A Dark Tale by John Bryant
The waiter nodded toward a solitary, unremarkable man—dark glasses, grey hair cropped close—seated at a table near the farthest edge of the patio. “That is Senor de Ortiz,” he said to the Condesa. “He is unorthodox and…selective about whom he assists.” Remembering himself, the waiter added, “Your ladyship will be eminently acceptable, I’m sure.”
The Condesa handed the waiter a coin without further acknowledgment, and crossed the patio to the seated figure. Although she sought to be discreet, her aristocratic bearing announced her arrival.
Senor de Ortiz held an unfiltered cigarette between stained fingers, his head tilted toward the distant sound of a flute.
A minute passed. The Condesa knew the rules; she did not address him.
He uncrossed his legs and gestured to the empty place at his table.
She brushed the chair with a handkerchief, sat, and said, “I come about a matter that has troubled me for many years.” She paused. “You are known in certain quarters of the city. They say you have a gift and can help.”
He placed the cigarette in his empty coffee cup. “The feeling,” he said. “What is the feeling? A single word only.”
“You mean how do I feel?” asked the Condesa, back straight.
“I mean, Signora, you have had a lifetime to create your own story. I wish to know its inspiration. The feeling that consumes you—what is it?”
The Condesa did not speak, did not move.
The sound of the flute faded.
“Anger,” she said.
“Against so many people. I was little more than a child. Those were different times. You are old enough to remember.”
“And these people are?”
“All of them: my parents, my sisters, everyone who visited our home in those miserable months and levelled a scornful or pitying glance at me; and, yes, the church and all her priests. No-one remembers the power they had in those days.”
The muscles in her cheeks flexed. “The father did not know. They told him that he was unsuitable and must forget me. He was a man of no background who thought to become a wine merchant. Such things mattered more in those days, but he could have…”
“Looked for you? Fought for you?”
“So he, too, feeds your anger. Tell me, I must know.”
“Then yes, since you must know.”
Her face softened. “Taken from me.”
“And what of you? What role do you play in this drama?”
“Me? I told you, I have suffered. Migraine. Nightmares. I never married.”
“Does the anger extend to you?”
Every part of her tensed. “Yes, to me.”
Almost as an afterthought, he murmured, “And to the child?”
The color drained from her face, her fingers twisted her handkerchief, but she did not answer.
“No matter,” he said. “There is no mystery. The malady is guilt.”
Senor de Ortiz reached into his jacket and removed a small box of burnished wood. He placed the box on the table and withdrew a pearl-handled instrument that unfolded to reveal a blade like a potato peeler, but much thinner, much more determined.
“A gift,” he said. “I call it ‘L’Hirondelle’, ‘The Swallow’, for the beauty of the name, and the sharp curve of the wing.”
He slid the glinting little instrument toward her.
“Take it, Senora. Through daily use make it your own. Savor the exquisite pain.”
He laid his finger flat against his forearm and slid it smoothly forward.
“Your skin: each day peel strips as thin as translucent slivers of garlic.”
“To what end?” she asked. “Why should I so disfigure myself?”
He arose. “That you, too, may enjoy what you have shared with us, your audience, for so many years: the sight of your eternally weeping wounds.”
And he walked, laughing, into the sweet, warm, darkness of the evening—Manuel de Ortiz, Demon of Madrid.
John Bryant is a novice writer who lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. He mainly writes speculative fiction and horror.