Not many comments on the latest edition of The Midnight Collection, or the excellent literature I excerpted from it for your delectation, well, OK. Now I’m posting my sleazy BDSM soap opera story from the book. Written under my pencil-moustache-having nom de plume Caesar Train Magenta, it was a fun time. Check it out, or continue to whiff on these beauteous pearls I cast about your swiney hooves. (I kid, I kid.) My post here is going to have the start of the story, with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website. If you love or hate the story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…
THE IMMOLATION OF THE THORNBLOODS
Caesar Train Magenta
Content Warnings (Spoilery?): Ableist Language, Abusive Relationships, Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Body Fluids, Capitalism, Child death/endangerment, Classism, Confinement/Bondage, Death of Loved One, Domestic Abuse, Dysfunctional Family, Emotional Abuse, Fire, Infidelity in Relationships, Insects, Misogynistic Language, Nudity, Paranoia, Poisoning, Sexism, Sexual Content, Sexual Harassment, Slut-shaming, and Swearing.
December 8th, 1928. The three came into the cavernous foyer of the Thornblood lake house, once known as “The Lily on the Lake,” to some romantic soul. But on that day, there was no romance left in the hearts of the two surviving Thornbloods. And who could say what was in the heart of their brilliant third? The cold silver light threatened to turn the world to ice outside the massive bay windows.
The last of the Thornbloods, Kent and Mabel, were powerfully built for their respective sexes, a natural strength that required little exercise to maintain. Their companion, Patricia Coltheart, was comparatively lithe and narrow. They all had black hair and fair skin, paled considerably by the season, still red at the nose and ears from the icy wind of the road. Kent’s hair was turning to slate at the temples, Mabel’s was cropped like a flapper’s, but thick waves laid it less fashionably flat. Patricia’s long, spiraling locks flowed like water with her every move.
Nobody removed their coat, though Mabel flapped the furry lapels to let some heat in. It was scarcely warmer than it had been on the drive there, and no servants would be present to stoke the furnace. “Kent,” she said to her brother, “bring that firewood along with us. The Twelve Point Parlour will be quickest to heat.”
“Naturally. Perhaps you and Patricia can bring food and drink for all?” He hoisted a bundle of firewood from a series of low racks. It was conveniently tied with a thin cord of hemp, and noticing this, he grabbed another.
Patricia twirled in place and stamped her feet. “Let’s heat this icebox. Let’s burn it to the ground.”
“Let’s not,” said Mabel.
Kent said nothing. Indeed, he nearly let his burden fall to the floor, so appalled was he that Patricia could forget the circumstance that had led them all to this bitter occasion. Or had she forgotten? She was the love of his life, and yet as cruel as the Devil.
As if cued by that thought, she let slip from her cuff the riding crop that she carried every day of her life, and waved it at him like casting a spell.
July 1st, 1927. The roll-up curtains in MacCaulay Tower were still hooked down against the dusk’s orange light, though the fierce winds of lofty elevation were quickly stripping away the summer heat that had choked the office workers all day. The great white ceiling lamps remained dark and grey; less fiery sources of light gleamed from the few desks where work continued.
Mabel lounged in an office chair, legs crossed and bouncing a shoe at the end of one foot, ginger ale in hand. Kent leaned on the edge of a desk, nursing a small glass of coffee liqueur between exchanges, in no special hurry.
“We keep doing these rounds,” he said. “I can’t quite fathom why you’re still at it.”
“My businesses are as much a part of the Thornblood portfolio as are your own. Father would not have appointed one of his children to manage them if he wanted to let them die.” She was serious, though smiling gently.
For his part, Kent was still amused with the game, like driving her mad at croquet when they were children. “If Clayton’s will go out of business without the use of a press, why not find another? MHP is a crucial advertising connection for at least three of the entities under my umbrella.”
“Then you understand the value of it, and why another would not do.” She spun in the chair and rested her legs on a desk, so she could lose her sight in the orange haze of the curtains. “Father must see some value in having us compete like this, but the very object of our competition today is something to save cost on competition. Isn’t that—”
“Shh, just a moment, Mabe.” Kent called to one of the clerks. “Steven, turn up that radio.”
“Oh?” The old man raised the volume dial, though he wasn’t sure why the broadcast was of interest. Something about a fancy art museum party for the riche less nouveau than his own family.
Mabel asked, “The Gala?”
“It is. How novel that we can know what our family is doing without the use of a telephone.”
The sound was tinny with painful spikes in volume. The technology had some way to go. —And with that, the red carpet has been rolled up, folks. Anybody outside, well, they’re outside. But through the magic of radio broadcast, you are inside the Gala with us tonight.
“Doesn’t feel the same to me, pal.”
“Mabel, shh. Just give me a moment.”
—Those great families of industry and finance, the Gettys, the Fords, the Thornbloods, and more. Ho ho, and what’s this? Seems little Marcia Thornblood has turned this photo shoot into a game of hide and seek. The cameras won’t be catching her tonight.
Kent chuckled warmly. “It is like we’re there.”
“No, Father saw to it that we’d be busy little beavers, wasting our youth in office towers on nights like this.”
“You’d rather be keeping an eye on the scamps? You know if you were there tha—” he stopped himself.
—Smoke is indeed from an incident with the flash photography. Wow! That sure is spreading fast. Fire has just shot up the drapes at a fantastic rate. We’re— A clanging alarm sounded, making the broadcast impossible to hear. Each clang violently pierced the air, and Steven quickly reached to turn the radio off.
“Don’t!” Kent shouted.
Steven was horrified, but he had no choice. He understood the need for it, and kept the radio on, pressing hands over his ears to blunt the agony.
Without noticing they had risen, Mabel and Kent were both on their feet, staring at the radio, hoping for some relief from the mounting terror. The clang sounded twenty more long seconds before it cut to a single even tone, then a different announcer’s voice, clearer than the first.
We apologize for the technical difficulty we just experienced, but there seems to be an emergency taking place at the Miller-Brooks Gala tonight. We will bring you a proper report as soon as possible. For those of you just tuning in, there seems to have been a fire at the Miller-Brooks Gala tonight, cutting off our broadcast from the event. We will bring you a full firsthand account of these events shortly. In other news—
“What other news?” Mabel seethed.
“Get your jacket. We’re going.”
December 8th, 1928. The lakehouse’s electricity was well protected, the Thornbloods personally paying to have every risky junction cleared of trees en route to the power station. They had lights, but with the central heating already installed, nobody had seen fit to put in modern radiators. Unless somebody was willing to shovel coal in the basement, or call a servant to do the same, most of the great house would remain winter cold.
They did not want to call a servant. This was to be a tête-à-tête between the siblings, to settle their business conflicts once and for all. Patricia was only there to keep Kent’s bed warm, the old-fashioned way.
The light buzzed to life in the kitchen, a false vision of warmth that could not be felt in that room. Patricia skipped past Mabel, who moved more cautiously.
“Why so lively?”
“Just glad to be free from the damned automobile.” She twirled, and seeing nothing of interest, her eyes came to rest on Mabel. “How long do you suppose it will take Kent to stoke the fire? He’s a real city boy.” She shrugged her coat off bare shoulders.
“Please. You won’t get me in the mood with a line that mentions his name. Find a wine that we won’t despise, okay?”
Patricia pouted, turned to the wine rack, and hooked a bottle at random with the looped head of her crop, tugging it out of the cubby. It nearly fell to the floor, but she snatched it out of the air deftly.
“Perfect vintage for you two,” she said. “Sour grapes.”
“Expect a sour weekend,” Mabel said. She went about gathering food with lifeless motion, all practicality and no art.
Patricia slid behind her like a phantom, craned her long neck to whisper in her ear. “There’s more than one way to heat up the place, Mabel.”
“I’m here for business. Blow.”
“Auggh!” Patricia snarled.
Mabel could hear the crop slap on the counters, over and over again, but she did not turn.
July 7th, 1927. The Lily on the Lake basked in a mild summer heat, the light of the morning sun made a mirror of the water, and the natural beauty of the scene doubled. Mabel and Kent stood at the end of a patio overlooking the lush tableau, drinks in hand. The sounds of servants laboring were not loud, but it was enough to make the frogs and birds more shy than they might otherwise be. The buzz and trill of insects accompanied the conversation.
“I keep saying it, and I can’t stop myself,” Mabel said.
“You can’t believe it’s real, I know. It’s the Greek chorus in my mind as well. How could they all be gone? And here we are.” He sipped his drink.
“If the Thornbloods were to be culled, we should all have died. Does it mean something that we didn’t?”
“Nothing means anything.”
They watched the lake. Dragonflies vied for their attention and received none.
Mabel spoke. “We could give it all away. So many far-flung cousins would love that.”
“I’ve thought of it, though not earnestly,” Kent said. “It’s a shame the little ones will never see the fruit of our labors. I suppose one or both of us should look into making heirs?”
“All children look like kindling to me now. I can’t imagine one living to adulthood. Strange how one’s expectations can be so inverted.” She hung her head.
He reached a comforting hand closer along the railing. “That’s grim, even for you, Mabe.” He leaned down to catch her eyes.
She looked up wearily, then raised herself again.
They were close. An embrace hung in the air, a possibility of connection, of family. They looked into each other’s eyes, small and viperine, and they realized that whatever kinship existed between them had truly died in that fire.
They understood each other, and understood they were brother and sister no more.
December 8th, 1928. The Twelve Point Parlour was named for the tremendous mounted head of a stag, high above the fireplace. The points of the great beast’s head touched the ceiling, which was lower than most of the rooms on lower floors—hence easiest to heat with the fireplace.
Even so, Kent’s work had barely begun when the women arrived. The electric chandelier’s glow was feeble, lost in the innumerable shadows of the archaic Victorian-rustic decor. It seemed to brighten when Mabel shut the heavy velvet curtains against the white world outside.
Patricia plunked the wine down on a coffee table and lounged into the chair nearest Kent. The crop fell across her lap. “Dearest, must we provide all the warmth in this room?”
“I appreciate that, darling, but I’ll have this going soon enough.” He jabbed at the smoldering logs with the poker.
Mabel set the food down, then took a seat, using her coat as a blanket. “I think we’re all regretting the decision to leave the servants home. I would kill for warm meat tonight, and that is surely not going to happen.”
Kent shrugged, still focused on the pitiful flames. “Solitude has its own kind of luxury; people like you and I are rarely able to partake.”
“And yet you brought your frail filly.”
Patricia slapped the crop on her thigh for attention. “You know I’m no frail.”
Mabel scowled but pretended no injudicious innuendo had just slipped the girl’s mouth. “I’m sure she’ll keep you entertained, but we’re not here for pleasure.”
“We all need a little restorative now and again,” Kent said.
Patricia asked, “Who will restore you, Mabel?”
March 14th, 1928. “Her name’s Patricia Coltheart,” Steven said, adjusting his white gloves. “Perhaps the crop is a reference to the horse in her name. She’s certifiable, pal.”
“But she does look remarkable. You’d remark that, right?”
“Certainly. I’m old, but not dead, as they say.”
“I didn’t mean to imply anything crass,” Kent said, smirking. “But I would like to see her face more often. Any chance she’s looking for an office job, at the executive level?”
“I doubt it, but no harm in introducing yourself. And I say, shouldn’t you be married by now? Courting a society girl may quell rumors, and you might get something out of it as well.”
“You’re so blunt tonight, Steven. But convincing. I’m convinced.”
The blue silk drapes around the ballroom sparkled with sequins, but otherwise the room was white from floor to ceiling. The band played lively jazz and young people danced. Kent was irked to see his sister at one of the tables across the floor, to know she’d be watching his every move. He downed his drink and subtly sniffed a little cocaine from a trick cuff.
On the floor, he stopped a few paces from his prize with a click of the heel and a smile to express interest. She was just dancing with a girl—a friendly thing, not too heavy to break it up.
Still, Patricia didn’t pay him much attention, until the other girl cried, “That’s Kent Thornblood!” and practically flung her at him, before dancing away. Patricia tucked the riding crop under her arm and took short, halting steps toward him.
Kent chuckled, barely audible above the music. “I can cut a rug too, you know.” He took her hand and began to move. He was a tall, powerful man, with a thick jaw and stern brow to match. His may have been the manliest Charleston of the decade and well executed.
Aside from the mystery of her equestrian accessory, it was a conventional and coquettish courtship that evening. In the end, she accepted an invitation to visit MacCaulay Tower.
Mabel watched it all.
March 16th, 1928. Raindrops snaked down Kent’s office window in a mad dash. The golden office lamp vied with the badly occluded sun for dominance and the light washed out to a dark neutral mood. He had been leaning against his desk in a casual pose, Patricia standing before him, but he had suddenly become quite still and tense.
“This shirt.” His shirt’s top buttons had been ripped free by a careless swipe of Patricia’s riding crop. “This shirt cost more than everything you’ve ever worn.”
She held the offending implement behind her back with one hand and made a girlish gesture with the other. Her dress was a common enough design for young women, but unusually funeral black.
“This shirt?” She looped an arm around his neck, pulling so close he could feel every hot breath on his ear. Then she gripped his collar and pulled, ripping it completely away.
Kent trembled with confused rage.
She wrapped the collar around her neck and pinched it shut, affecting a man voice. “I’m Kent. I do big business all day. It’s very important.”
He pawed at his chest foolishly until he composed himself and pointed at her angrily. “This game is all very amusing, yes, but how can I leave the building in this state? And what they think of me, they’ll think twice as poorly of you. You do understand how the talk works, don’t you?”
“And you worry too much about the future.” She bounced the riding crop once more in both hands. “Do you want to come, or don’t you?”
Kent was floored again, hands gripping the edge of his desk. “I beg your pardon?”
Patricia cocked a hip. “Do you desire sexual release, you starched collar?” She underscored the insult by pointing the crop where his collar had fallen to the floor. It still struggled to maintain the shape of a thick neck.
Kent couldn’t speak, his body trembling again, but he mouthed the words, “I do.” His eyes were soft and fearful.
She laid the head of the crop against his exposed skin. “Then you will do everything that I tell you to do, and you will thank me for it…”