Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Her Treacherous Vanity

Janet stared at her reflection in the mirror, grimacing. She remembered how much she'd loved her full-length mirror. Over the years, it had often been her dearest friend. Now, each day brought a new betrayal to its surface. Where once it showed her a smooth unmarred face, it now displayed lines and crows feet. Streaks of grey ran through hair that was once black as night, her round firm breasts sagged toward pendulous and there were rolls of flesh around her waist that even the most arduous workout schedule failed to eradicate. Her age was beginning to show, despite her best efforts.

Oh, she was still a knockout. She still turned heads when she walked through the office in her tight sweaters and short skirts. Men still stared in disbelief when she told them how old she really was and the boys in the mailroom still found reasons to hang around her cubicle in the afternoons.

But things had begun to change. Janet's boss was no longer as distracted as he'd once been by the sight of her, and had begun to criticize her performance. The pudgy married man in the cubicle next to hers was starting to resent having to do much of her work for her, where once all he needed was a quick smile, a peek down her blouse and a flash of leg to keep him happy.

Essentially, her looks weren't working as well for her any more, and she was having to work much harder for her looks.

This could not stand. She refused to take a back seat to those frumpy working moms in her department, just because they actually produced results. She was prettier than them. She was sexier than them, and damn it, that meant she should get more than them. It wasn't fair. And worse, her boss had just hired some pert little college graduate to work in their department, and the mailroom boys had begun hanging around her instead.

Later that day, at the office, she stood glaring at the new girl and her pack of admirers. Admirers that once belonged to her.

"It's only going to get worse."

She started at the sound of the voice. Turning, she saw Doris, another of her co-workers in the department. Doris was approaching retirement, but she dressed like a 30-year-old cocktail waitress and somehow managed to pull it off. Doris never worked out, ate whatever she wanted and went out regularly with the young men in the office on Friday night bar crawls. She usually went home with at least one of them, and managed to keep all the right men in the department wrapped securely around her finger. She was 20 years Janet's senior, but didn't seem to have to struggle to hold on to what Janet was rapidly losing. Put simply, she was drop-dead gorgeous, and knew it.

Janet regarded Doris with a cool gaze. "What's going to get worse?"

Doris laughed, a short bark made rough by years of whiskey and cigarettes. "You know what I mean, honey. Don't pretend otherwise. We shouldn't start off with a lie."

Janet raised an eyebrow. She and Doris had never been friendly, but had maintained a working relationship of adversarial civility since Janet was hired 10 years ago. "What the hell are you talking about, Doris? What are we starting?"

Doris leaned in conspiratorially. "Only the most important friendship of your life, sweetheart," she said. She gestured at the young woman and her admirers. "Why don't you and I take the new girl out for drinks tonight, and I'll show you how I manage to look like this at 65."

Hours later, Doris, Janet and the new girl were seated at a table in some hole-in-the wall bar downtown. They'd been knocking drinks back all night. Janet weaved slightly in her seat, and was having a little trouble focusing. Clear speech was a bit of a challenge as well. Janet usually didn't drink this much, and her tolerance wasn't what it once was. Doris did not seem much the worse for her indulgence, but the new girl was barely conscious. Her head lolled on her shoulders, and she looked over at Janet with glassy half-closed eyes.

"Y-y-you guyssss..." she slurred, falling forward before jerking back into a semi-upright position. "You guyss're good guyssszz...goooood guyssszz...takin' me out...drinkin'...'sgood." She belched and smiled. "Drunk," she announced.

"Thass okay," Janet patted the new girl on the shoulder. "An' it was Doris' idea." She gestured clumsily over her shoulder at the smirking older woman.

Doris waved the comment away and smiled warmly at the new girl. "Tell me, Andrea," she said, "are you seeing anyone?"

Andrea shook her head, was clearly dizzy from the motion and slid down the back of the seat. Janet reached over and helped her up, the two of them giggling.

"Nah," Andrea said, leaning heavily on the table. "I jus' moved here an' I got no-no-nobody..." sadness passed across her face, and she slumped. "Ain' got nobody... nobody..."

Doris nodded, pressing the issue. "No family nearby? Friends?"

Andrea shook her head weakly as it made its way to the table. "No, I got no fam'ly 'rfriens...'mjus' 'lone..." Her head hit the table and she began to snore softly.

Doris nodded, satisfied. "Come on, Janet," she said, rising from her seat and throwing a wad of bills on the table. "Let's get Andrea out to the car. Can you manage, or should I come back for you?"

Janet shook her head. "No. 'Mokay." She stood, swayed, grabbed the table and righted herself. "Okay," she said with a grin, "Imma little lit. But I can help." Slowly, she made her way around the table and helped Doris lift Andrea out of the booth. The two older women dragged the younger out of bar. They each had one of her arms over their shoulders, and Andrea's limp form hung between them.

The exertion coupled with the cold night air served to revive Janet, and by the time they reached the car, she was feeling sober, even though she knew she wasn't. She'd regained enough sobriety to ask Doris if she was okay to drive.

"Oh, don't worry about me, honey," Doris said as she piled Andrea into the back seat. The night air had done nothing to revive the younger woman. Doris shut the back door and opened the driver door. "It'll take a good deal more than that to make me drunk. Now, come on. It's time I let you in on my little secret." She got in and reached over to unlock the passenger door. Janet got in and Doris drove off toward her house.

Janet dozed slightly during the drive, and was a little disoriented when she woke in front of Doris' house. Doris was pulling Andrea out of the back seat. "Come give me a hand with her," she said, noticing Janet was awake.

Janet did as she was told, the grogginess still wearing off. "Why don't we just take her home?"

Doris laughed and began carrying Andrea toward her house. "You'll see," was all she said.

Janet certainly saw. She saw more than she ever could have expected. She helped Doris carry Andrea into the house and the older woman led them to a small room at the end of a long hall. The room was windowless and lit entirely by candles. Janet could see strange symbols drawn on the walls and floor, along with an odd geometric shape that took up most of the floor.

Doris let go of Andrea and the younger woman slid out of Janet's grasp to the floor, where she lay in a crumpled heap. She still snored softly, and showed no sign of waking. Janet started to back away as Doris dragged a large cast iron tub into the center of the room.

"Doris, what the hell is this?" There was no slur in Janet's voice now. Fear had burned the fog from her brain, and she made her way slowly to the door.

"This," Doris gestured to include the room, the tub, Andrea's unconscious form and, to Janet's consternation, Janet herself, "is the answer to your prayers, darling." She laughed again, fixing Janet with a compelling stare. "Look at me, Janet. I'm 65 years old. Do you honestly think I look like this naturally? Hell, screw naturally. The best plastic surgeon money can buy couldn't make me look this good." She returned to her efforts with the tub. "Come help me with this," she said.

Much to her own surprise, Janet found herself doing just that. Every sensible impulse was screaming for Janet to run from the house and never look back, or to call the police. But she didn't. Because clearly Doris had something going for her, and for some reason, she wanted to share it with Janet. It looked like the only one who was going to suffer from it would be Andrea, and Janet didn't even like her anyway. But thinking of Andrea prompted a question.

"What's wrong with her?" Janet asked once the tub had been moved to the center of the geometric shape. "She didn't drink any more than I did, and I have no tolerance any more. Why is she still out cold?"

Doris went to Andrea, lifting her and dragging her over to the tub. She held the young woman's head over the tub by a fistfull of hair. Andrea's mouth hung open and she was drooling somewhat. Doris leaned her head over the tub as she spoke to Janet. "I drugged her last drink," she said.

"I didn't notice," Janet said.

Doris smiled. "No one ever does." She gestured toward a chest of drawers with a jerk of her head. "Top drawer. Grab the knife."

Janet found herself walking over and getting the knife from the drawer. She was handing it to Doris before she even realized what she was doing. Doris took it, muttered a string of words Janet couldn't understand, then slit Andrea's throat. Blood gushed from the wound and began filling the tub. Janet thought she should feel sick, but she didn't. She felt excited. Almost... aroused.

With an impressive display of strength, Doris hoisted Andrea's upper body over the edge of the tub, so she was hanging down into it. Leaning over, Doris slashed each of the younger woman's wrists, which also began to empty into the tub.

Later, once Andrea had been drained of blood, Doris led Janet back to the windowless room. In the time it had taken Andrea's blood to drain, Doris had explained the procedure to Janet. Thanks to the symbols drawn around the room, the tub and the knife, along with the spells Doris chanted, drinking Andrea's blood would restore the older women's youth and beauty. The effects of a single goblet full of blood would last for one year, then a second goblet would need to be drunk. Doris had just used up the last of the blood from her previous victim, killed 15 years prior. The older woman figured the two of them could get at least 10 years from Andrea before needing to kill again.

Doris took an ornate goblet from a case atop the chest of drawers and filled it with blood from the tub. She drank deep, filled it again, then passed it to Janet. Janet looked at it with hesitation. The smell of copper was overwhelming. With a shrug, she drank. It tasted like she had a mouthful of pennies. Fortunately, she reasoned, she would only have to go through it once a year.

Doris drove Janet home, assuring her all the way there that no one would ever find Andrea's body, let alone connect it to the two of them. Janet accepted the assurances and made her way inside where she quickly fell into a deep sleep.

When she woke, she found herself with the body of a 20 year old. Her face was smooth, her belly flat, there was no grey in her hair and her breasts were once again where she wanted them. She felt an energy and vitality she'd thought lost forever and a powerful lust that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Yeah, I forgot to mention that," Doris told her when Janet mentioned it at the office. "It's a side-effect of the process. Why don't you come out to the bar with me and the guys from the mailroom tonight. I'll give you first pick when we bring them back to my house."

The rest of Janet's day was torture. She couldn't focus on anything, and her hands kept roaming over her tight young body. She was so preoccupied with her own desire, she didn't even think to be nervous when her boss asked if she'd seen Andrea.

"Um, no," she said, running her finger absently along her lips. "I haven't seen her all day. What did you need her for?"

The boss looked Janet up and down, smiling appreciatively. "Nothing you can't handle," he said absently. As she was leaving he said, "Listen, Janet, I don't think we're paying you enough. How would you feel about a 10 percent raise?"

"Well," she purred, leaning seductively against the doorframe, "I certainly wouldn't turn it down." She smiled at him and walked away. There were no further questions about Andrea after that.

Late that night, in one of Doris' spare bedrooms, Janet lay sprawled across a bed, her sweaty limbs tangled with those of her two lovers. She smiled, satisfied, shoving both men to the floor before rolling over and going to sleep.

Many similar nights followed, and she eventually moved into Doris' house as she was spending so much of her time there anyway. She began spending more and more of her time with Doris, and the men they brought home, and her friends and family saw progressively less of her. Eventually, they wrote her off altogether. It was for the best. It would have been difficult to explain how a woman who was pushing 50 managed to look like a college undergraduate.

Then, a year after her first goblet of blood, she and Doris met in the windowless room. Andrea's blood had been refrigerated, and her body long since disposed of. In place of the tub, a small camp stove sat in the center of the geometric shape.

"What's the stove for?" Janet asked as she accepted her goblet of blood.

"The next stage," Doris explained, indicating that Janet should drink. When Janet did, she continued. "Our youth and beauty depends on regular infusions of Andrea's blood. Eventually, we'll run out, and we'll have to kill someone else. I'm concerned that, sooner or later, we'll get caught."

"Don' you have someone t'dispaz...dispo...dis-dis..." Janet blinked, her eyes blurring. She didn't think she'd had that much to drink at the bar that night.

"I do have people to dispose of the bodies," Doris nodded. "And they're completely loyal to me. But, eventually, simple human error is going to lead the police to my door. So, I need a more permanent solution."

"Perm...puh...p..." Janet's mouth went slack and her eyelids grew increasingly heavy. Doris was a blur as her vision swam and the room tilted. Doris caught the goblet as it slipped from Janet's grasp, then caught Janet as she slid out of her chair.

"The books I taught myself from tell of a procedure to make this permanent. A single treatment that will give me youth, beauty and eternal life." She lay Janet's body gently down on the floor and her words began to fade in an out of Janet's awareness as consciousness dimmed. "I needed someone else like me, you understand. Someone who'd taken the blood treatment. Unfortunately for you, that means..."

Janet felt the room spin pleasantly as darkness washed over her. As from a great distance, Doris' final words came to her and she learned her fate. Doris was going to chop off her head. Then she would strip the flesh from Janet's skull, hollow it out and bake her heart in it. Once Doris had eaten her heart, she would never again need the blood treatment. There was a perfunctory apology, then the suggestion that Janet would have done the same in Doris' position.

As her last tenuous connection to the world slipped away, Janet was forced to agree. Her very last thought was a fervent wish that she'd thought of this first.

Then she thought nothing at all.


Lisa said...

god DAMN you astound me!! I sorta saw the blood/youth thing coming but I did NOT see the betrayal!!!! Always with the unexpected...you gifted thing. xo

Kat said...

Excellent. How do you come up with this stuff?

m said...

i will never go drinking with you after reading this. that is all i have to say. but, whoa!!! wow! nice.

Chris said...

Thank you. :) Glad you guys liked it.

Lisa, I'm happy I was able to keep you on your toes. And thanks for calling me gifted. My mom always said so, but she may have been referring to my gift for mischief.

Kat, you should see the stuff I come up with and don't share with you guys. ;)

M, we've gone drinking enough times that I've had ample opportunity to drain your blood by now. But do I get any credit for not doing it? ;)

Kim said...

uhm.......... Chris? I'm hoping that was a strange dream you had. You shouldn't eat before going to bed.

Rae Ann said...

I'm really glad that I've never been one of those 'beautiful girls' who had to worry about staying pretty. I'm so impressed with how you know exactly when to end a story.

purplesimon said...

Chris, you're one sick puppy. But, I love your writing and this one was another excellent piece of prose.

Fucking A.

purplesimon out...