SAPHIRA – Short Story for the Coffee Break

BLURB:

Saphira is a young artist with a curse – she’s that kind of beautiful that sells. Which her parents – business people in distress – decide to exploit, dragging her to business banquets in order to find her a rich husband. It’s at one of these banquets that Saphira witnesses murder and draws the attention of a highly dangerous killer with mysterious reasons. This scene depicts the pivotal moment when Saphira becomes a witness and meets the killer known as the Marquis.

***

The most luxurious banquet hall in town. Or so it wishes to stand with its chandeliers dripping crystal, golden curtains and mirrors with gilded frames – fake of course, but they can trick a lay eye. I sit at the table with palms on my lap, focused only on my breathing – Mum insisted that I wore the corset dress she got for me in London, all white lace and cream silk fit for a wanna-be bride, so I can hardly breathe.

Father talks to the “prospect,” Vladimir Pukov, who fixes me with a piranha grin. Big and fleshy in his tailcoat, bald and overconfident, he’s known to be a ladies’ man. And filthy rich. Which is why Mum spared no effort to groom me into his usual prey.

The piranha likes what he sees – his business partner’s thin-to-a-fault daughter, face nicely painted, tired eyes heavy with mascara, styled golden hair cascading down a fragile frame. Yes, I fit the profile he’d do. Father aims for a wedding, but I’m sure he wouldn’t shy from pimping me for a night or two if Pukov agrees to save his business.

“Saphira,” the bald piranha finally addresses me. “That’s a beautiful name. It suits you. I’d think of a face like yours if I’d simply hear it.”

No shit. I give him a fake smile.

“She’s more than looks,” Mum advertises. “She has a degree in Beautiful Arts and even sold a couple of paintings before her graduation.”

“And since?”

None. Both Mum and Father smile and bear while the piranha looks down on me. He’s satisfied to have made us all lose face. His proud posture doesn’t compliment him, it makes him look like a double-chinned penguin.

“Excuse me,” I say and push back my chair. I leave the table and make my way through the crowd towards the exit, then take up such a pace down the stairs that I stumble over my own dress folds.

I manage to reach the bottom of the flight on my feet and lean on a marble pillar, hand on my belly and struggling for deep breaths. The freaking corset makes it hard.

The first cloakroom is full of powdering noses, so I seek a more secluded one to cool down. This part of the venue is still undergoing some renovation, which keeps precious personalities at bay. Given that the ball’s full of them, this wing is empty.

I stroll among a few scaffolds for interior and take the curve around the corner. I stop in my tracks and my breathing catches, yet this time it’s not the corset.

An elegant back in a tailcoat, stripping off a pair of black gloves. He moves like a feral licking its bloody snout, which must be why the white-faced dead man in a suit sitting on the floor facing him, back against the wall, actually fits the picture for a second. I realize I’m witnessing a murder and I want to scream, but the killer turns, and my heart stops.

His face is marble-white with astonishing features and the blackest eyes I’ve ever seen. He’s probably no older than twenty, barely more than a dazzling boy, but the calmness he displays, the composure, it leaves no doubt – it was him.

I turn on my heels and run back towards the populated hallway, my shoes clattering on the marble floor, dress folds gathered in my hands. I barge into the packed toilet, breathless and unable to utter one intelligible word. The powdering noses now staring and batting fake lashes don’t look like much help.

I crack the door and peek outside. People stroll up and down the luxurious hallway, stiff and wearing the fake grins specific for these business balls. He’s nowhere in sight. I slap a bit of water on my cheeks, which brings my shaking limbs back in moving condition, and hurry up to the ball room, intent on blurting out a report to my father.

But only a few steps into the dancing and tumbler-clinking crowd the young killer blocks my route, arranging his tie and fixing me with those dangerous dark eyes. I freeze in place. Before I realize what’s happening he reaches around my waist and leads me into a slow dance. He moves so naturally, no one would suspect that something’s wrong with this picture. I move along, my mind blocked and relying only on my sixth sense – I dread what would come out of struggling away from such a man.

“Are you going to tell on me?” His voice is a pleasant baritone. Soft, warm, it could fool anyone. It could’ve fooled me.

“You just killed a man.” I begin to shake. 

“I had the best reason there is for that.”

“There are no good reasons for murder. You’re a monster.”

“You’re good with labels. Stamp people a lot?” He exudes a bittersweet scent that stirs me inside.

“No more than they stamp me.”

I have a label for you too, then.” He sounds menacing. I can see “dead woman” racing my way. But he takes distance, keeping my hand in a smooth palm. His eyes hypnotize me into calmness as he takes it to his beautiful young lips. “Persephone.”

“Why Persephone?” I whisper with my last drop of wit. He seems to hypnotize me in the most real sense of the word.

“Because I might just take you with me back to the Underworld.”

***

Next episode.

Picture source.

Buy Saphira’s whole story here.

17 thoughts on “SAPHIRA – Short Story for the Coffee Break

  1. I like Saphira’s bored sarcasm in the beginning. The rapid transition of emotions to include a mix of dread and attraction creates tension as the strange killer goes to work on her. Well done!

    1. Thank you so much Hyperion. This one is based on a dear friend of mine, a beautiful woman whose beauty doesn’t stop her from getting cheated on. My secret take on it is that she’s too smart for her husband’s liking, and he’s punishing her. But thing is, some years ago she began having these vivid nightmares of murder in the bathroom. That’s what got me going and exploring.

      1. My heart aches for people stuck in those kinds of torturous relationships. Nothing crushes a soul faster than those breeches in trust. I could see where her angst over this unkind treatment would bring nightmares. You did a very good job of dividing the emotional stages of the events. From a literary perspective, the turmoil mixed with the attraction is electrifying.

  2. You have great understanding of the human heart indeed, Hyperion. Great insight! This girl and I we belong to the same family and we’ve known each other for about ten years. When she married her husband (he being my blood family), it was after she’d found out that he’d been cheating on his wife with her for six months. She hadn’t even known he was married. Still, she married him. So is it his fault alone?
    I think with us women it’s less the breach of trust, than it is that we realize we are not unique for a man. It’s falling hard flat on your face, as a gal. And when that happens, you get to face your real demons and desires. Want a man’s obsession? It’s like having a killer on your tracks, and it can end up pretty badly.

    1. Ouch! Yes I do believe we can find ourselves in situations we don’t have the will or ability to back out of. I think in the case of the conqueror and the possessor, both will lead to unhappy endings and as you pointed out, can end badly. Well, if they love each other and want to make it work then both will need to come together and find the balance in their lives that prevents the train wreck that could happen to their marriage if nothing changes. I hope the best for them.

      1. Love can often lead us to give up everything, from dignity to life, and this is especially true with women. I refrain from judging anyone ever, becaue every time I did – last time was many years ago – God put me in the exact same situation of the person I judged. And I didn’t do any better. I really want her to obtain the kind of love she desires, the kind of love that makes her the only one in her man’s life. She’s family, and I love her.

      2. That’s such a powerful statement and I believe it true that we will find ourselves judged harshly for judging others. I do hope Your family member can find that love. It can take some patience and introspection to find someone who is truly valuable that will in turn value her as well.

  3. The tragedy of a person who feels obligated to follow every one of their parents’ wishes no matter how bad it turns out for them.

    I love the young murderer’s choice of a name for her- Persephone.

    The mythological selection implies a dark possibility for his own origins.

    1. Your intuition and erudition lead you on the right path, dear Chris! Indeed, this one is based on a real person who had to follow other people’s choices. The Marquis might be her doom, but also her salvation.

      1. Leading her down dark roads will at least get her away from her parents’ choices.

        Yes I can see how that would unfold.

        That’s often the way people like the Marquis act in the political and religious realms as well.

        Offering people a different road rather than some mistakes that have gripped nations and peoples in the past may appear a form of salvation.

        And the end result is sadly a journey to the Underworld- a realm of darkness and unbelievable sorrow.

      2. That is exactly right. In Saphira’s case – and here I mean also the real person behind the character – she might have to assume her own dark side and her own dark choice in order to be able to live with herself and with others. This is tightly linked to what you just said. We can blame religion and leaders and politics and economy and God and the devil and our mothers and our father, Freud and Zeus himself, but in the end, we are the victims of our ignorance, which is due to our lazyness. Instead of informing ourselves, working for something better, fighting and manifesting against or for something in writing or in action, we prefer to sink in the couch cushions and be revolted at our lives with a beer and a friend. I’m very much with you and Daniel regarding the importance of education, but in order for education to work, people must be willing to make the effort of taking it in and – back to Saphira – assuming their own choices and dark sides, as well as properly bridling them, without seeking to blame others. There, I’ve said it 🙂

      3. That dark night of the soul- staring into the deep abyss- definitely leaves one changed for ever.

        And such a person will come away from that dark night- either for the better or for the worse.

  4. I thought I should read the prequel to The Marquis first and I am so glad I read this! I love how you describe a smart university graduate sarcastically enduring her parents trying to match make her. The overconfident, overfed rich guy reminds me of a lot of men who think they have a right to squash smart, beautiful women.
    I love how Saphira steps out for a breath of air and catches The Marquis making a kill. There is already an intense attraction that logically is so wrong, and yet its so captivating I dont want to stop reading now. 🙂 Excellent writing!

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog, dear Sara! Wow, that is a beautiful thing to do. I’m honored that you like the story so much, it motivates and fuels me. A big strong hug to you!

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