THE MAN NAMED LUIS • by Carl Steiger

I met the man named Luis at an extravagant party in an extravagant Tribeca loft. The host’s name doesn’t matter, but I was flattered to be invited.

Yes, I knew I was a long way from Omaha, but I quickly found the party disturbing. The music disturbed me. The people, many of whom I knew from daylight hours in the galleries, disturbed me. The entire atmosphere seemed pretentious and wrong. Alcohol was everywhere and other drugs were openly consumed. The partyers groped one another with enthusiasm. The girls, with far too much makeup and too little clothing, actually repelled me.

I should have left, but I stayed, a spectator to the bacchanalia.

I noticed Luis from across the room, and at first glance, he appeared moderate in his proclivities. Sixtyish, wearing dark slacks and a tweed jacket, he looked like nothing more than a kindly college professor. A pretty girl hung on his left arm, and a pretty boy on his right. It was the dark, shriveled thing that hung on a cord around his neck that caught my attention. I had to walk closer to confirm that his pendant was a shrunken head.

Now I had his attention as well. He kissed his companions in turn, detached them from his arms and stepped toward me.

We shook hands and introduced ourselves; he asked me about myself and my work, all the while his brilliant smile dazzled me. Pretty Girl wandered off into the crowd, but Pretty Boy hovered nearby, looking irritated. Luis lit a thin cigar while we went through the ritual small talk. I knew he was waiting for me to bring up the topic of the thing around his neck.

“I’m not even going to ask you if that’s real,” I finally said.

“Well, thank you,” Luis replied. “I really wouldn’t have been offended, but thank you.”

“I’ve only seen one once before, in a museum out in Washington State.”

“Oh well,” Luis laughed. “That would almost certainly be a counterfeit. I have a very good idea of where the genuine tsantsas are in this country, and I know of none in Washington. Even in the reputable museums, I would guess that only twenty percent of the tsantsas are genuine.”

“You sound like an authority. Tsantsa? Is that the word?”

“Yes, it’s the Shuar word. They’re the people in the western Amazon who practice head shrinking.”

“Is that where you got it, in Peru or someplace?”

“Oh, goodness, no!” he exclaimed pressing his hand to his chest. “Peru and Ecuador both outlawed the export of tsantsas back in the 1940s. And the US outlawed their import at the same time. Really, trade in the heads is banned worldwide.”

“I imagine there’s a black market,” I said. “Smuggling.”

“Well, of course there is,” Luis said, lowering his voice. “Even so, tsantsas are very, very difficult to obtain. The Japanese collectors are buying them all up.”

“God, people will collect anything.”

“That they will, that they will. Do you have any collections?”

“No, nothing. I’m more interested in creating something new.”

“Very worthy! But disappointing to me. I live in something of a museum, and I so love meeting people who can appreciate my collections.”

“Well, I’ve got to say, shrunken heads never really turned me on.”

“There’s a pity. I suppose you wouldn’t be interested in anthropodermic bookbinding, either. But really, most of my interests are not so ghoulish. I’m especially proud of a rare stamp collection.”

I was searching for an inoffensive way to say that I had no interest in stamps, but at this point Pretty Boy put his hand on Luis’s shoulder from behind and whispered something in his ear.

“David, please!” Luis snapped. “Let me talk with this young gentleman.” David backed off, glaring at me.

“Luis, this is boring,” he hissed.

Luis sighed. “I do apologize,” he said to me. “My attendants are getting restless, and I need to get them under control. Here’s my card. I hope to see you again. And if you ever do want to visit my museum, I’ll be delighted.” Luis grabbed David by the elbow and propelled him in the direction of Pretty Girl, who was now at the edge of the room having an amorous encounter with a random beatnik.

I took the opportunity to make for the door. Outside in the rain, waiting to hail a cab, I crumpled Luis’ card and dropped it in the street.

It had been a truly unsettling evening. Could I have possibly been so foolish as to risk repeating the experience? Oh yes, and I did. Two months after that encounter, I saw Luis once more, again from across the room at another decadent party. The same pretty girl adorned his left arm. The pretty boy on his right arm was someone new.

The shrunken head hanging from Luis’ neck was also different from the one I had seen before, but I recognized it, or I thought I did. I wasn’t going to get close enough to make sure.

I left without speaking a word.

Tomorrow I’ll be returning home, to Omaha.

Carl Steiger is a career bureaucrat and an aspiring Bond Villain.

Rate this story:
 average 4 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Lavender

    Good story! I was only disappointed that it wasn’t longer.

  • Lavender

    By the way I couldn’t rate it as the GD star rating wasn’t loading

  • I believe Mr. Steiger will make an excellent Bond villain.

    Great story. I hope the MC makes it back to Omaha safely.

    I couldn’t rate either, but I’ll give it a five when the stars decide to show up.

  • A quietly chilling story, perfect as flash. 5 stars from as well when the rating widget loads. Looking forward to Carl’s next piece!

  • Good story! I was worried for a while when I thought he was going to agree to see that guy’s museum. Loved the ending! I couldn’t rate either. I had the same problem yesterday but I would have given four stars.

  • Reminded me of a Poe story.

    For some reason I assumed the MC was a young lady until he was referred to as a ‘gentleman’ in the 24th paragraph.

    Anyhow, a great, chilling tale – er, and I can’t star-rate it either.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’ve read reader comments on some other first-person tales to the effect that it wasn’t clear what the MC’s gender was, so I tried to drop a hint in the second paragraph (by his assessment of the party girls) that this MC was male. It may not have been enough.

    Curse that malfunctioning star-thingie…

  • Trollopian

    An excellent, creepy, disturbing read. (And I immediately picked up on the narrator’s gender.) My only quibble was whether two months are really enough to shrink a human head, but the author-cum-aspiring villain may not want to make us even more uneasy by answering that question.

    Four stars, if only the rating option would load.

  • Kathy

    Creepy? Yes. Disturbing? Yes! Liked the story and thought it well written. Since the Star rating is not working yet, I will post 5 stars here (a rating I seldom give!) The hint (regarding the MC’s gender)in the second paragraph worked for me.

  • joannab.

    great job. i rate it a 5, too. very scary. and excellent, plot-advancing dialogue.

  • Lynn Nicholas

    Intelligent, well-written story with a New Yorker feel to it. It’s a get-under-you-skin kind of story. Quietly disturbing. Creeps up on you. Really excellent.

    Star rating isn’t loading. Will revisit later.

  • Apologies for the problems with the star rating system today. It looks like our webmaster has now managed to fix the problem, so please go ahead and give this story some stars. Thank you for your patience.

  • Lavender

    It took me a good few half-a-sleep seconds to realise ‘duh’ read this yesterday. Read it again though, still thought it was a corking tale and gave it 5 stars.

  • Avalina

    I’m so impressed with this story. The weirdest thing is not being able to rate it, which has made us all yearn TO rate it! Never before has it been so important to give a writer five stars.

    Here you are…

    * * * * *

    has your shrunken head story had some effect on this plane of existence? You bet!

  • Excellent story – great voice, and very creepy!

  • Excellent work. I enjoyed this as well as being given the creeps by it. I like the way it is written and the way the horrific implications grow.

  • Nick

    Great stuff – a well-merited 5*. I’ve always loved the portrayal of Lucifer as urbane, educated, refined and thoroughly sensual.

  • Trollopian

    Now that the rating option is up…I see that yesterday I proposed to give this chilling, macabre story four stars. Why? It’s absolutely faultless. Make that five. Bravo, Carl!

    This story is faintly reminiscent of a Lord Peter Wimsey story by Dorothy Sayers, “The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers.” Read it for a good shudder.

  • Sarah Russell

    Great way to start my morning. Grapefruit juice and shrunken heads. Be still my heart!

    Unfortunately, I can’t do the 5 star thing either, NOR can I seem to connect to submit a story. Admin, we need you!!

  • Excellent dialogue. David was a little twit-he had it coming.

  • Richard Pasky

    Like sex in the city, with evil for a hobby. Loved it, impressed by the number of comments. Write on, Carl!

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Carl, your gift is to infuse the heart’s blood of enuine human feeling in even your creepiest story. Five stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar


  • A couple of days late in catching up with EDF stories, but am sooooooo glad I caught this one. Haven’t commented in some time, but this one is a MUST! Absolutely top-shelf flash fiction from start to finish. Mr. Steiger has done it in spades. Can you give six stars? Too bad…here’s my five though *****

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  • Tremendous story. Great prose, great tension, a killer ending (so to speak). Nice work.

  • Ed Kratz

    Excellent story. Perfectly chilling. Everything was fixed so I gave it five stars. I keep a spreadsheet of stories I’ve liked and the author so I’ll remember. Carl, you’re on my list now.
    Hopefully there are more stories out there or forthcoming.


  • Samantha

    Although not my favourite genre, great story!

  • Samantha

    Although not my favourite genre, great story!