Under Your Spell (Pt. I)
When they met her for the first time, they felt like they already knew her. Rumors spread quickly in their town, and if there’s one universal truth that can bond strangers at a bar, it’s sex. Even for those who weren’t driven specifically by lust, they were all still united by some intrinsic longing. Everyone was looking to fill something. It just so happened that she had a way of making them wish it were her.
A dark Metallica tee shirt poked through the woman’s half-buttoned army fatigues, and her straight black hair, precious as a crown, reached low enough to kiss the hat of her ass. When she turned on her stool and into their view, they saw her mouth hung slightly open, her bottom lip puffed out, dangling like a cherry.
“That’s her,” said Darcy. He gulped and tried to whisper something else, but Shane was already too transfixed to hear, and Paul didn’t care much for that sort of thing.
They weren’t the only ones caught in her spell. As soon as she entered and took her seat, her presence woke slumbering drunks, hushed the conversations of others, and put a pause on any games of billiards or darts. She was the heart of the room; together, they pulsed as one. Even the few women dotted around the bar couldn’t help but gaze. If it wasn’t out of jealousy or a secret lust, it was out of a pure, headcocked confusion. Sure, they all knew who she was, knew her tricks, but to find her here, of all places?
Hodge’s Havana wasn’t a typical place to pick up women, and that tended to be part of its appeal. Tucked in a corner of town outside the circuit of the college bar scene, its aesthetic as loud and rugged as its clientele, Hodge’s was a dive favored by middle-aged locals, most of whom placed bottle before romance. But even the thick plumes of cigar smoke could do little to obscure her beauty. The scarlet neon lighting, usually so harsh and violent, washed over her in a dreamy glow, as if the electric edge was swallowed by her intensity, and in turn radiated out from within her.
“She’s somethin’, that’s for sure,” said Paul, and he turned away. “Not my type, but I get it. Makes sense with what she is.”
Darcy was also looking away now, but kept sneaking glances in her direction. Shane continued to stare, as resolute as if it were a challenge, willing her to return his gaze. She did not. The others around them offered a mix of reactions, most falling somewhere between Darcy and Shane. Few, if any, looked away completely, as Paul had. For a while, it seemed as if all life had paused in the bar, silently waiting for her to stretch one of her long, delicate fingers and push the “play” button.
When she finally did, sound returned not as a whisper, but as a roar. Each motion of hers was as conductor of a symphony, each movement building the overture, until the bar reached its crescendo. The moment they knew was coming, and had all been waiting for: who would break from the spell and make a move for her first?
The audience watched as she slid her glass, now empty, back toward the bartender. Watched as she motioned for another with a coy wink. Watched the way her eyelashes fluttered, the way her freckles danced, the way her lips parted like a budding rose. Watched as another man, half Shane’s size and with oil-slicked hair, moved in to pay for her tab. Watched his attempt at playing it cool, elbow on the counter, head tilted back. Watched her smile, those beautiful budding roses blooming for just a moment, revealing rows of identical, pristine tablets of blinding white. Watched the way the petals bent in on themselves slightly before forming the familiar and deafening oval, the drawn-out vowel that concluded the dreaded syllable, the one that every man risked by asking someone so beautiful any question; risked, sure, but sometimes the pounding in a man’s chest was too heavy and painful, the thump thump thump agonizing, unbearable, until a final—
—convinced the man to make that first move, convinced him that his eyes were too greedy and had soaked what they could until they filled his heart to capacity, and now it threatened to spill unless he made that first move, just as everyone else watched. Watched and knew that every man around him was also watching, all swimming in her image, soaking it all in, dreaming, dripping, drowning, their hearts similarly filling, until all as one felt the impact of her voice as she sized up the oil-slicked man and, soft as a butterfly fleeing her lips, with a single word made him shrink deeper and deeper down within himself, crippling him, leaving him the smallest man in the room, a failure, but a failure that was grateful to have even been granted the honor of hearing her rejection. Watched the maestro deliver the gentle flick of her wrist that signaled the crash of a thousand cymbals, the cacophony of N-O sending waves through spilled hearts.
This was the moment they had all been waiting for, the inevitable, and the usual din and commotion resumed soon thereafter. It was as if they had all been holding a collective breath and could now feel its sweet release as it passed from them. This was the necessary introduction, how a bar would acquaint itself with her presence, and her beauty had washed over them in equal measure. She turned back, had her drink, and all felt the better for it. The music was brighter, the conversation was sharper, and that once-brave man was left to retreat to another corner of the bar, alone, already forgotten.
It only took a matter of minutes before Shane had something to say about it. Pounding a meaty fist on the table as if it were the gavel punctuating his sentence, he tossed his head back, finishing his drink in a few swift gulps.
“You boys see that? My god, what a woman,” he said, rising from his seat in proud declaration. “That sucker just warmed her up for me.” He belched, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and turned to face Paul and Darcy for the first time since the woman had entered. His eyes were more red than before, and his grin was so wide it was a wonder he didn’t swallow his own head.
“So-o-o,” he said. “Whaddaya boys think?”
“Doesn’t matter much,” said Darcy. He sighed and looked back at the woman for a moment. “A trick’s a trick.”
Darcy then grunted and hung his head. His hair swooped down, covering his face, and Paul thought he looked like a wounded animal. He couldn’t tell whether it was jealousy or contempt that caused this withdrawal, but Darcy looked as if a dark, matted mop had spilled on his shoulders. Perhaps this was his way of nonverbally signaling to Shane, a way to say, Go for it. I won’t get in your way. Regardless, Paul wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t that Darcy was lacking in courage, nor was he inept with women, although both had certainly played factors in the past. Rather, Darcy was content with spending a night amongst the company of friends, downing drinks, sharing stories, making and forgetting memories, all without the constant pressure to size up the women around him with the intent to end the night with one of them. Shane, on the other hand, was more at home when he wasn’t at his own.
“Watch out, boy,” said Paul. “She’ll chew you up.”
But Shane had already left the table, patting Darcy on the shoulder as he walked away. Darcy brushed his hand away and peered up at Paul through the mop. They nodded to each other in understanding, and Darcy released a faint smile before they both turned to watch the encore.
If the woman moved with the subtle elegance of a symphony, Shane was in every way her foil. He was loud, proud, and he made people move, not unlike a club hit. They watched as he strutted toward the woman, his broad shoulders swinging with each long, thudding step. Perhaps sensing his approach, the woman slowly turned in her seat, expressionless as her eyes scanned him from head to toe. This acknowledge caused his confidence to surge, and the exaggerated swagger of his movements became even more bawdy. Paul couldn’t help but laugh at his friend’s tact. He marveled at the bravado displayed by overzealous men who had a few drinks in them, and marveled further still at the women that actually fell for these unbridled showcases of testosterone.
Paul saw some heads turn, assessing the new suitor. Some of the locals would recognize Shane, predicting his outcome based on previous nights at the bar. Others would assume him to be just as ill-fated as whomever it was that had tried to buy the woman a drink earlier. Soon, Paul felt the creeping eyes of strangers drill into him as well, no doubt judging the company that Shane kept and factoring this against him.
But none could deny her smile.
“Well, he got her talking, at least,” said Paul. “That’s something.”
He even had her laughing, to the glum dismay of others at the bar. This wasn’t like before; a threshold had been passed. Parts of the crowd looked on, curious, but many others had already turned away, either hanging their heads or returning to their previous activities. This time, however, Darcy continued to watch.
“Yeah, it’s certainly something,” said Darcy. “It’s something, alright.”
“What do you mean?” said Paul.
“Shit, you know what she is.”
“Well, sure. And you know Shane. But—”
“This goes either of two ways.” He finished his drink and turned to face Paul again. “And we already saw one.”
Now that I’ve finished the first month of this project, I figured I would try and expand by attempting something different: this week’s story is the first part in a longer, serialized piece. While my previous posts have been self-contained stories, averaging around 1,000 words or less, this one has not only already surpassed that average, but I’m excited to admit that I feel I’m just getting started. I have a lot of ideas on how to develop this piece further, so I look forward to hearing what people think of this beginning and how your impressions are shaped over time.
That being said, the current title is a definite placeholder (I have a tendency to dub works-in-progress with song titles, and felt Desire fit this story).
In addition, a new flash fiction story of mine, “Beneath Layers,” was accepted for publication on 50-Word Stories. If interested, you can find a link to that story, as well as the rest of my published work, on my publications page, or you can visit 50-Word Stories directly.
As always, thanks for reading, and don’t be shy about reaching out. Take care.