Chapter 1


by Mars Gitar

Venus, in the semi-dark of her shuttered apartment, slowly rises from the depths of an overstuffed chair and, in a trance-like state walks out of her apartment reciting poetry quietly to herself. A whispered, nervous recitation. On her way out the door she takes a lighted candelabra from a stand and with it's soft golden light, cautiously makes her way down a darkened hallway and finds her way to the top of a dark creaky stairway. She giggles with anticipated fright as she makes her way down the first squeaky-floored hallway, trailing a long, flowing negligee. She quietly makes her way past light switches and shuttered windows. Past door after apartment door, oblivious to the curious sounds that emanates from some of them.

In a large apartment somewhere in the same building Mars, undressed to his underwear, sits slack-jawed by his answering machine listening to recorded calls. The workday's never quite over for the building superintendent. Nothing on the machine that couldn't wait. Gazing at a photograph of himself, he wonders if he should masturbate now or wait until later. He shakes his head hard, dislodging the thought. He lamely fights the urge to reach for the TV remote control. He gets up and stretches. He lights a cigarette instead and stares at the world beneath his window.

Venus enters another hallway, this one slightly warm and humid, having the stale odor of cigarettes and beer. She wondered briefly about the muffled voices behind the doors lining the hallway but didn't stop to satisfy her curiosity. She was busy searching her memory for another poem. She used them as protection against the dark unknown. At a junction of passages, her flimsy burnoose catches up with her in the pool of candlelight. She didn't choose a direction, she just began walking again down one of those corridors. This time with a little more desperation in her stride.

Mars thought about leaving his room but couldn't think of a place to go. He instead opened the windows wide so that the smell of his too-long lived-in room might find it's way out. Mars scooped up strewn clothing and old newspapers as he wandered around his apartment thinking about how he might spend his off hours. Suddenly he realize he forgot to feed the dog. Mars had taken to talking to himself; from living alone too many years. By now he was having conversations with himself. Mars thought about his lack of a life. He was one of those guys who was so busy doing his job that he either didn't have time or was too tired to have a life. He didn't have any friends or family in town. He never went anywhere. Hadn't met a woman in so long, well, he didn't want to think about that. He began to trim his toenails while he pondered whether to lift weights or go buy a skin magazine. Mars had no hobby, didn't care for sports, didn't read much, I mean, the guy really had no interests. Then he remembered, he doesn't have a dog. Even his job, which he performed quite well, didn't do anything for him. It was just a job.

Venus who by now had been up and down many hallways and staircases now rounded a corner of one of the corridors and found herself in a large, unoccupied, dimly lit ballroom. Her surprise turned to wonder. As her childlike eyes gazed about the room she began to hear music. Her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face. She picked up the end of her nightgown and began to dance around the room. She waltzed and twirled around to a glorious music inside her head. She spun about the room, and her candles went out one by one, her flowing gown tracing her path. When the music suddenly stopped she was standing, a little out of breath, in front of a large portrait of Mars. Next to it Venus saw her reflection in one of the hall's many mirrors. She blushed at her thoughts. "I wonder what he's like," she said aloud.

Mars, of course, had heard of the woman in a nightgown who roamed the building carrying a candelabra but somehow he has never see her. "Long as she doesn't set off any fire or smoke alarms" Mars thought out loud. They say she's beautiful but that doesn't mean she's not crazy, he thought. Nobody has complained yet and she hasn't hurt anybody, so, where's the harm? He ran his hand across his beard. He needed a shave. He needed a shower too but couldn't think of a good enough reason to take one right this minute. Instead he went over to the entry door of his apartment and peered through the keyhole. Sometimes he would do this for hours. "I guess this proves how pathetic my life is", Mars laughed to himself. He liked the effect of looking through that fisheye lens. He'd wait hours just to watch somebody walk by through that weird lens. When somebody knocked on his door he would watch them for a minute before he opened it. He was now hoping to get a glimpse of the woman with the candelabra. Mars figured he'd better slap on some cologne.

Venus had no idea why she went on this search every night. It was as if she was sleepwalking and at some point discovered herself walking the halls. She knew only that it was important and that she must proceed with her quest. The longer it took, the more desperate she became. She no longer knew what she was looking for but she was hoping that she'd know it when she came across it. Whatever it was, whoever it was. Venus knew too that behind every peephole on every door there was somebody watching. She reasoned this because that's what she did. She, too was lonely and alienated and spent a lot of time at the peephole. She was incorrect, of course; the people behind some of those doors have lives.
Venus was now in a part of the building she had never been in before. She became aware that she was a little out of breath and that she had stopped reciting verse. She sat down to catch her breath on a window seat right across the hall from Mar's door. She felt a little silly for having carried the unlit candelabra for so long, and wondered how she was going to light it again. She recited softly to herself.

When the light goes out

There is only nothing

Is this it a beginning

Or is it . . .

The end.

Mars couldn't believe his luck. He'd only been at the peephole. for an hour and then, just when he was ready to give it up, the woman with the candelabra stops right in front of his door! He stood there wide-eyed and drop-jawed; she was beautiful. Well, pretty, at least. Mars thought she might hear his heart pounding right through the door. He watched as Venus sat on the window-seat, the unlit candelabra in one hand, fanning herself with her other hand. Her chest heaved under the sheer nightgown as she regained her breath. He wanted to put some clothes on and go out there but he couldn't tear himself away from the peephole.

The window at the window-seat where Venus sat was shuttered like all the other windows in all the other corridors. Venus felt heat radiating from the sun-warmed shutters; she felt the window with her hand. It was warm. Now she noticed a minute sliver of light through the well-sealed shutters. She gasped. She quickly put down the candelabra and threw open the window, and then the shutters. She was stunned. She had no idea it was daytime. She held up her hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight. She couldn't believe it! It was a beautiful summer day. She felt like a fool. It never occurred to her that she was to blame for not being aware of the time of day, or even what day it was. It never occurred to her that she might be losing her mind. All this time, day after day, running around in this building by candle light, and all those people watching through their peepholes. She fumed. It's a conspiracy, she thought. Slowly she turned away from the window. She arched her back and looked up and down the hallway. Then she turned to the door Mars was now standing behind and looking straight at the peephole. growled, "So, you like to watch people through your little peepholes., em? You like to watch me running around like an idiot? In my nightgown! With a candle! In the middle of the afternoon? Huh, you think that's funny?" She moved closer to the door raising the candelabra as she approached. "You make me sick!" she hissed, and slammed the base of the candelabra into door, smashing right into the peephole. Mars was watching through. She turned and ran away weeping.

Mars' nose was nearly broken by the blow to the door. Mars had been riveted to the view-hole by the sight of this beautiful woman turning into a raving banshee right before his eye. He was really spooked. It sounded as if she had been speaking directly to him. How could she have known he was looking through the peephole.? Without thinking Mars flung open the door, picked up the candelabra, and dashed after Venus. As he rounded the first corner to the right, he spotted Venus darting around the next corner. Within seconds he had caught up with her calling for her to stop. "Wait a minute. I just want to talk to you." He cried. In his haste to catch her, Mars accidentally stepped on the end of Venus' trailing nightgown. She kept on running. The gown was immediately torn right off her body. Venus shrieked and tried to cover herself with her hands. Mars picked up the nightgown and started to approach Venus. There was the sound of dozens of deadbolt locks unlocking. She and Mars both stopped dead in their tracks. Then came the sound of dozens of doorknobs unlocking. Every door in the corridor opened and the occupants leaned into the hallway. They were greeted with the sight of a naked, panicked lady, whom they had never seen before, and a man dressed only in his underpants holding a candelabra and a torn nightgown.

(to be continued.)

Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: