Taming the Stars

Taming the Stars, in Suspended in Dusk (anthology)

Suspended In Dusk, featuring 'Taming the Stars'

Suspended in Dusk is an anthology of horror and dark fiction from Books of the Dead, including offerings by Angela Slatter, Toby Bennett, Benjamin Knox and many more.

Taming the Stars follows the intersecting paths of Esther, a woman with an unsettling secret, and Michele, a young man drawn into her world against his better judgment. Do we ever really know who the monsters are?


An Excerpt from

TAMING THE STARS

© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.


There was never a good reason to get in a car with Antoine.

I should have known better. Perhaps the heat had fried my brain, turned it to a loose mush that filled my head like cotton wool. Of course, that would have made no difference. I was twenty. Whatever my head was or was not filled with, I still did my thinking with my cock.

It was so hot that summer that the tarmac melted and over a hundred old people died in Paris, while their relatives escaped into the lavender-scented countryside. If I’d had money I would have done the same. Unfortunately for me, I was too poor for vacations. I lived hand to mouth then—tirer le diable par la queue, as my grandmother used to say. Pulling the devil by the tail. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day he’d turn around and bite me.

Antoine found me in a bar on Rue Saint-Denis, a narrow little building chipped out of the dirty limestone that faced much of the third arrondissement. It perched uneasily among the grim, tight-drawn shutters and whitewashed windows of the shops that surrounded it: seedy places that sold porno movies and dirty magazines, and had hookers’ cards wedged under the cash register like so many pieces of forgotten chewing gum.

It was a cheap local workers’ tavern, untouched by pretension or the march of modernity, and neither the old men nor the migrant Arab boys cared about the greasy pinkish reflections the red light district cast over their beer glasses.

I didn’t notice Antoine come in at first. I was drinking a cold beer and thinking sour thoughts about the girl I’d intended to marry, who had been inconsiderate enough to fuck my brother and callous enough not to regret it.

“Michele!” Antoine clapped me between the shoulder blades with his wide, soft hand. He never had done a day’s hard work in his life. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, mec.”

Antoine rarely wasted time looking for anyone who didn’t owe him money, so I doubted that. More likely, he was here for the little blonde morue who could sometimes be found on the corner, and who—as Antoine put it—not only knew how to enjoy a good cigar, but also swallowed the smoke.

I squinted up at him, my lips still wet from the beer. The place his hand had touched felt sweaty and sticky, and the shirt clung to my back.

“What do you want, Antoine?”

He smiled broadly, but the expression hung off his mouth like a wet, greasy rag. One thing about Antoine: he never saw the point in pretending he wasn’t full of shit. I almost liked that about him.

“I was looking for you,” he repeated, sliding onto the stool beside me and still smiling that flimsy lie of a smile. “I want you to drive a car.”

“A car?” I grimaced as I drew the cool beer bottle from my lips, watching the condensation slide down the dark glass neck, mostly so I wouldn’t have to look at him. “What do you need me to drive a car for, mec? I’m no chauffeur.”

Antoine caught the bartender’s attention with a wave of his thick fingers. They always reminded me of andouillettes fresh from the barbecue, brown and blunt-ended, but tipped with rounded, pink nails glimmered as if he’d oiled them. Like me, Antoine’s family had made the trip from North Africa a couple of generations ago—mine from Morocco, his from Algeria—making us both petits beurs: French-born melons, instead of the kind grown in the swelter of the Maghreb.

“It’s just a little trip,” he said, shaking his head from side to side as he smiled at me—a snake dancing its death-trance before it readied to strike. “What, you don’t want to get the fuck out of this heat? Just a little trip to the countryside, mec. That’s all it is.”

The bartender brought Antoine a beer as I sucked the last life out of mine. I said nothing, and just watched our reflections in the mirrored cabinet behind the bar. Past my shoulder, the grimy window looked out onto the street and little fragments of the world beyond it seemed caught in the mirror the way a puddle nets broken pieces of the sky.

On the other side of the street, in the lee of a boarded-up tobacconist, two women were walking the awkward, peg-legged, hip-swinging hobble of girls in bad shoes. Dusk had settled over everything, blurring the edges of the buildings; the sun had sunk from the sky, and the city was finally losing the last of its second-hand daylight, those dregs of gold it clung to like a miser. I watched those girls, and imagined the sound of their heels on the sidewalk, the smells of their bodies…the taste of their sweat. I was sweaty. I stank like a butcher and, whether I trusted him or not, Antoine was right. I did want to get out of Paris, and out of this sick, festering heat.


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