Under Your Spell (Pt. II)
This post is a continuation of a story started in a previous post. To read part I, click here.
Darcy sat back, eyes still focused on Paul, his smile bent into a shape somewhere between smug and cynical. Paul knew Darcy was right, knew it was useless to argue further, so he shrugged and retired. As time passed, the duo grew worn of the scene around them. Even Darcy stopped peering over his shoulder to check on Shane. They pulled out their phones and flipped through tabs with lazy abandon, searching for a distraction.
Whether by design or coincidence, time had a way of coming to a standstill at Hodge’s. There was minimal natural light, and the wash of fluorescence and neon did little to distill the haze. It was as if the clouds of smoke clogged the hourglass itself, stemming the flow of sand through the sieve. When Paul next looked up, returning his attention to the world outside his phone, the landscape of the bar had shifted. Had Paul been watching, he would have seen the woman’s gaze turn from Shane, settle on him instead, and latch. Her saunter as effortless and seductive as her appearance, she parted the remaining scattered patrons and made her way toward their table. Shane trailed behind, his lean face now blank, dazed. White and lifeless in the tide of the parting sea.
Then, as sudden as a pebble falling through the drain, she was upon them.
“Hello,” she said, taking the open seat at their table. “Name’s Lily.”
Her voice was an oasis, the comforting touch of velvet in a room of otherwise jagged edges. She outstretched her hand in greeting. Paul was surprised at the frankness of the gesture. It was an ordinary handshake, whereas he half expected a request that he kneel to her like royalty. Darcy sat back as if she had something contagious. It was as if he had regressed, the progress made during his conversations with Paul lost, and he was now the same wounded animal from before, retreating as he had when Shane first made his move. His eyes peered out from between frayed pillars of his hair, curious, and darted back and forth between their new guest and his friends.
“Paul.” He returned the gesture, accepting her hand with a firm grasp and a light squeeze before pulling away. Darcy’s eyes were now locked on Paul, as if the contact had physically repulsed him, like he had kicked the dog when it was down. Shane reached their table, spilled drinks of patrons he had bumped into now running down his shirt, and he slumped into his former seat without a word. Didn’t address Lily, didn’t hang his head, didn’t acknowledge Darcy or Paul. Just sat, staring forward. “And this,” Paul continued, lifting an arm in indication, “is Darcy.”
Darcy turned his attention to the woman, pushing the hair from his face, and half-raised his hand in greeting. Lily did not acknowledge him, her gaze remaining locked on Paul. Paul first looked at their guest, then Darcy, before again returning to the woman. Finally, he cast a side-glance at Shane. He was unresponsive to their conversation, like a corpse ignoring flashes of light. No jeering remarks, no displays of bravado; he had used what he had and came out empty, sucked dry of essence and left a pruned shell. Paul had seen this before and knew that no amount of camaraderie or alcohol would help. These were wounds best left to time. This was her game, and Shane, like the earlier suitor, had cast his dice. The only path toward recovery was the hardest for a gambler to take: to walk away from the table.
“Darcy,” said Paul, his eyes lingering on the woman for a moment longer, sizing her up, before turning to face his friend. “Shane looks like he could use some rest, y’know? I’ll catch up with you later.”
Darcy didn’t nod, didn’t respond. He stood, pushed his chair in, and guided Shane to his feet. As they passed Paul on their way out, he stopped and leaned close toward Paul’s ear, close enough for Paul to smell the whiskey on him.
“Either of two ways, Paul.”
Paul nodded, and they parted. Lily had already moved to a closer chair and now sat directly next to Paul, their arms practically touching. Paul saw the depth in her eyes, pools of shifting hues, at one moment a twinkling oceanic sea foam, the next a brazen reflection of a forest; it was in her eyes that countless prior men had fallen, seeking to unravel her mystery, to understand how she could appear as all things beautiful at once. If her actions as maestro were the siren song that called men toward her, her eyes were the final bunkers on which their ships scuttled, ensnaring the unwary as the rest of her tangled around them. It was their nature to follow one drink with another, and she was more intoxicating than any other. Paul stared just long enough to give the impression that she had caught him, waiting until he saw the smile spill across her face, and pulled away.
“So,” he said, “is three in one night your standard, or am I just a pit stop before the fourth?”
If she was surprised, her expression did not betray her. She fired back with equal measure, smiling before taking a long sip from her drink. Pushing her hair back behind her ears, she sat forward, leaning her chin against her knuckles. She didn’t need to rely on the tricks of other women; no cleavage, no mask of perfume, no front. She was a professional, all right, Paul admitted. And the reputation did not elude her.
“Oh, my,” she said. Her emphasis was thick as honey, heavy as it dripped from her lips. The edges of her mouth were curled upward, teasing. “Surely I don’t know what you mean. You caught my attention, is all.”
Paul was tempted to chide her further, but he feared the repercussions. It was known what happened to those who fell in her web, but none had so openly antagonized her, so far as he knew. If she could spin a man around her finger and pluck their soul with a mere bat of her eye, what could she do if she actually tried? He had pushed his luck enough; it was better to play it safe if he intended to make a difference.
“Just a joke,” he said. He tried to recover some ground by opening his posture, spreading one arm to the side and facing her with an open expression. “Seemed like Shane was pretty broken up after talking with you.”
Again, Paul could not read her. He would have to keep playing to find whether his bluff was safe or not. Lily moved closer forward, placing her hand atop Paul’s bare arm. Her touch was as smooth and comforting as her voice, weightlessly rustling the hairs on his arm as a breeze stirs the grass in a meadow. He felt the hot intensity of the other men around them staring in jealousy, felt their lust undulating in waves, but felt nothing from the woman. Despite her charms, her beauty was not one he sought to pursue.
“Your friend Shane was like many of the others,” she said. “At least he had a few entertaining things to say to help me look past his drooling. That’s more than the first could offer, at least.”
“Oh, this and that, but some I hadn’t heard before. Don’t get me wrong—still helplessly crude. He has some lonely years ahead of him.”
“I could’ve told you that,” said Paul, and he laughed in spite of himself. From the stories he had heard, not to mention those he had witnessed firsthand, he was surprised at her approach. Perhaps she, too, was having difficulty reading the situation, understanding Paul and what made him tick, and was playing it slow so as not to reveal her whole hand. “So, what brings you to Hodge’s?”
“Probably the same as you,” she said, and lifted her glass. “It’s cheap.”
“Surely, though, someone as lovely as you has men pushing past each other just to buy you drinks?”
At this, she laughed, but not with the same airiness as before. This laugh was darker, more of a sneering scoff. It was her first tell. Paul wasn’t sure what exactly it was that they were progressing toward, but he had a feeling a mask was beginning to peel. Lily, the woman herself—not the being, the being spoken of in hushed rumors, the being of untold beauty that appeared only in the dwindling recesses of the night, the being that could speak directly to the center of your heart’s desire, understand, capture it, and leave, leave from your life as swiftly as she appeared, leave you feeling a shell without her, the parasitic being that you couldn’t help but beg to have latch on, leech, accept as part of you, and to feel incomplete without thereafter—no, not the being, but Lily the woman, was beginning to appear. This was a glimpse at the unseen soul of the woman hiding beneath the armor of a being as old as the stories of gods themselves: the succubus.
She turned away from Paul, avoiding the gaze of the patrons still ogling her, and focused on an unseen point somewhere in the distance. Staring at a place far away, one she didn’t know, hadn’t been to, and didn’t know how to reach. Seeking, as many had hoped to find in her, for something to make her whole.
It was difficult to convince myself to continue with this story. Last week’s entry was the least-read of my story-a-week project so far, and with this being the second entry in what looks to be a three or four part story, I had reservations about committing the time and effort to creating characters and telling a tale that likely will not receive the attention that my shorter posts have.
But I suppose that’s a risk inherent with all writing, and yet we do it anyway. So here we are. I will see this story through until the end, and then I will begin again.
And again, and again, and again…
Thanks for reading.