The following is an excerpt from a story that I’ve been contemplating for the past few weeks. I’d watched The Grand Budapest Hotel recently, and fell in love with its charming fairy-tale atmosphere. The story was inspired by that atmosphere, and the introduction of the villain (as presented below), was actually the first part of the story that I’d thought up. As you can see by the title, I don’t even have a name for it yet!
The story is framed as a bedtime story told by a father to his young daughter.
“They had a visitor one day. A hunched man who was neither very tall nor very short, dressed in a black overcoat and a top hat, his gray face set in a permanent frown and his wispy mustaches dancing in the breeze. He skulked through the garden, past the cheery red roses, the deep blue begonias and the sunny yellow tulips, dulling their bright colors as he moved past them. He skulked up to the front door with its ornate wolf’s head knocker, the ends of his long coat flapping around him as if he were always surrounded by a murder of crows, where – ”
“Yes, that’s what a group of crows is called, sweetheart. A murder.”
“That’s creepy. Why is it called a murder? Do they kill people?”
“Not to my knowledge, but who can say? The birds hide many secrets that are unknown to man.”
“So what happened? Who was he?”
“Hmm? Ah yes, the visitor. His name was Gaspard Michel Haricot de Grenouille, and he was not a pleasant man. Monsieur Valiant met him in the atrium.”
“Monsieur Gaspard,” the old man said, eyeing the sallow-faced visitor with disdain. “I wondered why the birds had stopped singing their sweet song and why the sky had darkened as if covered by some odious cloud.”
“Enough of your flattery, monsieur! We ‘ave busi-ness to discuss, n’est-ce pas?”
“We have no business with you, Monsieur Gaspard. I suggest you return the way you came and never look upon this house again.”
“Ah, surely you joke, Monsieur Valiant. You know pairfectly well why I am ‘ere. Ze book. Give it to me. You know it is mine.”
“That book is now property of the family Valiant. You will not see a page of it.”
“Eh bon? You theenk this will, ‘ow you say, dissuade me?”
An amber-toothed grin spread across the ghastly face of Gaspard de Grenouille, making him seem even more unpleasant. He made to march up the stairs, past the old man to the library. He had scarcely taken two steps when his body decided to change course, flying off the staircase and landing on the polished atrium floor. He lay on his back, limbs splayed and a throbbing sensation in his nose, and blinked up at the arched ceiling. He sat up to see Monsieur Valiant in front of him, looking calm and a bit bored, with one outstretched fist.
“That’s quite enough of that, Monsieur Gaspard. I need to get back to my tea.”
Gaspard picked his top hat up off the floor, dusted it, and placed it on his head. He stood up, as tall as his hunched form would allow, and addressed Monsieur Valiant in a tone so malevolent, were his voice a dagger it would surely have laid a fatal wound on the old gentleman.
“You, mon ami, ‘ave made a mistake most terrible. I will ‘ave that book, soonair or latair. I will put a stop to your goody-goody Valiant family busi-ness and I will pairsonally see to it that your grandchildren spend the rest of their lives in misery with not one penny to their names.”
“Monsieur Gaspard, you are a most vile and horrid man.”
“I thank you for that, Monsieur, but it will not sway me. I bid you adieu.”
And so, Gaspard de Grenouille turned with a quick flourish and walked out the door, fuming, and muttering under his breath. Had he paid more attention, he might have avoided the jaws of faithful Sebastian, but as it happened, Monsieur Gaspard left with half a trouser leg less than he’d entered with.
“Even your dog will not be free from your suffering!” was his last threat before retreating from the manor.