R. C. SmithShort Stories and Vignettes

Do not read my works if you are offended by descriptions of sexuality and violence.
(Do not read them just for those descriptions, either.)

Red Feathers

They do not like me, and I am sure they are aware that the feeling is mutual. I am not like the other girls who work here. I am friendly, and I smile, but I do not laugh at their jokes. Most of the time I do not even understand them. Still, they have no reason to complain. I take their orders, and bring them their drinks and what passes for food here. My breasts are not as big as some of the other girls’, but I wear the same uniform as they do, so the guests have something to look at, apart from my face. I am not good at reminding them of the “look, not touch” rule without getting rude and inviting rudeness in return, but I manage. I have to remind them, because the owner has only bought a drink and food licence, not a “drink and play” one, or whatever it is called, so she’d get in trouble if the serving girls misbehaved. I do not want trouble, not for me, not for her, so I behave.

Sometimes, when business allows me to relax, I look at the guests, and watch them when they look at me, or at the other girls, and I try to imagine what their thoughts are, their desires — if they could, what would they do with us? To us? What would they do to me? I imagine all kinds of things ... and I ask myself, do they know what I am thinking? And do we think the same?

It is just a game in my mind, though. Nasty incidents are rare. Since I’ve started to work here, there’s been only one. There are candles on the tables, which provide what illumination there is, and a guy, for no reason, blew out the candle in front of him. Cathy took it and re-lit it and put it back in front of him, and he blew it out again. When Cathy lit it again, he said, so you want it to burn, and she said yes, politely enough. He was a big and heavy man, but he moved swiftly. He got up, gripped Cathy with his left arm around her back and arms, took the burning candle in his right hand, and held the flame to Cathy’s nipple.

He was big and heavy, and he moved swiftly, but he knew nothing about fighting. It was easy to break his right arm. I have to give it to him, he didn’t flinch. He let go of Cathy, and drew a knife with his left hand, so I kicked his feet from under him and broke his left arm, too. That he hit the corner of the table with his face when he fell and broke his jaw and a few teeth was just luck. He hadn’t been one of the regulars, and he never showed up again.

The guests cheered me, because Cathy had been quite popular with them — her nipple was badly burned, though, and wasn’t a pretty sight anymore even after it healed, and she had to quit her job. They cheered me that night, but we didn’t become friends. And the girls, some of whom had previously tried to befriend me, now all keep their distance. I’ve seen them exchange glances and heard them whisper behind my back. They wondered why I had waited so long, as it seemed to them, before I had come to Cathy’s rescue, why I had stood there — for how long? — as the flame consumed her nipple, as she was grimacing with pain, not daring to move, not making a sound. They never said anything to me, though. I’ve heard the owner come to my defense — “It’s not as if any of you have done anything but stand there, frightened and shocked, and stare, have you?” she said to them. “Nor any of the men.” For seconds, for an eternity, all had been frozen in a silent tableau. “Without her,” she went on — meaning me — “who knows what else he might have done, you should be grateful to her.” But they aren’t. That night, they’ve seen something in my eyes, and it has frightened them. I know, because sometimes it frightens me, too.

I work long hours. My shift begins at noon, and I’m the one who stays behind after everyone else has left, around midnight, to tidy things up and get the place ready for the cleaners who come in the morning, before I lock the doors and walk home. It’s a position of trust, and I have it because I’ve come with good credentials — almost a bit too good. The owner had raised her eyebrows when she’d seen them, and asked me why I wanted to work in such a lowly and remote place, for such a low wage. I wanted something quiet, I replied, and I liked the scenery, the beach, the ocean. And that I hoped for good tips. She didn’t say I wouldn’t get them, but she didn’t have to say it, I had known it anyway.

The bar is the only building at the little bay with its sandy beach. It’s a half hour walk to the small town, first along the shore, then across a little wooded promontory, and then down to the town and the harbor. From there, it’s not far to the house in which I stay. I like the walk, both in the daylight hustle, and in the solitude and darkness of the night.

It has been a long day, I look forward to getting home, wash, and fall into my bed. I step outside. There is no moon tonight, but as always there are the torches, still burning, their yellow flames bright in the darkness. I lock the door, and pick up the little lantern which I need for my walk on a moonless night. To my one side is the dark ocean, to the other side, some 300 feet away, parallel to the shore beyond the reach of the light, are the skirts of the even darker wood. Wind and water are still, there is no sound.

There is no sound to warn me. When I hear them, it is too late.

Three men attack me, who had waited for me, hidden behind the building, at the side facing away from the town, where there are no windows and no torches. By the flickering light of the flames, I recognize them — I’ve seen them in the bar, I had noticed the way they looked at me. Once, in the town, near the harbor, I have seen them with the man who had burned Cathy. I have no chance against them. I put up some token resistance, but it only makes them more violent. They rip off my clothes, punch my face and my breasts, throw me to the ground, humiliate me, spit at me, beat me, kick me, hurt me, rape me, in my mouth, my vagina, my ass. I do not know how long this goes on, I lose all sense of time, I lose sense of everything except the all encompassing pain.

The torches still burn, though now lower. Trying to fight against the darkness that enfolds me, I strain to open my eyes. Blood blurs my sight, but I see the man who kneels on my chest, who bends over me, who starts to choke me. He means business, I see it in his eyes, in the light reflected from the pale sand on which I lie, he is killing me. I cannot breathe, my blood pounds in my ears, I can hardly hear the laughter of the other two, and now it gets black before my eyes ... There is a thud, the man’s grip around my throat loosens, he makes an awful croaking sound, there is an arrow straight through his neck.

He falls off me and lies by my side, dead. The arrow through his neck almost touches my face. I recognize its red feathers. Of course I do.

Two more thuds, two more dead men. I slowly and laboriously regain my breath.

Alison comes running across the sand, from the wood’s dark edge, two of her girls close behind her, all three of them armed.

“Are you all right?” she asks, out of breath, worried.

“A good shot,” I say hoarsely, my throat still hurting. As, of course, was to be expected from her. Not for nothing is she a commander of the royal body guard. “You took your time, though.”

“I am sorry, my Princess,” she says. “Last time you had me whipped for having shot too early.”

“Only lightly,” I reply, “and don’t tell me you hadn’t liked it!”

I look for a smile, but her expression is grave. “I am concerned about you,” she says.

“Why?” I ask. “Are your archery skills in decline?”

For a moment, I think she is going to give me a sharp reply, but she checks herself.

“You know what I mean,” she says. She tries to read my eyes, but fails. “You always say you know that I am following you, but each time, you make it more difficult for me. You get really good at it, you know. This time, it took me long to find you, almost too long. What if next time it will be too long?”

“You don’t have to worry,” I say. “You will not be held responsible, I’ve seen to that.”

Her face darkens. “There is no need for you to deliberately hurt me,” she says.

“I am sorry,” I say, and there is a moment of silence between us.

“Can I ask you not to go on those ... adventures anymore?”

I am still lying on the ground. I had looked up to her, now I lower my eyes.

“Can I ask you, at least, please, to promise me not to try to shake me off from now on?”

I want to answer her, but my voice fails me. I silently shake my head.

“You are bleeding,” she says, “and dirty all over. We need to go inside and clean you and dress your wounds. Can you get up and walk?”

I think of shaking my head again and let her lift me up and carry me like a child, but then I realize she wouldn’t do it, she would order the two girls to carry me. I fight back nausea and pain as she helps me to my knees. More help from her, lifting me with both arms, and I stand. She lets go of me, and I manage to stay on my feet. She looks at me, and I am aware of my nakedness.

“I love you, you know,” she says, and with a soft cloth that appears in her hand out of nowhere she wipes the dirt and the blood and the tears from my face.

“I know,” I say, and now she smiles, and puts her arms around me, and strokes my hair, and I close my eyes as we kiss.


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