Let me first tell you about the legendary Bacchantes of ancient Greek mythology. They were nymphs or even mortal women thought to be possessed. As they gathered in moonlit groves, they indulged in drinking and having sex, turning wild and murdering men, tearing the flesh off their limbs and eating it.
A story of blood and madness.
Elizabeth Carlson was almost fifteen when the first change came. It wasn’t a physical thing, like her first menstruation or her tiny boobs itching to grow, but it wasn’t just mental either, was it? It was, well, there, like when you blink and suddenly everything is ... different. She felt the same, but at the same time ... like someone else. In the mirror she looked the unchanged, all her memories were there. So, what changed and why, and was it normal? Did every girl feel it? Was it another one of these puberty things?
After the chill and the shivers passed, Liz shrugged. When you’re fifteen, changes are the rule, aren’t they? So, she cranked up the volume of her headset and drowned her fears in the crazy thumping she and her friends called music.
When her mother died, Lilian Morley was 26, feeling 87. As there wasn’t a father to track down and there never had been siblings, the entire estate fell to her. Estate might be too big a word, as all that was left, after paying her mother’s medical bills and cremation, were a few decrepit pieces of furniture, clothing and shoes. She sold them to a thrift shop, or rather: gave them away, except for a few rings and modest jewelry. All that was finally left, was an ancient wooden trunk she hadn’t opened until now, the day after the ceremony.
There hadn’t been many people at the funeral, and half of them didn’t stay for the reception. Her mother had never been a very sociable person, not as far as Lilian recalled anyway. She was sad and moody, never allowing her daughter to invite people or play at other children’s houses. When she finally left for college, it was as if the sun broke through, but even then, it would be hard for her to shake off the gloomy feelings of guilt her mother kept heaping upon her; guilt for simply being happy.
In the trunk, she found pictures of a very different version of her mother, young and all done up in the eighties’ fashion of shoulder pads and dyed-blond curls, short, colorful dresses, disco, ABBA. There was dancing and drinking, smoking and kissing boys, many boys, with long-pointed shirt collars, tight, flaring pants and hair like David Bowie.
Her mother had never told her about her life before she became her mother. Lilian finally understood where the guilt came from. She obviously had been the cause of a dramatic change in her mother’s life and expectations. She’d never talked about it directly, but it hurt to see the difference between the carefree, energetic party girl in the pictures and the drab, disheveled mother she remembered.
Studying the boys and the men in the snapshots, Lilian wondered if one of them was the father that had so callously left her mother while being pregnant with his child, and if so, which one? It is always hard to find your own traits in the face of others, strangers are much better at that. But there was one guy who seemed to have her eyes and another who had the same pale blondness in his hair. Lilian shrugged and returned the photos to the small box in which she’d found them.
There also were ancient family albums in the trunk, full of pictures of long-deceased men in tall hats and thick waist coats, and women in pitifully cruel corsets, even when they were playing croquet or whatever on sunny lawns. On the first page of some of the albums she read dates going back to the eighteen-hundreds. Whoever might be on the photographs must have grandchildren that were already dead. Why had her mother kept the pictures? She never mentioned any of them. Lilian decided to throw them all away. That was when one picture slipped out and fell to the floor.
The girl on it was young, maybe fourteen, fifteen, and she wore a white, frilly summer dress. Its skirt went down almost to her ankles that were wrapped in white, heeled boots. Everything looked pale about her, her skin, her eyes and even her hair, hanging loose in a riot of curls. She stood on a lawn; at her back was a large house with a zillion windows, little towers and turrets and stone steps that led up to a terrace. The girl didn’t smile, she didn’t frown either. She seemed struck by panic; her eyebrows arched, her eyes were wide-open, and her mouth shouted a deathly terror at the viewer.
Lilian flipped the photograph over to see if there was anything written on the back. She found a year, 1883, penned down in bleached brown ink, and a name that sent a chill down her back. “Elizabeth-Ann Morley,” it said. Lilian Morley had always hated her full name, changing it to Lilian when she was six and insisting to be called that. Was the girl family, maybe her, what, great grand aunt, or even grandmother? If so, why hadn’t she ever heard of her? Her mother never explained why she chose the name. “From some novel,” she’d said when she asked.
Lilian flipped the picture over again. She must have been wrong, the girl smiled now; there was no trace left of her panic. Her face intrigued Lilian. It couldn’t be, but she’d seen this girl, hadn’t she? Much older, but obviously her; and it had been not long ago either. Yesterday, at the funeral a tall woman had lingered in the back, her face pale, her eyes clear, her hair just as ashen blond as the girl’s. She’d disappeared before the ceremony ended.
Turning the picture over again, she saw there was hardly a trace left of the name and the date.
Elizabeth Carlson’s second change came two years later. Again, it was late autumn, the time of year when days are dark and short, and the wind disturbs your hair and your thoughts. By then, Liz hardly recalled her first change; it seemed to have worn off – sort of. Maybe it had melted into other changes, like how the look in boys’ eyes had turned from something she’d loathed into something touching her belly, and below.
The second change wasn’t at all like the first. This time there was no subtle shift of perspective, or sweet tingling of the skin. It was an icy breeze passing through her body, leaving her cold and shivering all over, as if touched by a polar wind. Her fingertips turned white and numb, her lips blue over chattering teeth. Then the chill passed, and warmth seeped back in, sending prickly needles to her toes and fingers.
No one was around when the change happened; she was alone in her bedroom. So, after the shaking stopped and the pain dissolved, she could easily pretend that nothing had happened, really, and that everything had turned back to normal. When you’re seventeen and things as strange as this happen to you, you keep them a secret. You just want to be normal, don’t you? There’s no need letting others know that you’re a freak.
Over the following winter, Liz convinced herself that it was just her own imagination when she registered changes in other people’s eyes: her mother’s, her friends’ and her teachers’. Boys stared at her and kept doing so even when she noticed and frowned. It made her feel freakish, awkward and insecure. She started reading about puberty and decided that most of what she read confirmed her new experiences. So, when spring came, Liz found ways to ignore what had happened to her. Summer is not a time for teenage introspection, if ever there is a time for that. So, when the autumn storms yet again tugged at the fading leaves, Liz had all but forgotten whatever might have happened.
Then the nightmares started.
Sitting at the first balcony row of the town’s Opera, Ethan McAllister wondered why he was there at all. The woman on the stage was at least twenty years too old and fifty pounds too heavy for the role she played. And it would have helped if they’d at least checked if she could sing before giving her the part of Madama Butterfly. Then again, he hated opera anyway, didn’t he? Opera, ballet, classical music, the only reason he was here was because of the woman next to him. She was old and fat too, but she happened to be the chairperson of his biggest client. She was visiting for the yearly meeting that decided on the budget his agency would handle the next three years. So, it had been a great idea of Annabeth, his PA, to make this reservation. He remembered the wonderful surprise in the woman’s eyes when he presented her with a ticket. Shit, he shouldn’t forget to buy Annabeth a bunch of flowers or whatever. Then, maybe ... He shifted in his chair, easing the tightening of his pants’ crotch.
Letting his eyes wander as he mentally closed his ears, Fate crossed his path. Of course, he didn’t know that it was Fate yet, but he would soon enough. Fate was a woman who sat in a private box left of Ethan, just a bit lower. She drew his attention at first because she fanned her face with her program; then it was the face itself that drew the attention and never let go. It was impossible to guess her age, it could be thirty as well as fifty. Even at this distance, she was blindingly beautiful.
Ashen-blond she was, her hair done up, loose curls framing her pale face that balanced on a swanlike neck and delicate shoulders. In classical times her face might have launched quite a few ships. And, as far as he could see, the rest of the fleet would have followed suit for her tits in the low-cut dress ... what was this big ship’s name? Titanic?
There were people around her, but she didn’t seem part of them. She just looked at the stage, her pink lips pouting in her translucent face. Suddenly, her eyes looked up, a bright-blue gaze boring into his. Fuck, he felt busted, caught out like a schoolboy, fingers in candy jars, pants down, whatever they call it. Then she smiled. It was obvious that the smile was for him, but her eyebrows kept frowning. The effect was sardonic, an angel looking devilish. The smile went straight to his groin, and he realized his cock was struggling against his zipper. He tore his gaze away and moved his paper program to cover his bulge.
The singer reached her last note, barely. To his amazement, people rose and applauded, crying “Brava.” The soprano bent to accept the applause, careful not to let her blubbery tits fall out of her costume. ‘Intermission’ the program said, and Ethan realized he had to rise and walk his client to the foyer. Of course, he chatted with her after getting her a glass of sparkling wine, but his eyes were everywhere except where they should be. Roaming the room, he wondered where the blond woman with the pale-blue eyes had gone. After five minutes of searching, he wondered why not finding her felt like ... loss?
Intermission over, Ethan and his guest returned to their places, and the first thing he did was check on the woman. He saw her chair was empty and it stayed empty after the singers resumed their torture. It took Ethan McAllister a while to realize what the trickling sensation on his cheeks was caused by.
When she was still small, Elizabeth Carlson had lived through a period of fevers, caused by an illness that seemed to be so rare that doctors didn’t have a name for it, let alone a cure. She’d have ‘to grow out of it’ they said with the bravado of men who really had no idea. She must have grown out of them, though. The fevers stopped occurring, as did the relentless dreams that went with them, nightmares that made her wake up screaming and sweating, but never left a memory.
The next autumn, when Liz turned eighteen, the screaming and the sweating returned, as did the nightmares, but now she remembered them well after waking up. There was always an ancient mansion in them, with a lawn in front of it. She realized she was naked, a warm summer’s breeze caressing her skin. Lying down, hearing the humming of insects, she felt the grass tickle her belly. She rose to her knees, looking around. The air shimmered with heat, a hot sun bleaching all color out of everything, the grass, the trees, the house. Then, all of a sudden, a shadow fell over her and a blinding pain tore at her skull. Reaching up she felt a hand clawing her hair, pulling her forward, her knees sliding over the grass. She cried out in soundless terror. “Elizzzabethth...” a woman’s voice wailed, and she woke up, bathing in sweat.
Every night, the same dream opened its jaw the very moment Liz closed her eyes, and after a while its cruel fingers stretched forward into her evenings, even her afternoons. She went to bed later and later, and when she did, she lay awake, just to ward off the moment. She kept surfing the ‘Net until her eyes watered. She cranked up the volume of her headset, but exhaustion slowly sapped her resistance. And then, when her tired eyes closed, the bleak sun cast its rays on her.
The dream was like on old, bleached video tape, always stopping at the same spot where the claw tore at her skull’s skin. She wanted to see, needed to know, but her knees slid over the pale grass into darkness. “Elizzzabethth...” the disembodied voice wailed before she woke up again and again, drenched in sweat, feeling dirty and deeply tired.
Of course, she should have told her mother when she asked if she was well, looking pale as a ghost, hardly eating her cereals. But she avoided the searching eyes, collected her school things and left in a hurry. Her mother was sweet. Liz knew she cared, but right now it was easier to accuse her of prying. And, within her chaotic teenage mind, it was better to give in to her short-term panic than seek for help. Her mother, of course, thought otherwise.
The therapist was a pale, tallish woman. Her ash-blond hair had been tightly pulled-back, clearing her white face and huge eyes. They were a very light blue, but there was nothing sweet or innocent in them as they stared steadily at her. Not even her smile could soften their icy brilliance.
“So, you have these ... nightmares,” the woman said, her voice breezy as a sigh. Liz watched the nails on the woman’s fingers as they lay entwined in her lap; they were perfectly manicured nails, but weren’t they quite long for a doctor’s? Was there a rule for the length of a doctor’s nails? She nodded in answer to the woman’s question.
“And they repeat themselves every night?” Liz nodded again. Her mother had sent her to their family doctor, the one who had predicted she’d grow out of her fever dreams. He had listened to her story, or rather, the part she told him. And now she was here with this pale woman, not a shrink, a psychologist, whatever the difference.
“Elizabeth,” the woman said, and Liz felt a cold fingertip touch her backbone, making her shiver.
“Liz is fine,” she said, through the tremors of her lips.
Introspection had never been Ethan McAllister’s strong suit. Life happened, and he was at its center as a matter of course, right at the crossroads where opportunities passed, each one labeled with his name. Money opportunities were there, career opportunities, and women, of course.
He’d loved every girlfriend he had; he told them so. But that didn’t mean he ever felt the need to stop one liaison before starting another. Just like the love for his ex-wife had never kept him from fucking others, the last one in front of her. Life was easy: it offered, and he took. Then the opera happened, the pale woman, the fucking tears, the inexplicable hole she’d left at the center of his being where there had never been room for anything but the warm security of his fat, comfortable self.
The nightmares started. An old house grew around him before he even noticed entering. It was hardly a house at all, just a huge, dark carcass enclosing him with creaks and whispers. A draft seemed to chill his skin as a swampy smell choked him with its sticky breath.
He was only a set of eyes roaming marble corridors, dodging cobwebs and shadows, and the flapping wings of what looked like huge black, torn-up umbrellas. There were doors everywhere, opening and closing, and wooden flights of stairs that creaked and sighed. Through broken windows and holes in the ancient roof he saw clouds against the night’s sky, chased by a storm that rattled the blinds. A fat, bluish moon sailed between them. His invisible legs seemed to know where to go; up the curvy staircase, through the dark corridor to the one, distant door.
Then there was a pale flash in the corner of his eyes, a ... shadow, maybe, rushing past dark corners, soundless, disembodied. He heard his heart beat, feeling hot blood pounding in his temples. He ought to be scared, but somehow there was this thin membrane between him and fear, between him and this ... presence he felt around him. A person, maybe, or was it just a voice, a breath?
“Eeethan... , “ a voice said and he woke.
From that night on, the dream returned the moment he fell asleep, the same house, the stairs, the distant door ... and each time it dissolved as soon as the ghostlike voice uttered his name. After a while, it became almost familiar by its repetition, but the strange, distant fear never abated. It was always there, like the fleeing pale shadow, seen but not seen, the apparition in the corner of his eyes. He tried to follow, but he never reached the distant door.
A nightmare alone can be a source of unspeakable terror. But the real horror is knowing for certain the dream will wait for you every night. For Ethan, it started the moment he turned on his side to find sleep, like he’d always done, pulling the blanket over his shoulder and nuzzling his face into the warmth of his soft pillow. What had been a place and a moment of ultimate safety, became a door opening into a pit of yawning fear that repeated itself each night, as did the voice. “Eeeethannn...”
It couldn’t be true, but Elizabeth Carlson knew she’d met the therapist before. Or, let’s say, she felt she had memories of the woman, at least of her voice. It was a memory as flimsy as déjà-vu, or let’s say, it was an echo of a memory. Right now, it was hard to focus anyway; the woman’s eyes were in the way, pale and huge. They seemed to grow until their edges got fuzzy and their sapphire brilliance swallowed her.
“Elizzzabeth...” After Liz had lain down on the sofa, the therapist’s voice was smoothing out her worries. “Please, relax,” it went on. “You know me, don’t you? You’re safe with me, remember? Safe...” The voice stirred a cocktail of conflicting emotions in Liz’s mind. It was soft and sweet yet brought back terrifying sensations of her nightmare. At the same time, it infused her raw panic with a soothing balm, making her feel as if velvet fingers massaged her screaming core until it went all soft and gooey. Her scared shivers became tremors of ... well-being, even lust – sweet, sick, horrible lust.
Liz stretched her body, feeling it uncoil. She sighed. The voice was right, of course: she was safe, happy. The air on her skin was warm. It buoyed her, making her depart from the clumsy density of her flesh. But this wasn’t a dream, was it? Even though she found herself at the house again, on the lawn again, it felt different; there was no fear.
It was a sunny day, like in the dream, but she was laughing and running, surrounded by spring air and the rustling of fresh, white summer cotton. Voices swirled around her, girls’ voices, high and excited like twittering birds. One of the voices was hers, she knew, the other belonged to a girl dancing around her, as bright and pale as she, younger even and free. There seemed to be no worry in the world.
A face bobbed in front of her, bright like the therapist’s, but much younger and flush with the rushing blood of excitement. “Come!” the girl said, the word flowing from rose-petal lips, a sweet breath touching her face. “Let’s do it again!”
Elizabeth had never met this blushing girl, leave alone that she ever ‘did’ anything with her. And yet she knew exactly what the girl meant. That knowledge spread a warm arousal in her, with the same pulse and rush as the blush she saw in the girl’s face. There was no sudden shadow, no claw, no pain. Hot fingers took hers and she floated over the grass, past flower beds and shrubs to a place of cool green shadows, a copula of leaves, dappled with sparks of sunlight.
The forest floor beneath it was soft and yielding with a layer of last year’s autumn leaves, breathing an earthy fragrance. Busy fingers unbuttoned her ruffled gown just like her own fingers were fumbling with the girl’s dress, knowingly, purposefully. ‘Let’s do it again,’ oh yes, now she remembered, didn’t she? She didn’t, really, yet she did. Her fingers roamed an expanse of pale hot flesh as if they knew. Her lips met with the rose petals, finding them thick and soft and moist. Her entire world became a kaleidoscope of swirling fingers, lips, skin, breasts and shoulders, bellies, knees and lips again, until it was all just a roiling ball of pink cotton candy, pulsing with sighs and moans and birdlike twittering.
The night after Lilian Morley found the picture of Elizabeth-Ann Morley, she lay awake. That wasn’t unusual. With her mother’s demands and all her other frustrations, she’d been a poor sleeper for months. It might explain the tired look she usually found in her mirror when she prepared for another day at City Hall. She did the town’s P.R. there, or rather, she did most of the work for a man who got most of the money for it. Through a mutual acquaintance he had offered her the job when she needed the money after breaking off college to nurse her mother. There were hardly any jobs in her small crappy town, except as a cashier at the supermarket, maybe, or a toilet cleaner at the local motel. All she had was high school and a year in college. The man had smiled as he told her he couldn’t offer more than minimum wages; now, a year later, her workload had doubled, but her income had hardly increased.
The man was a creep with wandering eyes, always moving stealthily around the office, when he was in at all, making skin-crawling remarks, covering her desk with files before leaving for lunch at eleven a.m. and returning around three, reeking of alcohol – if he returned at all. She always felt dirty after seeing him, although he never touched her or right-out harassed her. This morning, though, two days after her mother’s cremation, he’d called her over to his office, closing the door behind her. He sat down at his desk and watched her as she stood waiting, his fat lips pouting under his gray, motley moustache.
“I hear your mother died,” he said. “My belated condolences, I’m sorry I couldn’t be at the funeral.” She just stared at him. He’d been on one of his numerous ‘vacations.’ “You see,” he went on, “your mother and I go way back, did she ever tell you? Same schools and all. Not that she gave me the light of day; I guess she was too po-pu-lar for that.” He stretched the word sarcastically. “She was a real little cock tease back then, you know,” he proceeded, “a little whore who did it with all the jocks. No wonder she never knew who knocked her up.” Lilian felt a flash of rage choke her.
“I ... I don’t think,” she began, but he came from behind his desk and towered over her, grabbing her shoulders.
“Elizabeth Morley,” he hissed, his stale breath hitting her. “That is very wise of you. Don’t think. Now get back to your dreary little office and try not to make another mess of your stupid job!”
Lying in bed, Lilian’s head was a bitter cocktail of hate and despair, rage and helplessness. She knew she should never accept what he did and said. She should quit, find something else, why didn’t she? But she had no money to move and start elsewhere and no means to go back to college. She hated being a victim of the potbellied bully, reproaching herself for the way she’d let it happen to her. She should have gone to HR and complained, but she remembered a girl from administration who’d told her she would, and she’d lost her job a week later.
Usually, as she lay awake like this, she would, after a crescendo string of ‘fuck its’ and ‘damn asshole,’ get up to find a bottle of cheap white wine. It usually helped her slide into a sleeplike unconsciousness that gave her a hangover in the morning, but never the wholesome energy of sleep. This night was different, though. She lay awake, didn’t she? But was she awake? Then how could she feel this sweet, balmy breeze and hear the humming of insects? Is it possible to slide from one kind of awareness into another and leave your sleeping body behind, wrapped in sheets, your weak mouth drooling on your pillow?
Lilian knew the world she stepped into, the dazzling sunlight, the soft sepia-colored grass under her bare feet, a long white dress swirling around her legs. Towering over her was a house with turrets and many windows, the mansion of the ancient photograph. On the lawn lay two croquet hammers, thrown away beside a wooden ball. From two of the windows hung bed ware, a sheet flapping in the breeze. Nobody was around but the birds and the distant, cotton clouds in a bleached-out sky. And yet, there were ... presences. Persons maybe, voices, or was it just the wind, sighing “Lilllliannn... ?” No, it was a voice, and it pulled at her.
Her bare feet slid through the pale grass, forcing her in a direction, while ignoring the pounding of her heart or the hot rush of her blood. There was a small grove behind the house, darker brown against the washed-out sepia. In its sun-spangled shadows something moved, a body on a bed of discarded clothes. Coming closer, she saw a naked girl kneeling over another naked girl lying still under her. Huge pale eyes watched Lilian out of a colorless face. She knew those eyes, that face, as it morphed from a smile into sheer panic, her traits distorted, her mouth wide open as she screamed in mute terror.
The intern’s eyes went wide as her small fists struck his chest. Pushing her against the copier, his free hand groped her tits, small but firm, their nipples hard. ‘See?’ he thought, ‘she wants it. They all scream and protest, you know, but they love it, they love my cock, the fucking teases.’ He forced his knee between her thighs, pushing up her short, slutty skirt as he tore his zipper down. When his raging cock slid past her thong into her tight cunt it quickened her sobs into panting gasps. He closed her mouth with his hand and pushed.
Ethan McAllister had an urge. He’d always had it, ever since he turned fourteen. It was a hunger, an always present need. And it wasn’t something that happened once in a while as it does with most of us, it was pretty much always there, clouding his mind, not even needing an outside stimulus. It was a craving that might start in his lower belly, spreading quickly throughout his whole body, settling as a nervous drive in his blood, a drive to have a woman and fuck her. Any woman.
It would help if she was young and pretty, specifically where her chest and legs were concerned, but when the urge got enough time to gnaw and fret and develop, any female hole was good enough – willing or not. Ethan had been known to harass women, using his power over them and his money to make them comply. If they didn’t, he just forced them, and the fact that none of them had gone to the police didn’t mean it wasn’t rape. Then the woman at the Opera happened, and the nightmares started, robbing him of sleep and sapping his energy.
Terror is one thing, horror is quite a different emotion. Oh, sure, your heart races like crazy and the little hairs bristle in your neck; there is this bitter taste in the pit of your stomach, and your breath sticks in your dry throat. Horror paralyzes, just like fear and panic do, but while it overwhelms you, it seduces you, seeping in, penetrating each pore, each cell, eating away at your soul. Then it starts molding you, morphing alien fear into something that is part of you, something addicting, almost familiar. You’re terrified, but you can’t look away, can you? You can’t keep it out, and in the end, even while you know it is insane, you start welcoming it.
If things hadn’t been so awful, Ethan might have seen the irony of it all: the rapist raped, because, yes, horror rapes you, swallowing your resistance until all that remains is ugly, perverted lust. Ethan woke up from his nightmares sporting an erection, his sheets sticky with the messy emissions of his unconscious body.
Under the copula of leaves, Elizabeth Carlson felt her naked body melt into the pale girls’ embrace. Fingers touched her in all the intimate places she’d discovered and explored on her own since the changes hit her. These fingers, though, were not her own, and they were expert. They made her arch and stretch while her mouth gasped; her moans were muffled by a long, sinuous tongue. A sickly-sweet perfume clouded her mind as her body opened, expanding beyond possibility until she herself was a cloud, caught in a cage of multiplying tentacles. A dozen hands, it seemed, pulled at her chest and belly and thighs as if plucking her feathery flesh off her melting bones. Another dozen lips and tongues and mouths sucked at her openings and her nipples and the dent of her navel, draining her. Sweet weakness soaked her as the darkness under the copula increased. She would disappear, wouldn’t she, sucked into emptiness? Did she mind?
Then she felt another presence. A tall shadow blocked the blazing sun, blowing an icy breeze on her skin. Liz woke, laying on the therapist’s sofa. Her head rang with the echo of a soundless scream.
“Go home, Ethan, you look like a ghost.” Annabeth Flynn smiled as she told him, but her eyebrows knitted in a frown. She was right, he knew. He must look wretched, he felt wretched. Looking over at his personal assistant he saw her face surrounded by a pulsing halo, her features blurred as if seen through a screen of Vaseline. Oh God, he needed to fuck her. Even as weak as he felt, his cock burned, throbbing in his pants and sucking up ever more energy. Struggling through the mist that surrounded him, he knew he could never follow up. It had been like this all day, all week, really. Aroused by every set of eyes, sway of tits, swishing of legs, clicking of heels, he’d choked with frustration. Was it the lack of sleep or was it the sickly-sweet horror of his dreams draining his energy and making his vision blur?
Leaning back in his leather designers’ chair, watching the woman, a thought crept through the mist that covered his mind. He couldn’t catch it. It was something about Annabeth this week, these days. She was a stunning redhead with green eyes and a freckled skin. He remembered how she first stepped into his office. Her legs, her chest, her easy smile, the way she moved had thrown relentless coals on the fire of his urges. But it hadn’t fanned his virility like it always did; it had confused him, making him stutter and stumble like a schoolboy. It had taken him minutes to fight back, finding his usual blustering self again. Was that when it began?
He’d known she had the job the moment she entered. He had to have her and of course, he would have her, don’t be silly. After fighting his way back through his sudden weakness, he started flirting, dishing up every corny line in the book, offering to take her out to lunch, dinner, theatre, making creepy compliments and stepping up to sheer harassment. She just kept smiling, he remembered, like a mother smiles at a naughty child, shaking her head. She blatantly teased his naked ache, striking him with blind jealousy whenever she was friendly with colleagues or clients. And yet, he’d never touched her. Why couldn’t he just grab her like he’d done with other teasing sluts? What was happening?
Now, as he stared out of red-rimmed eyes, she looked different. He saw ashen-blond hair on her, bleaching out the red. Her skin turned pale and waxen, her eyes into sapphires. The woman he saw was the woman at the Opera. Blinking, the apparition dissolved into a Vaseline halo, just to return, the eyes growing, pink petal lips smiling with irony, teasing, mocking. Blink, change, blink, red, blink, ashen. Green, sapphire, blink, blink. His body burned, the urge spread, but he was paralyzed, feeling everything and nothing. Like he’d felt everything and nothing this morning, as a busty blonde had stepped into the elevator, smiling her teasing smile. Or when that new young intern with the generous Latin ass had bent down to pick something up as he passed her cubicle. He’d felt everything and nothing, swaying with exhaustion. What the fuck was going on? He was a roaring furnace, consumed by its own burning.
So, Ethan nodded, gathered his things and went over to the elevator, walking like an old man, his shoulders lost in his once tailor-perfect jacket.
Lilian Morley called in sick. After waking up from the exhausting dream and realizing that her day would be even more of a nightmare, she’d found her phone, her fingers searching through a forest of cobwebs and shadows still lingering from her dream. Her voice had been convincingly raw, and after she broke off the connection, she sank into a quagmire of unconsciousness that kept her out for hours.
When she finally woke up around noon, she felt weak, but it wasn’t from hunger; she felt no appetite at all, just a drained, empty feeling. She took a very hot shower and watched her naked body in the steamed-up mirror. She looked pale, almost translucent, seeing prominent cheek bones under large eyes, sunken cheeks, the sharp edge of her collarbones and the shadows of her ribs. Her breasts seemed pointier, her nipples darker. Her fingertip trembled as she drew an outline in the mirror’s moisture, making water run down like tears.
Donning her bathrobe, she tried to drink some tea, sipping it reluctantly. Maybe she should call a doctor, but even the mere thought tired her. Before finishing her cup, she must have nodded off again, sitting in her chair. When she shook awake, evening darkened her windows. She should feel better after all this extra sleep, but she didn’t. Why wasn’t she hungry? A new cup of tea was cold before she’d emptied it. Then her phone rang.
There seemed to be nobody at the other end, just a rustling sound, like leaves in a wind. Then a woman’s voice said her name, almost in a whisper. She knew the voice, of course, although there was no name, but it conjured up a dark house, a bleached lawn, a white sky.
“We should meet, Lilian,” the woman said. “I need you to meet me and my ... friends.” There was a slight hesitation before the ‘friends’ and a small chuckle after. There were faces in her mind as the woman said ‘friends’ or rather, presences. One was of a girl, a naked girl, lying still. Leaves rustled louder.
“See you tonight,” the woman said, right before the connection ended.
On the day of her job interview, two weeks ago, Anna-Elizabeth Flynn knew she hated the man the moment she entered his office. Cheap greed was written all over his face, adding a rancid layer to its obvious handsomeness. She knew faces like that, she’d been married to one.
Having fled from her adulterous and abusive husband, too hurt to even think about a clever divorce, any chance of a job was essential to her, and this one was prestigious and well-paying. The pale, blond woman at the agency had been adamant that she’d go at once. It would be a healthy career move, so, even while feeling his eyes undressing every part of her body, she swallowed her disgust and smiled. Then the change hit her. Not that it felt like a change, there and then, more like an adjustment of her eyes. It was like when you stare into a children’s kaleidoscope and turn it, watching your vision shift into fragments that slowly slide into a new reality. Or, rather, an illusion of reality. It may have taken seconds, but when it was over, the man in front of her had changed too. To Annabeth he looked pitiful now, a puppet of his own disgusting needs. Like her husband, she mused, like her father.
Annabeth had always been a shy girl, in high school, at college, where she fell for a guy she considered self-confident, Stephen Moore, her future husband. His cocky self-assuredness was a character trait she admired, probably because it made him like her father. More probably, because self-confidence was the one thing she lacked. They married when she turned 21. It gave her a new status that she thought worked wonders on her self-esteem. But at the man’s office, after feeling the change, she knew it had only been a veneer compared to what she felt now, looking at the awful man she’d be turning into her new boss-puppet.
Smiling her brand-new mocking smile, she sat down, folding legs she now knew were as much of a weapon as the tits she pushed into her silk blouse, or the green eyes that looked at him from under perfectly trimmed eyebrows. She’d hardly answered his questions, he’d hardly asked questions that needed answering. Five minutes later, she had the job. And him.
That same night, she had a dream (or was it?). It made her slip into the sweet confusion of her first sexual experience with a woman, a woman whose face she never saw. A sun-speckled grotto of leaves arched over her as her bare back rested on a bed of fragrant leaves. Closing her eyes, she felt two hands spreading her legs, hair tickling the skin of her inner thighs. Then a wet, darting tongue hit her like a bolt of electricity.
For Annabeth sex had hardly ever been a tender thing. Her own fingers had been there, of course, but never a tongue, let alone a woman’s tongue, let alone a very experienced woman’s tongue. This wasn’t a dream, was it? But it surely couldn’t be reality; it was so infinitely more, making her come and come in a train of spastic climaxes forcing her body into the cramps of impossible arches.
“Anna ... Beththth,” a voice lisped, and she woke up, her body shivering as a sparkling film of sweat evaporated.
The next morning, she walked into her new boss’s office, carrying two mugs of steaming coffee. Her hips swayed in a new, leather pencil skirt, her calves flexed as she walked on five-inch heels. How could she feel comfortable wearing a low-cut blouse, acting like the cliché of a porn-secretary? Then again, why did she even wonder? Sitting down on the edge of his desk, she leaned forward, boring her green eyes into his as her lips curled into a sardonic smile.