Anne Bunton orbited the rack of pocketbooks like an obscenely large bee, searching for the one color and style that didn't make her look fat. The idea of something as simple as a pocketbook making her look fat was, of course, absurd...
...or, it HAD been until she'd gained those last 25 pounds. Now, in addition to plus-sized clothing found only in specialty shops, she had to hunt like a prospector to find the most common of accessories. Like pocketbooks, for instance. Too large, and it would draw attention to herself. A huge woman with a huge pocketbook... yes, THAT was the kind of attention she wanted. Not. But if she carried one of the ultra-small ones that were in fashion, the contrast made her look like a whale with a postage-stamp slapped onto its flank. She needed THAT like she needed another forty pounds.
So, as she circled the handbags for the fifth or sixth time, three things occurred to her simultaneously... each wrestling with the other to shove its way toward the front of her mind.
First: She was tired. She'd been on her feet for almost 45 minutes. Those feet, and the elephantine legs that swung them, were beginning to complain.
Second: She was hungry. It wasn't quite lunch-time, but it was close enough. The doughnuts she'd had for brunch weren't going to hold off starvation much longer.
Third: The short black woman at the jewelry counter looked very familiar.
No... no, it COULDN'T be.
But when the woman turned toward the mirror to examine the pendant she had just put on, Anne could clearly see her face. It was. It didn't seem possible... but it WAS...
"Dolores?" Anne called... instantly embarrassed at having opened her mouth. Not only had she drawn attention to herself, but this couldn't POSSIBLY be the woman she thought it was. A sister or relative, most definitely, but the Dolores Williams that Anne new was...
Nevertheless, at Anne's shout, the black woman turned toward her. She smiled instantly.
"Annie!" Dolores squealed, holding out her arms.
Anne shuffled over to her friend and gave her a big hug... a hug that only emphasized the source of Anne's confusion. Dolores all but vanished in Anne's huge arms.
"What happened to you!?" Anne gasped when they parted.
"What... what to you mean?" Dolores said smiling... she knew full well what Anne meant.
"Well... LOOK at you! You're..." Anne didn't want to say 'beautiful,' because that would imply that Dolores wasn't pretty before. She had been... 'pretty' meant something completely different on a 400 pound woman than it did on a normal-sized person. Dolores had made the miraculous transformation from the former to the latter, and had now she was more than 'pretty' or 'cute'... she was gorgeous. The change was astounding. Her face was less round... less puffy. Her multitude of chins were all smoothed away. Dolores' neck, when you could see it past the chins, used to looked like a tree stump. Now it looked like a neck, and a very nice one at that. The pendant she had been trying on rested on top of a normal-sized bosom, rather than being swallowed in cavernous cleavage. The fat-filled sacks of flesh that used to swing from her arms like playground equipment were gone.... with no sign they had ever been there.
Dolores had lost at least 200 pounds since the last time Anne had seen her. And, in doing so, had crossed the line that only obese people knew existed... the line that meant stares and giggles just for daring to walk out in public. The line that meant shopping out of catalogs and specialty stores instead of buying off the rack. The line separating the people who could wear bright colors from those who were relegated into black and subdued earth-tones, lest they be made to look ridiculous.
Dolores was wearing a bright red dress that would have turned Anne into a giant tomato.
And she looked great in it.
"...my God." Anne exclaimed. Her mind drew back from what she was seeing. It was impossible. Dolores had lost 200 pounds since the last time they'd been to diet class together. 200 pounds...
...in ten days!?!
"Dolores, are you sick?" Anne said in hushed tones, looking around so as not to draw embarrassing attention to her friend.
"Oh good lord no," said Dolores. Even her VOICE sounded thinner. "I just lost some weight that's all."
"Dolores," Anne gave her a dubious stare. Dolores smiled.
"Look, honey," she said, touching Anne's arm gently. "You know what I used to look like? I just got tired of lookin that way. That's all it took."
"Oh, if THAT'S all it takes then hell, I'll just click my heels together right here and turn myself into Calista Flockhart. No, Dolores, I'm serious... you look amazing, but are you okay?"
"I'm great, Anne," said Dolores. Anne believed her. Dolores looked happier... and healthier... than Anne had ever seen her.
"So how'd you do it... couldn't have been a diet-"
"Damn sure wasn't. Wasn't no diet and wasn't no damn exercise program. All those doctors and experts don't know half as much as they THINK they know. It's common sense... if people like us could stick to diets, we wouldn't be so big in the FIRST damn place. And exercise? HA! They don't MAKE exercise equipment strong enough for me... I sent TWO treadmills to hell before I learned that lesson. So what then... get my fat ass out on the street and jog? In July? In GEORGIA? Please..."
"Ahem!" The elderly, heavily made-up lady behind the jewelry counter had been standing patiently, waiting for Dolores to return the pendant. She didn't look like she particularly enjoyed waiting... in fact, she looked a lot like a stick of dried meat dipped in flesh-colored paint.
"Can change the fat but you can't change the black," said Dolores as she removed the necklace. "Here you go, honey, I wasn't gonna steal your damn necklace. "
The old woman took the pendant and returned it to its case while Dolores led Anne away.
"Like I said," Dolores continued. "Wasn't no diet."
"So what was it... surgery?"
"Please, girl... you think I'm gonna let some doctor cut on me?!"
Anne remembered Dolores' aversion to doctors. Hospitals made her ill, she'd always said. Anne shared the same sentiment, but to a less neurotic degree. Besides, liposuction could only do so much... it certainly couldn't suck 200 or more pounds off of a woman's body. Not healthily... and not so evenly as to leave the entire body looking as if it had been sculpted by an artist.
"Drugs?" said Anne. She'd tried drugs before... both of them had. If Dolores had discovered something new... something that actually WORKED...
"Kinda like a drug, but it works more like a miracle," said Dolores. "I lost almost fifty pounds overnight. Every night. Five nights and I'm a new woman. Or rather, the woman I always WAS can finally be seen without all the lard gettin' in the way."
"But that CAN'T be healthy-"
"You think weighing 385 pounds is healthy? C'mon girl, you know I like livin' too much to go off doin' somethin crazy... like staying the way I was. THAT was crazy." Dolores started rummaging through her pocketbook. "Here... I'm glad I ran into you. Truth is, I was gonna call you, because you're the first person I thought of when this thing started working..."
"Oh, no-" Anne began. But when Dolores pulled out a business card instead of a bottle of pills, she paused... then reached for it. She took the card and looked at it.
"Poe's Exotics?" she said, reading.
"It's a little place in October Falls... south of Macon. 75-south, then get off on that highway goin' east. You know the one. It's about an hour and a half from here, but its worth the trip... as you can see."
"Who is this 'Poe'? Is he a doctor?"
"Hell if I know. I didn't ask... didn't wanna lose respect for him if he said 'yes.' Didn't seem like it, though. Doesn't matter what he is; his stuff works. You just follow that highway, and just when you think you're lost, there's the town. His place is downtown... big sign on the window. Address is on the card."
Anne glanced at the address. She had never heard of October Falls before.
"So what is this... stuff? What do I ask for?"
"Hell, I don't remember the name... too hard to pronounce. You don't have to ask; he'll know what you want as soon as you walk in the door."
"Hmm, well thanks. I might look into this-"
"Uh-huh, Anne, I know that look. You just brushin' me off... you ain't go no intention of going down there. That's fine... that's your business if you want to stay the way you are. But before you dismiss it, take one more look at me-"
Dolores stepped back and did a slow twirl in the middle of the floor.
"You know what I looked like the last time you saw me. And now, this..."
She twirled again, even slower.
"I'm your friend, Anne. Between the two of us, we've tried everything... well one of us finally hit the jackpot. I'm just trying to share the wealth, that's all."
"Wow, you do look great, Dolores."
"And now people stare at me for a whole different reason...."
Dolores pulled up the hem of her dress and stuck her leg out to the side... another fashion-model pose.
"I got Tina Turner legs, girl! Look at them thangs!"
Anne laughed. She couldn't help it.
"Hey, is Joe still on that trip?" Dolores asked suddenly.
"Gets back tomorrow, why-"
"Why don't you surprise him. Meet him tomorrow... but leave fifty pounds or so behind. See if that so-called boyfriend of yours even notices. Or better yet... put off seeing him for four or five days, then show up weighing 200 pounds lighter.
"He wouldn't even recognize me..."
"Then leave him, and the two of us can go out man-hunting! I'm going dancin' tonight, girl... imagine that! ME! In a club... dancing!"
The image made Anne laugh again. She pictured Dolores in a nightclub dancing up a storm. The way she looked BEFORE, it would have been absurd. But now...
"I gots to go buy me some shoes, girl" said Dolores. "You got the card... you do what you want."
Anne looked down at the card and read the name again: Poe's Exotics.
And suddenly, the idea of driving to some town she'd never heard of for a 'miracle drug' didn't seem quite so far-fetched.
Dolores had been right.
Anne knew for sure that she had taken some wrong turn (or not taken the right one), and had ended up on the road to nowhere. The highway had been deserted and the landscape barren for much longer than Dolores' hour. Or at least it seemed that way. The land she saw around her didn't even seem like Georgia any more... it looked more like the pictures she had seen of the desert in Nevada... or Mars. But just when Anne was about to turn around and go back, she saw the sign:
"Welcome To October Falls" it read.
Some teenager had scrawled an obscenity across the lower half of the sign, and that made Anne relax. Any place that had teenagers and graffiti had to be okay. Or at least normal.
The road passed through a wooded area that seemed to pop up out of nowhere... then the trees gave way to houses... more than a few of them empty. Then came warehouses and a small industrial district, with what looked like a factory way off near the horizon. More houses... and then the town. When she saw the McDonalds, all of her apprehension drained away. She stopped and got a few cheeseburgers, and asked directions to downtown. 'Just follow the road', the pimple-faced girl replied. Anne was in such a good mood that she didn't even notice the disgusted look on the girl's face... or the wide-eyed stares of the skinny teen manning the french-fry machine.
Anne munched as she drove through downtown. The buildings were strange. Big and ornate... ancient hulks overly-decorated with fancy columns and leering gargoyles. In between them were more modern buildings... small shops and stores. She slowed down and read the addresses...
She didn't have to worry about missing it. The tiny store didn't look much different than the others around it, but the words "POE'S EXOTICS" written on the window in enormous gold script made it impossible to miss.
Anne pulled into one of the empty parking spaces... and sat there. There it was... Dolores' 'miracle.' The store was right in front of her, but it didn't look like the place to find miracles. In fact, Anne couldn't even tell what kind of store it was. She saw a lot of strange-looking plants through the window, but that was it. She couldn't see anyone inside, either.
What WAS this place?
"...well...," she said. "One way to find out."
Anne got out of the car and went in.
There was a tiny bell hanging just inside, and the door caught it when she pushed it open.
Several scents rushed out to embrace her as her as she entered. Mostly there was an earthy, plant smell... thick and fragrant, but not unpleasant. Mixed with it were the myriad scents of spices and herbs... which is what most of the plants were. There was also a sawdust smell coming from the hardwood floor, and another scent she couldn't recognize. Altogether, everything merged into a unique fragrance that was somewhat pleasant.... and very relaxing.
"Hellooo?" Anne said as she made her way through the maze of plants to the counter at the rear of the store. Behind the counter was a thick black curtain. As she approached, the curtain parted... slightly... an a short, thin man stepped out of the back room.
He was an ugly man. Anne couldn't tell if he had some kind of disease... or if he had been burned... or if he was just born with what Dolores would have called an 'unpleasant face.' His skin was thick and lumpy from what could have been tumors, growths, or maybe scars. An ugly bump on his left cheek had a tuft of hair growing out of it. There was a similar, but smaller bump on his nose. One of his eyes looked like it was about to ooze down the side of his face and fall on the floor. When the little man smiled at her, Anne saw that there wasn't a straight tooth in his mouth... his smile was a jumble of crooked, chipped, and missing teeth. Anne tried not to wince.
"Hello there," he said, looking at her. His smile widened, and Anne got the sense that it was genuinely sincere. It wasn't a salesman's smile... he seemed genuinely happy to see her. "How may I help you this afternoon?"
"Ummm...." Anne stuttered. "I, uhh... wh-what kind of store is this?"
"Poe's Exotics," said the man, as if the name of the store was self-explanatory. "I sell things that other stores don't. Things that people can't find anywhere else..."
"I see," said Anne. She didn't.
"You look like a woman in search of something," said the man. "Whatever it is, I'm sure I can satisfy you."
"Well, my friend Dolores came here, and she said you sold her these... uhh.. .pills. They really helped her; she's gorgeous now-"
"She was gorgeous before, we merely brought it to the surface."
"So you know what I'm talking about?"
"Of course. You want the Ilubus..."
"The what?" Anne blinked.
"Wait here..." The man held up a finger, indicating she shouldn't scurry away while he was gone. Then he backed away and vanished through the curtain. Anne thought that the way he walked was odd... more like a slow drag than a walk. And he didn't turn to leave; he just backed away as if he didn't want to turn his back on her.
"Strange little man," Anne whispered, then felt sorry she had said it. He probably couldn't help the way he looked. And the way he acted? Who was SHE to judge.
There were no sounds from behind the curtain to indicate what the man.... Mr. Poe?.... was doing. She couldn't even hear his footsteps. Rather than stand there and stare at the counter, Anne decided to look around the store. There was an astounding variety of plants cluttering the walls, and in one corner stood an gigantic cactus with an enormous flower blooming at its crown. Anne assumed that Poe's was some kind of greenhouse... but then she saw a shelf on one wall that held dozens.... over a hundred... tiny bottles. She walked over and read some of the labels. Some she recognized as common spices and cooking ingredients. Others weren't so-common. Mandrake? Flood Lily? Essence of Effiltrium? What the hell was that?
A bottle at the very edge of the shelf caught her eye. She was reaching for it when something moved. Not on the shelf, but on the floor... one of the clay flowerpots, this one holding some kind of flowering miniature bush. Anne could have sworn it had just moved... just a gentle nudge as if something were moving around behind it. In fact, she could almost see something through the leaves...
Anne leaned closer to see behind the pot-
"Ahhh here we are!" Mr. Poe's voice startled her. She jerked upright and spun... nearly knocking down the shelf in the process.
"Oh!" she exclaimed.
"These are what you need." Poe had come to the edge of the counter, and was holding out his hand. Resting in his wrinkled and somewhat swollen palm were four small white pills.
Actually, then didn't look much like pills. They were round instead of flat, and they had a waxy coating on them that glistened in the store's weak overhead light. Anne recoiled... from the hand AND the pills.
"The Ilubus," said Poe, extending his arm a little further. Anne noticed that he didn't come out from behind the counter. "This is what you came for."
"Those little pills are gonna help me lose weight?"
"What's in them?"
"Many ingredients... some mundane, some exotic. Powerful vitamins,... more powerful than any you will find elsewhere. Certain plant extracts that support the metabolism. And some very rare ingredients.... only recently available in this part of the world."
"Its natural, then?"
"Or course," said Mr. Poe. "Everything is natural."
Anne approached the man and his pills sheepishly.
"How do they work?"
"They affect the metabolism... establish a process through which the body can naturally rid itself of excess fat. It happens while you sleep."
"Oh, I've tried those kinds of pills before. They don't work-"
"You have not tried these," said Mr. Poe. "You will be more than happy with the results... You will see. If you are not happy, I will give you your money back..."
Anne was doubtful.... but then she remembered Dolores.
"...dancing..." she whispered. She took a deep breath and made up her mind. "All right," she said. "What do I do?"
Mr. Poe smiled.
"You must follow the directions exactly." Poe had told her. "It is very important that you follow them to the letter."
It was so important that he had even written the rules down for her as he told her what they were. Anne read them again in her kitchen, pacing back and forth with a cup of coffee in one hand and Poe's scrawled note in the other:
Take one pill a night on an empty stomach. No food, no drugs... especially stimulants.
Take when you will be alone and undisturbed for the night.
Take off all clothing, and leave a window open for fresh air. Fresh air is essential.
One pill will remove 40 to 45 pounds while sleeping.
"That's it, eh?" said Anne. "Doesn't sound too bad." She walked over to the kitchen table, where the pill lay nestled in a folded-up piece of wax paper. Four pills. Anne re-read the last line of Poe's note, then looked at the pills again.
Joe would be back in the morning, and he would want to see her as soon as he got in....
Or maybe, a hundred?
Why not? It was all natural... right?
Anne smiled a giddy smile, then scooped up all four pills and tossed them into her mouth. She washed them down with the remains of her coffee, then went into the bedroom.
Her stomach was already growling, but it had been doing so before she'd taken Poe's pills. The directions said to take them on an empty stomach, so she'd skipped dinner. Now she was starving.
But tomorrow, she was going to eat as much as she wanted, and no one would laugh at here because she'd be beautiful...
"Oh, who am I kidding," she sighed as she closed the bedroom door and removed her clothes "This isn't gonna work..."
She looked at herself in the mirror and shuddered in disgust at herself.
"...please work..." she said, almost crying. Anne pulled the sheets back, lay down, and stared up at the ceiling. "...please work..."
Her stomach growled, and her heart was pounding in anticipation. Would she feel anything? What if hunger kept her awake? Would she be able to SEE the pills working? Would it work even if she didn't fall asleep?
This was going to be a long night...
...and in the brief space between that thought and the one that followed, Anne fell asleep.
The roiling growl of her stomach was like a saw through her flesh. Starving... so hungry... so hungry that it HURT!!!!
Come To Me.
What? What was that?
Who's there? That voice? Mr. Poe?
...no way out... trapped...
...hunger.... eat... must eat!
Must EAT! Must EAT! MUST EAT NOWWWWWWW!!!
"Honey, I'm back!" Joe Sharpe announced as he unlocked the door and let him self into Anne's apartment. "I caught an early flight," he said loudly. He shut the door behind him... and frowned when Anne didn't come waddling out of the bedroom to greet him in her typical bear-hug. Being a hefty man himself, he was one of the few mortals who could withstand such affection... and he had been looking forward to it all night.
But when Anne failed to materialize, he started to worry.
"Anne?" he called. He hadn't expected Anne to be up at midnight, but she was a very light sleeper. "Babe?"
Her car was parked in the lot, so she had to be home....
Joe saw that the bedroom door was closed... which wasn't all that unusual when he was in there with her. But when she was alone, she kept it open so she could hear if someone came in.
An uneasy feeling rolled over in the pit of Joe's substantial stomach. He had come home early... an unexpected visit. He tried to remember the parking lot... were there any unfamiliar cars parked there?
"Nonsense." He dismissed his suspicions and walked toward the bedroom. "Anne! Anne, I'm here... I'm-"
He stopped, hand outstretched toward... but not quite touching... the doorknob.
He had heard a sound. A low slurping, grunting, groaning noise from the other side of the door. It wasn't a sound normal people made when they were sleeping... but it WAS the kind of sound that came from putting a bed to its OTHER intended use.
Joe's mouth went dry. Should he knock first? He'd hate to interrupt....
...dammit, this was HIS girlfriend!
Joe grabbed the doorknob and thrust the door open.
He felt a tide of relieve wash over him when he saw the outline of Anne's body resting in the bed... alone.
Then he looked down-
"OH MY GOD!!!"
Anne's eyes were open before she fully realized she was awake. Had she heard something? No... no, that had been a dream. What time was it?
She turned and looked at the clock beside the bed. It's glowing red digits read 4:00am. Far too early to get up, but she was wide awake. Must have been the coffee.
Oh well, at least she wasn't hungry. In fact, she felt strangely sated. Her growling stomach had apparently accepted its fate and quieted down for the night. Now if she could only get back to sleep before it woke up-
-then it all came back to her. The reason her stomach had been empty. The reason she had skipped dinner. The pills...
She noticed the difference even before her fingers reached the lamp on the nightstand. She felt.... not stronger, but lighter. As if a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders, freeing her muscles from a heavy load. She clicked the light on with one hand while drawing the sheet back with the other.
That was all she could say. Her eyes hadn't even adjusted to the light... but she could see well enough to know it had worked. Her stomach... it was GONE! The rolls of fat circling her abdomen had vanished, and her thighs...
Anne leapt from the bed... she could LEAP!.... and ran for the mirror. She turned on the wall light and gasped at what she saw.
She was beautiful.
She was BEAUTIFUL!
Large, firm breasts... shapely hips... THIGHS that wouldn't rub together when she walked! She wasn't skinny by any means, but the weight she DID have was perfectly distributed. She was full-figured... a full, GORGEOUS figure that she hadn't seen in a mirror since... since EVER!
She had NEVER looked this good!
"...my God!" she said, turning around and looking at her backside. Even THAT was smaller.... sculpted to match her new figure perfectly, yet shapely enough to draw attention. The right kind of attention... .not stares, but whistles! Did men still whistle? She was going to find out!
Anne was about to fetch the long-dreaded bathroom scale when she saw that her bedroom door was open. She distinctly remembered closing it when she went to sleep earlier, but now...
She glanced around the room, and saw the window. It was closed and locked, the way it always was.
"Oops," she said, remembering Poe's instructions. Well, it didn't seem to have made any difference.. but why was the door open? Did she get up in the night without realizing it? Get up to do what?
She remembered.... she had THOUGHT it was a dream, but.... did Joe come in last night?
Had he seen her yet? Anne hoped not, she wanted to surprise him with her new hot new body!
"Joe..." she said as she left the bedroom. "Joe, are you here-"
The sight... and smell... slammed into her gut and nearly threw all the way back into the bedroom Her stomach heaved; her throat constricted. Her jaw trembled...clenched... her whole body went into spasms until finally it allowed her one scream.
It wasn't human.
That was the first thought in her mind when she saw the torn and bloody thing in her living room. It... was not...human.
But it was. Oh, it most certainly was... or, at least, it HAD been when it was in one piece. Now it was just a reeking jumble of wet bones in the general outline of a man.
The upper body had been completely ravaged. Above the waist was nothing but bone draped in tiny strings of flesh. Clothing, skin, muscles, and organs alike had been stripped clean to the bone... and even some of those had been cracked open for the juicy marrow within. There was no face... only a bloody skull. The left hand, where Joe wore his signet ring, was missing... torn off at the wrist. The lower body was in slightly better condition, as if whatever had attacked him had started at the top and gotten full before finishing the meal. One leg was almost untouched, and at the end of it was a shoe that Anne recognized as half of her birthday gift to Joe last year.
Anne's mind continued to reel inside her skull, refusing accept the grotesque horror that was slowly soaking blood into her carpet. It was a joke. Yes... a cruel, disgusting joke. Those bones weren't real... the teeth and claw-marks all over them were just some special effect, like in the movies Joe liked to watch. And the smell... just some chemical... just some fake...
Not Fake. Real. Real blood... real bile... a real corpse.
And it was Joe.
Anne remembered being hungry... she remembered the OTHER part of her dream... with the voice and the frustration and the hunger... oh yes, the hunger. Joe had come home in the middle of it. She remembered him calling her name.
And she was hungry. Sooooooooo hungry....
But she wasn't hungry NOW, was she?
No. Not at all.
Here was Joe' a half-eaten corpse on her living room floor.
Eaten. Eaten alive.
Teeth-marks on the bones.
Strips of flesh ripped off...
...and she wasn't hungry any more.
What was Poe's rule? Be alone? Undisturbed?
Her stomach tried to empty itself, but for some reason it couldn't. Anne stared at the unfinished meal on her floor, unable to take her eyes off of it... off of Joe.... for what seemed like hours.
Then, a few seconds after she had first left the bedroom, Anne returned to it... yanking a now grossly over-sized jogging suit out of the closet and covering it with an equally-oversized long coat. She rushed out of the apartment, skirting around the half-eaten mess in the living room. She grabbed her car keys from the kitchen table and was gone...
...having never noticed that the living room window was open.
October Falls was a lot easier to find at night than during the day, but Anne was in no condition to notice the difference. She was in no condition to drive, either, but she did. She had blazed a 95mph trail down the interstate highway, and was only now slowing below 85 as she passed the McDonalds. She had no idea WHY she was here again... why she had chosen to return to October Falls instead of turning herself in to the police.
But she knew where she was going.
Ohhhh, yes; she knew.
Poe's Exotics was right where she had last seen it. Some part of her expected the store to be gone... or to never have existed in the first place. Yet, amazingly, there it was. Anne's tires screeched as she barely stopped the car in time. She exploded out of her car and raced for the door.
It was locked.
Of course it was locked... the store was closed. There was even a small, polite "No Trespassing" sign in the window.
Anne wrapped her fingers around the latch and turned with all her strength, intending to break it with her bare hands. When that didn't happen, she threw herself against the door.... again.... again....
Something gave, and the door swung open, dumping Anne inside. She didn't fall, but she did stumble... she was just catching her balance when she saw the black curtain behind the counter move. Someone had just peeked out, and had jerked back in before she could see them.
"POE!" she screamed. Anne rushed around the counter and drew the curtain all the way back. "POE, what did you DO to me!!""
"There's no need to shout," Poe's voice said calmly from the shadows. "We're right here...."
The room behind the curtain was pitch black. The light from the moon and streetlights failed to penetrate more than a few feet. But when Anne focused on the place where she had heard the voice, she could make out Poe's outline. He was coming toward her.... but slowly, not attacking. He took another lurching, dragging step... as if pushing himself forward with some vile third leg... and then she could see his face.
"What did you DO to ME!" She repeated.
"We gave you what you wanted," said Poe. He stopped moving... but Anne saw something else moving behind him. A large shadow...
"What I WANTED?! But... but I KILLED JOE!"
"Nonsense," said Poe, shaking his head. "You're just confused. You must have had a nightmare... a common side-effect."
"It was NO dream! What I saw when I woke up was NO DREAM!. I killed him and... oh, God... I ATE HIM!"
"No, you didn't," Poe said, taking another strange step forward. He pointed at Anne's feet.... "THEY did."
Anne looked down... and screamed.
They were all around her... vile, twisted lumps of flesh slithering on the floor at her feet. They looked like tumors given life... like giant slugs with tiny arms and little wings fluttering excitedly on their slimy, misshapen backs. And they had faces... tiny, ugly, faces filled with sharp teeth, and with features that looked like some disgusting amalgamation of Anne's and Mr. Poe's.
There were four of them, all looking up at Anne and smiling... smiling her OWN smile back at her.
Anne backed away and almost stepped on one of the creatures. The thing slithered quickly away from her descending foot, escaping with a sudden burst of speed that sent another jolt of terror down Anne's spine. Her mouth opened and closed rapidly, trying to scream again but only managing to babble incoherently...
"Don't be afraid of them," said Poe. "They won't hurt you... after all, they are a part of you. Your children... Flesh of your flesh."
Anne looked up at Poe as he approached her, coming further into the light. The thing behind him... she could almost see it...
"We cannot create new flesh on our own. You, on the other hand, have more than enough. More than is healthy. We took what you didn't want and breathed life into it. Now, everyone is happy."
"No, this isn't what I wanted!"
"Isn't it? You came looking for a miracle, didn't you... well now you have it: The miracle of life..."
"You... you're a MONSTER!"
"Yes," said Poe, "Yes, We are!" With that, Mr. Poe stepped fully into the light, and Anne saw that her words were more true than she could have ever imagined. Mr. Poe was the same as he had been on her first visit, but now she could see ALL of him... including the thing that she had seen moving behind him... the thing she had mistakenly thought was a separate entity. It wasn't.
It was a monstrous column of undulating flesh... gnarled and cancerous.... crowned with an upthrusting mouth ringed with teeth. Dozens of tentacles fell out of its slimy trunk. Some were small and thin... these slithered across the floor around the monster like snakes... or intestines. Others were huge, thick and turgid... the thing used one of these to push itself forward, and it thrust another before it, curling it upward where it became the body of Mr. Poe. Poe was a part of the creature... an appendage given human shape, human speech, and human clothes... yet still attached to the naked, inhuman whole.
Anne didn't waste the energy needed scream. When she saw the thing... when her mind tried and failed to grasp what it was... she immediately turned and ran. But one of the small tentacles had already looped itself around her ankle. When she tried to run, the warm, slimy appendage drew tight against her skin and yanked her leg back...
Anne fell. Caught herself with her hands and rolled over onto her back... just as the tentacle began to drag her... slowly... back toward Mr. Poe.
Her slug-children hopped playfully out of her way as she slid past them.
"I'm afraid I can't let you leave," said Poe. The voice came from Poe's lips... but several swollen growths on the creature's trunk pulsed and gurgled softly in time with the words.
"I won't tell!" Anne screamed. She kicked her feet, trying to free herself, but now more tentacles were sliding toward her. She recoiled when they touched her flesh.... circled her wrists... oozed across her chest... slithered up through the valley between her breasts and encircled her throat. She couldn't move. "Oh, please..."
"You should never have come here..." said Poe. He and the creature that he was a part of lurched toward her. "You should have followed the directions. No food. No drugs... no stimulants."
Poe twisted around and reached...not for Anne, but for the main body of the creature. A bulbous wart-like pustule pulsed, throbbed... and then burst at his touch... depositing a handful of small white objects into the outstretched hand.
"The caffeine made the newborns quite jittery," said Poe as he turned back toward Anne. "And hungry. Ravenous. With the window closed, they were trapped there until someone freed them. By the time someone DID come, they were too hungry to control... I am sorry about your friend... had there been only ONE newborn, he may have been able to fight it off. But you had taken all FOUR pills. It's all your fault... all because of you. We'll have to make sure you follow directions this time... tell me, did you stop you eat anything on the way? No... of course you didn't..."
Poe's hand reached down toward Anne's face. The tentacle around her throat loosened. The tip of it slithered up her chin and lodged between her lips before she had a chance to close her mouth. She bit down on the lumpy flesh... but it throbbed, growing larger in her mouth... forcing her lips apart...
"Ahhhh..." Poe said as he poured the pills into her mouth. He pinched her nose shut with his other hand. The tentacle in her mouth yanked away so quickly that it took one of Anne's teeth with it. Poe slapped his hand over her lips and held it there.
Before she could tell herself not to... before she could fully realize what was a stake... Anne swallowed.
She swallowed them all....
Anne felt the waxy knobs ooze down her throat and into her stomach, where they began to swell...
How many? Twenty? Forty? More!? She didn't HAVE that much flesh! Poe was going to... Poe was going to take it ALL!!!
Anne gasped as her stomach bulged outward beneath her coat...
"Shhhh..." said Poe as he took his hands away from her face. "Try to sleep. You don't want to be awake for the miracle..."
Copyright 2003 by Dark Icon (Marc Washington)