the subtle appeal

The Subtle Appeal

Whatever side of the political spectrum one falls on, we can all commonly agree that it’s problematic when a child is indoctrinated into the ‘wrong’ thought patterns, that they have been turned from the truth of the world. But, can we as a society, collectively come to a consensus regarding a few basic truths? There are commonalities that run through us all, uniting us as the human race — so why can’t we see them? Is living in peace with one another an unrealistic dream? If we are united by our need to stand up for what we believe to be true, can we ever see eye-to-eye if our beliefs never align?

All the guests began to arrive, on time; as ever. Their big, bulky, shiny, shimmering cars bouncing over the immaculate, if undulating, path that slid its way to the house.

A hired hand, a young man, in a red waistcoat; slicked hair and dead eyes greeted each and every one, took their keys, parked their cars in the cavernous garage, or just outside when it was starting to get full.

Through a door gilded with golden door knockers and monumental handles held open by another red waist-coated servant, guests would find themselves in a brightly lit waiting room, chandelier with glistening gems hanging from the ceiling, sparkling light across the entire space. They would have their coats taken, be handed a glass of Champagne, something fantastic, and begin talking amongst themselves.

Once everyone was inside, and it was quite a number, the hosts for the evening presented themselves. Cecelia Maevan, an image of elegance, donning a long, verdant dress that clung to her figure magnificently walked out the main door that before had been locked, followed by her husband, Sebastian Maevan; a complimentary green suit that hugged at his calf-muscles and a shirt that seemed to soak up all the chandelier light and bounce it back across the room.

Their daughter, Margaret, followed sheepishly behind, her head tilting; half eyes on the crowd, half on her father’s back. She wore a pink dress with patches of white carefully, considerately placed at intervals across the fabric. Something a touch too childish for Margaret who had just recently turned 12.

CECELIA: Good Evening. I trust that we are all well.

SEBASTIAN: It is indeed a pleasure to see you all.

CECELIA: We welcome you into our home for an evening of great food and merriment.

Margaret’s eyes scan the room, every single guest. Suits, tuxedos, beautiful shoes, gorgeous dresses. She watches curiously as a lady lifts a glass of champagne to her lips, and gently flows the liquid to her mouth without ever making contact with the receptacle. How odd!

CECELIA: Now, if everybody would follow us, we are soon to eat!

The crowd, with no true reason, begins to clap. Slow to start but building to rapture. It ceases.

**

Three tables, positioned in a large ‘U’ shape take centre space in the long, leering dining room. Cecelia, Sebastian and Margaret take their places at the base and smile and nod and wink and smile again at guests as they funnel in, finding their place names; excitedly appreciating the fame of being ‘recognised’, a confirmation of their importance, and take their seat.

Margaret, bent necked, stares down at the tablecloth watching it stretch for miles in each direction. Using her smallest finger, she pokes at the countless pieces of cutlery placed in front of her. Knocking a soup spoon out of place, Sebastian reaches over and fixes it, moving it but a whisker.

SEBASTIAN: (Quietly) Do not mess around, Margaret. It is best behaviour this evening.

Margaret sighs a little.

SEBASTIAN: (Forcefully) Margaret, best behaviour.

MARGARET: I just do not understand. Why are all these people here?

SEBASTIAN: To eat and to enjoy themselves, my love.

MARGARET: Is there not some special occasion to celebrate?

SEBASTIAN: Not at all.

MARGARET: So why?

SEBASTIAN: Because we can.

Margaret nods, not quite understanding. Her head tilts upwards, noticing that the booth that juts from the side wall that is normally reserved for when a hired acting company come to perform for the family, to which the Maevans will sit inside and observe, for exclusivity; even in their own home, was now filled with six or seven people, all old; all immaculately suited and completely and utterly silent.

MARGARET: Father.

Sebastian turns his head to Margaret.

MARGARET: Who are those people up there?

SEBASTIAN: Why, my dear, they are the Overseers!

MARGARET: What are they overseeing?

SEBASTIAN: Everything, Margaret. Did you not know?

Margaret opens her mouth to ask another question but before she can, a thunderous crash of the most precisely tuned grand piano begins. Everybody, save no-one, turns their heads to the pianist; tuxedo coat tails curling around the stool, who glides across the piano, that announcing arpeggiation, that elongated flash of muscular dexterity that always impresses.

A single strike of a chord.

And then the waltz begins, danced by every red-waist-coated servant; through a corner door, each balancing closhes and jugs and silver trays and fear. Twisting on their feet, white gloves gracefully slipping away as plates and trays are placed, straight shoulders but lunging strides in the legs. 4/4, metronomic, robotic, elegant — choreographed to perfection.

Margaret could not help herself but follow as many of the servants as she could with her eyes, trying to catch as many as she could within her vision. She could not bear to miss a single beat, a single movement — impressed that all of these servants were in perfect synchronicity, that not a single one had made a mistake.

Then one did.

The piano stopped, the other red-waistcoats stopped and everybody stared. They stared at this now trembling young man. Within moments, tears began streaming from his eyes but his face remained unmoved, as if trying to conceal his upset.

He bends his tearful face downwards, walks directly between the ‘U’ shaped tables and kneels down.

Sebastian stands and walks around the table, accepting nods and smiles from his guests as he passes them. He makes his way around the bends in the table and goes to stand right behind the young man, now curled up on the floor.

OVERSEER: If I could have everybody’s attention, the committee would like to remind you that this kind of behaviour is no longer permitted.

The guests begin muttering amongst themselves.

OVERSEER: I am afraid you will have to let the young man leave, freely.

The guests all begin nodding at each other.

CECELIA: In truth, Lord Overseer, rightly-honourable as you are, we have decided we no longer wish for you. If you could, immediately, relieve yourselves of your positions, that would be greatly appreciated.

OVERSEER: Is this the call of the majority?

The guests look around at one another.

CECELIA: It is.

OVERSEER: Indeed. It has been an honour. I hope our successors bring you great joy.

Margaret watches as each Overseer turns, turns and disappears. Within less than a second, an entirely new troupe of people appear; suits and ties and smiles.

OVERSEER: I am the new head of the overseers and I would like to take a moment to thank you all for my appointment, and for the appointment of my staff. As my first act, and as the people will it, the slaughter of failures is reinstated.

A large, booming clap circles around the room.

Sebastian draws a gun from his belt, places it against the sobbing mans head and pulls the trigger, recoil shuddering through his arm, skull bone and brain rocketing in the other direction.

And, as if like clockwork, the piano begins again and the servers resume their dance, aside from two of them who each take a leg and drag their now dead colleague away.

Another arrives with a dustpan and brush to pick up the globules of face and brain smeared on the floor.

Sebastian takes his place and smiles at his daughter, who does not respond. She simply stands, pushes her soup spoon out of place and peacefully turns from the crowd and breaks into a sprint, bursting through the double doors at the other side of the room.

The guests look around each other.

CECELIA: Not to worry. Let us say grace.

The community reach out and take one another’s hands.

**

Sprinting through the lengthy hallways, past all the landscapes decorating the walls, Margaret turns corner after corner. Her chest tight, legs numbing, her breathing short and heavy. She runs because there was the space to, after all.

She ran and ran until she reached a dead end. A narrow hallway, dimly lit, contrast to the rest of the house. At the end of the hallway, a door.

Margaret approaches it, apprehensively. There was something about it that made her stop, made her scared. A deep attraction to her fear, something she had never truly experienced since tonight made her want to keep approaching.

She places her hand against the cold metal handle, twists it and lets it swing open.

Step.

And another.

MARGARET: Hello?

She takes another step.

As she hesitantly makes her soft footsteps, her hand reaches around; along the cold, rugged and rough walls until her fingertips were greeted with a light switch.

A flash. A shape.

A flash again, something there.

MARGARET: (Scared) Hello?

The light flashed again and Margaret saw, culminating all her fear and anxiety, a human figure, neck bound by a chain to the wall, bleeding; shaking; shaking. It let out a quiet screech.

Then darkness fell about the room once more.

Petrified to her spot, Margaret stood; mouth agape, a line of drool slipping down on to her crumpled pink dress with its greying inflections.

Without swallowing, throat cracking —

MARGARET: Can I help you?

The figure, silent.

The light flashes again, but this time the creature springs its arms toward Margaret, swiping; pulling at the chain with its throat, grunting; growling. Snarling, spitting.

Margaret falls backwards, slipping and landing on her back, kicking and sliding across the floor backwards. Her heavy breath now heavier.

As the light flashes, the shadow of the creature; large and mountainous against the dirty walls, stretches out, stretching as far it can, trying to catch poor Margaret who lays watching with horror, sobbing loudly.

MARGARET: What… What is it that you want?

WAIST COAT: He can’t talk.

Margaret turns her head, jumping as one of the red waist-coated servants paces over to her.

MARGARET: How did you find me?

WAIST COAT: Was an accident, I’m here for him.

MARGARET: You can talk?!

Margaret, a face of confusion, watches as Waist Coat walks past her, down into the room. The monster begins to make joyous noises, beset by pain. Margaret slides across the floor, so as to get a better view.

WAIST COAT: It’s alright, friend. I’m here to save you.

The monster begins to grunt louder, louder.

MARGARET: What is it?

WAIST COAT: (Shocked) What do you mean? Look at him!

A foot appears next to Margaret; a shining, glistening shoe. She traces the trouser leg upwards, dark green and immaculately pressed, past the matching suit jacket to look upon her father’s face, who stands poised with a finger to his lips and a gun drawn in his hand.

WAIST COAT: Come on, nearly there.

Unsuspecting, as was intended, the side of Waist Coat’s face detached itself from the skull, flaps in the dank air as it slaps itself against the wall, across the occasional shadow of the creature in the flickering light. Waist Coat, a scream of anguish, drops to his knees. He needs a second shot to end his life but Sebastian seems apprehensive, intently watching the broken skin stuck to Waist Coat’s face figure out a new way to sit.

Then Sebastian takes a step forward, towards Waist Coat who swung around on the floor; tongue wagging out of the hole in the side of his face, and lifts his shoe, angling the heel to slot into the new dent. He watches as the flesh pulses and slips around the side of the sole and he begins to smile.

The creature can do nothing but scream.

Sebastian drops the smile and begins to push downwards, lifting his leg intermittently only to replace it; forcefully, slowly breaking down Waist Coat’s skull integrity, flattening it out, forcing shards of skull to slit and slip through the flesh. Like the pus from a spot, the brain worms its way through whatever hole it can find, splaying itself across the floor.

Margaret, transfixed. Sebastian turns to her, staring deep into her eyes. He turns away, looks down at the desiccated skull beneath his shoe before lifting his leg and wiping it against the creature, who recoils in disgust.

Margaret stands and begins to run once more, sprinting back the way she came. Sebastian sets out after her, arms tight, body slightly down; an excellent running posture.

Within reaching distance, a small slither of skin interrupts the grip on his shoes and sends him shooting forward, knocking both himself and Margaret down to the floor. She tries to break away but Sebastian holds her still.

SEBASTIAN: Darling! DARLING! Calm.

MARGARET: (Panting) Let. Me. Go.

Sebastian holds on, letting Margaret exhaust herself in his arms.

SEBASTIAN: I never thought you would be this young but you cannot exactly plan for these things.

MARGARET: (Exhausted) Plan for what?

SEBASTIAN: I am going to need you to be a big girl today. You might not like some of the things you hear but perhaps it is time you learned.

Sebastian stands up, dragging Margaret with him.

SEBASTIAN: Take my hand. I have something to show you.

Margaret looks at her father through tear-stricken eyes, watches his hand get closer. She studies his face; that kind, gentle face that she loves.

She lifts her arm, feels his hand wrap around hers and gently pulls her, back towards the open door at the end of the hallway. In they step.

MARGARET: Why is he here?

SEBASTIAN: Not ‘he’, darling! It. And It is here because it had nowhere to go.

MARGARET: I am afraid of it.

SEBASTIAN: Oh, my dear. There is no need for fear. Whilst it looks disgusting, repulsive, it is in fact but a toy, a simple plaything.

Margaret looks up at her father, confused.

SEBASTIAN: See, you can do whatever you want to this creature and there is no accountability. If it had a home, we could set it ablaze; if it had something we wanted, we could take it away.

MARGARET: But, why?

SEBASTIAN: Because that is just the way it is. The way it has always been and the way it will always be, with any luck.

MARGARET: And the people you shot?

SEBASTIAN: Well, almost the same. Sometimes we find that some of the creatures have learnt to read or to write, that they were given a talent…

MARGARET: Instead of buying one?

SEBASTIAN: Exactly! And those ones we can use. When they fail at that one thing, we obviously have to dispose of it.

Margaret, pondering, looks up and down at the creature before her.

MARGARET: The one I spoke to seemed just like a real person.

Sebastian begins to shake his head, laughing.

SEBASTIAN: Then you must have met a very broken one indeed. They are not people, my love. We are people, you and I; yes?

Margaret nods.

Sebastian gestures to the dead body on the floor.

SEBASTIAN: That is just an ‘it’. Just like the one chained to the wall.

MARGARET: And why do we keep it?

SEBASTIAN: Well, I shall show you; my love. Really, the only thing you need to know is do not, under any circumstances, cut any of its limbs off. That’s the only part that does not grow back, really.

MARGARET: And does it enjoy what you do to it?

SEBASTIAN: Of course! It might sound like it’s in pain but that is simply not the case, it loves what we do to it!

Margaret nods.

MARGARET: And what about the dead body down here, Daddy?

SEBASTIAN: Well, our creature needs to eat, does it not? I have no inkling as to why, but they love to eat one another!

Margaret nods once more, a nod that turns to a smile.

Sebastian takes off his jacket, handing it to Margaret. He rolls up his sleeves, clenches his fists and lands a punch on the creature’s face.

Margaret winces but quickly unfolds her face, watches with interest as her father continues to beat the creature.

**

The parlour room, decorated with smooth wooden furnishings; a stacked, alphabetised bookcase with books ranging in language and publishing origins, a gloriously dark coffee table presenting a book on different methods of tying a knot.

Chez-lounges and tight, tan leather sofas with deep, smooth button rivets crisscrossing against the back rests and under cushions support high-society socialites who sport thin and elegant flutes or wide rimmed champagne glasses or deep, crystal whisky glasses embellished with swans expertly carved into the side.

Others stand, but they are all arranged in a circle. Cecelia sits next to the new Overseer (whose troupe stands in a formation behind him) and it appears everyone’s attention is on them.

OVERSEER: So, does anybody have anything new they wish to add to the rules?

JACQUELINE: Well, I am very sick and very tired of still having to look at… the riffraff… whenever I have to leave my home. The last Overseers told us that they were going to shut them away but it appears nothing of the sort happened.

The crowd murmur in agreement.

OVERSEER: I see. Well, what do you suggest we do?

Jacqueline reaches into her bag, a beautiful golden gilded item, and removes a chequebook. She tears out a page, already written on, and hands it to the overseer.

JACQUELINE: I trust that is enough. Build parks and takeaways inside, I do not care; just get them out.

OVERSEER: We will do what we can.

JACQUELINE: Get it done.

The Overseer nods, handing the cheque to one of the suits behind them.

OVERSEER: How are we doing on tomorrow’s news?

MEREDITH: Well, tomorrow we are running the headline “Being a faggot causes Cancer.”

WILLIAM: Is that true?

Silence.

WILLIAM: (Ashamed) I dabble with faggots regularly.

A shocked gasp, those around William shuffle away.

DOCTOR LEE: No, it is not true; but we are trying to weed out the poor-quality ones. We only want the famous ones.

William shrugs.

MEREDITH: And our advertising content is excellent.

She waves her arms in front of her face.

MEREDITH: “How much land does a man need? More, More, More!”

The room laughs.

Everybody’s eyes dart to the corner of the room to see Margaret and Sebastian enter, both smothered in blood.

A gasp that ignites an applause. Margaret stands still, watching them as they clap for her. Sebastian starts, too. She begins to smile, curtsies.

Cecelia stands, rushes to her daughter and wraps her in a hug.

CECELIA: My baby! I am so incredibly proud of you.

Cecelia turns to the room, gesturing with a long finger to Margaret.

CECELIA: My daughter, distinguished guests!

The applause grows louder.

**

The sun, bright and beautiful, shimmers through the windows of a glorious summer morning.

Cecelia stands at the kitchen counter, a china cup held up by her fingers. Sebastian enters, satin bathrobe atop matching pyjamas.

SEBASTIAN: The overseers sent something.

Cecelia’s eyes light up.

SEBASTIAN: Freshly skinned foxes.

CECELIA: Did we order any?

SEBASTIAN: No, not at all. There was a note that simply said, “Just Because We Can.”

The pair shrug before coming to within an inch of each other and ever so gently grazing lips. Cecelia carefully takes three steps backwards.

CECELIA: I love what you have done with the staff, my darling.

Cecelia gestures out the window to the remaining red waist-coated staff members who are strung up by their necks, their bodies ever so gently swaying in that sweet summer breeze. Their bodies tight, with piss and shit dribbling from their scrunched trouser legs.

CECELIA: Although, sometimes I do get the thought that it is all a bit wasteful.

Sebastian tuts.

SEBASTIAN: Cecelia, my dear, it is thoughts like this that nearly ruined everything last time.

Cecelia nods, agreeing.

CECELIA: And where is darling Margaret? Her breakfast will be cold, soon.

SEBASTIAN: Take a guess.

Cecelia smiles.

**

Slinking her blade through the webbing of the creature’s hand; watching it flail as she shakes it, Margaret smiles from earlobe to earlobe.

MARGARET: Oh, this is such fun! I am ever so glad I found you in here, dear Creature.

She lifts the knife and begins running it along It’s upper arm, watching the tearing flesh curl.

MARGARET: And just think, beautiful creature, I can show my children how to do this too!

Cecelia appears in the doorway, curious expression painted just below her flawless eye-makeup.

CECELIA: Darling, it is time for breakfast.

Margaret nods, removing the blade from It.

MARGARET: I will be back ever so soon, I promise.

Margaret places the knife on the ground and walks to Cecelia, over the shredded remains of Waist Coat. She takes her mother’s hand and the pair walk away, flicking off the light and shutting the creature in darkness once more.


Author Statement


Do I believe that there’s a problem? Do I believe there’s a fundamental problem that has prevailed, continued and will continue to decimate our relationships and our minds for as long as we, as living, breathing creatures journey on?

Yes. Yes I do.

To diagnose this problem as singular would be fruitless. Whilst it is an individual problem, its ramifications pertain to our homes, our communities, our societies, our nations and internationally. It is a cancerous mindset, a destructive thought-pattern, a derisible and abhorrent rite; faith; belief system.

The problem I’m referring to, and deeply address in my short story ‘The Subtle Appeal’ (appropriating the title of the Luis Bunuel film ‘The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie’) is that of handing onto our children everything we believe, manipulating fresh minds; bright new canvases with torrid paintings of our own misgivings, our own prejudice, bias, hatred. The Subtle Appeal takes an innocent child and perverts any sense of growth into what their parents believe, into a mindset that appeases themselves and reaps no reward for anyone else. Commits foul acts and has no real clue of the consequence.

Whatever side of the political spectrum one falls on, we can all commonly agree that it’s problematic when a child is indoctrinated into the ‘wrong’ thought patterns, that they have been turned from the truth of the world. As a socialist (if my story hadn’t already given that away) I fall staunchly on the side of the fence that treats humans like humans. A dream of mine, and I feel that on some days we are pushing towards what is ‘right’, is that every child brought into the world should be shown love and compassion and should give love and compassion. To continue with hatred, in all its ugliness, should be removed.

Radical, I know.

This problem, and such a problem it is, stems from nationalism. From territorialism. From lack of understanding, and poor education. You can learn a lot from your father. He might teach you how to change a tyre on your car. He also might teach you to deride and bereave queer people of their humanity. One is helpful, the other is vile. And as such, as we continue to breed and populate every inch of this planet, the problem gets worse.

How to remove such a problem? Time. We need time for the world to grow, to understand; to better love and to better listen. Because much like every problem deep rooted in human, the crux of the human condition, it can all be solved with time.

If the homophobe strikes me for my queerness, I’ll ask them to swing again and explain to them that they don’t have to be their dad.

Continue taking to the streets, speak out against what’s wrong, fight with words and compassion; teach the ones who took every last drop of their parents and continued on their misguided path.

But be aware, we live in a time where with every word you type; someone else is typing the counter. Make sure your art counts.



R.C. Stacey is a digital advertising manager at Focal Agency London. He has a BA (Hons) in Scriptwriting and an MA in Film and Screen Media, and has a keen interest in relationships, familial and romantic.

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