“Would you stop that? Please, you look fine.” Lauren stepped over to Jenna and snatched the ribbon from between her fingers. The tall blonde rolled her eyes and tried to look condemning, but with the music of the costume shop rattling the glowing orange walls as if the whole thing were one giant boom box, her expression quickly melted into something much less sinister.
Ashley was somewhere laughing to their right, wreaking havoc on the store’s customers. She appeared from around a neon yellow stand wearing a bright white wig pulled down over her long, dark hair. Her bangs shot out over her forehead in every direction, but beneath the harsh fluorescents her bronze cheeks glowed. She’d spotted the grim face of a gargoyle hanging on the wiry black rack to Jenna’s left and as she swept past the girls, she tossed the wig to the floor and pulled the bloody, ghoulish mask on in its place.
“I’m a monster!” She charged at Lauren and Jenna with her slim shoulders squared. Lauren screamed and Jenna’s pulse quickened. She watched the ribbon slip from Lauren’s fingertips and pirouette to the black and white tile floor where it lay there staring up at her mockingly in slick crimson.
“Would you guys cut it out?”
Lauren laughed, but Ashley was already off, chasing a group of middle school-aged kids down the next aisle. Lauren running the piece of satin around Jenna’s slim waist distracted Jenna. Lauren’s blue eyes were speculative in the mirror’s gaze and filled with a quiet understanding that made something feral and snake-like rip through her gut. When she looked to her own face, suspended in white in the mirror’s gaze, she saw that her creamy cheeks were warring with a ravenous blush. She flicked her eyes, which were green like shards of broken beer bottles, back to Lauren.
Lauren said, “Well, it’s not anyone’s fault but your own that we’re here right now, little miss I’m-too-cool-to-buy-a-costume. How could you forget a costume, Jenna? It’s Halloween.”
Jenna scowled so hard it hurt.
“Very nice,” Lauren stood back to admire her work. Jenna reddened even more dramatically and tucked back her russet curls. It was hard to feel confident standing next to Lauren, who didn’t need the little halo on her head or the small feathered wings to make her look any more like an angel.
Lauren squinted, as if the lights were suddenly much brighter than they were. When she twisted to the side, her eyes glowed opal like an animal in the night. “I think you need something, I just can’t figure out what.”
Just then two men walked into the costume shop and came to a complete stop at the sight of Ashley, bent over the front counter, flirting with the boy at the register.
“What?” Lauren said, lips pursed. She picked up three different kinds of face paint and held them up at eye level then frowned and put them all back.
“That swoon.” She mimicked the action and came upright laughing. “Don’t get all romantic on me now.”
Jenna bit her lower lip and wiped her clammy palms off on the side of her dress, which was a disastrously inappropriate choice from Ashley’s closet. “Why can’t I do that?”
“Do what?” Lauren picked up the wig Ashley had been wearing earlier and placed it on the gargoyle’s now vacant rack. It stood out, a light among monsters.
“Do what you and Ashley do. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Ashley just got a date wearing a disgusting ghoul face.”
Lauren perked up, smiling. “She did, already?” She laughed. “That girl is crazy. It looks like we’ve got some catching up to do.”
Jenna’s heart sank. She turned back to her reflection and though it had only been a few seconds, she thought she looked greener now, and sick.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
“What?” Jenna tried to sound contrite, but her already flushed cheeks warmed.
“You’re worried about not being able to get a date to Trish’s party. That’s what all this costume nonsense is about.”
“No, it’s not,” Jenna said too quickly, “And I’m not. I just…”
“You’re going to be fine. Just be yourself.” Lauren perched her pretty face on Jenna’s shoulder and Jenna felt all her insides tighten to little metal knots. Her focus was torn between Lauren’s too blue gaze and her scarlet ribbon, as if either one or the other was responsible for keeping her together; pull the wrong strand and she might come undone. “I promise,” Lauren dropped her pitch and her breath found a way through Jenna’s curls. A tremor shot through her and she tensed. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?”
Mute, Jenna shook her head.
“Come on, let’s go.”
“Now?” Jenna’s voice was strained.
“Yes, now. Before Trish and her pack descend on the streets and all the good ones are taken.” Lauren drifted towards Ashley at the register while Jenna lingered a few moments behind. She stared at herself in the mirror and attempted to mimic the way Lauren or Ashley smiled, but she only looked uncomfortable at best, and at worst, constipated. Lauren called her name from the register and Jenna turned away from her own face. As she approached, Lauren mouthed a single word. The word was, perfect.
Jenna gulped. Though she didn’t feel worthy of the adulation she still followed Ashley and Lauren out onto the streets, which immediately transformed them–they were no longer three girls, but now a nurse, an angel, and a kitten.
The carnival on Warwick Boulevard was at its peak when they arrived just after ten thirty. The street was full of superheroes and princesses, ghosts, goblins, pixies, sprites, and of course the more modern Hannah Montanas (of which there were several), Iron Men, and the entire cast of Toy Story. Carved pumpkins stared out at the street from nearly every storefront with gaping mouths full of large, square teeth. Their eyes watched her as she walked. In front of her, Ashley was twirling through the crowd, dancing in a way that suggested she’d never been embarrassed of anything before in her life.
When Ashley did another spin Lauren said, “Ashley, you’re going to run into someone.”
As if part of a larger script, Ashley just then crashed into the back of Elvis’s black and sequined jacket as he fiercely made out with a velvety white rabbit underneath the inorganic yellow glow of a streetlamp. Bestiality at its finest. Ashley doled out lavish apologies to the couple, which quickly moved away from her and when Ashley’s eyes alert eyes found Jenna’s face in a swift flash of ochre, Jenna could have sworn–for just an instant–that she saw a gleam of menace in Ashley’s smile that had not been there seconds previous. Then it was gone.
“What?” Jenna’s voice was blunt.
“Did you know that Halloween predates Christianity?” Ashley said.
Lauren groaned, “Oh god, not this again.” She looked down at Jenna, whose height she eclipsed by nearly five inches, and whispered loud enough that Ashley would be able to hear. “She does this every year.”
“Hey, you know Halloween is my favorite holiday of all time, so bite me.”
Jenna smiled. “What’s so great about it?”
Ashley hardly needed the encouragement. “It’s a Celtic holiday celebrated on the one night between autumn and winter when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest.” She waggled her fingers in Jenna’s face, brown eyes wild.
“So then what?” Jenna said with the ghost of a smile. “The dead walk the earth?”
Ashley looped her arm through Jenna’s, voice saturated with conspiracy. “The dead and then some. You know the tradition of carving pumpkins was started to keep us protected from the monsters that haunt Halloween night. It was said that their menacing faces would ward off the hungry spirits.”
“Does it work?”
“I carved my pumpkin yesterday, have you carved yours yet?”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “No.”
“Then I guess we’ll see.”
Jenna’s adrenaline spiked at the stark notes of menace she heard in Ashley’s voice, and Lauren shoved the naughty nurse into the ever-thickening crowd. “Cut it out, weirdo.”
Ashley just beamed.
The density of the mob smashed into them then and nearly prevented them from moving forward. Warwick emptied into Fisherman’s Field and they were being aggressively funneled into the carnival’s main entrance. “Ashley,” Lauren said just after clearing the ticket booth, “go scout for us. I’ll need a detailed report on the hottest guys here and keep in mind who Trish brought to the last party. If you can, snag us a couple boys who are even more beautiful and bring them to the Ferris wheel. We’ll catch up.”
“Oh my god, that boy was positively delicious.” Ashley swooned, collapsing into Jenna’s arms. Jenna gasped and still could not keep laughter from choking her throat as she struggled under Ashley’s weight.
Lauren helped Jenna lift Ashley back to her feet, muttering a few disapproving lines like a mother condemning a child, as she did. “What’s wrong? You seem off,” Lauren said to Jenna as they watched Ashley make her way through the throngs before finally disappearing around the dunk tank where a teen in a tube top was fully submerged, “You’re not still nervous about Trish’s party, are you?”
Jenna reddened. “Well now I am.”
Lauren’s smile returned as they moved past the merry-go-round and the eerie music that hung suspended in the air above it. “Don’t be.” She spoke in that lilting way she often did, touched with just a hint of an accent that sounded oddly Eastern European. Jenna thought fleetingly of Lauren’s past and the friends she’d meet that Lauren had known forever and she felt thrilled and horrified and nauseous all at once.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” she murmured, rather meekly.
Lauren took her by the hand; she had a pianist’s fingers. “They are going to love you. You’re going to fit in perfectly, I know these girls.”
“Yeah, I know,” but it had to be perfect, “but still…”
“But nothing. You’ll be fine. And besides, I think I see Ashley.”
“Hello lovelies,” Ashley said, teddy bear stuffed under one arm. She motioned over her shoulder with her eyes and said, “I have a couple people I want you to meet. This is Connor and Jon. I met them at that balloon game over by the bouncy castle–they were losing horribly until I showed up–but anyways, we got to talking and they want to come with us to Trish’s party.” She feigned embarrassment. “Sorry L, I may have let the details slip.”
Jenna felt the hard curve of Lauren’s elbow clip her ribs as two boys Jenna hadn’t even noticed began to approach. Ashley continued talking but Jenna was lost in the boy on the right’s large blue gaze. He was beautiful, with shaggy black hair and a light shade of stubble covering his hollow cheeks. He looked like the football players Jenna remembered from high school, though they’d never been interested in her then. But this boy stepped right up to her. He tugged down on the hem of his shirt, rubbed his square jaw, and touched the back of his neck. There was restraint in the way his hands twitched towards her, and in the way his eyes fought not to look up into her gaze. Like he was humbled by her. Like he couldn’t look away.
Jenna held out her small hand and his large mitt quickly swallowed it. He introduced himself again as if he’d forgotten that Ashley had already done it for him. “Hi I’m Jon. Jon Weldon.”
“Jenna,” she said, feeling her stomach flip when he said his name. “It looks like you boys forgot your costumes.” She swept her eyes from Jon to Connor then back again.
Connor shrugged. “Eh. Halloween’s never really been my thing. This dork over here wanted to dress up as Luigi and Mario but I was the rational one who talked him out of it.”
“That’s too bad.”
Lauren laughed, “Coming from the girl who I nearly had to hog tie to get into cat ears and a black dress.”
Jenna bit her lip as laughter fluttered through their small circle. Her eyes danced up to Jon’s and he seemed surprised again that she was looking at him. He gulped, dropped his voice and said very sweetly, “Well I think you look nice. Really pretty.”
Ashley spoke up, sparing her the grief of having to respond. “Alright ya’ll, I’ll be back in a few. Just going to pick up my date. Have fun on that death contraption.” Her eyes flashed up to the Ferris wheel in impish delight.
Lauren nodded, eyes suddenly severe in ways they hadn’t been before. “Stay close. I’ll call you. Remember, we don’t have much time.”
She ascended the first steel staircase and her heel clanged out of time to the carnival music. Next, Jenna was being shepherded onto the rickety white carriage next to Jon. The car door with the flaking red and ivory paint closed and the rusting metal bar came down across Jenna’s lap. She wrinkled her nose apprehensively. The seats of the Ferris wheel were cool against the backs of her thighs as the poorly put-together contraption resisted gravity and took them up into the sky. Jon was talking beside her, and in the car behind them she could hear Lauren and Connor laughing, as if they’d known one another for years rather than minutes. She felt something irrational swell inside of her chest, like the pinprick of a jealous love, but Jenna knew that was stupid. Lauren had that affect on everyone.
Jon cleared his throat. “So have you lived here all your life?”
“What?” Jenna said, slightly shaken. Her lungs jerked when the car came to a stop. They swung back and forth for a few seconds before the engine revved and they continued their climb.
He laughed, “Are you afraid of heights?”
Jenna looked up at him, afraid to see the mocking in his eyes that had not tainted his lips. But he was just staring at her sweetly with those blue eyes that she could see the ocean in; they were pretty powerful those eyes, pretty beautiful too. “Yes.”
He grinned and slid towards her in the seat so that they were seated thigh-to-thigh. The snake in her abdomen switched its tail restlessly as her whole chest flooded with heat. “Don’t worry,” he said, bringing his mouth down to her ear so that she could feel the gentle pressure of his lips against her skin. She closed her eyes. He held her wrist. “You’re safe with me.”
She looked at him, so close to her that it would have taken little effort to reach his lips. She looked down. The tension between them was palpable as they made small talk and spoke briefly of their lives that had brought them together at this moment. Connor was from Chicago and had moved the year before. He was taking classes at the local community college. He had been a football player in high school before he’d torn his ACL. Now he wanted to be a physical therapist. Jenna had lamely confessed that she wasn’t in school. She hadn’t been for the past year. Jon didn’t seem put off and instead said a few things that were encouraging. She had smiled and when the Ferris wheel stalled for an instant she felt safe leaning in to him. That was when he asked her how long he’d known Lauren.
“One year,” she said.
“Really?” His eyebrows lifted in surprise that was genuine. “You guys seem like best friends, sisters even.”
Pride flooded her chest and Jenna beamed. “Yeah, we actually met last year on Halloween in the Haunted Forest.” She pointed towards the Haunted Forest entrance beneath them and from their vantage point she could just make out a group of kids clustered behind a Grim Reaper who carried a torch instead of a sickle.
Jon pulled her closer, hand finding her waist and squeezing. “So it’s like your one-year anniversary, then?”
Jenna laughed. “Yeah, something like that.”
She looked up into his eyes, but the tension was cleanly severed by the buzzing of her cell phone. She jumped and Connor laughed and she glanced down to see a text from Ashley flash across the screen, followed closely by another from Lauren.
Time to go, sluts.
You ready, love?
Jenna turned back to face Lauren and nodded.
Jenna drove with Jon, Lauren, and Connor in the car behind Ashley. Ashley drove with her date–the boy from the costume shop–and she drove like a maniac. Left, right, grind the clutch, change gears, blast the music, another left. Connor, in the driver’s seat, could barely keep up. Jenna laughed when he commented crassly on Ashley’s driving under his breath.
Foreign energy tunneled through Jenna’s limbs as Connor reached over and took her hand at the same time Lauren’s eyes found hers in the side mirror. Lauren cracked the window and a gust of wind blew into the space and smelled like popcorn and pine and something so much darker. Jenna couldn’t help but wonder whether then whether or not Ashley’s talk about Halloween meant anything. What if there really was something different about tonight? Something blossoming and golden and perfect.
Ashley swung off Route 3 at mile six, taking the turn at 40 mph. The cars squeezed down a narrow dirt road. Trees closed in around them, rising up in slate grey silhouettes against the onyx sky. Soon the only lights left were headlights, the glow from the jack-o’-lanterns guarding Trish’s house, and the slim face of the orange moon, arcing across the sky.
“Holy shit,” Jon muttered and Jenna felt her stomach clench as she saw all the cars piled in Trish’s unpaved driveway. They pulled into one of the few spots remaining just beyond the tree line, dry leaves and pine needles crunching as they came.
Lauren was the first out of the car, and opened up Jenna’s door for her. Pulling Jenna out of the backseat, she gave her a small, brief hug and said, “Don’t be nervous. You’ll have a great time if you just relax. Just be yourself.”
Ashley found her next while the boys gathered beneath the glow of the pumpkins, and threw her arms around both girls’ necks. “Happy Halloween,” she squealed, kicking her feet up into the air.
“Ashley, you are a total freak.”
“Oh my gosh, I love you guys,” Ashley said, leaving Lauren’s statement ignored for the time being, “You guys are my family.”
“Yes. We are a family,” Lauren agreed, her gentle gaze pressing down onto Jenna. Jenna sucked in a breath and followed Lauren towards the house, as she would have followed her anywhere: blindly.
The mansion loomed up before her in Southern-gothic decadence. Baroque minarets spiraled up into the sky, Spanish moss poured over the edge of the third-floor widow’s walk balcony, and the one great big window stared down at her like Odin’s eye, framed by ivy. There were girls gathered in front of the open door that looked up when she approached. Every gaze dripped down onto her and the girl in the front, who she recognized from photographs as Trish, stepped forward and smiled ever so slightly. Jenna gulped.
“Hey Jon, Connor, why don’t you guys go on in? We’ll meet up in a second,” Lauren said. Jon looked to Jenna once before disappearing into the dimly lit entryway, receiving more than one appraising look from the girls gathered on the steps.
Jenna inhaled, and held the breath as Trish stepped forward to meet her. “Lauren,” she said, onyx hair glittering in the non-light.
“Trish, this is Jenna. Jenna this is Trish, Mary Beth, and Claire,” she said motioning to the two girls gathered just behind Trish. They moved when she did, and stared at Trish as if she were the God of their own private heavens. Her eyes flashed to Lauren and then to Ashley, standing just next to her. She supposed that’s how she looked at Lauren, like a child searching for a light in the dark.
Trish meanwhile focused on her with a raptor’s intensity. “So this is the one I’ve heard so much about?”
“The one,” Lauren answered, voice filled with nothing but pride that was unshakable.
“She’s been hiding you for a while,” Trish said, speaking directly to Jenna this time.
Jenna’s mouth fell open but she said nothing.
The girl with the vibrant red hair, Mary Beth, stepped forward. “So tonight is her–is your–first time?”
“Oh hush now. No need to make her more nervous than she already is. You’re not nervous are you?” Trish said to Jenna.
Jenna laughed, though the sound was desperate. “I’m scared shitless.”
The girls at Trish’s back shifted uncomfortably as Ashley burst into fierce laughter. Even Lauren concealed a smile with her hand.
“Oh my stars,” Trish said, reaching up and touching her painted lips. Her dark eyes were feral and searching for something in Jenna that, it seemed she’d found. “Lauren, you didn’t tell me she would be such a doll.”
Lauren smiled coolly, and somehow Jenna got the sense that Lauren and Trish had known one another for a long time. “Of course. I told you there was a reason that I picked her.”
“You always did pick well.” Trish was a petite girl and stared up at Lauren affectionately. Her eyes flashed to Ashley when she said this and Ashley blushed, looking humble for the first time Jenna could remember. “We better get moving, it’s almost midnight and we don’t want to keep the rest of the girls waiting.” Trish hooked her arm through Jenna’s and guided her into the house, which opened up before her like a gaping jack-o’-lantern’s mouth, and swallowed her whole.
It took Jenna’s eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness inside the house. The only lights hung against the walls in the form of soft orange orbs shaped like pumpkins with sharp smiles and wandering eyes. Trish steered her into the kitchen, and handed her a beer. Jenna sipped on it reflexively while Trish turned to the girls gathered around the coffee table.
“Ladies,” she said, “before we go out onto the dance floor I’d like to introduce you all to Jenna. Tonight is her first time.” Cheers rose up and in the next second the group of gorgeous, perfect girls swarmed her, generously doling out compliments and congratulations before darting off in every direction to grab their dates and spread the news. Jenna’s heart was pounding.
Lauren was watching her, and when Trish took a step towards her, eyes as round and large as marbles, she got to her first. “It’s alright Trish, I’ve got it from here. Go change the music to something a little more apropos and we’ll meet you in the living room.”
“Absolutely.” Trish grinned at Lauren and gave Jenna one final hug before drifting out of the room. Mary Beth and Claire followed without question.
Ashley gravitated to their small trio and held her hands to her lips. She smelled like candy and vanilla and cinnamon and said, “Tonight is going to be perfect.”
Perfect. It would be. It had to be. Jenna felt something small and beautiful burst in her chest.
Lauren adjusted the ribbon around Jenna’s waist with affection. “Just…”
“Be myself,” Jenna finished for her with a small smirk. “I know.”
“Good.” Lauren stared down at Jenna for a long time, and then dropped her voice to a whisper that brushed against her cheek with warmth. “And now we dance.”
Jenna felt sweat glisten on her forehead as they began gravitating towards the den and its inviting darkness. The grandfather clock in the hallway read 11:52. Ashley clapped and pushed Jenna towards the hall, whispering in her ear as they went. Jenna felt deaf to the encouragement. Still, she followed Lauren from the foyer to the living room and then past it to the dance floor and the bodies adhered to one another in heat and sticky sweat that drew Jenna forward like a desert traveler to a fata morgana on the horizon.
Jenna weaved through the crowd with Lauren and Ashley behind her, glitter and perfume colliding in the air. She turned when Lauren touched her elbow and was only completely horrified when she both saw and felt the pressure of many sets of eyes wandering over her skin, as if hungry tigers in wait.
“Don’t worry about them,” Ashley shouted as she dipped her hips into the random strangers behind her. She closed her eyes, and Jenna watched with envy as Ashley danced without inhibition. Jenna was cemented in a rigid stance, like a gargoyle amongst daisies before Lauren grabbed her hand and wrenched her forward so that the warmth of their bodies met in inescapable violence. All she could hear was the beat of the bass and all she could see were Lauren’s bright eyes and all she could feel was the snake in her belly thrashing. She closed her eyes.
“Hey there,” a deep voice said behind her seconds before hands circled her waist. Lauren released her and Jenna saw that her eyes looked wild and only slightly panicked.
Jenna was shaky when she reached back and found Jon’s hand. He gripped her fingertips and kissed the back of her neck, he pulled his hand back through her hair. Trish appeared then with her date in tow, Mary Beth and Claire with their dates just behind her. All of their eyes were staring fixatedly at her and she knew that they were waiting for her alone because tonight was her night, and this was her moment.
To her left, Ashley’s date had his hands all over Ashley’s body, squeezing her breasts, touching the long, lean arch of her neck, and sucking on it. Ashley’s eyes were closed but on her lips she wore a grin that managed to look, at the same time, both divine and homicidal. Lauren was dancing lazily with her date while the muscles in her face twitched mechanically, resisting her face’s perfect symmetry. Her eyes were slightly bloodshot and they were glowing with heat that made the tremors in Jenna’s palms disappear. Something blisteringly hot swirled beneath her skin and the snake ached for release. She met Lauren’s gaze squarely. Lauren nodded, just once.
Jenna turned to face Jon and without hesitating, brushed her mouth across his lips. He froze for a moment and his pupils dilated, but he did not try and resist as she pulled herself up on his neck. His hands circled her waist, running greedily from her back to her thighs, but she barely felt it. Instead she was focused on the feelings of eyes on her face and the distant chime of the grandfather clock. Ding, dong. Ding, dong. An explosion of panic and fear and adrenaline and lust lit, like a match down her spine, and she knew in that second that she had reached perfection as muscles she did not know she had twisted the contours of her small heart-shaped face.
She opened her eyes and everything was in black and white. The whole world was grey and yet somehow each detail was oddly sharp. She glanced over Jon’s shoulder to find Lauren, whose back was to Connor, her hands on his, and her long legs peeking out from beneath her skirt. She saw all of these things, but was distracted by Lauren’s eyes: they were lidless, round orbs resting precariously in the top of her skull. Beneath that a messy, gaping hole of jagged sharp teeth sat where her mouth had been moments previous and all Jenna could think in that moment where actions and consequences had no bearing and her previous life that had ended last Halloween did not exist was that Lauren had never looked more beautiful than she did tonight.
Jenna saw Ashley; she saw tremors rip through the girl’s skin to the music’s accelerating beat. The boy who was breathing heavily into Ashley’s hair did not notice the snout protruding from between her cheeks or the ten-inch talons that reflected Jenna’s whole world back to her in miniature. Ashley’s eyes, like Lauren’s, were wide and wandering. They saw Jenna and Jenna went still when Ashley lifted a single finger and pointed it at her chest. In that instant, the last restraints she’d used to control the snake–no, not the snake–the monster inside of her, released.
She pulled away from Jon and fear flashed across his pretty blue eyes when he saw her, what she had been, and what she was becoming. He opened his mouth to cry out but the monster had already dissolved into Jenna’s spine, becoming her. Her back arched forward, her hands distended into jagged claws, her jaw unhinged, and her face ripped open at the center when her mouth opened. Jon cantered back. Her thumbnail hooked through his meaty shoulder and he screamed. Without hesitating, she sunk her teeth into the soft flesh of Jon’s neck and bathed in the sweet scent of his cologne mingling with his blood as it fell over her and she fell over him.
She took him down. Cheers and howls rose up and were accompanied by a chorus screams, but Jenna heard none of them. Blood burst into her mouth in crimson ribbons, like the one she wore around her waist, and tasted both salty and sweet. Her body coiled around his like a constrictor and she ripped tags of flesh free of his chest, tearing straight through to the bone. Small fountains of spray slashed across her face and branded her in heat. She could feel him jerk beneath her, resisting her in any ways he could. Absently, she stabbed her ring finger down through his hands and nailed him to the floorboards. He screamed and screamed again. She closed her eyes and tossed back the mane of her hair, breathing up into the ceiling and rubbing his blood all over her chest. She’d never known such glorious sin and felt herself reach Valhalla.
A sound caught her attention and she looked to the left to see a boy burst for the front door with two girls tearing after him, teeth gleaming like bits of broken glass as they cackled. Ashley was hunched over the dead carcass of her date as she lowered the glittering tubules of his intestines into her open mouth. Her dress was ripped open in the front and across her clavicle Jenna saw two words tattooed there in stunning simplicity: semper esurio. She felt her monstrous face contort into what might have been a grin, or something like it.
Beneath her, Jon made a sound. She tilted her head to the side and looked down at his blubbering lips, then ate them. His blue eyes, now flat, rolled to the back of his head, his screams fettered out, and then his heart came to a swift, sweet, stop shortly after.
That’s when Lauren howled. She howled Lauren howled up into the unseen starlight, several other cries rising up its wake. A current ripped through her and Jenna felt herself join the chorus. Lauren’s one remaining wing was tattered and blood bathed her white dress and Jenna knew that she was looking upon Elizabeth Bathory in the flesh and she was honored to have had such a creator. Lauren’s eyes shot up and found hers, as if she had heard Jenna’s unspoken thoughts. She straddled what was left of Connor and, using her talons, she carved back his skin. He continued to choke on his own blood until Lauren plunged her fist into his chest and ripped his heart out through his sternum. And then Lauren stood, full of grace. She stepped across the floor, bare white feet plodding through puddles of deep burgundy, and Jenna was held fixed to her brilliance, like staring directly at an open flame.
Lauren balanced the slippery organ between her fingers, playing with it like putty, and came to Jenna. Jenna’s heartbeat pounded. The girls in the room had quieted. There was no more laughter, but there was a rumble. Hands and feet and limbless body-parts jangled against the floor, drumming out a rhythm that had nothing at all to do with the music playing; the music soon faded to white noise and then to nothing while the symphony rose up to overpower it. She could hear hissing in unison, and the hard thump of her own heartbeat, which matched the girls’ hard fists against the bloodstained floor. Boom, boom, boomboomboom. Lauren’s mouth was wide and dripping with blood and cartilage, but Jenna knew that she was smiling as she lifted the heart to her lips. Ding, dong. Boomboomboom.
The smooth aorta touched Jenna’s bottom lip and Lauren squeezed, liquid magic and metal and fire and heat and perfection taking her thoughts from the sweet, lovely boy lying dead beneath her to the fresh flesh now feeding her gluttonous veins. She’d never known such crippling lust or glorious revulsion. And she’d never felt more at peace looking up into the eyes of her friend, mother, lover, sister, god and creator, bits and pieces of skin and muscle dangling from her narrow chin. Ding, dong. Boomboomboom. Jenna rubbed the blood across her chest, bathing in its effervescence, and howled up into the heavens while the chorus of her family rose up just after and obliterated all else. It was then that Jenna felt it flowing into her in crimson ribbons: that sweet, raw perfection. She drank the red nectar, and she was home.
By Elizabeth Stephens