Feature Writer: sheablue
Feature Title: MESMERIZED
Story Codes: Erotic Horror
Synopsis: Clara’s desire for her BFF leads to darkness and the occult
With cotton gloves on her hands, Shawn solemnly laid the items on the wobbly wooden table: a dusty old book, and a beautiful silver knife. I eyed them suspiciously. Where did she find this stuff? Her job at the history museum led her down some weird paths. Not to mention her obsession with the occult. I cut my eyes to Shawn, who was wandering the small, dusty room like a kid in a candy store.
“Tell me again why we’re here?”
Shawn turned and grinned at me. I rolled my eyes. Only Shawn could have pulled me into this. I should be home; I had to organize my clothes, my schedule, for the weekend. Shawn’s long, red-blonde curls bounced around her shoulders as she flopped into a decrepit purple velvet armchair. The dust that poofed up around her was positively ghastly.
“Clara! Isn’t this just amazing! It’s like from a movie or something!”
I wrinkled my nose and looked around the room. More like a third rate community theater production of some Gothic horror piece of nonsense. I mean, god, with the colorful scarves draped over every light source, the dusty velvet wall hangings and furniture, were we supposed to forget we had just walked in from the sad parking lot of a dingy strip mall? I looked around for the omnipresent “crystal ball.” It had to be here somewhere. I peered closely at a crooked shelf that hung precariously from the wall. There were glass jars lined up on it that seemed ready slide off together down one end. There was a sickly green liquid in each one and … were those eyeballs?
“This is so fake. It’s like the sad little sideshow fortune-teller you go to at the town carnival.”
Shawn threw her head back in the chair, and let out a frustrated noise. “Ugh! Clara! Will you stop and at least try to have a little faith for once? Believe in something besides your schedule and your lists? Sometimes it’s ok to just let go and let something interesting happen.”
Shawn was giving me that look again. That one that would turn to pity in a few more seconds. A shimmer of tears would appear in her wide green eyes and she would throw herself at me, hugging me tight. I would be assaulted by the intoxicating lavender spice scent of Shawn’s curly hair, I would feel the press of Shawn’s soft round breasts against my own, much smaller ones.
All of Shawn was so much softer than I was. Sometimes I couldn’t stop myself from staring at my best friend, noting the deep V of cleavage that I could never achieve even with the best push-up bra, her pointed pixie face surrounded by the corkscrew-curled red-blonde hair.
I moved out of reach before Shawn could launch herself at me. “Just … tell me again what this woman told you.”
Shawn pushed herself out of the dusty purple chair with a swirl of her multi-layered cotton skirt. “She’s a powerful medium. She can sense when someone else has the gift. She knew right away that I’m an empath, and that my sensitivity to earth’s vibrations is a strong indicator that I could have the natural ability to be a medium, too, with the right training.”
I sighed in frustration. This was my best friend. PhD. Museum curator. And naive beyond belief. “So what, you want to quit your dream job at the museum and take up fortune-telling?”
“I want to be a medium, Clara. It’s totally different,” Shawn huffed, the “duh” obvious in her voice. “I’m going to get my bag from the car. Oh! And remember, don’t touch anything.” Shawn flounced out of the room, the scent of lavender trailing behind her.
“A medium, of course, how could I be so stupid.” I muttered.
I drifted around the room, inspecting the oddities and dime-store, carny fortune teller feel of the place. My eyes glanced over a skull on a corner table that was so real looking it obviously wasn’t. The threadbare red velvet curtains that obscured the windows of the storefront. The gauzy scarves that hung over cheap lamps I had seen on sale at Target, like, last season. The dusty, overstuffed purple velvet furniture, the chintzy oriental rug on the floor. It all just screamed: “I am a fake and the passionate and gullible will give me their money anyway. The passionate and gullible . . . like Shawn.
The only stretch of wall that wasn’t obscured by the velvet drapery was the one I had been standing near before, with the crooked shelves inexpertly screwed into it. I clasped my hands behind my back and inspected each jar.
The first one had some fetal animal in it, which could be real, I supposed. The next one had a “severed hand” of some sort. It looked like a plastic monkey’s paw, like something you would win at the carnival. Put it on a key chain and freak out your friends.
The last jar on the shelf held the fake eyeballs. I took a step closer. The eye balls were multi-colored, and looked perfectly round, not at all realistic. More like bouncing balls or marbles made to look like eyes. I counted them, and noted the colors of the irises. There was a brown one, a bright blue one, a green one just like Shawn’s, and grey-blue one very much like mine. I was thinking how weird that was, when the brown one rotated to “look” right at me. And then tapped itself against the inside of the jar. Tap tap tap.
“Gahhh!” I yelped and took a hurried three steps back. My scuffling feet tripped me up and I pitched backwards, only just catching myself on the edge of the round wood table in the center of the room. The jostled table tipped and Shawn’s items tumbled off and onto the floor.
“Ah, shit!” I steadied the table and caught my breath. What was wrong with me? I would not let the desperate ambiance of this faux creepy, dingy room get to me.
I looked at the objects scattered on the floor. The small, ancient leather-bound journal was lying open. I could see the slanted, cramped writing that covered every single one of its pages. The knife glinted dully in the poor light.
Shawn had warned me numerous times about touching these things. Even Shawn, who had collected them over the course of the last year, only touched them with gloves. At first I thought it was because they were very old, and Shawn was handling them as she would handle other artifacts she acquired for her job at the museum. But then Shawn had confided the nature of these objects. How they had all belonged to the same man, some mysterious “psychic” from the 1800s who had died mysteriously. I had only half listened. She believed he had known secrets of other worlds that no one else knew. Of life after death. Shawn believed a lot of crap.
Including that if this meeting with the “fortune teller” was to be successful, no one could touch these objects with bare hands until tonight. But there they were, on the floor, and I had no gloves. I looked around. I could use one of those rotting scarves, ew, or … leave them on the floor until Shawn got back. But I didn’t want to give Shawn the satisfaction of knowing I was spooked.
“It’s fine. I’ll just …” I bent and pincered the book cover between my thumb and forefinger. I quickly tossed it back onto the table and closed it using just two fingers. The knife I had to hold onto more securely, though I was loathe to. I didn’t want to smudge its glinting silver hilt with my fingers. Damn it, why were my hands so sweaty?
The knife was heavier than I expected. It rolled into my palm. I didn’t mean to hold it so tightly but it felt so comfortable there. The silver handle was surprisingly warm to the touch and I could feel the pattern that was etched into it tickling the skin of my palm. I suddenly felt dreamy and dull. My eyes fluttered closed, just for a moment.
I thought I heard someone whispering my name. A tickle of breath against my ear. “Claraaaa … ” I swayed lethargically. My limbs felt loose, not quite my own.
The tinkle of a bell snapped me to attention. I heard voices. Shawn. Another woman. With a strange feeling of reluctance, I quickly placed the knife back onto the table and threw myself into the purple velvet arm chair. I crossed my legs and feigned indifference. I only had a moment to wonder what the hell had just happened when Shawn pushed through the drapes at the front of the room. A tall, incredibly gorgeous blonde woman followed her.
“Clara, I want you to meet someone.” Shawn was breathless and sparkly eyed as she ushered the woman into what was, to my understanding, her own storefront fortune telling business.
“Annalise, this is my friend Clara. Clara, this is Annalise.”
A lifetime of proper manners propelled me to my feet and helped me extend my hand in greeting. Annalise gave me a curious look. Her grasp was firm and dry. I was hyper conscious of my own damp palm.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I heard myself saying, as if from far away.
“Are you feeling alright, Clara?” Annalise had a low, melodious voice that made me feel strange. Or maybe it was the way Annalise was looking at me, like she knew something I didn’t.
I fought to gather myself. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I was just expecting you to be … ”
Annalise smirked at me. “Older? Shorter? Toothless?”
I laughed in spite of myself. “And Hungarian, maybe.”
Shawn had been following the exchange closely. Now she laughed, too. “Clara!” Shawn nudged me with her shoulder. “Don’t be rude!”
“Now, Shawn.” Annalise smiled a perfect smile. “Don’t blame Clara. I mean, look at this place. What else could she think?”
While Annalise looked around the room with obvious distaste, I looked at her. She was taller than me, and at 5’7, I was considered on the tall side. Annalise had smooth, straight, white-blonde hair cut bluntly at her shoulders. She had bright blue eyes, perfect white teeth, a long straight nose, in fact, she looked much more like a super model than a store front fortune-teller.
She wore a belted, short black trench coat, jeans, and tall, black heeled boots. She was well put-together, the kind of woman I admired from afar. The only thing that revealed she was any older than me and Shawn was a crinkle of crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. She was probably in her mid-forties, or possibly as young as thirty-five. In that light, it was hard to tell.
I was utterly fascinated. I just had to ask. “So … you’re the fortune teller?” I was hesitant to even say the words.
Annalise laughed derisively. “Oh god, no. This …,” She succinctly dismissed everything in the room with a wave of her hand, “is not my place.”
Shawn let out an exasperated sigh. “Clara! Seriously. Do you ever listen to a word I say? I told you, Annalise is a medium, not a fortune teller. And she works for an organization, the Crowley Continuum, that tries to shut down places like this, and the frauds who take the money of desperate people.”
I thought back to the conversation that led to me being here with Shawn. All I could recall was blah blah blah fortune teller blah blah blah. Maybe my skepticism had caused me to have selective hearing. Still, Annalise was a medium? That was a real thing?
“Don’t blame Clara.” Annalise put her hand on Shawn’s shoulder, rubbing the corduroy of her jacket lightly. “She’s had a tough go of it lately. Haven’t you, Clara.”
There was that odd look again. I felt my face flush. What had Shawn told Annalise about me? About the accident? About my brother? I felt anger start to rise up inside of me, I fought to tamp it down. I would not lose control.
Annalise broke the mood with a light clap of her hands. “We should get started, yes? Shawn, these items you have collected, tell me about them.”
Shawn’s furrowed brow smoothed and her eyes lit up. She wore a form fitting v-neck sweater under her corduroy jacket, I could see a flush blooming on the pale sweep of her cleavage.
“Yes, OK.” Shawn began. “These items were the belongings of John Calhoun, a self-proclaimed Warlock and practicing medium in New York City in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Not much is known about him, except that at that time, when attending seances and trying to communicate with the dead was a popular pastime, John Calhoun was the most sought-after medium.”
I watched Shawn closely as she spoke. Shawn had started playing with the copper colored buttons on her coat, rubbing her fingers around and around the edges.
“Most mediums of the day were debunked as frauds. They used magician’s tricks to fleece their clients. Accomplices researched their marks, and some were very good at cold reads, like the more successful ‘psychics’ that thrive today.”
Shawn stared down at the items on the table, the book and the knife. “Calhoun was one of the most prestigious mediums of his time, and no one could ever prove that he was a fake. He never allowed the press or other observers into his seances or sittings. He had ardent supporters, many among the rich and powerful elite, who spoke for him. Though, as was true for that time period, most of his clients were women. It was said he had quite a way with the opposite sex, the richer, the better.”
“Yes,” Annalise said with a smile. “There were many rumors of affairs with his rich clients. His sexual prowess was legendary.”
Shawn looked up quickly and I thought I saw a flash of jealousy cross her face. “You know about John Calhoun?” She asked, almost pulling off the innocent tone.
“Of course,” replied Annalise with condescension. “Those of us schooled in the arts of the medium have studied the methods of the Masters who came before us. In fact, the Crowley Continuum was founded by Calhoun. Didn’t I mention that when we spoke?”
I felt the urge to butt in. “So … how did he die? Not of old age, I assume?”
“It was under mysterious circumstances, certainly.” Annalise replied.
“Nobody knows.” Interjected Shawn. “He was found dead in his rooms at the Gramercy hotel. There was no obvious cause of death.”
“Ok, look,” I sighed. “This is all terribly interesting. But it’s getting late. Shawn, can we just do this whatever it is and get out of here?” I was starting to feel deadly tired. It was stuffy in the small dusty room. I wanted out.
There was that look again from Annalise. Why did she keep doing that? “Certainly,” she purred. “Let us circle the table and join hands.”
I stepped closer to the table with Shawn and joined hands with her on one side, and Annalise on the other. Shawn’s hand was warm and soft, while Annalise’s hand was cool and dry.
“I’m curious, Shawn, did you ever try to have the journal translated?” Annalise studied Shawn’s face with interest.
“I did. None of my sources were ever able to identify the language. Most thought it was either a code or a private language Calhoun made up himself.”
“Indeed,” Annalise flashed a strange smile. “And the knife? It’s been authenticated? Wherever did you find it? Many of us thought it was lost forever.”
“It has been authenticated, of course. But … but … I can’t say where I acquired it. I’m sorry.” Shawn blushed.
Annalise looked intently at Shawn, as if she were going to pull the information right out of her brain.
“Very well.” Annalise closed her eyes and began to speak in a low voice.
“We, with the power of three, call upon the spirit of John Calhoun. We bid you come to us, however you may, and fill us with your power and knowledge.”
I wondered what Shawn hoped to achieve with this little bit of theatrics. Did she expect the spirit of this John person to appear like a ghost and impart his knowledge? Or to speak through Annalise? Or to, like, knock on the table three times?
Shawn repeated the words Annalise had said. A sharp look from her told me that I was to speak as well.
“We, with the power of three, call upon the spirit of John Calhoun. We bid you come to us, however you may, and fill us with your power and knowledge.”
” … and knowledge.” I finished. I was really starting to feel unwell. My hand ached. My right wrist felt swollen and hot. Little pains shot up into my palm.
Annalise directed me to put my hands on Shawn’s right shoulder as she placed her two hands on Shawn’s left shoulder. I was standing so close to Shawn I could smell that intoxicating lavender spice scent.
I was having trouble focusing. Annalise was asking Shawn if anyone had touched the objects with bare hands since she had acquired them. Shawn shook her head, no. I was going to speak up, the words were on my tongue, some instinct made me swallow them down. I didn’t want to ruin Shawn’s seance.
Annalise and I repeated the same words, again and again. Shawn took the book in both of her trembling, bare hands and pressed it against her lips, her forehead. Shawn’s lips were moving silently, repeating the same words Annalise and I were saying out loud. I felt ridiculous, but I was swept along, powerless to say anything but the same incantation, over and over. Sweat beads were forming on my lower back, and in my hairline. My right wrist was on fire.
Annalise’s voice increased in volume as Shawn picked up the knife and held it against her heart. Her eyes shone as she watched Shawn handle the beautiful silver dagger. There was some emotion emanating off of her that I could swear was malice.
“We, with the power of three, call upon the spirit of John Calhoun. We bid you come to us, however you may, and fill us with your power and knowledge!”
I was gripping the soft textured material of Shawn’s jacket tightly in my two hands. The pain in my palm was almost unbearable. I felt like a hole was burning through the center of it. My arms shook and sweat dripped down both temples. Once again I thought I could hear that soft, whispery voice in my ear.
“Claraaaaa … Claraaaa … “
Shawn set down the knife and looked at Annalise uncertainly. She looked lost, like she didn’t know what to do next.
Annalise’s gaze raked her face intently. Shawn looked back, confused. I felt I was missing something. Annalise looked at me and for a moment the repetitive words died in her mouth. Her eyes took me in, the shakes, the sweats, everything. I felt her gaze burning into mine, and I couldn’t look away. Then she smirked and moved for us all to once again join hands.
Once we were linked again around the wood table, Annalise nodded her head for us to stop chanting. Thank god. I still felt powerless to interrupt, but I felt hope that this whole thing was finally coming to a conclusion and I could go home and die in peace.
Annalise spoke alone.
“John Calhoun, we with the power of three thank you for hearing our call. We beseech you, come to us when and how you will. Show us your power.”
She dropped our hands, and we took a collective deep breath. I stumbled a few steps backwards and collapsed onto the chair behind me. Everything in the room tilted, except, ironically, the shelf on the wall next to me. That damned thing now looked straight. It seemed all of the marble eyes were looking at me. I was too tired and sick to care. I held my burning palm to my chest and watched Shawn and Annalise talk over the table.
“So …” Shawn started, hesitantly. “How do we know if contact was made? Did you feel anything?”
“Oh, absolutely. I felt a presence in the room with us, and I’m quite sure it was Calhoun. Didn’t you feel anything, Shawn? You are the intended … conduit.”
“I … I think so.” Shawn did not seem at all sure. “I felt a little dizzy, like my head was spinning. I was all out of breath.”
“Yes, well. That was it, I’m sure.” Annalise looked over at me, taking in my limp form, draped on the arm chair like empty clothes.
“And how do you feel, Clara?” She was wearing that smirk again, it was like a mask for something else. I opened my mouth to say I felt fine, when Shawn got a look at me and rushed over in concern.
“Oh my god, Clara! You’re so pale, you look terrible!” She squished herself in next to me on the chair and pressed the back of her hand against my forehead.
“And you’re burning up! We should go. Annalise? Is there anything else we have to do?”
“No, no, we’re finished here. You can take the artifacts home, or to your office. I would keep them in a safe place, they are quite valuable. But it is perfectly safe now to handle them.”
Annalise walked over to us and looked down at me from her impressive height.
“It was really lovely meeting you both. Shawn, I’ll be in touch. We’ve only just begun.”
With that she pushed through the drapery at the front of the room and was gone.
A moment after Annalise left, I started to feel better. The room righted itself. I wasn’t so dizzy. My hand and wrist still ached. A pins and needles sensation started along my fingers.
“Do you feel ok to get up, Clara? Do you want me to help you?”
I looked at Shawn, my best friend in the world, my roommate, my confidant. The concern in her face made me want to cry. I wanted to stroke her curly hair, bury my face in it and breathe in her scent. I wanted to lay my head on her round breasts and close my eyes. I felt such love welling up in me for my beautiful Shawn, it was overwhelming. So I looked her dead in the eye and I lied.
“I’m totally fine, Shawn. I mean it. I think I just got dizzy because the room was so stuffy, and, you know, all the chanting.” I smiled my winningest smile.
Shawn looked at me skeptically.
“If you say so. You still look like crap to me.” She winked at me and my heart skipped a beat.
She got up and began packing up the book and the knife. I stood to help her, feeling only a little woozy. Shawn fetched the long roll of oilcloth from her bag and spread it out on the table. She placed the book in the center, and then picked up the knife.
“You know, I really expected to feel … more.” She sighed. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Annalise, but, I don’t know. I feel kind of … rejected.”
She turned the knife in the faint light and I felt my mouth water looking at how the shadows moved along the blade. I wanted to touch it, to hold it again, to feel its reassuring weight and warmth in my hand. Shawn placed the knife on top of the other artifacts and rolled them all up inside the cloth.
“I still believe that Annalise is the real thing. And that John Calhoun was, too. Maybe I did something wrong.” She sounded forlorn.
I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better. Had I ruined her seance because I touched her objects before she could? I didn’t believe in this stuff, not any of it, not Annalise or John Calhoun or mediums or seances. But I felt bad for Shawn. I wished I could make it up to her.
* * *
The car ride home was quiet, both of us lost in our own thoughts. I couldn’t take my mind off the dagger. I could feel it like a weight in my mind. I knew it was right there, in her bag, in the back seat. It took all of my willpower not to keep looking behind me, to make sure it was still there. I had to distract myself.
“Hey. Shawn. Can I ask you something?”
“Hmmmm?” she replied, as if roused from deep thoughts.
“Did you tell Annalise about Jeremy?” My voice shook as I said his name. Still. After six months.
“No! Oh my god, Clara, I would never! I was so surprised when she said that, about you going through a tough time. But I did not tell her anything, I swear.” Shawn looked at me with misty eyes. She had loved Jeremy like a brother, too, I knew.
Jeremy had been my only family, since our parents had died five years ago. He was my best friend, besides Shawn, as well as my brother. Six months ago, riding his bike to work, he got hit by a car. He had a helmet, but it wasn’t enough.
For weeks I felt completely out of control. Like nothing I did mattered, that life was just a giant ball of chaos ready to devour humanity without warning. I thought I would die. Literally. I was terrified to even leave the apartment.
Shawn came to me with a piece of paper and a pen. She told me to write down three things I wanted to accomplish that day. Any three things. I wrote: Brush teeth. Brush hair. Sit on couch.
I did them. It took me all day, but I did. The next day, she brought me another piece of paper, I made another list. And another and another. Day by day I reclaimed my life. One list at a time. I was able to leave the apartment. I went back to work. I vowed never to lose control of my life again.
Shawn would say she had created a monster, that I had lost my ability to let loose and have fun. She thought losing control every once in a while and getting a little crazy was healthy.
I was just glad to no longer feel those wild swings of emotion. I laid my head back on the seat and let my mind drift.
I really wanted to hold that knife.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I took some Advil the minute I got home, but it didn’t help. I drifted in and out of a light doze, in and out of weird dreams. The handkerchief. The book. The knife. A man whose face I couldn’t see, whispering my name.
I woke up drenched in sweat. I wore a tank top and panties, but I was burning up. It was 3am. I crept out to the living room. Shawn’s bag was on the couch. I had watched her leave it there when she went to bed.
I felt my way in the dark to the brown leather couch that backed up against the wall of windows looking out over our quiet, tree-lined street. I heard nothing. No early morning birds, no car alarms, no sirens. Just the beating of my heart, so loud it seemed to fill the room.
I sat down and pulled Shawn’s bag onto my lap. I rummaged inside for the lump of oilcloth and pulled it out. I unrolled the cloth carefully and felt for the dagger. Even in the dark my hand went right to it. I could almost make out the etchings on the hilt in the faint yellow glow of the streetlights outside.
I heaved a sigh and slumped back on the couch. I held the knife tightly to my chest, much like Shawn had done earlier. I closed my eyes. The pain in my head and my hand disappeared. The knife felt like molten silver in my grasp. So warm, so heavy, so … mine.
The pain I had been feeling was replaced by something else. It started in my chest: a swirling, pleasurable vibration like music reverberating in your body at a loud rock show. The vibration expanded to cover my small, pointed breasts and in seconds my nipples were hard through my thin top. God, it felt so good. I hadn’t felt that kind of pleasure in so long. I started to breathe faster. The most delicious tingling sensation started between my legs. I moaned softly and shifted my hips. I gripped the knife more tightly to my body, an even greater surge of pleasure vibrated through me. My nipples were painful little nubs and dampness spread in the crotch of my cotton panties. I moaned again, louder this time. The vibration became a deep throbbing, moving through me, in me, so deep inside …
I started panting, writhing on the couch, my pussy lips engorged to aching, my clit throbbing … fingers of pressure pushed into my breasts, tweaking my nipples, pressure against my damp opening, pushing inside me, spreading me wide, pushing, pushing, and still I clutched the silver dagger to my chest like a lifeline. I knew I was still clothed, but I felt naked, exposed and vulnerable to the force that had taken over me.
I went mad with desire. The force pushing into me was not enough, I wanted release. I was trapped on the edge of orgasm and I wanted it desperately.
“Oh my god, please please please,” I heard myself gasp. I moved my hips wildly. But who was I begging? What was I begging for?
I held the beautiful silver dagger in my right hand and pulled down my panties with my left. With no thought about what I was doing, I plunged the knife, hilt first, into my throbbing wet pussy.
I screamed with pleasure. I was on fire. I jammed the fist of my left hand into my mouth so that I wouldn’t wake Shawn. My right hand worked the dagger handle in and out, pushing a little further with each thrust, going as far as I dared to. My hips rose of their own accord in time with the pumping of my hand. The knuckle of my thumb bumped against my clit, sending little jolts of electric pleasure all through me.
There was no way the handle of that dagger could have filled me like it did. I felt stretched almost to a painful degree, and when I came, it was with every muscle clenched, a scream muffled by my left hand, and a gush of wetness that flooded over my right hand. And the knife within it.
The next morning I woke in my bed, at first feeling languorous and lovely, stretching and yawning. I had a vague memory of a whispered word … mine, mine mine. Just as I noticed the soreness between my legs and the throbbing in my hand, my gaze lit upon the silver dagger on my bedside table.
Everything came back to me in a rush. Getting up in the middle of the night, searching Shawn’s bag for the knife. And …
“Oh my god! What did I do?” I covered my face with my hands. Please, I thought to myself, please tell me I did not fuck myself in the middle of the night with a fucking silver DAGGER!
I grabbed my phone and jumped out of bed. Where was Shawn? Had she noticed the knife was missing? God, my hand hurt so much! Without thinking, I juggled my phone into my left hand and picked up the dagger with my right. The pain in my hand ceased immediately and an overwhelming sense of peace settled over me. Everything will be fine, I thought vaguely to myself. He will take care of it.
I didn’t want to let go of the knife in my hand, so I checked my phone awkwardly with my left hand. Shawn had left me a text. She had gone into work early and would call me later. She wanted to put her artifacts back in the safe. I was sure I had shoved the cloth and the book back in her bag. Maybe she wouldn’t notice the dagger was missing. I couldn’t give it back to her. I wouldn’t. I needed it. It was mine.
“Mine … mine … mine … Claraaaa …”
That whispered voice again. I could feel it caressing my ear. I would fix this. We would fix this.
I quickly sent Shawn a text. A little white lie.
OMG! I found ur knife on floor under couch. Fell out your bag?
She quickly responded, Phew! Thx, and I felt an immense sense of relief, like I had bought myself some time. She reminded me it was girls’ night in, and my turn to pick the movie.
Girls’ night. I forgot. I checked my phone. It was only 11am. I had plenty of time. Shawn wouldn’t be home until five o’clock. I moved slowly into the living room and perched on the edge of the couch. The dagger handle was heavy in my palm, I rolled it back and forth. My eyes lost focus. I felt completely at ease. Relaxed.
I blinked when I heard Shawn’s key in the front door. Why hadn’t she mentioned she was on her way home when she sent me the text a few minutes ago? I wondered why she was early.
Shawn came through the door like she always did, long skirt swirling, hair fluffed around her head, bag falling off her shoulder, extraneous, whimsical keychains clanking against the door.
She stopped short, confusion creasing her brow, when she saw me sitting on the couch. I imagined my expression was the same. I quickly shoved the dagger between the couch cushions.
My eye caught the clock on the DVR. It read 5:20pm. But that was impossible. I had just sat down a moment ago, just after 11am. I had not been sitting there for 6 hours.
A cold trickle of fear ran down my back and over my arms. I must have fallen asleep. That was it. I was up late last night. I wasn’t feeling well.
“You look like you haven’t been out. Did you pick up a movie?” Shawn’s cocked hip and raised eyebrow telegraphed her doubt.
“Not yet! I wasn’t feeling well, I took a nap. You put a pizza in the oven. I’ll be back before it’s done.”
I raced to my room, threw on some clothes, grabbed my purse and caromed out the door. A Redbox movie from the corner Walgreens was acquired in minutes. I was back in time to shower before the pizza came out of the oven.
The movie I rented was fun, but I was distracted. Though the beautifully chiseled, dancing men did indeed seem magic, my eye kept falling on the curve of Shawn’s calf and the swell of her breasts under her tank top. We were both wearing the prerequisite girls’ night in uniform — yoga pants and tank tops — and I couldn’t help but compare the lushness of Shawn’s body to my own boyish figure.
Later, I stood in the doorway to the bathroom and watched Shawn brush her teeth. I had been working all evening to distract myself from the throbbing in my hand, and from thoughts of the dagger, which I had managed to smuggle back into Shawn’s room. I thought the imagined whisperings had subsided, but as I watched Shawn, her bright curls pulled back in a loose bun, a fervent voice rose in the back of my mind. It was MY voice, I told myself, MY desires that rose within me as I watched my beautiful friend.
She rinsed her mouth and turned to smile. Then a frown line appeared between her eyebrows.
“Clara, what is with you? You’ve been weird all night.”
I couldn’t tell her, so I changed the subject.
“How did you get such amazing curves and I got stuck with this?”
I pushed into the bathroom and stood next to her in front of the mirror. I studied our reflections. I was tall, pale, all sharp angles. She was rose complected, soft, voluptuous. My straight, dark brown hair was a shadow to her bright, strawberry blonde curls.
“Curves? Oh, you mean this?” Shawn grabbed the flesh on each side of her hips and squeezed. “Yeah, awesome. You mean chub.”
“It’s better than looking like a boy. I wish I had your rack.”
“The girls are pretty spectacular.” Shawn pursed her lips at her reflection and cupped her breasts, one in each hand. Arousal ignited between my legs, made my stomach muscles clench.
“Maybe I could have cleavage like yours if I just …” I pressed my small breasts together and bent at the waist. Shawn giggled at my efforts.
“Aw, your boobs are so cute. You know, they say all you need is a handful.” She gave me an exaggerated wink and put her hand over my breast. I could feel my nipple harden against her palm.
“I know it’s a cliché, but men do stare at them, like, all the time. Even at work. I’m like, hey, dude, I’m up here.” Shawn did vogue hands around her face and I burst out laughing.
“And they get heavy sometimes. Here, feel.” Shawn took my hand, placed it under her breast. My breath caught in my throat. I bit my lip to keep a soft moan from escaping.
Was she teasing me? Shawn’s figure and her outgoing, sensitive nature afforded her many lovers, men and women, she didn’t discriminate. But she had never hinted at any feelings for me, beyond that of best friends. Although, neither had I. I had never been attracted to a woman before Shawn. My feelings had grown far beyond just friends. She was the only one who could pull me out of my funk after Jeremy died.
Her breast was soft and full. Her large nipples were outlined by her cotton top. I longed to take one in my mouth, roll my tongue over it.
I couldn’t stop myself. I brushed my thumb over her nipple, softly. I heard her intake of breath and looked her in the eye. There was a seductive twinkle there, I was sure, and a teasing curve to her smile.
I might have made a sarcastic remark, ignored my desires in order to stay in control of my emotions. But there was that whispering in my head, an insistent tug deep inside my body, corralling every cell to do what I had long wanted to. There was a deep urge to take what was mine. Mine. Mine …
I kissed her suddenly. I let her tantalizing aroma of lavender and spices tickle my nose. I explored her breasts with both hands, softly circling her nipples with the pads of my thumbs. I felt her smile against my lips. Her tongue flicked at mine. It wasn’t until I closed the bathroom door with my foot and pushed her up against it that she began to protest.
“Clara,” she whispered. “Maybe we shouldn’t …” She put her hands on my shoulders, as if to push me away. I answered by grabbing her arms and pinning them above her head, both her wrists in one of my hands. I was taller. I was stronger than she was. I was stronger than I was.
Shawn gasped. That little sound drove me to a frenzy. I was powerful. I was alive. I kissed her fiercely. I wanted to claim her. I wanted to own every part of her. With my free hand I pulled up her cami, exposed her heavy breasts and pale pink nipples. I was on them immediately, sucking as much of her areola and breast into my mouth as I could. I flicked her nipple with my tongue, rolled it, bit it with the tips of my teeth. Shawn was helpless in my grasp. Her weak cries of protest turned to noises of desire that only urged me on.
“Clara, wait. Oh, god, that feels good.” Claraaa … take what is ours, teach the little tease …
I slapped lightly at her breasts. I was so taken with how they moved under my hands. Every time a slap caught one of her nipples her body tightened, and she let out a gasping moan of pleasure.
“Clara …” Claraaa … Shawn tried to squirm away but I was too strong.
I grabbed the front of her yoga pants and pulled down until they were halfway down her thighs. Shawn had to wiggle her hips a little to help get them over her round ass. She wanted this, I know she did.
The little tease …
When my fingers touched the warm dampness between Shawn’s pale thighs a fierce lust rose up in me. A hiss like the buzzing of angry bees stopped up my ears, made me dizzy, confused. This was not my soft, gentle friend, it was warm flesh that I wanted to claim, to conquer, to penetrate.
The sight of the red marks my hand had made on the pale skin of her breasts maddened me further. My fingers slipped easily inside her, she was so wet. An overwhelming lust drove my hand, worked my fingers into her delicate flesh. I loved every cry of ecstasy, I felt such tremendous power over Shawn, that I could arouse her like this, make her gasp and moan and cry out. Her passion electrified me. Every nerve in my body sizzled.
“I own you,” I murmured in her ear, my voice low and coarse. “Your hot wet cunt is mine”. I felt on the edge of orgasm, my pussy ached with desire, wetness spread between my legs. My circling fingers found her hard little clit. I wanted to make her cum.
Shawn mewed and moaned, seemingly caught between ecstasy and a desire to get away. I tightened my grip on her wrists.
“Clara!” She cried. “Let me go so I can touch you, too!”
I chuckled in her ear, a deep laugh that was not my own.
A darkness swirled up around the edges of my vision. I was falling away, I was seeing Shawn from a distance, her wide green eyes glazed over in arousal, her rosebud mouth open in surprise. My face was inches from her but so far away. I was numb. I pushed my fingers roughly into her, heard her groan reluctantly. Mindlessly, I kept thrusting into Shawn’s soft flesh, and I could hear my harsh panting breaths.
When she came, muscles clenched around my fingers, she did it breathlessly, silently, and I saw a tear trickle from the corner of her eye. Still I felt nothing. Except from somewhere strange inside me … a dark satisfaction.
Shawn gasped again, and a rushing sensation overcame me, like I was speeding toward her from the deep recesses of a dark tunnel. Suddenly, I was there, with Shawn, present, my sticky fingers trailing between her legs.
“Oh god, Shawn,” I sobbed. This was not how I wanted her. I hung my head over the bathroom sink, waves of nausea washing over me. I felt terrified.
“Wow. That was … intense. God, Clara.” Shawn panted, she sounded confused, maybe … hurt, even. She tried to rub my back, but when I didn’t look at her, she left.
Once she was gone I raised my head, looked into the mirror above the sink, and watched my eyes slowly change from dark brown back to my own blue-gray.
Sleep wouldn’t come. My head throbbed and the center of my palm burned. I wanted to talk to Shawn, try to explain, but I couldn’t. Not after what I had done to her. I wasn’t sure I could ever look at her again.
I opened my door, intending to get a drink. I saw Shawn hunched over on the couch in the living room. I thought she was crying, but then realized she was whispering into her cell. Who was she calling this late? I strained to listen, but only caught pieces.
” … is that possible? … weird, but I don’t know if … want to help, I was born to this, like you said …”
She stood up and I ducked back into my room. I watched through the crack in my door as she slung her bag over her arm. I swear I could feel the loss when she left the apartment, carrying my silver dagger with her.
I could not fathom where Shawn had gone. All of this insanity had started Friday night during the so-called seance. Maybe Annalise had done something to me. Drugged me, or used hypnosis to affect my brain. With all the chanting, and the props, and the stories of tricks used by long dead mediums … Annalise was behind this, I just didn’t know why.
Hours later I wasn’t any closer to understanding, but I had some answers. I closed my laptop and tried to process what I had learned about the Crowley Continuum and the acolytes of John Calhoun. Legend held that Calhoun discovered the secret to immortality, and swore he would beat death, in whatever form it took. His followers were accused of countless nefarious practices and demented rituals, all in an effort to fulfill his legacy. Bring him back from the dead. It sounded like lunacy to me, but I could see how people who worshiped him could be dangerous.
How did Shawn get mixed up in this?
It had been hours and she wasn’t back. Prickles of fear crept over my skin as I grabbed my phone. Before I could dial, she was calling me.
“Clara, it’s so nice to hear your voice.” Annalise. How did she get Shawn’s phone?
“What do you want?” I tried fervently to keep my voice from shaking.
“Why, you, of course. Haven’t you figured that out by now?” I could hear the smirk in her words.
“What do you want with me?”
“Well, to be honest, it’s not you, exactly. It’s the spirit now held within you.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe any of it.”
“Why don’t you meet me? We can talk. Come to an understanding.”
“No fucking way.”
“That’s too bad. Shawn will be so disappointed.” Annalise’s voice had a hard, cold edge to it.
“Shawn is with you? Let me talk to her.”
For a moment, there was silence. When Shawn’s voice came on, she sounded as if she were crying. “Clara, I’m so sorry.”
Before I could respond, Annalise was back on.
“Come to the storefront where we met. Even if you resist, John will force you here. He wants to come. He wants to be free.”
The call disconnected. This had to be a dream. None of this was real. But Annalise was right. Even as I sat there, determined not to go, there was tug inside me, in my head, that impelled me to get dressed, and head out the door.
When I got to the fortune teller’s storefront, it was exactly as we had left it days ago. Except now, I could feel the sinister menace as I walked in.
“Hello?” I called out.
My voice got lost in the dusty fabric of the empty room. I made my way towards the back and found a green metal door hidden behind some of the decrepit, faux tapestries hanging on the wall. Noises were coming from behind it, I was sure. Was Shawn back there?
I turned the knob, my sweaty palm slipping. There was nothing to be afraid of, I told myself. Somehow Shawn had gotten herself mixed up with this crazy lady and her friends. I would get her out of it. I would take control of this chaos, like I had taken control of my life.
I pushed the heavy door with my shoulder, stepped through, and let it close behind me. What I saw terrified me more than anything else that had happened in the last three days.
I had stepped into a large storage area. Dirty concrete floor, pocked brick walls. A group of people were gathered in the center, under the light of a hanging bare bulb. I recognized Annalise right away, her white blonde hair illuminated with eldritch brightness. She stood with her back to me, five people in a semi-circle faced her: three men and two women. . They looked perfectly, horrifically ordinary. One man dressed like a lumberjack, with a plaid shirt and heavy work boots. One was kind of a hipster. The other looked like a perfectly average businessman. The women were brown haired and dressed alike, in casual skirts and tops, as if they were going out for drinks with friends. Then there was Shawn. The lumberjack and the businessman held her between them, big hands gripping her upper arms.
Shawn was nude.
It sent a dagger of fear through my heart, seeing her like that. Her pale flesh exposed, vulnerable. She was so lovely, her rosy skin shone with a light of its own. Her curved hips, her gorgeous, full breasts with their pale pink nipples. She was perfection and they sullied her with their rough dirty hands. Her face was streaked with tears. It horrified me.
The five strangers were chanting. I couldn’t understand the words but the meaning was clear. It was malevolent. On a low stone bench between Annalise and the others, I could see the book. The knife she held raised in her hand.
I took a step towards them. My foot rasped on the gritty floor.
Annalise turned. She looked terrible. I mean, beautiful still, but like she hadn’t slept. Her white blonde hair was disheveled, she had dark circles under her wild, bright blue eyes.
She came towards me, the dagger in hand, sniffing like an animal searching for its prey. The chanting died to a murmur behind her.
“He’s here! I can sense him!”
She stalked up to me where I stood, dumbfounded. She stared into my eyes.
“You touched them, didn’t you. Before I got there, you touched Shawn’s artifacts, and you didn’t tell us.”
What could I say? She could see the truth in my eyes.
“I knew it, when I first saw you I could see the shadow of him forming just behind you. Throughout the ritual I could feel his power growing, but not within Shawn, within you.”
She started sniffing at my hair, at my neck. I was frozen in place. She was delusional.
I couldn’t keep my eyes from the dagger in her hand. I wanted it so badly I couldn’t breathe. I wanted Shawn safe, but in that moment, I wanted the dagger more. Annalise noticed my stare and held it up mockingly.
“Do you know why you want it so badly?”
I bit my lip to keep myself from begging her for it. My concern for Shawn retreated to a pinpoint of light in the back of my mind.
Annalise laughed dismissively. “You don’t know a thing about it, or how to use it.”
I had to disagree. I had found a pretty good use for it.
“It’s not for you, it’s for John. This wicked pretty thing will finally set him free.” Annalise grinned madly and backed me up against the door and wrapped her long fingers around my neck.
“The spell is laid out clearly in his book. I’ve nearly completed it. Now, you have to choose. Your life, or Shawn’s. If you let us take you, willingly, we’ll let her go. If you don’t, we’ll kill her. Choose.”
I could barely comprehend her words. What did she mean, take me willingly? A loud buzz swarmed my brain. I couldn’t concentrate. A strident voice wanted to be heard and I had to push it away to focus.
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you? You haven’t felt yourself these last few days, have you? How is your hand?”
My hand felt fucking awful, if she wanted to know. Like a hot poker was spearing my palm.
“When John Calhoun was found dead, his ritual dagger was pierced through his hand, and into the floor. That hurts, doesn’t it, Clara.”
I closed my eyes, and Annalise’s voice rang in my head, telling me what I must do. What I must sacrifice to save Shawn, and how it must be my choice. The vessel must give herself over, without coercion. Then he would be free. So, in a way, would I.
Claraaa … Claraaa … mine …
It wasn’t Annalise , after all. It was the voice in my head. It was the whisper in my ear. It was the power in the dagger.
“Yes,” I whispered. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dust dry. “I will. I’m yours.”
Shawn cried out, fresh tears spilling down her cheeks. “No, Clara, don’t!”
I couldn’t look at her, so I looked at Annalise. A ravenous expression took over her face. She suddenly pressed her mouth to mine, to my neck, my collar bone.
“John, my darling, we will finally be together,” she cooed. “I’ve waited so long to share your power. Now, at last. This is the moment.”
She used the sharp blade to cut away my clothing. I stood naked and trembling, waiting. She took the blade and traced it lightly down my body, from my throat, between my breasts, over my belly. She rested the tip of the blade between my legs, nestled it right against my clit. Every muscle clenched as the cold silver sent sparks of arousal all through me.
Annalise smile wickedly with anticipatory glee. She laid her hand over my chest, raised the dagger point, and placed it between her thumb and forefinger, over my heart. I could feel it prick my skin. A thin line of blood trickled down my breast.
I looked over her shoulder at Shawn, mouthed the words, I love you. I think Shawn might have been screaming. I couldn’t hear over the buzzing in my ears.
Words dropped from my mouth, unbidden. My voice was low and graveled, unfamiliar.
“You would sacrifice all for me, wouldn’t you, Annalise. Everything you hold dear, even your life. You would give it all to me.”
Annalise gasped, and her eyes lit up.
“Yes! Yes, John darling, everything I have is yours.”
She blinked, and something happened. My chest burned where her hand touched it. Her body went ramrod straight, and her mouth dropped open into a surprised “O”. Her wide eyes turned from bright blue to dark brown in an instant. I was suddenly light like a bird, a burden I had been carrying was gone, as was the pain in my hand.
Annalise handed the dagger to me, but I didn’t want it as badly as I had before.
“Clara. Set me free.” That voice. Low. Raspy. Hungry.
I hesitated. What if I didn’t? John Calhoun would be trapped in Annalise like he had been in me. But that felt like too much of a gift to this woman who had manipulated and betrayed Shawn, who had been so ready to kill me. Then, my own small voice whispered possessively, she would have his power, his control.
Annalise stood looking at me with her new, deep brown eyes. The acolytes were confused. Several of them stepped towards me.
That decided it. Something in me snapped. I had to get control.
I thrust the knife deep into Annalise’s chest, as hard as I could, past bone and muscle and muscle and bone. She stood swaying for a moment, her eyes went wide, and changed back from brown to blue.
“What …” She fell away from me, and I winced at the sound her head made when it hit the concrete.
Nothing happened. What had I expected? A flash of light? A crack of thunder, and John Calhoun would magically appear?
Shawn rushed to me, sobbing, and I wrapped my arms around her. Her skin was warm. I was so cold. We trembled together.
The hipster acolyte knelt next to Annalise. He looked up at me, his narrow face full of rage. “You killed her! You fucking bitch!”
I stared at the pool of dark blood forming under Annalise’s body. I killed her. Because of voices in my head? I had thought her delusional, but was I the crazy one? My body shook uncontrollably.
“You fools!” A loud voice echoed from a dark corner of the room. “Does no one know how to harness my power?”
We all froze. A black shadow gathered at the edge of my vision, then streaked so quickly across the room it was a blur.
“I’ve waited nearly 100 years, and this is what I’m left with?” The voice boomed from a different corner. It was full of rage.
Shadows formed and whipped through the cowering acolytes like a whirlwind, knocked them to the ground. One of the women screamed.
The shadows built themselves into the form of a tall man. I could see hints of black curling hair, a groomed mustache, the collar of a dark coat.
The shadow man pointed at the acolyte in the business suit and boomed, “Disobedient!” With a twist of his wrist the businessman’s head turned at an odd angle and he crumpled to the floor.
“Disloyal!” The lumberjack held up his arms in defense, but his neck snapped with a sound like a branch breaking.
The shadow of John Calhoun slid gracefully across the floor to hover over the hipster.
“No! I’ve been loyal! Obedient! I did everything Annalise commanded, in your name!” Fear shone in the man’s eyes.
The angry voice softened to casual nonchalance. “You speak the truth. And yet, I’ve never liked you.”
With a dismissive wave, the hipster fell over, lifeless. The two women wailed together on the floor.
The shadows that made up the man disassembled themselves, swirled in little spirals, wended their way around Shawn and me. They caressed our necks and arms, lifted our hair, slid in serpentine shapes between our legs. The shadows’ touch was almost sensual. They left a tingling sensation on my skin. A soft hissing accompanied them as they explored every trembling inch of our bodies. Shawn and I held each other, held our breath.
When the shadows were done with us, they spiraled together again to form a man. Not a shadow figure. John Calhoun.
His eyes were dark brown, piercing, the same eyes I had seen in Annalise, and in my own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Shawn pressed into my side, whimpering.
With hardly a glance he bent to pull the silver dagger from Annalise’s chest, wiped it on her pants leg, and hefted it in his hand.
“This was my favorite. I’m glad to see it has weathered the ages. And that others are finding interesting ways to use its power.” John leered at me and I flushed hot.
He leaned in close, stared into my eyes. I could feel his breath on my cheek when he spoke.
“I knew you would set me free. We’re intimately connected now, you and I. For days I devoured your deepest, darkest thoughts. I lapped at your most secret, carnal desires, stroked them, tasted them. Your need to control entices me. You embraced my power so willingly. There is a delicious darkness in your soul that calls to me. Makes me … hungry. Naughty, naughty Clara.” His smile was seductive. My heart fluttered.
He reached out and drew a cold finger down the length of me, from the hollow of my throat, over my breast, slowly down to the soft cleft of my sex. The same path Annalise had taken with the dagger. My skin burned like ice where he touched me. My skin crawled but his touch excited me.
Shawn spoke with barely a whisper. “Annalise … she worshipped you …”
John cut her off with a tsk’ing noise. He looked down at the body with distaste. “Greedy woman. That I’ll never hear her voice again is a relief. For decades she has called on me, demanded my power. Thinking only of what she wanted.”
His eyes bore into mine. “Tell me, Clara. What do you want?” He grinned as if he could sense the dark desire burning in me. I hated him for how powerless he made me feel yet I desperately craved his strength and control. It was a deep, almost sexual desire. I wanted it back.
I tried to empty my mind. Could he read my thoughts? I answered with the first words I thought of. “Knowledge, not fear. Order, not chaos.”
John inclined his head towards me in understanding. He then glanced dismissively at Shawn.
“Naive.” He intoned, his hand raised. “Weak.”
“Wait!” I implored. “Shawn found your belongings, cared for them, loved them!”
“Did she? Clever girl.” He shrugged. Lowered his arm. “In that case, you may prove useful. There are other lost things that need finding.”
Shawn swayed on her feet, her face ghastly pale.
With a few curt words he forced his female acolyte’s to give Shawn and me their clothes, and instructed them to, ‘clean up the mess.’ He pocketed his book in his greatcoat, alongside the dagger.
He crooked his arm to me like I was supposed to just take it, go for fucking stroll. So I did. I slipped my hand under his elbow, but kept my death grip on Shawn.
I didn’t know what waited on the other side of that green metal door. I half expected to wake from this nightmare. But the other half of me believed John was right. We were connected now. I was certain of only one thing. I felt empty without his power inside me. If I wasn’t crazy, if John was real … I wanted it back, I wanted control, and I would do anything to get it.
“Clara, I’m scared.” Shawn murmured softly.
I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m not.”
John Calhoun pulled open the heavy door, and we walked steadily through. Willingly. No coercion. Free.