An early excerpt from a novel currently being written by Skip McRobert. Though the character David is prominent in both, the text novels contrast the graphic novels by being darker, submerging into horror. Not Romantic About Romance explores Vitalism by weaving it into fiction.
The scorched-sweet bees wax candle scent drifted through the crowd. The smell should have relaxed David: it didn’t.
“So, ‘scared’ has a birthplace; and, I’ve found it”, thought David.
It was Halloween night, and lit candles dotted the ancient opera house lobby. The candles were the only light, hidden amidst the décor of orange and black Halloween paraphernalia, expensive, scary, custom made for true believers, and very old. The soft golden glow illuminated elegant men and women adorned in black attire made especially for the night.
And, there was the creepy, nosy, somehow sentient fog, wispy, flowing through the lobby. The fog thickened near wine glasses, giving an opaque luminescence to glasses, wrists and arms. And the crowd acted as though that was normal.
That wasn’t the only unusual luminescence to be seen. There was a barely perceptible sheen enveloping the head of almost every person in the lobby.
Standing in shadows David kept a stony face. As a con man he was accustomed to having the upper hand; not with this crowd.
In his youth David by chance learned fire sometimes amplified human thought, at least general moods; his introduction to the science of magic. And an urge to con; it seemed the right thing to do.
The people he heard turned out to be controlled by the seven deadly sins. Identify the blend of sins, and then take advantage. Someone under the control of a deadly sin had a major blind spot.
Normally it took much effort to find such a debauched one. In this crowd? Aside from his friend, Fr. John, every person here had fallen victim to all seven.
Still, David had tried to work the crowd, to get an upper hand. He’d try again.
A youthful couple stood around 30 feet away, chatting and laughing. A candle in a small alcove flickered close to the woman’s neck. David focused, and attached his thoughts to the flame.
Instantly his stomach sickened. David strained to maintain contact, to identify her particular blend.
The fog around the woman’s hand thickened tighter. The woman turned stern, and anxiously looked about. David broke contact with the flame. A clump of fog crept past David’s face, and blocked the woman’s view of him.
David felt like a rabbit hiding in a pack of wolves. This was an invitation-only crowd that murmured and politely laughed. Important people, not names mentioned on the nightly news, people too influential to have a public life.
Fr. John, an Anglican priest, walked over to David. He was responsible for David being here tonight.
The priest caught the attention of a woman standing straight and elegant. She smiled, made a small, barely sincere wave.
Fr. John returned the same to her, and then added a flourish intended to pass as sincerity.
“We’re sheep working a wolf convention” said Fr. John, quietly, so only David could hear.
“Keeping busy, are you, making people laugh?”
The priest laughed.
“You know me; too busy spending money to have time to work; a great way to make friends”.
Fr. John raised his hands to chest level, rubbed his palms together, quickly calming himself.
“Okay, sorry, when I get nervous I need to laugh”, he said.
The bell sounded, announcing the 3rd act was soon to begin. The priest rubbed his palms together again.
“We must be good ‘moths’, and have another dalliance with our ‘flame’” said Fr. John.
With resignation David followed Fr. John. The auditorium entrance was from the side of the seating. Inside there were no rows of seats, no assigned seating. Over stuffed couches, chairs and tables of various sizes causally filled the auditorium.
At the back wall, apple wine barrels were stacked to the ceiling. The barrels held the remote valley’s recent vintage. And, behind the wine storage area? David had heard only rumors.
David sat to Fr. John’s left. A wisp of fog brushed David’s cheeks. Windows in the town never were shut. The wisps came from the high mountain valley’s ever-frozen apples’ fermentation. The apples weren’t picked to make wine; the fog was distilled.
Fr. John leaned into a passing wisp, and took a deep breathe. A bit of fog settled in his hair. A glimmer shone in his eyes as the intoxication kicked in.
“If this crowd are such Halloween traditionalists, why don’t they do this outside, around a bon fire?” said David.
Fr. John smiled, felt quite pleased, ready to smile and compliment on demand.
“Bonfires are merely an attempt to recreate what happens here” said the priest.
The priest looked at David, motioned invitingly toward the fog. David shook his head ‘no’. The fog thought otherwise, drew toward his nostrils. David quickly raised his right hand, pinched his nose shut. David wanted to be uninfluenced by the valley’s strange science. Nature here was most definitely not ‘undisturbed’.
The fog crept onward.
A small crystal ring sounded. Fr. John ran his finger on the rim of a glass on a table to his right, continued the ringing tone. And, the fog near David’s face drew down, into the glass, whirled, and turned to golden liquid.
“Nectar that nourishes our flame” said the priest.
‘Flame’ was an oddly appropriate term for Rose. David could enter her mind easier than any person he’d met; the reason for his obsession with her. She provided enough ‘flame’, mental illumination, on her own. He couldn’t, though, bring clarity to his readings of her. That sparked his romantic feelings; she had the makings of the ultimate con artist.
And then the ‘flame’ of the night’s eerie mood reappeared, breaking the room’s sensual monotony.
Onto the stage stepped Rose, the world famous soprano, born down the mountain in Black Rose village. The outside world knew Rose came home for Halloween. Outsiders, though, knew not why; the diva came home to sing.
As on every Halloween, Rose wore a body hugging dress of countless black rose petals. The petals fluttered as though moved by their own private breeze.
The crowd quieted. And staring upon the diva once again David felt that emotion so dangerous to a con man; love.
Love; as a con man David didn’t trust the mood. Love could cause short-term fixation, clouding the big picture.
David let the mood dissipate, and focused on Rose. There she stood, on stage, no place to hide. David had learned the eyes were truly windows in to a soul. In Rose’s dark eyes, David saw obsessive, consuming lust, primal lust.
Ceramic pumpkin planters filled with black roses dotted the stage. The flowers swayed, projected music. There would be no human orchestra for the performance. Stimulated by the fog, the flowers emitted high and low pitched animal like sounds, animal-like music, strangely satisfying.
The halls candlelight dimmed. There was no electricity in the valley.
Illumination from a candle-energized spotlight lit Rose as black petals from the flowers on stage landed around her. She raised her arms, swirling them amongst the shower. The black petals on her dress twitched with the music.
Rose pushed her lips almost together and emitted a low, long note. The auditoriums ancient compressed bone structure vibrated with bell-like tones. The tones were grieved, melancholy. The effect wasn’t quite like a duet. Instead the building sang in support of Rose.
David glanced at Fr. John. The priest was so calm, on the verge of happy sleep. He was Rose’s best friend and confessor. Maybe it was safe for the priest to not feel like prey.
And that feeling on his neck, like being scratched. That came from the angry singing beyond the back wall. During the first intermission David had asked about those angry women voices. No one would tell him, so he quickly dropped the subject.
The show details escaped David’s attention. He was there to experience Rose.
The diva swept her right arm toward David’s area. He didn’t make eye contact with the singer; didn’t look away quickly, didn’t stare. He blended in, mentally unseen.
David thought of a rabbit he’d seen, frozen still, under a bush, a hungry wolf passing by, and the rabbit not daring to blink. It had worked for the rabbit.
The violent convulsing of Rose’s stomach jolted the con man back to the present. Belly dancers couldn’t contort their stomachs as did Rose.
In response, the flower vines on stage elevated, swarmed Rose, and lifted her off the stage as she sang.
Thorns pushed through her skin, sending blood over her flesh. Rose didn’t seem to notice. The diva’s convulsed, sang more forcefully. Her voice had a life of its own, and possessed the singer’s body.
Sparkles drew David’s attention to the nearest wall. The crystalline structure glistened. David looked back to the diva; sparks rose from the stone stage.
The diva and ancient temple turned opera hall sang for the dark glory of primal Halloween.
And, beyond the back wall sounded frenzied anger.
David’s feet jolted. He looked down and saw rose roots running along the floor.
David turned and watched vines rapidly entwine the wood barrels stacked against the back wall. The barrels cracked, and wine coursed out, like thick fog, lighter than air. The vines whisked the wine toward the stage.
The vines packed the wine fog thick around Rose. The wine pressed through Rose’s wounds, mixed with her blood.
Fire roared out the diva’s mouth along with song, her body for some reason not igniting.
Rose’s gown, though, burst into small flames, burned out quickly, leaving her naked.
David looked at the crowd. And crowd’s the response to the ‘entertainment’? Moans of awe filtered through the audience, punctuated by clapping. And some had risen to stand.
The fire rhythmically spread off stage, several feet above the crowd. Tongues of flame reached down, nipped an audience member here and there.
Forced by Rose, the fire moved toward the back row, and then through the wine barrels cracks. White crackling gleamed where the fire and wine met. The flames surged, but the wood didn’t catch fire.
The flames, though, didn’t stop there.
Where the center aisle met the back wall, with barrels on either side, was an ancient double door, off limits to the crowd. The opera house servants, all deaf women, were allowed through. And, as fire pressed the doors, two deaf women in black unlocked the doors, opened them, bowed and stepped away.
Muffled, crazed singing poured out. How many voices, David couldn’t determine. Quickly, the fire roared in.
Most of the crowd had stood, and turned to look toward the doors.
The wailing cries beyond the doors amplified, as though the flames burnt the singers. David thought, though, that like the solid material in the auditorium, the unseen women’s flesh wasn’t being consumed by the flames.
A voice among the din lifted, defiant, as though strengthened.
Then the singing collapsed into a deep feminine rumble, stung, trapped, and unable to communicate apart from their vocal training.
For several minutes Rose and the chorus challenged each other, the sounds technically beautiful, but painful to hear.
Then, fire mixed with song rushed through the back wall doors, and out among the audience.
The impact was immediate. Pained expressions from muted tones turned to intense pain. Some had trouble standing and had to sit. Others leaned against a companion for support.
The pain, though, wasn’t all that increased; so, too, had the pleasure. David smiled, as tears of pain ran over his lips.
The oily sheen around the crowd’s head’s glowed brighter, thickened.
And lust swept over the con man, left him breathless, as though enfolded in the diva’s naked embrace, while she uttered musical erotic code. Pain and pleasure; lust for Rose brought them together.
“That’s why we learn to live with the pain, isn’t it?”
David looked through the fire and fog toward the voice, and saw two old men. The one gently slapped the other’s shoulders as a flame bank settled over them. They must had been through many a Halloween night at Black Rose.
Intricately the flames coursed through the audience, slow, rapid, the tempo led by Rose and her rival’s competition.
Rose separated her vocal tone; one high, one low. The high tone fought the chorus singing.
The low tone, though, obviously beckoned toward crowd’s luminescence. The shimmering light flowed quickly toward Rose. The light entered through her wounds. And her high voice tone widened, increasingly widened as more of the shimmering entered the diva.
Then, the pressure between David’s his ears slowed. Movement of fire and people, even song slowed; time seemed to compress. In the elongated moment the fire paid attention only to Rose. The diva grimaced, tightened her fists, and pressed them to her face, her contortions so extreme David feared for her.
The chorus beyond the back doors had lost control of the fire.
Inspired by Rose, the fire whipped through the crowd, consolidated close to the stage near the diva.
The fire spun into a tornado, danced back through the crowd, enveloped the crowd’s shimmering, and then rapidly pulled up and toward Rose.
Rose opened her mouth wide and struck a long, continuous note. Homing in on the note, the fiery tornado pushed into her mouth.
Still singing, Rose glowed red through her skin. Smoke wisps lifted from the thorns, the thorns ignited, turned to ash. Her wounds healed instantly, shut without scars.
While levitating Rose quickly moved through a series of octaves, and shut the double doors. The rival singing turned to whimpers, anguish. The exception was the defiant, lead singer.
Then, Rose’s voice soared, and the diva’s voice was the only one heard.
The swaying black flowers quieted, and the crystalline octaves of the hall ceased.
And with all else quieted, Rose hit her highest note yet.
Petals from the conducting plants plucked loose and flew to the naked diva. The petals formed a tight black gown.
Rose lowered her voice tone, drifted toward the stage, walked through the air. At the stages edge her feet again touched stone. She stood next to a living white rose, hooded so only visible from the seats.
The diva looked over the breadth of the enraptured crowd, breathed in the moment, smiled through her exhaustion, and bowed. Her finger tips touched the stage, and she remained tucked in the bow.
There was no applause. Murmurs ran through the crowd. The patrons looked about at each other. David looked toward the two old men he’d noticed. The men had fallen into their seats, limp. There wasn’t any obvious shimmering coming from the men.
Several people had noticed what David had, and checked the men. Loud murmurs came from those nearby. That brought more of the crowd closer.
David and Fr. John let the crowd push them out of the way, and toward the lobby.
Then, a cry rang out: “She’s done it! Rose has killed with her voice!”
That triggered applause.
From the walled off area the defiant voice cried out in low tone, the angriest it had sounded all night.
A woman near David loosed a happy cry she couldn’t contain. Others did the same: except for David and Fr. John.
Rose finally elevated out of her bow. The diva threw her hands up, sighed deeply, and smiled, looked out at her societal kindred.
“And, the white rose—it’s turned black!” screamed someone. The hooded white flower at the diva’s feet had turned from white to black.
The crowd went into an orgy of celebration.
The town’s Halloween night post-performance party had begun.
The con man and priest were alone, apart from the crowd.
“These are thorough devotees of the deadly sins, capable of personal alliances but not friendship, alliances but not love, the fate of those overwhelmed by the deadly seven” said the priest quietly.
David and Fr. John quietly worked their way toward the lobby.
David felt the Rose induced pleasure lessen, ebb to a mild pulse. The sense memory; that he sensed he would have forever.
Stepping from the opera house into the night air the con man and priest were alone in the quiet town square. Smudge pot smoke made a thick canopy. Primal Halloween magic kept the moons’ light from penetrating the valley’s clouds. Still during October, the smudge pots burned, as extra assurance against the moon’s rays.
The priest took a quick breath of fog.
“Do you really think we can pull it off?” said Fr. John. David had drifted off in thoughts of Rose. He realized he’d never really been enchanted by a woman until he met Rose.
“Alright, you’ve convinced me. Rose has to die” said David.
“You may be right, but our Rose is merely the town’s current ‘Rose’. We must remove the curse of the ancient, first ‘Rose’. She started what we saw tonight” said Fr. John.
END of Chapter 1