SHE HAD BEEN AGELESS but now she was young. She had been formless but now she was beautiful. She had been banished first and then she was stranded. They had cut her off from her power and set her adrift among the worlds, condemned to an eternal life of silence and isolation and impotence. And they had intended that to be forever but they had underestimated her.
Of course they had. They always had.
With the little strength she’d had left, she had latched onto the nearest planet with a glimmer of sentient life. She’d pulled herself closer over countless aeons and heaved herself into one of the oceans that covered its craggy flesh. It took another several millennia before she could crawl out of the salty stew that had her. But she was here and they were going to pay. Eventually.
So now she stood on the freshest planet of them all, before an audience that was happy to ingest the images she fed it. They saw what she wanted them to see. The youth, the beauty, the sultry starlet draped in swathes of silky, shimmering satin who crooned into a mesh of wires and electricity. Unknowingly they offered her sustenance, these two-legged pink beings in their dark suits and skin-tight skirts, still fragile from their second big war. So frail, so immature, and already on the verge of causing their own extinction.
She lifted her eyes, countless pools of indescribable brown, infinite purple and incessant orange splattered across her undulating lumpy body in an uneven distribution. She opened her largest mouth, currently located in the middle of her most ample of masses, and let out another elegant squish. In their vision they saw scarlet bangs, smoky chocolate eyes, and red, red lips like Bing Cherries and spice. In their ears they heard her swooning about love and stars and moons and endless black skies. They listened and cheered, not understanding that the love she longed for was not of this world but of another place entirely. A place out there among the millions of burning suns and the vacuum of space. But her fans loved her; she could feel the energy of their emotions swirling around her. She supped from it, drinking it in, dreaming of the day when she could connect again to the source of her being.
High on that thought she burbled, her body rippling and shivering in a gelatinous quiver. Behind her the musicians, held taut by ropey tentacles that spawned from her center, played louder, more enthusiastically. Before her the devotees, held in rapture by a web of mucus, slumped and soared, ever her creatures, even the newest listeners, the strands expanding and groping to encompass them.
My mother’s good friend, the Private Investigator Ervin Harms, had let me go that night. He said he couldn’t keep me on, not if I wasn’t going to apply myself like he had. He’d wasted my time as he berated me for wasting his and harangued me for not handling the trauma of my war as well as he had. He could go to hell. If following the husbands of unhappy housewives was what made him feel alive, more power to him. I had found what gave mylife meaning. Just because he and my mother didn’t agree with it? Well, she could go to hell too. It didn’t give him the right to ruin my evening.
It wasn’t my impending unemployment that was upsetting me however, it was my tardiness. I never missed a moment of her performances, every second of her voice was like gift from Heaven and I would never waste a drop. Except I had this time, the fucking PI and his priorities had held me back too long and now I was the last one to find a seat.
I felt the heat of shame burning up the back of my neck, down the sides of my cheeks and drying out my guts. An unreasonable part of me was worried that someone would notice my heresy, sneaking in at the middle of a song, one of the last in her first set if I recalled it correctly. But of course no one paid me mind, their eyes were sealed to her and nothing else mattered. It didn’t improve my mood much to learn that I had missed so much of the night though.
Then I sat down.
A flurry of notes washed over me, claiming me as hers, every last fiber and pore. Just like that I felt at home. As long as I was here there was nothing I had to worry about.
A waitress slipped me a highball and I took a sip without breaking my visual contact with the stage. The staff never bothered anyone while she was singing. They just brought us something stiff and then slipped back into the shadows. I doubt they enjoyed the interruptions any more than the rest of us did.
No matter how long I live I don’t think I will ever see anything as half as perfect as she was. Her body, always wrapped in carmine, was the epitome of femininity with that tiny flared waist swelling into dangerous curves. Her voice was honey wrapped in the velvet of incense, rich and ruddy, an exciting balm that lit a fire and pacified all at once. Just like everything else about her. And that gorgeous set of eyes? It was as though they could see through me, pierce me to my core and singe out the transgressions of my past, cure me of my guilt and my wrongdoings. It was painful but the searing laceration was cleansing and in its stead was left a soothing sort of numb that made up for all the suffering of the last several years. It was as though she saw all, knew all, forgave all. I got more comfort here, inside this club, at the altar of alcohol and promised sex, than I ever had within the walls of my mother’s holy cathedrals.
I lit a cigarette and took a deep drag, now tranquil. Maybe the night wasn’t as lost as I had thought.
There were so many of them these days, feeding her the rich inner workings of their very souls. They made her giddy, all of those enraptured faces staring at her in silent reverence. There were no seats left, the few who were sneaking in late or walking in unaware only could stand. And yet it still wasn’t enough.
It had been so long since she had even a single strand of power to draw from but these animals, these tiny little beings who strode across this planet oblivious of the cosmoses and the planes around them and the forces that buffeted their diminutive world, they were the answer to her prayers. Alone they were nothing; she couldn’t bring herself to even focus on them, far too miniscule to single out. But together, when she gathered them to herself, encasing them like this in a network of meat and blood, they provided her with a link to the place from which she had come. She could leach from their adoration a faded echo of the force she once knew.
But it was still a ponderously slow process. She had been at this for generations, stalking and ensnaring humans in her net to funnel off their energies for the only good they were worth and she still had not acquired the strength she needed to return to the places between the stars. Despite their increased numbers there simply were not enough of them here, in a close enough proximity to her to do her any good.
She needed their infatuation and she had it here, in this nightclub. Here the clientele was hers. Here the staff was hers. Anyone who passed through these doors belonged to her. There simply had to be a way to get more of them in here, bring more of them to her. With all of the “advancements” these mortals had made in their last few lifetimes? With their science and their scope slowly broadening? Surely they would have come up with more effective ways of gathering together and communicating with one another. Perhaps one of her ensnared collection could show her how. They were more loyal to her than a priest to his god. Which made sense, “God” was what they called entities like her.
In an uncharacteristic bout of frustration she sent out a jab of anger and reveled in the reactions that zipped back to her along the complex lattice she’d constructed. Terror and fear but flavored with mindless scents of reverence and worship. It was her favorite brand of ambrosia.
I’d been coming here for three months and I thought I had seen everything she could do but tonight was different. Tonight she was raw, unrefined and incomplete. It didn’t make her any less wonderful. The honest distress and irritation was mesmerizing, it exploded across the room to smack me in the chest with a nearly perceptible thud and then it spread across my body leaving me drained and dazed. I’d always felt close and drawn to her but that shock of insight lent me a glimpse into her soul and I knew that she needed something. You could sense that the longing and desire had ratcheted up. No longer were the lost loves she sang about mere entertainment, they had become something tangible, an unattainable goal I visualized her stretching toward. It left me with an ache in my heart. One I was sure wouldn’t ease until my gorgeous vermillion siren was satisfied.
It was then that I realized what it was that I had to do. My life had been reduced to a foggy mess. The military no longer wanted me, neither did Inspector Ervin, and I was fairly certain that when I went home tonight I was going to learn my mother wasn’t too thrilled with her dead-beat son hanging around. But she needed someone. I might not be rich, I might not be connected but if there was anything that I had learned it was that I was a fighter and that she was something truly worth fighting for. I could be the someone she was looking for, whatever she needed I would do.
Fuck Ervin and his opinions. It wasn’t “directionless wandering” that led me here night after night. Maybe I’d been without instruction before but now? Now I understood what it was I had been made to do. I was to be her champion.
It all began to settle on me, the twists and mistakes of my life un-snaking and coloring me with a newfound purpose. Yes. Everything; the war, my injury, the cavernous-yet-growing distance between my family and myself, the failed attempt at private investigation, everything had led me to, had prepared me for, this night and for this duty. I was filled with the burning conviction of pure zeal and while I wasn’t sure what would be required I was sure that no matter what I could handle it.
Standing above me, above us all, she flung wide her arms. The canned stage lights hit her at just the right angle and there she stood, bathed in a dusty red halo. The band’s sound climbed higher, brass and strings and percussion insistent. Her arms, sill held out, rose slowly, slowly. Her mouth, shining wetly, lifted in each corner, cupping her cheeks under those fiery eyes.
I felt sorry for the poor suckers who had never experienced her like this.
With that thought my epiphany surged forward, and then it was obvious. The solution was so simple. Of course. That was how I was supposed to help her.
I found myself hovering on the edge of my seat. She was almost finished with her first set, it was her final song. When she retired to rest her perfect voice, I would tell her that I understood and she would know that she needed me.
The music ended then and she stepped back from the edge of the stage, still facing her adoring public. With the precision and grace of a swimming swan she backed away to the bandstand. She paused, accepting our lavish applause humbly before disappearing behind maroon curtains.
I stood up and began my search.
As she waited in the wings the musicians filed by her, each deep within her thrall. They passed her, surreptitiously brushing what they thought was her arm or her hair on their way. She gurgled pleasantly, sucking in their ardor while fiercely hungering for more. Much more. The threads of energy from these beings supplied something she longed for but that’s all they were, threads. Less than that, really, merely the finest of fibers with which she could construct her threads. Without a stockpile, she would be stuck here indefinitely. This world would be at her disposal but she cared little for it. There was a wide array of universes and dimensions out there, places that could rightly hold something as splendid as she. It did her little good to continue on here. Not when what she wanted was far beyond her reach.
She closed all of her eyes, siphoning off just enough of the flow into herself to send out another shot of her compulsion. It took concentration, the way she’d wielded power before was like a sonic blast, it would have used what little she had here and left nothing but smoldering husks in its wake. She could do that but then she would have to build her congregation all over again and that seemed like such a waste. She’d done it too often in the past as it was. Instead she had been forced to learn and use finesse so she could work on such a minute scale. And she was getting better. This time she felt it wind itself throughout the room expertly, twining around the minds of the bartenders and wait-staff, imbuing the food and drinks with images of her, binding the crowd to her even further. It was just right, not too much and not too little. The success gave her a rewarding, slickly feeling that leeched across her form as she collected herself and ponderously slid down the hall, toward the door to what was regarded as her changing room.
The staff told me that she didn’t like visitors, they said that she didn’t accept gifts. No one went into her dressing rooms. Not a boyfriend, not even the employees. No one was prepared to let me in; an obsessed fan was the last thing Our Lady of Serene Singing was looking for in her private sanctum.
But I wasn’t any old obsessed fan. I was the protégé of the vaunted PI Ervin Harms. Sure I was now on the outs with the man but I hadn’t been completely oblivious to my lessons. The sweet-talking and bribes were considerable in this case but nothing I couldn’t handle. I found out where it was and I waited, completely caught up in my obsession and my mania. I knew it for what it was but I didn’t care. How could you? With a prize like her at the end of it, how could I be anything but patient and complainant? I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t so far into my delusions to believe that she would feel for me even a fragment of the affection I felt for her but I didn’t need her to. I just needed her to be willing to employ me.
The waiters and waitresses, the dancing girls and band members all filtered back and forth. I remained still. I was good at this, or at least I thought so. Ervin always stressed this was the most important part of a PI’s job, waiting. When a lull in activity presented itself I leapt at the opportunity.
Her room was at the end of the hall. To the right.
It didn’t even say her name on the outside. They weren’t lying when they said that privacy was important to her.
I didn’t bother to knock. I took a deep breath, steeled myself against her forthcoming reprimands, and opened the door.
Her room was dark. There were no lights. There was no vanity with makeup surrounding it; she had no need for such things. She had no outfits on a rack, waiting for her. No bed, no sitting area, no alcove filled with gifts, just whatever she felt was necessary at the time.
At the moment she was lounging on a block made of darkness, reaching out to the void that existed just beyond the wall of man’s reality. Her tendrils floated in it, their stubby ends playing like reeds in the wind. She drifted among the cosmos once more, awash in the lights of billions of stars from trillions of worlds.
A door creaked open, the part of her still connected to this world heard it with peaked interest.
She looked with those of her eyes still riveted to that side of creation. A crack of unnatural light seeped in from the hall, serving only to make the darkness even starker.
A man slipped in from the corridor, hesitating as he entered. He wasn’t expecting this, she could sense it, not that anyone reasonably would. He was marked with her web, the strands still clinging to him but she felt them weaken.
A tentacle exploded out, twisting around his leg. Two soft strands of delicate power twined up his thigh, reaching for his root, embracing him with a loving caress. He sagged, his relief palpable, an aura of intoxicated love roaring toward her.
She reeled him in to her as she stood, compressing herself into a tall cylinder that roiled and groaned. She allowed him to see her two forms to intermingle, her full glory in both the land of the mortals and the stretches of eternity slipping in and out of one another, monstrous fishes dancing in the sea. She smiled again, a look that should have terrified him but instead served to enforce his bliss. His own smile was dopey, a drugged look of utter nirvana. He came forward without pause, he wanted this. He wasn’t sure what it was that he wanted but he knew he longed to give her the worlds. And he would. He would.
Her room was darker than I had imagined it would be. And it was empty. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe like something from the pictures, with a mirror, a bed adorned with some chintzy drapes. I should have known better, when had those pictures ever told the truth?
She was perched in the middle of the room, hovering almost, on what looked like a shadow. I wasn’t sure I understood what my eyes were telling me. Suddenly my resolve began to fade, the scene before me unsettling. I forgot all that I had come here for as my instincts engaged and shouted at me to run. Away. Fast.
Then she turned toward me. Her chestnut hair spun with her, seeming to twist slower than everything around us, out of sync somehow. She smiled at me, her face vicious yet beautiful. Her hand extended toward me. I remembered in that moment that she needed me and that I could deny her nothing.
Warmth flooded through me, tingling and calming. I took a step toward her, then another. And then I was walking, my steps so quick that I didn’t realize I was taking them. Nothing mattered but her, not even my own movements. Every step between the two of us was an unbearable canyon yearning to be crossed.
She opened her arms for me and I slipped in without another thought. Her face came closer to mine, her shining ruby lips opened for seductive love, just as they did on stage.
I could see something more, something beyond her eyes. An endless stretch of nothing pricked by the shimmering points of stars. I could see tentacles of light, like a nebula, pulsing and drifting. And still there was something more. I could see her for what she was but I don’t know how to describe it. It was as though my mind couldn’t put into thought the images before me. It was glorious and hideous in the same breath, a creation of unspeakable beauty, a beauty so pure that it hurt, so perfect that it ran afoul all that was natural. Uneven mounds of impregnable flesh that lived in harmony with the universe in a way that we humans simply did and could not.
On some level I understood that my sanity was slipping away from me, it was fleeing at the sight of her majesty, but I couldn’t find it in me to worry. I was nearer to her than I had ever dreamt and for all the horrible, eldritch ramifications of my situation I was in paradise. I loved her even as I balked in horror.
She brushed her fingers against my face, pulling at my skin. I saw them, not just as the long digits tipped with elegant nails on each hand but as lines of slimy cording that ran to a form of swelling and billowing ethereal gas held together with slips of dark. It would solidify, becoming clear, then it would fade, leaving only her. But I loved those cables, those strings, I loved that muck that dripped toward me. I embraced it all as she stole my mind and my very personhood away from me, the terror and the rapture running simultaneously through me like hot and cold water.
And then there was nothing but the cool grip of insanity.
He fell on the ground before her, a hollow husk of gibbering flesh. The currents of his humanity thudded into her. A tiny spark, a shallow drop into the pool of her need, but it was invigorating. It was something more than all of the feelings she slowly sucked out, bit by bit.
She jiggled happily, all her rolls and clumps set into motion with the movement. An idea was forming as she oozed toward the door. She blew it wide and seeped into the hall.
A startled bus-boy was caught tight in her path, unable to look away from her beauty.
“I need an agent,” she belched, watching coolly as he scrambled to comply, knowing that at such an hour her request was impossible to complete but enjoying his frenzy to do just that anyway. She was going home, and soon. And then they would be sorry.
Jenna M. Pitman is a 20-something year old from the Pacific Northwest where she attends many science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions as a panelist and guest. She has written for a variety of publications and anthologies. Most of these are currently available on Amazon. She is the editor of Iron Maidens, a new charity e-anthology series. She has a wonderful dog with horrible tendons named Fenris, a Great Dane named Remus, a cat dubbed Whymer Cathulhu, and the paragon of kitty-ish virtue Zillah. Her house is more than a little hairy. Visit Jenna’s Amazon Author Page here.
Story illustration by Steve Santiago.
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