Welcome to the third installment of my paranormal novel Garlic for Breakfast.
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Carmen Ferreiro Esteban
He took back the paper and setting his hands, palms up, on the table in a gesture of surrender, stared at me.
“I’m Becquer,” he said. “Gustavo. Adolfo. Becquer.”
He pronounced the name slowly his eyes straight on mine and I knew he wasn’t lying. Yet the truth was unacceptable.
“You may remember me from your Spanish classes,” he continued. “‘Literatura’ it was called then, if I’m not mistaken.”
“That is impossible.”
I stood abruptly sending my chair crashing to the floor. I remembered Becquer, all right. He was the Spanish poet whose poems of unrequited love I memorized when I was 13, as every other Spanish girl has done, before and after me, the first time a clueless boy breaks her heart. Yes. I remembered Becquer. But Becquer ….
“Becquer is dead, ” I said aloud. “He died long ago.”
He nodded, a smile playing on his lips as if pleased that I remembered him. “In 1870 to be exact. Only, I didn’t really die. I just stopped being human.”
“And what are you now? A monster?”
He winced as if the word had offended him. “I’m not a monster. For a monster is, by definition, a fictional creature, and I, as you may notice, am quite real. And if you meant it metaphorically I reassure you I’m not evil. The change gives us powers, but doesn’t alter our true nature. I’m still who I was. No angel, no demon, but both at once.”
He had moved to my side as he spoke and lifted my chair.
I took a step back. “Don’t touch me.”
He bowed to me, in an old fashioned way that didn’t seem out of place. “As you wish,” he said. “But with your permission, I’ll get you a drink now, so we can discuss this further.”
He skirted the tables and the people sitting, eerily still, around them and reached the counter where a barista stood, a cup on her frozen hands.
I considered running away, but dismissed the idea. It seemed unwise as he would find me, I had no doubt, and bring me back. Besides I wanted answers. I sat down.
Soon he came back balancing a cup of coffee he set in front of me.
“Thank you. ”
He nodded. “I meant to bring you something stronger, ” he said. “But, after twenty years in the States, I still forget they don’t serve alcohol in the cafes here.”
“Twenty years? Two more than me.”
“I know,” he said, reminding me of the fact that he had googled me and thus knew more about me that I would have liked. Not to mention the fact that I had probably given him my card at the conference and so, he had my address. Not a reassuring thought.
“What do you want of me?” I asked.
“I want to represent your work as I told you before. You may not believe me but it is the truth. I never lie.”
I laughed. “Becquer. The ‘Becquer’ wants my writing. If you’re really him, why don’t you write your own stories?”
“Because I can’t.” There was anger in his voice, at my challenging him probably, and something else something like pain or was it frustration?
“When you become immortal,” he said slowly, “you can’t feel anymore. You don’t feel pain, nor joy, nor fear, nor sorrow. Without feelings, without passion the creativity is gone. That is why I cannot write, and I miss it. I miss it terribly. I miss the fury and the chaos, the agony and the ecstasy of the artistic creation.”
“When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke ’round me, I am in darkness—I am nothing.” I said.
“Virginia Woolf,” he finished my quote. “My thoughts exactly. That is why I need you. You and others like you who have the gift, so I can be witness to their creation and, through them, through their words, feel the flame that now eludes me.”
“And that is all?”
“That is all, I promise.”
“Why did you stop time then? Because you did it, right? You can change it back?”
He laughed, amused, it seemed, at the panic I couldn’t conceal from my voice as the thought struck me that this was to be forever, that we were to be the only ones alive in a frozen world.
“Yes, I did this, and I will bring them back to life after you give me your answer.”
“But I don’t understand. Why did you do it?”
“Because of her.” She pointed again at the woman by the door. “I was afraid of your reaction were you to learn from Beatriz that I am—immortal.”
“Why would she want to tell me?”
“To break your trust in me.” He shrugged. “She is jealous of you because she thinks I want you to take her place.”
“As your secretary?”
“Didn’t you tell her—“
“I did. Yet she is here. But enough about her. Would you sign for me?”
“You won’t regret it,” he added as I said nothing. “If you sign, you will never have to worry about the business part of writing. You will be free to write full time while I deal with the editors and publishers. I used to be terrible at convincing people to look at my stories when I was human, but I am surprisingly good now.”
He flashed at me his winning smile and I found myself smiling back. Was he really that clueless or was he just playing me? For, considering his exotic beauty and the fact that most people in the industry were women, I didn’t find his success surprising at all. And his offer was most tempting. Like his human self, I also lacked the social skills needed to sell my work. Yet…
“You’re scared of me.”
Becquer smiled. “It’s only normal. No need to apologize. To fear the unknown is a survival skill we all posses. But what if I promise you no one will get hurt? Would you sign then?”
“Then it’s done,” he said when I didn’t argue, “for you have my word.”
He moved aside the second cup of coffee I haven’t touched and set the contract once more in front of me.
“Should I sign with blood?”
He smiled a crooked smile. “That would be lovely,” he said, a glint of red in his dark eyes.
“But it is not necessary,” he rushed on, and passed me a pen, a beautiful carved pen, I swear wasn’t there when I asked.
Our fingers brushed as I took it. His were not cold as I’d imagined, but pleasantly warm, a human touch.
“I told you I am not a monster,” he said holding my eyes, and with a flourish of his wrist signed his name right beside mine.
To be continued . . .