I have been travelling again and missed the December IWSG. I think it's only about the second time I haven't posted in all the years! Forgive me Alex.
By popular demand, WEP is having an unstructured challenge this December. For those who'd already prepared an entry for UNMASKED or who burned to write one, we have opened it up to whoever so desires and posting our link to the WEP website.
My story is adapted from one of the very first stories I wrote for Romantic Friday Writers. I'd worked on it since and it was over 2,000 words. For this challenge, I've edited it down to 1,200+ words. So sorry it's a bit over.
During the pandemic, Australians don't travel internationally. So I'm reliving a trip to Venice. But I assure you, I'm not Anouk, my heroine. It's a bit of a black fairy tale. With this retelling I can see another direction I could go with the story, but seriously, this will have to do for now or I'll never get it posted...enjoy.
Pierrot, the Fool.
Anouk surveyed the glistening city from the balcony of Hotel Cipriani, feasting her eyes upon Venice. Darkness floated over the ethereal city, a black cape, its edges reflecting the glint of the moon. The light was a mosaic of shimmering mirrors. Gondolas floated in a fantasy world, dipping above the water like slick black swans. On the frigid night air, the gondoliers’ serenade drifted across the water like a ghostly siren call, filling Anouk’s heart with delicious anticipation.
Sipping her wine, she listened to the vaporettis' hum as they navigated the icy waters of the Grand Canal, disembodied voices of the passengers bouncing atop the waves. The baroque palaces along the canal dazzled, grand residences of past glory, now inhabited by revelers whose dancing threatened to sink them into the murky water.
Anouk was intent on enjoying this night and all the excitement that tantalized her soul with infinite possibilities. Carnevale. Hiding behind a mask, she was ready to lose herself in this ritual where the power of the mask lured revelers into lurid rites of celebration.
She lifted her crystal glass. Swirled the rich burgundy. ‘Salut!’ She toasted the heavenly hosts.
Her dream was about to unfold.
Anouk drifted outside into a frosty, starry world, a different person behind her Pierrot mask. She was tugged into a band of masked and costumed figures running through the cobbled streets, alongside the Grand Canal, past candle-lit icing-cake palazzos dusted with snow, slithering over arched bridges, heading deeper into mysterious caverns and back alleyways.
In an opulent baroque apartment, she danced with gloriously attired masked men who pressed her close to their bodies, their breath hot on her naked neck, before passing her to the next caped stranger with a flourish and an extravagant kiss to her gloved hand.
Leaving the hot apartment, she ran with the party goers down slippery, dimly-lit streets, going deeper and deeper into unknown Venice, terrifying in its other-worldly quality. She slipped and slithered at the end of the long line, her dress tugging at her ankles as if telling her to stop.
She was about to turn back when out of the foggy darkness came a man who clasped her hand. She stood, unsure whether to rip her hand from his grasp, but the crowd moved on, leaving her alone in the stranger’s grip. She recognized the perfume he wore. Creed Aventus. Her husband’s favorite. It comforted her. Was she a fool to go with this stranger in his lacquered mask of ebony? She shrugged. This was what adventure was all about, wasn’t it?
The stranger led her upstairs to an apartment where they joined a new group of dancers in a room warmed by spluttering fires, the air blue with cigarette smoke. The women were ethereal beauties in rustling silk while men dazzled in capes, tight trousers, shiny thigh-high boots and magnificent wigs of black ringlets. His curls whispering against her neck, she and the stranger swayed in a sideways rhythm to the heavenly music of a stringed quartet.
She closed her eyes and imagined the stranger unmasked. The way he ran his hands over her forehead, lifting her hair, told her he was doing the same.
So this is Carnevale! Oh, what have I been missing?
The stranger snatched a glass of wine from a passing waiter. He entwined his arm with hers and poured wine down her throat.
She spluttered as rich liquor dripped down her chin and between her breasts.
He dipped his head; licked the red trail. Her delighted shivers brought fire to his eyes.
He spoke his first words to her, his Italian rich and smooth as the wine. ‘Signorina, I’m Count de Rozario.’
‘Si. All men are counts at Carnevale.’
She bowed, not doubting his claim. ‘I am Anouk Abbe. From Paris.’
‘My servant.’ He touched her shoulder with his hand.
Her heart fluttered with desire. She looked up. He had melted into the night. How rude! Was that what Carnevale was about? Dancing? Drinking? Touching? Teasing? Then … pouf?
She pushed her way outside, trudging north through freshly fallen snow.
Men lounged against alleyway walls; smoke blended with foggy curls. Shiny black opal eyes studied her from behind black masks.
She stepped sideways, desperate to find the Grand Canal.
One of the men strode forward just as another appeared from out of the mist.
Again the comforting smell of Creed Aventus.
He covered her shivering body with his black velvet cloak trimmed with red fur, revealing a black woolen suit. With gloved fingers, he scratched away tears that had iced her cheeks below her mask.
‘My count?’ Her teeth chattered.
An imperceptible jerk of his head. ‘Come. We steal a little time.’
Through passages, beneath arches, they came upon a magnificent doorway. In the hazy light of the street lamps it appeared burnished in gold.
He brushed snow from their clothing before he led her up a flight of stairs into a luxurious apartment. With urgent strides he tugged her into a warm sitting room with log fire blazing, comfortable couches, an aura of expectation in the atmosphere. Two crystal wine glasses and a silver platter of antipasto beckoned. How sweet! Mesmerized by the warmth of the flames, she took a step toward the fire.
‘Fretta! Hurry!’ He snatched her around the waist and pulled her into a huge bedroom dazzled by moonlight, a lush Renaissance painting of red silk wallpaper, brocade and golden trims.
He unbuttoned her cape. Her dress rustled to the floor. He dealt swiftly with her undergarments but left her mask intact.
Even so, she felt unmasked.
He pushed her backwards onto the brocade spread, covering her nakedness with his.
As they surrendered themselves to the madness of the night, the mouth that plundered hers tasted like the wine they’d shared, enhanced by sea and smoke.
He tensed, lifted his head.
She heard nothing but her own whimpering.
Slipping and sliding on the varnished wood stairs. Curse words, ‘Merda. Merda. Basta.’
His feet landed on the floor. ‘My blonde beauty.’ He tugged her arm. ‘My Contessa approaches. Presto!’
He snatched clothes from the carpet, thrust them into her arms and pushed her naked onto the balcony then quietly closed the door.
Shivering with cold and shock, she huddled. The lapping water against the pylons was slaps to her freezing stupid face. The fog’s tendrils reached up and whirled around her misery.
Fool! Fool! Is this the adventure you imagined?
The Contessa’s Borsalino fragrance hung, trapped, in the freezing air. My perfume. Is that why he chose me?
‘Ah, Contessa, come.’ His seductive voice slid under the bedroom door onto the balcony. ‘I’m ready for you. Desolate we lost each other in the frenzy.’
‘I, too, Count.’ Her voice sounded a little self-satisfied. ‘Come.’
Had the Contessa been naked with a stranger in another bed? While the Count cavorted here with her? Was it a game they played on this one night of the year when there were no rules?
Tears pooling on her frozen cheeks, she struggled down the murky outdoor stairs, slipping and sliding on the ice, gripping the ornate balustrade. She entered the apartment foyer and trembled in the darkest corner. Her frozen hands fumbled with intricate clasps and zips as she dressed herself with agonizing slowness.
As she dressed, she pictured her husband back in Paris, sipping his aperitif in his favorite leather chair by the fire, wearing his three-piece charcoal bespoke suit, his crisp white Dior shirt, his Louis Vuitton tie. He’d warned her not to come. Now she knew why.
Tossing her Pierrot mask into a dirty pile of slush, she tread into the frozen wilderness. Lost in Venice's black cape.
She was Pierrot, the fool.
Currently up on the WEP website is Yolanda's post outlining the magnificent arty challenges for 2021. Please take a look. I'm sure you'll be inspired to join us even if you've never written for us. This is an example:
Happy holidays! See you next year!