Parts 1 - 5 of an unfinished novella concerning a man's search for perfection...
He sat alone at the table staring into the skeletal remains of his chicken dinner.
The blonde’s high laugh seemed to stab at him.
He shifted in his booth, trying to get a better view of the darkened countryside that rode by his window.
Another giggle, this time from the redhead.
He felt his spine pop as he straightened and placed the coffee cup to his lips. The dining car shimmied and most of the steaming liquid ran down the front of his shirt.
They were now having fits of hysterical laughter.
William Dacyczyn’s face reddened. Even though they were not looking, they were assuredly laughing at him; mocking the portly man with a stained shirt. He smiled. That is ridiculous, he thought. They don’t even know that I ‘m here. William’s face felt hot.
A bland voice statically announced the next stop.
The girls began to gather little sweaters, coats, dainty evening bags, and tiny hats from the overhead compartments.
The blonde was a dangerous hourglass. As she stretched, her breasts cast a wonderful shadow on her trim stomach. William felt his hands prickle and swell. To be lost in that shadow. He thought he could smell her perfume. It was a wild scent of powder, female skin and roses.
The redhead was standing now, smoothing down the front of her paisley dress. She wrapped a sweater around her shoulders and buttoned it. How such a petite, pearl thing held under the pressure was a mystery. She was smiling through a chiming laugh; her lightly painted lips spread over two rows of perfectly white teeth. Her skin was fresh and pale, peppered with freckles.
It was then that William noticed the man who was with them. Still seated with a newspaper folded neatly on the table before him, he was speaking softly. William cocked his head and strained but could not hear a word. His suit was light gray, square and sharp, over a pristine white shirt and dark patterned tie. His face was an angular perfection under a shocking mass of blonde hair.
Whatever it was he said made both girls double over with laughter. He caught William’s stare and winked. William flushed and began to intently study the cleanliness of the window.
As the train squealed to a stop before the well-lit station, he glanced up to see the man standing – impossibly fit and tall, wide shoulders perpendicular to polished patent leather shoes – and handing business cards to the girls between impeccably manicured fingers. The blonde giggled and leaned into his flawlessly curved ear. He laughed and nodded giving her arm a squeeze. He held open the doors and they passed through. As the redhead slid by her gloved hand found his and slipped a piece of paper into it.
The doors closed. Sluggishly, the train moved along the tracks; the two girls disappearing in steam and darkness, staring after the cars as they diminished – no doubt giggling to themselves. The man in the gray suit smiled at William, his eyes falling on the empty seat opposite him.
“Mind if I pass the time with you?” His voice low and full of air.
William flushed again. “No.”
“I could have gone home with either of them, you know.” He wasn’t bragging he was just stating fact.
He pulled the crumpled paper from his hand and smoothed it out on the table. His hands were strong and his fingers thin.
The man smiled, “What a smart little fellow you are…you were paying attention. The blonde’s name was Margaret…Elm 78427.” He said the latter from memory.
William watched the man slide the paper into his coat pocket. “Go ahead, ask me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are a dangerous man,” the man said giving William a sidelong glance and making little pistols with his fingers. “I saw you looking. I felt how much you wanted both of them. The blonde especially.” He smiled again, “ You want to know how I do it, don’t you?”
William shrugged. “I think I know.” The man’s nonchalance and absolute confidence galled him and he felt a surge of anger. “It’s a gift, right?”
“I’ll say it again…you’re a dangerous man,” he said, “and, against my better judgment, I like you.” He stretched his hand over the tabletop. “The name’s Townsend, Malcolm Townsend.”
Without looking, William shook his hand. “William Dacyczyn…like the word ‘decision’ only spelled differently.”
“Interesting name for an interesting man. Nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Dacyczyn.”
William did not respond. He was picking crumbs from the table with the pads of his fingers and dropping them to the floor. Townsend chuckled and continued, thrumming his fingers on the gray speckled Formica and looking about the empty car.
“I’ll tell you, but you won’t believe it.” No response. “But, you’re right, William. It is a gift.”
That brought a snicker. “Bully for you.”
“It’s not what you think it is. I promise.”
Townsend laughed, “Great. A sense of humor. It won’t take long for you. No. Listen,” he leaned forward, perfect teeth glinting in the passing glow of a street light, “you don’t have to stay this way. You can have it all. Success, women, power. Everything.”
“What are you selling? What kind of gimmick is this?”
“No gimmick, William. A place…a situation that changes you forever. A choice that makes every word from your mouth attractive, and not just to women. Why do you think you’re listening to me now?”
William’s head tilted back in surprise. He had hunched himself closer to Townsend’s face with each sentence. He hadn’t even realized that he was doing it.
“What is this?” he said.
Townsend glanced quickly about to make sure that they were still alone before speaking. When he did, his voice was barely above a whisper, “William, have you ever heard of the Midnight Society?”
“No. Should I have?”
Townsend pulled a silver flask from his coat pocket and unscrewed the lid. He took a quick pull and offered it to William who sipped it quickly and handed it back.
“No? Good. It means that people are keeping their mouths shut…like they’re supposed to.”
“So why are you telling me?” William’s throat burned but it wasn’t unpleasant.
“You’ve got the hunger. The look of a predator.” Townsend took a silver cigarette case from his rain-coat pocket, opened it, and selected one. William shook his head at the offer. No, he didn’t smoke. Striking a match with his thumb, Malcolm Townsend lit his cigarette and breathed out cool vapor. He waved the match out and set the case in front of him.
“Come with me tonight.”
“The Society meets tonight. They meet every night.”
“They know everything. You’ll never be the same.” Townsend said.
William sat back, a wry smile crossing his face. “What can they do?”
“Anything you want. You can change everything you don’t like about yourself. Anything. I swear.”
The train shuddered and somewhere up ahead an engineer pulled a cord and a whistle echoed into the night. William Dacyczyn and Malcolm Townsend sat, staring into each other’s eyes, waiting for a flinch. None came.
Townsend broke the silence with another laugh. “Passivity. Silence. Shame. Anger. Jealousy. Those are all you, right? Have you ever resorted to the personal ads, Dacyczyn?”
William shot him an angered glance. “Once.” Why did he answer?
“I thought so…probably a frumpy, be-speckled single mother who took one look at you across the bar and decided to stand you up. You were wearing a red rose pinned to that tacky suit so she’d recognize you, right?” Townsend sighed, “Listen, I know. You look at women and ache. On the train, on the bus. Tantalizingly near but just out of reach. You slave at your desk, but to no avail. You see other less talented men rise to greater positions regardless of tenure or seniority. Your life is nothing. It’s not even tolerable.” He snorted, “I’d be willing to bet – double or nothing – that the most exciting thing that can happen to you in a week of Mondays is a wrong number.”
Townsend leaned back and blew smoke from his nose. William wasn’t looking at him. His eyes felt hot.
“Leave me alone,” he said, barely audible and staring at his hands. The stain on his shirt seemed to deepen.
“Do you cry when you’re alone, Dacyczyn? Do you go home to your sad, little one bedroom, pull the shades and start pouring? I’ll bet you leave the plastic on the furniture and drink brandy from an old mason jar.”
“Leave me alone,” he repeated, a little louder.
Townsend’s eyes were leveled at him. Piercing, gray steel. He slid something across the table; white and small. “I was like you once, though you obviously could never believe it. Please, come with me tonight and all of that will change.”
William angrily wiped a heated tear from his eye with the heel of his hand and glanced at the table, embarrassed and silently frantic. A card, simple embossed edges and simple black type, lay on the table. It read:
The Midnight Society
Forest – 34380
“And no, before you ask, this isn’t the card I gave the girls,” Townsend said, “This one is just for you. Call the number before 11:30 tonight. Tonight only…if you wait…it won’t work. They’ll tell you what to do. If you need to, mention my name.”
“The name was Townsend, Malcolm Townsend,” he said, rising, “…not like you’ll forget, right?”
“Why would you…?”
“I know I’ll see you soon. Don’t be late.”
A light rain began to fall, pattering on the windows and the whistle sounded distantly once more. William turned and watched the lights of the city riding nearer, prismed to brilliant spectrogram whites through the droplets rolling down the glass. He heard the door between cars open and felt a sudden rush of relief. When he turned back, Malcolm Townsend was gone and the car was empty. The card lay on the table. Soon it was carefully hidden inside his wallet and burning like a hot coal in his mind.
It was 8:30 when William Dacyczyn placed his key in the lock of his small, one bedroom apartment and collapsed in a disheveled mess onto his sofa. It was 10:30 when William Dacyczyn dialed the operator for the fourth time, spoke the number emblazoned on the pure white paper, and waited – breathing heavily – listening to the pulse on the other end. He felt faint and hoped that there would be no one to pick up.
Most of the evening he had paced the worn, yellow tile between his kitchenette and living room, holding the card tightly between index and forefinger. He would stop and trace the plain type with the whorls of his fingers imagining that the words of Malcolm Townsend were true. Surely they were impossible. He had warmed up some Chinese take-out for dinner on the stove and had eaten only a few bites before pouring it back into the folded paper box and returning it to the icebox, hardly ever taking his eyes off the card on the coffee table.
Halfway through the fourth pulse, a woman’s voice answered, “Yes?”
William’s heart skipped a beat, “Hello? My name is William.”
“Hello, William. May I help you?”
“Malcolm Townsend gave me your card.” He tried to sound offhand, but his voice cracked into a falsetto. Even on the telephone, he blushed.
“That’s nice,” she purred.
“Yeah…I mean, yes. I’m interested in the Midnight Society?”
The receiver was slipping in his sweaty palms. He took a couple of short breaths and wiped beads of perspiration from his upper lip.
“I’d like to come tonight, if I could.”
She hesitated and chuckled, “William, what was it? Five times before you finally made up your mind to stay on the line?”
Her voice gave him chills. “Four actually.”
“Excellent, better than most. Have you got a pen handy, Mr. Dacyczyn?” He could tell that she was smiling on the other end.
“Yes…I…I do.” In fact, he was gripping it so tightly that his knuckles of his right hand had gone white. “How did you know my last name?”
She never told him. She only laughed, and he felt the sweat on his face freeze at the sound.
There were no cars and no lights that he could see. The street was empty and wet from rain. Streetlights cast bright comet-tailed glows in the standing water and steam rose in tight curls from sewer grates at the curb. 5th and North Main, she had said. It was close enough that he had been able to walk from his third story apartment. Two streets west, one street north and he had arrived.
A bland brick and stone edifice towered several stories above him all gray and blue in the night. He noticed a cement drive that curved past the ornamental columns and topiary shrubs and dipped into darker shadows to the left. There were no gates, no wrought iron fences.
He glanced down at his watch and saw it click over to 11:42. He tightened his overcoat around his neck and followed the drive around to the back. A heavy metal door was lit in the sharp yellow of an electric bulb. Moths fluttered about it. He could hear the hollow glass being hit by their thick, little bodies. He mounted the first step and the door opened quickly.
“Can I help you, sir?” A gruff voice asked, light streaming behind from the open door.
Shielding his eyes with his hand, William took a step back. “Malcolm Townsend asked me to join him at the Midnight Society tonight.” He tried to sound authoritative, but the shakiness of his voice defeated him.
The bulky figure stood outlined in the light of the doorway and placed hands on hips. “They’re hitting the bottom of the barrel,” the figure said with little humor, “Come on in.”
William squeezed through the door. The man, face chiseled from granite, held out his hands for Dacyczyn’s hat and coat. He relinquished them and smoothed down his suit jacket. They stood in a little foyer with black and white diamond tile on the floor and running half way up the wall. A candelabra hung from the ceiling with electric candle bulbs flickering slowly. The man motioned to the door on the opposite wall. William took a few faltering steps.
“They’ll take care of you in there,” he said. He was hanging William’s coat on a hat rack against the wall.
William placed his hand on the doorknob, feeling the cold brass with his hot fingers. He waited.
“You’ve come this far. Just open the door and step through, Mr. Dacyczyn.”
He turned his head and spoke, his voice low. “How do you know my name?”
The man was placing his hat onto the peg above his coat. “You really don’t need to concern yourself with that.” The light was low, but he could tell by his voice that he smiled as he added, “Go on, now.”
William turned the knob and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.
The room was a quiet, wood paneled study; all reds and browns. The walls were heavy oaken shelves filled with leather bound books. A desk dominated the room with two leather wingback chairs before it and a small lamp stand between them. A heavy shag carpet padded his shoes. A fire burned under a mantelpiece of stone and brass. A glass tumbler filled with ice cubes sat in a coaster atop the lamp stand, condensation dripping down its sides. From a radio on the desk, music could be heard – a small ensemble playing “Blue River”
William Dacyczyn noticed none of this.
She sat on the corner of the desk, a shimmering beauty in white. Straight, black hair fell about her pale shoulders and two heavy lidded eyes of creamy jade looked at him from a face that could have graced any magazine cover it wished. She had a smile that left no creases in her porcelain skin and a body that made him nervous. Her dress cut midway to her torso and the thin material revealed china-white curves that drew an unwitting breath from him. Hers was a splendor that could leave no one unmoved. Where had he heard that?
William tried to speak but his voice only cracked. He tried to swallow but found that his mouth had gone dry.
“Mr. William Dacyczyn.” Her voice dripped with honey from lips that pouted under heavy red.
She stood and walked toward him. The soft rustling of her gown sent blood rushing to his face. Her dress was tight about her hips and breasts and the intoxicating sway could kill. Long, slender fingers alighted on his tie and loosened the knot. Her nails were red and she smelled of satin sheets and roses. His eyes were dry as bone.
“This suit will never do.”
She slid his tie from under his collar and let it fall to the floor. She laughed softly, aware of his discomfort and enjoying it. Looking into his eyes, she ran her fingers through his hair, raking her nails against his scalp. William’s eyes closed and his neck gave like rubber. She let her arms fall onto his shoulders. He could smell her hair and her moist, soft breath on his face.
“Since I know your name, it seems only fair that you know mine: Moira Emanuelson. There’s a glass for you by the chair and brandy on the desk.” Her teeth glinted a brilliant white as she spoke. “Help yourself.” She moved past him, leaving him shaken and light-headed.
“You swallow now, if you like.”
He found that he didn’t want to; she might cease to be.
He took a heavy step forward and lifted the glass from the coaster and filled it with brandy from the crystal decanter on the desk. He took a loud sip. Whatever brand it was wasn’t cheap and, though it burned his parched mouth and throat, it helped calm him almost immediately.
“I think white would suit you.”
William turned. One of the oaken shelves had been swung back to reveal a lighted closet filled with tuxedoes of every color, make and design. Moira was pushing through the racks.
“You are…” she studied him from across the room for a moment and then said, “…a 40 short.” She pulled a stunning white ensemble from the bar and came toward him, holding it out to make sure the sizing was correct. My God, she is stunning, William thought and, for a second, was sure he had said it out loud.
“Oh…and you’re a 12 and 1/2, right?” She retrieved a pair of shiny, black shoes from the closet floor.
She pressed the tuxedo against him and checked the sleeves against his arm.
“Perfect.” She laid everything on the desk next to him. “Put them on. I’ll leave if you’d like.”
He answered without a pause, “No. Please stay.”
“All right.” Her smile shattered and rebuilt him again.
She perched in one of the leather wingbacks and looked into the fire as it popped and sputtered, crossing her long, slender legs. Waiting, not watching, as he pulled his shoes off and kicked them away.
He unbuckled his belt and dropped his slacks to the floor. He was surprised to find that he was not self-conscious in the least, a portly man half naked before beauty incarnate. He removed the pants from the hanger and slipped them on. A perfect fit. The shirt came next and then the coat. All rode the curves and paunch of his plump body with tailored precision. When he fumbled with the bow tie, she stood and slid toward him, playfully batting his hands away. Her fingers danced and soon the tie was prodded into place.
Moira pinned a red carnation to his lapel with a silver straight pin. Where had it come from? William Dacyczyn tried not to look at the wonderful exhibit of cleavage pressed against him, but stared anyway pretending to watch her fingers. She took a step back and admired him. Actually…admired him.
She laughed, “The Lady-killer awakes.”
He laughed too, “Yeah, right.”
Moira placed her hands on her hips. “Are you ready to be introduced?”
William blushed again and shuffled his feet. “Can’t we just stay in here? Just the two of us?”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” she tilted her head as she spoke, “how about this…” She stepped forward and pressed herself against him, her voice soft and soothing, fingers toying with his ears, eyes locked in an upward stare, “…I’ll stay by your side all night. Introduce you around, let you meet all of the members, and later…” Her lips barely touched his, the merest pressure as she whispered. “…we can come back here, just you…” Moira ran the painted nail of her index finger down the slope of his nose and tapped the point. “…and me.”
“All right.” He said, his knees almost giving out. And, without knowing why, he grabbed her with both arms and held her, feeling her body loosen, and added, “Thank you, Moira.”
William was as surprised at himself as she seemed to be. Moira turned him to face the door, wrapped her arm tightly around his and placed her hand on the knob.
“Ready for better, William?”
He shrugged. She opened the door and they stepped through, a wall of sound and light devouring them.
Only vague impressions filtered in at first: white pinpoint lights, crowds of dinner suits and gowns, the smell of French cigarettes, the loud conversations, the band settling into the pounding walking bass of a raucous Tommy Dorsey tune. He found that he had stopped moving and that Moira was tugging his arm, a giggle he didn’t hear falling from her smile. He had seen things like this at the movies, but had never believed that they could possibly exist in reality. He half expected to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers twirling somewhere out there.
The hall was immense, the size of a warehouse. Long strings of bright white bulbs hung across the expanse of the ceiling, a canopy of fireflies that dusted the milling crowd with a pale, shimmering luminescence. The floor was more of the black and white tile. The great, leafy palm trees that lined the walls were potted in huge marble containers and were adorned with more strings of light. Tables covered with crisp white cloths and burning oil lamps, made a grand half circle around a dance-floor at the far end. The bandleader stood on a raised dais directing the white clad band before a mass of moving dancers. A great-mirrored chandelier hung above them, sparkling and setting moving glints of sunlight about the room.
The men were all tall, lean and perfect. The women went beyond perfection to fulfillment of dream. William nearly swooned.
Moira pulled him through the crowd towards the bar that ran the full length of the opposite wall. A bartender stood waiting for them, young and mustached.
“A dry vodka martini for Mr. Dacyczyn, two olives please, and a Cosmopolitan for me.” She said, not needing to raise her voice. The bartender set about his work as William fell heavily onto a barstool.
A chilled, splinter of a glass was set next to him on a white napkin. He shakily downed it in one gulp and sat, chewing the ripe green olives with an open mouth. Moira laughed and ordered a second for him.
He took a small sip of the next one after it appeared. She was lightly tickling the back of his neck. The vodka swam through his veins and his heart slowed, his breathing lessened. The cool touch of her fingers on his heated skin steadied him. He stood and felt taller. He craned his neck and felt his nerves crack away. He blinked and felt some of the haze lift.
He sighed, “Better now.”
Moira kissed his cheek and wiped away the lipstick with her hand.
“Let’s start making the rounds.” She placed his martini in his hands and led him away into the smoke fogged crowds.
There were so many faces and so many names: Fletcher Henderson – the terribly distinguished man with a passion for Cuban cigars, Tiny Bradshaw – a card player (he had an Ace of Spades embroidered on his sleeve), Erskine Hawkins – as beautiful a man as William had ever seen with longish hair and perfect 5 o’clock shadow, Muggsy Spainer – a tall and illustrious gentleman trader in black and white, Chick Webb – a trumpet player with seemingly additionally jointed fingers, Luis “Skyliner” Russell – an importer and exporter (of what…neither he or Moira would say), Noble Sissle – an author of detective novels (some of which William had read), Artie Shaw – a manufacturer of car parts from Biloxi, Teddy Powell – a notable dancer and singer whose latest offering had been well received on Broadway, Lucky Millinder – a gambler and dice player, Isham Jones – a piano player who had studied with Scott Joplin, and so many others that he could not possibly remember them all; each unique and each magnetic. Women huddled about them, touching and laughing. Every word they spoke rang with an importance that all found difficult to ignore.
Moira Emanuelson was known to all. She flitted from one gathering to the next with William in tow. Conversation would still and smiles would erupt. Most men would stop mid-sentence to greet her with a kiss or, at least, a longing touch. Her beauty offended most of the women. The men winced at her tight grip on William’s arm.
“Here’s another one to remember, William. Lionel Eldredge. He is one of the powerful.” Moira said at one point, stopping before a loud group of tittering women that had gathered about a gray haired gentlemen dressed impeccably in silver and mauve. He was smoking a pipe.
“Lionel. This is Mr. William Dacyczyn.”
“Moira! Exquisite as always.” he burst forward and lightly kissed her cheek before turning to William approvingly. “Mr. Dacyczyn, I’ve heard a lot about you. Your appearance is exactly as I imagined.” He laughed while pumping William’s hand up and down. His voice held a taint of an English accent. A sort of Clifton Webb detachment hung about him. “I’ll be at your presentation tonight, William. You must be pretty keyed up about it and,” he added breathily, “Townsend must think you quite a catch if Miss Emanuelson was tapped to escort you this evening.”
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Eldredge.” William heard himself say.
Moira whispered a question to Eldredge and he pointed distractedly, hardly breaking his gape at her curves. She blew him a kiss over her shoulder as they moved away.
“Murderistic.” Eldredge murmured under his breath as he returned to his bevy of lovelies and resumed his third round of impressing them.
William heard a voice that he recognized as they neared the far corner. Malcolm Townsend was dressed to the nines, holding a gin and tonic. His blonde hair was slicked back and glistening in the moving light. A Lucky Strike, freshly lit, hung from his mouth and a small island of smoke rode the shimmering air above him.
A smile creased his face as they approached. He didn’t notice Moira. His smile was for William.
“William,” he extended his hand to him, “I knew you were going to come.”
Dacyczyn smiled, “I think I did too.”
“You’ve got the sickness and I’ve got the cure, eh?” Townsend said.
“And this is Andy Kirk.” Moira said motioning to a lanky man with an equine nose and jet black hair. “Kirk…this is William Dacyczyn.”
Kirk nodded and gave a small tilt of his head, but did not offer to shake hands.
The music redoubled as the band whirled into “Savoy”. A gleeful, excited shout rang out from the dancers as their bodies twirled to match the new rhythm.
“Go and enjoy yourself, William.” Townsend said, “I’ll come and find you when it’s time. Moira’s a hell of a dancer.”
William shook his head, “I can’t dance.”
“Come on. It’ll be fun.” Moira pulled him away, gliding not walking and hypnotizing him with her hips.
It must have been two o’clock in the morning when William Dacyczyn whirled his last whirl and threw himself into a chair, sweating and breathing in gasps with Moira breathing just as heavily next to him. He quickly caught the eye of a waiter and soon they had two long crystal glasses of champagne in their hands. Her arm was on his shoulder.
“William, you are a liar,” she said, “you said you couldn’t dance.”
He was laughing, “I can’t.”
She caught sight of something – her eyes darkened – quickly leaned in and kissed him, a full consuming, passionate kiss. He felt a warmth stir in his belly. She drew his breath into her mouth.
“I like you the way you are now.” Moira said, their lips still touching. She sat back and finished her drink, eyes not looking at him, a strange look of sadness on her face..
William felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he saw Malcolm Townsend staring down at him. His cigarette had a long ivory holder this time. He tipped his head, “All right. Let’s go, mister.”
“Can Moira come too, please?” William said glancing over to her.
Townsend did not answer.
She rose and, once again, wrapped her arm about William’s. A wave of comfort filled him.
“After you, Mr. Townsend.” She said, not breaking the open stare she shared with William.
The room into which they were led was dark. A single light hung above a large table of heavily lacquered wood, sheathed in frosted glass and pewter. Each of the ten chairs about it were full save two at the far end. William recognized every face, every perfect face. Lionel Eldredge stood as they entered, arms out in welcome. William was taken aback by how quiet it was.
“Welcome, Mr. Dacyczyn. Please take a seat.” He motioned to the chair beside him.
“I’ll be right here, just outside.” Moira whispered as she released him, gave him a quick kiss on his cheek, and perched on the arm of leather wingback near the door.
Malcolm placed a hand on his shoulder. “She is not allowed inside, William.”
They stepped inside and the doors were closed behind them. William thought he heard a lock tumble into place with a muffled click.
William sat where he had been directed and Townsend took the final chair. He tried to catch a glimpse of the rest of the room but the brightness of the light cut off all except the faces around the table. He imagined that he could smell Moira near.
Lionel Eldredge remained standing. “Cigarette?”
William had never smoked before, but at that moment, he found himself selecting one from the box before him and lighting it. He coughed loudly. It burned his lungs and acrid smoke bit his mouth. His hand shook and unintentionally flicked some of the ash on the floor. There was a smattering of chuckles from around the table.
“All right.” Eldredge continued, “We eleven are assembled here with the Gatherer, Malcolm Townsend,” here Townsend raised his hand and there was a sound of ascent from the table, “and his Initiate, William Dacyczyn,” William caught a glance from Malcolm and raised his hand, as well, to another sound of ascent, “to set all in motion.”
William took another painful drag from the cigarette. It was not as difficult this time. It was very close to being pleasant.
“It is also our duty to charge this Initiate, William Dacyczyn, and to set before him the rules and obligations of membership. The Initiate will then make his choice and be held by it. Should the Initiate choose membership, with all the rights and privileges ordained thereto, he shall henceforth be our Brother and none shall speak ill of him. If the Initiate should decline this esteemed membership, he shall be removed from this place, never to return and be held by a blood oath to never speak of or attempt to return to any meeting this body shall hold from this date forth.”
William felt sweat trickling down his face and hurriedly wiped it away. Every face at the table studied him.
Now Malcolm Townsend spoke, “Do you understand what has been spoken aloud to you in the presence of this gathering, William Dacyczyn?”
Uncomfortably, William nodded, “Yes.” He hated the nasal quality of his voice.
Eldredge continued, “Excellent. Mr. Anderson Kirk will set forth the rules and obligations of membership.”
The tall man nearest to Eldredge rose. William remembered a hasty introduction to him some time earlier.
“William Dacyczyn,” he said, his voice a gravelly mixture of low words and air, “the esteemed assemblage here have all heard and agreed with the Laws I am about to set forth. And they, with all of the members before them and gathered here this evening, will work to your benefit and betterment should you agree.” He leveled his eyes at him, “They will also work toward your destruction should you fail to carry out the tenants of this fraternity.”
William was nodding and crushing out the cigarette in the crystal ashtray nearest him. His hands were still shaking. Townsend patted his back and shook his head. William gripped the arms of his chair and took a heavy breath.
“Law One: You, Initiate, will bring three others, of their own free will, to us as you were in your previous state, unaware of the existence of this body and unsatisfied with their current circumstances, to be supplicants to this Society. In so doing, the Gift may be added unto you forever and irrevocably.
“Law Two: You, afterward known as full member, speak to no one, other than full members, of the existence of this Society or its actions. To deny or fail to carry out any of the tenants set forth by this esteemed gathering will result in ruin.”
The men about the table began to beat their palms on it’s flat surface; the sound a fleshy rumble. Kirk raised his hands to silence them. He motioned to Malcolm Townsend. He stood and faced William.
“Do you understand what has been spoken aloud to you in the presence of this gathering, William Dacyczyn?”
William nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you agree with the Laws of the Midnight Society?”
He was frightened, but nodded again. He felt compelled, but unable to respond until he had breathed heavily and swallowed several times. His tongue was dry. “Yes,” he cracked.
“Will you undertake the challenge these Laws demand?”
William stood, using the table as a crutch, the room seeming to spin about him. “I will.”
Lionel Eldredge stood and placed a hand on William’s shoulder. The weight of it was powerful and oppressive. William felt a tingling in his toes.
“Then we, the chosen members of the Midnight Society,” Eldredge said, “pass the Gift to you, William Dacyczyn, our fledgling brother.”
A thunderous applause broke the silence. William could feel hands patting him on the back and ruffling his hair. He tried to smile, but fear over-rode all emotion. His vision dimmed and he struggled to hold focus. He pitched forward, struck his head on the table and saw only darkness.
A soft hand caressed his face.
“William, are you awake?”
Her voice was a balm poured over him, cool and soothing.
His eyes opened and made a great effort to focus. Slowly, the room faded into view. The study. Moira floated above him, her features brought to sharp contrast by the flickering flames of the fire. He could smell her. He could feel his body held by hers. She ran her fingers through his hair and outlined the angles of his jaw. The music continued from the main hall, this time it was a hopping rendition of “Chicago” in the distance.
“What time is it?” His voice drifted out and assaulted his ears.
She smiled, lovelier than ever, and replied, “Four thirty, I think, though it’s probably later. It’s been a while since I last checked.”
“What in God’s name, happened?” he said, his eyes opened with difficulty like they were swollen. His forehead burned and ached.
"Well…” she laughed slightly, “you’re the first one to do a swan dive after being accepted.” She closed her eyes in memory, “They were laughing as they carried you out. It was quite a scene.”
He struggled to sit up, “I’m glad I could be of service.” His head swam and he lowered himself to her lap again.
“You had quite a golf ball coming up, but I think I’ve caught it in time. Just lie here for a moment, you’ll start feeling better.”
Moira placed a rag filled with ice cubes above his eyes. He started at the chill but enjoyed the sensation. A few drops of water ran down into his sideburns. She daubed them away with her dainty fingers.
He worked his mouth open and closed a few times. God, the pain was excruciating. His whole face seemed bruised and inflated. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt everything swim. Noticing aches and dull throbbing through most of his legs and back, he stretched. It was one of those long extending of extremities that one treasured after a sleepless night in bed. Everything that could pop did and William let out a splendid sigh.
“Are you sure that’s all I did? I feel like I’ve been through a steam press.” His tongue was heavy.
“It’s normal after the night you had.” Moira said. “Trust me you’ll feel better after a bit.”
The music in the other room changed to the sloppy saxophones and honking trumpets of the "Bear Mash Blues".
A wave of exhaustion rolled over him. He neither felt her hold him or heard her speak, though her mouth moved strikingly. Blackness perched on his chest and breathed into his face.
Continued in "The Midnight Society Pts 6 - 11"