'Nine Ladies Dancing' is one of the story in an anthology that I'm planning to release on December 1st, tentatively entitled 'Have Yourself a Gruesome Little Christmas'. Twelve Days of Christmas become, in my world, Twelve Days of Terror. Number nine was great fun to research and write, and here's the first draft in its entirety.
Nine Ladies Dancing
Christian unfastens the cap with a shaking hand, moistening his lips in anticipation as the green liquid swishing inside the bottle seems to glow in the light of the fire.
No matter what he does, nothing seems to have worked of late.
The images it his head that once would haunt him with a comforting regularity are no longer there, and there is nothing he can do to inspire them to return.
For an artist, it is the very worst of tortures.
Christian can bear it no longer. He has pored over piles upon piles of books to find out what artists like himself do when inspiration fails, and he finds one overriding theme.
Through the ages, it has been well-chronicled. Did Samuel Taylor Coleridge not write ‘Kubla Khan’ after an opium inspired dream? Even William Shakespeare is thought to have used cocaine and other hallucinogenic drugs of the age. It is no different in the world of artists. Christian’s two great heroes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Vincent van Gogh relied heavily upon drugs to calm and soothe their artistic swings of temperament and inspire their works.
It is from Vincent himself that Christian has taken his influence for tonight’s drug of choice.
Not only did Vincent van Gogh draw great inspiration from absinthe, but numerous other artistes are well-known for their fondness of it; Pablo Picasso, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Verlaine and Ernest Hemingway, to name but a few. It is the perfect choice.
The scents of the fennel and anise drift free of the now uncapped bottle, mingling with the subtle undertones of
wormwood and teasing at his nose as he breathes in deeply, rolling his head from side to side.
For this first foray, Christian has elected for the traditional method. Though the Bohemian way of preparing the absinthe with fire appeals far more to him, it would burn off much of the alcohol, thus tempering its effect upon him; the opposite to that which he desires. It is the intoxication, after all, that will hopefully lift the depressing fugue that clouds the creative corner of his mind.
Crouching down in front of the fireplace, Christian inhales once more before pouring a generous measure of the absinthe into the glass. Mesmerised, he stares as the liquid swirls around the glass, the verdant hues dancing before his eyes.
Shaking his head to rid himself of the illusion – for a moment, he almost imagined that the liquid was alive, a foolish notion born of fatigue, no doubt! – Christian balances the silver spoon on top of the glass. The slotted, ornate spoon was purchased specifically for this occasion and sits perfectly, waiting to receive the lump of sugar that he places atop it.
Next, he lifts a glass of ice-cold water. The condensation on the glass makes it difficult to hold, and it almost slips through his trembling fingers. Christian stills his hand, though, and slowly pours the water in a steady stream over the sugar cube.
Setting the water to the side, he sits back to silently observe the change in the liquid. Alone, it almost seems enough to inspire a return to the heights of his creativity; the louche clouds the substance as gentle aromas began to rise up that had before been overpowered by the heady anise. Juniper, dittany and wormwood all writhe their way to the surface, and Christian sighs in satisfaction as he lifts the spoon and lays it down upon the wooden floorboards.
It is time.
Holding his breath, he raises the glass of cloudy liquid to his lips and gently pours it into his mouth, allowing the tastes to dance and grow upon his tongue before permitting it to slip down his throat.
It is like nothing he has ever tasted before, and it is wonderful! Cool and refreshing as a result of the iced water mixed into it, it is a tantalisingly mingling of separate tastes that combine into an effortless balance of herbs and floral notes.
Brief images of Alpine meadows and open skies dart through his mind, and Christian releases the breath he was still holding, giddy with relief. Already, it is working!
Greedy for more, he swallows the remainder of the drink without bothering to savour the distinct taste this time before hastily preparing another; and another, and another.
By the time that he drains the fourth glass, Christian has fallen prey to the strangest of sensations. He has been
drunk before, many times, but never like this; though he feels disorientated, clumsy, there is a startling clarity and lucidity to his mind that thrills him.
A thin trail of the cool liquid dribbles down from his mouth and onto his bare chest. Running his tongue around his lips to try to capture and milk every last drop of the precious absinthe, Christian stumbles to his feet.
Shivering, for the heat of the crackling flames is no longer enough to warm his naked body, he staggers towards the doorway to retrieve his clothes.
Unsteady on his feet, though, his blurred vision and unwilling limbs conspire against him. Thinking that he is walking through the doorway, instead he walks directly into the wooden doorframe. His head cracks against it and as he rebounds, his mind begins to spin.
Groaning loudly, for he yearns to sketch out at least half a dozen of the images that are playing in his head, Christian tries to fight against the mist of darkness that is descending upon him, but it is no use.
The taste of anise upon his tongue the last thing that he remembers, he slumps to the floor and submits to the unconsciousness that claims him.
Christian grunts as he stretches out, momentarily surprised to find himself on the floor before the sharp pain in his head recalls to him the events that led to this point. The taste of the absinthe lingers upon his lips and tongue, and it is still dark outside; he cannot have been unconscious for very long.
Rubbing his head with his hands, he opens his eyes to find that the fire has burnt out. He pushes himself onto his hands and knees to crawl towards it, but a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye wrenches his attention away completely.
Propping himself up to sit against the wall, he blinks rapidly to clear his vision and then opens his eyes again, expecting what he has seen to no longer be there. It is no trick or mirage, though, for there they are again, dancing an elated quickstep in the air around him.
Damn, they were all but impossible to count when they darted around so! Squinting, he finally succeeded. Ten – no, nine. Nine fairies.
The word leaps unbidden to his mind, but instinctively he knows that it is the right one.
Eyes wide with astonishment, Christian reached out his hands, palms up, and mutely urges them towards him. Obediently, one of them lands lightly upon his skin, a flirtatious smile illuminating her face as he slowly brings his hand up towards his face to study her closer.
Oh, but she is glorious! Barely six inches tall, but perfection nonetheless. Christian could never have dreamed of such beauty. Her skin is the amber hue of the autumn leaves, and an iridescent hue of green snakes its way down the side of her face and across the top of her tiny, curvaceous breasts. Delicate, translucent wings erupt from each of her shoulders, her lips are the crimson of the reddest of roses, and her hair – such wonder in her hair!
Christian cannot resist the compulsion to stretch out one finger to tenderly stroke her hair as he marvels upon it. Wild and untamed, it shimmers in the moonlight that floods in through the open window. One moment it is the colour of moss, and in the next he could swear that it is a rich, luscious chestnut. Then she turns her head to the side, and it is the distinctive shade of chlorophyll that colours the absinthe.
Miniscule blossoms and blooms wind their way through the tousled mass of curls, and Christian plucks one free to hold it up between his fingers before delivering a reverential kiss to its satin petals. Returning it to the fairy’s hair, he brings her closer and gazes into her eyes, eyes that are the precise shade of the bark that covers the trees.
“So beautiful!” His sigh speaks of awe and of wonder, and it clearly delights the little fairy. Clapping her hands together, she sinks down into the curve of his palm, tucking her legs underneath her and smoothing down the silken folds of her flowing gown.
“Do you like the absinthe, Christian?” Her sisters flutter around him, twirling and prancing through the air as his head moves from side to side in an entranced attempt to follow their movements.
“And has it worked for you, Christian?” The fairy wraps her arms around his thumb, pressing herself lovingly up against it and batting her barely distinguishable eyelashes. “Can you draw inspiration from the delightful sensations it has awoken in you – can you draw inspiration from us?”
A phrase he read in his painstaking research resurfaces, bringing with it a flash of comprehension. “La Fée Verte!”
“Oui!” The fairies all beam delightedly at him, the soft glow that wraps around their bodies burning more brightly than ever. La Fée Verte – the green fairy – is the myth that will be forever associated with absinthe. Christian read of her many a time, but never did he think that she was anything more than a fanciful tale whispered of by the romantic Bohemians, perpetuated by nothing more than intoxication and wistfulness.
Now, though, the evidence of her existence sits in the palm of his hand as she and her spellbinding sisters sigh and smile up at him.
Shaking his head in stunned disbelief, Christian relaxes back against the wall and brings the green fairy to his lips, planting the gentlest of kisses on top of her head before lifting her up to look directly into her eyes. “You will bring me the inspiration that I crave?”
“Christian, we have already brought it to you; the very moment that the first drop of our glorious vessel passed your lips! Did you not feel it, my love, burning in your very soul as you sipped of the absinthe?”
“Yes!” he agrees breathlessly, remembering the vivid images of meadows and skies that flashed through his mind. “That was you, ma Fée Verte?”
“And my sisters, oui. The absinthe you drank was so potent, my love, and you drank so much of it that we were all able to come to you! Do you think that you could unleash your talent once more now, Christian?”
Of that, there could be no doubt, and Christian knows exactly what it is that she wishes to paint now above all else. The fairies that have brought the dam in his mind crashing down deserve the honour of being captured on paper; and he is certain, now, that he can do so perfectly.
How to best do them justice, though? His brow furrows in thought as the fairies giggle and cavort in front of him.
“Greens!” he mumbles out loud. These glorious fairies must have a backdrop of greens in their portrait, it is only right – but it is the depth of winter! Where can he find anything green to gaze upon and paint?
“The stream,” comes a gentle whisper. Another of the fairies has settled upon his shoulder, stroking his face lovingly and nestling against his skin. “The stream, Christian, and the pine trees.”
“To the stream?” he echoes, running his hands through his hair as his heart races, a burst of adrenalin pounding through his veins as he rises unsteadily to his feet.
“To the stream!”
“Go, Christian, now!”
“You might forget it – hurry, Christian, hurry!”
Their sweet voices echo in his mind, their urge for haste driving him out of the door in ignorance to the biting cold and his state of undress. Pausing only to snatch up his sketch book and pencils, Christian dashes out of the door and down through the garden in search of the bubbling stream that winds its way along the rear of his cottage garden.
The fairies fly alongside him, tumbling in the air, buffeted by the bitter wind. They do not seem to mind, though; instead, they throw their arms out and prance on the currents, throwing their heads back and allowing their hair to flow out behind them.
Christian is utterly enchanted, caught up in their spell and the startling lucidity of his intoxication. Leaping up off the frozen ground, he punches the air in glee before throwing himself down at the edge of the stream and flicking frantically through his sketchbook to find a blank page.
The fairies swarm around his face, kissing the skin that is covered in stubble before retreating to rest amongst the branches of the evergreen trees that line the bank of the stream. Desperate to capture their image before this brilliant flush of creativity he feels burning inside him fades away, Christian begins to sketch out the wondrous scene in front of him.
An outline will do for now; it is enough to secure the image in his mind. Colours will come later. For now, Christian simply devotes himself to capturing as much of the intricate details of the fairies’ beauty as he can; the way that the iridescent green tint to their faces shimmers in the moonlight, and the exact tilt of their lips as they smile at him.
Hours pass, but he neither notices nor cares, for all that matters is the fairies and how he must create the perfect representation of them on the page. From an artistic point of view, Christian has always adored the feminine form. It is a thing of beauty, with its intricate dips and curves, and such softness!
Each one is a miracle, of that he is convinced, and the fairies’ beauty is not diminished in any way by their lack of size; indeed, to him, the precise opposite is true. In Christian’s eyes, their minute stature only enhances their beauty.
Finally, he is satisfied with the picture that stares back at him from the page, convinced that it truthfully reflects the wonder of the image before him. Seeing him lay down his pencils, the fairies rise from the branches of the tree and fly towards him once more, their arms outstretched lovingly as they attach themselves to him.
“Christian, it is wonderful!” they coo in unison, their eyes sparkling with delight.
Their adoration thrills him, and he gathers them close to his bare chest. “Stay with me?” he begs, desperate to never lose these models of such exquisite beauty and wonderful inspiration.
“Until the end, Christian, until the very end,” la Fée Verte assures him, her eyes glinting strangely in the moonlight. “And now, my love, dance with us?”
“Dance, Christian, please!” she repeats.
“Oh, please, Christian!”
“Dance with us!”
“Christian, you must!”
How can he refuse so many pleading beauties, tiny as they are? Nodding eagerly, Christian follows them blindly as they break free of his hold and dart towards the stream hovering over the water as he jumps into it.
Oblivious to the cold and the rocks underneath his feet, he throws himself into the dance with the greatest of enthusiasm, laughing out loud as the fairies twirl around him, their delicate touch brushing against his bare skin as they stretch out towards him before dashing back and forth, up and down.
It must seem so strange to an onlooker; the naked man spinning and leaping through the air before splashing back down into the near-freezing water of the stream, entirely alone in the darkness. Exalted as images whirl through his mind, filling him with inspired bursts of creativity that he can barely contain, Christian leaps ever higher, ignorant to the dangers that stalk ever closer.
The water rushes around his feet, and his inebriation finally proves too taxing for his body to defy any longer. As he lands from his latest jump, his feet slip on one of the rocks and he crashes backwards, smashing his
head on the rock.
Christian’s green fairies slip through his grasp as he flails uselessly, finding nothing to cling onto as he sinks down beneath the water, again unable to fight against the unconsciousness that is so determined to claim him.
He knows the consequences; he knows that if he loses the fight his life is forfeit, but what can he do? La Fée Verte darts into his field of vision one more time as his head momentarily breaks through the frothing surface, but now her face is grim and impassive.
Shaking her beautiful head, she clicks her fingers. She and her sisters turn their back on him and fly away.
Their desertion is the last straw. With a low, pained howl, his eyes roll back in his head and Christian allows the water to consume him.
The sight of the green fairies swooping upon his most brilliant work, lifting it into the air and soaring away is the very last image that Christian’s eyes ever behold.