Excerpt for Wedding Bells and Death Knells by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Wedding Bells and Death Knells

Ten Tales of Frisson and Friction


By: Kaysee Renee Robichaud


A Surprising Summons


When Konstantin's clumsy spell craft called her from the pit, the succubus called Loreline did not expect to find herself confronted with the most unusual summons of her one hundred years. She clawed her way across the brimstone stinking spaces from the void and through the gauzy veils between her home plane and the mortal world expecting one more foolish mortal magician.

The year was 1988. The city was a sprawling metropolis named for a long forgotten duke. As she entered the world, Loreline found herself bombarded with wails. The mortals screamed about wars and increasing prices and scandals and poverty and starvation and the same things they always bemoaned. She ignored these, materializing in a chalked circle in a cramped studio apartment overlooking streets and trees and other anthill-like dwellings.

Konstantin was a lean man, curly hair on his head and under his lip kept trim, wearing loose but shiny pants and nothing else. His chest was tone, his belly almost nonexistent beneath a six pack. He was thirty six years old, a social smoker and lonely.

The last was a given. All mortals who called succubi were lonely.

Sifting through his surface thoughts, she found all she needed to assume the desired form. A nineteen year old girl, broad hips and green-blue eyes and round cheeks, bookish though intense. She added a few touches from his darker desires, black hair and an indeterminate eastern Eurotrash accent and full lips. For a wardrobe, she fashioned spidery framed glasses and an arterial red gown, slit high along her thigh.

He smiled when he saw her. Smug, unfazed, unsurprised. Bastard, she thought. I will enjoy taking your essence.

"Welcome to my sanctum," he said.

"Thank you for having me," she said. The words were right there in his thoughts, and he approved of the accent, which turned having into havink. Seemed rather prosaic, but the summoner's desires were key. "You want" pronounced vant "to let me out of this, yes?"

He spoke the three charms, and Loreline pouted.

"Protections, now? Where," she asked, pronouncing it vere, "is your sense of adventure?"

"Safely subservient to my self-preservation."

She smiled. "I like men who understand subservience."

He blushed at this. Blushed! Not so smug now, are you? With a wave, the barrier around his summoning circle vanished, and she emerged. She might have been wearing these black leather ankle boots with three-inch, steel heels all the time, though she conjured them with her first two steps.

"You're amazing," he said and then shook his head at his own idiocy.

It was almost cute. She smiled at him, and said, "You don't need to woo me, mage. I'm here, your bed is there and your desires are plain." In fact, he was thinking about the way her gown would slide down her shoulders. He was thinking about the revelations to come: the soft skin of her breasts, the goose pimples on her areolae and her firm nipples, the smooth flesh of her stomach and everything lower . . .

She raised her fingers to her shoulder and snapped, as though undoing a button. The fabric dropped with a flourish. Conjured clothes acted in more interesting ways than actual ones.

His eyes considered the crimson pool suddenly surrounding her boots. He knelt, then, rubbing the gown between his thumbs and fingers. "It feels so real," he said. Another surprise. Wasn't he inflamed with lust? Every other man she had come to had not paused for niceties.

His eyes roamed up from the conjured cloth to her boots to her calves, past her knees, to her pale thighs. His gaze lingered on her dark pubic bush for a moment, before meandering higher. Past her slightly round belly and full breasts all the way to her imperious eyes.

She reached down and tousled his thick hair. It was a spontaneous gesture, not something plucked from his thoughts, and yet he responded to it with a soft, pleased sigh. Men throughout the ages had responded to such acts; even the worst of them--the most ambitious or the most corrupt--wanted something tangible to remind them of simpler times. A maternal demonstration.

After a moment, she perverted this, catching his hair in a fist and turned his face to her groin. "Tongue out," she said and spread her legs enough for him to catch the scent of her wetness. "Taste me." She eased closer, until her sex moistened his nose and lips and then his tongue. Pleasant enough for her; he really got into it.

He dropped her dress and reached around and up, catching her ass with both hands. Squeezed. She made all the sounds he expected, enticing him further.

He assumed control, then. Pulled her to the floor and fumbled his shiny pants open and down. Three kicks freed the right leg. A squirm and shove freed the left. His cock was firm, slender but long and curving toward the left. He kissed her body, squeezed her. Attentive to her shoulders and neck and lips, shy about suckling her bosom, eager to kiss her belly and lower. She eased her legs over his shoulders, when he slid low enough. He nibbled the insides of her thighs. He brushed the tip of his nose across her pubic hair and then spread her sex with one hand to best lick her clit. His fingers found their way inside and stroked, probed, delved, explored.

When Konstantin's mouth returned to her conjured sex, Loreline moved in time with him, exhaling and growling. Not for show, she realized with a start.

When she squeezed her thighs around this man's head, when she caressed her own material form, when the electric sensations evoked smiles and warmed her, these were real responses.

Succubi were not wholly physical. They were beings of passion and energy who could adopt physical forms as desired. There was little about nerves or sensation to the forms. They responded instead to less tangible sensations. As talented as Konstantin's fingers or mouth might be, his real strength lay in his passion. It was strong, brilliant as the sun.

He pried her legs apart, panting for more. He rose. Pulled her to her feet, unaware her boots had vanished, lost to his distracting and enchanting passion. He led her to the bed, and there he eased atop her, whispering almost loving words--how charming, how quaint--before his cock spread her pussy's lips and entered. Slow to start, building fast. She clutched at him, her nails growing to points to better scratch him. He whimpered, but did not stop. In fact, this drove him faster still. Stoked the fires in his heart and head and loins, and this fire bathed Loreline in radiant glory.

His dick trembled before his seed flowed into her, transformed and transferred into her ethereal phylactery as soon as it slipped from him. Release contorted his face in a cartoonish manner. Unlike the many times she had witnessed such expressions before, she did not laugh.

She was too busy being swept away by his climax tsunami. It was unlike anything she had experienced before. Intensity close to pain. The body's eyes squeezed shut to block out excess perceptions, but this did nothing to steal the intensity.

Across three delicious seconds, her body dispersed and resolidified half a dozen times. And when she returned, her face was wet.

Konstantin leaned back to kneel between her legs. "Are you," he asked, between gulped breaths, "all right?" The rolling sweat made his chest shine.

Words failed Loreline. She shook her head No, instead. When he asked what was wrong, she had no words to explain.

How could she explain a succubus was not supposed to be able to orgasm?

The typical summoners were burnt out men obsessed with their tiny fleshy bits and their own mortality. They were power seekers and explorers whose passions for sex played a subservient role to other desires. So little usable passion blazed in these men and women, Loreline had long decided orgasms were a myth. Even Crowley, the great pervert she had satisfied on two occasions, had been too distracted to bring her to climax.

But Konstantin was not distracted. Konstantin was too different from what she expected. His inherent wrongness somehow made the experience right.

"Why did you summon me?"

Now, it was his turn to lose words. His thoughts were a jumble. Loneliness and eagerness and wonder and pain. This same cocktail drove all sorcerers, both the great and the dabblers. Konstantin was not special. Konstantin was just as human and frail and weak as every other man she had been with. Yet, he was also unlike the others . . .

She put a hand upon her belly. By spilling his seed, he had lost a little of himself. The protections had kept his essence safe, but no shield was perfect. She was almost sad to see him diminished, even this little bit.

He reached down to touch her, and his spell ended. The pit tugged on her astral cord, and Loreline vanished from the summoner's bed, returning from whence she came.

The pit was not the place of eternal torment some members of mankind wished it to be. Oh, there were plenty of masochists flogging themselves and whatnot, but the pit was mostly a matter of distance. A place without gods and divinely imposed restraints--in the pit, all restraints came from those who dwelled there.

Loreline discovered her own torment. Orgasm filled her with joy, but the intensity faded. Memory remained, which was somehow worse. With great joy, she discovered, came grave disappointment and grim sorrow.

She could not quite replicate it on her own. The men who called her--far fewer in the twentieth century's waning days than in previous years--were power hungry toads with cinders for hearts. They satisfied themselves, and left her untouched.

Then, Konstantin summoned her, again. The year was 1998, the mortals screamed about economics and presidential scandals and earthquakes and weapon testing and variations on everything mortals had always bemoaned. She flew to him with mixed excitement and trepidation.

Soft, sensual tango music played on the stereo.

Konstantin was older now, hair streaked gray, sagging in places that had been tight before. The soul patch had vanished; his face was clean shaven. He wore dark slacks with tattered cuffs and dress socks that were threadbare on the toes and sole. He had scars, too. Slender white knife wound remnants on his chest.

In his thoughts, he held her as she had been. Nineteen and dark haired and intense. She molded herself to his fantasy, but added a few subtle touches to advancing herself to twenty-nine. The cut on her lavender gown revealed and concealed in all the right ways. No shoes, this time. No need.

"Hello, again," he said.

"Hello," she said and nibbled her lip. "Won't you invite me out of this circle?"

"You sound different," he said.

She smiled, reintroducing some touches from the forgotten accent. "This is better, yes?"

"Yes," he said, "but before I invite you out . . ." He spoke the three protections. An interminable delay.

Here he stood, and here she waited, and his desires were obvious, and his heart pounded with excitement. The fires burning inside him were still strong, though not quite the blaze he had possessed a decade earlier.

"Come to me," he said, and she went.

She raised a hand to her gown to snap and release it. He caught her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed each fingertip. "Do you dance?" he asked.

"I do," she said.

"I've been learning Argentine tango," he said. "And I was hoping to . . ." He held out his hands for her.

Her appetite growled for satisfaction, but the spell compelled her to ease into his arms. Her right hand found his left. Her left hand found his shoulder, while his right hand slid across her lower back. She leaned in, finding the dancing connection. The best dancers communicated without a word, through tension and slight shifts in stance or waist or arms. Ten years had not made Konstantin a professional, but he was practiced.

The way he changed rhythms or eased her into and out of ochos and stylistic flourishes, gave her a delicious sample of his fervor. Dancing stoked his fire, and this in turn carried her away.

Outside the window, the city light burned bright enough to blot out the stars. Inside, the man's fires burned bright enough to blot out the city. For Loreline, they were two bodies moving in infinity, stepping and stopping, turning and winding and bending. The dance quickened her breath, started the conflagration in her essence.

Afterward, he undressed her and they went to the bed, and danced to different music. They loved slow, and built to a wonderfully fast fuck. She rolled him onto his back, and mounted him. His hands squeezed her hips and she ground against him, as his passion rose higher and higher. She clawed at his chest, squeezed his nipples and smiled when he winced. She savored his pleading for more, for faster. His passion overwhelmed her before long, and she screamed her satisfaction to the ceiling.

He was not yet done.

They rolled onto their sides. She turned to nestle her ass against him, spooning. After a little fumbling, his cock found her cunt and the sex continued. She experienced a second orgasm, moments before he released. He draped an arm over her, and kissed her neck, and she trembled in the afterglow. More intense than memory. He held her, though she longed for solitude, to best savor these moments. These sensations.

"I've missed you," he said, and she smiled. "I've missed you."

She murmured something similar. And they lay together for almost five minutes more, before the spell ended and she returned to the pit. Joy lasted a little longer. Renewed memories served her well, until the inevitable despair returned.

Fewer summoning, as the mortal world eased from one millennium to the next. The mages who summoned her were lost in their own navels, unable to focus upon the fine fucking arts.

When the ten year anniversary approached, she grew eager. Would Konstantin call her again? Would he still bring her to that delicious place? The day arrived and passed without Konstantin's summons.

Disappointment and resentment warred inside her. Memories were not enough.

Then, his voice called. She debated not answering, which was foolish. She wanted to use him, again. She wanted to feel again.

It had been fourteen years, now. It was the last day of 2011, hours from 2012. The mortals whined about nations and poverty and the end times predicted by ancient calendars and all the things they had bemoaned throughout history.

Konstantin wore his sixty years with dignity. Some men aged better than others. He retained that essential vitality. Now, his head was clean shaven and his moustache was silver. He wore a three piece suit.

She constructed a body from his thoughts, taking slivers of the familiar--he had a handful of lovers since she had seen him last, and she took the better elements from each to mold her body, advancing it to forty years old. Her black gown was elegant. When he beheld her, his eyes shimmered.

"Hello there," he said.

"Hello, again. Invite me out of this circle?" Too late, she realized she had again forgotten the accent.

He did not seem to mind. "Of course," he said, "Come out."

"No protections?"

"I've decided to entertain my sense of adventure," he said. "How is it you get more beautiful, each time I see you?"

"I age well." They shared a laugh.

He led the way to a table, set for late supper for two. She ignored her own chair, choosing to sit on his lap, instead. They kissed, and she tasted his passion. It burned duller than before, but it was still quite present--a minor miracle. The rude world snuffed passions when it could.

Her hands caressed him through the clothes, slipping between the buttons on his shirt to find the skin beneath. His heart pounded in a weaker way; the trip hammer was less regular, now. Still, it pounded faster at her touch.

His hands urged her to rock back, and she did. In his pants, an erection stirred. "You're just the same, aren't you? No matter how this alters . . ." He ran an open hand from her forehead down her face. "You're eternal."

"Everything changes," she said, "but not so much as mortals believe."

"Mortals." The world brought a grim smile to his face. Then, he asked, "Is there more? You come from another place, but is there more for me?"

"I cannot say," she said, "for the ways and fates of mortals are unknown to me." Her lips found his while her hand trailed down to his crotch, to knead him fully erect. "Isn't this enough?"

His kisses turned hungry. They shed clothes and their sex was tender, yet still overwhelming. She rode him in the chair, and then they fucked on the floor, and then they moved back to the bed. When he took her from behind, she orgasmed the one time she would tonight, but it was a beautiful moment. His erection softened before he could finish, and she kissed him back solid, and then sucked and stroked him to climax.

She had the option to drain him complete, then. Without protections, there was nothing to keep his essence safe.

"You want to die," she said, "don't you?"

"I'm already dying," he said. "I can't think of a preferable way to go."

"I," she said and then changed her mind. "I'll miss the way you make me feel." Then, she closed her eyes and took everything he had, while the city cheered the arrival of a new year.

When Loreline left, Konstantin smiled up at the ceiling. She envied him.


Beautiful Strangers


Wearing her five dollar smile, the prettiest of Molly’s buxom, blonde and befreckled whores leaned around the piano and said, “Your cowboy’s come back to Hundred Lakes, Stitches.”

Darla could only mean one man.

The piano player craned his neck, eagerly inspecting the saloon’s patrons. His chubby fingers easily rolled out the cheery music, while his eyes paused at each of the grizzled trappers, prairie riders and young toughs. No sign of Shooter Rollins.

Though her smile was only five dollars, Darla’s laugh was rich with cruelty. The booze on her breath momentarily washed away the sickly saturation of perfume. “Why Michael Stitches,” she announced to the room, “You’re sweet on that tall, dark and mysterious cowboy. Hoping he’ll make you more than his little cowpoke?”

Festooned with feathered, scarlet garments and fleshy rolls of comfort, Madam Molly appeared before another word was spoken. She yanked Darla’s ear down to her mouth. “Be on with your business,” she spat, in her nearly indecipherable brogue, “There’s Mountain Men, Lake Rats and Cowboys aplenty looking to deposit good money between your thighs.”

Darla hustled away.

Molly turned to Michael, looking for all the world like a ruffled cardinal. “When he arrives, finish your number and take twenty minutes,” she said, “Then, I want you back here.”

“Yes, Molly.”

“And if there’s any truth to Darla’s words–“

“There’s not.”

Molly stared into Michael’s soul and saw differently. She sighed wearily. “Listen to a woman who’s experienced more than her share of misery from bad decisions.

“There’s no holding onto a man like that. Best not to try.”

Michael frowned, when he whispered, “Yes, Molly.”

She turned and rejoined the amorous chaos.

#

The bedrooms upstairs were sparse on the furnishings, and if the walls were any thinner, they could have served as dancing veils. Lusty grunts, slaps, squeals and giggles permeated the entire floor.

After contributing his aria to the sensuous opera, Michael collapsed in a sweaty, satisfied heap and took a moment to study his rider.

A blue eyed, sandy haired cowboy, with a toned physique and a racehorse’s stamina. Shooter Rollins was gorgeous. After love, heat rolled off the cowboy in waves.

Michael decided it could not be mere lust. When they made the beast with two backs, there was too much of a connection to ignore. A fragile, beautiful bond.

We belong together.

Something was different. Instead of sharing a breathless laugh or collapsing beside Michael to impart sweet whispers, Shooter leaned back against the narrow bed’s headboard, and tilted his hat low, shading his eyes from the narrow flame of the lamp.

Michael could tell a heavy weight had lain on the cowboy's mind and was refusing to get up.

Michael slid beside him, laid a chubby arm across Shooter’s abdomen, feeling the tightly packed muscles. After a moment, he found enough breath to speak full words instead of partial syllables. “Didn’t expect you to come back to Hundred Lakes ‘til month’s end.”

Shooter chewed at his thumbnail. “Something came up.”

“Business or pleasure?”

Shooter stopped chewing and spat something off the side of the bed. “Are there really one hundred lakes around here?”

What? “More like fourteen and a couple of ponds,” Michael said, “But that makes for a lousy name.”

Shooter snickered, “I s’pose.”

Michael tried to turn the conversation back to familiar ground. “What do you see in a fat old piano player like me?”

Shooter’s typical response took the form of a cocked eyebrow and a grin. He’d say: You’re what… Thirty? That’s not old, you tubby bastard. The cowboy could make the words flirty and not insulting. It was lover’s humor. It was wonderful.

Tonight, it was absent. Shooter didn’t take the bait. “Ever hear of Toweedo Lake?”

Michael looked up at the cowboy’s face. “You pumping me for information, now?”

“I can pay for what I pump,” Shooter said without a smile.

If the cowboy’s heat cooled any faster, he’d give off steam.

Michael said, “Toweedo Lake is northwest. Past Lawson’s Bridge. There’s trails. You could follow them all the way to the Wasatch Front. I don’t know how well they’re marked. Maybe an hour’s ride.”

“So, about a two hour walk, then?”

“I guess. What’s going on?”

Shooter rose and grabbed his jeans. “Suppose I better get started.”

So soon? This wasn’t like him at all. “What’s so important?”

The cowboy stopped buckling his belt and smiled dreamily at the window. Something about that grin made Michael shiver. “I’m chasing Black Soames’ Ghost.”

“The outlaw’s spook?”

“His horse,” Shooter said, “Some months back, Black Soames ate a bullet. His horse still roams free.”

“What about Comida?”

The smile vanished. “She took a stumble couple of months ago,” Shooter whispered, “Had to put her down. This winter was terrible.” After a moment, the awful, longing grin returned to his lips. “They say Ghost remembers all of that outlaw’s favorite spots. Whoever gets him will have a living map to every stash Black Soames left behind.

“You understand what I’m saying, Michael?”

That was the old Shooter Rollins. He had a way of saying Michael’s name that made the word sound almost holy.

“I hear he goes to Toweedo Lake after a good thunderstorm,” Shooter continued, “Used to do it with Soames, does it now out of rote.”

“Who knows so much about this horse?”

“Doesn’t matter who,” Shooter’s lips twitched with barely contained irritation. “I aim to make that sweet son of a bitch mine.”

If Shooter Rollins was chasing thunderstorms, then this was the season for it. The wet weather blew up from down south and emptied onto the land in furious, though mercifully short, spurts.

Just this afternoon, the thunder was loud enough to make the town’s buildings shake. Strange weather, though. Rain and fury, but the sky never went fully dark. The sun shone on.

Bad mojo.

Michael felt his throat constrict, as he watched the cowboy button his shirt. “I don’t think you ought to go,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Today’s storm wasn’t normal,” Michael said, “Molly calls it Phooka weather.”

“Fook-what?”

“Some sort of tricky faeries. Bad luck.”

“I heard about you,” Shooter turned his terrible grin onto Michael, “How they call you ‘Stitches’ on account of some whore with a speech impediment couldn’t pronounce ‘Superstitious.’” He tilted his head back. The hat brim’s shadow receded, but darkness still nestled in his brown eyes. “Don’t you know there ain’t no such things as faeries?

“Are you just making things up? To keep me here a little longer?”

“I can’t lie to you,” Michael said, “You shouldn’t go.”

“I thought all whores are liars.”

“Is that what I am to you?”

“Do you believe different?”

The cowboy walked out, while Michael lay on the bed, near to tears.

That’s not my Shooter. That can’t be. We have a connection. A delicate and beautiful bond.

Something else–something terrible–was going on.

#

Growing up in the flat, Illinois grasslands, Shooter Rollins never expected to find beauty in the landscape of the Western Prairie. Hell, everything West of the Mighty Mississip’ was just sand and cacti, or so his father always said. Not true, Shooter discovered.

Further west, a traveler would stumble into the Mojave Desert. Going north, the Wasatch Mountains. However, the Colorado Prairie was a feast of wilderness ranging from swaying plains to rain, wind and river carved sandstone.

Winter proved relentlessly cold, but spring was rocked by monsoon thunderstorms. The runoff water filled natural crevasses. Under the gibbous moon, those sizeable puddles did resemble no less than a hundred lakes.

A part of the cowboy could not wait to see what phantasmagoric colors might blossom in such a strange landscape. This was also the part of him that wondered why his evening with Michael ended so badly. However, this part was overshadowed by the rest, which didn’t care for anything but Black Soames’ lost mount.

Shooter had time to wonder when his idle curiosity had turned into a passion. Is this a quest I am on?

In the quiet moments of travel, his eyes turned inward and reflected on how mean he’d become. He wasn’t sure how much he liked it. His capacity for casual cruelty reminded him a little too much of the tyrannical corn farmer father he had left in Illinois.

Still, Black Soames’ Ghost always waited. Taunting. Beckoning. Promising riches.

It was all Dusky’s fault. Three years ago, Shooter had holed up for the winter with a team of trappers. The one called Dusky was a born yarn spinner, who spent nights sharing several of Black Soames’ exploits. In the months since, Shooter had come across clues, most of them inconsequential to a man who didn’t know what to look for. Before long, he found himself seeking them out.

Over the last three months, in the wake of frostbitten toes and nights filled with the growls of an empty stomach, Ghost seemed the only tangible solution. Especially since a trail seemed to be materializing, leading right to him.

I’ve been following that trail since Dusky revealed it. I have to see it to its end.

The walk took just over an hour and a half. The moon was nearly at apex by the time Shooter reached his destination. He dropped his burden, twenty yards of rope, under a thirty-foot tall natural arch, hunkered in its shadow and fought off the urge to roll a smoke.

No telling how good a scenter Ghost was. Best to avoid spooking the prize.

A gentle breeze soughed across the lake, carrying the cowboy’s smell back toward town.

Shooter waited. Listened. His muscles tensed; the hunter was ready.

Nearly half an hour later, Shooter heard the sounds of gravel and stone under careful steps.

Any moment now, he would spring into action.

When the steps came even more slowly, Shooter wondered, Did you catch wind of me after all, you marvelous son of a bitch?

They stopped.

Shooter pinpointed their origin: around the very arch he was hunkered beneath. He grinned to himself for his good luck.

The walker started moving again, hesitant now.

Shooter’s grin faltered.

They sounded wrong. Not like steel shoes on sandstone at all.

The wind shifted direction. Blew the cowboy’s scent around the arch wall, toward the approacher. At that instant, the steps veered closer.

It, whatever was on the other side of the arch, knew he was there.

Not Ghost. This was something else.

The breeze ceased. Shooter held his breath.

The steps stopped.

Their source was mere inches away.

Silence thickened the air with each passing moment.

Even the wind ceased.

Something whispered Shooter’s name.

His hands went numb, legs cold. “Who’s there?”

“Michael Stitches,” the voice said.

Shooter stormed around the arch.

Relief washed over the waiting piano player’s face. “Thank God, Shoot—“

Shooter grabbed him by the shoulders and shook hard enough to make the piano player’s teeth chatter. “You stupid son of a bitch. Just what the hell are you doing out here?”

“Saving you from the phookas!”

“You superstitious ass. There aren’t such—!” What am I doing? Shooter stopped shaking the man, eased up the grip. Took a step back.

“But there are. I don’t know if they followed Molly all the way from her island, or if they were already here. They’re tricksters. They adopt animal shapes to steal away the unwary. The weather was a warning—”

Rage overtook reason, and Shooter raised a hand to strike him. Michael’s jaw dropped.

Slowly the cowboy lowered his hand. “If you spoil this for me,” he whispered, “I’ll choke the life out of you.”

“But—“

Shooter raised a finger for quiet. It trembled, uncertainly. “No more, Michael.”

Michael obligingly shut his mouth.

“If you want to help me, take this.” Shooter held out an end of the rope. “You’ll do better for an anchor than this rock,” he said, “When I move, you follow. Stay low and keep quiet. All right?”

Michael nodded. The rope hung from his hands like a wet noodle.

The darkness deepened. A thick cloudbank swept across the moon, engulfing it whole.

The piano player’s face became a caricature of terror: eyes wide, jaw agape. He pointed toward the lake.

Shooter glanced back.

A shape filled the darkness near the water’s edge. At least seven feet tall at the shoulder. Powerfully muscled. Fore legs in the lake, hind on the shore. It dipped its muzzle to the water and quaffed loudly.

Shooter felt desire warming his grin. “Black Soames’ Ghost.”

Michael Stitches whispered warnings, but Shooter ignored them.

The cowboy took up three loops of rope. As he approached, his hands wound the free end into noose. He gave it a test twirl.

The horse did not hear him.

Twenty feet away, Shooter turned the lariat in hand. For real, this time.

Still closing the distance.

Slow.

Quiet.

The noose swung with a soft whup-whup-whup through the air overhead.

Behind him, boot soles crunched loudly on the sandstone. Goddamnit!

Ghost looked up. Ears twitched. The remnants of an old bridle dangled from his muzzle.

Moon emerged from the cloud. Horse and cowboy locked eyes.

He was gorgeous. The most beautiful horse Shooter had ever seen.

Now or never.

Perfect lasso! Right around the horse’s neck.

Ghost snorted. Backed a step.

Lightning fast, Shooter closed in. As he mounted, the cowboy coiled the rope tight around his hands. Clutched flanks with his thighs. “Got you,” Shooter smirked.

“Shooter, don’t!” The piano player ran toward him, his thick fingers gripping the length of rope deathly tight. “Let him go!”

“Stay back, Michael,” Shooter shouted, before he noticed something out of the corner of his eye: a grinning mouth, gleaming from the water below.

Shooter looked down. Nothing but the reflection, now broken because Michael Stitches was scaring the horse.

Ghost moved full into the water.

“Ho, boy. Ho up,” Shooter tugged on rope and mane, “Take us back to shore.”

Michael Stitches was at water’s edge and shouting, “Get off him!”

Stop spooking him!” The cowboy pulled for the horse to stop.

Ghost went further into the water. The surface touched the soles of Shooter’s boots. “You’re mine, you son of a bitch. You will listen to me.”

The horse snorted.

For an instant, Shooter saw the grin in the water, again. A pale white face under a heavy beard and thick eyebrows. The teeth looked just a touch too sharp.

Not real. Just a trick of light or mind. Reflections going crazy in the moving water.

Michael cupped both hands around his mouth and called Shooter’s name.

The bridle will control the horse easier. Shooter grabbed for the dangling leather.

The horse rose into the air, graceful as a fish, and came down almost thirty feet away. In the middle of the lake.

Shooter sputtered at the impossibility.

As the water rushed up to meet him, Shooter saw his reflection, again, but it was distorted. No longer atop that beautiful, powerful horse, Shooter saw himself astride a naked man. No lovely piano player, this fellow was unspeakably ugly.

Coated in thick, dark hair, the stranger looked as feral and ferocious as a Donner Party survivor. Grinning lips stretched too wide, almost to his ears. Saliva dribbled through the gaps between his fangs.

Shooter screamed. The water pounded against him. Busted his front teeth. Slapped the breath from his chest. Swallowed him.

Tension vanished from his legs, and he slid free from the horse’s back.

Have to get up. Break surface. Shooter paddled madly toward the cool white of the moonlight. Toward air.

The rope around his hands clutched tighter and yanked him down.

He clawed at the water-bloated hemp. Unmanageable. He squirmed one loop off. Nowhere near enough.

Heat jammed into his skull. Squeezed his chest. Above, moonlight and air. How far away? Rope pulled him down fast. The horse sank like a boulder.

A tug from above. Michael. He must still have his end! Pull you beautiful, tubby bastard! You gorgeous old piano man! Pull!

#

“Got you!” Michael Stitches tugged the rope with all his strength.

He held it taut for almost four seconds before the force on the other end jerked him head first into the shallows.

Water rushed up his nose. His chin scraped stones underneath the surface. Pain flared.

Can’t let go.

His boots caught on some of the stones. Dug in. Sudden stop. He crushed the rope in his hands. Arms stretched out tight. White agony ignited in his shoulders.

Get loose, Shooter, come back.

The hemp slid through his grip, shredding the skin on his palms. A foot and a half lost. Just the nub end left.

Come on, Shooter!

The supporting stones shifted wildly.

If they give, I’ll follow you. I’ll let it drag me too.

Instead, the nub ripped free.

Michael clawed for it, but it vanished too quickly.

The moonlight vanished behind another fast moving cloudbank, as though that great, white stone was alive and unable to bear the scene below.

Michael splashed around the dark water, but his cowboy was gone.

Nearly exhausted, he paddled to shore, coughing and cursing miserably.

Molly hadn’t said anything about phookas jumping into lakes. She’d made it sound like the faerie would drag Shooter on a hellish ride across the countryside. "Didn’t say nothing about lakes."

Michael stared into the placid water, whispering Shooter’s name like a shamanic mantra, medicine to call the cowboy back.

He did not come.

The delicate bond was shattered beyond hope of repair.

#

In the depths of Lake Toweedo, no longer disguised as a horse, the Kelpie reeled his meal in. This one was beautiful and strong.

In some ways, it reminded the Kelpie of the Master. It was the Master who’d found the Kelpie’s feeding pool, who bridled the Kelpie, who tricked the trickster and trapped him, again.

The Master was nothing like the Magician, who used dweomer-crafts to lure the faerie into its traveling circus. The tricksy Magician had named the Kelpie ‘Attraction’ and brought him away from his home lakes, across the Great Salty Wet to the New World.

The Magician had gotten justice, though, in the form of feathered arrows delivered during the caravan's most arduous trip from one leering frontier crowd to another. One of the ambushing braves tried to ride the Kelpie and become the first meal in the feeding pool. Thirteen years of feeding passed before the Master came. Oh, Master.

Seven years of servitude followed.

In that time, the Kelpie developed a terrible love for that man, more profound than any desire he had experienced before. Seven years before other humans interfered.

The Master died, flesh untasted.

However, the Kelpie retained memories. Sound memories, touch memories, smell memories, event memories…

This new meal struggled briefly. Soon enough, the water chased the fight away. The human floated motionless, staring with eyes like tiny, blue jewels. The Kelpie considered taking them.

They would not keep.

The meat proved especially succulent.

The Kelpie’s memory of its flavor lingered longer than any trinkets would have lasted. In time, this human became indistinguishable from the Master, and the Kelpie could believe that the Master’s beautiful flesh had not really gone wasted. My Master. Strong and tricky and beautiful and oh, so tasty


Until the Rain


Amidst the summer swelter, the ladies along Governance Street brought their potted plants to the windowsills at even a hint of rain. By the drought's nineteenth day, dozens of drooping gardenias and wilting wildflowers filled window boxes on the sills and deck railings of every three-decker apartment building along the street. During tourist season's heart, those months ranging from June to August, Massachusetts often squatted in a humid haze. This year, drought was terrible all across the northeast. Worcester's citizenry waited, pleaded, prayed for rain.

Despite the heat, Beady had work to do on his three-decker. Saturday morning found him affixing fresh siding to the wall facing Governance Street. The previous night's winds had played hell, finishing a job begun by a nor'easter over spring weekend two months before. He worked at a steady pace, trying not to let the sweaty rivulets running down his neck and spine annoy him too much. Summer sweat and sore shoulders were two unspoken prices for owning a building. When he paused for a toot of Red Bull and vodka from his hipflask, he saw a strange girl walking up from the bus stop. Behind her, the great lumbering eyesore of the Grafton Hill bus rumbled and hissed and sputtered on its way.

Beady should not have been surprised to discover the girl braced an umbrella against her shoulder like a rifle. Native New Englanders knew the simple fact: when rain wanted to fall, it would–forecasts be damned. However, she carried no ordinary umbrella. Instead, this model was one of those narrow, frilly, lacy things. The sort Southern belles carried. A parasol. This was but one of many eye-catching incongruities in the woman's wardrobe.

She wore a goth's finery but adorned with curious accouterments. Cogs hung from long loops in her ears, while springs and clockworks festooned her embroidered jacket, blouse, and waist cincher. Steampunk chic.

She was a slight and slender wraith, just over five feet tall and shockingly tiny. Dark lipstick had shaded her lips somewhere between red and black. Powder and cream paled her face to near-white. A single shock of auburn hair fell down her cheek, but the rest was pulled into a tight bun, fastened in place with chopsticks and crowned with the tiniest top hat Beady had ever seen. Her clothing color of choice was amber, and she showed a love for steel boning and a snug fit. When she met his gaze, a tingle ran up Beady's spine. She resembled one of the girls from his primary's fashion magazines: A real looker with a face that knew how to pout, to preen, to seduce on a photographer's orders. Hers were the kind of cupid bow lips, which would form a lovely O when pained just right.

He imagined her in the smarting room, bent over the sawhorse, and arousal set a brief bob of interest in his shorts. Imaging hurt no one, of course.

Then she stopped at the rusty iron fence around his brown lawn and said "You're Beady."

His name was Darrel Pigeon Armbrewster, a regular mouthful. Only his primary called him Beady. Neither his secondary nor tertiary knew that particular name, so far as he was aware.

Before he could reply yay or nay, she smiled to herself and said: "You are." In her eyes, he found humor tinged dark colors. Not so much mockery as irreverence. "I am Christine." Her lingering enunciation added steam to her name. A hiss here, and heat all over. She held out a suede gloved hand. He reached out to take it, and only realized he still held his hipflask when she accepted it, raised it to her lips, and took a light nip. "How sweet and satisfying." Her eyes never lost their playfulness.

"Bit warm for so many layers," he said. She did not appear uncomfortable. The tiny creature had no body fat. There was nothing in her to sweat.

"I've more layers than you know, Beady."

He shifted his weight from left to right and back again, unable to find comfort. "I'm sorry. Have we met?"

When she handed his flask back, he noticed the dark ring from her lips around the barrel. He did not wipe it off. Instead, he touched the ring to his own mouth and drained the flask's contents.

She asked, "Didn't Meryl mention me?"

Meryl. Of course. His primary might have let the Beady name slip once or twice to a friend. That he had not yet encountered the fallout from such a slip didn't mean they never happened.

"Ah," he said.

"My," her eyes ran down and then up again, "you're a hard worker."

He detected a shift in his shorts, and hoped his erection didn't show. "Harder than I should be," he said, and a flush warmed his sweaty face.

"Those are some nice arms you have." She reached out and drew a soft gloved finger along his glistening bicep. Wrapped around and squeezed. "A working man's arms go well with an Irishman's red curls."

He tingled more at her touch. There was something between them. Something electric. "Are you here to see Meryl?"

"Eventually," she said. "Now, I'm here to meet you."

"She's out, just now. Won't be back until–" Then, his mind caught up to her actual words. "You want to meet me? What do you know about me?"

"I know you're kind enough to offer a lady a drink on such a warm day."

"Sure, sure. Will you come in?"

"Point the way," she said.

I'm pointing somewhere, all right. "Just a moment, while I close things up." He sealed the glue pots and the plastic nail box. Building care was still new for him, he had brought out more tools than he knew what to do with. He dumped these in the building's front porch, out of stumbling reach.

He said, "Do you think we'll see rain anytime soon?"

"I've no doubts," she replied.

"Good," he said. "I like a strong shower."

Though his back faced her, he sensed her scrutiny like a ghostly fingertips brushing up and along his spine. He stood a little more upright, wiped his hands on his shorts, and led the way through the building's side door, down the hall and around to the twelve slat stairs down.

"You live," she asked, intrigued, "underground?"

"Cellar's cooler in the summers," he said. "And this way, Meryl and the others can rent the apartments. It's all very reasonable and business-like."

The wooden slats groaned beneath them. At the bottom, a door to the right opened upon a quartet of storage cages. Mildew and moisture flavored every breath. Beyond chain link and padlocks stood clustered water heaters and circuit breakers. Beyond these, a cheerless wooden door. "My chambers," Beady said, slipping a brass key into the tarnished lock.

Scant light penetrated the glass blocks near the ceiling. With a clap, a lamp buzzed to life, its intensifying white glow revealing a comfortable living room. Dark doorways led to more rooms. He invited her in with a theatrical wave.

"Lovely," she said without a hint of irony. Her corset creaked when she sat on his couch, the delicious sound of struggle and constraint.

He closed the door. "Name your poison," he said. "I keep a nice supply on hand."

"Ambergris?" she asked.

"I don't know that beverage," he said.

"Just as well," she replied, "for the taste is peculiar."

"I have absinthe," he said. "If you're game."

"Have you chased the green goddess before?"

"I thought it was faeries," he said. "But no, I've never indulged this particular past time. I lucked into a bottle, have the spoon and the sugar, and . . . and I'd enjoy sharing it."

"With me? Not Meryl or Cotton or Hetty?"

"How is it you know so much?" he asked. "I never knew Meryl had been so open."

"She opened the way," Christine said. "Inviting me in fully."

"You're lovers then? Why hasn't she mentioned you to me?"

"Because, she wanted me to be a surprise."

"Like a gift or something?" Beady's mouth slickened with saliva, his mind quickened with the most delicious thoughts. There were many things he might do with a gift such as this girl. Many wicked ecstasies he could reveal to her, and more nasty pleasures he might take.

"You're already dreaming of your smarting room, aren't you?"

"Meryl told you about that?"

"You mentioned a drink?"

Lights gleamed to life in the kitchen, when he fetched the bottle from under his sink. The label was faded, but the brand's gothic letters remained like a permanent shadow, spelling Black Goat's Milk. The door to the smarting room teased him, while he removed the stopper. A heavy, wet reek, like decay, made him wrinkle his nose. He had neither tasted nor inhaled wormwood, which he knew was essential in this particular beverage. Was this what he smelled now?

A sliding sound from the living room told him his guest was restless. Should he choose another bottle?

Another battle be damned. This one or nothing . . ..

He put bottle, spoon and two glasses upon a tray, added a box of Domino sugar cubes, and then returned to his guest. She had risen from her seat, pausing to consider the four Japanese woodcut wall hangings depicting men performing savage deeds to one another.

"They were gifts," he said.

"Lovely." She traced a finger along one figure's opened gut, and then along the phallic-katana responsible for the killing wound. "How erotic."

He set spoon above a glass, placed a sugar cube, and then poured the fluid. The smell was both wrong yet intriguing. He had expected the cube to dissolve, but it did not.

She said, "Give me that bottle."

He handed it to her without a word, and then wondered at the instinctive submission. The response was unlike him.

She turned the bottle round with her hand, swirling the contents. She waved the bottle's mouth beneath her nose and smiled. "A curious vintage," she said, "one I haven't sampled in a long, long time."

"It can't have been that long," Beady said. "You're not that old."

"I've many layers," Christine repeated.

Something about the way she spoke teased and tickled and taunted. Beady's hands curled into claws, eager to tear her clothes or crush her skin.

She whispered something into the bottle's neck, and then poured the brew. The sugar cube dissolved under the flow in seconds, with audible hisses. "Time is quickened," she said, "when the bottle's contents are aerated."

"I see," he said though he did not.

She handed a glass to him, and poured herself a fresh shot. "To the dark, and its many hidden splendors." Glasses met with a resonant note, and then Beady drained his glass. He blanched with disagreement.

"Not your preference?" she asked. "Perhaps you need to sup from a different cup." She sipped from her brew and invited him in for a kiss. Their lips met, and heavy licorice flavors flowed into his mouth, accompanied by her tongue. This kiss erased the passage of seconds and minutes. He was lost in the moment. Then, he suffered discomfort. A prick on his tongue, as though he had run it across a rose thorn. After an instant, the pain vanished, and the throbbing became another flavor for lust.

Then their kiss broke and she asked, "Better?"

"My God yes."

"Which one would that be?"

"Hmm?"

She tipped her glass' last contents into her mouth and then undulated before his eyes. How could everyday acts like swallowing or breathing, be so charged with sex?

He reached for her, dragged her back to him.

"You're all sweaty," she said.

"And you're in heat," he said.

She giggled at this vulgarity. "And you're a dirty little boy."

"And you," he said, "are a slut."

Though her lips remained quirked with amusement and her eyes sparkled with dark delight, she caught his crotch with a fist. "I'm not that," she said and squeezed. "Now, apologize."

He squirmed, gasped. Her grip was solid, crushing his erection, and yet the pain spurred him on. "Sorry," he said.

"Nice, but not enough."

"I'm sor– Fuck! I'm sorry!"

Something slipped behind her eyes, then. As though the face he adored was a mask over something which burned as cold, distant and alien as the nighttime stars. "Ask me to forgive you." Her fist squeezed him harder, now. Ecstasy and agony became indivisible.

"I'm sorry. Forgive me. Pleaseohpleaseforgiveme!"

She released and he reached down to cradle himself. In spite of the throbbing pain, his cock still stood full and eager. "How did you do that?"

"I know a few things," she said. "Would you like me to show you?"

He shook his head. "I want you to show Meryl. While I watch."

"What a bad boy you are," she said. "And afterwards, maybe I'll show you while Meryl watches."

Beady lacked an exhibitionist impulse. Showing off had never interested him before But right now, with the liquor warm in his belly and tickling his mind, with her eyes casting those dark promises and her lips raised in faux ingénue humor, he found himself bewitched and entertaining gleeful exhibitionist thoughts.

"Yes," he said.

"Show me your play chamber?"

The smarting room was a earth-floored cell, large enough for four people at most. A soiled mattress lay near the far wall. Four sets of manacles hung from iron staples in cracked white stone wall to the entrance's left. To the right, a corkboard hung over a rusty pedestal sink and between a pair of stick lamps. Instead of power tools, this board's hooks held Beady's modest toy collection. A few flails and studded paddles. Rubber spheres and sleek shafts sized for insertion into various orifices. Small baskets filled with clips, clamps, and clothespins. The walls were papered with cut outs from several sources, film posters and advertisements and naughty magazines. Dampness had long ago ruined some of the images, distorting skin tones to eerie ochre shades, adding wrinkles or distorting ink with colorful blisters. Despite the water damage, the room smelled like fresh cherry wood shavings, fertile soil, and fervent sex.

"Simple," she said, "but serviceable." Steamy sibilants. She reached over to caress his jawline. Soft suede aroused him even more.

Outside, a passing truck rumbled along Governance Street.

She walked away from him, and he admired the way her ass swung left and right. Then, she leaned back against the wall with the iron staples, reached up and caught hold of the manacles, and he admired the way her clothes simultaneously covered and revealed her luscious curves. "Strip for me?" she asked.

He pulled his sweaty shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. An awkward three step dance sent his work boots into a corner. He tugged his belt open.

"Less rushed," she said. "Tease me."

He took his time on the button. Slid the zipper down with a steady, slow hand. She watched and her grin unleashed a primal response from him. He longed to please her, to make her smile, to behold the dark behind her eyes and the face beneath her face.

When drawing his shorts down, Beady ran his hands along his muscled calves. He tugged shorts and sock off left leg and then right. The dry earth chalked his soles. He hook his thumbs in his boxers' elastic band, drew them down, showing the red curls and then his erection.

Her eyes flashed with delight, and his cock bobbed a little more.

He noticed, but did not really see the red marks upon his shaft. Impossibly spaced like clutching fingers. Beady spread his hands to either side, playing the eager-to-please magician's apprentice who had performed his first successful trick.

Her eyes moved up and down his body. "Spin about," she said. One finger traced a leisurely loop in the air.

Beady turned widdershins, feet kicking up dirt clouds from the floor.

As he passed the point of no return, the manacle clinked against the wall, and her body appeared behind him. Her clothing teased and tickled, her hands came around him, gloves running down his chest. Her mouth traveled from neck to shoulder, across and then down.

In quick succession, a dozen pricks along his spine brought gasps. Then warmth and desire spread through him. His cock was too hard to even bob. It pointed the way to his chin.

Suede sheathed fingers encircled it, stroked. Her teeth found his shoulder. Beady's limbs hung heavy and unwieldy. Still he reached back to touch her. Her bite intensified. Her words emerged with odd clarity, though her teeth were clamped on his shoulder: "Stand still."

Musk and rose petals and brown leather scents mingled with every hot breath. Every caress along his shaft sent electric pulse pleasures through his body. Then, her teeth released. Her hands shoved.

So strong. She pushed him to the mattress and onto it. Christine was a woman to take what she wanted.

The liquor warmed his groin and head. Vision became a blur. Shadows cast by the room's twin dim lamps made a mask across her face, hiding her in darkness. She straddled him, spread her legs in such a way to make the skirt ride up her thighs. Revealing her stockings' elastic bands and the bare flesh beyond. He saw darkness between her legs. He reached up, but the liquor made fingers unresponsive. He longed to squeeze her. To crush her. To push those fingers into her mouth or sex. To own her.

She eased down atop him, owning him instead.

The cogs and clockworks sang metal songs when she took him in her warm wetness. Her moans evoked something primal, echoes from his id. This was a new language they spoke, communicating all despite its nonsense. Under the booze's effect, her sex seemed to devour him, squeezing around his shaft like a suckling mouth. Coaxing him and stimulating him.

She stripped off her gloves, now. Scratched angry trails down his chest. She licked her lips between hissed, multisyllabic mouthfuls. For a moment, he thought her tongue was split at the end, forked. Then he realized she had a piercing–this triangular shaped silver wedge the likeliest source for the pricking-poking her mouth delivered.

As she rode him, her head fell back. She sang strange musical prayers to the inky shadows nestled behind the ceiling's beams, to the creeping spiders creeping in their midnight lairs, to yawning voids no brighter or darker than those between the stars.

Every luscious twitch she made burst colorful explosions behind his eyelids. These birthed snapshot flashes in his mind–oceanic vistas and churning clouds and roiling alien landscapes. Through it all, he arched his back and urged her faster. While they fucked, the room changed, becoming half-glimpsed dream places. In an instant they were atop ancient stones arranged like enormous altars. In the next, they were on the back of some terrible, enormous, flying leviathan. Then, the smarting room returned.

Absinthe, he thought, is wild.

He reached up and caught Christine's throat. Her pulse and breath flowed in his grasp. He squeezed as she had squeezed his groin. Her smile turned feral. She rode him even harder. A flurry of jibberish flowed from him, echoes from her:

"Cthulhu ftaghn. Ia. Ia. Ia!"

Meaningless, unintelligible, and yet those syllables carried weight. They mesmerized and reproduced. Verbal bacteria. Growing and changing and assimilating and becoming something all their own.

With spasms, he climaxed. Had she? He had no way to know. No way to feel.

"Good boy," she said. Then, she rose and urged him to roll over.

He moved without knowing he was going to, pausing briefly on his side, if she wanted to spoon. Her hands urged him onto his belly.

"Up," she said. "On your hands and knees."

"What?"

A solid smack on his ass brought him around. He lifted, and she spread his ass cheeks.

"Hey," he said, curious and drunk and nervous but not afraid. No, not that.

She kissed his scrotum and then flicked her tongue around his asshole. The tip dipped inside, and he shivered with delight. His cock bobbed, again.

Impossible. His climax had been so hard, so draining! He couldn't have anything left. Yet he trembled at the light prick along his puckered ass. Then, she spat on him. What a deliciously dirty sensation! Leaving a kissing trail, she ascended once more. When she reached his neck, her finger nudged its way inside his ass.

Wait, he thought. Her hands were reaching around either side, flicking his nipples. What was inside him?

Something that wiggled like a finger.

Something that unleashed more beautiful sensations.

His cock swelled again, sensitive to the air it passed through but erect nevertheless.

Beady whimpered when that finger stretched him wider and pushed deeper. It was perhaps two or three fingers wide, now. He clenched. Couldn't help it. And what flowed into and from him compressed and swelled like a thick-skinned water balloon.

He trembled and gasped and moaned and pleaded, and she whispered more luscious syllables into his ear. It was their secret language. All theirs. "Take it," those alien words communicated, "Open up for me. Open and come."

Now she leaned back, hands grabbing his hips, and he realized these were not fingers in him. This was a strap on, which felt like an actual dick. Perhaps it was? Was she an hermaphrodite? No, the thing inside him was unnaturally big.

In his head, waves rose and crashed. Riding them, uncanny near-human shapes. Further out, weird, gleaming stones pushed through the storm tossed sea–unknowable monoliths rising from below. The wave riding creatures sang with aquatic glee.

Then, Beady released once more, spilling his seed on the mattress. Still she fucked him, and he wailed, and she sang. Then, the phallus bucked inside him, and seed flowed into him. Not semen. This was heavy in a way he could not articulate.

She retreated from him, and he rolled aside, glimpsed a fleshy curl retreating under her skirt–a dun cylinder, which dribbled viscous milk. The half-glimpsed shaft was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. He longed to kiss it or lick it clean, but it was gone before he could.


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