A fateful night

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on the harbor

“We’re going to be late,” I adjusted my earrings while hopping around the bed trying to slip into my heels. “Do you need help with that?”

I smoothed down my dress, and stepped to my husband to finish his Windsor Knot. Nate tilted his head back so I had room to reach around his neck, his scowl told me all I needed to know.

“You don’t have to say anything,” I avoided looking him in the eyes as I twisted the silk tie into a perfect triangle at his Adam’s apple. “Shari’s my best friend. She’s a little eccentric, but I can’t just cut her out of my life.”

“It’ll be the same as last month,” he sighed. “I could recite it verbatim myself by now. Couldn’t she at least choose a different story, maybe read a different chapter? Something? Anything?”

I understood Nate’s frustration, I was bored with the evening program too. It’s always the same. We gather around Shari’s dining table where we feast on the finest catered meal and vintage wine. Conversation is erudite and stimulating. After our dinner, we all retire to her living room, or as she refers to it, her parlor.

While she ensconced herself in the room’s centerpiece wing-backed chair, often in front of a crackling fire, she entertained the group by giving a reading from a favorite book. Over the past few months, that book remained the same, so that each night she reads the same passage.

For the other guests this was all moot, since they were always new to the readings. Nate and I were the only repeat invitees. As he said, we both could present the reading ourselves, having heard it so often.

The evening’s dinner was delicious as usual, and as our empty dishes were whisked away from the table, we gathered our wine goblets and followed Shari to the other room. We found our seats as Shari settled into her throne. That’s how she appeared, like a queen presiding over her subjects.

Our small talk ceased when she discreetly cleared her throat. Her chosen book on her lap, open to the first page, she waited for us to settle before beginning.

“‘The night was calm and the wind was quiet that night,’ was how Tillie always started her story of the events that happened at the harbor that fateful night.”

Whenever Shari gave a reading, her voice took on an affected British accent. I had to press my elbow into Nate’s ribs to keep him from laughing. A quick sideways glance told me he was also mouthing the words as she read from her book. I dug my nails into his thigh, hoping Shari didn’t notice Nate’s lip synced impropriety.

I thought I heard a slight catch in Shari’s voice when Nate flinched under my assault. Her head down as she read, she gave no other indication anything was amiss. We tried to feign the same rapt attention the other guests showed.

Near the end of her performance, I felt Nate relax against my arm. Before he started snoring, I squeezed his thigh again, gratefully he was able to cover nodding off without so much as a yawn. We joined in the polite applause as Shari stood, dramatically closing her book with a flourish of her hand.

The others mingled for a few minutes as they gathered their coats and bags. As the last of the guests left, Shari locked and bolted her door. Nate and I were still on the couch, talking quietly, when she came down the foyer.

“The night is calm and the wind quiet,” she said as she walked across the room, her voice sounding distant and oddly sinister.

“Are you okay?” Standing, I followed her to the bay window. She was looking out at the river that ran along the avenue in front of her brownstone.

“It’s a fateful night at the harbor” she murmured as she unlatched the shutters, the cool autumn air ruffling her hair.

“Shari, you’re scaring me,” I touched her shoulder, trying to distract her from the view.

Spinning around so quickly she almost knocked me down, she pulled a knife from somewhere in the folds of her skirt. “My name is Tillie!” she hissed.

Nate was at my elbow, shielding me from Shari, helping me back away from this woman I no longer recognized.

The neighbors must have heard my screams through the open window. The last thing I remember was the sound of the front door splintering when the police broke into the apartment.

The detectives tell me that Nate is waiting for the Medical Examiner in a dark, cold drawer in the hospital’s basement morgue. Doctors tell me that if the police hadn’t found me when they did, I would be in the drawer next to Nate.

Shari is being held in a guarded psychiatric ward on the hospital’s fourth floor.

My prognosis is for a full medical recovery, my psychological healing is another matter.

I can’t help but feel guilty that I could have prevented this attack somehow. If only I had listened more closely to Shari’s story, or skipped ahead in the book to read the ending. Then I would have known what made that night at the harbor so fateful.

Peer challenged prompts

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, SAM challenged me with “‘The night was calm and the wind was quiet that night.’ was how Tillie always started her story of the events that happened at the harbor that fateful night.” and I challenged Jester Queen with “Do not rely on a rabbit’s foot for luck. After all, it didn’t work out too well for the rabbit.

7 comments

  1. I purposely didnt comment the first couple of times I read this because I knew you’d be a perfectionist like me and edit some.

    1) you killed mama’s prompt. Like I don’t think anyone saw this coming but you. It was very original.

    2) I love the dialogue. It was natural.

    This is one of your finer pieces.

    Like

  2. LOL, Jester Queen’s comment was mine as well. That weirdness drew me out of the story as I tried ot puzzle out the sentence 🙂

    No worries, I can’t seem to get that stupid tense stuff right either 😉

    That would be a creepy experience. But I wonder why she kept inviting them over and over…and was there really no way to nicely say no?

    Like

    1. Now, I’m confused. I made the edits that Jester suggested. I hope it’s that you are seeing the original in a Reader and are clicking through to comment, and not that there are even more egregious tense errors.

      I’m conscious of the problem, and go through drafts to make corrections. Invariably I miss errors because I read them as they should be and not as they are actually written. I should have someone else read over my drafts before I hit ‘publish.’

      Thanks for the concrit.

      Like

  3. Jester Queen caught my only thing too, so I just regale you with praise. LOL.

    YES!! This is so up my alley too. I totally love how you made the story within the story the foundation for the whole thing.

    I also agree that you brought the twist in just right. The hitch in her voice didn’t tell me this is what it is, so I was able to fully enjoy the twist as she locked the door.

    I totallly love this. You totally rocked this challenge!!

    Like

  4. I loved that sudden twist. I only really felt it coming when she locked the door, not at the hitch in her voice. Chilling and delicious! One thing — in this paragraph…

    While she ensconced herself in the room’s centerpiece wing-backed chair, often in front of a crackling fire, she entertains the group by giving a reading from a favorite book. Over the past few months, that book remained the same, so that each night she read the same passage.

    There are tense problems.

    Maybe “While she ensconces herself” or “While ensconced in” and maybe that book ‘has remained’ the same, so that each night she ‘reads’ the same passage?

    Like

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