The Infinity Club is a gilded den whose fine grain hardwood cradles one’s feet before supple leather offers softness to lounge upon. The lighting inside is only ever bright enough to just barely read by, therefore remaining soft enough to flatter even the dullest of features.
Upon entering into The Infinity, it is typical to immediately feel either woefully under, or embarrassingly over, dressed; a discomfort you’ll then also rapidly intuit as somehow cunningly purposeful. It’s geared to remind you that The Infinity is exclusive and that you don’t belong.
I hate it here. And It pisses me off that Jakob Michael would only agree to answer my question—just one question!—if I met him in this elite club.
I slip inside and a host, taciturn and impeccable, affords me a benign smile.
I see through it.
For while he is expertly subtle, I nonetheless notice how he checks my shoes for wet as I wait upon the rich, walnut floor.
I take a purposeful step forward because I know (and he can damn well see) that my heels are bone dry. Then, holding his gaze steadily I utter my name, then add “One of your members arranged to meet me here.”
He makes a show of leafing through a leather bound guestbook on his podium…even though the thread of recognition I just caught in his eyes reveals that he knows very well who I am—and who I’m meeting. Still, I play along as “Of course,” he murmurs, (but only after a long enough beat passes to make me wonder if I’ll indeed be allowed access). “This way,” he says, and then pivots, perfect posture.
I follow, irritated and mildly embarrassed that, even though I most certainly have every right to be here, my strides are nonetheless meek as they’re led into this place where I am clearly not wanted. It is not until my host expertly pulls my chair out that resentment at last flashes and ramrods my spine. Damn Jakob Michael for forcing me here!
My host says “Would madam like a drink?” and now I pivot, eyes pinning him to the spot. “What I would like is to wait for the party who invited me.” I wait then, staring.
His lips purse, yet he retreats dutifully, steps so practiced at being unobtrusive he all but melts into the walnut, the leather, and the scent of privilege here in this private club.
My own mouth becomes small as I watch the door. In the near-twenty years I have known Jakob Michael, I’ve discovered he only arrives when he wants to, and that any stories he holds (when he deigns to disclose them at all) refuse to be forced. It would not, therefore, be unlike him to not show up at all.
I wait, gaze skittering once to the grandfather clock in the corner. How late is my dear guest?
I blink in surprise and “Huh,” I blurt, for despite all the gilded perfection of this glorified watering hole, the clock (which I expected would be wound and keeping time with unerring precision) has its hands locked and frozen, twelve and twelve. This slip from excellence fills me with malevolent glee, pleasing me as much as the entrance as it finally glides open.
Jakob Michael Nikoslav does not pause before the host’s podium and instead strides directly to my table.
“Good evening,” I say.
He does not answer, and I’m forced to wait a little longer as he unbuttons a midnight-hued overcoat (is that Armani?!), which he then hangs, along with a scarf, upon a coatrack stationed next to our table; a polished brass affair marred with ancient, dark streaks that somehow add to its elegance.
“You found the Infinity all right, then?” he says at last.
I stare. “Don’t you think I know it likely better than you?”
One corner of his mouth juts, amusement, and this also pisses me off. I’m the writer, dammit. The Infinity, the waiter, him—everything here is actually my imagination.
“Ah, yes, but you’ve still allowed us all into it, haven’t you?” Jakob Michael takes a seat.
No sooner does he lean back than does our host reappear—and I am further annoyed to see that his perfunctory smile is now genuine, and his stance all dutiful servitude. “Mr. Nikoslav?” he says.
Jakob Michael pairs a curt nod with the thinnest of glances.
“Of course,” the host replies, clearly fluent in this cold form of conversational currency. “And for madam?” He turns to include me in their strange vernacular. Somehow Jakob Michael just ordered something and so, for me, “Gin and tonic,” I reply, and inexplicably feel my shoulders prickle when the host beams with a genuine smile. “Cold, but neat.”
“Very good.” Again he fades into the proverbial woodwork, at one with the elegance of his club. I spare an uncomfortable glance around. This entire tableaux should not intimidate me and make me feel small. Yet…
“Why do you?” Jakob Michael asks, and begins plucking his gloves off, pulling the digits one by one.
This startles me and I stutter “W-why do I—”
A phantom smile lurks behind his expression as he raises his eyes. “Why do you summon me on All Hallow’s Eve?” he elaborates, smoothly.
I catch the invisible, ironic quote marks surrounding ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and try matching his tone. “You don’t know?”
One elegant eyebrow vaults atop one strange—and beautiful—golden eye. “I am not a Magic 8-Ball,” he replies.
“Agreed.” I nod “You’re far more accurate.”
He regards me, a moment that stretches into eternity. Then—“You have no idea,” he murmurs, “What you created when you created me.”
A shudder travels over my shoulders.
“And tonight you have a question,” he adds.
Many questions. Not the least of which is what really happened to that disembowelled body found hanging within that lonely copse of maples out upon the prairie of his long-ago, shadowy backstory.
“Just to be clear.” His golden eyes staple me to my chair. “I said you could ask me a question. But not once did I guarantee you an answer.”
My skin becomes awash with new prickles, and I’m grateful when our host glides between us. “Gin and tonic, neat,” he demurs. “And your Hennessy, Mr. Nikoslav.”
He waits, and I almost pity how he grovels for approval.
Jakob Michael doesn’t even grant him a glance. “That will be all,” he says, and once more our host retreats as though he was never there. Watching him I wonder, almost idly, where it is that such submission and discretion is learned? On the job, or—
“You’re drifting into the weeds,” says my tablemate, and sips cognac. “You want to know something about Halloween.”
Again the air quotes. Again the disdain. I frown, and “How very prescient of you,” I say.
He doesn’t smile.
I clear my throat, and “Just to be clear,” I tell him, echoing his own words, “Halloween, and its origins, have been around a lot longer than you.”
“Really?” He beams, wolfish. “Are you sure?”
“I beg your pardon?” I stare.
He shrugs. “I am merely referring to the concept of intergenerational memory.” Back down drop his elegant shoulders. “Does that concept not imply that all of us—at the cellular level, at least—are older than anything?” He blinks innocently.
I glare, and “The veil,” I state baldly. “Lest we both wade into the weeds of being deliberately obtuse. Is it true or untrue that it’s thinnest tonight—on Halloween?”
He appraises me a beat then sets his snifter aside, locking me within a deep look whose length echoes the cold that now seeps through my bones. “The dead,” he says, finally, quietly, “Are only ever as far as your very next breath.”
Unnerved, my gaze skitters away from the scope of his all-seeing eyes and I assess the whole club. The dead…? I look. Peer. But…
No. We’re alone. Just he and I lounge in this club. There are no spectres here.
“Are you sure?” He takes another sip of his drink.
Meeting his gaze, I keep eye contact and “Clearly not,” I say “Or I wouldn’t have asked to see you.”
He lifts his snifter, a gesture that says touché.
“So are you saying Halloween is just a calendar excuse for the multitudes, and that every day is like a Ouija board?”
A grin livens his mouth and I’m absurdly pleased to have made him smile. “For psychics?” he says. “Yes. For Fivers? No.”
“Fivers?” My brow crinkles.
"‘Fivers’,” he echoes. “Like you.”
There’s a dimple in his cheek I’ve never noticed before, and its boyishness and charm reaffirms for me all the reasons why his cousin, Natasha, adores him like a brother.
And why his nemesis, Railey, has fallen hopelessly in love with him.
For once, however, he is not attuned with my thoughts, and “A Fiver,” he goes on, “Can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.”
As he lists these he holds up each finger, one through five.
“Yet many Fivers—even you, beloved Creator—are only that way by choice. On virtually any given day, you could see more. Hear more. Touch more. Yet it is only during socially acceptable times that you believe.”
My head races to keep up with what he—a medium, a mind-reader, and, indeed, a Magic 8-Ball capable of seeing the future—is saying. “So Halloween only thins a veil that’s transparent all the time?” I ask.
He sips Hennessy, then says “The dead breathe all around you.”
Shivers rack both my arms. “Is…are you telling me the truth?” He has, after all, been known to lie.
Still, he smiles, and “Tell me,” he says, “When you arrived here tonight—did our waiter touch you?”
A chill travels through me—and answers without need for words.
“I see,” he says. “He didn’t shake your hand? Perhaps remove your jack—ah, of course not. For you’re still wearing your jacket.” A smile, now primitive, now predative, and certainly no longer boyish, reveals all of his teeth. “Why,” he asks, “are you still wearing your jacket?”
“Because,” I jerk its lapels tighter ’round my body. “It’s cold in here.”
“Yes.” He nods. “It certainly is.”
My eyes pin him, and “Why?” I demand.
“Well, probably because it’s your Halloween.” He pauses, grinning. “Fiver.”
I glare then quickly yank my eyes away from his merry face. Yet as I make a show of gazing disaffectedly around I wonder, for the first time all evening, Where is everybody?
“That is an excellent question.” Jakob Michael sits back, cradles his cognac. “And I think the answer lies somewhere within the question you dragged me here to answer tonight.”
“Who dragged who?” I bristle. “You insisted we come here.”
“And yet this is your imagination.” He tips back more Hennessy. “The Infinity Club,” he muses, then tilts his head. “Tell me: what does ‘infinity’ mean, Fiver?”
Stop calling me ‘Fiver’! I glance about, my gaze landing, upon of all things, the stopped clock.
Fear tiptoes through me and, across our table, I sense that he feels it. “You’re right,” he murmurs. “I should not call you Fiver. Not tonight.” Again the boyish grin fills his face.
This time I do not feel charmed.
“Infinity, Fiver.” He claps, a teacher with a pupil. “Meaning?”
“Forever,” I shoot back, alarmed at how my voice won’t pitch any higher than a whisper.
“Correct,” he replies, also a whisper. “Forever. And yet…this club, that waiter. The clock stopped, Creator. Therefore neither has been here in years.”
The cold that floods me has a deafening heartbeat.
“Yet you asked me: is there a thinner veil tonight? But what you really wanted to know is ‘Will I see?’” Jakob Michael sits back, swallows more cognac. “And I say just open your eyes, Fiver. Look around. Watch the clock that is stopped for infinity. Feel the air that hasn’t held sunlight for years. Let our dead host serve you with spirits and guide you to wherever you want to go.” He smiles, broad and handsome and every bit as wicked as I’ve made him. “Oh and also—and before I come off as remiss” He raises his glass. “Have a Happy Halloween.”
br copyright 2019
Like my stories? You’ll love my books!
Especially for Halloween, check into Los Angeles’ notorious old Cecil Hotel in my novella, No Vacancy, here
If you want to fall in love while an old morgue and a sinister nightclub try to scare you to death check out Divinity & The Python here (and paperback novel here)
Then again maybe you’d like to dive into a ghost story unlike any other you’ve ever read. Purchase Within The Summit’s Shadow HERE (or the paperback version HERE)
Happy Halloween 2019!