In connection to my previous post on character motivation, my most recent literary sketch focuses on the great lengths a person will go in the pursuit of success. As my mentor advised, while writing this piece, I thought about what my character wants most, what she’s willing to do to get it, and how her life changes according to the decisions she makes. With the prompt, “Twist the key,” I looked at how my character got from point A to point B and what the aftermath of that transition would entail for her. As a result, my creation has come to life and has a taken a turn towards the dark side. Here’s my story, entitled, “The Devil in Disguise” :
I gazed at the half empty wine glass clutched between my middle and ring fingers, my thumb stroking the side of the smooth surface. With a frown, I swirled the dark liquid inside and flushed the reflection of my tightly shut lips and anxious brown eyes down the burgundy whirlpool. The rich scent of black cherries and plumbs clogged my airways and I felt my body going numb, my focus dulling more so than before. It had escaped my mind how I ended up in this luxurious pent house again, seated on a leather sofa at an ornate wooden coffee table.
No, not here, I remembered as I gathered my thoughts. I restudied my surroundings. Over there. I had stood at that floor-to-ceiling window expanding across the wall, staring blankly into the same city night with lights shining and streaking below. I had been holding a wine glass then, too, contemplating the offer before me as I waited for the same dark man to finish our deal.
A shiver rippled through me when I looked at him sitting across the table. Damon Cavanaugh, a man as mysterious as he is calculative, as sinister as his skin is moon-pale. He may have the chiseled looks, the custom suits, and the reptilian leather shoes of a successful businessman, but it couldn’t hide the darkness that seemed to ooze from his pores along with his expensive cologne. He fools others with his dazzling smile, myself included at one point, but I discovered a while back the chilling nature that creeps beneath his storm gray eyes. Mr. Cavanaugh was no man of God, if he was even a man at all.
I didn’t think I’d need him again, But under different circumstances, I reminded myself and tried to relax. I was different now and better off. This was just another business transaction, a chance to stabilize my already soaring fashion line. That young helpless girl from before was gone and only Rachel Howard remained: grown, confident, and independent…or so I wanted to believe.
And yet you’re back here, the ever increasing cynical voice in my mind said. I looked back at my reflection in the glass of wine, as if the nervous woman staring up at me was the one who spoke the truth. In a flash, she morphed into the girl who had stood at the wall-sized window years ago, dressed in sullied ripped clothes and forcing herself to sip her glass of wine like it wasn’t the first sanitary drink she’d had in over two months.
“I…” I began, as if to respond.
“You what?” I froze, the sound of Mr. Cavanaugh’s eerily suave voice shaking me from my thoughts. Turning in his direction, I stared in apprehension as a shadow seemed to hover over his black curls like a murky distorted halo. “Not having second thoughts, are we?” he joked with an unsettling chuckle.
“Of course not,” I answered, forcing myself to smile and taking another sip of wine.
“Of course,” he repeated, his voice now holding an edge to it. Mr. Cavanaugh’s eyes studied my face as he slid the contract across the table, a stack of papers that would have taken hours to read and conveniently had the signature box on the cover page. “Sign there,” he said, pointing to the dotted outline, “and it’s all yours.”
I took a deep breath as I stared at the official document. A measly signature and it’s done, I tried convincing myself. Then why did it feel like I was signing my soul over to the devil?
“Ms. Howard?” he inquired. While the courtesy was still present in his tone, it was clear Mr. Cavanaugh had less patience than before. “Something wrong?”
I bit my lip, building up the courage to say something. “It’s just—” I cut off midsentence upon meeting his gaze. His storm gray eyes had somehow darkened to black and his dazzling smile had changed into a sneer, his teeth looking sharp like a demon’s maw.
“We’ve already discussed this, Ms. Howard,” he said in a voice both so threatening and reasonable that it made my stomach churn. “I didn’t think you’d be an ungrateful client. Do you know what happens to my ungrateful clientele?” My eyes found their way to my cup of wine and I pushed the glass away, the now bloody looking liquid nauseating me.
“I’m not ungrate—” I started and ceased when his eyes pierced me like knives. I didn’t dare to interrupt again.
“Let me remind you that it’s because of me your good fortune has surfaced. You may have graduated from your rags to those nice $500 suits you like wearing; you may have even lulled yourself into a false sense of security, decided that you don’t need me anymore,” he said simply, a lilt to his voice. “But you and I both know that you’re not secure, that you still keep that tattered denim jacket you first wore here in a box at the back of a walk-in closet I gave you. That you keep it for fear your business flying off into a million dollar industry is nothing but a dream and that glorious Rachel Howard will revert back to Millie, a dirt poor girl picking pockets, dumpster diving, and living from shelter to shelter before I was gracious enough to sweep up the trash and turn her into the piece of art I have sitting before me tonight.” He readjusted the cuffs of his sleeves, like this was idle chatter he mentioned every night. “Now I gave you the money and restarted your business myself. Seven years was the agreement for you to clean up your debt, and if you still needed help, to come back and sign an official contract with me, yes?” I was too staggered to respond and only nodded. “And you’re here now not because of the loans and unpaid bills, but because you do. Need. Me. Every dime—every penny spent on your fashion is mine, and I will burn down your company as fast as I built it up if you betray me.”
My bottom lip started quivering as tears blurred the edge of my vision. Mr. Cavanaugh sighed with satisfaction, perhaps even pity, as his features returned to their human-like appearance. “Ms. Howard, all I’m saying is that you asked me to make your dreams come true, despite the risk of losing everything again like I warned you might happen. And even though you’re on the verge of repeating your mistakes, I’m here to fix it all. The debt can be gone, and your company can flourish as you become the finest female designer in the nation. I’ve set up the door to your dream and have given you the means to enter it. All you have to do is twist the key.” With his dazzling smile, he pulled an engraved pen from his pocket and held it out to me. “It’s time to make your dreams come true, Millie…permanently.”
With only a moment’s hesitation, I took the pen and opened the cap, a few tears escaping my lashes as I pulled myself together. “Ms. Howard,” I said in a hollow voice. “Only Ms. Howard.”
I hope you enjoyed and will share your thoughts in the comment section! My prompt for the next assignment is “Fragile hearts and minds,” and thus far, it looks like the piece will involve a bloody mess… Stay tuned!