her side. The boy rushed to her, stripped her of her jewelry, his mind turning silent, his body acting on impulses impossible to judge. Scuttling like a rat in a wall, afraid the cat will come at any second, clawing curiously, ready to pounce, he drug the woman’s body to a nearby ditch. When he returned for the body of the man, it had disappeared and shouts of agony came from the distance, in the dark, out of sight, echoed off the quiet shops, and heart aching wails drew the sound of a small crowd. So the boy scuttled off, and hid in a nearby crawlspace where he slept for days clinging to the jewelry, until the crime scene had settled.
* * *
The Host breathed, drew in his fury, and continued. “You have all been drinking wine, about three glasses each, give or take, a conservative estimate I believe, but no matter. Now where was I? …personal manner… drinking wine… ah, here we are.” He looked at his guests with a sheepish smile, “Sorry, I’m not a very good public speaker. I am frightfully nervous.” He scratched his forehead with the barrel of his revolver. “You all have been drinking wine, and only wine. This is to dull your senses, but not too much, while I kill each and every one of you before the night is through.”
At this Mrs. Williams burst into blubbering. Reduced to a sobbing mass of smeared makeup and tears, her judgment muddled by stress, she jumped to her feet and ran down the hallway, under the arch, past the pillars and chandeliers, past The Host, towards the front door. The Host looked up from his note and watched her run. He sighed, lifted his hand which carried the revolver, and followed her path with its barrel. As she ran past him, on down the hall, he fired, and she fell flat on the floor. He sighed again and looked back at his guests. “I’m sorry for the interruption,” he said, which sounded sincere. “I, um, wanted to finish reading my letter before that part. Nobody else run, all the doors are locked shut, you can’t get out.”
He looked back at the note, looked for his spot, scanned the note, then dropped it on the floor. “Well, it’s ruined now,” and he raised the gun and walked towards the crowd. The Host fired once, and another woman fell, he fired twice, a man in a lounge suit fell, and then he saw something odd. Still sitting at his place was the young man in the tweed jacket, no more than twenty, quivering yet oddly determined.
“Excuse m-m-me,” said the boy, his voice a fit of trembles, after all, the young man was nervous, but that was to be expected, he too was a pour public speaker. The young man held his own revolver in his hand which was resting, clattering as the boy shivered, against the table, and was aimed haphazardly at The Host and the wall behind him.
Taking a step back, The Host looked at the boy with his gun much too large for his hands, desperately trying to support the wait of it. The Host smiled, and guests ran past him, crawled on the floor, bled, screamed, cried, and rammed doors. “Excuse me, young man, but in the heat of the moment, I have forgotten your name,” he said with a bit of a laugh.
The boy did not shift in his seat, just shivered as he spoke. “My, my, m-m-m-my name—“ but was cut off by The Host’s gun as it brought down one another.
The Host unloaded the shells and began to reload. “Continue,” he said.
“My name is B-bobby Flanagan.” A tear fell from the young man’s face.
“Yes,” said The Host, “Yes, that’s right. You killed my only love, do you remember? I can remember those eyes of yours, a strange tint of yellow, wouldn’t you say? Nervous as always I see, always st-st-stuttering. And you brought a gun to a diner? Tisk, tisk, that is very rude.”
“Y-yes,” Bobbie said. “I do not attend invitations without kn-nowing my Host.”
“Ah, I see,” said The Host. “Resourceful, twitchy, a little cunning I suppose. It’s a wonder you came at all.”
“Y-yoe’ve b-b-been looking f-for me. I’ve b-been afraid. I d-d-d-don’t like to be af-fraid. I w-wanted to end it.”
“Shoot me in the back, eh? But you haven’t got the nerve for that. You want to see something boy? See these two holes in my jacket, and look here, the same holes in my shirt, where the stain turned brown. Those happened in a low point in my life, when a rat came and shot me twice without warning, but first he had the gracious sense about him to kill my love and let me watch her die as he stole family heirlooms. I wonder what he pawned them for?
“My,” he continued, “That is a large gun. It looks oddly familiar. May I see it? I can see its a beauty from here, but that particular gun, I would just love to hold it, just for a moment. I am a gentleman, you see, I will give it back. Now, don’t look at me like that, I could shoot you now if I wanted, bang! Come now, I want to have a look at that gun.”
The boy laughed nervously, “I’d r-r-rather you didn’t.”
The Host smiled showing his teeth, walked closer to the boy. The Host stood next to Bobbie Flanagan, Bobbie aimed his gun at The Host. “Put that thing down,” The Host said.
“I’d r-rather not,” Bobbie Flanagan said.
The Host laughed. He ruffled the boys hair, “I like you boy. For some reason I always did, and I think I know why. It’s your pure instinct of survival, no room in that head of yours for thoughts, just action and hesitation. You know what you remind me of? A rat, the kind you see in the gutters who scamper away only when your eyes touch them. Nervousness has a place in this world for a certain type, wouldn’t you say? That is why I always wanted to kill you myself, man to man, because I always have liked something you.” The Host paused, thought a moment. “You know what, we should make this fun. I am really in the mood for some sport. I have a compromise, if, of course, it suites you.” He looked to the boy to see his reaction, but there was none. “I have a garden out back, magnificent garden. I must have spent half my life in that garden. The shed is overgrown with ivy, the ground is covered with flowers. Now, I’m not talking about piddly bunches here and there. It’s covered with the most magnificent flowers, even orchids, which cannot grow here, I have grown. It is pure beauty. Years ago, when I was engaged, my father gave me this house, but there was no garden then, just grass and ivy. But then I was married, and my love came, she transformed this place into a palace, planted all types of flowers, didn’t matter who said if they would live or die, and she always managed to let them live. Well, the garden is nothing now compared to what it used to be. Sure, there are still flowers, but all of them are native, there is only one surviving exotic flower, a white orchid. While all the others died, I fought bitterly to keep this one alive, this one at least. This one at least. A stranger to this world, defying death; the only thing that can still love in this household. Love… Such a peculiar word in these dark days… But I’m afraid I’ve digressed. Why don’t you and I go back to that garden, and we’ll kill each other like civilized men.”
The boy sat in silence.
“A duel boy,” The Host said, excitement filling his eyes, his hands clenched in a fist over his heart. “A duel,” he whispered. “Just you and me boy, you and me and our guns in the garden. That’s the proper way to die, don’t you say. Amongst the beauty and the sky, midway between heaven and hell. And if you shoot me dead, you and all these other people, you can all leave.” He lifted a necklace from out of his collar, a key dangled from it. “This is their key to freedom. You kill me, and you can rip it from my body as we both know you are perfectly capable of doing, you can in a way redeem yourself, and become the hero of this boisterous affair.”
“And wh-what if I d-don’t kill you?”
The Host laughed good naturedly. “Don’t not kill me. You might end up like him,” he motioned to Mr. Johnson, wine and blood poured down upon the lap of luxury. “And you don’t want to end up like him.”
“Then I h-have to k-k-kill you,” said the boy, his eyes floating as if contemplating the possible outcomes of the Hosts proposal.
“Yes,” said The Host, “Then you have to kill me.”
“I’ll do it,” said Bobbie Flanagan.
“Good form.” The Host stood and motioned for the boy to follow him. They walked to the kitchen door where The Host knocked three times. “Walter, it’s me,” he called through the door. The violin stopped. “A young lad and myself are coming through the door. Could you kindly unlock it?”
“Very good sir,” came a weary voice from the other side of the door before it snapped unlocked, and slowly was pushed open. The Host walked through with an air of confidence, followed by the young man, Bobbie Flanagan. The man behind the door shut it and locked the latch. “Sir?” he asked.
“Yes Walter,” asked The Host.
“The young master has a gun.”
“You worry too much, Walter,” The Host laughed, patting Walters shoulder. “The young man is a gentleman. We are about to have a gentleman’s duel.”
“Very good sir,” said Walter, his hands folded in front of him. “Would you like me to continue manning my post, sir?”
“Yes, Walter,” The Host said walking by, “That would be fantastic.” The Host stopped, snapped his fingers and turned back to Walter. “Do you know what I have, Walter? I have a sixty year old bottle of scotch, which is impeccable by the way, in my safe. It’s half drunk, mind you, most of which I drank today. The safe is still open, go get yourself a drink, you look tired. And, Walter, if the worst should happen, I’ve recently updated my will. You’re getting the house.”
Walter stepped back. “Everything sir?” He asked with a bit of surprise.
“Yes, Walter, everything. Use it well,” The Host turned around and motioned for the boy to follow him. As he opened the back door to the garden, he called back to Walter, “Take care you don’t get too greedy Walter. It’s a sin you can’t repent of until it’s too late. Later you can talk about it with Mr. Johnson.”
Walter forced a smile. He breathed one heavy breath before saying, “Best of luck, sir.”
The Host put a hand on Bobbie Flanagan’s shoulder and led him out the door into the waning sunlight, already with a tint of red, and shut the door behind him. Walter held his post.
“Look at this place,” The Host said, his arms were spread wide as he walked over flowers and moss and ivy. The sun began dipping down below the small hills in the distance. “Smell the air,” he said. “Feel the dirt. This is a good place to die, wouldn’t you say?” he asked.
“S-smells l-like rain,” said Bobbie Flanagan.
“Indeed it does,” The Host looked up in the sky, but there were no clouds, just pink and purple where the blue is used to being. “Indeed,” he whispered, “it does smell like rain. And the sun is still in the sky.”
“The sun is s-setting,” said Bobbie Flanagan.
“Indeed,” The Host said as he looked on at the boy who would not take his yellow eyes from him. “Boy,” he said, “Why did you do it?”
Bobbie Flanagan kept silent.
“It’s simple enough. Why did you do it? This is the moment of truth boy, and any man would tell me. So, what do you say, huh? I deserve an answer! You who dragged her and dumped her in a ditch? She didn’t deserve that! You’re a child, a fiend! It was I who dragged her back out in the morning light once I found her! I who cried over her cheeks, held her tight, and was stained by her blood. You do deserve to die! You stole her from me, you stole my heart, right here, this scar, you gave me as you broke the lock for which only she held the key, tore it from its box which only she could enter, and threw it in a scum filled river floating with the waste of the city. And if the angels produce even Annabel Lee, here I will always be stuck in Limbo, waiting, wanting, craving, and forgetting what love feels like. It was you, boy, who viciously stole my heart and burnt black the arteries surrounding it. It was you who turned the whites of my eyes into Oliander, you who brought me to kill all whom I see. I may never get returned. Boy, accept your responsibility before you die! It was all because of you. You know this, don’t you?”
Bobbie Flanagan looked at his host who walked round him, careful not to tread too firmly lest he rend a flower in two. The boys hand, slick with sweat, clasped his revolver tight, his knuckles were white, his face was white, and his eyes shivered. “I know it,” he whispered.
“There is something sick about you, but still, there is something I admire in you boy,” said The Host, and he stopped walking. “You might be a right rat bastard, but for some reason, I like you.
“I am a far better gunman than you. This is obvious, look at yourself. I won’t have any fun killing you in this state with my obvious advantage. It’s just not right. You can’t hardly lift your gun, much less take aim with any dexterity. So, lad, I’ll tell you what I propose.”
The Host smiled. “We will stand back to back, and each walk twenty paces. We will turn about and I will allow you to fire first. Do you hear that? I will not fire until after you have fired. Do you understand this?”
“Y-y-yes,” said the boy.
“Good. Because if you miss me, and you hunch, if you run, if you break this trust, in any way, you are little more than an animal. Take your time, aim well, because if you miss, I will not miss, and further more, I will continue the work I began here today.” The Host crossed his arms. “I’m afraid I will need your word, your word you will give this battle the due diligence and respect it deserves. Do not shrink, do not run. Give me your word and we will commence this thing.”
“Aye,” said Bobbie Flanagan, “You have my w-word.”
“Good.” The Host walked towards the boy, he stood nearly a foot taller than the boy who stood with a hunch, he dressed far better than busted out tweed. He held his head high with a faint smile. “I wish I could have finished my letter. But, c’est la vie, it’s probably ruined now, covered with that wretched woman’s blood. I memorized it, read it over and over, because I knew I’d be nervous. Would you care to hear what I wrote?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Right, down to it then.”
The two walked to the center of the garden and stood back to back. Crickets began to chirp, frogs began to croak, and the suns last rays just rose over the hills in the distance. The smell of rain was thick in the air, but there were no clouds. Inside the house, the trapped guests stood against second story window, all pressed up against the glass, some covered in sticky blood, some in wine. They looked down eagerly, they were wondering what took so long for the duel to commence. Some were still crying.
“Count your steps aloud boy,” The Host said, then he smiled and said, “Excuse me, count your steps Mr. Flanagan.”
They each took a step and aloud counted, “one…” They took another and another and counted, speaking to the air. “two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…” The Host took his ninth step and counted, “nine,” but he did not hear Bobbie Flanagan count. The Host took another step, “ten,” and once again Bobbie Flanagan did not count. But The Host did not look over his shoulder. He stood still and he heard the faint tapping of steps rushing toward him. Animal, he thought. And then he thought, I like this boy.
Bobby Flanagan ran toward the host, gun held at his hip, and he fired a round, pulled back the hammer and fired another. The Host was hit in the back and lurched forward, he was hit again in the leg which flew out from under him, sending him to the ground. He pushed off the ivy with both hands, put all his weight on his good leg, and he limped forward. “Eleven,” he coughed so the boy could hear it, so the boy could know what a man sounds like. He limped forward again, “Tw-twelve.” He could taste the blood he had coughed up and he spat it to the ground. Bobby Flanagan stood behind him and fired another round which struck The Host in the back. His body was hurled to the ground, blood coming out in spits from the open wounds. The Host crawled forward, and Bobbie Flanagan stood over him and took aim.
Every time his heart beat, his body gargled out more red, red blood, and his eyes faded to dim light, the green blur of ivy, and the white of an orchid which could not grow in this climate. But he had made it grow. He had aided it as it’s roots spread, watered it when the sun was down, cut the ivy from taking it over. He had kept the perfect balance. As a breeze blew, the orchid wavered, then leaned in close and kissed his cheek.
Bobbie Flanagan pressed the barrel of gun against the mans graying hair and whispered so only he, The Host, and the orchid could hear. “You know you deserve to die, don’t you.”
The Host mouthed the words he could not speak. “I know it,” he tried to say.
Bobbie Flanagan pulled the trigger.
The bullet burst through The Hosts skull, traveled through his brain cutting off important connections, and broke through the other side, traveled with a trail of blood and brain, and cut the stem of the orchid in half. The flower shot up in the air before it fell and softly landed on The Host. The white flower on the red blood on the black suit on the man with the broken heart.
Bobbie Flanagan reached down and grabbed the necklace from around the dead mans neck, and yanked at it, but he didn’t have the strength and it did not break. He had to use his teeth, like an animal, to undo the clasp. He walked back and freed the guests, and as he did, all of them starkly knew, they all deserved to die.