a horror short story
by Michele Freeman
“The World is a Womb for us...because we are not fully Formed. Our bodies are perfected, but our souls are like Clay. The Master is the Sculptor.”
The woman’s lyrical voice flowed over Mike, but his interest was not in her words. Her lips rounded and compressed like she was performing fellatio. Known only as Grace, she played to the crowd’s swelling enthusiasm, stroking their fears and hopes and dreams, lapping away their cynicism with an eager tongue.
His laugh was soft. Seated on the back row, he stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankles, watching Grace with both disgust and awe. She was well-known on campus. A sort of female Socrates, he’d heard. When the flyers had appeared in his dormitory announcing her speaking engagement at the library, curiosity had won out over skepticism.
Her long, blond hair haloed her shoulders. No fancy hair-do. No make-up. A blue, diaphanous silk robe draped her thin body. She raised an arm and the material fluttered. Mike rolled his eyes. Puh-lease. Her lilting voice was pleasant, he supposed, but her message wasn’t original. He shifted in the chair, glad he was the only one in the back. Everyone else had opted for the front rows. Vying, perhaps, for a sacred drop of Grace’s spittle to land upon them. His grin melted into a frown when Grace’s blazing eyes suddenly found him.
“Non-believers beware,” she intoned. Her gaze riveted him, and a dull heat flushed his neck. Embarrassment was fleeting, though. He didn’t like Grace. Didn’t like her message or her beliefs or the gullible idiots who flocked to her. He stood, allowing a smirk to form on his lips, and saluted her before he turned and slipped between the cool, musty bookshelves.
* * *
Mike’s vision blurred as he went over the trigonometry problems. He cursed in French, glad that he at least remembered something from high school. College had been a bitch, but he was almost done. One more year, and then...hell. What? He thought about his parents, a nervous mother and a father who was still disappointed Mike had forsaken the military to get an education. “Can’t learn about life from a classroom, son, you need to live it.”
Mike tossed his pencil and rubbed his eyes. Shit. What did Dad know? The military life would have sucked, but sometimes, Mike wondered what it would be like to know the rules, to know the boss, to forget about thinking for awhile. For years, he’d been stumbling around like a drunken blind man, hoping to find the right path.
The knock was sharp, insistent. Mike glanced at his clock. Two a.m. He chuckled as he rose from the chair and stretched. Nate had forgotten the key, no doubt. Mike unlocked and opened the door, his grin fading when he saw the petite, blond woman. “What do you want?”
“To make a believer of you,” Grace said. Her strangely fragrant perfume filled his nostrils as she swept past him. She twirled around to face him, her pink robe floating like fairy’s wings behind her.
“Where did you get those clothes? The thrift store?” Mike closed the door and leaned against it, crossing his arms.
“I make you uncomfortable.”
“You make me laugh. But the poor saps who follow you around like lost sheep are the real jokes.”
Her smile was a secret unrevealed. “So you do not like me and you do not like those who follow me.”
Mike’s nod was curt. “That about covers it.”
“And now, I should go?”
She walked—no, drifted—toward him, her gray eyes luminous. She wasn’t beautiful. Her features were a Cubist painting, shapes and angles, nothing quite fitting together. Her translucent skin was pale as spun sugar, her blond hair was straight and fine. Her lips belonged to a siren, full and round and pleasing. She trailed her fingers across his neck and he jerked away.
“Ah. You find that your dislike is not deep.” Her lashes fluttered down. How could a woman’s skin be so perfect? Nothing marred the surface, not even a freckle. She took his hand and placed it against her cheek. Soft and smooth and cool. Like marble. And her eyes… something about her gaze struck him as non-human. What a load of crap. He thumbed her jaw-line and dropped his hand.
She laughed, turned, walked to his small bed and sat primly on the edge. “Shall we talk?”
“Or fuck?” Mike felt somehow violated. His erection bulged against his jeans, and he resented how easily she’d made him lust. Or maybe how easily his lust had forgotten principles—how desire for the body had clouded the mind.
“If you wish.” She rolled her shoulders, and the dress slid off, exposing small, milk-white breasts. Mike’s breath was harsh as he watched the coral nipples harden. He curled his hands into fists, but didn’t move.
“Come,” she whispered, rising off the bed. The dress fluttered to the floor, pooling at her feet. She opened her arms. “Be my convert.”
She was so surreal. How did she find him? Why had she chosen him?
Why did he want her so much when he loathed her message to the masses?
Mike crossed to her and buried his face against her throat. The heavy scent of perfume and sex thickened the air, almost suffocating him. Just a one-nighter, he thought, no harm in satisfying mutual lust. He kneaded the warm flesh of her breasts, pinching the turgid points. Her moan was acid—burning away his doubts, and he grasped her shoulders and pushed. She sank to her knees, and unbuttoned his jeans with experienced fingers. As she pulled at his underwear, he looked down at her. Triumph lit her pale features as she captured his gaze.
“This is the way to Truth,” she said. Then her mouth closed around him.
You will be at the next session?”
Her question pierced the darkness. Mike heard her quiet movements as she dressed. Exhaustion nibbled at his bones, and he drew the sheet over his nakedness, not bothering to answer her. The door opened, a slice of light entered. She stood there, her expression peaceful, angelic.
Then she disappeared and shut him alone in the dark.
* * *
A week later, Mike sat in the back row of the auditorium. Grace’s voice echoed through the room as she spoke her impassioned message. He'd almost failed the trig test, and had to endure Nate’s comments about the used condoms found in the trash. And he'd thought of Grace—of her clever mouth and hands, and the look glittering in those otherworldly eyes. Mind-shattering sex had fogged his brain—that’s why he sat here now. Content to listen to her soothing voice, Mike shook away the anxiety creeping over him. His smirk was self-mocking. He listened for a few more minutes, then left.
The restlessness consumed him, and Mike asked Nate to find somewhere else to sleep for the night. “More condom testing, huh?” Nate snickered. Nate waggled his eyebrows. Mike pushed his roommate out, slamming door shut.
The clock’s red digital numbers read 2:03 a.m. when Grace entered his room. She said nothing as the white robe fluttered to the floor and Mike took her there, holding her captive against the wall. Her pale legs wrapped around him as he pounded into her, his orgasm an explosion of sound and light.
Mike slid out of her, sated...but empty, too. Grace slipped on the robe and smiled at him.
“No.” He prowled the room, his hands slashing the air. “Why me?” He stopped, looked at her. “Shit, I don’t really care.”
“I confuse you, but only because you are fighting me. You are fighting the Way.”
Mike grabbed her arms. “Do you think screwing a guy means he’s going to believe anything you want?” He shook her. “This is only a body. It’s not who you are—but it’s not an object to use negligently, either.”
“My Body is my Temple,” she said. Her laughter threaded uneasily through him. “I know who I am, Beloved. Do you?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
She shook her head, her gray eyes unreadable. “You need peace.”
Disgust curled through him. “You’ve given me a piece, all right.”
“I’m the only haven in the storm.”
“There isn’t any goddamned storm,” he yelled. Her righteous smile ignited fierce anger, and he wanted to slap her. Grace’s expression didn’t change, but he knew she saw the violence in his face. Long after she left, Mike stared at the door, feeling as though he’d been drained of his own goddamned will.
What had she done to him?
* * *
Mike felt weak as the days passed. Grace had been the only nourishment his body craved, but she was poison. Like heroin. Something core-deep within him had changed. She had changed him, and he didn’t know how. Or why.
When he spied the green flyer announcing her final speech of the semester would be hosted in the cafeteria, he didn’t bother lying to himself. He was going. Just another lamb in the flock. He arrived early, choosing a seat in the front. His hands shook like an addict’s, and he rubbed clammy palms on his jeans. Mike forced himself to relax. The room filled quickly, and soon the buzzing conversations died as Grace graced the stage.
“The Way is simple,” she said. “The Body is formed, but the Soul is Clay. The Master is the Sculptor.” Her gaze found his, and Mike straightened. “We use our Bodies for all Purposes. But the Soul is unreachable, untouchable. Our Bodies are Temples, but they are only temporary shelters for the Spirit.”
Her speech continued for another twenty minutes, then a question-and-answer session started. Mike raised his hand, and Grace nodded as she chose him.
“Who is the Master?” he asked.
“You are. I am. We are all Masters.”
Cold seeped into his belly. Mike swallowed the ache in his throat. “So we sculpt our own souls?”
“What happens if all we want is the Body—is it okay to fuck someone’s brains out?”
Mike ignored the collective gasp that swept through the cafeteria. Grace pursed her lips, a sharp reminder of the pleasure her mouth had given him.
“Sex is not a sin. Using a Body to gain the Soul is age-old.” Assurance lit her gray eyes, but Mike saw beyond the glimmer that had blinded him before. Something dark and wicked lingered in her eyes, a knowledge of her own power buried under soft-spoken words of comfort and peace. He knew right then who she was.
And he didn’t care.
He wanted her. And he would gladly hand over his soul to have her.
Other questions were asked, and Grace turned away from him, her victory complete. Mike left, nausea roiling in his gut as he stumbled out into the winter evening. He walked to a bench and sat, not caring about the snow covering it. The cold wetness soaked through his jeans, numbing his legs. He stared at the stark white shimmering in the clear night, thinking that snow wasn’t honest—it hid mud and animal piss and bugs. Forever, he stayed on the bench, until Grace arrived.
She stood in front of him, her long fingers ruffling his hair. She tugged at his jacket collar until he stood.
“I’m not a churchgoer,” Mike said. “I’m agnostic.”
“You believe. It bothers you.”
He said nothing as he stared at the pale perfection of Grace’s face. The restlessness stirred, a rising storm crashing in him. An arrogant half-smile tilted her lips, and Mike kissed her. He barely felt the heat from her mouth as it radiated its toxic warmth, filling his throat, choking him. She pushed him onto the bench and straddled him. “Give me your life,” she breathed. “Let me claim your soul.”
“No,” he managed to whisper. The poison Grace had fed him swirled like acid through his veins. He felt sure his organs were collapsing and his lungs dissolving. “No.”
She leaned down and nipped his earlobe. “Yes,” she said. “Say yes.”
She cupped his face, her eyes no longer hiding behind human form. Cat’s eyes, he thought. Diamond irises floating in impossible gold orbs. He couldn’t say he was surprised when the horns sprouted, parting her silky blonde locks as they grew to shiny black points. Her skin took on a golden hue, a honeyed color as deep and rich as that of her eyes.
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am, Beloved.” Her eyes gleamed with triumph as her nails formed into black claws that pierced his shoulders. “Be my Convert.”
Mike felt whatever fight was left within him dissipate like fog burned away by the sun. “Yes,” he murmured.
Her smile widened revealing two rows of sharp, white teeth.
Her first bite ripped out a chunk of his shoulder. He cried out as pain ricocheted through him. Then he felt the warmth of his own blood flow over him, splashing into the snow.
She lifted her head, his blood shining like war paint on her cheeks and chin.
And there, his flesh dangled from her lips. She groaned in pure delight as she ate what she had taken. His body. His flesh.
As darkness crowded his vision and his body shook in the throes of death, he couldn’t help but stare at her beautiful, terrible lips.
And damn the wicked desires that were hieroglyphs on the mouth of a goddess.