Kelly dreamed of a lake of fire. In the center of it stood a figure, darkly handsome like Chemosh but somehow more so, his chest bare, and six ebon wings extended behind his back. He smiled at her, and gestured. Walking to him would mean crossing the burning lake, but her cloven hooves had no problem balancing upon the flames. Her own wings were still too weak to fly, but
The dream was shattered like a dropped glass as her phone beeped. Kelly rolled over and clutched at it. For a moment her fingers stuck to the wood, and she noticed that cat-like claws had extended from the tips. Half asleep, figuring out how to retract them was beyond her at the moment, so she awkwardly pulled her phone over, balancing it delicately in her talons. It was Shannon.
“So…are you going to tell me what the hell happened the other day?”
Kelly reached up to rub her eyes, and stopped herself with the claws inches from her eyeballs. Slowly, she flexed her fingers until the claws pulled back into the tips. I’m not even freaking out. I woke up with retractable finger claws, and I’m more worried about responding to a text.
Must be the cobwebs. She tapped at her phone. “So…it’s embarrassing, but I’ve started having panic attacks. New business and all that, y’know? Had one and bolted, then was too embarrassed to fess up.” She followed it with a nice and friendly frowny face, carefully chosen from the various frowny options, one Kelly felt did a good job conveying both regret and shame. It looked like it had been caught mid-sigh.
Shannon responded almost immediately, before Kelly could fully get out of bed. Her back itched, right between her shoulder blades, but she couldn’t quite reach the spot. Instead, she pulled her wool blanket up and started to rub it across her back, sighing in relief.
“Panic attacks? I know you hate when I pry, but…”
Kelly didn’t hesitate with her response. “It’s fine, you keep me honest. I promise there’s no problem there. Let’s grab dinner tonight after my class? Maybe some carry out?”
“Sure! Sounds great. See you tonight. 6PM work?.”
Kelly responded in the affirmative and slunk out of bed. After what had happened with that murdering jackoff the day before, she had decided to let her friend’s sin slide after asking herself a simple question – would she be able to mete out vengeance on an actual six year old for doing that? The answer had been, thankfully, a resounding no. Besides, she felt good this morning. Better than she had the last couple days. Besides the claws, nothing else had changed while she slept – in fact, she looked great in the mirror. Too good.
She leaned forward to look at her reflection closer. She looked like she had just gotten out of bed in a TV show. Hair was perfectly tussled, an artful mess that would take a team of stylists two hours to get just right. Her face looked like she’d perfectly applied her makeup already, and not her normal quick “don’t bother with too much because you’re going to get sweaty anyway” makeup, but studio quality. It even framed her red eyes perfectly, so they looked less menacing and more…exotic.
Okay, Kelly, think. The demons that come to your class definitely don’t look like they walked off a film set, unless it was something by Guillermo Del Toro. So why do you?
Unfortunately, nothing came to mind. It was unnerving, but compared to growing claws and hooves, she’d take it. Class wasn’t for another four hours, and her slowly growing demonic nature aside, she still had to take care of her life. For starters: her fridge was empty, and her pantry wasn’t much better. Time to hit the store.
With everything else going on, perhaps she could be forgiven for not noticing the downy black feather that had fallen on her bed.
Kelly loved being a self-employed early riser. If she hit the store before her morning jog, she could be there while the rest of the city was stuck in traffic trying to get to work, and the aisles were almost completely empty. Almost. Today she found herself sharing the salad bar with an older gentleman she’d seen around a few times before. Henry.
Apparently she knew names of relative strangers now.
She didn’t feel any particular urge to make contact – apparently Chemosh had been right about that fading, or the old man was such a saint that he didn’t have any interesting sins. From the way he kept trying to glance down her shirt, she doubted that was the case. So when he reached for the lettuce, out of perverse curiosity, she reached for the spoon as well, her hand brushing against his.
She was Henry, but not the Henry standing next to her. This Henry was seated at a table, and in front of him laid a feast. Steaks, plump and juicy. A pot roast that was dripping with juices. Three cakes – one made of the most decedent chocolate, another rich in cream cheese, the final a chocolate chip cookie almost two feet across. Banana splits drizzled with chocolate and raspberry sauce sat between the cakes.
Someone was eating on the floor next to him. His greasy fuck of a son in law, the one that had stolen his daughter and now had power of attorney, threatening to throw him in a nursing home if he ever stepped an inch out line. A petty child that bullied Henry into eating this stupid salad with kale, whatever the hell that was, no matter how healthy his doctor said he was. That little pig, in this dream, was scarfing salad out of a bowl, his hands tied behind his back so he had to eat like a dog. Henry threw a steak bone at the fat little pigs head when Henry had finished cleaning it, and the little pig shuffled over to lick the meat off it.
As soon as their hands made contact, a new feature was added to the fantasy. Kelly was there suddenly, or at least a fit young woman that at this instant looked like Kelly, and would later look like the cute jogger that ran by his porch every day at 9am sharp, and later still would be the barista who snuck him an extra shot of expresso because he was such a sweet old man. Whichever woman it was, they were dressed like harem girls out of some 1970’s Hollywood fever dream of the ancient Middle east, and when they weren’t fetching him fresh plates, they were beating the little piggy with bamboo poles for not eating fast enough.
Kelly broke contact, her eyes bulging as she did. Henry pretended not to notice the touch, which was for the best, since Kelly couldn’t help but wipe her fingers on her sleeve. It wasn’t a sin. It wasn’t something Henry had done, or would really ever be able to realistically do. Desire. It’s his deepest, darkest, most profane desire.
Kelly wanted to walk away, but another perverse urge reared itself up. Instead, she leaned in towards the salad bar, her head as close to Henry’s as she could get it. “Perhaps a bit much,” she said in a voice far more silky than her normal chipper tones, “but maybe just the cake? What the little piggy doesn’t know won’t hurt, right?”
Henry looked at her, his eyes narrowing. “I’m sorry, miss, did you say something?”
She gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. “I’m sorry, must have been muttering to myself.”
Henry licked his lips, opened them again, and then closed them. He gave her a brisk nod. “Of course, my apologies.” He turned away from the salad bar, his half-filled container abandoned.
She watched as he turned towards the bakery, his strides growing more sure with each step.
…Oh goddamnit, I’m tempting people now, aren’t I?
She really wished she’d scheduled dinner with Shannon for another day.