Blue as God

Blue DoorI woke up in the dark. The room was big, without a lot of furniture, and I could see the bone-white sheen of my legs. I could see my reflection on the ceiling, sprawled on the bed like a sad, busted skeleton. What kind of pretentious jackass has a mirror on the ceiling?

I’d come up the canyon for the party because I wanted to be somewhere that wasn’t my apartment, be my same self, but in a different place. I was tired of my own thoughts. The time ticked on like a leaky faucet and let me tell you one thing: L.A. can suck it. It’s where nice girls come to die. Not that I would know. I came from Spencer’s Branch, Idaho, home of nice girls, but I can’t make the case that I ever was one.

I just wasn’t built for a small town. I didn’t curl my hair, didn’t cook Hamburger Helper meals or wear sweaters with kittens. Had stopped closing my eyes when I prayed. Okay, once maybe, I was a good girl. I guess. As long as we’re being honest. I kept my smile decent, my eyes downcast, and I never used to say yes, but now yes was the only thing that seemed to come naturally.

When the director came up to me on the roof, I knew who he was, of course. It was his house. The night was hot and the Santa Anas didn’t quit. Fifteen miles inland, the fires had been raging for days. Even in the refrigerated chill of the house, the air smelled burned.

He said, “You have a certain look. Hard. I like that.”

He was young for a director, and the industry rags said that he was some kind of genius—all the best festivals, the jury prizes, the speeches, the very best parties.

He touched the side of my arm. “I think I could use you.”

All around, the girls laughed and rolled their eyes like jackals, giving me looks. Like they wouldn’t have jumped headfirst if he’d said the same thing to them.

He said I should stay and we’d get to know each other, talk about a project—he thought it would be perfect for me. His smile was honest and I knew there was no project, but I was ready to buy the other lie, the one he sold as often as that fictitious starring role. A warm fantasy that he’ll pet and hold and cherish you for twenty minutes or an hour. That he’ll want you for longer than a heartbeat.

Around us, the crowd was sweating, glossy like otters. My hair stuck to the back of my neck and my makeup was melting off my face.

He took me down the wide, curving staircase to his room and we drank red wine and listened to records on a 1940s turntable. He was pretentious, but charming, and kind of solemn.

He said, “Stay here with me. We can work out some of the fine points after everyone goes home. Just don’t go wandering around—it’s a big house and a person could get lost. Then I’d have to look for you.”

Later, I woke up in the dark and he was gone.

I got up and put on my crumpled dress, found my shoes and my purse. Everything was so quiet.

Out in the living room, there was no one. Not a single mumbling cokehead or blackout baby slumped on the couch, and no one on the roof. I crept through the kitchen and down the stairs into the basement. It was cream-colored. I mean, the whole thing was. It was white like a hospital and went on forever, cut right out of the hill, and I kept thinking I should leave, I should get out. The farther I went, the worse the emptiness got.

I wandered down hallways and turned corners, looking for someone, anyone. Even a cat or a houseplant would prove that I was still real.

The door was narrow, painted a cracked, peeling blue. It wasn’t locked.

The room was full of video equipment—handheld cameras and computer monitors and a whole stack of memory cards with paper labels. Every label had a name and date. I picked up Becca, June 6-7 and put her in the media slot on the one of the cameras. When I pressed play, the screen lit up, showing a blond, smiling girl, fresh-faced and juicy like a blue ribbon pie.

“Well, I’m from Clement,” she said to the camera. “That’s right near Houston. I moved out here because it just seemed so exciting! I mean, my whole life, I’ve wanted to be an actress.”

From offscreen, the director’s voice sounded raspy and playful. “What would you say your greatest strength is? Your greatest weakness?”

I forwarded through the slop to see if it got better. It didn’t. But it got interesting.

The director set the camera on a tripod and moved into the shot. His voice was sharp and excited, and then he was doing things to her. Not sex things, but bad, sick things and I yanked the card out, feeling breathless. But I have never believed in knowing when to stop, and I stuck in another one.

I watched Susan, who spent three miserable days in July down in the director’s cutting room, and Cara, who only lasted part of July 18 and Valerie on August 12, and it didn’t ever turn out okay. And there was a stack of other ones, this whole stack, too many to look at, and I put the camera down.

The girls all ended up with their heads slumped forward and their hands tied. All his beaming, corn-fed girls. By the end of the movie, he’d taped over their mouths, but their eyes all had the same hunted look.

As I backed away from the monitors, the door shut behind me, and then I heard the key whisper and the lock slam home, because of course it bolted from the inside.

“I told you not to wander off,” he said. “I told you not to go snooping around, but some girls just don’t listen. As long as we’re down here, though, why don’t we get started on the project? Have a seat.”

You already know the way this ends.

She finds Bluebeard’s secret room and sees his murdered wives, and then she tries to cover up and act like she didn’t. But I’m a pretty worthless liar. I’ve just never seen the point.

Out on the rooftop, the sky would be hazy and black. No cloud of dust on the horizon to signal rescue. The moon was long gone and the sun wouldn’t rise for another couple hours. Up in the hills, the fires were burning and the smoke was everywhere.

He stood in the middle of the cutting room, with the camera trained on my face. “Tell me about yourself—your hopes and dreams. Your fantasies, your fears.”

So I told him my story. It was short. I said, “I came to L.A. with nothing. I don’t know why I stay here. I came from a poor little cow town, and trust me, there was nothing there either. I don’t have much family. No brothers, no sisters. I pray like a dyed-in-wool hypocrite in church, and if I don’t bow my head for God, what makes you think I’ll bow for you?”

He said, “Everybody bows eventually.”

I said, “Really. Is that a fact. Well then, let’s skip the whole interview process and get down to business.”

“You don’t really mean that.”

“Try me.”

The thing about pepper spray is, it’s effective from a distance of up to ten feet. If you discharge it from four inches, the burn is something else.

The key ring was dancing, jangling as he thrashed. I yanked it off his belt and shoved past him, coughing and raging like the autumn fires, eyes streaming. He knew she’d lied because the key was magic, an everlasting charm. It betrayed her. What a way for the lie to fall apart—undone by an inanimate object.

He caught me by the wrist, dragging me down to the floor, down to where he gasped and swore, face red, eyes puffy and squeezed shut. I raised my other hand and slashed. You can do a lot of damage with a two-inch strip of metal.

The st
ories are baffling. They don’t make sense. She married a maniac—what, she didn’t notice?—but in the gruesome context of the tale, it sounds random, circumstantial, just another little victim.

Still, they were right about one thing.

The key had blood on it.

Photo by andyconniecox

24 thoughts on “Blue as God

  1. Aw, yeah. I like it when stories lie to us.

    And I love love love this line:

    “I pray like a dyed-in-wool hypocrite in church, and if I don’t bow my head for God, what makes you think I’ll bow for you?”

  2. Aw, yeah. I like it when stories lie to us.

    That’s like . . . all fairytales ever. But I love them for it. (Bluebeard was always my big favorite when I was a kid.)

  3. Bluebeard always upset me, though I don’t remember why. I haven’t read it in a long time…

  4. Well, it’s . . . cautionary.

    He’s like, Don’t go in the room. No, seriously, I mean it. That room is totally off-limits to you. Stay out. No, really, I really, really mean it. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

    And then he leaves and she goes in the room. That part always bothered me the same way it bothered me that Ofelia eats the grapes in Pan’s Labyrinth even though she should totally know better. But I really liked all the heads on the wall and the traitorous key.

  5. Ack. I love the telling of this. Bluebeard really disturbs me, but I guess that’s the point.

  6. I would have a seriously hard time not looking into the room myself, so I have a bit of sympathy. :/

  7. Well now. I am suffering from that attraction/repulsion thing right now, as a result of your excellently crafted yet disturbing story.

    Well done, you.

  8. so much freaking love for this. I don’t have a problem with the way bluebeard plays out, given the normal timeframe/setting, but it would infuriate me set now, and I adore how you shook it inside out.

  9. hi–i was sent by dormouse_in_tea, and i just wanted to let you know that was a really enjoyable read. great re-telling/reboot/update, it’s so very appropriate for here-and-now. thanks. =)

  10. Wow–thanks for stopping by! I always have a lot of fun writing re-tellings. It’s like its own kind of game, looking for ways an old story can be relevant, even when it has to be kind of twisted around on itself.

  11. Thanks! I honestly don’t have a problem with how Bluebeard unfolds either (well, there’s the whole problem of the heads and the wives and it’s gross, but that’s a good kind of bothered).

    No, any trepidation I have about the main character is just a result of my bizarre willingness to adhere to rules. I used to get so upset when I was little, because people in fairytales are always Breaking Rules. I was so fascinated with her because he told her not to, and then . . . she did it anyway

  12. Aw, thanks 😉 Bluebeard is on my short list of Creepiest Fairytales Ever.

    So many old stories have that clear cautionary agenda–watch out for wild animals, be nice to strangers, don’t leave the path–and they’re rooted in that every-day sensibility. But this one is like, oh, while you’re watching out for animals, you should probably keep an eye out for serial killers, too. It’s so . . . horribly novel.

  13. I was one of those children who doggedly followed rules, even when they were profoundly stupid, so when characters in stories did things they were told not to do, I felt absolutely betrayed.

  14. I’ve always had such a hard time picturing him, because in my head, he looks like a pirate, but like . . . a funny one. So, like a clown. But with blue hair. Which just began to seem way scarier all of a sudden.

  15. Yeah – the serial killer warning is pretty creeptastic (and Bluebeard is a truly creepy story – although I remember another horrifying one about a princess (or would-be princess) who is subjected to boiling milk (I think?), to boiling water, then boiling oil as punishment by some sort of witch or witch-like character. I do not recall the whole story, just the horribleness of her being put into scalding/scarring baths. Will have to research that one more – I’m nearly certain it’s original Grimm.

  16. Ooh, that definitely sounds like them. I get a shiver from all the ones about scalding or being held in the fire. It just seems so much more real than a lot of the other gruesome fairytale punishments.

  17. This was intensely fun. I love it when you write long (which is still short for me and Tess) ;p.

  18. I don’t know the bluebeard tale at all, but this is all dexter and kiss the girls. Cool.

    “Everybody bows eventually.” I see this everywhere. Governments. Institutions. Relationships. Its subtle and slow, but we bow until somebodys gets hurt.

    Love ya work, Simon.

  19. Ooh, I have to admit, I haven’t seen or read Kiss the Girls, but I suppose it won’t come as any shock that I absolutely love Dexter!

  20. I have this thing where I love writing parties and clubs, and there’s no real explanation–I hate going to them!

  21. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read this before going to bed. Eep.

    But I loved the significance of “the director’s cutting room,” and “I’m a pretty worthless liar. I’ve just never seen the point.”

  22. “I’m a pretty worthless liar. I’ve just never seen the point.”

    This narrator is one I’m still kind of taken by–she’s like the polar opposite of me, impulsive, but defiantly honest about it.

  23. Thanks! If there are two things I like, they are Bluebeard and slasher flicks–they had to meet eventually!

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