Flash Fiction: J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations – Variation 14

This is goofy.  I’m writing a new piece of flash fiction from Chuck Wendig’s usual challenge (I’ve skipped a few, my apologies), and, well… I’m not sure what to do.  The challenge involves using a random song as both your title and as inspiration for the piece itself.  I’ve done that before; so far, so good.

I shuffled until I got a named track (my first result was “Track 9” from an untitled trance album), and now (as you can see) I’m writing a story called J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations – Variation 14.

In case you don’t know what that sounds like, here’s a video (the piece is roughly two minutes, though the video continues afterwards).  I’ve tried embedding it, but the time-specific feature doesn’t seem to be working.

My version is played by Glenn Gould, at roughly twice that speed, clocking in at 59 seconds. Please excuse me while I stare into space and figure out what the hell this means story-wise.

Right.  Got it.  This might be a little odd, but I think it works.  Enjoy!

***

Every eye turned as the chandelier’s cable separated with the sound of a plucked guitar.  The drop was marvelously silent, a shimmering instant as the crystalline lace hung in the air.  Then, a shattering crash and screams.  There was another pair of plucked notes, and the demi-chandeliers cascaded towards the floor as well.  That was the signal for Marcel to join Michelle, hidden by the ensuing panic.  But neither of them had considered how chaotic the party would become.

The mercenaries hired by Marcel and Michelle took their opportunity for profitable side-business.  Cries of “My jewels!” and “Thief!” echoed around the room as the thick crowd began to churn.  Michelle, standing on the low balcony overlooking the hall, had completely lost sight of Marcel.

“Thieves, at my party!  Come Michelle.”  Her mother grasped Michelle’s wrist like a vise.  “It isn’t safe for you here.  Killian, deal with these disruptors.  Harshly.”  Michelle’s father nodded and strode down the broad stairs to the hall’s main floor.  The household guards followed close behind.

Michelle struggled to keep her footing and not be dragged further into her family’s apartments.  “But Mother,” she cried, “what about—” she barely stifled ‘Marcel’ and found safer words, “—our guests?”

“Our guests will appreciate,” Michelle’s mother’s tug emphasized the word, “having the young lady in whose honor this party is being held be kept safe!”  Her glare could have stripped paint.

Michelle struggled to find words and gaped like a fish.

“Well?”  Her mother’s eyebrow had the perfect arch, the very height of disdain.  It was the same one that Michelle could remember from her grandmother.

Michelle could see all her plans crumbling before her.  She needed to escape, and this had been her chance.  But it was being crushed just like all her other dreams had been: mercilessly, in the iron grip of her mother’s cold, cold hands.  She exhaled, something between a sigh and a sob, and trailed after her mother like a wayward duckling dragged on a leash.  Her last sight of the party hall was a mess of flickering lamplight, swirling figures in their finest coats and dresses stumbling about in the dim chaos.  Marcel was nowhere to be seen.

***

Michelle rubbed her wrist and glared at her mother’s back.  Her mother was double-checking the house’s vaults to ensure that the thieves at the party below hadn’t had other plans as well.  Several of the family’s footmen stood around them in regimented array, watching down the various hallways.  Michelle could hear urgent footsteps echoing through the vast spaces of her family’s estate, but the yelling and shouts from the party were much quieter here.  Not quite gone, but muted and oddly full of echoes.

“Yes, very good.”  Satisfied, Michelle’s mother turned to her favorite manservant.  “That shall be all, Remy.  Set guards on the chambers, and we shall see you in my receiving room.”  She didn’t even look around as she strode further into the house, towards the family’s private wing.  “Come along Michelle.”

Michelle followed, rushing the first few steps to make sure she wasn’t left behind.  If she had learned anything by growing up in this family, it was that giving her mother another excuse for displeasure could only make things worse.  Their heeled boots clopped on the stone floors.  Apart from that, they were silent.  Echoes of the disintegrating party warped oddly around them.

They arrived in the apartments and Michelle was pointed towards a chaise-lounge while her mother picked up a crossbow from underneath her desk.  She cocked it very matter-of-factly.

“Are you satisfied with yourself Michelle?”

The crossbow wasn’t leveled at her, but the question struck her like a bolt.  She twitched.  “What do you mean, Mother?”

“Your little stunt this evening.”  Michelle’s mother cocked her head sideways, listening.  “Are you satisfied with yourself?”

Michelle worked hard to control her breathing.  “No.”  How did she know?

“Good.  You shouldn’t ever be.”  Michelle’s mother turned around slowly, facing towards the window instead of the door.  It was open, the garden moonlit beyond it.  “That’s been your problem.  I don’t know why I didn’t see it earlier.  You’re too satisfied with yourself, with not taking up the reins of this family’s business.”

Michelle swallowed.  Maybe her mother hadn’t known about her plan with Marcel?

She saw a figure pull itself up to the edge of the window, silhouetted in moonlight, and barely had enough time to scream.

“No!”

The crossbow made a flat, unmusical plunk.  A bolt stuck out of the face of Marcel.  He fell away from the window towards the ground below.  Michelle heard him hit the ground.  She didn’t hear him cry out.

She stared at her mother, mouth open, feeling faint.

“Scratch one thief.”  Michelle’s mother cocked the crossbow again.  “What?  It was only a thief.  Not even a very good one.”  The room was silent, faint sounds of the party’s decaying hubbub still drifting across the grounds.

“Michelle.  Look at me.”  Michelle’s mother walked over to her, grasping her chin firmly in her left hand.  She tugged Michelle’s face up to meet her gaze.  “They’re beneath us.  And if you’re going to inherit our business, you have to be willing to put others in their place.”  Something in her face softened for a moment.  “I know, dear, that it can be hard to watch someone die for the first time.  But you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  And we make very big omelets.”  She patted Michelle on the shoulder.  Her inexperience showed.

She cleared her throat, then strode back to the desk and checked the room again.  “Your father will finish with the thieves soon, and then the party will recommence.”  She smiled.  “I’m sure you’ll make me proud.”

Michelle choked back a sob and nodded.

Farewell Marcel.  Farewell dreams.

 

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