May’s Short Story

It’s 19 May, the third Thursday of the month. That means it’s time for a story.

Today, Before the First Bite: Luna only took the job at the museum because her mother got it for her. It’s boring, but this evening, she meets a new friend. One day, she’ll learn what a good a friend he is. For now, he’s just weird..

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Before the First Bite

Luna sat on the bench hidden under the stairs between the original Goddess of Justice statue and the remains of the ship La Belle. Kicking off her new shoes, she pulled her right foot across her lap to massage her toes and sucked in her breath to not yell when her fingers hit the blister on the ball of foot. Wrinkling her nose, she whispered, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

She set her sore foot on the icy floor and looked at her new shoes. The bling, the three-inch spikes, the black-gold chain, and the sparkling red heart-shaped padlocks twinkled in the floor lights, reminding her why she’d worn the shoes. They were beautiful. Mama said they weren’t practical for leading tours in the museum, but what did she know about fashion, curvaceous legs, or a tantalizing butt?

Luna set the shoes next to her on the bench. “I’m not my mama.”

A series of dongs poured out of the museum’s speakers, filling the air with a hesitant melody, followed by Francine’s voice. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the museum will close in fifteen minutes. We invite you to visit us again . . .”

Leaning her back against the cool marble wall, Luna unfocused her eyes to wait for closing. A man and a woman stood arm-in-arm, looking at the ship from the opposite side of the room. The man pointed to something inside the ship, and Luna listed as the woman whispered something. They laughed.

“Keep moving,” Luna said under her breath. “Don’t ask questions. Just move along.”

Luna pulled out her phone. Fourteen minutes left. She didn’t want to put her shoes back on or talk to anybody. She hated answering the same questions day in and day out. Working at the museum had been Mama’s idea. “It’ll be fun,” she’d said. “You’ll learn something,” she’d said. “And it will give you money to buy some new clothes.” The summer was only half over, and when classes started at the end of August, college classes, she’d not only have these shoes (with her feet toughened up enough to wear them) but also a new outfit or two. She tapped her phone, scanning her bank account, and sighed. “Oh well, maybe just one new outfit. At least Mama can’t say anything about my shoes. I bought them with my money.”

Her aching feet enjoyed the cold floor. She watched the couple meander away from the ship. She stretched her back and lay on the bench, relaxing in the quiet, cold darkness and behind the stern glare the Goddess of Justice.

Luna sat up as a pang of awareness thumped into her stomach and rode her spine to her head. That pang had saved her more than once from Howard, the most obnoxious of the security guards, finding her resting when she should have been walking the floor helping visitors learn about La Belle’s fatal voyage. But there was no one in the room.

The closing gong echoed, and Francine’s voice returned, announcing the closing of the museum. As the last echo of Francine’s voice entered her ears, she heard the faintest fall of shoe on the floor and a man’s voice. “Expecting a trap?”

Luna covered her mouth with her hand. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she willed herself to silence despite the thunder of her heart in her ears. The man’s voice didn’t whisper, but it didn’t carry as a voice should in the museum, silent except for the scuttling of shoes and murmurs filtering from the entrance.

A second masculine voice answered, “You’re the one who always says to expect a trap but hope for honesty.” This voice, while deep, wasn’t as deep as the first. Both men spoke with peculiar accents: American but touched with something not European, not Asian, not Hispanic.

The first man replied, “None of us survive long without always thinking the worst of people, even old friends.”

The second man laughed. “You never change, Max.” The laugh should have echoed through the emptying museum, but it didn’t. It drifted down, falling into Luna’s ears like the water in a still pool.

Luna bit her bottom lip. Part of her job included guiding people to the exit at closing, and guests seldom gave her a hard time when she told them they had to leave. Neither man sounded in any hurry to leave. She looked at her shoes on the bench next to her.

Max said, “She’s ugly.”

Luna rolled her shoulders back and laughed to herself. Everyone said that about the Goddess of Justice.

“Not supposed to see her up close like this. At least that’s what the guide says. Not sure I buy it,” the other man said.

A heavy silence followed. Luna bent her head under its weight and focused her hearing on the landing.

“Cesar,” said the deeper voice, Max’s. So deep, so sure, yet fractured. “We have a problem.”

“That’s why we’re meeting here,” Cesar answered. “You’re here to fix it, and you don’t want anyone to know you’re here.”

Luna shivered at Cesar’s response. His voice was filled with a loathing Luna had only heard one other time in her seventeen years. She rested her hand on her shoes, but she couldn’t leave. She had to know what the problem was, even as the dread between the two men grew. A chill drifted down her back. Fear sank in her belly, but she didn’t know why.

“What do you know?” Max asked.

“Nothing,” Cesar answered. “An Eldest tells me she’s sending you into town to take care of business. I don’t ask questions.”

“And that’s why you’ll live longer than most.”

Luna held her breath even as her mouth formed the word Eldest.

When Max answered, Luna thought she imagined the words. “He kills children.”

A groan—or perhaps a growl—gurgled from Cesar’s mouth.

Max continued. “She sent me here because I’ve run into him before. I tracked him once and was close to seeing him, but he changes with the sun. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.”

“What do you need from me?” Cesar asked.

“For now, a reliable contact and anonymity,” Max said.

Luna heard movement: leather brushing silk.

“Call Mike,” Cesar said. “He’s my go-to man, human. He’ll get you whatever you need.”

“Thanks,” said Max.

“You won’t stay unseen long. The others will feel your presence even if you try to hide from them,” Cesar said.

Luna scrunched her eyebrows together. Curiosity overtook her caution, and she leaned forward, just enough to see the stairs. She could not see the two men.

“I’ll take whatever time I can get. Let me know when we need to make this formal.” Max sighed. “There’s a chance it won’t come to Austin.”

But Max was certain it would. Luna heard that in the man’s voice and felt the fear of it catch in her throat.

Cesar snorted. “If you believed that, you wouldn’t be here. You’re too good at what you do. Besides, Mary said—” Cesar’s voice stopped.

Luna heard what could only be a sniff. Realizing she was standing, but not sure when she stood, she took a deep breath to calm herself, aware she had been holding her breath. That’s when the pain shot up her leg from her right foot. She looked down to see red, sticky blood oozing out from between her toes. One of her blisters had burst.

“I’ve got this,” Cesar said.

A chill, like the ceiling falling, descended on Luna. She wanted to move. Her heart beat so fast she couldn’t catch her breath. Her brain screamed to run, but her feet remained where they were.

A hand rested on her shoulder. She turned, straining her neck to look up into the face of a man with the oddest of eyes. The man’s face bent forward and his eyes, instead of peering into hers, looked like bright lights reflecting the spotlights from above.

“Hello, Luna,” Max said. It could only be Max, with that melodious voice and rhythmic speech.

Luna reached for her name tag to cover it but found her hand wrapping around her neck instead.

Max smiled. His pale face relaxed and teeth, white and sharp, glistened in the light. “I wish you hadn’t heard us talking,” he said.

“Sorry,” Luna’s voice came out a coarse whisper, shaking in her breath.

“It’s okay,” he said. “But it’s time to forget.”

*****

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