the moth and flame tales

the moth & flame tales

genre: dark romantic fantasy
style: episodic novella
An experimental take on classic narrative and story structure, this saga follows the tale of Suzie and John, the supernatural 'barmaid' and 'custodian' of New York City responsible for removing evil souls from the world in an effort to maintain cosmic balance under the vague direction of their creators, all while juggling existential crisis and a yearning for something greater.

There’s a bar in New York City called the Moth and Flame, where tired and strange souls go to die. They come to see Miss Maddening, the woman who will rip the sick and twisted lives from their bodies in a variety of sick and twisted ways.

She lets them call her Suzie.

You’ve never seen the Moth and Flame, because it’s never in the same place, and if you have, it’s gone one double take later. In that way the establishment is not unlike the human spirit, flitting from vice to vice, virtue to virtue, habit to habit; stowing those that suit it beneath its metaphysical belt and doing away with those for which it has no use. Its favorite traits are haste, clandestinity, and caprice in both appearance and location.

Last Wednesday it was a dive spot flush with grime and sticky beer stains. It sat tucked in the meandering shadow of the High Line, the old elevated rail-turned-park, until a thirsty, fanny-packed tourist from Beijing looked its way, and then he blinked, and so it donned two pool tables and a dart board and fled to the South Bronx, close to the Throggs Neck Bridge but not close enough to corner itself. The following evening it was a red door carved in the damp tunnel wall of the Battery Park Underpass, and the evening after that it shed its secretive skin in favor of the whites and blues and bright, inviting lights of a chic wintertime pop-up, glittering smack dab in the middle of Madison Square Park.

Tonight, the Moth and Flame—weary of the spotlight and the curious, scarf-wearing, tender-touching, hot-chocolate-toting couples that clogged the streets this time of year—lurks on the corner of West 61st and Riverside. The squat stone-and-cedarwood façade hunches between towering construction sites, bay windows overlooking the West Side Highway and the black water beyond. The warm orange glow of lamplight burns somewhere inside, but that’s all that is visible from the outside without stepping in—a privilege offered only to the invited.

To the tired and strange souls, come to die.

The invitation is less an envelope-in-the-mailbox sort of invitation, and more of a thought, a faint and vague suggestion of an idea that pops into the minds of those tired and strange souls every Monday, thirty seconds after dusk falls. One twilit evening, the name—the Moth and Flame—makes itself known in the minds of the tired and strange souls, and they know how to find it and when to set off like the body knows when it’s time for bed, or when a bear knows it’s time to hibernate.

The tired and strange souls flood over the threshold one per hour, so no one soul ever sees another. They come in slack-faced and flat-eyed, dragging feet, carrying the baggage of their strangeness as a load on their shoulders, which slump. Always, but not for long.

Suzie lounges in a high-backed circular booth, upholstered in supple crimson leather and nestled at the back of the Moth and Flame, which has assumed a mask of Wall Street-esque boy’s club ostentation. Rich mahogany trimmings and cherry wood furnishings gleam in the warmth of candles melted stuck to the bar and tables. Cigar smoke lends an intimate haze to the dim light, gathering in clouds along the ceiling, but there are no cigars, and none of their stench. The air smells instead of sawdust and honeysuckle, a trademark aroma that becomes stronger the closer one draws to Suzie.

There is no back door to a kitchen or staff room. There is no narrow hall flanked at its end by lavatories. There is no bartender tending bar, or doorman manning the door; there is only Suzie, cross-legged and stunning in a scarlet cocktail dress, sipping a Manhattan darker than night and stronger than sin. She is beautiful, but not in a conventional manner; more so in the way a black widow is beautiful: from afar, beheld in a potent mix of fear and awe that keeps the observer distant and quiet on their feet, as if by stepping lightly and speaking in hushed tones the spider might not see them. Afraid to look away, on the off chance it might crawl out of sight, lest they flinch at every itch, risking false-alarm heart attacks, for the rest of the day.

In a similar way her company is unconventional, too, because her company is entirely composed of corpses.