In a bar, where the lights were dim and Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” was playing softly in the background. I was nursing a vodka sprite in my hand, although I haven’t had a drop of it for nearly a year now. Nothing like a life-altering event to make you change your ways. What that event was I don’t want to speak of, not right now. Maybe not ever.
“Do you need another round?” Charlie, the bartender whose hobbies, movie collection and apartment I was familiar with in previous life (don’t ask how or why), grinned at me from behind the glass-topped black counter.
I stared at the remaining drink in my hand. My head was already pounding a little but I soon found myself tipping the glass and gulping down the remaining content. I stretched out my arm and told him, “Yes, please.” Neither of us blinked as he got the glass and replaced it with a new one.
All of a sudden, I felt a tap on my shoulder. And then someone from behind me said, “I hate to bother you, but I have something important to ask.”
I slowly glanced over my shoulder and saw a girl bundled up for the fall. Cherry red wool skirt that reached her ankles, showing off a pair of black boots. She had her hands stuck inside the pockets of her rather wrinkled cream-colored coat. Her turquoise scarf covered her from the neck all the way up to her chin. Messy and mousy brown hair framed a small face, making her hazel eyes appear to take up most of her pale face. I do not know her. I was about to turn my back when she blurted out, “Please. I have to ask you something important.” I wasn’t drunk enough to not notice her imploring tone. I was not in the habit of talking to strangers but what harm could this girl of no more than twenty do to me? Besides, Charlie was right there, listening and watching, his curiosity aroused. If something went wrong, he would no doubt help me out. I know Charlie.
I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know you,”
“No, you don’t. But you don’t have to know my name,” She said, her eyes probing mine. I fidgeted in the soft bar stool that I was sitting on. “Do you know Charlie?”
I had to laugh. “Charlie? If you’re looking for Charlie, he’s right there.” I gestured at the bartender. “No need to go through me.”
“I don’t know you, either,” Charlie said. I could almost see him frown but not without that gleam of interest in his dark eyes. “Not you, Alexandra. You, I know quite well.” I did not miss how loaded that last sentence was. I chose to ignore it.
“I meant Charles Bouwe,” the girl said.
It felt like someone punched me right in the gut. Hearing that name made my skin crawl. I eyed the girl and the longer I stared at her, the more my skin began to prickle. “What about him?”
“So you do know him,” She said softly. She said something in a whisper, probably one or two words. A second or two passed before she turned around and left the bar, just like that.
Charlie whistled softly. “If that wasn’t weird, I don’t know what is.”
I took another swig of the vodka sprite and then told him, “Do you have any idea what that was about?”
“None,” He shook his head. “But then again, I have absolutely no idea where you’re concerned.”
I was about to retort in kind when something stopped me. Something was off. I felt… different. And it was the lead-in-your-stomach different. The bad kind of different. Something started to wriggle slowly underneath my khaki coat. Feeling as if I was slowly floating away from my own self, I reached under my coat and touched that wriggling thing. I bit back a scream. It was an arm, magically popping up in my torso.
I downed the remaining drink, desperately wishing this was all a bad dream. I really did not go to Senechal’s Pub & Bar tonight out of momentary weakness and against my better judgment. I was back in my flat, curled up in my queen-size bed. I would open my eyes, see that it was past ten in the morning and then stumble out of bed because I was late for work. Again.
Another gulp, another arm. I downed the drink again. Maybe third time’s the charm. Maybe this time, I will find out that I was back home.
I slammed the glass on the table and hurriedly ran out the door, tightening my coat around me. I heard Charlie call out to me, probably because I haven’t paid yet. But he would call or perhaps drop by my place. I better make sure not to be around when he did. I quickened my steps, stumbling on my own two feet here and there. I felt something else in me but this time, I felt it protrude from between my shoulder blades. I gasped and ducked in the nearest alley, shaking in my shoes and quivering all over. What the hell was happening to me? I gingerly reached for whatever new body part that I had eerily acquired. Wings. I had grown some effin’ wings, all feathery, judging by its texture. Feathery and growing by the second. I choked back a sob. I had to get home and figure this out.
The girl back there in the bar, the one who asked if I knew Charlie Bouwe… If I had said flat out no, would this have happened? It didn’t matter now. I had to pull myself together. First, I had to go home. Go home and then sort this out. Next, I would contact Charlie Bouwe himself. Who the hell was he, really? That girl certainly knew him and that girl was behind this, I was sure.
Back at 7th and 31st, inside dark and cozy Senechals’, Charlie Ray grinned to himself as he gave one of the customers his order of Stella Artois.
“You look like the cat who just ate the canary,” his customer said.
Charlie laughed. “Just giving someone the payback.” Really, being a shapeshifter can become so handy sometimes. That and knowing some hoodoo tricks. Alexandra didn’t really grow a pair of arms and definitely not those angel wings, of course. It’= was all in her mind and what the mind never forgets is a lesson learned. A lesson she no doubt had to learn. After all, no one pulled on Charlie Ray’s strings without knowing what it was like to get on his wrong side.
Tomorrow he would call her, make her trust him, offer sympathy, some comforting words, and then swear to look for a cure. She would be her savior, her knight in shining armor. She’d be his again. And that’s how he will end up being the proud owner of Alexandra Gray, one of Maroon City’s most sought-after socialite. Never mind that she was as elusive as she was foxy. All that mattered was that she would be his again.
* Note: This short story was inspired by two creative writing prompts from Writers Digest. I mixed two different prompts and admittedly did not follow them to the letter. Sometimes, I like to create something without following instructions as they are. It’s fun to improvise and see where it takes you. Here are the prompts I used: When a stranger taps you on the shoulder and A few sips off.