Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
I’m perplexed by the changes, even afraid at first. But stone isn’t malleable, and statues don’t have emotions. Yet these two lovers are in the midst of a heated argument, and Keera is clearly frightened. The only answer to this riddle, of course, is Philip. But why would he go to so much trouble? Is he trying to frighten me for some reason. Does he actually believe I will think the statues are coming to life? I don’t know how he makes these changes in the statues. Does he have a collection of them in various positions with different expressions? As unlikely as it seems, I have no other explanation.
I touch Keera’s arm, and try to understand the fear that is so vividly expressed on her stone face. A hand settles onto my own shoulder, and I brace myself for another confrontation with Philip. I consider the effort he’s made to impress me with the moving statues, and my heart melts a little. I place my hand on his, and fear chills me to the core. A cold, hard, stone hand caresses my shoulder. I know it can’t be real, that Philip is behind it all, but still, I run.
I stumble through the trees, trip over roots and rocks. Branches grab for me and slap my face. I stumble again, but this time I fall face first into the ground. I taste blood, dirt and dry pine needles. Philip is standing over me when I raise myself up. He sits on the ground and uses a handkerchief to clean off my face. I’m angry, but I let him touch me.
“How do you make the sculptures move?”
“You think it’s me causing them to move?” Philip puts the handkerchief back into his pocket. “They came awake several months ago. I was terrified at first but they seem harmless now. Their names are Sebastien and Keera.”
“I know about them. But Philip, please don’t insult my intelligence by expecting me to believe they are somehow alive.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. The fact is, their spirits live inside the stone.” Philip let the words sink in. “Sebastien loved Keera, but in the end, he murdered her.”
‘I thought she died by drowning.”
“He drowned her in the fountain pool.”
“But why?” I could figure out the answers to my own questions, but I wanted to hear Philip talk about what was going on. I needed to know how deeply his mind had been affected.
“Keera understood that she was a mere peasant and would never be Sebastien’s wife. She accepted that. But she made it clear that she expected their son to be cared for just as Sebastien cared for his son and daughter by his wife. Keera was insistent that Sebastien publicly acknowledge their son as his own and include the child in his will.”
“And he refused?”
“Yes, and Keera ended their relationship.”
“And Sebastien got angry and drowned her in the pool.” I summarized the bottom line and moved on to the unbelievability of the whole story. “Philip, why are you trying to convince me that the statues are alive?”
“Sebastien regrets that he and Keera never had the life together that he wanted, so he has chosen two of his descendants to carry out his original plan. The woman will actually be a descendant of Sebastien and Keera.”
“Let me get this straight. Are you saying that Sebastien wants a married man to get a girlfriend, have children with her and keep her as his own personal concubine while he goes on as normal with his marriage and family life?”
“Crudely put, but yes, that is the plan.”
“Does this scheme ever include the man getting a divorce and marrying the girlfriend?”
“No, that is not part of Sebastien’s intentions.”
After all I’ve heard, I still can’t believe how outdated Philip’s thinking is. So I press the issue even further to see if there is a limit to his willingness to degrade a woman in such a way.
“And you are the lucky married man who gets everything, including both women?”
“Yes, I am the descendant of Sebastien who will carry out the plan.”
“And who is the lucky girl?”
“You are, my dear Nola.”
“But you said the girlfriend is supposed to be the descendant of Keera.”
“I’ve conducted all the genealogical research, and you are the distant grandchild of Keera Lanaghan.”
“But that would mean Sebastien is a distant grandfather to both of us. If this is true, and I’m not saying I believe it, you and I are related by blood.”
“Yes, from a relationship two and a quarter centuries ago. I’d hardly expect to see you at a family reunion.”
“Then my presence here is no accident.” The genealogy part had taken me by surprise. I was thinking my part in all of this was a random accident, but if Philip is right, I’m part of this by my family lineage.
“Nola, you are here for a purpose, not by accident. I arranged for your new position at the magazine and for your assignment here at St. Pierre. It’s all part of Sebastien’s plan.”
“Philip, this isn’t Sebastien’s plan, it’s your plan and you’re crazy if you believe otherwise. There are no spirits possessing the sculptures and you are not having conversations with Sebastien. But let me humor you a little longer. If I go along with this insanity, what part will I play.”
“You will be the Mistress of St. Pierre. You can live here in a house I will build for you near the lake. My wife rarely ventures out onto the property. She will never know of your existence. You will bear my children, and we will have a wonderful life together.”
“I will be no man’s hidden mistress and I will not be a part of your scheme to have a convenient woman on the side while you go on with your marriage as normal.” Philip really is two centuries behind in his thinking about women.
“But this is Sebastien’s plan, his will. This is how we will set the history of our family and St. Pierre back on its proper course.”
I get to my feet, but Philip is still seated.
“Please sit back down, Nola.” Philip grabs my arm. “There is no debating this. It is Sebastien’s will and my mission.”
I begin to lower myself to the ground as if I’m having second thoughts about his insane plan. I grasp a handful of dirt and pine needles, remembering how they tasted mixed with blood after tripping over Philip’s extended foot. I throw the debris into his eyes and kick him in the face. That is the only advantage I have, but I take it and run.
Links to Parts One, Two and Four
- An Unsettled Estate: Part One-Things are looking up for Nola when she suddenly gets a dream job and falls for a man who seems to be everything she has always wanted. But on the St. Pierre Estate, nothing is as it seems.
- An Unsettled Estate: Part two-Nola sits in the sculpture garden, excited about her growing relationship with philip, but then she notices the sculptures of Keera and Sebastien. Their facial expressions have changed.
- An Unsettled Estate: Part Four-Nola escapes Philip's grasp and runs through the trees for her car, but she must pass through the sculpture garden first. Philip catches up, but they both are halted by an impossible scene.