Sunday, 3 March 2013

Madame Won Ton's

Another challenge from Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds. This week a super ultra mega game of aspects.

Five categories for sub-genre, setting, conflict, aspect and theme. I rolled (well, random number generated) the following:
Southern gothic love triangle set in an opium den with a forbidden book & a theme of nature, man’s greatest enemy.

2k words. I do not cheat and keep rolling until something suits me. I go with what I got the first time. I had to look up southern gothic:
Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South. Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or disorienting characters, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or coming from poverty, alienation, racism, crime, and violence.[1] It is unlike its parent genre in that it uses these tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South, with the Gothic elements taking place in a magic realist context rather than a strictly fantastical one. The images of Great Depression photographer Walker Evans are frequently seen to evoke the visual depiction of the Southern Gothic.
The southern Gothic style is one that employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South. (From Wikipedia)

Tricky - I do not know what those values are… in any case, here is my entry.

Madame Won Ton’s

“This is madness,” Guy announced, but he followed them anyway. He was loath to let either of them out of his sight. “As if anything called ‘Madame Won Ton's is a real opium den.”

“My contact assured me that this was the place,” Chris said as he lifted the beaded curtain. The dingy interior had been painted in deep, dark red but had faded with time. It had taken them some time to locate the dilapidated building down a narrow lane in the back alleys of New Orleans. It hadn’t helped that the wind and the rain seemed to be trying to stop them.

“Come on, Guy. It’ll be fun,” said Maja.

Guy was starting to think that those words from Maja always preceded a disaster, emotional or actual.

Chris glanced at him over his shoulder. “Yeah, Guy, let’s go burn the midnight oil.” An opium joke.

Guy liked Chris; a lot. And that was a problem. He liked Chris, but he loved Maja, who had been Guy’s best friend since he was four, and was currently Chris’ girlfriend. Add in the fact that Guy was starting to think that he swung both ways and it got very messy indeed. Complicated. His life was complicated. “Explain to me again, just how collecting opium antiques got you so interested in illegal drugs?”

Chris gave him a mischievous grin.

God, Guy loved that grin. If he wasn’t so sure that Chris was firmly hetero he might be in love with him, too. He heard them go at it last night. He had lain in his bed with his hand on his cock and listened. And felt bad for doing it, too. Guilt and sex always went together for him. He adjusted himself in his jeans at the thought.

Chris stepped in close to him and whispered, “Get you hand off your dream stick, Guy.”

“You need to stop with the opium metaphors. It’s poppycock.”

Chris guffawed. “Good one, Guy.”

Guy looked astonished. “Seriously? That comes from opium, too?”

“Oh, you didn’t mean that? I thought you meant… you know… poppies.”

Guy wanted to lie, but couldn’t. “No.”

“I take it back, then. I thought you were hilariously witty as well as cute.”
Cute? “Yeah… and got a great dream stick.”

“I’ll bet.”

“If you two can stop flirting for a minute, there’s a news bulletin.” Maja was staring at her phone.

Shit. Were they flirting?

“What’s up?” Chris asked her.

“The storm. It’s getting worse. The news is they’ve started evacuations.”

The men exchanged a look. The whole town was waiting for the storm to hit. Hurricane Katrina. Word was it was going to be bad.

“More reason to rescue this book now; before the storm,” Chris argued.

“The levy will hold,” Guy said, but Maja didn’t look comforted.

“A book; really, Chris?” Guy had just come with them because they asked him to. He didn’t need another reason.

“Not just any book - it’s the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.”

“Say that again in English.”

Chris stepped closer to Guy and spoke in a low voice. “It dates from the mid 1500’s and it’s priceless. It lists all the books prohibited by the Catholic Church.”

“Did they even print books then?”

“They did, but only just. It took them a century to start complaining.”

“That’s quick for the Church.”

Chris laughed.

“See? I can be witty.” He studied Chris. “She doesn’t know the value, does she?”

Chris looked delighted. “No.”

Guy had an awful thought. Did he mean Madame Won Ton or Maja? He opened his mouth to ask when a woman entered the room and interrupted. She was probably close to sixty, but it was hard to tell in the darkened room and Guy could never pick ages with Asian women. Her dark hair was elaborately coiffed and her glasses were an older style with frames too large for her face.

“We’re closed.”

Chris turned to face her.

“Oh, it’s you.” She looked over the friends. Guy felt as if her eyes rested on him for longer. Maja was silent under her scrutiny. The woman nodded, and then gestured to the doorway she had entered. “No time,” she said enigmatically and walked away.

They followed her.

Guy would have lost the bet that this was not a real opium den. Secret doors and hidden passageways led them through a room filled with low couches and tables. Each set with a tray of opium implements; the pipe, a lamp, a tiny pedestal dish to hold the opiate. There was no attempt to hide what it was once you were in it.

Guy felt as if he had stepped back in time. It was like an elaborate tea ceremony where the ritual mattered more than the tea. He would have thought most people were into popping pills or a quick injection. But the room was clearly well used; the air reeked with a bitter-sweet scent.

Chris inhaled deeply and lifted an eyebrow at him.

For the first time, he felt a twinge of doubt about Chris. He didn’t know the man well; only had Maja’s word and he knew her judgement was flawed. Especially when it came to men. Maja’s problems came from her relationship with Daddy dearest. She might have torrid relationships with other men but she always went home to Daddy. It made him shudder just to think of it, but as a child he had been powerless to help. Daddy’s death had freed her and given her deep pockets. The combination was not good.

The women had gone into another room. Chris glanced that way and then suddenly pushed Guy up against the nearest wall. Shocked, Guy didn’t react. Chris’s hand held him firmly at the throat, holding him immobile. His thigh pushed between his legs and his hard body pressed against him. Guy reacted to that with a jolt of excitement.

And Chris knew.

He smiled at him. He pressed harder… rhythmically. He dry humped him and Guy couldn’t stop him. Nor could he stop his cock hardening painfully.

“You’d let me, wouldn’t you, Guy?” he whispered.

“Yes.” An admission laced with shame, treachery and guilt. His best friend’s lover and he’d do it without a second’s thought.

“Huh,” he said, as if he had proved his own point. He blinked, and then he kissed him.

It was hard and forceful and not feminine at all and Guy loved it. He didn’t even know where his own hands were. As first kisses went it was brilliant.

The house was hit by a wind jolt that stopped them both. Guy felt just as buffeted. Was he powerless now as well? One hand was clinging flat against the wall and the other was cupped over Chris’ ass. Divided, as always.

“Chris?” Maja called.

“Later,” Chris whispered in his ear. He bit the lobe as punctuation.

Guy couldn’t move. It took him a bit longer to follow into the other room. He did some heavy breathing and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. It didn’t help. He could taste him. He licked his lips and wanted to moan.

Maja gave him an odd look. Did she know? Shit.

Chris only had eyes for the book.

It wasn’t what Guy expected. Stupidly, he had this romantic image of a giant leather bound tome, an illuminated manuscript, not the normal book sized simple listing that Chris held in his hand. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Yes. See?” The frontispiece had an illustration of people burning books. His knowledge of Roman numerals wasn’t good, but he thought it said 1758. He didn’t say anything.

“Did you pay her?” Chris asked Maja. She nodded tightly.

Of course, Maja was the money. Guy’s bad feeling about this settled like a stone in his stomach.

The house rocked with another blast from the storm. The lights flickered and then went out. Guy heard a door bang and then Maja called out, “Chris?”

There was no answer.

Guy knew he was gone. The book, the money and the Asian woman would all be gone when the lights came up. “I’m here,” he told her, as if that would help.

The lights flickered back on for a second before going again. Long enough to confirm his suspicions. They’d been conned.


No answer.

He groped for where she had been standing. “We need to go.”

“What’s the point?” she sounded desolate.

He felt guilty. “I guess you’re right.” He finally touched her and pulled her into his arms. “Why don’t we sit out the storm here?”

“He didn’t have a contact. She recognized him.”

“Yes. And we came in his car.” There was no chance of them finding a taxi in this storm.

A pause.

“There must be matches around… this is an opium den,” Guy said.

Maja snorted. “Wanna try some?” Her face lit up as the match flared.

“You have opium?”

“Yeah… he loves authenticity.”

“Right.” And he’d make her carry the drugs for safety.

The couches were comfortable; made to recline on and they had all the supplies.

“Tell me about your father,” Guy ventured when he felt brave enough to say it. Poppy courage.

She felt brave enough to tell him.

When they crawled from the rubble days later, they were together in all ways. Chris was gone. They hoped permanently. But Guy remembered that whispered promise to see him later. It gave him the chills.


It started with that feeling that someone was watching him. Guy woke one morning with the taste of Chris on his mouth. It wasn’t possible. They had found the drowned car in the storm clean up. The body was buried quickly. The book was gone.

As he and Maja stepped out of a tiny wine bar one night she clutched at his arm.
He glanced the way she was staring and got a glimpse of elaborately piled black hair, before the figure stepped into the shadows.

“It was her,” Maja insisted. “I’d know those glasses anywhere.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong. It was... him.”

“Do you think he conned her, too?”

“Probably.” He shrugged. Coward that he was, he didn’t tell her about his odd feelings. They both had almost flashbacks to the days spent in the ruined house. Nightmares. Shock. The whole city did.

It was rebuilding, but it would take money and the South’s money was old and stagnant. Not good for starting again, only good for keeping things the way they were.

Guy was reading a book at a streetcar stop when he felt the nip at his earlobe. He spun around and there was nothing there. He couldn’t tell Maja about it.

But when he got home she was in the bath; her knees up and her arms wrapped around them. She was shivering.

“What happened?” he asked.

“She cursed him.”

“Madame Won Ton?”


“You saw her again.”

She nodded jerkily.

He sat on the tiled floor and reached for her hand. “I felt him... at the streetcar stop.”

Maja looked terrified. “What does he want?”

“Us? He lost us.”

“I’m scared, Guy.”

“Me too,” he confessed. He stripped and got in the bath with her.

“When?” he asked.

“Tonight. Midnight.”

Maja had inherited her father’s house. The three storey French Quarter home within walking distance of everywhere in New Orleans you would want to go.

They closed the shutters, dimmed the lights, poured two very large glasses of wine and sat down to wait for him.

It wasn’t a knock; it was a dull scrape sound.

A drowned zombie was not a pretty thing but Guy opened the door and let him in.

Chris apologized, in his own way. He wished them well, kissed them both on the lips and shambled away.

He left the scent of the swamp behind touched with the bitter-sweet memory of opium.

© AM Gray 2013

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