The Beautiful Bottle

Charlotte pays Josef a visit and he makes another mistake.

For more episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.

London – 1840

Josef was having a strop.

He was sitting in his drawing room at a small table with a half-empty decanter of spirits and a glass in front of him and a cloud of grumpiness around him that might’ve given Mary’s best tantrum a run for its money.

I climbed through the window and lowered myself from the ledge to the floor. ‘You know, you won’t get drunk no matter how much of that you drink.’

‘It hadn’t escaped my notice,’ he muttered. ‘You’re talking to me again.’

‘I’m still angry at you,’ I replied and pushed my hood down.

The room smelt musty and alcoholic but he hadn’t been sat there as long as he was pretending. His beard was immaculate, as was his red silk waistcoat and cravat, and there was a suggestive damp patch near the drinks table. He was a vampire, he’d have sense me before I got to the window and he really was a terrible liar when he couldn’t use his magic.

Josef’s fakery made me think of days when Bran couldn’t get out of bed. It pissed me off.

‘Here to show off?’ he asked. ‘Well done, you’ve given Bran everything he ever wanted, more than any of his other whores ever did. Wife. Family. Your position is assured.’ He swirled his drink then downed it in one. ‘Congratulations.’

I took the glass from him then sat on the table with my feet on the chair on either side of his legs. ‘I came to ask a favour but you stink like the inside of a bottle so I’m wondering if it’s worth it.’ I sniffed the glass, it was enough to burn the hairs off the inside of my nose, and I had a terrible sense of smell.

‘Why don’t you ask, Bran?’ he muttered in the general direction of my groin.

‘Bran’s a different sort of fighter.’

He snorted. ‘Bran, a fighter?’

‘Still here, isn’t he?’ I said. ‘Do I need to smack you across the face again, you utter arsehole? You’re meant to be Bran’s friend.’

He met my gaze. ‘And what do you know about it? You think because you fuck him you can come here and tell me how to be his friend? We’d been friends for centuries before your great-grandparents were conceived, girl.’

I stared him down. ‘I see a boy who gets everything he wants and throws a tantrum when he doesn’t. Ever had nothing? Remember it at all?’

He looked away first.

‘Long time ago was it?’ I asked.

‘If I’m the brat then you’re the child throwing rocks at a hornets’ nest. Do you know how that ends?’ He kept his gaze fixed on the floor.

‘Everybody dies, Josef.’

His jaw twitched. ‘Except me,’ he said so softly I wasn’t sure I was supposed to have heard. He inhaled sharply and his neutral expression was back in place. ‘I’ll grant you mortals do tend to live short lives.’

I considered him, wondering if he’d done it on purpose or accidentally.

‘You’re very lovely,’ he murmured with more thought then seduction. ‘I’ve never thought about it before.’

I straightened. ‘And there you were trying to make me think you thought of nothing else.’

‘I mean that hard lives breed hard faces and yet yours… The life you’ve lived and there isn’t a mark of it on you.’

I spread my scarred hands.

‘Scars are different.’ Between a blink he was standing, face close to mine. ‘Now I think on it, I can’t smell how old you are. Young but… I can’t place you. Humans age like wine, I can smell it in their blood.’ He sniffed. ‘I never noticed before, how is that possible? How are you possible?’

I shoved him away. ‘The sympathy didn’t work so now you’re trying to intrigue me? I’m not interested, Josef.’

‘You should be.’

‘You’re ego needs scaling back.’ I hopped off the table. ‘I was hoping you’d help me teach Millie to fight but it was a mistake.’ I was hoping to see him get kicked in the balls by a little girl, but saying so would make it less likely.

‘Are you sure you’re completely human?’ he asked.

‘What? You think I’m pretty and you can’t guess my age so I’m not human?’ I wrinkled my nose at him. ‘Ego.’

‘That’s ridiculous. You’re human. Mostly.’

I shook my head and started for the window.

‘Do you know how rare it is for a human to have magic and no magical heritage?’ he asked, still standing by the table. ‘It doesn’t happen.’

‘You said people who could resist you don’t exist and yet here I am, walking away.’

‘Why does the idea offend you so?’

I sighed and turned to look at him. ‘It doesn’t. I. Just. Don’t. Care.’

He frowned. ‘Humans always care about where they come from.’

‘I know where I came from, I know where I’m going.’ I shrugged. ‘Right now, I’m going back to Bran’s bed.’

His lips thinned.

I climbed onto the window ledge and paused, one foot dangling on either side of it. ‘In the workhouse they take everything. They unmade me, I remade myself.’

He blinked, slowly. ‘I’m sorry.’

I swung out of the window and dropped into the garden to take a long walk home.

Enjoying Charlotte’s adventures? Check this space next Saturday (3rd June 2017) for an important announcement.

For more short fiction see my Short Stories or Weekly Serial page.


Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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