Dinner With an (In)Sane Man

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Poe House - The Macabre and Disturbing

A girl wakes up in a featureless room across from a man in a purple suit, who claims he only wants her company for an evening.

She first felt the intense throbbing on the right side of her head before she opened her eyes to blackness. She felt a scream brewing in the bottom of her throat but she found herself unable to let it out. Blackness suddenly became an overwhelming bright flash of white which managed to irk the scream out of her. It came out sounding feeling rather feeble.  When she opened her eyes again she saw a large man in what appeared to be an expensive suit placing the bag that had previously been on her head on a table in front of her, next to a gold laced plate piled with steaming food. She couldn’t quite tell what the food was yet through the blurred, moving spiral seemingly residing in her eyes.

‘Ah, you’re awake.’

With some strength she managed to pull her head up to see the man across the table. As her vision began to clear, she could see that he was rather handsome, perhaps in his late thirties. Black hair, cut to just below his ears, blue eyes with flecks of silver, a small scar on his left nostril, as if someone had tried to cut it in two. He wore a dark purple suit with no necktie, and the top button of his shirt undone so that she could see a small tattoo of a sun, poking out the top of his chest. He smiled at her.

‘I apologise that I didn’t send a formal invitation to be my dinner guest tonight. It gets ever so hard to get anyone interesting to come to dinner with me when I ask surrounded by an armed escort.’

He had one of the croakiest voices she’d ever heard. The gravel in his voice was so intense she nearly didn’t notice he spoke with an English accent. He spoke each word slowly, seeming to stress each syllable as if it was a matter of great importance. It was only now that he’d called attention to it that she noticed four other extremely well built men in the room wearing expensive suits like the one that had pulled the bag from her head. Upon closer inspection she realised that that particular man was wearing a black featureless mask over his face. The room itself looked akin to a small bunker, the walls made of metal that reflected the artificial light that compensated for the lack of any windows. Entirely unfurnished save for the elegant, mahogany table masterfully carved to show a myriad of angels and demons, and two similarly crafted chairs occupied by her, and the man in the purple suit.

She tried to speak but only succeeding in coughing, choking, she wasn’t sure which. She tried again. ‘What do you want with me?’

The man in the purple suit chuckled. ‘Why nothing more than your company, my dear. I tire of dining alone with these dullards every evening. Going too long without any company is sure to drive you mad.’

She felt unwelcome tears stinging her eyes. ‘Are you going to hurt me?’ She asked with much more of a whimper in her voice than she ever thought herself capable.

The man in the purple suit frowned at that, his unintentional sigh causing his nostrils to flare, stretching his scar to make it adopt a crescent shape. ‘Do you think I’d be such a bad host, as to hurt my guests? I assure you I plan to do nothing of the sort. The food in front of you was prepared by the finest chef in this country, using several ingredients only obtainable in other countries. If this food can hurt you my dear, then you are one of immensely poor taste.’ He made the smallest of movements in his left hand, at which his man in the mask went behind her chair and cut her hands free from the zip tie keeping them there; she hadn’t noticed that they had been restrained at all. ‘I realise you’ve been hurt somewhat already. I hope this doesn’t make you see me as a bad host. I’m afraid you’ve this particular idiot to blame for that. Hasn’t she?’ He asked the man in the mask, looking at him expectantly. The man slowly pulled back the elastic that held his mask in place so that it could drop below his collarbone. He had the letter “D” branded into his right cheek. It hadn’t healed well. She could feel herself starting to hyperventilate but was powerless to stop it, her vision was beginning to spin again when the man in the purple suit said “her water”, and the branded man threw her cup of water into her face.

She coughed for a little while before breathing normally again. ‘I apologise for having done that, but I think I can say confidently that I myself still have not hurt you. I thought that that might have been necessary at some point. People rarely respond well to waking up somewhere they’ve never seen before, at that you’re actually doing remarkably well. I actually had that glass of water brought out intending to use it much earlier on in our evening,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘I’d hardly expect you drink something so… mundane. No to drink we have this!’ As he said it he picked up his champagne flute. ‘And this is the real thing, genuine, from champagne. Now dig in, I imagine you’re quite hungry. People so often are just after they’ve woken up.’ He began to turn his attention to his food before starting his head back up again as if he’d forgotten something. ‘Oh but while you eat don’t hesitate to tell me about yourself. I’m sure you’ll make for some wonderful conversation.’

She continued to stare at him, mouth agape and entirely unsure what to make of anything. She realised she was starting to shiver from cold. She was only wearing shorts and a sports bra, she must have been on her run when she was taken. She tried but couldn’t remember anything about how she came to be here. At this first lull in noise coming from the man in the purple suit, she only just now found herself being affected by her senses. Along with the cold, she was starting to really feel the pain coming from her head. The branded man must have hit her. The man in purple noticed her shivering.

‘If you’re cold, which now that I think about it that only makes sense, you ought to eat or drink something. Both will go a ways to warming you up. I apologise at my lack of foresight, I really ought to have thought that you might not have been dressed for this cold-‘

‘What do you want from me?’ She asked, almost shouting. The man across from her seemed fairly taken aback.

‘What I’ve already told you I want, you’re company, someone to talk to. Fine dining and drinking alone is worse than defecating in company.’ He said matter-of-factly.

‘But I don’t understand, why me?’ She asked franticly.

The man in front of her adopted a very stern expression. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to put effort into calming yourself. You’re being a bore of a dinner guest and I brought you here in the hopes you wouldn’t be.’ He put both elbows on the table and rested his head on his closed fists, leaning ever closer towards her. ‘I’ve sworn not to let any more harm come to you this evening, and I do so hate to go back on my word.’ At that he slowly leaned back and let his smile slowly reclaim his face.

Despite feeling like she absolutely could not breathe, she managed to take a deep breath without coughing. When she spoke again she had managed to control some of the tremor in her voice, but it was still quite clearly there. ‘Why am I here, why me?’

The man’s smile grew wider, eager to get a conversation going. ‘I have a few interesting people in my employ, and they used to dine with me each night. They were hardly the best I could hope for, but they knew how to appreciate the food, and they knew just enough about things I didn’t know about, to keep me entertained. Alas I started to tire of them, so I sent them away to do a many varied things I needed doing, several of them rather unpleasant. Ever since then I’ve found that dining alone can make one feel awfully lonely, and loneliness can drive you rather mad. You know, I know that people say that the two big “no-nos” of conversation with strangers are politics and religion, but I feel no two subjects make for a more memorable discussion. So tell me dear, who are you voting for in this upcoming election?’

‘I still don’t understand why I’m here. Why did you choose me?’ She asked slowly. She managed to control her voice, but she was powerless to stop a lone tear crawling down her cheek. Thankfully, her host seemed ready to forgive her for it. In fact he laughed.

‘Oh yes, now I do feel stupid. I completely forgot to answer your question, went off on my own tangent. How narcissistic of me. You see when I decided I wanted a companion for an evening; I told these lumbering ingrates that I wanted someone who worked at a museum, any museum. And I trust that you do, don’t you?’

She nodded once, so slowly that she thought she might have nerve damage of some sort that she wasn’t able to do it any faster.

‘Good.’ The word came accompanied by a glare to the branded man, who quickly turned away. When he turned back to her his smile had returned, which only served to instil more fear in her. ‘I figured someone who worked at a museum would be more than suitable at discussing with me, something that I don’t know too much about already. I don’t want you to tell me right away the subjects you know about; in fact I think it’d be rather fun to make a game of it. How about this, you drop in titbits of information about whichever various things you know about whenever it seems fairly relevant, and at the end our evening, I’ll try and guess what kind of museum it is you work at, how does that sound?’

Her head was spinning. She couldn’t think of anything from work at this moment if she had wanted to. ‘I don’t understand. Why did you brand him? What does “D” mean?’ At this he smiled manically and uncontrollably.

‘The beauty of that, I think, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. What a glorious conversation piece I think it might be one of the cleverest things I’ve done. Tell me what do you think “D” means? Perhaps it stands for dunce. Or it could be a letter grade, to reflect my grading of his performance in bringing you to me unharmed.’

‘You’re insane.’ As she said it she could feel her throat closing up and her eyes shooting wide open, aware that that was something that she should not have said. The words came out before she could have stopped them. He wasn’t smiling anymore, but he didn’t seem particularly angry, if anything he looked curious.

‘You ought not to say things you can’t possibly be sure of.’ He said all too calmly. ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone defines sanity and insanity as, they are constructs, vague entities that can never be truly analysed in any one given person. Can you tell me what it is a sane person feels in any given situation? What about an insane person? What does a sane person feel, for example, when they see this man, branded and maimed with this letter I chose on a whim. Do they feel empathy or sympathy? Do they feel either? Does anyone truly understand the difference? Do they question how things came to be this way or do they simply exclaim all their hurt and worry at this snapshot of a situation without any context like a simpleton. I feel that’s how many so-called “sane” people might respond to this. Would a sane person feel that this person should no longer do as I tell them given that they should no longer respect me? Would an insane person feel that this person should do as I tell them given that they now have reason to fear me?’ He pointed at the branded man. ‘You.’ He then moved his hand in a semicircle so as to point at another of the large suited men in the room. ‘Slap him. Hard.’

The man hesitated, but only barely for a second. He took 3 strides and hit the man hard. She involuntarily closed her eyes while jumping in her seat as it happened. The Man lost his balance for a second before managing to wobble himself back into the position he was standing in before as the branded man turned around to resume his. The slapped man began to raise his hand so as to caress his cheek, now red and burning with the shape of the branded man’s hand, but opted not to, and stood there as if nought had happened.

The purple man was no longer smiling. ‘You should accept my word as truth when I tell you that this man,’ he said pointing at the red pulsing outline on the slapped man’s cheek, ‘is a strong friend of his. I don’t know him all too well but I’m willing to say his best friend, at least his best friend in this room. Yet he still hurt him because I told him too. Now why would he do that? You tell me if this man is sane or insane to have done that? Do you know if he did it because he respected me or because he feared me, and do you know which one of those is the saner option? I can tell by looking at you that you do have an idea in mind as to what you think the saner option is. While I can’t tell you the correct answer, I can tell you that neither fear nor respect had anything to do with what just happened. Respect is… faux. It’s an act, it, like sanity and insanity, is a construct that we ever so evolved humans have constructed in order to feel like we’re owed something. Everyone thinks they’re owed respect, a concept a non-tangible thing, and that’s supposed to be sane? That man slapped his friend, not because he has fear or respect for me, but because he has faith in me. He has faith in my overall aims, that of course is why he is under my employ, and does what I say. He has faith in me and therefore trusts me. Now that can sound insane can’t it? This man slapped his best friend because he had faith in the man telling him to do it, even though he’s aware that slapping another one of my lackeys, you’ll note I don’t afford them any respect, probably wouldn’t contribute in any way to what my overall business plans are in this world. Surely that’s absolutely insane, stark raving mad as they say. But to say such a thing is to say that faith itself is insane. Faith, is the crux of all religion, and there are ever so many religious people out there my dear. Are you to tell me that all religious people are insane? Surely that’d make “sane” people the minority, and if that was the case, what good would it do for you to tell me that you think I’m insane. After all, I told you twice that the whole reason I brought you here, was so as not to go mad from a lack of company. If you think you can suss out the sane from the insane then tell me this, tell me something that only a sane person would do.’

She could feel another tear running down her cheek now. She opened her mouth to say something, but quickly closed it again, feeling foolish, which was difficult to take on when she already felt scared and humiliated.

‘I’m waiting my dear.’

She started to really cry now. ‘That’s not fair. An insane person could do anything a sane person would do.’

‘You seem to be siding with my argument then.’ He said it sounding rather bored. ‘Well, as I am so generous, and as I am also quite thirsty for a real debate about anything at all, I shall give you a second chance to make your case. Tell me instead; what is something that only an insane person would do?’

Again, she found herself unable to say anything, but the man in purple made it clear that he would continue to hold his stare until she attempted some kind of response. ‘Only an insane man…’ She stammered. ‘Would murder someone.’ She said it into the table, all the while feeling sweat reaching the back of her neck. She couldn’t bear to look up at the man in the purple suit, but she knew that he was staring at her.

‘Come now my dear, that can’t be all. Really try. What do you think is a truly insane thing to do?’ He sounded very calm when he said it, like a patient primary school teacher coaxing their pupil to read from the book for the class.

‘Only an insane man would murder someone… and then cut off their face.’

At this the man across from her started shaking his head in what seemed like genuine dismay. ‘I’m rather disappointed in you my dear. You’ve shown that you have no creativity, no imagination, and I’m told that’s evidence you might be quite insane,’ he said, starting to chuckle. ‘Why I can think of a great many reasons why someone who you might consider sane, would murder someone and then cut off their face.’

When she realised that he was waiting for her to prompt him to explain himself, she shivered violently. Whether it was from the cold or his piercing stare she wasn’t sure. She managed to work up the courage to say ‘Like what?’ through shudders in her breath.

He leaned back in his chair and looked up to the ceiling to truly picture the scene he was creating in his head. ‘Imagine my dear that this murderer, this man, is a father. He has a son, no I’ve changed my mind, a daughter, people tend to be much more protective of their daughters. This man’s daughter gets poisoned fatally, by let’s say, an insane person.’ He took a second to look back at her and smile before returning his gaze to the featureless ceiling. ‘That insane person tells that man that he’s poisoned his daughter and that the only antidote is under his face. The man realises that this insane person might have said such a thing as a joke, to make him hopeless, but people will do anything for their children my dear that’s something I’m sure you know. So he does it. He kills this man and cuts off his face. Whether the antidote is there or not I’ll let you decide for yourself. Which do you think would be the saner scenario? That doesn’t matter after all, what matters is: do you think he was insane to do that?’

She started to shake her head, but as she did so she said the word “yes” out loud. When she stopped hanging her head in shame she saw that he was now looking at her with quite a smirk.

‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘Do you have any children?’ One of the men behind him at this point said “She does sir,” to which the man in purple reminded him not to speak unless he was spoken to. She couldn’t find the strength to answer the question, and she didn’t want to give him any ammunition, even though the ball was entirely in his court, and there was nothing she could prevent by doing so.

After waiting for long enough he asked her, ‘Do you think you would cut off a man’s face, if it could save your child’s life?’ As soon as he’d asked his face became serious, he made it clear that nothing mattered more to him now than her answer.

‘I… don’t know.’ She stammered. And as soon as she did his smile came flooding back do his face, brighter and more chilling than at any point before.

‘Well then my dear,’ he said with great joy, ‘How is it you could possibly know, whether or not you are sane?’

Submitted: September 06, 2016

© Copyright 2020 Carlyle Laurent. All rights reserved.

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