Composed by Kaiter Enless.
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A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.
“What is it, Charlie?”
Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.
“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”
“Whats there to worry about?”
The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”
“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”
“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”
The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.
Charles gestured to the photographs.
“Who are all these people?”
Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.
“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”
“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”
“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”
He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.
The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.
Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.
“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”
The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.
“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”
Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.
“We appreciated the invitation.”
Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.
“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”
“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.
“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.
“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.
Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”
“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.
Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.
“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”
“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”
Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.
“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”
“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”
“Taking anyone else along?”
“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”
“Its dangerous up there.”
“Its dangerous everywhere.”
“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”
“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”
“You will at least take a gun with you?”
“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”
“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”
“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”
“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”
“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”
“Did the kids get away?”
“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”
“What an unfortunate affair.”
“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”
“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”
Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.
“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”
“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”
“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”
“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”
“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”
“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”
“The ‘natural balance?'”
“Yes. Natural harmony.”
“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”
“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”
Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.
“Even butterflies drink blood.”
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The body had no face.
Guiles Dörre recoiled from the bars of the tiger cage, inhaling deeply to steady himself. A horrified moan, stifled in his throat, choked by his slowly eroding constitution. The zoo’s emergency sirens blaring in the din. Scent of blood, heavy in the air, mingling odiously with the pungent alloy of the bars and the urine and gore of the caged and disemboweled.
The Bengal tiger crouched over what had once been a woman, canines and carnassials sanguine from the killing bite and its play thereafter. The body’s faceless head was strangely angled, one ear skyward as if to better hear the ringing alarm; the neck, clearly broken.
Fear further enveloped the night watchman as he realized the entryway into the animal’s cage had been rent by heavy bolt-cutters which swung wide with the night wind—bolt-cutters which lay within the cage beside the body of the dead woman.
He locked eyes with the moonlit beast, but thirty five feet away, as it dropped the ruddy, mangled corpse, arched its back and bared its fangs. Amber eyes glinting full with the pale bone of the moon.
Dörre raised his shotgun and fired.
The great feline collapsed in a bloody, matted heap.
Dörre swiftly reloaded, then cautiously moved through the wind-blown door and inspected the carcass of the beast where it lay upon the rutted ground beside its prey.
The body had no face.
“Very Dadaesque.” Elliot Moss cried, gesturing with his half-empty wineglass at the thin, nondescript mechanical pen laying upon the floor at the northeasternmost corner of the rectangular, low-ceilinged art gallery.
“Indeed,” Sabrina Vesora agreed, adjusting her scarf, studying the artifact as a crowd of journalists and local social climbers moved by. It was situated such that its nib faced the northern wall, a black sole-scuff-mark moving out in a slender arc from the nib to the right of the device, trailing off to nothingness.
“Highly abstract, yet, even still, the message is deftly inscribed.”
Moss nodded hesitantly, vaguely, uncomprehending, “Yeah,” He set his glass upon a nearby table and knelt, removing his phone and snapping a few shots of the pen, “Its great how imaginative the students have become with their art—shaking off all that stodgy hyperformalism.”
“I know! And look what they’ve come up with when they’re unconstrained—all that they’ve been able to say without speaking a word.”
“I’m not sure I get it,” a old man to Vesora’s immediate right remarked flatly, stroking his beard with his champagne-less left hand.
She cast the man a withering look and gestured to the pen.
“Its pointed towards the wall—to declare that most of our communications are superfluous, doomed to fail, fated to run into obstruction, into a wall. Yet, the scuff mark, moving away from the tip, out towards the center of the room, which compels us to turn our attention away from our own ‘writing’—from ‘the wall’—back to the lives of others, then, true communication is possible, but only if our instruments, and our empathy, move counter to our instincts.”
The old man furrowed his brows and tilted his head to stare at the pen from a different angle.
“Yeah,” piped up Moss, removing himself from the floor, phone photo-filled, “Its a metaphor. Social commentary—but subtle. Doesn’t beat you over the head with the message.”
The old man turned, addressing a finely dressed man with a custom-tailored black coat, tipped at the collar with white fur, “Oh. Hello, Mr. Partridge.”
“Salutations, Mr. Cramm. I was just speaking with Mr. Wakely, he tells me you’re planning something at the docks; but more on that latter—how’ve you been enjoying the gala?”
“Marvelously. As per usual. But I could use your expertise on this piece… not really sure what the artist was going for,” he replied, gesturing with perplexity to the pen by the wall.
Lynder Partridge’s keen eyes moved to the pen and lit up with recognition.
He then strode between the trio, knelt and gingerly plucked the pen up off the floor and examined it in his leather gloved hands.
“You’re ruining the installment,” Vesora exclaimed befuddled, “What are you doing?”
Lynder smiled opaquely, “Returning Mr. Wakely’s pen. He lost it around an hour ago.”
Composed by Kaiter Enless.
The art gallery buzzed like a nest of agitated hornets. Harmon, dressed in his finest dirty T and sun-eaten jeans and moving from the entrance to stand before the gala proper, found the chatter irksome and the low, odd-filtered light disorienting. He liked the dark and quiet.
Despite his proclivities he had agreed to attend Bluebird’s gala opening. Her first. She moved up beside him, breathless and beautiful, supple curves ill-contained by a tight, black sweater and revealing leggings over which she wore a similarly tight, black mini-shirt neath which shined newly polished leather boots with small, silver buckles. Harmon found the whole get-up to be a bit too form-fitting but he said nothing and mock-saluted as she approached.
“Thanks for coming, Harmon.”
“I’m surprised you thought to invite me.”
An expression of irritation palled her well-plied face.
“Been almost a month since we last met. Been last four weeks since we last talked.”
“That’s not true. I called you last week.”
He paused and furrowed his brows before responding, “You didn’t.”
“I swear I did. I’ve been so busy…”
“S’all right. I’m not complaining. Say. Which one is yours?” Harmon inquired placidly as he cast his sharp, green eyes out over the art school’s gleaming marble floor; so clean and shimmering he could make out the stark reflections of all who there stood upon it. Bluebird pointed to a series of paintings upon a silvery panel installation in the very center of the wide, rectangular onyx-colored hall.
As he followed her gesturing hand he caught the reflection of a curious figure from out the corner of his eye, to the immediate left. Thin and trim and garbed in a albescent coat, tipped at the collar with similarly milky fur. When he followed the reflection to its source he noticed that the ivory man was watching him. The man raised a glass of red wine, smirking slight. Harmon hollowly reciprocated the gesture. He felt suddenly strange. As if a liquid had settled within the core of his being.
Bluebird sighed melodramatically and folded her arms.
“You aren’t even paying attention.”
“Sorry. Got distracted. Who is that?”
“Oh my god. He’s looking at us! He’s coming over. He’s coming over.”
“Friend of yours?”
“That’s Lynder Partridge.”
“Never heard of him.”
“He flew in from the city just to attend this gala. He’s scouting for permanent additions to his museum. You’ve really never heard of him?”
Lynder Partridge strode up to the odd couple, his sharp, bloodless face opaque, luminous oceanic eyes masque’d by circular green-tinted sunglasses that made the iris appear as gold, his pose cordial and restrained.
“Salutations. I’m Lynder Partridge.”
Bluebird was so star-struck that it took her two seconds entire before she responded, and then, only shakily.
“L-lyla Couldry. I’m… I’m such a big fan, Mr. Partridge. What you’ve done with those library renovations in the city and her, in our little town, its just wonderful.”
“Why thank you, Lyla. And your friend?”
Harmon step forward, extending his rough and calloused hand. He didn’t expect Lynder to take it, yet shortly, the elegant ivory man did, extending one of his leather-gloved hands and grasping Harmon’s own, firmly and without hesitation.
“So pleased to meet you, Mr. Kessel. I’m pleased to see a roofer involved in the arts – architects have a long-standing history of interdisciplinary interest, as their own trade demands it, yet the actual builders who bring their creations into being and those who maintain them, are considerably less intrigued by graphic demonstrations such as those which garner the walls of this venerable establishment.”
“Why do you think I’m a roofer?”
“Skin is tan. Burnt about the neck. Your jeans are roughly worn at the knees, shirt, faded about the shoulders and back. Means you spend a lot of time in the sun, shorn of shade and a lot of time on your hands and knees. The only trade wherein that would occur in this town is roofing.”
Lynder remained wholly impassive save for the slightest trace of a smirk which vanished as quickly as it appeared. Momentarily, Serena walked up to the trio and greeted Lyla and then looked to Lynder and Harmon.
“Who are your friends, Ly?”
“This is Harmon Kessel and this is Mr. Lynder Partridge.”
“THE Lynder Partridge?”
“Indeed.” He responded flatly before turning and half-bowing to the woman whose eyes went momentarily wide with surprise. Lynder then cast his gaze out to the installation directly beside Lyla’s, “Is that your work?”
“Y-yes. I’m so nervous. Its my first gallery showing.”
“I shall have to take a closer look.”
Shortly, Serena and Lyla moved off a pace. It appeared to Harmon as if Serena had some important information to convey. He was mildly irritated that Serena hadn’t even so much as said, “Hi.”
“Looks as if the ladies are conferring. Shall we peruse the works together?”
The duo moved to stand before the center panel installation which harbored Lyla’s works. Paintings. Her centerpiece was a massive colorful oil painting of a large swan in mid-flight, gliding over the top of a pristine, azure pond, surrounded by reeds and cherry blossoms; petals dancing in the wind.
Lynder studied the piece a moment and shook his head before finishing off his wine and handing it to one of the school volunteers who took the crystal goblet with a smile and moved on to the next group.
“What do you think?”
Harmon studied the picture, “I think its pretty.”
“Indeed it is. That’s the problem. Its pretty and only pretty. Nothing but pretty.”
“I don’t think its that bad. Besides, art is subjective.”
Lynder spoke without turning, eyes to the swan, hands clasped gingerly behind his back.
“Subjectivity is objective. If it seems otherwise it is only due a lack of apprehension.”
“Not sure I follow.”
“I mean that those conditions which undergird subjectivity are themselves objective, even if one does not know what those are. To say otherwise is to say that the foundations of subjectivity are themselves subjectively determined. Now that is hardly plausible is it?”
“Well, put like that, I guess not. But why don’t you like the painting?”
“To answer I would pose a question in return.”
“Of what use is the art which does not seek to force life to imitate it?”
“Well, she’s not trying to force life to imitate anything. She’s trying to imitate life.”
“Precisely. She imitates life and in so doing, presents to the audience – us – an idyll of splendor with which we can do… what precisely with?”
“To appreciate escapism is degrade life itself. It is the act of a coward.”
Harmon wanted to respond. To defend Bluebird’s work, but words failed him. He had never met anyone who was so filled with such quiet passion and lacking the same, knew not how to meet it.
“You think that I’m being too harsh, don’t you?”
“Given your relationship to the author, that is understandable. Understandable but mistaken.”
“Seems kinda snobbish to me.”
“There is a marked distinction between snobbery and elitism.”
“You saying you’re an elite?”
“I said there is a distinction between snobbery and elitism. I did not say I was a member of an elite; that is another important distinction.”
“Lyla likes to say, ‘Art isn’t about being good.'”
“That would explain why her’s is so bad. Think of the trouble that ethos would cause if it were applied to other professions.”
“Whole lot, I imagine.”
“When one is in need of an electrician, what kind does one seek out?”
“The best. What does that have to do with painting?”
“When one selects a friend does one undiscriminatingly accept all, or does one critically discern the trustworthy?”
“Exactly. So if one holds such standards for electricians and friends, why not for art?”
“Good question. Don’t think many round here would be keen to answer it.”
Lynder briefly looked over his shoulder at the bright-eyed and youthful denizens of the school, mingling with their teachers and journalists and a couple of well-known local artists.
“Gird yourself. The vultures have arrived,” Lynder half-whispered to Harmon with amusement.
“You mean the journalists. I take it you don’t like um?”
“They have no appreciation for art. Their kind doesn’t belong here.”
“You’re awfully opinionated on art. You do any yourself?”
“I do. What about you, Mr. Kessel?”
“Well, sorta. I like to write. Fancy I’m decent enough. Never gotten anything properly published though.”
Lynder removed a small business card from his pocket and handed it to Harmon.
“If you ever wish to send my publishing house one of your manuscripts, give me a call and I’ll personally white-list it.”
“Thanks. Very kind of you. But uh, you haven’t read anything I’ve done.”
“It is refreshing to converse with one who is so unceasingly forthright.”
“Well, I appreciate that. I figure there’s enough lying and obscuring to go around. No need to add to it.”
Lynder turned and moved to Serena’s installation.
“Your friend’s girlfriend’s work is much more interesting.”
“She’s not Lyla’s girlfriend.”
“Oh? Could have fooled me. Once they walked off they moved together rather, how shall I put it… intimately.”
Harmon felt a sudden unease overtake him and shortly thereafter, anger. It was not incited by Lynder’s words, but by a consideration of the prospect that his word’s might be correct. He slowly turned and scanned the crowd. He couldn’t see Lyla or Serena. He ground his teeth and fractionally shook his head. No. It was ridiculous. Unthinkable. She’d never betray me. Certainly not in so deviant a fashion. She loves me, he thought determinedly. Breaking from his reverie, he refocused his attention on the spot where Lynder had stood.
He was gone.