(Last Sunday: Chartan resists temptations of money and sex and, instead, runs away from Minerva and Elisa.)
Chartan hadn’t finished dinner, said goodbye, or looked into Minerva’s eyes when he brushed by her in the hallway. She had been cold to the touch when he grazed her bare arm. He did not believe in the devil incarnate, but Minerva, Elisa and the house had given him pause to reconsider the presence of evil. What would have become of him had he entered the bedroom?
“Rage, rage against dying of the light,” he yelled as his footsteps became louder on the path along the thick woods. He stopped at the end of the road that met the main street back to town–the footsteps he thought were his, continued. But he when he swung around, he saw nothing.
Chartan’s fears were simple: not making rent payments, or teaching a class to only one student. Threats like a .45 in his face did not trouble him. If Minerva and Elisa were members of a satanic cult, he would not tremble in their wake. He walked down the middle of the road towards Minerva’s mansion with resolute anger.
The woman who opened the front door was strange to him.
“I applaud your choice of Dylan Thomas,” she said.
“And you must be Charlotte Perkins…?”
“An intriguing guess. Please enter, they’re waiting for us.”
Chartan waited for the woman in the doorway to confirm she was the hallway artist, but her only response was to motion him to follow. She was slender woman with long white hair resting on her shoulders. He hadn’t looked at her face long enough to say he knew what she looked like, a sign that she had no distinguishing features. They entered a large room where Elisa and Minerva sat together on a sofa.
“Be seated here,” the woman said, pointing to an oversized chair across from Elisa and Minerva. A glass table separated them. Chartan noticed that the table had a half-dozen glass sculptures of nude women on it. He did not sit as directed.
“The evening has been unusual,” said Chartan in full voice. “But it can end here and now. Please tell me what you want.”
The woman clapped softly as she sat in the oversized chair next to the one that Chartan refused to occupy.
“You are owed an explanation,” said the woman. “You have been tested to the fullest and we are quite pleased with your reactions.”
Minerva added, “Chartan, we need you to represent us in a matter and we are willing to pay you $100,000 in cash for your services.”
Chartan spoke calmly: “Will you object if I leave?”
“I will give you a ride home, if needed,” said Elisa.
Chartan laughed. “Like showing me the bathroom?”
“That was simply a test,” said Minerva. “Now it’s time for the details.”
“Please,” said Chartan.
The slender woman spoke. “I am the artist. More importantly, my father will visit me next week from France. He thinks I am engaged–I am not. I seek the trustworthy services of a man to pose as my fiance until he leaves.”
“Good evening, ladies,” said Chartan bowing.
For the second time in less than an hour, Chartan stepped into darkness, convinced he wouldn’t return to Minerva’s mansion under any circumstance.
He ran down the road, fighting off the temptation to turn around to see if anyone was in the doorway. The road ahead was hard to see—no street lights, only a full moon lit his way. He thought he had run far enough to reach the main road, but his feet struck soft ground—he was in a field, not at an intersection. He rubbed his face and eyes to make sure he was still there. He swung around, prepared for an altercation. The mansion wasn’t in sight. He started walking back with the intention of stopping as soon the house lights came into view. Finally, he saw a bright light coming from a second floor picture window over the front door. Three figures were discernible; it was the three women with Minerva in the middle. He drew closer. They were pointing at him. He thought they might be laughing.
(To be Continued Next Sunday)