Next on our agenda is a lovely little horror story from Mocha Memoirs Press author Tom Olbert. Prepare for the creepy, because it’s crawling all over this one.
By Tom Olbert
Karen’s heart soared like the planes rising from the runway. She could barely breathe as the dream from which she’d awoken so many times continued in reality. She clung desperately to it as she clung to the letter of invitation clutched in her sweaty, trembling hand. She squeezed the reality with a death grip, not willing to risk it slipping away. This is real, she dared tell herself as the boarding ramp opened and the uniformed airport attendant called out in his flat, soulless monotone: “Flight 487 to New York. Now boarding.” She was really going. A real modeling competition! A chance for a multi-million dollar contract!
Her head swam, her eyes fogging, the blood pounding through her brain. She almost wasn’t aware of her parents and sisters and friends wishing her farewell and good luck. They were the dream now. The already fading dream. Like those foolish local pageants that had once meant so much to her. Like the envious, hateful stares of local girls who now meant nothing. “You won’t forget me when you’re rich and famous, now will you, honey?”
Doug. His smiling face was the one bit of her old life that lingered in stubborn reality. The memory of the sun on that strong, handsome face, her cheering him on as he’d scored the winning touchdown. The crowd’s roar from the bleachers. His strong arms around her, in the dark later. She’d surrendered her virginity to him, and he’d stayed true. Sneers and spiteful whispers in locker rooms afterwards. She hadn’t cared. Their envy had made it all the sweeter. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, full and warm on the lips.
Her eyes moistened slightly as she blew him one final kiss and boarded the plane. She dried her eyes as the shadows of the boarding tube closed in around her. He was the one thing she’d miss.
Karen awoke with a start, shutting off the annoying buzz of her alarm clock, the dim light of morning’s crack slipping pale gold into her New York apartment. She moaned, stretching painfully, sleep’s deathly husk sliding away like a burial shroud as she climbed out of bed and staggered toward the window. She winced in pain, the light of cursed morning stinging her hands, what little flesh remained burning at the sun’s touch.
She secured the shade, blotting out the light. Damn the sun. Damn all light. Uncontrolled, unfiltered. It burned the eye with hated reality. The photographer’s studio was refuge, where all light was a slave to his will, and only shadows lived. In the dim gray light, she saw her hated reflection in the mirror. She winced and cried at the sight of stubbornly lingering imperfections. Why did they leave the mirrors? She wondered. To torture us, of course. To feed the hatred for accursed ugliness.
Staggering into the bathroom, she tore the medicine cabinet apart, emptied bottles clattering all over the floor. She greedily gobbled the last of the uppers, and washed them down with a long swig of bourbon from the liquor cabinet. She fell to her knees, savoring the sweet, delicious pain. Drink it in, she thought, licking her lips and remembering Celine’s wise words. Let the pain be your sweet addiction. Yesssss….She thought, her head swaying through the rush of throbbing anguish. It filled her, killing the accursed hunger.
Killing the last few lingering, hated memories of friendship, family, softness, food, pleasure, love and sunlight along stupid little roads and idiotic little houses in meaningless little towns best forgotten. She smashed the liquor bottle and slashed her arm. Damn. The blood still flowed. But, less now. Far less.
“ ‘Lookin’ good ladies,” Carlyle merrily intoned as he made his way from chair to chair, putting the final touches on the coifs of the aspiring super models. “Karen, honey…” he looked her over, one of his black-painted fingernails brushing past the gold ring dangling from the corner of his lower lip. She trembled, frigid horror rising from her bowels through her heart. Would he hate her? Was she too hideous at last to continue in the competition? “Girl…I’ll have to check with Stephan, but I think we can hide the slash marks with air-brushing. Other than that…You rock, princess!” He blew her a kiss as he walked by, his nipple rings jingling.
She exhaled in relief, sinking in the chair as the tension drained from her body. The cold, cutting glares of envy from the others were like the sweet lance of smack needles. She smiled. Sweet rush.
Everyone stood up with a start, blood freezing like cold electricity in Karen’s veins as Celine entered the salon. Tall and fearsome, raven hair flowing over perfect shoulders, cold green eyes like devil’s jewels stabbing out of that perfectly chiseled face, a long, flapping, high-slit black gown caressing and revering that flawlessly cut body, legs long enough to reach the moon carrying her effortlessly on four-inch heels. Karen choked as she always did in Celine’s presence, in awe. “Good morning, ladies,” Celine intoned, her angelic voice like syrup and heroin, sweet and addictive. It passed through Karen like a keenly sharp knife. “And, what do we live for?”
“The dream!” they all cried in practiced unison. Karen tried, as always, to make the unifying cry resound from her diaphragm with distinctive power.
“You all say that. But, do you really mean it,” Celine asked, her cruelly glaring eyes sweeping the room, all looking down as from the gaze of God on judgment day. Karen cringed as from the cruel sun. “Do you all really want it badly enough?”
“Yes, yes,” they all cried.
“Then, prove it!” Celine roared with contempt in her blazing emerald eyes. Karen started as Celine strode towards her, seized her slashed arm and held it aloft. “Karen wants it enough to do this. Those of you who wish to continue…do the same. Now!” Carlyle wheeled in a table under a white sheet. He smiled as he dramatically swept the sheet aside. Everyone gasped at the sight of gleaming silver scalpels, laid out in a neat row. “Do it, or go home!”
A few ran out, crying. The rest slowly, haltingly reached for the blades. Karen’s heart raced.
The day had come. Enough of runways and eliminations and OD’s and emergency rooms. Time for Celine’s final and decisive test. Multi-million dollar contracts awaited the survivors. Death awaited the losers. The living death of obscurity and abominable normalcy among the dross of the worthless masses. I’ll die before that, she thought.
There he stood in the moonlight, near the goal post where he’d scored the winning touchdown the day she’d fallen in love with him. She approached him slowly. He looked up. “There you are,” he said, his familiar smile spreading across his face as he turned, his football uniform shining white in the moon’s gentle sheen.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said, smiling as she dropped her overcoat, revealing her old cheerleader uniform. He licked his lips as he looked her over from head to toe. He was taking in every perfect inch of her, she could tell.
“New York agrees with you, honey.”
A cold delight spread through her as she reveled in her power. “All for you,” she whispered, gently running her hand across his finely chiseled, square jaw, ruffling a wisp of his reddish-blonde hair. She could hear his heart pounding, smell his sweat, hear the rush of his boiling blood spurting through his capillaries as she kissed him, long and sweet. She sensed his delight as she slipped her tongue into his mouth, displaying knowledge and willingness which, much to his frustration, she’d previously lacked. The sweet, stupid smile dropped off his face, his pallor growing deathly pale as sweet, crimson blood streamed from the corner of his mouth. She’d sunk the scalpel deep into his chest, cleanly severing his aorta.
The taste of his blood on her tongue was sweet as honey. She smiled as she twisted the blade inside him, carefully and neatly slicing the arteries, so as not to damage the heart. She kissed him one last time, the look of anguish on his face delighting her as she pushed her hand deep inside him, feeling the pulsing of his heart, warm and strong in her grasp as she pulled it from his chest.
“I knew you had what it took,” Celine said approvingly as she stepped from the darkness, a cold smile crossing her lips. Basking in Celine’s approval, Karen knelt before her, offering her the still-beating heart in her cupped hands, brimming with blood. Celine took the heart in her hands, baring her fang-like teeth and plunging them into the heart, tearing off a dripping, juicy mouthful. Karen’s previously cold, still heart stirred and raced, her pale fingers dripping with blood as Celine offered her the remains of Doug’s heart, licking gore from her chops with her slavering, forked tongue.
Karen bit deeply, tearing the juicy meat and chewing it with relish. The last of her hated humanity died there in the cold light of the moon. She smiled and licked her lips.
Celine rose in the torchlight, a sleek and beautiful shadow, her eyes glowing green in the darkness, her leathery wings unfurling as she stretched out her arms, her long curving claws dripping in inky darkness, beckoning.
Karen and the others rose from their coffins, hungry and eager. The other girls…the failures…they who’d clung to their weak, sickening addiction…their humanity…they hung like meat from barbed hooks on iron chains, whimpering in pain and fear, their sweet blood running down their still fresh, still living flesh.
Karen felt her wings unfurl, her claws cutting deep, saliva sliding down her fangs as she fed. Their beauty became hers as she devoured them, becoming part of her and her sisters. Features. Curves. Lines. Bits and pieces from which the larger illusion was crafted. Death was the canvass. The illusion was the art.
She reveled in the dream of what was to come. The bright neon lights of dark cities, the clubs and velvet ropes and limos and rich, lusty men lured into vulnerable embrace, the same stupid smiles on their faces as she tore out their hearts and fed.
Karen was dead. She would use up this withering husk of a body, leaving it dry bones and dust as her true form emerged. She would live forever until another host came along.
At last, the bothersome, constraining flesh was gone. Only the shadow remained.
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