Theater Masks

Theater Masks

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Short Story!

The following short story wasn't accepted for the latest Emerald Tales magazine. No worries - I'm already working on my next submission. Still, I like this story and want to make it available for people to read. I'm interested in comments and suggestions, since I'm not really sure where to take this - I love the premise, but would like more ideas on maybe expanding it etc.
If you like it (or if you don't) please post a comment below. Tell your friends and family and strangers on the street to come read the story - it'll be interesting to see what kind of traffic this gets. If you do read it, PLEASE leave a comment either way (I won't be hurt if you don't like it, let me know the truth).
(PLEASE NOTE -- I know the formatting is a little off, I apologize for that, but if you could see the mess of an HTML form I have before me, you'd know why this is the best I could do!)

By: Jason Flum

6:23 pm, April 5, 2010
When Karl Mooney read the advertisement in the Times for the Carnivale celebration the British government was sponsoring in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the London Eye’s protective gaze over the city, he knew he would have to be a part of the festivities. He was there at the Eye’s dedication and had been amongst the first to ride to the top. This was before he had met and married Nicole, of course, who would never deign to find herself in such a precarious position. Nicole preferred her life to be safe and simple, which was all well and good for Karl, all except that it was so damn boring.

At dinner a week before the parade, Karl broached the subject of going to the celebration as a family adventure. Nicole was, as Karl expected her to be, reitcent.

“Just think of the noise and the crowds. It’s. . .unseemly,” Nicole said, sipping on her tea. “We’ll not be going to London that day.”

Karl glanced down at his son, hunched over his beef and potatoes. “Hey buddy, would you like to see the parade?” It was an unfair tactic, but Karl had nothing to lose.

Tim nodded, “Mother, can’t we go? Please?”

Nicole sighed and gave Karl an exasperated look. She could say no to Karl, but their son was another story altogether. “I’ll not be going. If you two boys would like a holiday, then by all means, I’ll not stop you.”

Karl slept on the couch that night, but a week later he and his boy were on their way to London.

8:49 pm, April 12, 2010

Leon looked at the sky and trembled. The moon was shining brightly and he had no idea what to do. In another part of the world, at another time, he might have been able to hear a gunshot. It was only on the floor above him, after all, where the tragedy was unfolding, possibly even as he stood at that window shielding the lights from below with an upraised arm.

He slumped his shoulders and wondered where in the world he could go from here. Jazz streamed in the window from the street below and wrapped itself around him. A drumbeat pounded, filling his head with the music. Leon strained to hear above the music, to listen for the gunshot, but it was impossible.

The parade continued to stream by. Across the street, a woman screamed out and lifted her shirt. A string of purple beads flew up from the street and she caught them easily. She leaned out of the window and shook her chest, holding her shirt with one hand and the beads with the other.

Leon would have cared had he not felt like a complete coward. He might have cared had he not betrayed his wife and daughter. He might have cared if Sally and June were not even now paying for his own cowardice and mistake in the apartment above him.

8:50 pm, April 12, 2010

“Where are you? I know you’re here, and it’s no use hiding,” the man with the gun said, a wild grin on his face as he scanned the shadows.

The noise was incessant, a pounding drum and wailing horns mingled with screams of revelers. The festivities below were the perfect cover for what he needed to do. No one was paying attention to the apartments above unless some silly girl was hanging out a window half-naked. Any unfortunate noises would easily disappear beneath the music.

The man with the gun and the flashlight felt himself tremble with excitement. He was about to do the one thing that made him special.

8:54 pm, April 12, 2010

Tim’s father had bought the balloon from a street vendor who had a large black mustache and silly hat. Tim had wanted a blue balloon, but the vendor didn’t have any left. Instead, Tim settled for red.

Now, as Tim sat atop his father’s shoulders watching the parade, the balloon lazily clung to the string that the boy gripped in hands sticky with funnel cake sugar. As the floats drifted by, Tim watched with eyes agog. The colors and lights danced in front of him, and the costumes sent shockwaves through his imagination.

He was all of seven years old, and the mysteries of adulthood danced on the fringe of his awareness. He had no idea why it was true, but some deep seated feeling told him his mother would not be at all happy if she knew the things he could see. Still, his father had taken him and that somehow made it all OK.

The world was a blur of color and sound and light, and the sugar rushing through his system made him tremble.

He was so excited by everything surrounding him, he didn’t even notice when the balloon above his head exploded.

8:48 pm, April 12, 2010

Sally Weathers crouched in her bedroom closet, as still as she had ever been in her entire life. Even her tears refused to fall at the speed dictated by gravity as a sob caught in her throat. She didn’t dare make a sound, and she kept her left hand clamped firmly around June’s mouth to be sure the girl stayed quiet as well.

Through the crack at the bottom of the door, she could see the flashing lights from the parade as they played around her apartment. The music was reduced to a thumping beat and a muffled melody, neither of which could compete with the pounding of Sally’s own heart.

“Where are you? I know you’re here and there’s no use hiding,” a voice called out, cocky as hell and dripping with menace.

Sally felt June let out a quick breath, but even with the sounds of the Carnivale going on below to hide any noises that might escape, the girl didn’t make a peep. Sally was proud of the girl.

The closet was a lousy hiding place, but Leon hadn’t given her much time to hide.

Fortunately, the closet was where they kept the shotgun.

8:40 pm, April 12, 2010

It was a pleasure for Karl Mooney to stand with his son on his shoulders and watch the parade go by. He felt a swelling patriotism for Mother England he hadn’t experienced in a decade. Even more, he felt a connection with his son that had been sorely lacking in their relationship due to Karl’s busy work schedule.

Head held high and arms firmly locked around Tim’s legs, Karl stood entranced by the brilliant lights, sparkling masks and half naked women. At the first glance of nudity which came just after he negotiated the balloon fiasco, his cheeks had turned ashen and he heard Nicole’s voice in his head screaming, “What are you doing with the boy in a place such as this? Turn around at once, you. . .buffoon’s arse. . .”

The second half-naked redhead shouting from a third floor window erased Nicole’s voice at once. So what if the boy saw some naked breasts? It was good for him, after all, to climb out from his mother’s skirts at last.

Head held high, his son on his shoulders, Karl looked with eyes as wide as his son’s at the festivities around him. Down the street, Karl could see the Eye of London peacefully taking in the party thrown in its honor. Like a mother (yes, even Nicole on a good day) watching over her children, the Eye took in all, and Karl could only imagine that the Eye approved of what she saw.

8:44 pm, April 12, 2010

Across the street, Nathaniel Glover trembled with anticipation. He was unaware of Karl’s existence, and only aware of Tim in so much as he was one of the dozens of children lining the parade route with a balloon in hand.

The parade mattered little to Nathaniel, as costumes were silly things of childhood. The music was pleasant, but more importantly, it was loud enough to cover the sounds of what would soon happen in the apartment above.

Nathaniel’s phone vibrated in his shirt pocket. Sticking a finger in his left ear and turning his back to the parade, he took the call. “Yeah, Nathaniel here.”

“I don’t have it. . .” the voice on the other end said.

“A shame,” Nathaniel answered.

“I’ll get it, I promise, please. . .”

“It’s too late, Leon. I’m downstairs. You can’t hide. You can’t run.”

“No, please. . .,” but Nathaniel had already hung up the phone.

8:45 pm, April 12, 2010

A giant float in honor of London’s West End delighted Karl to no end. Maria Friedman and Michael Crawford sang a jazzed up duet from Hello Dolly! followed by a medley from Guys and Dolls, and Karl mouthed along with the words. A shame, Nicole would have liked this, he thought.

Across the street, he thought he caught a glimpse of a man in a black fedora pulling a gun out and charging into the building behind him. The man was instantly forgotten as Karl was sure Friedman had waved at him from the float.

9:32pm, April 11, 2010

“You’re at it again?” Sally said, slamming her fork down on the table. The piece of pie in front of her was untouched.

“I tried so hard to stay away. It was a sure thing, the track was muddy, and Monte Carlo was running the inside. . .” Leon said, slumped against the counter.

“How much?”

“I really thought he would win…”

“How. Much?” Sally demanded.

“Twenty thousand pounds,” Leon muttered.

“Sweet Jesus,” Sally said. “What are you going to do? You can’t afford that!”

“Do you think I don’t know that? Mr. Glover is going to kill me.” Leon was practically choking on his tears.

“When do you have to get him the money by?” Sally asked.

“Two days from now, after the parade. He said June could enjoy it before. . .” he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.

“Sweet Jesus,” Sally said again.

She lifted the fork again and took a piece of the blueberry pie in front of her.

“I’ll fix it. Somehow, Sally, I’ll fix it.”

Sally silently finished the pie and put the plate and fork into the sink. She didn’t say another word as she got undressed and went to bed.

8:51 pm, April 12, 2010

Tim looked up at the windows above him, not really understanding why the women were all lifting their shirts, and frankly not really caring. The costumes and masks were far more interesting anyway.

In his scanning of the upstairs windows, he saw a man standing alone, looking out at the parade but not really looking. On the floor beneath that man, stood another man who looked scared.

Tim silently hoped that both men would find something in the wonderful parade they could enjoy.

12:06 pm, April 12, 2010

The phone rang in his pocket, and Leon couldn’t bear to look at the caller ID before he answered. He knew who was on the other line. “I thought I have till tonight, you said 8:30!” he said.

“Hey, easy, I’m just checking in,” Nathaniel’s silky voice crept through the phone. “I don’t think you understand, Leon, I’m not looking to make trouble. I just want what’s mine, and make no mistake, I will have it.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Glover.”

“Then you have the money?”

“Not as yet, I don’t but. . .” Leon stuttered.

“No buts, Leon. 8:30. Your apartment on 13 King Charles Street, yes?”

“Yes, 4B,” Leon mumbled.


“4B, I’ll be there. With the money. Can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot,” Nathaniel said, crooking his fingers like a gun at the phone and smiling to himself.

“Why during the carnival? You can’t let my kid enjoy it? Please?”

“I want what I want. You screwed up, you give me what I want, no one gets hurt. See you tonight.”

The phone clicked, and Leon frantically turned back to his racing guide.

8:45pm, April 12, 2010

Leon walked back to the window after hanging up the phone and wrapped his arms around Sally. The parade passed by below. June sat on a stool in front of them, tapping her feet merrily to the music. She had excitedly turned to her parents several times already to point out an especially bright costume or funny mask.

Leon wasn’t really watching the parade, however.

Even though it wasn’t a particularly hot evening, Leon was covered with sweat as he scanned the crowd below, looking for the familiar black fedora he so feared.

“Is everything OK?” Sally asked, squeezing Leon around the waist.

“Yeah, um, I’m. . .” and then he spotted the fedora, just beneath his window. Sweet Jesus. “I’m going to step outside for a smoke.”

“OK, don’t be too long,” Sally said, kissing Leon on the cheek.

8:49 pm, April 12, 2010

The next time Sally heard Leon’s voice was over the phone. It was eight words, but eight words that caused her to move faster than she had in twenty years.

“Someone’s coming. The shotgun is in the closet.”

8:46 pm, April 12, 2010

“See that, Tim?” Karl asked, holding tightly to his son’s tiny hand.

“Not really, Daddy,” Tim said dejectedly. He had spent most of the parade jumping up to catch glimpses of the pageantry between the shoulders of others who were celebrating. “I can’t see!”

Karl looked down at his son and smiled. “I’m sorry, Bud, here.” Karl reached down and scooped Tim up so the boy could scramble onto his father’s shoulders. “That better?”

“Yeah, I can see everything now!” Tim cried happily, wrapping the string of his balloon around his hand.

8:46 pm, April 12, 2010

Nathaniel heaved a sigh as he saw the elevator at 13 King Charles Street was out of order. It would have to be the stairs. He liked to be in a more rested state when he prepared himself to do the thing that made him special, but sometimes there just wasn’t any choice.

He could hear “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” fading away into “What a Wonderful World” on what was no doubt a tribute to American jazz float.

Opening the door to the stairwell, Nathaniel felt the reassuring weight of the revolver in his hand. He began to climb.

8:47pm, April 12, 2010

The parade sounds were completely muffled, allowing Leon to hear the door from the bottom of the stairwell click shut from all the way from his position on the landing on the fourth floor.

He realized at once that he didn’t really have a plan of any kind. He knew Nathaniel was below and heading upstairs. There was only one stairwell in the building, and the elevator was busted.

Leon had a sudden burst of inspiration. He had the advantage of the upper ground. What if he just charged down at Nathaniel, knocked him over, ran out of the building and got lost in the crowd? Surely Nathaniel would chase him out of the building then, right?

Leon made his way down the first flight of stairs and took a deep breath.

A voice from below: Leon, that you?”

Damn, Leon thought. Now what?

The music from outside was completely muffled. Aside from some bass reverberating through the building, nothing from outside penetrated the concrete walls of the stairwell. Mr. Glover was taking his time coming up the stairway. Leon could hear every step Nathaniel took. Leon stood frozen, listening intently to every movement below.

When the first shot was fired up the middle of the stairs, the echo was nearly deafening.

Nearly jumping out of his skin, Leon snuck through the third floor door. He had the presence of mind to close the door as quietly as he could behind him.

8:47pm, April 12, 2010

Nathaniel stopped halfway up to the first landing. He was sure he’d heard something from above. Sticking his head into the middle of the stairwell, he looked up at the looping railways soaring above him. There was nothing there.

Leon, that you?” he called, hoping to bring out his prey.


Nathaniel proceeded up to the first landing. On a hunch, he leaned out again into the middle of the stairway. He fired a shot, hoping again to scare his quarry.

Either no one was there and Nathaniel’s imagination was playing tricks on him, or Leon was better at this than Glover had given him credit for.

It didn’t really matter either way to Nathaniel. There was no where for Leon to run. The hunt was on, and Nathaniel couldn’t have felt more alive.

10:12pm, April 5, 2010

A memory: Sarah Lancaster moved out of her apartment last week, and Steven, the landlord, had decided to wait until the London Eye Carnival was was over to try renting it out again. Steven and Leon were friendly, going out for the odd beer at Mcginny’s down the street now and then.

“You wouldn’t believe the offers, Leon,” he’d said last week. “A thousand pounds for the week, but try gettin’ the bastards out after the parade! At best the place’ll be trashed from the partyin’ so no thank you. I’ll leave the place open – use it for a getaway from the wife and kid if you know what I’m sayin’!”

Leon had laughed graciously.

8:50 pm, April 12, 2010

“Where are you? I know you’re here, and it’s no use hiding,” he had said. Play to your strengths, Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s sense of hearing was second to none, but the music from the damn parade made it nearly impossible for him to listen for the tell tale movements of a frightened man.

It was OK. There was no place for Leon to go. He might be in the closet or under the bed – one way or another, he would need to come out eventually. The question was, when would Leon make himself known?

He would wait. The man with the gun stood in the middle of Leon’s living room and faced the window looking down at the festivities with the revolver in his hand. Concentrating on tuning out the sounds from outside, he focused everything on his hearing. His focus was so intent, he didn’t even take so much as a moment to enjoy the parade passing by.

8:53 pm, April 12, 2010

A marching band made its way through the parade route. Tim kicked his feet in time to the music, but Karl didn’t mind at all.

8:53 pm, April 12, 2010

The man had stopped talking. June didn’t need to make a sound for Sally to know what she was thinking: did the bad man leave yet?

Pushing the door open to peek through a crack answered the question for her, but…

8:53 pm, April 12, 2010

…unfortunately it also answered a question for the man with the gun.

8:52pm, April 12, 2010

He couldn’t let Sally and June pay for his mistake. He couldn’t stand here and watch a fucking parade go by while his wife and daughter’s fates lay in the hands of a killer.

No, he couldn’t allow it to happen. He’d spent his life as a coward, making bets rather than working hard for his keep, afraid to ask women out, afraid to tell the one woman who’d taken the time to love him that he was mixed up in something awful, lying to her even tonight. He couldn’t do it any more.

Steeling himself, he ran out of the apartment, into the stairwell, and charged up the stairs.

8:53pm, April 12, 2010

When Nathaniel entered the apartment, he had made a mistake. It wasn’t something he usually did, but with the constant blaring from the street, he was distracted and forgot to close the front door to the apartment all the way.

It didn’t matter now, as Leon was clearly inside the apartment, tucked away in the closet in the bedroom.

Nathaniel never knew what hit him.

8:54pm, April 12, 2010

Time slowed to a crawl as Leon crept to the front door. It was open a crack, and that was enough. He looked into his home, and saw Mr. Glover standing in front of the same window Leon had stood not ten minutes before with his wife and daughter.

Streaking through honey, Leon dove at the intruder, knocking him off balance and causing the revolver in his hand to discharge. . .

3:43 pm, April 13, 2010

“…and it was great, Mommy, except when I looked up and saw my balloon had popped, but the parade was so much fun and Daddy and I had the best time…”

8:54 pm, April 12, 2010

. . .and the two men fell to the floor in a heap.

Next thing Leon knew, his wife was standing over them, shotgun pointed at Mr. Glover’s head, and June had already started dialing for the police as her parents had taught her to do in case of an emergency.

It was over, and the parade kept going.

3:45 pm, April 13,2010

“I’m glad you had fun, honey, go put your stuff away,” Nicole said, kissing Tim on the head. “And you, Karl?”

“It was fantastic.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Not really, just a parade, dear.”

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