The FP (Friday Phrase, check out the hashtag FP on Fridays for micro fiction fun) this story came from was one I wrote a long time ago, even before the weekly themes came about. It’s a little bit of fun with the idea coming from the familiar fairy story of Pinocchio. I haven’t written a short story for a while, so forgive me if it’s a bit on the not-so-sharp side. But it’s been good to get some practise in. :)
So here it is, an FP inspired short:
“Peter.” The stranger stated his name confidently and extended his right hand as though he knew for certain I would take it. His left hand casually rested in the pocket of his trousers causing the matching suit jacket to flick up slightly, revealing a well toned thigh. That much I could tell, even through the fabric.
I offered him my hand in return, intrigued by his assertiveness.
He took it in his cold, smooth, firm one and, instead of shaking it, he held it up to his lips, not that this surprised me much.
“Christie,” I said, wondering why I was giving this stranger my real name.
I wasn’t one for being stopped dead in my tracks by a well chiselled jaw, I was too long in the tooth for that, but Peter was, how shall I say, different. Oh, I know it sounds trite, but there was something unique about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I pulled my hand back. Not quickly, but deliberately, reluctantly almost, and ran my fingers through my hair.
“Your finest champagne, please,” Peter said to the barman. Ryan took it upon himself to roll his eyes on my behalf. I wasn’t a stranger to being chatted up in this way. Ryan had seen it a hundred times though and it simply amused him. He was gay of course, otherwise he’d have tried it on with me, despite being half my age. He’d told me as much. Thousands of pounds on plastic surgery meant that even now, into my fifties, men found me attractive enough to try their luck. It was tedious at times. The same old chat up lines, the same lack of originality. But this one, despite the usual conventionalities, was different. Something in me melted, and it wasn’t my enhanced cleavage or botoxed cheeks.
“Thank you,” I said, as I took the champagne flute and we clinked the crystal together.
“Here’s to new acquaintances.” Peter smiled, and I couldn’t help but notice how every single physical feature he possessed was so perfectly formed.
“He’s had as much work done as I have,” I thought, and smiled back.
We spent the evening chatting, drinking and, unusually, laughing. He was easy to talk to, and despite his slick, obviously well-worn, moves, he was refreshingly childlike in his outlook on life. Perhaps on account of being no older than thirty-five. He suggested we go bowling and ice-skating, though not that night, “maybe we could do that on our first date?” he boldly suggested.
When the jazz band came on, he took my hand and led me to the dancefloor. He held me close, those well toned thighs pressed hard against mine, and it was obvious, from another of his protruding body parts, where the night would lead.
I think I might have whispered something suitably cliched in his ear at that point. Something along the lines of, “Is that a piece of wood in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” and he laughed. Not at me, but with me. And then he looked into my eyes and leaned in for a kiss.
The sudden blaring of the fire alarm brought us both to our senses and halted the kiss before it had even started. “Everyone out! This is not a false alarm,” I heard Ryan’s voice call, as we were shoved and shunted towards the exit. Thick smoke bellowed into the intimate space Peter and I had only moments before shared. I found myself clinging tight to Peter’s fingers. Long and smooth and slender; a reassuringly strong grip.
A sudden cry of terror ripped through the air from somewhere behind us. Peter froze on the spot and turned his head back. As he did so his fingers slipped from mine and I was pulled away from him through the crowd towards the fire exit.
“Peter!” My voice was strangled, and I coughed through the smoke.
But he didn’t hear, or didn’t seem to hear, and he disappeared from my sight towards the back of the club. As I moved closer to the front exit with the crowd, I glanced back. The kitchen door flung open and a tsunami of flames tore up through the bar and licked at the ceiling over our heads. I tripped out onto the street, wondering how the dream had turned so quickly into this nightmare.
Then a man, an old man, appeared through the swirling black smoke, coughing and spluttering. He hobbled towards the exit and collapsed, as two firefighters ran to him and dragged his body out onto the pavement. There he gasped for air.
“My son,” he choked the words out. “My son, you must save my son.” The firefighters ran back in, ducking under the flashover and disappearing towards the kitchen.
Only a few seconds passed, though it felt to me like minutes and in those seconds I caught the old man’s watery, grey eyes staring at me.
Suddenly, the firefighters emerged with Peter from the back of the club. He was wheezing and gasping, his face blackened from the smoke. The two firefighters hauled him out and he collapsed next to the old man on the ground.
I screamed. Peter’s feet were alight. They were actually alight.
“Somebody help him, for Christ’s sake!” I yelled. The flames licked higher, smouldering through the fabric of his trousers. And therein lay the strangest thing. As the grey sheen of the trousers disintegrated, underneath there was no burning flesh. There was no bubbling or crackling of skin and there were no screams from Peter. He didn’t so much as flinch as the fire danced and burned up his legs and charcoaled the wood that replaced the flesh.
Peter caught my eye, and he smiled just as he had when we had clinked champagne glasses.
“My son! You must save my son!” The old man coughed again. But this time he was not addressing the firefighters or the paramedics who were now rushing across the street to Peter with blankets and medical equipment. No, he was looking at me, with the same steel-grey eyes Peter was.
“Kiss him,” The old man choked. “Kiss my boy,” he said just as a paramedic put an oxygen mask over his mouth.
Confused, I looked again at Peter. The man who had captured my heart in one evening of utter madness. How much more madness would kissing him be now as his body burned?
“Someone, please, help him!” I screamed again.
One of the paramedics threw a blanket over Peter’s legs and rolled him back and forth, but the flames resisted the smothering and continued slowly cremating both the blanket and his wooden legs.
“Christie, please. Only you can save me,” Peter said. “I need you to kiss me, You must kiss me.”
The paramedic swung his head round to the firefighters. “I’m going to need help here! This man’s legs are wooden and won’t stop burning!”
I went over to Peter and dropped to my knees, behind his head. Peter tilted his head towards me.
Another paramedic took out an oxygen mask, and pulled back the elastic.
“Quickly” Peter whispered to me. “Before it’s too late. Before all of me burns.”
I leaned in just before the paramedic could put the mask on. “Please, Madam,” I heard him say “Now’s not the time!”
I ignored him. It was now or never, whatever ‘it’ would turn out to be. As our lips touched, Peter’s whole body shuddered. I kept my lips locked there, and felt his face, so rigid and taut, suddenly soften. His shoulders and arms relaxed by his side. I stepped back, and watched, wondering how one kiss could have so much power. His breathing slowed and his chest rose and fell with the ease of a sleeping baby. He touched his stomach and pushed the soft flesh inward. Peter sighed and a small smile crept over his face, until the smell of burning wood turned suddenly to the acrid stench of burning flesh. The paramedic reeled back.
Peter screamed as the flames now seared his brand new flesh.
“The blanket!” I grabbed it from the stunned paramedic and, wrapping Peter’s legs in it, I rolled him side to side. The flames went out and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Peter’s breathing became more shallow and the paramedic placed the oxygen mask over his mouth.
“Thank you,” Peter mouthed through the mask. “Thank you for giving me my life.”
I grabbed Peter’s hand and squeezed it. It felt different. Warmer and softer than when he had first taken it all those hours ago at the bar.
“I don’t understand any of this,” I said.
The paramedics lifted Peter onto a stretcher.
“Are you coming with him, madam?”
I looked at Peter.
He shook his head, and in that moment I knew. I knew I’d been used.
I went home, tossed my heels in the trash, pulled down my hairdo and removed my mask of make-up for the last time. I looked into the mirror and saw my naked features through a new lens. I guess there’s no real way to tell a liar, and killer looks aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.