This time, my assigned genre was Romance. Generally, I don’t do Romance. Romantic Comedy? Sure! But, since Romantic Comedy is a possible genre in these contests, and since you can be disqualified if your piece seems to be out-of-genre, I did not dare to do anything even remotely like Romantic Comedy. So, I wrote this piece. I have no idea how I feel about it.
And now, on with the show!
My assignment was as follows:
Genre: Romance (about which vide supra)
Location: An Oil Refinery
Object: An Encyclopedia
The piece could not be longer than 1000 words (mine clocks in at 996); I had 48 hours in which to write it. For many of those 48 hours, I was in Cape May, NJ, attending a lovely event (The Gilded Festival).
Without further ado… my piece!
Bat’s Goth scene has dried up, and his world has crumbled around him. He finds himself at an abandoned oil refinery… where a very strange encounter awaits him.
Bat stared at the abandoned oil refinery through the vines and vine-strangled trees of the litter-haunted forest that had grown up around it. An hour ago, he’d left his car along the Interstate, possibly for good. Now, he could barely hear the noise of traffic.
Bat was a short, slight man, and pretty rather than handsome- exquisitely punch-able, in fact. But, until recently, that had been okay: he’d had his friends, and his friends had his back, and they’d all had the clubs.
But the friends and the clubs had drifted away. For the last couple of months, Bat’d had nowhere to go but Diabolique, and no-one to go with him. He’d walked alone along the dangerous streets between his apartment and this last bastion of his tribe. Some kids – couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen years old, and in theory Bat felt sorry for them- would wait for him sometimes and throw stones. Sometimes, he was the only one standing in the strobing light of the dance floor.
Last week, Diabolique had closed.
Today, Bat had been fired. It’d been a shit job, but that didn’t signify- it’d been a job. Now, he didn’t have it anymore. Bat finished his last shift, got into his car, drove away. He’d seen this place from the road, and it seemed to call to him.
“So ugly,” he whispered as he followed the chain-link fence, looking for a break. He couldn’t take his eyes off the place. “So ugly and so beautiful.” And here was a hole, big enough for a little man. “A Bat-sized hole,” he thought, and slipped inside his new kingdom. He walked, lost in wonder, as the shades of evening grew, entwined, embraced him.
It was full dark when he found the tower with the open door. He stepped inside, turned his flashlight on. It was a vast room, made irregular and oddly organic by thousands of pipes. He prowled, his footsteps echoing in the emptiness. But he was alone, and so his steps could be loud.
He found the stack of books behind a row of gigantic metal cylinders in the far corner. He frowned, crouched to peer at the spines. The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1977. A more or less complete set. But why were they here?
“Who are you and why are you touching my books?” The voice came from somewhere high above him. Bat stared wildly up. He saw no-one.
“I’m Bat,” he said. “I was just looking.”
“Bat? Bat? You are called Bat?” The voice was incredulous.
“It’s like a scene name. Not that there is a scene, now. But it’s the only name I want.”
“Open one of my books,” said the voice, “and look at the inside cover.”
He did as he was told. His hands began to shake.
“You’re a Bat too? You’re a Bat?” He cried. “It says here, this book belongs to Bat. That’s you?” His flashlight swept the space above. Where was she?
“Yes. Don’t get excited. We’re not soul-mates. I’ll show you. I’ll come down to you,” the voice replied. And a figure unfolded itself from a place where a great many pipes seemed to meet and to form almost a nest. Slowly, she began her descent, climbing from pipe to pipe with practiced ease. Bat watched her coming, and as he watched her he grew more and more certain that she was wrong. They were soul-mates. Two Bats, meeting like this? Totally fate. Had to be.
But what would she look like? He could see her now, but only the back of her, and she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, so he couldn’t even see the color of her hair. He tried to imagine her, summoning memories of faces dimly discerned at the clubs: beautiful, callous faces; plain, artful faces; faces too young to be there; faces too old to be anywhere. None of them were perfect enough for his Bat. Her hands seemed unsteady as she climbed. Could she be nervous too?
“Be careful,” he whispered.
“I won’t fall,” she said, and soon she was standing on the ground. But her hood was up. He couldn’t see her face.
“Put your hood down. I want to see you,” said Bat.
“Okay,” the other Bat said, sounding tired. Her hands moved; the hood was lowered.
Bat gasped and took an involuntary step back. He’d given himself the name Bat; looking at the other Bat, he knew in an instant that she’d been given her name by cruel children in some long-ago elementary school. She looked like a bat, and not in a cute way. Her nose had a high point, so that her nostrils gaped like the absent nose of a skull. Her ears were large and stuck far out from her head. And her mouth- what was wrong with her mouth? Bat had never seen a mouth like it before. “Cleft palette,” he thought. “I think that’s it.”
“You see? I’m not your Bat. I’m ugly, aren’t I? I couldn’t be your Bat.” The other Bat spoke as if to a child who insists on believing in a nightmare. “So – just go. You- you are very pretty,” she said. “Just go. I’m very ugly.”
“You are ugly,” he said. She laughed, and turned, as if to begin the climb back to her aerie. “But- I broke in here,” he continued. She stopped.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“This place. It’s brutally ugly, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Yeah, I know.” He nodded vigorously. “But I saw this place, and I thought, it is so ugly and so beautiful. And after that, nothing else seemed to matter. I needed it. Couldn’t look away. And – I think I’m thinking that now, with you. Like, you’re so ugly I could look at you forever.”
“We don’t have forever,” she said.
“We,” she said, and pulled him to her. Bat could feel her heart beating.
It felt like little wings.