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Romance American Historical Fiction

The Bahai-Rama was awash in light and laughter. Swirling, bubbling lights swept over the crowds of beautiful people, bursts of fire exploded in the face of the yellow moon above them, and music of all kinds rumbled from the corners of the yacht.

Women in gauzy yellow butterfly dresses flocked around men in high scarlet collars breathing fire. A man with three monkeys hanging from his shoulders stood on his head and sang a love song to a blushing lady whose neck and face were painted in gracefully whirling, gleaming colors of bloodred and mellow gold, like a mating peacock in full bloom. A grand lady in an immense wrapping gown of burgundy and paper kites threw her head back and laughed up into the starlight. Three young girls painted paper-white save their crimson lips talked together, hands linked in a circle, wide wine-colored eyes taking in everything around them.

The Night of the Flaming Cow had begun.

The musicians in the bow of the Bahai-Rama played with mandolins and cellos and saxophones of a thousand colors, playing rag and jazz and songs of their own composition. They played Joplin and Bach together, quavering the beautiful cacophony into the heavens, a booming tribute to the wild dance of frenzied joy on the deck of the yacht.

There were children too, among the strange and wild creatures aboard. A young boy tried to follow the mother who shook him off, through a crowd of cooing flapper girls with evenkite jewels hanging from their ears. A father with painted ears held his baby girl aloft proudly in a group of cruel-looking men with snarling wolves at their sides. A teenaged girl, pale with fear, edged her way through the throngs of people crowding round her for a glimpse of the gem she wore on a crown on her scalp.

The door between the foredeck and the suite inside the yacht opened and the crowds grew silent.

A tall, terribly handsome young man with golden hair and golden clothes and golden hair and black eyes stepped onto the deck and threw wide his arms, beaming a gold-white smile.

“Thank you for being here!” he called, throwing his head back and laughing a laugh of pure, unchained joy.

The beautiful people on the yacht burst into laughter and applause, and the golden man stood there, drinking it in. He threw wide his arms again and the musicians stood, bowed at him, and sat down and drew the first, softly lingering notes of Heaven’s Blood.

Over the music, the golden man said, “I thank you all for being here! Here you are, on my Bahai-Rama, to be with me as I recognize the celebration of Night of the Flaming Cow!”

Again, applause. The golden man laughed down at the thronging people. 

The man was a Wind, a man who embodied one of the four winds. The Golden Wind was the South Wind, the soft wind, the wind who loved parties and women and money. He had two sisters and a brother, but he had forgotten them long ago and thought of no one but himself and his pleasure.

“Tonight, the Night of the Flaming Cow, the night that wonderful cow set the entire city of Chicago alight years ago! Flame to the heavens! For two whole days! Great malingering hungering flight-fingered fire, everywhere you look, fire, enough to drink and be satisfied.”

The light in his golden eyes was hungry and greedy.

“Now, will you welcome my cooks as they bring out the food for all of us!”

The people laughed again and clapped, drunk on the lights and the laughter.

A stream of people dressed in black and white came out behind the great golden Wind, bearing enormous platters of beef and borginón, apple cakes and little twists of sugar and crab meat, dyed yellow and red to mimic fire. All the food was lavish and the color of blood and shame.

A young woman, dressed in a sweeping star-struck mauve dress flush to her white chin, stood alone at the bow, facing the sea. White stars on her chest and waist looked like they had just fallen from beside the moon. Her hair was pulled up to a cascade of dark, trickling with droplets of pearls and starlight. Eyelids and lips painted mulberry color, her trembling hands clasped a small piece of greenéd paper.

She was the Violet Wind; the East Wind, the wind of harsh breezes and sharp scoldings and tough buffetings. 

The sea below her, named the Sea of Fires, rippled inky black and showed her reflection. The waves were choppy but those aboard the huge Bahai-Rama felt nothing.

As the waiters delivered crab cookies and squid belly and cow tongue frozen in a poise of twisted pain, the young woman turned from watching the murky waters flowing under the bow and made her way through the crowds of golden red-painted people and up the stairs. The stair rail was plaited and twisted with strands of teardrops and flowing fire and diamonds that reflected the light of the torches.

The golden man turned and saw her. He came toward her, smiling, and before she could refuse, he enveloped her in a grave kiss.

“Mallow. So you came.”

She shook her head, mulberry eyes closed, her purple pearl earrings bobbing. “Only to give you this.”

Mallow held out the green piece of paper, and he saw that it was covered with four words, over and over, again and again, upside down and right side up and backwards and rightwards and neatly and messily and clearly and vaguely. Four words, only four, and the Wind took a step back from his thistle-colored sister and threw up his hands.

“Mallow, no. Please.”

“You know who sent it,” she held it out to him steadily, violet eyes searching his golden ones. “You know why you must take it.”

“Who sent it?”

“You know who sent it.”

“No, Mallow, please. Tell me who.”

She held it out to him, dark head with streaming stars cocked, eyes holding still. He folded his lips tightly and brought his harvest-gold hands to the balustrade, looking out over the mass of people below.

Mallow stepped to his side, looking at the ocean. She looked at the people for the first time and said, “Goldenrod, this is wrong. Celebrating the deaths of three hundred people is wrong. You must stop this. They will take your Windship if you do nothing. You will only be the Gold Prince, you will never see--" her voice dropped to a whisper-- "Celeste, Blue Wind, ever again. ”

He met her eyes for the first time, whispered, "Celeste, the girl I loved once, long ago," and when he did so the anger seemed to overtake him.

He shook Mallow by the shoulders and hissed, “Tell me who sent the letter!”

She looked out at the water beneath her, back at him, and said, “You know who.”

“Tell me!” his breath came in gasps, and she could see froth starting at the edges of his golden lips.

Mallow sighed impatiently at him. “Feldgrau. Green Wind, the North Wind, as you will not remember. He with the celadon cloak and emerald hair and jade eyes. Feldgrau sent it, he knows you will obey. You must obey. He asked me to deliver the letter to you. You knew it was him. And you know why.”

She searched his face, now as pale as strained lemonade. “And you know why you must stop.”

He released her and slumped onto the rail. The people below him were joining hands, and the music was speeding up into a too-fast tempo that got the heart pounding as the people of all colors and shapes began running, spinning, shouting. The spinning went faster and faster and faster until the inhuman whirl became a dark inlet from which an eye looked. The people screamed and shouted and whirled faster. 

She hit him, on the cheek, with her fist. “Goldenrod! Act now, before it is too late! Before they overcome you!”

Quickly she ripped the letter open, read the words aloud. "My power stops you."

That was all.

Mallow tipped the letter upside down over the crowds and an abnormally large amount of shredded green clovers came pouring out, pounds upon pounds, swirling and swimming round the crowd, bringing with it a fresh sharp breeze and a scent of ripe breadfruits and lime.

Goldenrod closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. His shoulders relaxed and his black eyes turned golden. A smile appeared and Mallow took his hands in her violet ones.

"Now do you remember?" she asked gently.

Goldenrod nodded silently and she understood his apology.

He stood, and snapped his fingers at the musicians, who frowned and relapsed into a soothing sonata-remix of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes and Florence + the Machine’s All This And Heaven Too.

The whirling circle of people slowed, slowed, and stopped, gasping and regretting. The golden butterfly woman dropped the hand of the scarlet-collared man and put her hand to her cinched waist, looking rather sick. The plump lady with the wine-colored kite dress stumbled from the circle of dancers and sat down on a gold chair next to the musicians, who slowed even further and dropped the melody of All This And Heaven Too.

Goldenrod gasped as though a stake that had been driven through his heart had suddenly been removed, and then he opened his golden eyes and saw the carnage of what his Night of the Flaming Cow had truly wrought.

He sighed and gestured to his porter to dismiss the party. The people slowly moved away from each other as the music slowed and stilled, the lights went out, and the partygoers debarked into the dark night.

Goldenrod turned to Mallow, to thank her for the letter and the advice which had saved him, to tell her he loved not Celeste, but her, Mallow, in a true love-- but she was gone. There was nothing but a gust of cold wind; a wisp of her purple shadow, lying on the deck beneath his feet, and it was soon gone.

January 11, 2020 17:36

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19:05 May 04, 2021

this story's lyrical, and beautiful, and wonderfully plotted. all the (metaphors? similies? literary devices?)- the food being the color of blood and shame, the people being drunk on the lights and the laughter- would, normally, clog the story up, but they just add to the beauty of it. honestly, i think a shortlist, on this one, would've been well-deserved.


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