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Well, who knows really? Friendly? Motherly? Sure, sometimes kisses can be romantic. I suppose that's the best kind. But look around, you see girls kissing other girls all the time, don't you? But that doesn't mean they're all lesbians or something.
So when this happened, it was at Marcie's most recent death party. You know the kind she gives, all sort of Gothy, lights low, even Bauhaus playing on a CD maybe -- classical stuff like that. Ask her what she's celebrating, she'll say, "Death, of course. It's universal. So what we should do is invite it in, welcome it. That way when it finally comes, it won't be a surprise."
I have sort of weird friends.
Like Geoffrey, for instance -- in a way this party was supposed to be for him too. Geoffrey's a professional competitive eater, he travels to county fairs all over the area just to enter the eating contests. Wins most of them too. That way he's able to live off the prize money, as well, of course, as keep his food bills low.
Anyway I'd met this girl named Danica who I'd just introduced myself to and told her how Geoffrey had this big competition that night in a neighboring town, but had promised to stop in after it was over to tell us how he'd done. And how I had something to do with the party too, because it was also to celebrate Marcie's having installed a catafalque in her apartment -- I pointed to the raised, black draped platform in the room's center -- and I was the only one nerd enough to know what it meant when she'd asked her friends to help her find one.
"You mean with the pillowcase dummy on it -- sort of like a bier?" Danica asked.
I nodded. "Yes. But isn't 'catafalque' a neater word? It comes from Latin and originally meant a scaffold or siege tower -- "
That's when she kissed me. "You're cute, Charles," she said.
That's what I mean when I say it was ambiguous. Like she was kissing a cat or a puppy -- girls do that a lot too. And, like I say, I'm really just a nerd, kind of shy, kind of lacking in social graces, while she, well she could probably have had anyone at the party she wanted. Even Geoffrey when he came in later, though Geoffrey had plenty of girlfriends already.
But still, the thing was she didn't walk away then. She asked me more questions, to tell her about myself. My job. My college. And she remembered my name was Charles.
Most girls don't, you know.
And she was beautiful, in a Goth sort of way like Marcie, but taller and willowy and without acne. Though even Marcie's a little old for acne herself. And she was a better dresser than Marcie too, in a long, sexy gown with a halter-type top, black like her hair, with her hair long and shiny too.
It occurred to me she might be a vampire -- I mean, not a real vampire but one of those persons who likes to play the role. Cutting people with razors and stuff, but just a little, to drink just a little bit. Sort of pretending. And that her kissing me might be her way to find out how I tasted.
Except then she would have kissed me on the neck, wouldn't she? Like I say, you can never be really sure what the point of a kiss is.
Just then there was a kind of commotion over by the door. We both turned to look -- Geoffrey had just arrived. Marcie was already leading him in. But he looked like he was sick or something, his face all ashen even though he was trying to smile. With his belly distended, almost as if he was pregnant or something.
I was already leading Danica in his direction, intending to introduce her to him, but as we got nearer I started to wonder. Someone else had pushed the dummy off the catafalque, while a couple of others helped him sit on it, then lie on his back. He groaned a little, and clutched a blue ribbon.
By then I'd reached his side. Just across, Marcie was dialing her cell phone, like maybe she was calling a doctor.
"How'd it go, Geoffrey?" I asked.
"I won," he said. "Grand prize -- the whole thing." He held the ribbon up so we could all see. "It was a 'surprise contest,' the kind where they don't tell you beforehand what you'll have to eat. That way, presumably, no one can do extra preparation or anything like that. Except we professionals always come prepared."
He groaned again, but continued. "It turns out it was for watermelons, each of us got a watermelon and whoever finished his first would be the winner. I recognized some of the guys I'd have to beat, and I knew I'd have to use extreme measures. But the thing is -- "
He smiled a little then. "But the thing is, we professionals have our tricks. Like knowing how to temporarily dislocate your jaw so you can open your mouth even wider. And these were early watermelons too, not the really huge ones you get later on in the season, so I took a bottle of oil from my pocket. One of the things a professional like me will always have ready. And -- "
Just then Marcie finished her call. "You don't mean -- ?" she started.
Geoffrey nodded as best he could, still lying on his back, all but immovable. "It took a lot of shoving, but yes," he said. "I had something special with me too, a jar of concentrated brine. I added that into the oil and shook then together -- the brine is used to soften the skin -- and rubbed, practically kneaded, my watermelon with the mixture and swallowed it whole. I'll tell you, some of the other competitors' jaws dropped farther than mine when they saw that."
I felt Danica's hand on my shoulder, squeezing it softly to get my attention. She led me back, out of the crowd that was pressed around Geoffrey, and into a hallway just off Marcie's bedroom. Dark and private. I smelled the faint odor of her perfume as she raised her arms up, reaching behind her neck. Lifting her hair.
She loosened the straps that held her halter. "What do you think of these melons, Charles?" she asked.
I got the point.
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