Sunday, October 31, 2010

WINGS-Happy Halloween

Horror or Fantasy?

Patricia Abbott

She was lying on the bed, midway through a book, when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. He'd paused again on the floor below, probably fumbling for his key. He kept forgetting the European practice in numbering floors.

Polly had sprained her ankle the first day, prone to such things. She could hobble about now, their third day. “Stay off it for a few days,” the pharmacist in the corner shop suggested in perfect English. “You’re here two weeks, right?” They nodded simultaneously. “You have time then.”

The door opened now and she heard him putting the wine in the fridge. “Should I leave the cheese out?” The flat was small and he didn’t need to raise his voice.

“I guess,” she said, putting a finger in the book. She paused. “Saul, it’s still there.”

He stuck his head in the doorway, sighing. “So we’re going to go through this again?”

“Not if you’re going to be like that about it.”

Flouncing back, she opened the book and began to read. The streets in the book seemed as real as what she saw out the window. Sometimes life seemed safer a book length away.

“Still there, huh?” Saul said relenting, walking over to the window.

Up on her elbows, she could see bright light flowing through the fly-specked glass. “Do you see it?”

“Definitely a costume, Pol. Not as large as it looked last night. The light behind the curtain probably magnified it…somehow.” The wings had seemed gigantic then, taking up half the window. She was awestruck. Him—not so much.

“Look at it through the camera. You can see it better with the telephoto.” Her voice was too shrill, but why did he insist on diminishing it? Making it seem smaller, less magical.

He followed her instructions, snapping a few pictures. He looked at what he’d shot and shrugged. “Probably a dancer's wings. Swan Lake? Isn’t there an opera about birds too?”

“No one could dance wearing wings that big.” She was positive, having taken dance for years and nearly ruining her ankles. No more leaps or brises.

“So it’s a costume for a party then.” He put the camera down and came into the bedroom. “Maybe a masquerade.”

“It’s not Halloween.”

It was, in fact, May—the month they’d thought best to celebrate their five-year anniversary. Paris seemed perfect.

He sat down on the bed, examining her ankle. “Swelling’s gone down. Hurt still?” He pressed on it lightly.

“Not unless I try to walk.” She'd sprained her ankles a dozen times, knew what was necessary to mend it.

“Maybe you should try and walk around more. How can you stand it—coming all the way here and hardly leaving this place? If it were me….” He paused. “Maybe it's part of a costume for a ball?” Conciliatory, so she’d be too.

“I guess I could hobble across the street later for a crepe.”

He smiled. “I’ll open the wine.”

She’d first noticed the wings last night, limping out onto the tiny balcony after dinner for some air. In one direction, lay a noisy cafĂ©; in the other, a pricey shoe store. But across the narrow street was a window much like theirs—except for the wings, seemingly suspended in space. Angel, swan--it wasn’t clear.

“These flats are small,” he said when she called him to look. “Maybe that’s the only place to store whatever it is. Be gone by tomorrow.”

But it wasn’t, and she’d looked at the wings so often today she thought the impression had been seared on her eyes. Television programs were all in French so what else was there to do? Read her book. Look at the wings.

When they got back from dinner, the apartment across the street was dark, and although she tried, she couldn’t tell if the wings were still there. It felt like they were, but she thought if she mentioned this to Saul, he’d scoff. Felt like it. An odd thing to say.

She couldn’t sleep. Her ankle throbbed, but that wasn’t it. She’d slept too much already, drifting in and out of sleep while Saul visited Musee D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum. Tucking her book under her arm, she crept into the living room, turning on the lamp on the desk.

It took her a minute to see it. The wings had migrated over the course of the evening. They had traveled across the street to the inside of their windows, not ten feet away. One window, closed earlier, was flung open, allowing it entry.

Now that the wings were close, she could see they were much larger than she’d imagined. They were as tall as she was but wider. It wasn’t a costume or anything like it. Whatever it was, and she didn’t have the answer, it was quivering: alive.

Across the street the window was wide open too, curtains streaming outward. It'd taken flight at some point. What drew it here?

Slowly, she moved closer, looking into its eyes. And there were eyes, one on each side of its head. A moth, she thought, and a giant one. Its coloring was not the white it appeared to be from across the street, but something closer to a lavender-gray. It twitched, fluttered, quivered. She put out her hand.

“Polly, are you up again?” It was Saul from the bedroom, his voice sodden with sleep.

“Just looking at the…wings,” she said, deliberately vague.

In a second, she was enveloped, inside the wings. Willingly. An embrace. The moth’s wings were soft, translucent. She could see through them, out into the night, back into the bedroom.

“You’d better come into bed and get some sleep,” Saul said, sounding sleepier yet. “You don’t want to miss any more of Paris.”

“I won’t,” she said with confidence.

The moth, Polly in its wings, flew out the window and into the night.


Anonymous said...

Patti - What a great story! I'd call it fantasy, not horror. I'd also call it well-written and intriguing. Thanks for sharing, and Happy Halloween to you, too :-)

Paul D Brazill said...

It's a beaut of a story. Wouldn't be out of place in a Roald Dahl collection. I've no idea about genres, then. I'd call that horror.

Jerry House said...

"'I won't,' she said with confidence."

That sentence makes it definitely fantasy. Polly has no sense of unease, merely curiosity. The creature serves as a vehicle for wish fulfullment, allowing Polly (one can assume from the third from last paragraph) to see the rest of Paris despite her being laid up.

I agree with Margot that it is an intiguing story. Paul's idea that it's Roald Dahl-ish has a lot of merit, although I think a comparison with John Collier would be slightly more apt.

Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, thanks, Patti, for making it just that much better.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the kind comments.
What if her idea that she was safe inside those wings was a fallacy. What if the final sentence becomes.

Saul rushed to the window, hearing what sounded like beating wings. Outside, Polly lay on the ground, her legs spread in an graceful plie.

Does that move it into horror? Her lack of unease turned out to be a miscalculation.

Paul D Brazill said...

Well, that new ending would also work!More Pan Book Of Horror stories, which is also a good thing.I think I prefer the first version, though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too, Paul. I guess I am more more fond of hopeful endings when it comes down to it.

Richard R. said...

Seems more like horror to me, because it's set in a real time and place. If her confidence had been shattered by something "until he felt something pierce her abdomen" or some such, it would definitely be horror.

Rob Kitchin said...

I wouldn't get hung up on the genre thing. Does it work as a story? Yep. Was a good read? Yep. Job done.

Loren Eaton said...

What if her idea that she was safe inside those wings was a fallacy.

Then it definitely becomes horror. Reminds me a bit of magical realism right now. And it's quite well done, by the way. Kudos, madam.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the insights. (And kind words).

Ron Scheer said...

I like it. I prefer some ambiguity rather than having everything spelled out, and there are so many ways to read the ending. Maybe that's a key difference between "literary" fiction and genre fiction.

Had to share this one with my wife, who got laid up once in Paris with a bad back, while I was out and about, bringing in the wine and cheese and amusing Parisians with my fractured French.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband adores ambiguity so if I let him read it and only him, only he can make sense of it. Luckily my writing group reminds me I am writing for people who need a bit more.

Yvette said...

With this particular ending, I'd call it fantasy. But who cares what you call it? It's a terrific story.

Yeah, her body lying dashed to pieces on the courtyard floor would be horror.

I like your ending.

Dorte H said...

Ah, you wrote the story about your wings from Paris!

Don´t know if it´s fantasy, but it doesn´t feel like horror to me. This could be what Wendy felt when she met Peter Pan.

Yvette said...

"Polly had sprained her ankle the first day, prone to such things."

I particularly like this sentence, Patti. It shows a facility with words that impresses me.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked it a lot. I'd definitely call it fantasy. It reminds me of some of Bradbury's stuff.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You remembered Dorte.
Thanks, Charles and Yvette. It was fun writing it. I think writing fantasy is tremendous fun.

Todd Mason said...

Ah. Yes, this a potentially borderline story, between suspense and horror and less threatening fantasy, because we aren't certain that she isn't simply imagining the the mode of Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the Poe stories that helped inspire it. The less blatant ending is superior.

By the way, as I didn't not before, PLENTY of fantasy takes place in the otherwise here and now, and always has. That is what today is often tagged "urban fantasy" or some years before that "low fantasy" (which can sound kind of disparaging, but shouldn't..."high fantasy" by that measure was that set in utterly fabricated settings, whether Tolkien or E. R. Eddison epics or the sword and sorcery of Fritz Leiber and Karl Edward Wagner...whose works of genius in that mode often are borderline horror, as well). Aside from the vast majority of horror fiction, such works as most of Thorne Smith's are such "contemporary fantasy" for their time, as is much of the work of the likes of Shirley Jackson, Avram Davidson, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Joanna Russ, and the rest of the litany of folks I keep recommending, and not a few of whom are represented in that Terry Carr and MH Greenberg antho you have. BEWITCHED, for obvious example, is a rather dull tv example of the same sort of thing.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Todd Mason said...

UNKNOWN magazine was particularly devoted to fantasy set in the here and now with one fantastic element added (HG Wells's "one miracle per story"), and WEIRD TALES, F&SF, FANTASTIC, and particularly REALMS OF FANTASY have also been prone to run this kind of story, along with the more "high" fantasies, as well. John Collier and Roald Dahl, of course, were prone to write both horror and this kind of fantasy. Among so many others. (Didn't quite note, as I meant to write above. I've got dry-eye from a day spent at my folks' [too] warm, dry house.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Happy Halloween. A longer of the same sort of "borderline" story will be in Anne Frasier's anthology next fall. And such a venue is probably the best place for it. This one, at only 800 words, would need a flash fiction horror/fantasy place. I'll look.

Todd Mason said...

Not necessarily. Most of the fantasy magazines have a long tradiition of publishing vignettes. Certainly my first couple of vignettes were published in venues, the newsstand magazine TOMORROW and the webzine LOST PAGES, that also published fiction up to novella length.