The Artist

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“Finally! Did you get lost on your way here? I’ve been waiting for ages!” The man, who in reality had been waiting for about twenty minutes, rolled his eyes as he folded himself into the back seat of her car. 

“I’m so sorry, sir, there was an acci-“

“Whatever, I don’t care about your excuses. More driving and less talking. I’m assuming you know how to read the little map on that phone of yours? Or will I need to give you directions in order to get there before I die of old age?” The man raised his long, spindly fingers in a circular motion, indicating she should get on with it. She saw the gesture in her rearview mirror, and fought not to roll her own eyes, swallowing a heavy sigh. He was one of those people. People who think the whole world not only revolves around them, but also think every person in it owes them something. Kyanne mentally kissed any hope of a decent tip goodbye and said to the man, “I sure do, if you can please buckle your seatbelt, we’ll be on our way.” The man, whose name was Robert according to the information on his ride request, but who looked more like a Dick to her with his pink bald head and beady little eyes, huffed dramatically and threw up his hands in mock surrender.

“Yes, yes of course, not like I have anywhere to be today.” He snatched the seatbelt across his slim frame and slammed the buckle into its slot with far more force than necessary. He looked up at Kyanne in the mirror once more and said, “There, happy? Can we go now?” 

She gritted her teeth, but experience in every form of customer service had taught her just what to say to get under the skin of people like Robert. Kill them with kindness her old boss used to say, and as it turned out, this was definitely the most effective way to combat behavior like Robert’s. She smiled and said simply, “Thank you,” as she proceeded into traffic. The man growled audibly under his breath and mumbled something that Kyanne was sure would not have been flattering had she been able to make it out. She felt a petty delight at his irritation, and made sure to do no more than the speed limit as she drove. She didn’t need the navigational system on the phone to get where they were going, she had been to the courthouse before. More times than she cared to admit, actually. She could have even taken a shortcut which would have shaved a good amount of time off of their trip and saved Kyanne gas as well, but she was just petty enough to be willing to sacrifice the extra quarter gallon or so it took in order to avoid getting Robert to his destination any faster than absolutely necessary. As she drove, she could hear his repeated and pointed groans and heavy sighs, the occasional “Jesus,” or “Oh, come on,” slipping between his thin, pink lips in a disgusted stage whisper which was clearly meant to agitate Kyanne but which actually made her giggle inside. This guy was too easy, right out of the narcissistic, entitled asshole textbook. He would definitely leave her a poor rating and no tip, but that would have been the case even if she had kowtowed to him and groveled the way he was clearly used to. At least this way, Kyanne was getting something out of it and keeping her dignity. Of course, dignity didn’t pay the rent, which was coming up due in a few days and for which Kyanne was several hundred dollars short. 

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She really needed to start painting again. That was the whole reason she had left the call center job she had been in for years. Driving for rideshare companies allowed her to make her own schedule and free up time for when she was feeling inspired, rather than hoping the spark would last until she got off work and that she wouldn’t be too exhausted to bring the inspiration to life. Robert got a call on his cell phone and answered it sharply, “I am on the way! It’s not like they can start without me, I am the prosecutor. I know, people are incompetent what can I say,” he said loudly, clearly indicating that she was part of the incompetent people he was referencing. They weren’t far now. A prosecutor, of course he was. The smell of expensive cologne, crisp lines on his suit collar, the man reeked of money, privilege and entitlement. Kyanne had spent her late teens and early twenties barely getting by. She had gotten into college by the skin of her teeth and had scraped by with average grades for the most part. It was her art that saved her, a scholarship based on talent and promise, and she had graduated with a BA, then promptly realized that after school ends, the appreciation for art and the opportunities for artists to make ends meet doing what they love narrowed vastly. She had taken the call center job to supplement her income and had sold some pieces on her website here and there, but nothing close to enough to call a full time career. 

Kyanne marketed herself under the name Kai. She felt like a gender neutral name gave her at least marginally more access to commissioned opportunities and this had been proven when she had briefly attempted to market her work under her full name. Instead of minimal inquiries, there had been none. After she dropped this douchebag off, she was going to go home and update her social media advertising. She hadn’t done so in weeks and getting the word out there was essential if she was going to have any hope of making this her full time job. She sighed quietly as she pulled up outside the familiar courthouse and Robert got out without a word to her, still yammering on his phone with someone, slamming her car door behind him for effect. She flipped him the bird as he walked away and logged out of her rideshare app. It was time to put some work into her passion. 

Just days later, Kyanne was elated to get an inquiry for a commissioned piece. She had made rent, barely, but she was already behind on her other bills. This would be just what she needed to catch up. The request was for a large canvas painting of the local skyline. Something generic but pleasing to the eye and not too aggressive of a color palette. Something to hang on an office wall, probably. This wasn’t unusual, though Kyanne really wanted to paint something inspired and creative, many of the commissioned works she received requests for were boring and passionless. But it was painting at least, and it would put food on the table and keep her lights on for the month. It might even allow her to have a little cushion for the following month if she was frugal. She had given an estimate for the painting which had been accepted quickly and had wondered if she should have asked for more.The company that was commissioning the work could clearly afford it. But done was done. The agreement was that the company would send a representative to come pick up the painting in one week. More time that Kyanne would really need for such a simple piece, even as massive as it was. She sighed and got to work, feeling depressed but trying to find hope in that she was at least moving toward doing what she loved.

The administrative assistant for the company emailed Kyanne a week later, asking her if the painting was ready. It had been for three days. She received a response thanking her for her time and letting her know their representative would be by that evening. She had the canvas wrapped and ready to go when there was a knock at her door. She opened the door with her best customer service smile plastered on and froze as she laid eyes on the man at her door. Middle aged, bald, so white that he was pink, tall and skinny with beady little eyes that gawked at her. Robert. Fucking Robert.

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“Where is Kai, the artist? I want to make sure his work is up to par before I pay for it. This is highly unprofessional.” 

Kyanne fought to keep her tone pleasant as she answered, “I am Kai, the artist. The canvas is wrapped and ready to go but I can certainly open it for you to take a look at as well, though I did send photos of the completed work to the office which were approved.” 

“Of course I want to see it, do I look stupid to you?”

Kyanne did not answer, just gestured for him to follow her. She unwrapped the painting for him and he mumbled under his breath, then looked at her.

“Look, lady, if I had been the one to see the pictures you sent, I would have absolutely declined. But,” he held up his hand as she took a breath in to speak, “ fortunately for you I wasn’t. I will not, however, be able to justify paying you the original agreed upon amount for this quality of work. It’s worth half that, and I am being generous”

Kyanne’s blood boiled. She had used that much in supplies alone to get the painting done. “No, Robert, that is not how contracts work. You should know that, as an attorney, right? Or do they not teach that part in prosecutor school?” She scorned

“They teach that and much more, young lady,” he said snobbishly, then looked around her apartment. “I can see that you are desperate so I will give you a choice. I will write you a check for half the amount we originally discussed and take the painting today, or I will refuse the painting and go back tomorrow to let them know we will be disputing your quality of work as not having met the terms of the agreement and you can have nothing. You could try to sue, I guess. But that would require being able to afford legal counsel. So, what do you say?”

Kyanne said nothing, only stared at him in disbelief. All at once, the weight of the world came crashing down on her shoulders. He was staring down his nose at her, smiling slightly, a self satisfied expression on his face. She was tired. So tired of being treated like scum of the earth, getting scraps from the table and being told to be grateful. For years, people like Robert had spoken down to her, mistreated her, underpaid her, overworked her and generally abused her in any and every way they could get away with. He nodded and said, “That’s what I thought. Relax, honey. It’s just art.” He reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a checkbook. Kyanne saw him open it and brush off her counter as if it were dirty before he set it down and began filling it out. It was that moment, the moment his pen touched the paper, that Kyanne was absolutely rocked by inspiration so intense and clear that she struggled to breathe for a moment.

“You know, Robert. I really should thank you,” Kyanne said as he scrawled the pitiful numbers one the check he was writing. He grunted, not even looking up at her. She continued, “I haven’t felt this inspired for a new idea in a long, long time.” She drew out the phrase sexily, purring out the words. Her whole body was vibrating with need, and yes, there was something sexy about it, though the need was not sexual. She needed to paint, her fingertips thrummed with it. And she was going to try a new medium for this one. Smiling, Kyanne picked up her paintbrush, twirled it expertly in her fingers and laughed. The laugh was dark and throaty, and at the sound of it, Robert paused mid signature. He looked up at Kyanne, a wolfish grin beginning to spread on his face. She saw lust ignite in his small, ugly eyes as he looked her up and down. She smiled wider, an inviting smile, and Robert moved closer to her. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. Kyanne looked up at him and thought, kill him with kindness. She pounded the handle of her paintbrush squarely into his left eye, feeling it give with a luscious popping sensation. Robert screamed, a high keening noise that made Kyanne laugh again, this time with something near elation. He fell to his knees, jerking away from her and his spidery hands fluttered about his face and newly mangled eye as he wailed wordlessly. Kyanne knew that this much noise wouldn’t escape notice for long, even in this neighborhood, and she had to be allowed to paint. She couldn’t afford to be interrupted. Still smiling, she kicked Robert in his narrow chest and he went over backward, knocking the air out of him and silencing him for a moment. Kyanne grabbed the large butcher knife from the block on her counter, her muse not just singing now, but screaming at her to paint, paint, paint! Robert took in a breath to scream, but as Kyanne dragged the blade across his throat, all he managed was a strangling gurgle. His one remaining eye was wide with agony and what looked like disbelief. He was untouchable, this wasn’t supposed to happen to people like him, people who run the world. 

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Kyanne’s smile grew impossibly wider as she looked down at him, ignoring the light going out in his eyes as she watched the red flow from him. “Relax, honey. It’s just art,” she said, and jerked her paintbrush from his eye. She had painting to do, and a whole new medium to try. 

Three months later, Kyanne lounged languidly in the sun, sipping an ice cold margarita on the rocks. She marveled at how her life had changed. Robert would have been turning over in his grave, if he had one, she thought, smiling. The series of pieces she painted following his death were all a rusty monochromatic theme, but the passion in them was something that thundered in the hearts of the art community and ultimately made her an overnight sensation, not to mention heartily wealthy. She had spent a solid two weeks painting with what remained of Robert, refrigerating the liquid to keep it from coagulating, then sealing the fragile medium under a durable lacquer to keep its integrity, and hide the tinny smell. His husk had been drained as dry as she could get it before she dumped him, tossing him off a bridge and into the river, knowing he’d be carried out to sea. So far, he had not been found and no one had come knocking on her door to ask about him either. Kyanne had time to paint, and inspiration still flowing freely, though she thought she would stick to acrylic and oil paints as mediums for her future work. At least for now, 

The Silver Years

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“Oh, Harry, you fucking asshole. You absolute, rancid twat.” Harry had been called worse and simply smiled up at the young woman currently fuming at him. She was a pretty thing, blonde hair, bright blue eyes and curves that just wouldn’t quit, even in her less than flattering faded black scrubs. Patty was his favorite nurse because no matter how many times he pulled the same stunts, he never failed to get a rise out of her. There wasn’t much fun in the world for a man in his eighties, body giving out and health failing so badly that he required care around the clock, but there was some. Especially if you were mean spirited enough. Harry had never had trouble in that department and he knew it. Since the first time he pulled the wings off of a butterfly as it frantically thrashed trying to get out from under his grubby 6 year old fingers, he knew he enjoyed being mean. There was something so forbidden, so exciting and so satisfying about doing all the things that everyone said not to do, and doing them with the entitlement and defiance of a petulant child. As Harry had aged, his capacity for straightforward bullying had first grown and then morphed into something both more terrible and more stealthy. Sure, he had still enjoyed punching the wimpy kids in the kidneys when no one was looking and taking their lunch money, stomping on caterpillars making their way through the grass and turning a magnifying glass into an incinerator for an unsuspecting ant hill. More than this though, he began to enjoy manipulating his way through life, lying, cheating, stealing, playing victim when he got caught at any of these. People, he discovered, were often quite stupid.

    Harry had spent his youth using every woman he conned into his bed until she had nothing left to interest him, then throwing her away and finding a new one. There was certainly no shortage of women who were willing to bend over backwards if he said and did the right things. No shortage of women whose self worth had never been quite established and who needed to be told they were something special only a few times in order to fall completely in love with him. Throughout his middle aged years, Harry married multiple times, draining each wife completely, along with their bank accounts and burying three wives before he hit what he liked to think of as his silver years. Each wife had died from some different illness, but all of them had been used up by the time he put them in their graves, nothing but gnats, buzzing in his ears until they croaked, dried up husks of the woman he had met. He was happy to be rid of them. 

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    Patty was now his pet project. She had stayed the longest, but he thought he would break her soon. He loved watching each time another nurse finally melted down and gave up. Harry could have made it easier on them of course. He was fully able to walk to the bathroom using his walker when he needed to relieve himself. Fully capable of getting himself into his chair so that the nurse could change his sheets. He was more than able to sponge himself off with the pre-soaped washcloths they gave him, and could certainly feed himself. But where would be the fun in that? Instead, he would simply vacate his bowels in his bed, piss whenever he felt the need, regardless if the bedding had just been changed, squirm around in his filth to make certain they had to bathe him and lay like a deadweight every time they tried to move him. He would not eat unless they fed him and would not lift a finger to help get himself clean. Today had been an especially repugnant bowel movement that had splattered onto the floor as well as all over the bed and himself. Patty had quite a mess to clean up, and Harry couldn’t have been more pleased. She was red in the face, trembling with anger as he sat smiling at her wickedly, his eyes glinting with humor as she shook. Patty spoke low then, and the steadiness in her voice made a sudden pit in Harry’s stomach. “You know, Mr. Farms, I thought all this time that you couldn’t help it. That you were so pitiful and so inadequate for so long that you had just given up. Oh, I know, just as all the other nurses know, that you are physically capable of doing more for yourself. But, I have forgiven that because of what I perceived to be your physical and emotional impotence as well as your mental ineptitude. You cannot blame someone for being stupid if they do not have the brain cells to achieve anything else.” Harry furrowed his brows at this. Patty had never spoken to him like this. She was taking all the fun out of it. This wasn’t her being angry or frustrated or on edge. In fact, she was composing herself right before his eyes. She began to smile just a bit at the corners of her mouth as she continued.

    “Now I see it, Mr. Farms. Though you are most certainly flaccid in every way a man can be, it’s more than that. You enjoy it. You revel in your cruelty just as you currently languish in a flood of your own shit. And who am I to stop you from doing it? You want to be covered in filth? Have at it. In fact, Mr. Farms, you can choke on it.” With that, Patty lunged forward with the speed of youth, grabbed a handful of his soiled sheets, ripped them out from under him so violently that he tumbled off his bed and hit the floor with a loud, wet smack. His ears rang and the smell of his excrement filled his senses, he tried to scream and his mouth was immediately filled with a taste so foul he tried to vomit. Tried, but was unable to succeed. He opened his eyes and they bulged in his head as he retched again, unable to expel the blockage in his airway. Patty had shoved as much of the sheet as she could fit into his mouth and as he struggled weakly, she looked down at him, eyes mild and yet somehow laughing at him, and she held that sheet in place. Harry knew then that he was going to die. His airways were blocked and no matter how he fought, he couldn’t get oxygen into his trembling body. The corners of his vision began to darken, his body starting to go cold and he ceased his struggles. He smelled and tasted nothing but his own shit and saw nothing but the eyes staring down at him, laughing silently. Patty said nothing else and Harry died thinking to himself that he felt an awful lot like that very first butterfly, and that he didn’t care for the feeling at all. 

Movie Night

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Tonight Willa intended to make it through the damn movie. It was a scary movie she had been dying to watch, but she never watched them alone. Trouble was, any time she tried to watch any movie with Arlo, they wound up entangled in one another’s embrace and missing the whole thing. Not that Willa minded the entanglement. As a matter of fact she quite enjoyed it, every single time. Arlo made sure of that. Having said that though, Willa was determined to spend quality time doing something other that fucking tonight. Sure, she and Arlo would go out to the movies, go hiking, take day trips to local destinations and things of that nature. They spent quite a bit of time doing fun things with one another and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, but as soon as the two of them were behind closed doors, they could not keep their hands off of one another. Being around Arlo, even doing casual, benign things, made Willa wet. As soon as matters took a turn for the more intimate, her whole body lit up from the core, nearly vibrating with the need for his touch. He seemed always to be a kiss or touch away from complete arousal as well. One minute, she would be leaning in for an innocent kiss, the next minute she would be straddling the hardness pushing at the seam of his pants, begging him to fill her up with it. They had been loving one another for five years, and had yet to finish a single movie at home together. Tonight was the night.

Willa chose a comfy cotton pink dress, more of a nightshirt than anything. It was cute rather than sexy, and that was exactly the vibe she was going for. She put her hair up in a bun, thinking it would keep him from getting distracted by playing with it, put on simple cotton panties, her pink bra and finished the look with matching pink socks. “There,” she said, smiling at herself in the mirror. She felt adorable, truth be told, and knew Arlo would think the same. She put some popcorn in the microwave and then heard his key in the door. Smiling again, she poured them each a drink, and laughed, leaning into him as he came up behind her and pulled her tight to him. “Mmmm, hi baby,” Arlo said and kissed her on the back of her bare neck. The touch was so light, but placed in such a sensitive spot that she nearly dropped their drinks as her body reacted. She let out a tiny whimper before she could stop herself, and set them on the counter, turning to face him. Poking a finger teasingly into his chest Willa gave him her best scowl, “No funny business tonight mister! We are watching this movie. Through and through.” He laughed and said of course they were, the whole thing, and then raised his hand in a “Scout’s Honor” gesture. He had never been a boy scout, Willa knew, but she nodded just the same and handed him his drink. She kissed him quickly on the lips, and even that minute contact sent a thrill through her. The fact that this man was hers, that this love was theirs, it amazed her every day. As did the fact that her body continued to crave him as if the love were still new and fresh. She turned around quickly before he could see the longing in her face and pulled the popcorn from the microwave. “Can you queue it up while I finish this popcorn business? I’m going to put a little cinnamon and sugar on it tonight.” He smiled and saluted her, “Ma’am, yes ma’am,” and headed to the living room couch to get the movie ready. Willa took a deep steadying breath, placing her hands on the counter as she did so. Tonight we are watching this damn movie, she reminded herself, even as she felt her slickness beginning to soak into her panties.

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“This popcorn is delicious,” Arlo said as he took a few more pieces and popped them into his mouth. The movie was just getting started and she smiled as she snuggled close to the warmth of him. “Scared already?” he laughed. “Shut up,” she said laughingly. He put his arm around her and said, “I got you babygirl.” Willa looked up at him and smiled, inviting him to kiss her as she did. He obliged gently at first, and then just a bit more forcefully as his tongue slid between her parting lips. He moaned into her mouth and she pulled away, almost jarringly. “Don’t you start, Arlo. It’s movie night, where people watch movies together.” She heard the huskiness in her voice as she said this, making it far less convincing, but he sat back and put a hand up, as if showing himself to mean no harm. Willa knew he meant no harm, of course, he would never harm her. She also knew he would not push the issue if she didn’t want it. The challenge was that she did want it. She wanted him, damn it, as she always did. Still, she wanted to see this movie, and it was only a couple of hours. After that, they could enjoy one another until each was sated and exhausted from pleasure. Just a couple of hours, she reminded herself. It couldn’t be that hard.

Hard. God he got so hard for her. The sensory memory of feeling his manhood at its fullest made her gasp quietly, but he didn’t seem to notice. She looked down and saw that, yes, he was hard indeed. The considerable length of him created a noticeable bulge in his sweatpants. Like Beauty, reaching for the spindle under the spell of the witch, her hand reached for him, caressing the head of him through the thin cloth of his pants and underwear, drawing from him a hiss of surprise and pleasure. “Oh no, Princess,” he said. “Don’t get distracted.” He pushed her hand away, but slowly, letting her trail her fingers over him as she moved. “I’m not distracted,” Willa said, voice breathy, belying her words. She sighed and cuddled closer to him and turned to watch the movie. The movement drew small sounds from her as she felt the wetness between her thighs growing, clenching as her center began to swell. Already her body was begging for him. She had no idea what was going on in the movie, and despite her best efforts, didn’t seem to be able to focus on it. Her eyes kept wandering down to the throbbing hardness of him. “Fuck,” she whispered wth feeling. He looked down at her and asked, “What is it, love?” His own voice was trembling just a bit at the edges. Willa stared into his eyes, letting the full heat she felt shine through them. “I’m having trouble focusing on the movie.”

“Is that right?” He said it in a teasing tone. “Let me help you, Princess,” Arlo said. He pulled his hardness from his pants, allowing her to see that he was, indeed, throbbing for her. She moaned then, reaching for it, but he surprised her by taking her wrist and turning her gently, but firmly, away from him. “I don’t think that’s helping love. That’s teasing.” He said nothing, but instead trailed his hands up her thighs, lifting her pink cotton nightie and stopping at the edge of her panties. Chills broke out across her body and she shivered, closing her eyes at the intensity of the pleasure. “Stand up and face the TV,” There was no compromise in his voice, only expectation to be obeyed. “Yes, Sir,” Willa answered, trembling as she rose to her feet. Wordlessly, he pushed her legs apart as she stood, then slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled her panties down to her ankles. She made as if to turn and face him and he gripped her hips, “Don’t move until I tell you to, Princess.” Willa’s whole body felt as if electricity were coursing through it, and for a moment she couldn’t respond. Arlo smacked her ass cheek in a swift movement that made a satisfying sound and stung just enough, without being too much. “What do you say?” He asked expectantly. “Yes, Sir,” she whimpered. She felt as if her legs were going to give out from underneath her. Her center had become molten hot liquid and she could feel it beginning to trail down her inner thighs as she stood. “Step out of your panties, Princess. You are going to sit on this dick. When you do, you will be completely still, watching the movie. I am going to ask you what is going on in the movie at random, and you are going to tell me. Each time you can’t tell me will be another lashing on that beautiful ass of yours. Understood?” Willa answered Arlo with the expected, “Yes, Sir.” They had, of course, already negotiated the ins and outs of these interactions, making sure any boundaries were set and safe words in place. Still, Willa delighted in the fear that mingled with her need for him. Arlo was a fierce man and intense lover, and he knew exactly how to walk that line between pleasure and pain.

Willa stepped out of her panties, then backed towards Arlo, putting one foot on the outside of each of his, spreading her wetness open with her fingers as she sank slowly down onto him. He was not only long, but wide as well, and she worked her warmth down around him inch by delicious inch. He groaned with pleasure as she did so, and as he reached the end of her, she gasped with a little pain sound, mixed with so very much pleasure. He filled her up and she reveled in the sensation. “What’s happening in the movie right now, baby girl?” Arlo growled. He knew she had not been paying attention, and she knew he knew. “But, Sir,” she began. He slapped her bottom just hard enough to sting and she felt herself clench around him as he did it. She yelped at the sting, but the yelp quickly turned into a moan as he pushed up and ground himself into her as deep as he could go. She squirmed on him, but Arlo gripped her hips and stilled her. “Focus, Princess,” he said chidingly. He pulled his length from her by inches and said, “Be good for me, now.” Willa did her best to focus on the film. The main character was currently running from the villain, barely escaping. She was starting to catch on to the plot a little when Arlo thrust himself up into her again, his hands like a vice on her hips, keeping her in place. She cried out for him then, all coherent thought wiped from her mind. “Sir!” He said nothing for a time, but simply pushed into her, withdrew, pushed in, withdrew, fucking up into her wetness while she fought to stay still for it. He stopped suddenly, jarringly breaking the rhythm and said in a voice gone deep with his own need, “What’s happening in the movie, love?” She had completely forgotten the movie, her directions, everything but the feel of him massaging her walls as he moved in her. “Sir, don’t – “ This smack was harder. It left a burning sensation on the skin of her bottom for a moment and she knew it would leave the shape of his hand on her skin. She clenched tight on him, first in response, then in rebellion. She wasn’t allowed to moved, but he couldn’t stop her from squeezing her wetness around him, flexing her inner muscles to torture him in his need. “Oh,” he groaned huskily, ”you’re not playing fair.” She smiled knowingly and released her hold on him, only to clench up again a moment later.

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Arlo released his hold on one of her hips and placed it around her throat firmly, pressing just to the sides of her windpipe so as not to cut off her air, but instead to make her lightheaded and bring her closer to her threshold. He pulled her against him like that, then kissed the back of her neck as he had when he’d first arrived. He kissed, licked and then began to suck that spot as if he were sucking on her more intimate bits. He kept the pressure on her throat and his other hand on her hip and began to fuck her in earnest. The rhythm was fierce and deep, making wet sounds as her wetness poured over him. “Sir, please, please may I cum for you,” she asked, not knowing if she could hold on even a minute more. “Yes, Princess, take me with you.” Arlo began to stutter in his rhythm for just a moment and then he reached around her front and began to massage her pearl tongue and he fucked her. That final touch sent her over the edge and she screamed her orgasm as she bucked against his tight grip, feeling him come apart beneath her as she did. He dug his nails into her, just enough to walk that knife’s edge of pain and moaned for her as he came. Her orgasms came in waves, each time she would start to catch her breath, he would move in her and she was lost in the throes of yet another one. Finally, when her body felt completely drained, she stilled atop him. She opened her eyes to see the ending credits of the movie and smiled, too satisfied to be annoyed at herself. She leaned back against him, feeling him beginning finally to soften and said, “Well, technically, we finished the movie.”

Hunt, Feast, Rest: A Cycle

They scurry about, frantic and aimless, never realizing that it is the frenzy, the absolute panic that makes that so very vulnerable. It also happens to flavor them quite well, their fear and desperation a beautiful bouquet, some with sour notes of bitterness, others with sweet undertones of hope, even as they feel their life’s blood leaking away and their body grows cold. I particularly like them in those moments. All of us have our favorites, no different than anything that eats. Some like young ones, some prefer old, I prefer them at the height of their prime, youthful but strong and with just enough confidence to think they can survive. I care nothing for the ones too old to fight, and even less for those too young to know they should. 

    We always start The Hunt in the same fashion, no matter where we travel to. We start slowly and quietly, some of us not bothering to feed until The Feasting begins. Some wander into town like road worn ramblers, just blowing with the wind and looking for a place to lay their head, harmless as could be in appearance. Some can, in fact, blend with the shadows and never be seen unless we wish to. There are also those of us, many of us in fact, that are gifted with the ability to change our shape. The abilities vary greatly, some only able to change the color and texture of our hair, or shape and color of the eyes, or build. Others can change form to look like any human we have ever set eyes on, or even a mixture of features from each. A smaller number are able to change form so completely that we can appear as any animal we wish. We can move through these forms with great speed, and without any warning or fanfare. We all appear human at birth, though we are far from it and as we grow, fed from the remains of The Feasting, our talents develop and so does our need to hunt. 

    Humans have told stories throughout the ages amongst themselves about our kind, never quite coming close to having it all figured out. Those who understand the most are always dismissed as insane or fanatical, telling stories to anyone who will listen only to have their truths ignored or turned into myth or fairy tale. We are not Fae, though there are Fae who hunger in the same way we do. We are also not myth, but it serves us well to be known only as such. We live in a cycle of three stages, and the humans’ unwillingness to believe their brethren makes the third cycle that much safer for us. We Hunt, we Feast, and we Rest. The Resting is the time when we are at our weakest, if there is such a thing for my kind. The Feasting ends in a mass procreation, every one of us who is able joining with another to propagate our species. We bring some living spoils to our den for the young who are waiting to be fed so they might grow and Feast during the next cycle. Once they have eaten their fill, The Resting begins. We choose our most comfortable form and we lay in a torpor, allowing our body to absorb the needed sustenance, allowing our young to grow and those who are with child to gestate. When gestation is complete, we commence The Hunt once more. Our young are grown within three completions of these cycles, and it is the stretch of time between Feasting that has kept these ways largely secret. 

    Every Hunt requires us to travel, some moving like mist through the shadows of the forests, some flying on the wings of common barn owls, some on the backs of horses and others on their own four legs. I prefer flying, myself. Looking down at the land below, knowing it is ripe with food for me and my babies. So many babies over these hundreds of years that I have lost count. We can be killed, though it is not an easy thing to do. No wooden stake in the heart will do it, nor do we care for any sort of religious artifacts. Sunlight does nothing to us, though we do prefer to travel at night as we are nocturnal creatures. Falling from a great height has taken some of my young, as has decapitation and fire. Our limbs will regenerate if we lose them, though it will take a full cycle for them to do so. As I mentioned, humans have gotten some of it right over time. As they have evolved, so have we. Some things, though, have never changed. The way they go about their lives completely oblivious to their own fragility, convinced they are the superior species to any other on this planet. The way they furiously believe in their own ability to survive anything, going into the wild with predators and counting on their weapons to keep them safe. They live their lives as if nothing exists outside of themselves, blissfully ignoring the crow flying overhead, the beggar on the corner, the old woman selling flowers by the roadside. Even ignoring the shadows, never thinking for a moment that in that darkness hides their death. 

    When we have found our new den, settled the young and all gathered in our places in this new town, we await sundown. The sun sets blood red and we Feast. Ah, how they scream, some in fear, others in surprise. The disbelief in their eyes dissolves to terror and then to a horrified resignation, they see their death now and see it clearly. We Feast on their blood, yes, and deeply. But sweeter than even that is the taste of their pain. We drink it in just as we swallow the hot liquid spilling from their bodies out of each new hole we make in them. It is a slow, burning agony as they first run, then fight, then beg and plead and finally, deliciously, die. Even now, your sweet aroma flows on my tongue. I can taste your fear as it grows, your hope smothering under the weight of these revelations. Yes, my sweet, I have brought you to the den. You have been Hunted, you have witnessed The Feast, and now know what happens before The Resting. The young must eat, and you are a delicious morsel, seasoned well with horror, loss and torture. I think I would like to enjoy you bit by bit, from the bottom up of course, so as to allow you to live through most of it. But, alas, you are meant for another task. 

    I have grown weary, my sweet. The humans no longer challenge us, or make it interesting to Hunt. I, and my brethren, do not die unless killed, and that can mean a long, long, long life when we are so very hard to kill. I crave excitement, sweetling, and the only way to do that is to give the humans a fighting chance. Take this story, and make them believe it. Tell it to all who will listen, let them see the fear in your eyes. Not everyone will believe you, of course. But there will be some who do. It is those who do that will make life interesting again for us. Do this, and we will allow you to live your pathetic life. For now. Do it not, or do it with anything less than your best efforts and you will come back here. You will feed my children and their children, and we will not let you die until old age saves you from the torment. Go, now, and swiftly, young one. And mind the shadows, the owls and the strangers. 

Chanel

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“Oh sweetheart,” he said, “You are lucky you are so pretty.” Chanel smiled at him wanly, tittering mildly at this joke in agreement. She felt lucky to be so pretty. She actually thought pretty to be an understatement. She knew when she looked in the mirror that she was beautiful. Still, pretty was an okay start. The man who had introduced himself as Charles picked up his glass of bourbon on the rocks and swirled it a bit before taking a sip. As he did so, he slowly and deliberately walked his gaze from Chanel’s lovely, pouty, glistening lips down to her exposed collarbone, pausing at her voluptuous cleavage and lingering there momentarily. He then continued to take her in as she watched him, his gaze traveling down her ample hips and the curve of her exposed calf which was crossed prettily across the other leg and peeking through the slit in her sparkling gown, and pausing once more on her stilettoed feet, looking at them just as he had her bosom. He brazenly met her gaze with pure lust smoldering in his eyes, as if he had already undressed her physically instead of mentally. 

“I am going to enjoy you. Even if you aren’t that bright, the Good Lord blessed you with a body meant to be used for pleasure.” Chanel smiled at him, meeting his gaze with a mixture of coquettish charm and a hint of lust in her own eyes. She was going to have an amazing night with this man, she just knew it. She sipped her drink and then leaned forward, whispering against his ear. “My place, or yours?” Having seen the tan line on Charles’ left ring finger, she knew he would say her place, but she thought it polite to ask. She didn’t want him to think she was judgemental as well as stupid, and maybe be turned off. She wanted the fun he offered her, even if it was only temporary. 

“Yours.” He growled in her ear, unsurprisingly. “Now.”

Excitement sped Chanel’s pulse as Charles downed his bourbon and paid the check. Her whole body began to tense at the thought of them going behind closed doors and all the pleasures that awaited there. He drove them to her place, a small, unremarkable house in a quiet neighborhood. It wasn’t much, but it was plenty for what they needed. Charles ground against her backside as she unlocked the door. They walked in and Chanel closed the door behind them while he buried his face in her neck, kissing and touching her everywhere. She clicked the lock into place and turned to face him. She grabbed his hair and jerked it hard, making him look her in the eyes. Chanel watched as he looked at her beautiful face, and his lust transformed. Replacing it was a look of first shock, then as Chanel smiled, displaying rows of razor sharp fangs where teeth had been only minutes ago, pure, unadulterated horror. 

She enjoyed Charles for hours, and he did scream, even after she told him the whole house was soundproofed. Poor, pathetic Charles didn’t make it past dawn. But he had been right about one thing. Chanel’s body was made for pleasure, just not the kind he expected. Or enjoyed. Or could survive. 

Mine

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I have something you want. Something you need. And sure, you can find some elsewhere, but none like what I have, and you know it. So stop acting like you don’t. She sent the message with a devilish smile on her face, knowing she was walking a very fine line with Sir. A message came through nearly instantly, as she knew it would.

You know how precious you are to me, my little hellion. But mind your tongue before it gets you into trouble.

She laughed, delighted at his admonition and the nickname that meant he was starting to become irritated with her antics. She messaged back, But Sir, I thought you liked my tongue…especially when it gets me into trouble. Perhaps it would not be so troublesome if you paid attention to me like you should!

A thrill went through her as she sent this one, knowing that if she had been in the room with him, she would have heard him growl, low and predatory. This was part of their dance, she knew the boundaries and would never cross them, but Sir knew she needed room to misbehave just as she knew he needed the release of disciplining her when she did so. It was five minutes before he responded, meaning he was likely quite busy wrapping things up at work. Her text alert went off and she took a deep breath before looking at it with a smile and a thrum between her legs. When I get home, lovely one, you will have my full and complete attention. Perhaps more than you bargained for. Be ready for me in one hour. All black today, red lips, hair down. 

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She clenched low in her body when she read this and her heart fluttered a bit in her chest. All black was code for punishment, pain mingled in with her pleasure to remind her to behave. She always grew nervous, even though she trusted him fully. They had been in the dynamic for five years, and in that time there had been plenty of open communication and work gone into developing their boundaries and exploring their comfort levels. She had a safe word, they used a color system as well to signal when to ease up, and she also had visual cues for when she was restrained and gagged, unable to speak. Still, she always had butterflies when she knew she had earned punishment instead of funishment. The fear only served to excite her more and she squirmed a bit, enjoying the slickness already coating her inner thighs and the swollenness of her center as she did it.

The throb began to build as she undressed for her shower, feeling every sensation amplified by her excitement. The cotton panties sliding down her legs, the bra straps sliding down her arms. She ran her fingers through her hair, luxuriating in the light tug that created, then stepped into a hot shower. The water rushed over her, warming her skin and caressing it as it flowed. She whimpered a bit at the sensation, tightening her body and relishing the feeling. She was already so ready for him, needing him to touch her, to feel how wet she had become and not just from the shower. She was not allowed to touch herself without permission, so relief was not possible. It was simply an ache as she washed off the day, gasping slightly as she washed her most intimate bits. Her nipples were erect, even in the scalding water and her body felt alight with electricity. 

She dried herself off, then took her time moisturizing her body with his favorite lotion, smelling of frankincense and myrrh. She chose his favorite piece of black lingerie, hoping to lure him into funishment territory even though she knew she had earned more. It was a lacy black piece that hugged her full breasts tight, sheer to allow viewing pleasure. It covered her torso in the same patterned black lace, then spread at her pelvis, wrapping around her thighs and leaving her bottom and more sensitive things completely exposed. She paired this with thigh high fishnets and connected them to the garter of the piece, finalizing the look with patent leather stilettos. She noticed time was running short, and quickly put on the makeup he liked best, dark eye makeup she knew he would delight in smearing and a lipstick that would not budge through the night. He loved her lips bright, crimson red. She dried her hair and was ready with five minutes to spare. The process of getting ready had cooled her body just a bit, but as she knelt in front of the front door, hands placed palm up on her thighs, she had time to think once more of what was coming. He was cross with her, there was no doubt. But he also delighted in her pleasure and she had dressed to please him. Sir was going to claim every inch of her body with his own tonight, and that thought flushed her with pleasure and brought the throb between her thighs roaring back to life. 

His key in the door stole her breath from her and she looked down as he came in, trying to hide her excitement and giving him the most submissive of postures. He growled low in his throat, then said, “Ah, so submissive for me now are we? So quiet. What happened to that sharp tongue? Look at me, let me see that beautiful face, little hellion.” 

She looked up at him immediately, trying to give him innocent eyes and knowing she was failing. “What do you have to say for yourself, my lovely one?” 

“I’m sorry, Sir.” She looked at him pleadingly as she said it, but he only smiled wickedly.” Oh, not yet you aren’t. But you will be. Stand up and let me look at you.”

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Her face flushed red as she did so. After years of being with Sir, he still affected her so deeply. She loved the way he looked at her as he took her in, lingering on each of his favorite places. He looked at her with a mixture of hunger and delight, letting the fire show in his eyes. He always made her feel so vulnerable, yet so safe. “Good girl,” He said. “You look stunning, and I see you chose favorites of mine. That won’t save you tonight, sweetheart. I can’t wait to remind you who you belong to. Now kneel and open your mouth. Show Sir why he loves that tongue you mentioned.” 

She loved pleasing him and smiled up at him as she kneeled. He unbuckled his belt and pulled himself out before her, sending a shock of pleasure through her body, bringing back all the memories of them together and all the possibilities. He was hard already for her, and hot. She gripped him with her hand, watching him as he tossed his head back and groaned, “Yes, baby.” She licked one hot, long stroke up his shaft and lingered at the tip, teasing him despite her better judgement. This earned her a frustrated growl. “Stop playing with me, little hellion. Give me that mouth.” She opened as wide as she could, lowering her wet mouth over him as far as she could, feeling him in the back of her throat. He pushed her hands away and said, “I said mouth, baby. Your mouth is mine.” With that, he gripped her hair, pushing it away from her face and began to thrust himself in and out of her mouth as if it were other, lower parts of her. She whimpered as he did this, feeling her wetness begin to drench her thighs and her pearl tongue throbbing, crying out to be touched. She had to place her hands under her bottom and sit on them so that she would not touch herself. Doing so before being given permission would not bode well for her. He stroked in and out of her, then thrust as deep as he could fit, cutting off her access to air with the length of him. He held her there, looking down at her possessively. “Your mouth is mine,” he repeated. “Mine to please myself with. Your tongue is meant to please me. You belong to me.” She nodded, unable to breathe or speak and began to feel her body begging for air. She looked at him pleadingly, fighting her body’s urge to panic as he kept her from getting air around him. Just as she was going to give him the signal to ease up, he pulled out of her throat, slowly removing himself, wet and hard, from her mouth. She gasped as he did so, and he laughed a deep, rumbling sound, thick with pleasure. “Yes, little hellion. I do love that tongue. But all of you belongs to me. Stand up and let Sir remind you.” 

She stood, shaky with need, and faced her Sir, letting the inferno of desire she felt raging in her fill her face as she met his eyes. He moved against her, rubbing himself against her bare wetness, drawing a cry from her lips. Sir grabbed her by the throat and kissed her deeply, tongue exploring her mouth as she ached for him to explore other parts of her body. She began to tremble with that desire, moaning for him as he kissed her. He broke the kiss suddenly, grabbing her and spinning her away from him and to face their dining table. “Elbows on the table and spread your legs. Let me see what is mine spread in front of me.”

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She followed his directive with a mixture of excitement and fear running through her. Her heart was pounding now in her chest, and she heard him remove his belt from its loops. He massaged her bottom, squeezing firmly and gripping the softness there. She whimpered for him as he squeezed hard enough to bruise and he released his grip. “You asked for my attention, lovely one. But you acted out to get it. Who do you belong to?” He asked it and before she could answer, she felt the sweet sting of his belt licking across her backside. There was a loud, satisfying snap that accompanied the sensation and rang in her ears as she cried out. “You, Sir!” 

“Hmm,” he said gruffly. “I’m not convinced you mean it, my lovely one.” He flicked his belt in a stinging line across the other ass cheek, and she could feel it hot and welting on both sides. She cried out again, squirming with pain, but also with pleasure. This was part of their dance, and she revelled in it. “I do, Sir! I do! Please!” She yelped it, tears free flowing in hot streams down her cheeks. He said nothing this time, only gave her another lashing followed by another, and another. Her backside was now fully inflamed and with each strike, she cried out, begging him to believe she had learned her lesson, crying and yet filled with adrenaline to the point of ecstasy. Finally, she heard the belt drop to the floor. He pulled her up by her hair and pressed his hardness against her stinging bottom. He pulled her hair aside and kissed her neck, then her shoulder, then her cheek and she turned to meet his lips with hers, moaning as he ground himself against her. He groaned his need into her mouth and she met his need with her own. Her whole body was now quaking with the desire he had stoked into an inferno. 

He pulled back from the kiss and looked her in the eyes as he whispered, “Mine.” With that he turned her to face him, lifted her onto the table and shoved himself hot and throbbing into her. He was sheathed in her as far as he could go and she danced for him with him there, looking up at him as she bucked and moaned and tightened around him. She cried out wordlessly at first as he began to work himself in and out of her, thrusting hard and deep and slow. She felt him filling her up to the end of her and it was too much, she spilled her orgasm over him in a flood and as she did so, cried out “Thank you Sir! Thank you!” He growled deep and began plunging into her harder and fast, his breath hitching as he said, “Mine. You are mine. All mine. You belong to Sir. Don’t fucking forget it.” She felt his body tense and the knowledge that it was her body that was pleasing him, her that he was claiming as his, and that she belonged to him completely, sent her over the edge again. Her center clamped down on him, drawing him as close to her and deep into her as he could be, and it was there that he spilled his pleasure. He gripped her thighs bruisingly as he came, moaning his satisfaction loudly and then dipping his mouth to her breast and marking her there, digging teeth in and sucking as he moved. She screamed, climaxing once again for him as he rode her, thrashing beneath him and gripping his head tight against her until the waves of pleasure calmed. 

He lifted his head to look at her as he pulled out of her wetness. He watched her with delight as she gasped and shivered with every inch he moved. When he slipped the last inch out of her, she smiled, satisfied, and then winced as she moved to sit up. Her bottom was hurting in earnest now, and would be for some time. He laughed, reading her expression. “Lesson learned, baby?” She smiled up at him happily as she said, “Yes, Sir. Lesson very much learned.”

Cherry

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When had she stopped allowing herself to dream? At what point did her life become a matter of survival rather than an endeavor to create and enjoy something beautiful? She had to wonder if it was just her or if this was a sort of universal phenomenon, wherein during a certain phase, age, or event during their lives, people simply gave up on their dreams. Cherry wasn’t typically philosophical, but the thought occurred to her almost violently as she sipped her tea. It was so poignant that she had tears in her eyes before she had completed the thought. She had been going over the plans for this next job, making sure everything was in order. It seemed simple enough; an old shopkeeper who owned an antique shop in a small neighborhood, busy enough she wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but quiet enough to be able to avoid witnesses for her partner, Anja. A lovely name, though Cherry doubted it was her real one anymore than Cherry had been her birth given name. Still, she had become Cherry over the years. As well known in their business as Anja, but for different reasons. 

Anja was the best of the best when it came to pulling off the tough jobs. She had a strict set of rules and regulations that turned away some potential business, but if you wanted something done clean and precise, with as minimal risk as possible, it was Anja you wanted. Cherry, however, was known for being a walking, walking chameleon. She could fit in anywhere with any crowd, blend in just enough while being likeable. More importantly, she was scarily talented at getting people to trust her, and fast. Especially, though not exclusively, men. Cherry would be sent in with all the background she needed to know exactly how to play the mark, then play them like a fucking fiddle. 

There was a time she enjoyed it, but she had long since lost the taste for it, no matter how good the money. She was weary from years of transforming over and over and never being in one place for long. Hotels had been her home since she could remember, and though the caliber of hotel had quite improved since her first, it was still a business. Never a home. Cherry knew that for her, this was the last job. One can only push their luck so far, and Cherry had been in the game since she was a teenager. A young teenager at that. 

Her mother had been a prostitute who would ingest, inject or snort anything she could get the slightest high off of. Tale as old as time and all that. Her dear old mom had suggested Cherry start selling her body at thirteen years old if she wanted to continue to stay in the hotel room and not be out on the street. She said Cherry was old enough to start pulling her weight, even if she did so on her back. She had even suggested Cherry charge a premium for her age. Sickened and broken-hearted, Cherry left that same night. She might have only been thirteen years old, but she knew if she stayed, the suggestion would turn into a demand and then into  worse things if she refused. It was that night she played her first violin. She played the part of a terrified little orphan, “accidentally,” bumping into an elderly woman with expensive looking clothes and a kind face. The woman took one look at her and smiled, asking where on earth her parents were. Eyes wide and lips quivering, real tears welling up for reasons she couldn’t disclose, she told the woman that her name was Cherry and her mom had called her that because she said she was the sweetest thing.  Cherry said that her mom had died of cancer and her dad had ended his own life. She sniffled and said she had been roaming the streets, terrified of going into the system because she heard what happened to kids in foster care or in orphanages. She looked up at the woman, letting all the fear she felt show, batted her eyelashes at the old woman and said, “Especially little girls.” Cherry had the woman then, but for good measure added a watery sob and put her head in her hands, crying in earnest. 

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The woman, Rachel Monson, had taken her in that night, having plenty of room in her old, but massive home. All her family had moved away or passed away, so there was no one to ask about the appearance of a little girl. The neighbors were told that Cherry was a cousin’s grandchild, and that she had been left without parents. Cherry didn’t have to worry about going to school as the woman hired a private tutor for her when Cherry explained the police may be looking for her and that she was terrified of being taken away from the home she had found with Mrs. Monson. She had also told Mrs. Monson that she was terribly worried about what charges could be brought up against her for taking Cherry in. After that, the subject was never discussed again. Over the next five years, Cherry had honed her skills, learning from various tutors, but also from her life experience. She quickly found out she was a master manipulator, and vowed to never be in a position where someone could demand a damn thing from her in exchange for her safety or security. Even if it meant playing people to get what she needed. She also promised that her body would never be used as a commodity. 

Cherry left Mrs. Monson at eighteen, finding the kindness and naivety of strangers to be an incredible resource. One day, when she had conned a particularly large sum out of the hands of a man in a restaurant, another man came up to her and handed her a piece of a napkin. On the napkin was an address, a time and a message saying “You’re good. I’ll pay you triple what you just made. Nothing sexual.” It was the last line that sealed it for her. She was careful, went to the meeting armed with a cheap but effective little pistol tucked in the back of her waistband. The pistol had come from the home of a friendly old man who let her stay on his couch for a night. He had carelessly left it in his dresser drawer and had taken a long shower before bed. She had also been able to find some cash in the dresser. She hadn’t taken it all, just skimmed off the top. Cherry hadn’t needed to worry about fingerprints or identification, because technically Cherry didn’t exist. Not, at least, according to the government. She had wondered if anyone ever went looking for her, but if they had she was pretty sure she was assumed dead at this point. The man she met spoke calmly to her, sensing her nerves. He explained that he needed reconnaissance done, and he couldn’t be the one to do it as he would be recognized. He asked if she knew what the word meant, and she nodded quietly. She listened to him explaining that he was in the business of thievery. A proper professional, not a smash and grabber. He had grimaced slightly when he said this, as if the very idea was repulsive. 

“I won’t ever ask you to perform any duties that go beyond professionalism. I don’t judge sex workers, but no one should be forced or coerced into that line of work. Are you in?” 

She had asked him how much and when he named a figure that had a comma in it, she accepted immediately. 

Over the last ten years she had built up savings in several accounts abroad, and always had a healthy amount of cash on her person as well. She had built a nest egg that had grown to need more than one comma in the number. This job would be the last she needed to feel like she would have a long and healthy retirement. Cherry had been considering what international destination would be best for her, imagining a small house on the beach somewhere warm year round and away from people. She had been smiling to herself when it occurred to her she was daydreaming. Not just that, she was absolutely within reach of that dream, and believed in it wholeheartedly. That was the moment it occurred to her that she could not actually remember a time she believed any of her dreams would ever actually come true or even come close. She sipped her tea again and blinked back the tears that had welled in her eyes. 

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Cherry had put together a persona for this job, just as she always did for each new gig. Though she was known as Cherry in the business, she had never used that name on the job. Since this was the last one, she had decided to use it as a sort of talisman against ever going back. She had already had her guy make up the identifying documents. A driver’s license and a passport with photos of her in a dark brunette wig, curly and expensive, styled to hide any indication it may not be her own natural hair. She had worn two different outfits and changed the hairstyle just a bit for each photo. She also had a birth certificate and a social security card, and the name printed on all of these was Cherry Elaine Petitfour. She knew the name was a risk. Not only was the first name also her alias for the last fifteen years of her life, but the name was, well, hilarious. It stood out, and as a rule, Cherry usually preferred to fit in. Still, when the name had occurred to her, there was no way she could have resisted. She thought of it as a farewell kiss to the game that had raised her. Or maybe a farewell fuck you. Either way, the documents were made and the plan was set. She was going to the shop first thing in the morning to offer her services as a cleaning lady, complete with a sob story of just needing anything to keep a roof over her head, having an excellent work ethic but having been laid off from her job as a personal assistant due to budget cuts. It was a common enough story. When the owner, Harold, inevitably asked why his shop, she was prepared to tell him she felt him to be a kind spirit and had also noticed that his shop grew quite dusty and he had no one to help. She would tell him she lived nearby and had passed the shop multiple times on ventures out to hunt for work. 

Harold was a friendly man, but seemed vapid according to Anja. Cherry was unworried about her ability to get in, get the information and access needed and get this job done. Dhe’d done it enough times that it should feel downright routine at this point. Of course, each job was different from the last in some ways, but he was a lonely man getting on in years surrounded by antiques and dust. Primed and ready, in other words. Cherry downed the last of her tea, setting about her final preparations.

Harold was indeed a friendly man. Not so much so that he gave her a pervy vibe, but just enough to be receptive to her story. He had eyed her somewhat suspiciously when she had handed him a professional resume of fabricated positions and real qualifications, though not a comprehensive list. She couldn’t exactly list master manipulator, reconnaissance expert or professional wolf in sheep’s clothing on her skill set, after all. As she spoke, explaining her plight with just the right amount of desperation to be heart rending, but not enough to make it feel uncomfortable or pushy, she watched his face relax, his body language opening up by inches. He looked over her resume, heard her out and handed it back to her. 

“I’m sorry, miss. I am not looking for any help right now. But I do wish you all the best of luck.” Cherry had cast her eyes down,  then blinked up at him through her dark, thick lashes for just a brief moment, showing what she knew looked like embarrassment and hurt in her eyes. She took the resume from his hand, turned away and walked towards the door, shoulders hunched and head hanging. As she neared the door, she clinched it, sniffling once, and as she knew he would, he asked her to wait just a moment. “I can’t pay you much,” he said. “Business is good, but not great.” She let her eyes and face light up with happiness and the gratitude of a starving woman who has just been offered a bottomless buffet. She smiled, wide and pretty, red lipstick highlighting her pearly whites and thanked him with a brief hug, which he first stiffened in, then relaxed. She kept the hug brief and then looked at him sheepishly as she pulled away. “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry. I just, thank you so much. You wont regret it Mr.-” She looked at him questioningly. 

“Harold is fine. And you’re Cherry? Is that your real name?”

“Sure is,” Cherry said, smiling again. “My mama said she named me that because I was the sweetest thing.” 

For the first week, Cherry would show up in the morning, cleaning supplies in hand and meet Harold at the door when he opened the shop at 9:00AM. He complimented her each day on her promptness and throughout the day commented on how lovely the shop looked and smelled. It was the second week when he mentioned he could use a little more help around the place. He asked if she would mind a few extra duties if he paid her a few extra dollars per hour and asked if he recalled correctly that she had been a personal assistant. She had smiled her warm and pleasant smile and thanked him once again, hugging him and squealing with pleasure. After that, things came easily. First the alarm code, then the key to the back room, and finally the combination to the safe. There was one room he didn’t give her the key to, telling her that it was entirely unnecessary, he hardly even used it. A basement full of random items in storage and antiques he could or would never sell, he said. She ran the register for him, allowing him to talk to more of the customers as they browsed and just take some time off of his tired feet. He got into a habit of calling her his angel very quickly and seemed to genuinely trust her. This made Cherry sad, but she comforted herself by remembering that this was the last one. After this job, there would be no more preying on people’s better nature. 

As the weeks went on, she learned that Harold emptied cash into the safe sort of randomly, and only went into the bank once a month to drop the money in the safe. She had suggested that they start dropping into the safe more regularly to prevent there being so much cash in the register. She pointed out that people knew he only accepted cash and someone might get it into their heads to rob him. Harold had smiled at this and told her she was an awfully bright girl, and here was proof she was an angel. The truth was that this helped establish further trust and it would make it that much easier for Anja to get the cash in one go. There were cameras in the shop, but Cherry had not been able to find where they were recording. This bothered her, but when she told Anja, Anja had said she had planned for that contingency and not to worry. Cherry worried anyway, but not much. It was the last job, it would be fine. 

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Two days before bank day, Cherry messaged Anja and let her know that all possible reconnaissance had been done. It was Cherry’s time to pull out. She would head to another town and wait for the deposit from Anja once the job was done. All Cherry had left to do was sweep up the shop while Harold dropped the day’s money in the safe as Cherry had recommended he start doing. She began to hum as she swept, and heard a small thump coming from the back. “Harold?”  She called, sounding concerned and curious. He didn’t respond and she felt a thrill of dread go through her. Absurd for something so small to cause such a huge reaction, but there it was. A pit in her stomach, hard and tight. Suddenly her mouth went dry and her heart hammered in her chest. “Harold?” She asked again, this time a little louder. Still nothing. He couldn’t have fallen over, there would have been considerably more noise. Was he focused on counting and not hearing her? Maybe. She walked briskly toward the back room and stopped short when she saw her purse on the floor. It had been knocked over somehow, and splayed on the floor was the contents of her wallet. She had carelessly left it unzipped, and a thick stack of hundred dollar bills had cascaded out of it when it fell. She stepped into the back room looking for Harold. He wasn’t in the room and the safe was closed. 

Cherry let out a sigh of relief and bent down to put away her money hastily. He must have headed to the restroom while she was humming to herself and sweeping. She chuckled quietly at her over the top reaction and stood, zipping her purse closed. 

“Tell me the truth Cherry,” She heard it from behind her a split second before his meaty arms encircled her like a fleshy vice, squeezing her to the front of him. “ Is that my money? Is it my angel?” He squeezed her tighter and she couldn’t get her breath. 

“N-no,” She squeaked it, barely audible and began squirming, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. For an older man of his size, he was terribly strong. How had she never noticed the way his arms bulged under his button up shirts, they were hard as rocks around her, and showing no sign of loosening. She tried to speak again and he cut her off with a tighter squeeze. “I don’t think you’re telling me the truth, but you will, sweet Cherry.” Cherry fought harder, digging her nails into his thighs as her arms were trapped in his grip, but he was wearing thick trousers and it was probably nothing more than a pinch. He laughed then, and her blood ran cold. Cherry heard something in his voice that she recognized. When her mother got really high and hateful, she would lay into Cherry, a barrage of threats and insults. This was the same thing she heard then. It was a darkness beyond sanity, and it was permeating through him. She noticed something else then, as she was fighting to get him to release her. Something hard and unmistakable was pressed against her backside.  She lifted her leg and stamped on his foot with her high heel as hard as she possibly could. He bellowed, a mixture of pain and anger and flung her away from him, hard. She slammed into the safe, face first, hearing a loud crack resonating through her skull and pain exploded in the center of her face. Her nose was broken, she thought distractedly. The world was spinning, but she couldn’t lose it. She would lose everything if she did. She knew if she passed out Harold would hurt her. Badly. 

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The thought got her moving in the direction of the door, Harold stumbling towards her with astonishing speed given that she had to have broken at least one of his toes with her stomp. He grabbed for her and she moved just out of reach, running for the front door. She had to get away, had to. She reached the door, turned the knob and jerked it, realizing a moment too late that the damn deadbolt was already locked. She reached up to thumb the lock open and yelped as a massive, clammy hand closed on her throat hard enough to make her wonder if he had crushed it. He pulled her back against the front of him, and part of her registered that his previous hardness was now flaccid. Good, she thought. I hope it falls of, you sick fuck. He used his knees to push her to hers, then shoved her to the floor. Cherry felt the darkness seeping in at the edges of her consciousness and knew she couldn’t fight it much longer. She closed her eyes and felt hot tears flowing from them as he tied her legs with what felt like an extension cord, then tied her hands, his whole weight pinning her to the floor bruisingly. He then stood and lifted her, telling her if she fought he would just drop her to the floor and beat her brains in. Something told her that she should let him. Wherever he was carrying her to was not a place she wanted to go. His keys jingled and he stopped. The downstairs room. The one he had assured her was just storage. That’s where he was taking her. “NO!” She screamed it as best she could as she heard the key turn and the door click open. Then she was sailing through the air, weightless for a moment until she slammed into the stairs,hearing her shoulder crack and feeling it slip from its socket. She cried out as she slid head first down the stairs, feeling every step of the way down like a big rig ramming into her body over and over.

Finally her descent came to an end with a crashing thud, her brain still fighting for consciousness even as part of her wished for the dark nothing that unconsciousness would bring. She heard a lock click and he thundered down the stairs. He grabbed her and stood her up, facing away from him. “Oh God,” she moaned. Cherry looked around her at a room that was right out of some horror movie. There were steel tables with, oh dear God, with restraints on them. There were power tools, kitchen tools, and what looked like other hardware and, oh fuck, surgical tools, strewn about and hanging on the walls. It was like some sort of nightmare workshop. “Please,” she mewled as he pushed her towards one of the tables. 

“Shut up, Cherry. We are going to find out how sweet you are. You know, you aren’t my first. Not by far. As you can see, I have quite the set up. But you are the first one that came to me. I was going to let you live a while yet, angel. But you had to steal from me.” He tsked his tongue at her disapprovingly as he laid her on the table. She began to struggle anew, and he grabbed a scalpel. She froze as he held it to her cheek. “Now, now. You have already earned my wrath. Do you really want to make it worse?”

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Cherry looked at him silently, letting the hatred she felt fill her eyes, her face and her heart. She had only done the best she could with this life. She had been born to a mother who didn’t want her and a father who never even cared to know her, had to fight her whole life and came out on top every time. Now, here, in this basement, Cherry knew she was going to die. And she was damned if she would do it begging. She watched his face, staring him down even as he held the blade against her skin and let it bite into her. She didn’t whimper or cry out. Instead she stared at him as she said clearly, coldly and with acid dripping from her tongue, “Fuck you, you flaccid, disgusting, deranged, freak. You’ll die screaming.” She whispered the last like a curse, and felt pure satisfaction when his eyes went wide and just a little unsure. Even afraid. Then, as Cherry watched, his face went cold again, and an evil light flared in his eyes. He smiled at her. 

“Maybe. But you first.”

The Attic

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Once she reached the top step, she realized there was no going back as she listened intently to the moaning and groaning coming from behind the door. She turned the knob, half expecting the door to fly open of its own volition or be inexplicably locked. Josephine wasn’t sure which of those two would terrify her more but it didn’t matter. She heard a soft squeaking sound as the latch released. 

Suddenly, it was dead silent. No more wails of pain or grievous cries laden with misery. No more rattling of the walls or creaking of the floorboards. Not even the crickets, which usually chirped around the house from their dark corners, dared to make a sound. It was as if the whole world had taken in a breath and was now holding it, waiting for her to open that door. The air was thick, heavy and cold, yet she felt sweat dripping down the back of her neck, even as chills raised the hair on her arms like lightning about to strike.

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Josephine steeled herself, thinking of the countless nights she had been awakened by such a terrible symphony, unable to go back to sleep, begging her husband to check out the noises and being at first humored, then all together dismissed. Rolf was never awakened by the racket, she always had to shake him awake and tell him it was happening again. Josephine didn’t understand how he could sleep through it. Sometimes it was so loud that the windows chittered in their frames, threatening at very least to crack if not shatter. Rolf would get out of bed in a huff and go upstairs grumbling to himself. He would open the door and have a look around, inevitably saying she was just dreaming again. Nothing and no one was in that attic room. Tonight was different. She had finally gotten the courage to check it out herself and she wasn’t going to stop now.

She thrust the door open, as if aiming to catch some prowler in the act of disturbing her peace and locked eyes with a…a woman. There was a woman huddled on the floor of the attic. She was filthy and nude. She had long, matted hair, like a mane grown out around her head. Her eyes were panicked and pitiful all at once. Those eyes…Josephine stared at them, trying to place where she had seen them before. She found herself walking towards the woman, neither of them making a sound. Josephine sat down next to her on the floor, and stared ahead at the door. The door? The door was closed…Josephine didn’t remember closing it. Those eyes. She turned to look back at the woman and found herself looking at an empty space. She looked around frantically and there was no one in the room but her. No. “No!! She was there!” Josephine said it outloud, her heart hammering in her chest. “She was RIGHT THERE!”

Leaping from her spot on the floor, Josephine ran for the door, grabbing the knob and yanking at it. It wouldn’t budge. The damn door knob wouldn’t even turn. “ROLF!! ROLF HELP ME!!” She screamed at the top of her lungs. She heard him lumbering up the steps, grumbling to himself, but she didn’t care, as long as he got her out of here. “Rolf, thank God. There’s a woman in here and I can’t open the door. Get me out of here!” Unbelievably, Rolf laughed. A loud, belly laugh that was somehow jolly. Why would he be jolly at a time like this?

“Oh here we go again, Jo. How many times am I going to have to remind you?” He scoffed audibly.

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“Rolf, I don’t know what you are talking about but” –

He banged on the door, hard and loud. “Shut up bitch!” He shouted. “You know I am never letting you out. You keep this shit up and I will forget to feed you for another week.” 

Josephine was dumbfounded, her jaw dropped and she was struck speechless. She looked down at her hands, convinced this must be a nightmare. Her blood ran cold. 

Her hands were filthy, her body too as she looked on in horror. She lifted her hands to her hair and felt matts and grime, and suddenly became aware that her mouth was so dry her tongue was sticking to the roof of it and her stomach was beyond empty. It all came rushing back in a wave that knocked her to her knees. The eyes. Josephine finally placed them. She had last seen them in the mirror.   

Killing Us Back

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As near as anyone can tell, it started with the fish. All fish, from small to giant and everything in between. Not just ones in the wild either. We are talking about any fish still alive enough to swim. Those in tanks began launching themselves against their glass, the small moving in unison and battering the same spot on their tanks until they cracked the glass or killed themselves. The larger the fish, the greater the damage. Those in the wild did the same, but instead of destroying glass, they turned on any watercraft that they found. Now if you’re thinking about a little goldfish in a bowl, this may seem like nothing. But imagine the largest fish you’ve ever seen, a sturgeon maybe, and then multiply it by however many could be in the wild in a given area. The news was reporting some kind of waterborne pathogen. Ships were being sunk, then the lifeboats the survivors floated in were attacked. This is a good time to remember that sharks are a species of fish too. And oh yes, they were there. And had themselves a good old fashioned smorgasbord of people. There was chaos everywhere, violence breaking out over the last case of purified water in the store, having to search high and low for any within hours of the first news reports. It began with the fish, but it didn’t stop there. 

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All creatures, even the smallest in creation, are capable of a terrible strength when in numbers. Humans, thinking of ourselves as a superior being with the capacity for, “higher thought,” have implemented animals of all kinds into our lives. Factory farms, domesticated pets, breeders, zoos, hell we live in a world full of them, and tend to walk around giving the birds or wasps or butterflies no more than a passing glance. Trouble is, they started seeing us. Birds began swooping down and attacking any person they laid eyes on, man, woman or child. Insects of all kinds were swarming, biting, stinging and eating at any human foolish enough to go outdoors. Families were attacked and killed by their family dogs, cats, and my neighbor was stomped to death by his mule and two horses. Emergency services couldn’t get anywhere without being attacked themselves. So they told everyone, “Stay inside, hunker down, do not leave your homes.” And for a while that seemed to work. But how long can you stand off with Mother Nature? Not long, I don’t guess. The animals started seeking us out in our homes. Bugs getting in where they could, larger animals breaking windows, bears tearing down doors. Dairy cows were reported to have stomped anyone who got near them to death. The same was true of the bulls and other livestock around the country. It is as if some divine need for reckoning has overcome the animal kingdom at large. As I write this, I am hunkered in my bedroom and there is a flock of buzzards circling outside. I know they are coming for me. I watched them go from house to house, shattering windows and invading homes. There were a few gunshots here and there, but it always ended in screams. Then they come out of that house and move to the next, ravenous. I am not a smart man, but one thought has crossed my mind over and over as I wait to be sent to my maker. The creator has gotten fed up and so have the creatures we have used and abused since the dawn of time. The animals are killing us back. 

The Plan

***Disclaimer: The story below contains graphic descriptions of gore and violence, as well as SA. Please read responsibly.

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Why couldn’t she just do it? It wasn’t hard and she’d done it enough times that it should feel downright routine at this point. Of course, each job was different from the last in some ways, but when you were in any line of business, even burglary, there were always ground rules. Anja stuck to those ground rules and it was what made her so successful at her job. She never went into any residences, only businesses. She never went into a business when people were inside. And Anja never, ever went into a business she did not know all the ins and outs of first. There were also some other basics like get in and get out as fast as possible, take only high value items and cash that you can easily carry, cover every inch of your body so that no piece of you shows on camera or gets left behind for any forensics team, and lastly, in order to make it as difficult as possible to identify her, she never spoke aloud and always bound her breasts tight to her chest so that her body looked as androgynous as possible. 

Anja had done all her research. She had hired a partner that had come highly recommended to infiltrate the business she was currently parked down the street from. Anja had gone in only once, a month ago, just to see what the place had to offer. They were an antique shop, so they had plenty of high dollar items, but antiques were difficult to move and took time. Anja was more interested in the fact that they were cash only, and kept their money in a safe in the back of the shop. Cash was much easier to move, and also easier to carry. After she had gone in to confirm some of the information she was given, she made small talk with the owner of the store. He was a short, portly man, with a hairline that had receded so far back she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t have just shaved it. She chatted with him about a grandmother she had fabricated who loved antique spoons. She was looking for something special as it was grandma’s birthday, and would he happen to have any recommendations, etc. He recommended a spoon he said was from Montana and offered her a “special price,” seeing as it was a gift for grandma. Anja bought the spoon, cash only of course, and watched the man carelessly open the cash drawer, flashing the contents and confirming that not only did they do cash only business, but that he was not very careful about dropping money into a safe throughout the day. The drawer was packed. 

This was where the partner came in. Anja had contacted her via a prepaid phone she had bought that day. The name she went by was Cherry, a little over the top for Anja’s taste, but to each their own. Cherry specialized in infiltration. She was a proper chameleon, so Anja had been told. She could fit in anywhere and change so drastically in not only appearance, but demeanor, that she had never even been taken in by the cops for questioning, let alone arrested. She was a master of her craft, and that was the kind of partner Anja needed. 

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Cherry had gone into the shop, offering her services as cleaning crew, and had charmed her way from cleaning to assistant in less than two weeks. She had gotten the key to the back room and the code to the safe, and had even been given a key to the shop. The copies of those keys were now sitting in Anja’s pocket. The only place that Cherry had not seen or been allowed to go, even to clean, was the basement. The balding shop owner, Harold, had told her that there was nothing down there, but that the way down was treacherous and he would not have her hurting herself on the clock. She had tried her many charms on the man, but he would not budge. Cherry said that was probably where he kept the highest dollar items for himself, but that he never went down there that she saw. Either way, Anja did not care about the basement. Harold left the shop after closing promptly at 7:00 PM every day. He went home to his tiny apartment and did whatever Harold enjoyed doing on his time off until he arrived in the morning to open at 9:00 AM. He was open seven days a week and never deviated from this schedule. Cherry would close with him, then be there before he opened the doors in the morning. All the puzzle pieces were in place, it was the day before the trip to the bank, so the maximum amount of money was in the safe. Cherry had messaged two days earlier saying everything was a go. Anja would reach out to her after this was done and let her know where and when to pick up her cut. All that was left was to do it. So why was Anja still sitting in a stolen car with the keys to the shop in her pocket? 

The answer was simple. Something did not feel right. The shop was dark and had been since Harold had left. No one was inside, she was wearing her standard gear, black gloves, pants, long sleeve shirt, breasts bound, hair tied up so she could easily slip on the head cover as well. Black, nondescript combat boots, sold anywhere you could buy shoes, a license plate swapped out from the same color, year, make and model of another vehicle so that she wouldn’t get stopped with a stolen vehicle. She had the keys, the code to the safe as well as the code to the alarm system. There was nothing about this that could go wrong. Yet there was a pit in her stomach, gnawing at her, telling her to let this one go. The trouble was, she couldn’t even if she wanted to. She was too stubborn and had put in too much work to just drop it. Plus, it was a plush job. Easy as could be and with a massive payout. She chalked it up to nervous energy, took a deep breath and quietly stepped out of the car and into the deserted street. She walked with a purse, but inside the purse she had stuffed a large empty duffle bag. Anja was going to fill it to the brim and it would be just light enough to carry  quickly back to the car and get out of there before anyone was the wiser. 

Anja put the head covering on as she got to the door, then slipped the key in the lock, opened the door and disarmed the alarm. The only sounds had been the key in the lock, the opening of the door and the beep of the alarm letting her know it was counting down. After entering the code with nimble fingers, it was dead silent, just the way she liked it. Anja headed to the backroom, walking quickly, and unlocked that door as well. So far, so good, she thought. She walked to the safe and entered the code, hearing a satisfying click as the lock disengaged. She opened the safe door and, just as she was promised, there were bundles and bundles of cash inside, as well as coins. She wouldn’t take the coins as those were going to be far too heavy, and there was plenty of cash to fill her duffle. As she started to fill up the bag, she laughed silently at herself for being so nervous. What had she been worried about? This was the easiest job she had ever pulled, and maybe the most profitable. She actually wondered if Harold ever even took funds to the bank at all, given how much money was in the safe. She was almost done emptying the safe into her duffle when she heard the floor creak behind her. She stood up with a start and saw the pudgy fist flying at her face only a moment before it connected with her jaw. 

Anja went down immediately, seeing starbursts in her vision. Her head had snapped backward on impact and her body followed. She hit the ground full force, her breath leaving her and her chest burning and aching for oxygen immediately. She gasped and tried to shake her head to clear her vision. As Anja blinked, she felt an immense weight settle over her hips and on her pelvis. Her blurry vision cleared and she was shocked to see Harold sitting all his weight on top of her and looking down at her with an odd mixture of rage and excitement. Maybe it was the shadows, but he looked to Anja like he was damn near giddy with pleasure. “Get off me!” She said it with as much force as she could muster. The no talking rule had gone out the window the moment he had caught her. She would be lucky to get away before the cops came, nevermind the cameras at this point. His face changed then, even in the dimly lit back room she could see it. His mouth opened in a surprised little o, and then Anja watched as all the rage leaked away from him. There was no misunderstanding the look now. Harold was looking at Anja the way a starving man looks at a feast. The excitement was there now, clear as day, and there was something else, something that made Anja’s blood run cold. He leered at her, smiling, looked her up and down with lust plain in his eyes. He shifted his weight on top of her, almost wriggling against her, and said in a deep almost growl, “Oh, you’re a woman.” He leaned his weight forward, as if to reach for her head cover and she clocked him in the side of the head with her balled fist. Harold’s head snapped to the side with the impact, but that was all. He didn’t even lose his balance, nor did he lose his terrible smile.  Instead, he moved up her body just a bit, grabbed her arms, pushing them above her head as she struggled, and pinned them together under his palm. He removed the head cover and looked down at her. Recognition filled his eyes and he said, “Oh, so it wasn’t a spoon you were after. Tsk tsk tsk. Such a naughty girl.” He laughed then, a predatory sound that chilled her to the bone. He ground against her and she was sickened, because as he raised his arm, making a fist that was clearly going to be driven into her face, she realized with true horror that the soft, short, pudgy Harold was rock hard in one place that he ground against her belly. He brought his fist down against the side of her head and then Anja was swimming in darkness.   

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Someone was screaming, loud and long. Anja heard it and absurdly all she could think was she wanted it to stop because it was making her headache pound. Oh how her head hurt, and that wailing, piteous and sorrowful, seemed to be cranking a vice tighter on her poor head. She opened her eyes and had to blink a few times to clear them. Everything was red and something sticky was all over her face. She tried to wipe at it and realized she couldn’t. She tugged at her arm, but it wouldn’t budge. She tried the other and realized the same thing. Anja was laying on a cold, hard surface. She tried to sit up and couldn’t do that either. Something cold and hard was restraining her at the neck, as well as the wrists. At that moment another piercing scream echoed through the room and it all came rushing back. The job. The job had gone wrong. So wrong. She had been caught, and Harold had hurt her. Was this jail? No. No it couldn’t be. Anja turned her head, looking at her surroundings. The walls were a rust colored red, the ceiling low and looked to be padded with some kind of insulation. She could see the bottom of a staircase and bright lights, nearly blinding, hung from the ceiling. She looked toward the screaming but couldn’t quite see who it was. What Anja did see was Harold, standing with his back to her, bent over someone. She could see legs. Bare naked legs, streaked with blood. The legs were long and muscled, but slender, clearly feminine. Anja realized as she looked on that those legs ended in two bloody stumps. There were no feet attached, just flesh dangling and bone protruding from the ends. Anja wanted to join in the screaming now, but her fear had frozen her. She began instead to hyperventilate, taking in air faster than she could blow it out. She began to struggle against the restraints, pulling her arms with all her might tugging at her legs, which were also restrained at the ankles. She looked down the length of her body, to reassure herself that her own feet were still there, and it was in that moment she realized that she was all but nude. The only article of clothing that remained on her was her underwear. Her pants, shirt, shoes and even the binding and bra that she wore had been removed. Her skin was bare at every restraint, and the harder she pulled, the more she could feel her skin chafing. 

Her breath was coming in smaller and smaller gasps as the woman next to her screamed in unending agony. Anja saw the edges of her vision starting to go dark. No, she thought, no, I cannot lose consciousness again. I don’t know what this freak will do to me. I have to stay awake, stay awake, she thought. She focused on slowing her breathing, tapping her fingers lightly one by one against her thumb on each hand. She did the best she could to tune out the screaming and focused only on the sensation of her fingers tapping, and timing it with her breathing. Slow down, she thought, use your brain, you can get out of this Anja, slow down. As she focused, her breathing finally started to slow. It seemed an eternity , but in reality must have only been a minute or two. Her vision cleared and she slowed her breathing to an almost normal pace. She steeled herself and turned to look at Harold, his back still turned to her. He had been hunched over and was now standing straight up. The screaming had stopped and his one hand was on his hip, dripping with blood. The other was lost in front of him and he was making small grunting sounds, accompanied with a wet, smacking sound. No. Oh fuck no, Anja thought. But even as she turned away and closed her eyes, trying to drown out the noise, she knew what she was hearing. She remembered him grinding against her before knocking her out. He had done something unspeakable to the woman on the table next to hers. And now, this sick fuck was pleasuring himself over the woman. Please let her be dead, Anja thought, let her be dead because it is the kindest mercy in this hell. 

Anja heard it as he finished with a loud groan, and fought back the bile rising in her throat. It occurred to her that it might be better to choke to death on her own vomit rather than live to be tortured by Harold, but she doubted he would let her get so far as choking to death. And just like that, she had a plan. Anja had always been a planner. Followed ground rules and stuck to the plan. This would be no different. It would either work, or she would go down fighting. She would not end up like the woman on that table. She took a few deep breaths and heard Harold zip up his pants and buckle his belt. It was now, or never. She called up the image of the woman’s legs, the stump at the end of each of them, bloody and mangled. The sight of the white bits of bone and other flesh sticking out the ends. She thought of the screams and then the wet sound of him pleasuring himself, grunting and moaning, and within moments, that bile came rising back up her throat. She didn’t fight it, but instead let it rise. It was acrid and acidic in her mouth, sour and bitter and as she wretched, it began to choke her. She felt it coming out of her nose as well and her body began to fight for air, trying desperately to force the liquid and thicker things from her esophagus and keep it from getting into her airway, but there was nowhere for it to go. She turned her head to the side involuntarily, her body not understanding that this was the plan, but too much of the vomit had lodged itself in the pathway meant for air. She was choking in earnest now, and if he didn’t do what she was hoping he would, she would die. 

Harold cursed emphatically and she felt the restraints open on her wrists and neck. He sat her up fast enough she thought she might get whiplash and began to pound her on the back. As she spewed the contents of her throat out and gasped for air, she heard him saying, “Breathe, stupid cunt. Breathe. I have plans for you, and they don’t include you dying, yet. I want to be in you while you’re still hot and fighting.” That brought on another rush of vomit, this one was not part of the plan. She heaved onto her own lap, her body determined to empty out the contents of her stomach. Finally, when the gagging had stopped, Harold moved to lay her back down. “We’ll have to clean you up, you stink now, bitch.” He said this as he pushed her back onto the table. She laid backward as if cooperating and as he leaned down to restrain one arm, she jammed her thumb directly into his eye socket, digging her nails into the side of his head like talons, hooking her thumb deeper as he tried to pull away. He was screaming “BITCH!! YOU BITCH! OH YOU FUCKING BITCH, I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!” But he flailed his arms at her, not really hitting much on anything. She felt his eyeball give with a sickening pop and then she held it in her hand. He jerked himself out of her grip and she flung the eyeball. He went to his knees, keening in a way that didnt even sound human. Anja reached out and undid the restraints on her ankles, thanking the universe that there were no locks on them, just a latch. Harold was getting to hit feet, foaming at the mouth and he made a wild grab for her as she lunged off the other side of the table. She turned to go up the stairs when he shouted, “You cant get out without the keys, dumb cunt.” She turned and looked at him, unbelievingly, and he held up the keys in a jingling gesture, smiling even with one gaping bloody eye socket.

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Anja considered her options in an instant. She knew he could be lying, but if she went up the stairs and the door was locked, she would be trapped. He was short, but wide and stronger than he looked, and if he cornered her at the top of those stairs, she didn’t like her odds. On the other hand, Anja was quick on her feet. If she could get the keys and get to the door she would be free. She would worry about what came after that when she got out of this. Harold was lumbering towards her. He had stuffed the keys in his pocket and in his hand he had an absurdly large butcher knife. Of course it was a massive butcher knife, Anja thought, what an unoriginal prick. She darted out of his reach and looked around the room for anything to help. As she looked, she noticed another knife sticking out of the chest of the woman on the table. She also noticed that she knew the woman. “Cherry,” she whispered it and was stricken still for just a moment too long. Harold was on her, knife to her throat. 

“Cherry, yes. You knew her, did you? She was as sweet as her name and her insides as red. Let’s go look at Cherry together, little cunt.” He positioned himself behind Anja, knife at her throat, pressing hard enough that she could feel it breaking the skin, nicking her as she walked. She made no sound, as she knew it would only please him. She walked toward the bloody mess that had been Cherry. “I think I will fuck you on top of her, thieving bitch, since you two were friends” He took his freed hand that wasn’t holding the knife and began to fumble with his belt. They got to the table as she heard his zipper pull down and then she felt the hardness against her. He shoved her down on top of Cherry, just as Anja hoped he would. She fell forward and he had to move the knife from her throat or risk killing her before he had his sick bit of fun. As he removed it from her throat, she reached behind her, dug her nails into his balls and as she squeezed with all her might, lunged backward, driving him hard against the wall. 

He squealed then, high pitched and shrill, and dropped the knife to the floor with a clatter. Anja let go of Harold’s balls and snatched the knife from the floor, turned around and before she could think on it too hard, she plunged right into that squealing throat, hilt deep until it stuck out the other side of him. He fell to the ground, grabbing at the knife, choking and gagging, making a sickly wheeze with each attempt at breath. Anja looked away as he died. She did not want to remember that hateful eye staring at her as it went from raging and insane to foggy and unseeing. Once the noises stopped, she grabbed the keys from his pocket and went upstairs. 

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The door was indeed locked with a key. Anja found the key after a few tries, then opened the door. There was a soft whoosh as she did so, and she realized the padding on the ceiling as well as on the door was a sort of sound proofing. No wonder she hadn’t heard a thing before he had found her. That also meant there would be no cops on the way. She looked around the place and found he had another back room, complete with a cot, fridge and a closet. In the closet she found her clothes, as well as at least twenty different hangers with different women’s clothing hanging on each. One hanger held the dress that she had last seen Cherry in. She also found her duffle bag and the purse she had carried it in. The bag was still full of money. Anja got dressed, washed her hands clean and took the duffle bag. She couldn’t do anything about the forensics left behind, but when they found this scene, they would likely think she was just another one of the victims. It didn’t really matter either way because Harold had more money hidden away in his back room. Along with photos. She didn’t look at all of them, but saw enough to know they were of his victims. Some with him in the photo, some not. 

There was enough money to buy herself a new identity, and enough evidence to prove a large part of what had happened. Sure the police would want to know who killed him and got away, but that’s what new identities were for. Plus, as it turned out, the security cameras weren’t recording a thing. They were dummy cameras that went nowhere. Anja left the shop, not bothering to lock the door, and headed to her car, full duffle bag and full purse in hand. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, and she thought it might be the most beautiful sunrise she had ever seen. When she hit the highway, she pulled out the phone she had intended to call Cherry with, and dialed 9-1-1. She made an anonymous report with an accent she didn’t truly have, then tossed the phone from the car window, watching it shatter in her side view mirror. Anja didn’t know exactly what her future held, but she smiled anyway. She had survived. And she had a plan.