By James Beamon
Paul and Miriam met the old-fashioned way. That was the only way Miriam could describe it, as what they both wore had been out of fashion for centuries. She was in a 17th century Puritan dress, shamefully decorated with a giant red letter A. Paul donned tarnished armor.
She was minding her business, just waiting by the Great Gatsby’s poolside for George Wilson to arrive. She was the only one online here so she had the scene all to herself. Instead of George, she got Paul.
Miriam knew he was trouble when he approached her. She could see his horns.
“Nice,” he said as he looked her up and down. “Not too many ladies go for the branded look.”
“I don’t see why not,” she said. “The Scarlet Letter should be heralded as the first American women’s lib piece–the unshackling of our sexuality and to hell with the alphabet.
“Besides,” she said, “I think the scarlet brings out my eyes.”
“You do have pretty eyes.”
Miriam smiled. “I know better than to take compliments from the devil.”
Milton’s Lucifer was the devil she knew. The devil she didn’t know, the one behind Milton’s, regarded her with a devilish grin. Then he introduced himself.
“I like you, Miriam.”
“Well, you shouldn’t. That’s what this big letter A is about. Shoo.”
“The Lord of the Flies can’t be shooed as if he was a… wait… never mind.”
The intruding devil was silent for a moment, giving Miriam time to feel the mood in the air and Gatsby’s depression as he floated in the pool. Then he broke the moment.
“So, what brings you here?”
“No. To the pool.”
She nodded towards Gatsby. “I have a thing for tortured souls. How about you?”
Paul pointed towards George Wilson, who appeared brandishing his gun as if on cue. “I have a thing for meaningful violence.”
They both watched rapt the climax of tortured souls through meaningful violence. At length, Paul spoke to her again.
“Miriam, let me take you out. Someplace less bloody.”
“Why would I let you do that?”
“Well, if you prefer the blood, I know some choice steakhouses.”
“That’s cute. But I don’t date guys I meet on Litworld.”
“Well, you shouldn’t date guys on Litworld. Most romance in the classics is marred by tragedy. I was thinking of something more upbeat.”
She waved a finger, warding him off. “Don’t try to snake charm me, you old serpent. I don’t know you.”
Paul’s smile grew. “That’s what dates are for.”
This devil was charming. But Miriam had her rules. Dating was not something started across fiber optic cables.
“It’s been fun Paul, but I’m going to decline.” She accessed her menu and left him at the pool.
She stood aboard the Pequod. Miriam figured it was the safest place in Litworld, as she had always had the ship to herself. Most of the time the vessel just rocked back in forth in the waves while Ahab searched doggedly for Moby Dick. Other Litworlders probably got more kicks out of Treasure Island or 20,000 Leagues.
Ocean and sky was clear and blue. The groan of the ship carried weight and melody. Here, she freely enjoyed Ahab’s obsessive angst.
Then a gigantic green tentacle wrapped around the ship.
Wood buckled and cracked. More huge green tentacles emerged from the depths. The tentacles were part of the creature’s mouth. And it kept rising.
By the time the creature was on its feet, the Pacific Ocean was waist high to it. Its baleful eyes, like black mountains, regarded the ship and crew that dangled high above the water.
Miriam didn’t know if Cthulhu was focusing on her, as it seemed impossible for eyes that large to focus on anything so small. But she recognized the voice.
“Miriam, I really am quite adorable when you get to know me.”
“How’d you find me, Paul?”
“You’re a lover of tortured souls. I figured this would be the best place to find you, since Scrooge was all alone with the ghost of Jacob Marley.”
“But I already told you I wouldn’t date you.”
“People change their minds. I want to be around when you change yours.”
“So you use the horrific visage of the Great Old One to help me change my mind?”
The monster shrugged and the boat cracked a little more under its tentacle. “Figured it couldn’t hurt.”
Captain Ahab shook his fist at the huge evil creature.
“Hast thou seen the white whale?” he asked it.
Miriam smiled. This man was something new and fun. Her rule began breaking, much like the Pequod, from the stress he imposed on it.
“I’ll tell you what, you find me one more time and you’ll have your date.”
She jumped off the boat and accessed her menu.
Miriam was atop a train moving on impossibly rickety tracks, a faithful adaptation from the works of Seuss.
Stuck between her code and her intrigue, she decided to force the decision on his shoulders. If he could find her then it was meant to be.
She wasn’t going to make it easy.
The train cruised through its impossibly construed world for long uneventful minutes.
Miriam wondered if she had made the chase too hard. Who picks “Green Eggs and Ham” as a tortured soul work of classic literature?
She entered the darkness of the tunnel. Her only company was the clickety-clack of train on rickety tracks.
Then she heard his voice talking to her in the darkness.
“Would you date me in the park? Could you, would you, in the dark?”
She laughed. “Why are you so persistent?”
“My soul was tortured…”
“Oh, shut up and kiss me.”
Perhaps it was because it was virtual, but Miriam thought their first kiss was electric.
Luckily, it felt that way again when they finally met in person.
The story behind the story:
This was originally written for “The First Line”, where I had to use the line they provided as the first line of the story. The only modification I made to that first line was the removal of Paul and Miriam’s shared last name, which to me told the reader the ending. I’ve always thought this story was cute, but I wager all the unexplained references to classic literature didn’t do it any favors. But I’m thankful I wrote it and since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m giving this to you guys as a way of saying thanks for reading.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!