Originally published in Adult BackWash: Monday September 30, 2002
"Well here I am, what's the big surprise?"
The room remained just as dark and quiet. Shelly waited, one hand touching the concrete wall, keeping track of the door she had just closed behind her.
"Did someone fall asleep at the switch?" Shelly called, a little louder. Still nothing.
All her friends and especially her Mother, would have told her she was crazy, behaving dangerously, to meet some unknown man in some out of the way place she had never been to before. But, something about him, the letter he wrote, had called to her and here she was.
"I'm going to leave by the time I count to 10. I don't know if you're extremely shy or extremely demented." Counting inside her head, she felt her way along the wall, until the doorknob was in her hand. At ten, she turned the knob, wondering if it would actually open. The door opened and she stepped out, back into the bar with its crowd of drinkers and smokers. The world seemed OK, safe or at least neutral again.
Taking a few slow breaths to slow down her panicky heart beat, Shelly took a seat at the bar. The bartender looked up as she sat down. "I'd like a plain diet Coke please."
"You want a shot of something in that?"
"No thanks, I'm not going to stay that long."
"No problem. Most of them rush off quicker than you." He turned away then, leaving Shelly wondering who most of them were.
The waitress brought her Coke. Shelly tried to ask her about the room and others who came to it, but the woman just shrugged her off. The bartender seemed to ignore her attempts to attract his attention. When she finished her Coke she decided it didn't really matter all that much anyway. She left, got into her car and drove back to her apartment. The funny thing about the whole thing was how the darkness in the room had seemed to reach out to her, as if it were more than just air without light.
After a few months she forgot all about it.
It was a Friday, just after she pulled a long night at work, sorting out a messy situation. The parking lot at the office was dark and empty of all people and all cars, but for her own. She was a bit unnerved by the lack of lights, the lot was usually well lit for any late workers. The security people kept lights on until the change of shift at 9:00, even then there were muted lights all night long. But, her car was parked close to the building, it would only take her a minute to jump in and lock the doors behind her. Key in hand, locating her car from the lights flooding out of the doorway, she made it a brisk walk.
She hadn't counted on the time it took to actually find the key hole to unlock her car. In the quiet darkness she began to feel warmth on the back of her neck, as if someone was standing right behind her. Heart pounding, she chanced a quick look, nothing, just the warm dark summer night. There was a feeling though, she couldn't shake it off, even when the key slid into the lock. Something was there, watching her, reaching out in the darkness.
Shelly slipped inside and locked the doors. Thank whoever for power locks, she whispered to herself. The car started right up and the headlights scanned the parking lot as she made a circle to pull out. Nothing, just darkness and that same, almost creepy, feeling.
About an hour later, soaking away the cares of the day in a hot, soapy bathtub, Shelly wondered what it was about the whole parking lot incident that had bothered her. So the lights were out, that was a bit of a worry. It's not like there is a pervert around every corner. Besides, they would have to get past all the security to be in the parking lot. A woman had been raped and brutally murdered there just over 2 years ago. Since then security had been beefed up until there was no chance for even a fly could get past them. Only employees were allowed to enter anywhere. Long before the bath water had gotten cold or the last bubble popped, Shelly had convinced herself she was just working too late, too many days in a row.
Over the weekend Shelly had arranged to meet her Mother for some antiquing. Not that either of them needed more stuff, you just never knew what wonderful, old, unique and totally useless stuff you could find. The day was perfect, bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Shelly wore the sun dress she had bought and been looking forward to showing off since June. She felt pretty and young and happy. Her Mother said she hadn't seen her looking so carefree in ages. They had a great day together.
Only one odd thing happened, at a moment when her Mother was looking at some old chest, Shelly wandered off to look at a chest of drawers. There was a man standing by the same chest, he was looking at a wardrobe. It was huge with tons of wood carving, images of dragons, unicorns, castles and fair ladies. Shelly stopped to admire it and wonder who had done all that work.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" She said.
"Yes, I'm probably going to bid on it, if it's not too far out of my price range." Said the man. He was tall, dark hair and deep greenish eyes. When he smiled his eyes sparkled. Right away Shelly was attracted to him and curious to find out more.
"Hopefully your wife hasn't found something expensive to bid on."
"I'm not married, Shelly." He said. "Good luck with your own bidding." He left, leaving behind the memory of his sexy smile. How had he known her name?
Her Mother came along then, breaking into her thoughts. "Let's find a seat Shelly. I want to bid on that old dollhouse for Jared's daughters. Are dollhouses too old fashioned these days?"
Nearly a month later, the bouquet of wildflowers came. Shelly put them in her biggest, tallest vase and still had a few flowers left over for two small vases. The flowers must have cost a fortune and there was no real clue about who the sender was. The card only said, "Looking forward to the pleasure of your company again soon." Taped to the back of the card was a ticket to the theatre for the next weekend. The show was "Taming of the Shrew" one of her favourite plays. It was the only Shakespeare she had enjoyed in school. Who would know her well enough to know both, her favourite flowers as well?
The rest of the week passed quickly. Shelly had already planned what she would wear and what she would say. Mostly the questions she would ask. It was odd to have a second mystery invitation. Hopefully, this one would show up for the date.
The theatre was flowing with people. Most seemed to have their tickets in advance and just breezed through the big golden doors. Shelly followed them along, ticket in hand. Inside she showed her ticket to the staff. The young woman gave her a surprised look but covered it and pointed her to a door off to the side of the main doors. "Enjoy the show, Ma'am."
The door was covered in red velvet, fancier than the main doors everyone else was going through to their seats. She let herself inside, to a small wooden staircase. The steps were cushioned in more red velvet. The wood was beautifully carved, mermaids, dragons and countless fantasy creatures climbed along the banister, all the way to the top of the staircase. Shelly wished she had brought a camera. There wasn't enough time to really admire all the carving now. Not with her mystery date waiting somewhere ahead.
At the end of a short, luxurious looking hallway was a single door. As she watched the handle turned, the door opened and from the dimness inside she heard a male voice, "Please come in Shelly, I'm sure you're very curious by now."
Feeling just a little uncertain, Shelly walked down the hallway and through the door. There was very little light inside. In the shadows she could make out the figure of a man, standing. He waved her to a seat. The only real light came from the stage below. The curtain was not up yet but the lights had been dimmed.
"You're quiet. I thought you would have at least a few questions about me, how I know you." He said. His voice was smoothly masculine, suited to the soft darkness of the theatre box.
"Now that I'm here I don't know where to begin. Who are you and how do you know me?"
"You won't know me by my name. I'm Sebastian Russell. I know you because I see you fairly often, I'm one of the owners of the company you work for. Actually, I own the company that owns it and others like it."
"Well, thanks for the introduction. Why all the mystery?" Asked Shelly.
"After the show. The curtain is due to go up any time now. I have a whole tray of drinks and things to nibble on, set up just to your left. I've made late dinner reservations for after the show." Sebastian said.
"Thanks for inviting me. The Shrew is one of my favourite plays."
"I'm glad you came, enjoy the show."
With more than a little fanfare, the curtain rose. Still, there was not enough light in the box for her to see him. He remained seated just behind her and off to the left. She tried not to be unnerved by it. During the intermission when the lights came up she looked back to find herself alone. The hallway was also empty, as if no one had been there. It was an eerie feeling.
Back in the booth the tray of goodies beckoned her. In order to fit into her fancy new dress she had skipped lunch and dinner. By the time the lights dimmed again she had eaten 2 fancy little sandwiches and was still sipping a Coke with a lemon twist. Sebastian was still no where to be found.
Moments after the show began the door opened and he took his seat. "Sorry to leave you Shelly. I had to return a phone call."
Soon she was again swept away by the performance on-stage. She laughed at her favourite parts, the actress playing Kate was especially good in the role. At the end as the lights came up and the curtain dropped she stood up to give Kate extra appreciation. An hour or so later, as the actors made their last bows she turned to her host.
The breath was crushed out of her smile. He was the man from the auction, only this man had a horrible scar running across most of his face. It was ugly, more so because his face should have been very handsome. He looked like some hero in a romance novel but for the wound which ripped across his face. Of course it was a healed wound, but still raised up and bumpy in parts and discoloured in others.
"It's pretty gruesome looking isn't it?" He said, watching her quietly.
Shelly sank back down into her seat, facing him. "How did that happen?"
"A few months ago, it's much better than it was, not that you could tell." He laughed harshly. Neither of them spoke for awhile.
"I meant to keep our date back then Shelly. I had the whole thing planned. That room at the bar is something I keep for myself. The bar is one of my holdings and I live over it actually. It suits me and I keep out of the news there. It's not exactly luxurious looking on the outside so no one looks for me there. It worked well during my carefree playboy days."
"That was you?"
"Yes, I had the accident that night. There was no way I could let you know ahead of time and then I just didn't know how to approach you."
"I'm sorry." Shelly said, almost a whisper.
"Me too. I'm still not used to catching myself in the mirror. I scare myself, I don't want to imagine how I look to you. Nothing like myself."
"Who was the man at the auction? He looked a lot like you."
"It was me. I've had a mask made so I can go about and not scare small children. It's not easy to wear it though, my face..." Sebastian sighed. "Would you like to go out to dinner Shelly?"
He was every girl's Beauty and the Beast fantasy. How could she resist? "Yes. Where do you want to go?"
"Somewhere public. I think I've worried you enough, skulking about, watching you when I could. You know, you really shouldn't have agreed to meet me at that bar. I often think you take too many chances when you don't need to."
Shelly laughed, "If I always played safe I wouldn't be here."
"I'm aware of the irony." He sighed. "Shall we go? I'll just take a moment to put on the mask before we head down."
"What about all the food on the tray?"
"I have staff who will clear it up. They watched the play too and will be waiting for us to move on so they can pack up and go home."
"Pretty convenient. Are you aware of how much this is sounding like some Beauty and the Beast fairytale?" Shelly said.
"Yes, its your favourite isn't it? That's why you like the Shrew too." He hesitated, adjusting a clear plastic looking mask over his features. "If you get to know the Beast maybe we can make a fairytale of our own."
"We'll see. No more hiding in the darkness though."
They left the theatre together. Sebastian took her arm, as a good Beast should.