“WHERE IS THE
BOTTLE IN THE WINERY?”
I got up from my bed and gave out a scream. The same goddamn dream, I cannot close my eyes without hearing it. The bottle, the winery, what does it mean? I got off my bed and headed to the bathroom. I washed my face and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were red and I was developing dark circles around my eyes. This was a travesty, nothing more. I know what is real and what is not. Whatever that phrase means or whatever it points out to it is nothing more than a fabrication of my mind. And on a brighter note the dreams have been occurring less frequently which means I can focus on more important things such as the auditions for a lead vocalist today. Sander has called upon me and the rest of his disciples to join him on his ‘quest’ to find the last piece of his puzzle so he could complete his masterpiece. It was 9 am and the auditions started at 10 am. I had to hurry, if there is anything Sander hates, it’s a laggard. I quickly got dressed and got out of my apartment. The bathysphere station was once again crowded and felt claustrophobic, I started questioning whether or not I should save up to get my own bathysphere. The price was ludicrous though; I could find extravagant apartments that were cheaper than private bathyspheres, though I would love to avoid the crowd.
I entered a metro bathysphere and to my surprise the same family that accompanied me on my first voyage was on it. The father gave me a stern look, but the wife looked slightly embarrassed when I walked in. I took a seat and off it went into the ocean. The wife suddenly spoke.
“I’m sorry for my husband’s outburst a few days ago” she said. She has a high pitched southern accent that made a squeaky sound every time she finished a sentence “You probably don’t remember us; we were on the same bathysphere one time.”
“I remember,” I said looking at the husband. “I’m sorry for using profanity in front of your children that was wrong of me.”
The husband gave me a snarl, or something close to it. The wife raised an eyebrow and looked nothing short of disappointed at him. She then looked at me and smiled.
“There is nothing to apologize for,” she said, “He has a quick temper and sometimes acts before he thinks, as do most men. We heard your performance and it was truly something special. I hope you continue to have good fortune for many years to come.”
“Thank you”, I said a little bit annoyed. The last thing I wanted was to talk to a man who snarls at strangers and a female with one of the most aggravating accents I have ever heard. Thankfully they got the message and the rest of the ride was made up of glorious silence. I was heading back to Frolic once again; the auditions were taking place in Fleet Hall, my birthplace in this utopia. Everyone knows me from my performance at that hall, nothing else really. So I am delighted to come back to the theatre, only this time I will be in the auditorium judging others rather than on the stage praying for mercy, so my stress levels were at a minimam.
I arrived at Frolic and quickly left the family, I did not want to engage in any type of social interaction as of now. I had a bit of paranoia after a recent event and only engaged in conversations if I had to. I got compliments here and there and gave all of them a quick ‘thank you’ and left. I reached Fleet Hall and gave off a sigh of relief, there is just too much going on Fort Frolic. I get a little uncomfortable if I stay there for too long. I went up the stairs and too my surprise there was a line of young women waiting to enter Fleet Hall. I assumed they were all here for the audition. They were all typical candidates with typical personas. Some were giving off nauseating giggles to each other, some were putting on an excessive amount of make up on, all of them were overly excited and either too confident or too nervous. Looking at this batch makes me wonder if there is any hope left for the art world. They were artificial and did not believe in anything but themselves. In fact they were reminiscent of many dancers I would see in the clubs, the type that would always show what’s under their dress for a little bit of green. Many of them recognized me as I walked up the stairs and many of them started giving me a ludicrous amount of praise, not only for my performance, but for my physical appearance. I was nomoron; I knew the only reason they were doing this is so I could put a good word to Sander about them. They were trying to appealto my baser interests, giving me compliments like ‘what a ravishing man you are’ in an over sexualized tone. They thought I was a simple man with simple pleasures; how wrong they were and little did they know that I would simply call anyone who tried to flatter me off the stage. If one tried to bribe a man to get the role, then they themselves knew that they do not have the necessary skill to get it.
The line seemed endless, each girl would cause so much commotion that the one in front of her would look back to see what all the fuss is about and join in. I felt like I was getting mauled by multiple lions when they tried to put their hands on me. It was a process that repeated itself every time I passed one of these girls. I saw the entrance to Fleet Hall, wonderful; I can end this useless game and join my colleagues, but then something grabbed my eye and evoked curiosity. Every one of these girls tried to flatter me in some matter, except one. In front of me, past most of these artificially exuberant ladies was a girl that did not look back. Even as I drew myself closer to her presence and she could hear all the upheaval, she did not look back. Why was this? Was she deaf or was there more to it? I went closer to her, ignoring all the others around me. She was wearing a tight white blouse, a black skirt and had stockings on her legs. Her hair was shoulder length and flowed down in curly waves. I could not help but stare at this point, I was mesmerized by her. I had to see her face; you can always tell what’s bubblingin an individual if you look into his or her face. I slowly went up to her; she was smoking a cigarette and letting out puffs of smoke seamlessly. I got in front of her and was surprised at what I saw. Her face was striking, she waswhite and had dark vivid make up, and vibrant red lipstick on. But what was surprising is that she bore no resemblance to her fellow candidates, while they were easy to see through, she was shrouded in complete darkness, and I could not read anything of her. She soon noticed me gawking and stared right back at me. Her eyes were cold and sinister, the instant she looked at me, I felt like venom entered my body. I was still and kept staring at her, mesmerized and frightened at what I was looking at.
“Don’t you have something better to do, Mr. Buchanan?” She said. She has a deep seductive voice that made me even more enamored by her.
“Mr. Buchanan, you’re making a scene,” she said, blowing out another puff of smoke from her cigarette.
The spell broke and I slowly came back to reality. I looked at her and was slightly embarrassed, I just stared at her in front of all these candidates. But I couldn’t help myself, how could I? I was a man and she was a goddess in my eyes.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said nervously “I don’t know what came of me.”
“I do,” she said sternly “You’re wasting your time, I suggest you continue to your destination,don’t look back.”
This was a challenging thing for me to do. I have never felt this way about a female before, I feel completely flabbergast and exposed emotionally. I never had an issue reading women; they are such obvious creatures with predictable personas and meager ambitions. But this one was different, she has a past, a dark mysterious past that I sought to unveil. But as of now, for the sake of my reputation and my good graces with Sander, I had to leave. I turned around and continued my walk to Fleet Hall, not looking back, knowing that if I did, I wouldn’t leave her side. I finally passed the line of women and entered the theatre. The first thing I noticed was the ludicrous decorations put on the stage; more hanging cupids, only this time with bunny masks. In the center of the auditorium were four men, I recognized one of them, it was none other than Kyle Fitzgerald, a disciple of Sander’s that told me about his masters trap during my audition. I walked towards him; he saw me and gave out a face of resentment and envy.
“Hello, gentlemen,” I said, acting a bit too prideful for my own good
“Buchanan,” said Kyle, “This is Martin Finnegan, Silas Cobb, and Hector Rodriguez.”
“Pleasure to meet all of you,” I said shaking all of their hands “Tell me, are you all disciple of Sander?”
“Of course!” said Martin Finnegan, he had a preposterously deep crackling voice “He’s what you people would call a genius in the arts. I owe a lot of thanks to him for choosing me.”
“I see,” I said, surprised at the praise he was giving Sander, “And what is your artistic talent?”
“I sculpt ice.”
“How?” I said a bit confused. “They just have large blocks of ice and give them to you?”
He was startled by my question. He probably forgot that I was still a newcomer here and had not the slightest clue on how half the things operate here.
“Oh that’s right you’re new here,” he said laughing “Here let me give you a demonstration.
He went next to one of the chairs and put his hand on it. Suddenly ice started to envelope from his hand and it started spreading all over the chair. My eyes widened in disbelief. I knew this was the work of ADAM but it is amazing to watch and behold its wonderments.
“The beauty of ADAM”, said Finnegan “Makes life a breeze.”
I was about to continue talking, but music suddenly turned on. It was Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. The lights dimmed and the spotlights focused on another entry way to the theatre. What the hell was this? Have the auditions started, and if so will Sander not be joining us? That would be a relief.The crescendo of the song came, pigeons came out of the entry way and then a man, it was none other than Sander Cohen in his full artistic glory.
“Welcome my noble disciples,” Sander said with absolute conviction. “How wonderful to have all of you in the dominion of the artist.”
He slowly walked toward us, buzzing with cheerful fervor. He looked at me and gave me a large smile.
“I trust all of you have been acquainted with my new butterfly,” Sander said “But that is not why we have gathered here today. No . . . we’re here to acquire a songbird, one that will melt the hearts of men with her spell binding voice and her captivating physique. You five represent the best of Rapture in what you do, and that is why I have chosen each of you to serve under my hand. But the question remains, can you gentlemen serve as judges of the arts as well? I have brought you all here too stand beside me and take part in this grand choosing. By the end of this day, I will have all the necessary ingredients to put those damn doubters too shame. So come, come, sit, time is of the essence. Every second squandered is another opportunity that becomes unavailing.”
We quickly sat down in the middle of the auditorium, not wanting to burst Sander’s anger in anyway.
“LET THE CHERRY-PICKING COMMENCE.” Sander said with great passion
The lights in the auditorium dimmed and the spotlights focused their gaze on the stage. This was all very dramatic, but very fitting for Sander. Our first candidate was a woman by the name of Anna Hendricks; she was a gorgeous blonde with a very seductive mannerism. Unfortunately those were all her positive qualities; her performance was dull and lacked passion. I whispered to Sander that she was no good and he agreed. He raised his hand and yelled, “That will be all.”
The next candidate was a woman by the name of Gabriela Cortez. She was beautiful and had an incredible body language, but her performance was atrocious, she forgot many of the lines to the song she performed. She was immediately called out. My frustration already began to show. Just by going up the stairs to Fleet Hall, I recognized that most of these girls lacked the skill or conviction to meet Sander’s standards. I knew that most of these performances were either going to be mediocre or flat out awful. In fact the only performance that I was truly anticipating was that of the mysterious girl I was stupidly gawking at. What surprises will she bring on stage? Can she meet or even surpass Sander’s expectations? I certainly hope she does, I would not be able to stand working with any of the other girls. We went through audition after audition as fast as berry picking, Sander’s optimism turned to bitter contempt, he expected by now to find his so called songbird, though all he found were crows and vultures. I looked at Fitzgerald in disbelief and whispered to him, “This place carries the world’s best and brightest, yet we can’t find one goddamn vocalist here.”
“Oh rise, Rapture, rise!
We turn our hopes up to the skies!
Oh rise, Rapture, rise!
Upon your wings our dreams will fly.”
“ENOUGH YOU USELESS SWINE. GET OUT!” Sander yelled to one of the candidates who was singing
Tears started flowing down her eyes and she ran out of the stage. For god sakes she was singing the Rapture Anthem for her performance, who in their right mind would do that? Sander calmed down, he looked exhausted, and we all were exhausted. Hearing one horrendous performance after another can be quite a burden on the spirit. We needed a sign of hope to get us out of this state of despair. If the next candidate turns out to be as mediocre as the rest, I swear I think Sander will shoot her and cause wide spread panic in this city.
Sander called out the next contestant, all of us gave a sigh of frustration, we all desperately needed a break, but Sander plunged forward. Though to my surprise, it was not one of the many superficial girls in line, it was her. She stood at the center of the stage, spotlights pointing their beam directly at her. She had a blank expression on her face, no sign of nervousness or overconfidence. I looked at my fellow judges to see their facial reactions, their frustration turned into curiosity, for every girl that came here showed off their emotions when they came on stage. It varied from nervousness, to artificial passion, all the way down to extreme peppiness. But she gave no sign to what she was thinking and that immediately grabbed all of our attention, even Sanders. Suddenly music started to play, a light guitar melody accompanied by a string bass. We all gave out a gasp; we did not have anorchestra set up for the auditions. Where was the music coming from? It was inconsequential though, my eyes were fixed on her.
“Now . . . you say you’re lone-ly;
You cry the long . . . night through
Well, you can cry . . . me a river
Cry . . . me a river
I cried a river o-ver you”
I was motionless, powerless against her sultry eyes and sumptuous voice. She had me under her spell once more, only this time it could not be undone. She had an ethereal grace that was breathtaking. Her pale, flawless skin seemed to almost glow in the light, and her eyes full with pools of gloom and blackness.
“You drove me, near-ly drove me, out of my head
While you . . . ne-ver shed . . . a tear
Re-mem-ber, I re-mem-ber, all . . . that you said
You told me love was too ple-beian
Told me you were through with me and
Now . . . you say you love me”
Crap, I thought I had it all figured out; love, affection, infatuation it all seemed preposterous to me. But now, looking at her, perfect her, I do not know what to think, I cannot see myself without her. I need to know who she is, this creature that haunts me.
“Come on and cry me a river
Cry me a river
I cried a river over you
I cried a river over you”
She stopped singing and the music stopped as well. Prolonged silence began once she ended. I looked to my side to give Sander my extremely positive assessment of her, but I did not have to say a word. He began to clap slowly, and one by one, his disciples followed as well. Her expression still didn’t change; no sign of joy or glee, she just gave us that blank stare.
“BRAVO, BRAVO THAT WAS EXQUISITE MADAM!” Sander said giving her a loud applause, “Fitzpatrick, be a dear and tell the rest of the candidates that the auditions have officially ended, for I have found my songbird.”
“Yes of course,” Fitzpatrick said walking away from the auditorium and into its main entrance.
“Come closer little songbird, let me have a look at you. Finnegan, TURN ON THOSE INFERNAL LIGHTS” Sander said in a mild outburst.
“Yes, sir,” said Finnegan, who quickly left his seat and left the auditorium. It seems like disciples are dropping like flies, I wonder whose next.
The lights came on and the spotlights were turned off, she went down from the stage and stood right next to Sander.
“Don’t be shy, the artist must measure every diminutive detail of his creation, so come, let me caressyou.” Sander said in an almost sinister like tone.
The girl finally makes her first facial expression, an expression of disgust and repugnance. This came to me as a surprise, she made no attempt to hide her state of mind and succumb to his whims; she was blunt and didn’t fear this psychopathic individual. Though in the end she did move closer to him, and Sander, that slithering snake, put his hand on her arm and moved down. He closed his eyes while touching every inch of her body. Her face continued to show her repulsion of him, but she did not lose her calm.
“Yes . . . , yes . . . you will do nicely.” Sander said
At this point she broke, but not in the way I expected. She removed Sander’s hand from her and then said “That’s quite enough, Sander, I’m not here to play these games with you, do you have a job for me or was this a fruitless venture?”
At this point I was simply stunned. She was either the most courageous woman on the face of this planet or just a stupid one to be this upfront with Sander. I looked at him and was even more stunned, for all the outbursts he has given for the most miniscule things, he just continued smiling at her after she challenged him.
“My . . ., my . . ., you’re aspirited one,” Sander said putting his face closer to hers, “Though in the future, I suggest you watch you tone.”
Sander furthered himself from her, took a seat and crossed his legs. “My disciples, I believe it is time for you to unveil your thoughts and speak your minds. What is your outlookof this songbird? Come, come you are not here to act as inanimate objects, voice your opinions, speak!”
All of us were silent, he says voice our opinion but in truth if we go against his, he will see you as a doubter and you will be shunned from his inner circle. Giving the correct answer is a matter of life and death in terms of our careers. Hector Rodriguez spoke first.
“She is too free minded of an individual, who may try to belittle you with any chance she gets, I think we should continue the auditions to find someone more open to your methodology.”
“And you’re a man who tries to please his master by giving him what he wants to hear.” She said in a cool manner “Why don’t you start your assessment with something that has a higher degree of importance.”
Rodriguez gave out a laugh and then said, “So tell me then, how I should start my assessment of you?”
“How about you start with the performance,” she said giving Rodriguez a cold glare, “That is what you’re here for, to judge my performance, not the manner in which I react to men eliciting their desire on me.”
Rodriguez stopped smiling. He was outwitted and outplayed by this mysterious girl in a single sentence. He used my first assumption of her boldness against Sander; that she was dim witted. His play failed tremendously. He looked at Sander who shook his head in disapproval.
“Rodriguez, Rodriguez, it is not her that belittles my muse, but you; incompetent, unapt you.” Sander said. “Go . . . your amenity is no longer needed today.”
Rodriguez did not dare question him, he quickly left his seat and exited the auditorium with haste.Silas Cobb followed the same fate, being outwitted and outmatched by this girl and turning his assessment against him. Soon I was the only disciple left with Sander.
“What about you butterfly?” Sander said to me “Do you approve of my choice?”
It did not take long for me to think of a response to that question. All these disciples of Sander were so blindly obedient to him, that they did not look at what was right in front of them, a goddess. Sander recognized it and I recognized it. All I had to do was speak my mind.
“Sander, what I see in front of me is no ordinary girl; she is a divine being that has descended from the heavens to show us how derisory our attempt to capture perfection truly is.Any man who would reject such a heavenlyindividual is either deaf and blind, or simply a fool.”
After I spoke my mind everyone was silent. The girl did not challenge my assessment, and why would she? I told Sander how much I admire her and the performance, nothing more. He looked at me for a long while, testing me to see if my declaration was true.
“Very well Buchanan, you have swayed me. She is now my songbird.” Sander said “Ahhh how silly of me, we have not formally greeted one another. Sander Cohen, but of course, you already perceive that which is obvious. And to whom might I be speaking to?”
“Elizabeth,” she said while lighting another cigarette, “You can call me, Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth!” Sander said, he suddenly gave out a mild laugh “Ahhhh Buchanan, this one truly has descended from the Gods. Thank you for sharing your . . . appellation. That will be all I need of you today.”
This girl, this . . . Elizabeth, she did not hesitate to leave and left Sander’s side instantly. I wanted to follow, how desperately I wanted to and speak to her. But Sander wanted me to stay, and so I did.
“Little butterfly, you’re assessment was exceedingly positive of her, is there something more that you wish to tell me?” Sander said
“She gave an outstanding performance and showed more tenacity than any woman I have ever seen. She is as true a vocalist as we will see down here.” I said
“Ohhhh Buchanan,” Sander said shaking his head in disapproval “If there is anything I can stomach less than a doubter, it is a prevaricator, a liar. I saw the way your eyes glistened at the sight of her. They lit up like a tree on Christmas Eve. You feel a certain infatuation towards her. Tell me, did her erotic body affect your judgment or did you speak truly?”
I had nothing to say. For a man I thought was so blinded by his own artistic temperament, he had keen insight on the way men think. Nevertheless he was disgusting; the way he spoke of her was demeaning on both her and my account. Sander put his hand on my shoulder and then said “There, there; you have nothing to fear from me. Though you must be slightly more cautious before pursuing this path, if you place her on your canvas, you may not like what you see.”
Fright converted into curiosity. What does he mean? ‘I may not like what I see’. I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”
“In the realm of the artist, we see all sorts of characters that we must gloss to perfection to capture their full essence. These characters range from the gleeful to the malicious, all the way down to the pessimistic sort. My songbird is the type of character men such as you should evade. She is what we call a femme fatale.”
“A femme fatale, sir?”
“Yesss, they are seductive and mysterious creatures of the night, the type that men fall prey to due to their mysterious nature. But if you choose to follow such a creature, then it will undoubtedly be your end. That is what they do; they feed off men’s greatest flaw, desire, and with it, lead man to his destruction.”
“I don’t believe that,” I said insistently “All people are born genuine and therefore have genuine traits, all I have to do is find it and all will be set right.”
“Buchanan, Buchanan, your skills on the piano is unchallenged and divine, but your lack of propensity in the understanding of human beings leaves me…. unfulfilled. Whatever traits you deem genuine she had are no more. Vile men in her life took that away from her in the name of desire and turned her into what she is today, a flytrap. It is not possible to strip away what you see as artifice, for that artifice is what she is now.”
I paused at this statement. He has this innate understanding of man that most don’t have. Otherwise how can he possibly give such a profound assessment of her with just meeting her? I suppose when painting any sort of work, looking at a certain figure for days gives you a divine understanding of him or her in ways that are impossible to achieve through normal social interactions. As insane as he seems at times, he has wisdom about certain things and maybe if I follow his advice in this case, I could get myself out of this hand binding situation.
“Okay, I see what you mean;” I said “I’ll stop immediately.”
I was about to get up and leave the presence of Sanderbut he stopped me once again.
“There is one more thing I must mention,” he said with a conniving smile, “Because you feel much compassion for my songbird, I must insist that you two partake in my shows together.”
“What?” I said a little bit shocked. Was he now contradicting himself now?
“I care for your well-being, truly I do. But the artist must make certain . . .sacrifices in order to achieve divinity. True compassion and love is difficult to find in a utopia so focused on self. Your affection and desire towards her shall be hallmarked for generations to come in my muse. You two are now one; you act as the hands and she the voice.”
“So you want me to dig my own grave? I don’t know what you are saying?” I said confused and shell-shocked.
“Not quite,” Sander said, “I am giving you this undertaking because I see that you are more than just a man. You opened yourself to the spirit of the eternal and became the conduit. I saw it during your bravura show. If you can achieve this, you have the power to overcome and subdue the efforts of a lesser being such as Elizabeth.”I was almost flattered by his confidence in me, but the issue was that I didn’t feel it in myself. When I am in her presence, I simply become dumbfounded and still; completely bound by her spell. I certainly hope Sander is right about my ability to overcome it; otherwise this partnership