I woke up to an unfamiliar alarm ringtone, and sitting up as violently as I did, caused a wave of dizziness. I survey the room as sunlight crept through the window, finding the blurry muted tones of my hotel suite surrounding me.
Immediately I notice I was naked, the smoothness of the sheets caress every single crease and crevice of my body. I hopped up out of the bed, taking the top cover with me, as I search the rooms for the Associate, but thankfully he was nowhere to be found. My phone was beeping, it was an alert about an email titled ‘Invitation’, I looked at the time and nearly screamed. I had less than two hours to pack and catch a cab to the airport in New York City rush hour traffic to the private jet that was chartering everyone, which would leave at 9am sharp.
I ran to the closet and nearly cried, the wardrobe I’d had gotten for the trip was gone, everything! I went to the common area to use the phone but stopped when I saw the four packed bags of Louis Vuitton luggage, set up by the door, a hand written note was on the coffee table with a breakfast platter of food that was still warm like it had just arrived, I read the card aloud to myself.
▪ Eat, car arrives at 8. Divirta-se precioso. ▪
I sat down, momentarily overwhelmed by the racing thoughts in my mind, the last thing I remember was the smirk and smize of Belladonna Van Duyn. Now I was back in my hotel suite butt ass booty naked, with my bags packed and breakfast on the table, I reach over to grab a slice of bacon as I ponder what could Belladonna’s agenda be.
The woman was persuasive, but something about the way she spoke made me just want to run for my life. Her whole rhetoric about monsters was a bit dramatic for my taste, but hey, they say the rich are eccentric.
“Okay, okay! Showin up in the chauffeur car, she must be a star. She’s Rihanna, she’s GiGi, She’s Naomi, yaaass! I see it for her tens, tens, tens!” Pastel hollered, as he waved me down in the main lobby of the airport. “If you didn’t look so fucking fab coming out of that Limo bitch, I might still be mad at you for ditching me in the damn park, but with all that said I gotta say you are absolutely serving Cydnee, wait till everyone sees what you bringing to the table.”
Blushing deeply behind Versace shades, I look down at what I was wearing feeling slightly self-conscious, It didn’t feel like entirely my thing. Maybe that was because it wasn’t, it was the companion of Belladonna’s choice of threads, I had found it picked out and left for me in the bathroom when I went to shower, overall it just felt too ‘international’ for a local guy like me.
The peppermint striped trousers were risqué and fit me like a second skin, the dark blue Lacosté Polo was a tad too preppy, the LV luggage was handpicked to match the odd color patterns of my attire with the most obnoxious accuracy, but at least the loafers were comfortable. I tipped the driver with some petty cash I had in my pocket as he set my things to the side of me, he smiled graciously and said farewell.
“Scuse me miss lady, yeah you, can I ask you a lil’ bit a somethin.. me and my friend are jet settin’ on a ultra exclusive luxury private reserve flight like for the riches and famouses, but girl we lost, please do tell us where the hell we ‘spose to go?”
I shook my head sadly as Pastel asked for directions in a way few people could without shame, always leaving me wondering what backwoods he crawled out of, but hey, he was the leading public relations analyst in the country. Still, I cringed when he had abruptly just stopped a young cinnamon skinned woman that looked like she worked for the airline, her box braids were neatly gathered into a bun and her winged name tag said Kiosha.
“There is a reservation in the VIP area for those in the Ellison party, just give the checkpoint your name and you should be on the list, you gentlemen can wait there till boarding.” She answered with a smile and pointed to the sign that lead the way, she offered to have our bags taken to be checked, we nodded in response then thanked her for all the help.
Upon arrival at security, we were asked to display our tickets, they let us know we were prescreened and could pass on through to the front of the line. There were a few more requests for identification, but we eventually reached the VIP room, finding it to be nearly full of people from Arkham, though nowhere near the numbers of work retreats of the past. This ‘room’ was more like a separate section of the building, but I guess it was just a room for people that could regularly afford to be here.
Looking for faces of interest we decided to split the sections, planning to end up at the bar together on the other side with whomever we find, there was a possibility none of our peers made the cut, so I went left and he went right. It felt weird to be recognizing most of the faces and finding myself surprised by a few, some others not so much, I guess this shakeup of individuals gave me suspicions the invites were probably sent out at random, albeit a mask to conceal the handful of strategic names on the list. There were maybe about one hundred people, yet it was glaring the workspace cliques had been broken up, people were anxiously mingling with people they probably barely paid attention to on a daily basis as we all arrived and departed Arkham’s headquarters.
I saw Karishma being tag teamed by two homely executives from the offices three floors down from ours but I pretended not to notice her plight, it didn’t work, I was seen and used as a decoy for her escape. We were both familiar with each other, so I admit, her detestable presence offered a reluctant comfort, yet her and I knew we were the last thing either of us wanted to see.
“I haven’t seen Grayson, Famous, Cedric, Shawn.. we depart in thirty minutes and none of them are here, what is this?” She asked, looking out at the room of people, too eclectic in status for her taste.
“What about Zachari, did he receive an invite?”
“I don’t know, he doesn’t privilege me with too much information after your latest little dramatic stunt.”
“Oh yea, that. Well I guess I might be sorta sorry-ish about it but not enough to apologize just yet, don’t worry though I’m praying on it. Oh, I guess I should tell you Pastel is here, searching for others over that way.”
“You’ll be sorry soon enough.”
At that moment, one of the secretaries who had been having too much to drink to ease her jittery flight nerves, stumbled into the Doctor, spilling cabernet all down her yellow chiffon dress. I held in a laugh, sidestepping out of the way as they both went tumbling to the floor, tangled together in a mess of heels, limbs, and hair. People started to crowd around the them, as Karishma seem to be getting aggressive with the other woman, they wanted a fight, and it wouldn’t be a first on the Annual Retreat but it might take the record for timing so soon.
Rules at the Retreat were a little unorthodox for most companies, Jynx Ellison preferred to let his Arkham employees purge the the stress of their hard overworked successful year away, in almost anyways they saw fit, no one to be judged. That had come to cultivate an almost barbaric hedonistic atmosphere on past trips, exacerbated by the exotic island locations that were chosen, part of my choice in venue this time was to sorta reign it in to change things up.
I saw someone waving me over, it was Shawn, with Aemous and Grayson in tow. All three men gave me an appraisal from tip to toe, looking at me strangely, but all recovered relatively quickly.
“Interesting choices this morning.” Shawn said, and I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my cloths or the selection of people around us.
“I like it.” Aemous replied with a smile, both of them still leaving me unsure as to what they meant, on the other hand, Famous was dressed similar to me in a way, so maybe he just pulled it off better and no one questioned it.
“I don’t know about y’all two but whatever the fuck it is, I’m down, cause Cydnee over here glowed up looking like he tryna get some Zaddy dick on this trip, or am I tripping?”
Leave it to Grayson to be blunt, lewd, crude, and straight to the the point. I had to give the man credit for consistency, he was always himself, as tasteless as that person was.
“Thank you Grayson, I’ve come to know that’s caveman speak for ‘Hey Cydnee, you look mighty nice today.’ so I’ll seaway to a new subject, like how long have you guys been here?”
“We arrived just now, right on time, Grayson called Aemous and I up wanting to buddy up on the ride over. What’s going on over there?” Shawn asked, pointing to the commotion that was dying down behind me.
“I think Karishma fell.. I don’t really know.” I reply, shrugging nonchalantly, as she made her way over looking like the homeless woman I’d seen in Central Park. “Hey Karishma, did you and her get everything sorted out?”
“Suck my motherfuc..”
— “Flight boarding in ten minutes, please have your tickets ready and valid photo identification present.” —
“Oh my God, I have to change, I have to find my bags, no!” She panicked, looked at us desperately before taking off running. “Don’t let them take off without me!”
Grayson laughed as we watched her disappear, I told the others about the plan to rendezvous with Pastel, so we decided to keep moving on. We made it to the bar and didn’t find anyone we knew there, but that didn’t stop Grayson from ordering a round of shots.
“Come on ya, one shot to start the weekend on a good note.”
“I don’t drink.” Shawn mentioned after the bartender poured the shots, which cause Aemous side eye him, to quickly remedy the situation I grabbed the extra.
“To a safe trip, and a safe return, let’s have the time of our lives, bottoms up!” I said, holding the drinks up, and taking both shots of Hennessey back to back.
“WHOooooO!!” Grayson hollered, as Famous and I made simultaneous gag reactions, Shawn stood there shaking his head with a smile on his face.
“Lookie, lookie at who I found y’all, and it looks like we’re walking into a party already in progress, I’m here for the shits!” Pastel called out to us, with Zachari and Cedric behind him, maybe he was sorta right the day before about the ducks cause he seem to attract all the quacks.
Grayson ordered another round of shots, clearly trying to be wasted for all three hours of the flight, or maybe the entire weekend. I tried to refuse but I saw the way Cedric was staring me down, so I reluctantly accepted in defiance.
“To great success and big booty bitches!” Grayson cheered, cause us to laugh giving a thankful break in the palpable tension.
“I just want to just die if I don’t get laid this fucking trip..” Pastel sighed before he took his liquor down, Cedric muttered in agreement as he eyed Shawn.
— “We’ll now be boarding passengers with seating arrangements in section ‘A’, line up to the gate in an orderly fashion, and I wish you a safe and enjoyable trip.” —
A woman spoke over the sound system sounding very familiar, I looked at my ticket and found I was assigned to be in that section, and as it was, so had Aemous, Grayson, and Zachari.
“What no fair?! I’m supposed be in section ‘A’ too.. how the hell did a lackey like Grayson get in?” Pastel whined and pouted, while Grayson did everything he could to rub in his face.
“It was probably all chosen at random..” Aemous reassured him as we left for the gate, though I don’t know how much help it did, there were sour faces at our backs walking away.
After we pass security and boarded the jet, I was surprised at the size, as I had chosen the cheapest option amongst Mr Ellison’s arsenal of man made birds. There were two stories, and our section was at the top, with seating room for barely twenty five hunnit thirty people. The slim pickens were due to the extra space being turned into a casino with a jacuzzi in the back.
“Oh hell yes!” Grayson yelled, high fiving a confused and slightly awkward Zachari, who didn’t seem to understand his excitement, but knowing him, he was running the diagnostic of getting such a heavy thing in the air safely and the odds of a successful flight.
“I feel bad for the others, I got a peek at what downstairs looks like.. There’s a reason the top has only twenty or so seats.”
“No use in feeling guilty for something out of our control Zachari, let’s just try to have some fun and mingle once we take off.” Aemous said, patting him on the back softly, smiling at him.
“My seat is right here.” I said, sitting window side, in the third row.
“Lucky me.. this is gonna be fun.” Grayson replied plopping down in the seat next to me, he pulled up the armrest to aid him in leaning in closer, smelling like an expensive but overtly pungent cologne and half the bottle of the shots we just took.
“Zachari, why don’t you have my seat, look how much leg room I have, aren’t you six foot four or something like that?”
“Sure, thank you Cydnee.”
“Heeeeeeey!” Grayson complained, pouting sourly, as I pat him gingerly on the shoulder on my way pass.
“He has a seat over here next to me.. you want aisle or window?” Famous asked of me, I wasn’t too happy about being by him either.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Okay, I prefer the window, I like to see what’s going on.”
We sat down, and put our belts on, but something seem to be holding up the plane. Aemous asked Kiosha the flight attendant and she replied that we were waiting for Mr Ellison. I sighed and closed my eyes to rest them, wondering if I should have went with my first mind and stayed home. Famous would say something to me every so often, but nothing that required more than a grunt or two, he was slow to pick up how pissed I was at him and I didn’t want to have a public blow up.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re mad at me?”
“I’m cool.” I replied icily, tapping Kiosha as she pass by. “When you get a chance could I please have a bottled water, thanks.”
“Well what’s with the cold shoulder?”
—”Good morning passengers, this is your Captain speaking. I’ve just been informed that Mr Ellison has now boarded, please take your seats and follow the safety instructions of your flight attendant, we should be taking off momentarily.”—
Aemous stopped trying to talk to me seeing that I now was giving Kiosha my full attention, probably about thirty seconds into her Safety Demonstration, Jynx Ellison and his entourage brush past her unapologetically taking the seats at the very front. He was followed by four men who were incredibly striking and handsome, all different ethnic persuations and uniquely beautiful in their own way, closing out the rear were Yurika, Sandra Dee, and a decent looking guy with glasses, who sorta reminded me of Clark Kent.
It wasn’t long before we started to move to the lane for take off, there was some shifting in the seat next to me as Aemous seem to be looking out the window nervously, starting to sweat above his brow. I handed him the water Kiosha had given me, and grasp hold of his hands, which had become cold and clammy. When we lift off ground his crushing grip nearly cause me to cry, I nearly thanked god when he fainted, but still, I held him upright in his seat.
When the plane steadied out and we seem to be at the desired height, I laid his head to the side so he could sleep off his anxiety, then unbuckled myself to stand. It took a moment to look for Zachari and Grayson, as they had lost themselves amongst the VIP patrons that had swarm the Casino, I didn’t blame them because there was a blackjack table that was calling my name.
Instead, feeling slightly guilty about the seating arrangements, I ventured down to the lower deck section to check on the others. When I was able to fully access the accommodations, I felt worse, there was a reason this was Mr Ellison’s cheapest option.Before now, I had never thought so many people could be crammed in such a modest amount of space, this wasn’t ‘economy’ it was basic essentials.
I was going to call out to Pastel but he was sleeping, so then my eyes scanned for Shawn, unfortunate it was to find him sitting with Cedric, better yet, the two of them having what seem to be the most fascinating conversation. The back of my neck grew hot, and my fists began to ball up, the scene confused me, especially with the way things went down. I turned, making my way back up the stairs, quickly realizing there was no use being mad with custom first class seating upstairs, I could sit upstairs upset in luxury.
On the way up, I went to dig in my pocket, wondering how much cash I had in my wallet to throw away on the game tables. I flipped through the small stack of twenties, till I came across a paper that turned out to be a check, I recognized it to be what Belladonna had given me. My mouth sat open a moment, as my mind comprehended back and forth over the amount, wondering if it was real, sure enough it was signed and dated, payable in cash to Cydnee Tyson.
Three Hundred Million Dollars..
I guess that was the going price for one’s soul these days, but was it enough for mine?
When we touched down in Thunder Bay International Airport, there was a shuttle that immediately transported us to the marina. Where one of Mr Ellison’s yachts were waiting to take us to the Royale Isle, specifically on the south side in Windigo, where the new luxury lodgings had just been completed.
Everything was going off without a hitch, I barely had to double check any details, Yurika even said she was impressed when she caught hold of me on the ride over. Mr Ellison had yet to speak to anyone outside his inner circle, it was like he only surrounded himself with Beauty, Brains, Money and Power, and the closest to him came in combinations of the four. He was the first to board the boat, she was a remarkable sight, decked out in Matte black and gold trimmings,she was engraved along the side stating her name was simply ‘Cassandra’.
There was food and champagne to greet us, with a smiling crew and it’s very own captain, who insisted on giving his hat to Mr Ellison. It was an interesting dog and pony show, but I couldn’t fault the man, he was maintaining job security like the rest of us. After the flight people seem to finally loosen up and the Annual Retreat had officially started.
“Attention everyone, as you all know, on the first night of every Annual Retreat we have to open the festivities with a bang. Cydnee Tyson, the head of organization for this trip, has told me that the Opening Ball will begin at seven, so let’s practice punctuality please, that is all, do enjoy yourself.”
I smiled as everyone gave me the light pitter patter of obligatory applause, slightly embarrassed as I’d heard more than a few complain about the flight, and the stories they’ve been hearing about how good it was on the upper deck. The good thing about the yacht is we all get to mingle together, which definitely put people in better spirits, I told the crew to keep the champagne flowing like it came from the tap, I was certain we had several times as many bottles of Dom Pèrignon Rose Gold than we had lifeboats, but ask anyone if they cared.
We were underway, moving ahead toward the Royale Isle at a leisurely pace, giving people plenty of time to loosen up, I sipped a glass of bubbly and settled into the ride, taking a moment’s breath to digest everything around me. The views were beautiful, with the presence of turning mid autumn leaves, filled with golds and reds which brilliantly stood out brightly in the afternoon sun. The skies were clear, and a slight breeze kissed the skin gently, bringing the aroma of nature from the shorelines, it was a stunning scene. I found myself on the balcony, at the bow of the yacht, transfixed by it, and when I could finally break away I stumble into someone.
“I’m so sorry!” I awkwardly apologize, as my glass shatters on the floor, causing everyone to look our way.
“You smell like darkness..”
It was one of the men in Mr Ellison’s entourage, he was almost too beautiful to look at straight on, and his voice was deep but smooth. His hair was jet black and buzzed short, making the handsome angles of his face stand out, the eastern influence on his features were as strong as Aemous’s, but it was hard to place exactly where. Inky sharply edged eyes that pierce deeply, like he could see things I couldn’t within myself. A body like a brick house, that made a six foot broad shouldered frame seem twelve inches taller.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“The wind brings it to me.” He states, looking me up and down, with his nose slightly agitated like I smell a little bad. “You carry the aroma of danger, it’s familiar, too familiar. I smell the scent of a monster but you are clearly only but a Sapien.”
“Look, um.. I’m sorry about bumping into you, even more so because I don’t believe we’ve met, do pardon me when I say, that I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Cydnee, I’ve been looking for you.” Famous calls out, as he walks up, giving the man a nod in acknowledgement before interrupting. “Sorry for barging in..”
“Nǐ tīng qǐlái xiàng měiguó de wūhuì, tā bùshìhé nǐ, nǐ néng shuō chū nǐ de xuètǒng de shétou háishì nǐ gāngà?”
(¥~ You sound like American filth, it doesn’t suite you, are you able to speak your bloodlines tongue or are you an embarrassment?)
“Wǒ yǒngyuǎn bù huì wǔrǔ wǒ de mǔqīn. Xiànzài suǒyǒu rén dōu zūnzhòng wǒ kěyǐ péibàn wǒ ma?”
(¥~ I would never dishonor my mother as such. With all do respect may I leave with my companion?)
“Wǒ méiyǒu wánchéng, tā huì dài chūlái, wǒ bù huì shì wéiyī de.”
(¥~ I’m not finished, he will bring them forth, I won’t be the only one.)
“I think you are.” Famous replies grabbing my hand, to which the man smiles as he turns to walk away, leaving with parting words I wish I could comprehend, because they felt and sounded so haunting.
“Wǒ bù huì shì wéiyī de.”
Aemous lead me by hand, over to the indoor balcony, where we could see the sea of our peers on the deck below. I could see our friends grouped up, off to the side, looking differing levels of inebriated. Karishma was left babysitting Zachari and Grayson, as they seem to be rough house wrestling, people surrounding were placing bets. Pastel was chatting up some intern, while Shawn and Cedric seem all too preoccupied with each other… again.
I sighed, pulling my hand free of Aemous’s grip, turning around to walk back outside, my mind going through scenarios in circles. I tried to quiet my head, maybe say a small prayer, but there seem to be too much static.
“You know my favorite lady asked about you this morning as I was getting ready for this trip.. she talks about you all the time now, ain’t that funny?” Famous asked, following behind me, I guess trying to break the ice, little did he realize he’d just chipped the tip of an iceberg.
“Are we talking about your mother or Madeleine Astor? Because Ghina’s lovely, and I wonder if she is proud of the things her son has been doing as he spies, lies, and sleeps his way to success?” I inquired in return, turning to face him sharply, causing him to flinch back.
“What? How could you know about her..” He almost looked like he wanted to lie, but he couldn’t get it out, not when I had called him out on it so directly. “Was it Shaw that told you?”
“I was in the bathroom stall the day you two were arguing, I heard everything, I know more than I ever thought I’d know. You’ve been lying to me, cozying up to me so you can spy for her, try to influence me, I see it. Tell her she can get in line, it’ll save you the trouble of this charade, looking back at that whole aviophobic episode on the plane, it was completely over dramatic, like some poorly written scene on the latest episode of ‘Young and the Restless’. To think, I used to really like you.. you were my dream guy, but I found out you were just like the rest, no better, probably no worse, but yes, Famous Aemous Chan you are status quo.”
“Wait Cydnee, I can explain.”
“Explain it to your mother, then come back and tell me what she says.” I reply, abruptly turning about face to walk off, leaving him there looking dumbfounded as I return to the bow of the ship.
Immediately I felt bad, my response to him was a cruel, lashing out and most likely a deflection for my true jealous petty feelings. It was crazy how I was surrounded by a hundred people, yet I felt so alone, I had no one I could really trust on a deeper level. All I had was me, myself, and Jesus Christ, there wasn’t a soul on Earth I could turn to.
I was starting to wonder again why I even came on this trip, was it because I secretly want to accept Belladonna Van Duyn’s outrageous offer? Did a part of of me crave money and power to that degree? Was I that susceptible to temptation? Or was it me that was the problem, not the power and position? Could I do this and still escape with my integrity intact?
I hadn’t really decided yet, a procrastination that could be beyond beneficial or lead to my destruction, only time would tell.
“Aww, who knew there were so many little teardroplets in heaven?”
It was Jynx Ellison, I hadn’t even heard him approach or that I was standing here crying, I wiped my face and gathered up in front of my boss.
“Look around you Cydnee, this is like Heaven on earth, you should be happy, you should be enjoying this moment! Don’t tell me you’re cracking under the pressure?”
“That’s an absolute negative, Mr Ellison, I assure you.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being merely human, it’s what makes you special, the rest of us that scorch this land are the damned.”
“I’ve just been going through a lot sir.. but I’m committed to all my obligatory priorities.”
“I can tell you’ve been through hell, because you carry around a familiar scent of death, the fragrance is all too familiar.. like an old friend.”
He had a far away look in his eye momentarily, but his golden emerald eyes soon focused on me, in the most dangerous of ways, almost like predator to its prey.
“Are you sure everything is entirely okay, Mr Tyson?”
“Yes, there hasn’t been any complications thus far.” I edged out in a nervous reply, wondering if I’d royally fucked up, which was a huge possibility.
“Good, stay within the fold and you’ll be fine, dear Cydnee, your performance has been more than satisfactory. There is a bright future for you, it’s blinding, such delicious potential in one soul is cosmically criminal, it leaves me ravenous to witness what you will become.”
“Thank you, I think..”
“We seem to be about to dock soon, so get yourself together and meet me in my suite before the beginning of the ball, I have a gift for you.”
“I’ll be there sir, but you don’t need to give me any gifts.”
“Just be there.” He replies, before walking off, leaving me there to ponder our encounter.
God only knows what I was up against, and at this point it felt like I was fighting my destiny, the future was coming whether I was ready or not.
I pray to be ready..