The High Cost of Beauty

The High Cost of Beauty

The High Cost of Beauty

-----------------------

by Andrew Nellis

a.k.a. the Poison Pen

copyright 1997

The apartment door slammed open, probably leaving another dent in the wall in

the shape of a doorknob. I hate it when she does that. I've told her a hundred

times and she just doesn't listen. When school term ends it'll be me with the

trowel and spackle trying to hide the damage from the landlord.

"You get them?" I called out. She hates it when I yell across the apartment.

I'll stop yelling when she stops slamming the door open.

She didn't answer right away, so I knew she was in the kitchen, trying to sneak

one by herself probably. I wasn't concerned. Sometimes when it was my turn I'd

sneak an extra one too.

"Yeah, I got them all right." She came into the living room with a big

goofy-looking grin on her face. Her teeth were whiter than white and perfectly

spaced, a far cry from what they used to be, but it still looked out of place on

her face. A face like that was made for scowling, not for grinning. Or maybe all

that scowling she did kind of soaked in until not even the Goddess could get it

out.

Normally we carried them in a pencil case. When I saw her walking in with a

plastic shopping bag I knew something was wrong. She upended the bag onto the

coffee table and something like fifty tiny, inch-tall people came tumbling out.

"Oh Gods," I groaned. "What the hell did you do?"

She just shrugged. "If two are good, fifty are twenty-five times better, right?"

I wish I could say that I didn't believe she could do something so boneheaded

stupid, but I'd be lying. This was the same person, after all, who melted our

microwave trying to dry her bra in it.

Some of the little people were trying to make getaways, and I had all I could

handle keeping them corralled on the coffee table with my hands. "Hey!" I

shouted, bowling some of them over with my voice alone. "Knock it off or I'm

gonna get pissed."

They settled down pretty fast.

While I was busy playing warden to our prisoners, Becky -- that's my roomie --

got up and grabbed herself a can of Tab from the kitchen. I could have hit her,

I swear.

 

* * *

Everything started at the beginning of term, when Becky moved in. I needed a

room-mate pretty badly and I was in no position to be picky. I'd seen Becky

around campus. She wore a lot of black and ugly silver jewellery, but she was

available, she had rent money, and I knew after taking one look at her face that

she wasn't going to be dragging too many guys home.

That last bit was important, because my last roomie had been a real looker.

Every morning I'd end up sharing the kitchen with a different guy wrapped in a

towel while she showered. It wouln't have been so bad if I was getting any

myself, but between my course load and my lard butt, the only action I was

getting required batteries.

I guess I should stress, neither Becky nor I were too hot in the looks

department. Okay, I wasn't exactly hideous, but let's just say I wasn't shopping

for clothes in the petite section. Becky, on the other hand, must have been the

model people had in mind when they created the stereotype for witches. Her teeth

were yellow and kind of crooked (I don't think she brushed), her hair was a

nondescript shade of brown, and with that huge ass on those little pipestem legs

she looked like a beach ball on stilts.

I have to admit I was a little surprised the first time I came home to find

Becky naked and crosslegged in the living room, with candles all over the place.

But hey, she didn't leave her stockings hanging in the shower, so I wasn't going

to complain. If playing witch made her happy, that was fine with me. The book in

front of her, though, was something else again.

Oh, I don't think I mentioned who I was yet. My name's Guinivere, but everyone

calls me Gwen. I got my degree in linguistics last year, and I'm in the graduate

program now. It's no big deal, really. I've got an eye for languages. Always

have.

Well, that book Becky had was pretty special. Becky used to leave it lying

around all the time, and we were always using it as a coaster for our coffee

mugs. For lack of anything else to read one day, I picked it up and started

leafing through it. It was old, leather-bound and hand-stitched. The pages were

rough, probably hand-made. What really surprised me, though, was finding that it

was written in coinos Greek. Coinos is a dead dialect of Greek, and no one would

even remember it if so many of the original versions of the Bible weren't

written in it.

I asked Becky about the book, and she said it had been in her family for

generations, an heirloom. I decided not to point out the stamp in the back of

the book that read, "Property of Miskatonic University Library."

According to Becky, it was some kind of how-to witchcraft manual, and she had

translated a few pages so far with the help of a Greek/English dictionary. The

fact that she was using a modern dictionary and had just guessed at most of the

words more or less at random didn't seem to bother her in the slightest.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I made photocopies of the pages and

carried them around with me. When I had spare time between classes, I'd

translate a passage or two. At one point, I must have had a hundred reference

works piled around the apartment. As pages began to emerge, I slowly realized

that what I had was more than just an antique. I started to suspect that I had

stumbled on something unique. Nowhere could I find references to any book like

this one. An idea formed that this could be the key to one hell of a doctoral

thesis.

Not to boast or anything, but I had the whole thing translated in less than a

month. That's not to say that it was perfect. Far from it. A lot of the words

were completely unique, and for those I needed help from Becky. "See, it's an

obvious reference to Diana," she would say, leaning over my shoulder. "Diana is

the Huntress of the Woods." This in reference to one of the names that kept

popping up, and which translated into something like "the dark she-goat which

lives in the forest."

Once we started, a lot of stuff fell into place. "The black prince of chaos,

cloven of foot," became Pan. We tentatively identified "he who is dead yet

dreams beneath the seas" as Poseidon. Some we were never able to agree on. "The

mad lord of lords, who thinks not at the heart of madness" could have been

Cronus, Zeus, or neither.

One thing was clear, whoever wrote the book wasn't playing with a full deck. It

didn't help that it looked like it had been translated a few times along the

way. Probably by the same people they hire to translate assembly instructions

from Korean to English, by the looks of it: "Happy to be inserting screw A into

most intriguing slot B."

A lot of stuff that I couldn't translate I spelled out phonetically, which of

course Becky instantly assumed to be some kind of magical spells. I did a lot of

eye-rolling at the time, I remember that. Of course, that was before the

weirdness started.

I never did like the way Becky acted over that book. For weeks she neglected her

classes and spent her time in her room, reading that damned book. She didn't eat

and, well, to be blunt, she didn't bathe too much either and she really started

to stink.

The breakthrough came one night while I was trying to sleep, my pillow over my

head to try and block that endless chanting drone that came from Becky's room.

There was a brief second in which I... felt something. I can't explain it now.

Anyway, it was followed by a smell that I associated with the sea and woke all

kinds of strange associations in my head. Then the chanting stopped and Becky

screamed.

I'd like to say that I got up and rushed straight into her room, but the fact is

I laid there in my bed, frozen with fear. Up until then I had believed that I

was a modern, skeptical, level-headed woman who put witchcraft into the same

category as ghosts and kindly old Jewish men in the sky who turned people into

pillars of salt. But I knew as I laid there that some part of me believed

and would always believe. There were things out there in the dark inimical to

human life, and I both knew and feared them.

The screaming had stopped but the silence that followed was worse. I laid there,

staring at the ceiling, until I heard a voice from the doorway. "Gwen?" Becky

was standing in the open door frame, naked and shivering, but, so help me, her

eyes were so bright they glittered.

"They came, Gwen." I had no doubts who "they" were. My world had turned inside

out in the space of five minutes. Not only was I suddenly forced to admit the

existance of the supernatural into my reality, but I instinctively knew it was

no kind, benevolent Jehovah that reigned in the heavens.

We spent the rest of the night lying together in my bed, talking. We watched the

sun rise together like castaways waiting for a sail to appear over the horizon.

Neither one of us wanted to be alone in the darkness that night.

In the morning we found a pool of salty, muddy water on the floor of Becky's

room. A few pop-eyed fish with oversized jaws and iridescent scales had died on

the floor, and several squid had managed to crawl under the dresser before they

died. We cleaned the room from top to bottom without saying a word, though the

smell of the sea lingered in there for months, as if a little bit of its essence

had been absorbed by the walls. I never asked her what she had seen, and she

never told me.

Becky was more careful after that. We both spent our evenings poring over the

translations, making notes, cross-referencing. I didn't know then what I was

looking for, or even that I was looking for anything, but when Becky found it I

knew my search was at an end.

"Gwen, come here, look at this," Becky had said, her eyes blazing with triumph.

It was unmistakably a ritual, a very simple one, and its gleaming promise was

unearthly beauty for the person performing it.

My mouth was dry as I read through it. It's such a superficial thing, beauty.

Inconsequential. And yet I hungered for it as I had never hungered for anything

else in my life. Then, like a blow to the gut, I saw the problem. The effects

were not permanent and required regular maintenance; and the price of the ritual

was one human heart, to be consumed living and still beating.

I must have groaned out loud at that point because Becky took the papers away

from me and stared straight into my eyes. "Gwen, this is too good for us to pass

up. We have to. This is the reason the book fell into our hands. Can't you see?

It was meant to be."

"You can't be serious!" But I could see from her expression that she was.

"Becky, that's crazy. Eating a human heart? It's grotesque, like something out

of a bad horror story."

"Look at me!" she had shouted, startling me with a sudden squall of tears. "I'm

ugly. I've always been ugly. Damn you, I'm not going to pass up this chance.

Look, Gwen, there's lots of useless people out there. You know it and I know it.

Bastards the world would be better without anyway. Rapists and child-beaters and

murderers. Think, Gwen, think! Everyone wins. And we get to be... beautiful."

A week later I killed a man.

We had discussed it to death. Everything was planned out down to the last

detail. Nothing could have gone wrong, and everything did. His name was John

Montagne, and he was a right bastard. He sold dope, and if you were short on

cash when you needed a fix, he was always willing to help you peddle your ass

for a cut of the profits. I guess he'd been taking the same law degree for about

ten years and never saw the need to graduate. Why should he? He was making more

money on campus than he'd ever make as a junior lawyer.

The plan was to get him up to the apartment on the pretext of making a buy, then

drugging him with sleeping pills in his drink. The first problem was getting the

sleeping pills to dissolve. They wouldn't. We finally ground them up as small as

we could and hoped he wouldn't notice. Then, when we got the son of a bitch

upstairs, we couldn't get him to drink the damn beer.

Becky and I were both nervous as hell, and it must have shown, because Montagne

guessed that something was wrong. He pulled a knife we hadn't known he had, and

Becky panicked, trying to club him on the back of the head with the big plank of

wood we used to keep our window open. It didn't knock him out, but it did make

him really mad. The next few minutes are still a blur to me.

Montagne went staggering though the apartment, knocking things over, with me and

Becky hanging off of him. He stabbed Becky in the meaty part of her upper arm,

and I got a nasty cut on my forehead. It wasn't very serious but it bled a lot

and, at the time, I thought I was going to die. There was blood all over the

place. That's what gave me the courage, I think, to do what I did.

The tip of Montagne's loafer caught on the edge of the living room rug, and he

went down hard with Becky on top. While the two of them wrestled on the floor, I

ran to the kitchen and grabbed the big bread knife I had bought for later. I

came back just as Montagne threw Becky off, clambered to his knees, and lifted

his knife into the air. The bread knife in my hand flashed downward. The flesh

on the side of his neck peeled back like a set of obscene lips.

I've never seen anything uglier than watching Montagne die. His knife fell out

of his hands and he fell over as a huge crimson jet exploded out of his neck. I

didn't know anyone could have so much blood in him. It was everywhere. It was

hot and sticky, and I could smell it. He made bubbling, whistling noises out of

the hole in his neck. The stink of shit filled the air as he emptied his bowels,

which was the last thing he did before Becky took the knife from my hands and

began cutting.

That was enough for me. I turned and puked all over the gore-caked floor.

Montagne was still twitching when Becky slashed open his gut and shoved her arm

into his steaming intestines up to the elbow. His heart come out in her hand,

trailing a tangle of guts and arteries, and purple-red organs I couldn't

identify.

Montagne saw it, I'm certain he did. His eyes were still open and staring when

Becky sunk her teeth into his quivering heart and tore. She kneeled there

briefly, covered in blood and holding a fistful of glistening organs, with her

teeth sunk into the rubbery muscle of Montagne's finally-stilled heart. Then she

heaved up her lunch and her mouthful of flesh into Montagne's half-emptied

intestinal cavity.

The clean-up took two days. Both of us, Becky and I, spent a lot of that time

retching up the lining of our stomachs. It was one thing to discuss sawing a

body up into pieces for disposal, and another thing altogether to actually do

it. The blood was the worst part. It was everywhere and it started to rot before

we could wash it all away. It was a sick, sweet smell that I'll never forget.

We took turns carrying the plastic-wrapped pieces of John Montagne to the river

under cover of darkness.

For a week neither of us spoke. The hunted, fugitive look in our eyes said

everything for us. We had killed a man for nothing. In the end neither one of us

had had the courage to eat his living heart. It was over, I thought then.

Really, it was just beginning.

While I was wandering around in a state of shock, Becky had been digging through

the book again. I was astounded when Becky told me she had a solution to our

problem. The fact that she could even consider repeating the exercise left me

stunned and horrified.

"Okay Gwen, I've been thinking about this," Becky said. "I assume you have no

philosophical objection to, well, let's call it what it is, cannibalism."

I blinked a few times. "Well, yeah, I guess that's what it is. I hadn't thought

of it that way, but eating someone's heart is pretty definitely cannibalism. I

guess you're right, then. Meat's meat, you know?"

Becky grinned with those yellow snaggle-teeth. "Then the problem is solved." She

held out her hand.

"What are you -- oh my God." There, in the middle of her palm, was what looked

on first inspection to be a fuzzy insect but which, when I looked closer, was

very definitely a very tiny, perfectly formed cat. It could have stood

comfortably on the nail of my little finger.

"No risks, no blood to clean up... no body to dispose of after." So saying,

Becky tossed the miniscule animal into her mouth and swallowed it like a pill.

"That," I said, feeling a smile forming on my lips, "is un-fucking- believably

amazing."

We got our first taste of success the very next night.

I was working on an essay I should have written a week earlier, but I couldn't

keep my mind on it. My imagination kept drifting, and I saw that cat again, its

tail twitching nervously behind it as it stood on Becky's palm. What would a

person feel like in similar circumstances, I wondered. Would he be afraid? Would

he refuse to believe his own senses? I even thought about what it would be like

to die alone and in the dark, knowing you'd been eaten, feeling your flesh

dissolving in stomach acid, the air foetid and stifling around you. The image

was so vivid I shuddered. Could I really bring myself to inflict that kind of

hell on someone?

Becky came into my room, breaking my train of thought. "I've got a surprise for

you," she said. Her eyes were shining like a cat's, and I realized that at that

very second, with her whole body alive with excitement, Becky was actually very

pretty. I was a little sad when I realized that there was no way I'd ever be

able to convince her of that. I sighed and pushed my paper away. I wasn't

getting anywhere with it anyway.

I was aware of Becky scrutinizing me, watching for my reaction, as she held up

her right fist in front of me. I knew what I would see even before her fingers

opened. Two inch-tall men climbed hesitantly to their knees in the centre of her

palm.

"Who --" My mouth was suddenly dry and I wet my lips. "Who are they?" I asked in

a whisper.

"Thugs," said Becky. "Pimps. I see them every time I go downtown, hanging around

on a streetcorner. They'll be no loss to anyone, least of all their girls. Go

ahead," she said with an intensity that gave me the creeps. "Take one."

I reached out with my fingers, and the little men cringed back, obviously

terrified of me. I stopped. They were so tiny, so... helpless. This wasn't a

fully grown man, a dangerous man with a knife, who could be killed in the heat

of the moment. I could read the terror in their expressions as they looked at

me, and I felt a wave of guilt.

"I don't think I can," I said. I think I was trembling. The look of instant

relief on their faces might have been my imagination, but I don't think so.

Becky's other hand flashed out suddenly, snatching one of the little men with

her fingers. The faint squeak I heard must have been his blood-curling scream as

he found himself popped inside the great, dark cavern of Becky's mouth. I saw

him struggle to stand on her tongue. Her lips closed. She swallowed and he was

gone. "Ia Poseidon," she said in a powerful voice. "Poseidon fhtagn. O Diana,

Dark She-Goat of the Woods, I, thy worshipper, pray thou grant me the boon of

comeliness. Thy price is paid, Beautiful One."

My hand was still extended, frozen in place. Becky grasped me by the wrist and

turned my hand over, palm up. Then she tipped her other hand into mine, dumping

the tiny man into my palm.

His weight was negligible, but I could feel him. His feet made little dimples in

my flesh. A dark patch in the front of his pants testified to his fear, even if

it hadn't been evident in the round, staring eyes and completely submissive

posture. His defencelessness made me want to protect him, to run and hide him

from the world. And curiously, that's what made what I did possible.

I could kill out of fear, I knew that. I had done that. But I could not kill a

man in cold blood out of hatred or avarice or anger. It just wasn't in me. As I

looked at him, some primal instinct made me want to shield his fragile body with

my own. As gently as I might handle a newborn baby, I lifted the tiny wriggling

body with my fingers and placed him in my mouth. Just as gently, I manoevered

him to the back of my mouth with my tongue, where he hung for a second, poised

at the brink of forever. Then I swallowed and felt him kneeded down my throat

into the dark, humid womb of my stomach. It was done. A man would die in

unimaginable torment within me, but paradoxically protected from all harm from

the rest of the world. I hadn't been aware of my arousal until I felt a tiny

tingle of warmth from my groin.

Words came tumbling from my mouth, and I neither understood them, nor knew why I

said them. "Ia, Great Mother of a Thousand Young, whose husband art the Way and

the Gate. Ia, Black Goat, in whose womb art the seeds of Destruction. From my

womb to thine, life for life, thy terrible hunger art sated. Ia Shub-Niggurath!

Ia! Ia! Chaugnar ph'nblementh ak-yuthagn --"

At some point Becky must have slapped me, because when my vision cleared and the

words stopped coming my cheek stung. Her face was chalk-white, and twisted in a

rictus of fear. "Gwen," she said, her voice haggard. "Please. Never do that

again. Please. As you value your soul and your sanity. Never."

That night the apartment was filled with shadows where no shadows ought to be,

shadows that flickered and... oozed. Becky and I spent the night together in the

same bed, swaddled in covers and clasped as close to each other as humanly

possible for the sheer animal need of physical contact. So quickly the veneer of

civilization is stripped from our souls, and how quickly we become the savage,

hunkered in a cave, staring fearfully at the darkness beyond the faint circle of

firelight.

Somehow we both managed to sleep during that night. We woke with the rising of

the sun and watched the twisting shadows grudgingly relent, slinking away into

corners and finally vanishing altogether.

"Gwen?" I heard the amazement in Becky's voice. "Gwen, you... you're

beautiful."

I looked over at Becky and was similarly surprised. Her teeth had miraculously

straightened while she slept, and gleamed white and perfect in the sun. Her

brown hair was the rich, dark colour of polished teak and fell in great tumbling

waves down her creamy shoulders. No single part of her had changed entirely, but

each had been just slightly improved. The cumulative effect was fantastic. I was

suddenly and uncomfortably aware of being in the same bed with what might be the

most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Becky must have been thinking much the same thing, because she reached out with

one flawless, soft finger and let it trail over the strong cheekbones I had not

had a day before, then over the thick, lush lips that had swollen from my face

like a budding flower. I opened my mouth and ran my tongue over the tip of her

finger. Her skin tasted of sugar and cinnamon.

I'm not a lesbian. At least, I don't think so. But we spent that morning

together in bed, exploring each other's bodies with our mouths and revelling in

our newfound beauty. We had both become exquisite creatures, powerfully sexual,

and for a few sweet hours we let ourselves experience the joys of perfect, taut,

honeyed flesh.

Strangely, no one seemed to notice our respective transformations. At least, not

consciously. I did get a lot of frankly sexual looks -- from men and women both

-- that were a completely new experience for me. Suddenly people were opening

doors for me and buying me drinks after class, and I could only assume the same

thing was happening for Becky.

It didn't last, though. Within a week the shine was fading. The life of a man

was worth exactly seven days of radiant beauty. Cheap at the price.

Becky taught me the ritual that shrank our little beauty pills. It wasn't

especially hard for me. The words sounded like nonsense, but my linguistic

training held me in good stead, and I mastered them in less than an hour. It had

taken Becky three days to do the same thing.

Eight days after first eating a human being, we went out together in search of

two more men the world could do without. Becky pointed out two young,

drug-dealing hoodlums in the alley between a liquor store and a cigar shop. I

nodded and a few minutes later we had our little prisoners wrapped in our fists

as we made our way home.

It was much easier this time. It was a simple matter of doing what I had to do

in order to keep what was mine, what I deserved. I popped him into my mouth and

washed him down with a quick swallow of Tab. Becky, on the other hand, took a

long time, and it left me with an oddly cold feeling.

"I'm going to eat you," Becky told the little man she had pinched in her

fingers. Her smile was malicious. "You're going to slide like a little oyster

down my throat, and then you're going to burn down there in the dark, and you

won't even amount to a snack. What do you think of that?"

His shrill little squeaks were pitiful, and I wished she'd just eat him and get

it over with, but that was the whole point, I think. She didn't want to get it

over with, she wanted to savour it. Savour him. In the end, Becky broke both his

legs with the tip of one fingernail before she swallowed him. That disturbed me,

and I told her so. I didn't see why we had to be more cruel than we had to.

Becky's eyes were cold and flinty when she answered. "You handle it your way,

and I'll handle it my way. There's plenty to go around."

I shrugged. I wasn't about to get in a fight with my room-mate over something

that was really academic anyway. Dead's dead, and I didn't think it made much

difference to the men whether the suffering started before or after they were

eaten. Still, I wasn't entirely stupid. After Becky went to bed, I went through

the binder that held the translated pages of the book. An hour later I removed a

few pages and hid them in between the mattress and boxspring of my bed.

Insurance.

Weeks became months, and we slipped into a routine. Once a week Becky and I

would take turns going out and grabbing a couple of low-lifes. We agreed that it

was best not to overdo things. No more than those two once a week. The city

wasn't so big that disappearances on that scale went without notice, and we

didn't want to attract any more attention than we had to. Still, we both noticed

that an extra little beauty pill now and then seemed to improve our appearance

by a small margin. I would cheat on our deal once in a while, and I know she did

too. We both pretended not to know what the other was doing, and it worked out

fine for the most part.

I kept my eye on the news, though. An awful lot of people were going missing. A

lot more than could be accounted for by our predations and a little cheating. My

suspicions didn't take long to gel. I started watching Becky very closely.

Confirmation of my suspicion came unexpectedly one night when the toilet backed

up and I had to plunge it. Along with the expected used tampon, a couple of

tiny, half-rotted corpses floated to the surface of the toilet bowl. I flushed

them away and waited until the morning to confront Becky.

"Yeah, okay, so I have a little fun," said Becky, glowering at me through her

long, luxurient lashes. Every day her looks seemed to get more sensual, more

exotic. She was a walking wet dream, and even I had trouble looking away from

the smooth curve of her legs.

"What do you mean by fun? You're wasting them! You flushed two of them down the

crapper, for fuck sake. In case you hadn't noticed, things are getting a lot

tougher. You seen any pimps or drug dealers on the street lately? I haven't.

They're gone, Becky. We're burning through them like crazy." I scowled at her.

"Tiny criminals are a non-renewable resource, know what I mean?"

"Hey, cut me some slack," said Becky. "You know they're useless if they're

already dead. Sometimes they break when I'm playing with them."

"What do you mean by playing," I asked, although I think I had an idea. I wasn't

entirely innocent.

"Don't tell me you haven't tried stuffing some up your cunt," said Becky. I

blushed furiously and she smirked. She had made her point.

"I tried it exactly once!" I said. It was true. One night I was really horny and

Old Faithful, my battery-powered friend, just wasn't up to it. I went out while

Becky was sleeping and grabbed a couple of guys who looked like they were up to

no good off the street. Like Becky had said, they tended to break, and neither

one survived the experience. Pulling little bloody corpses out of my most

private place made me sick to my stomach. I ate the evidence and never tried it

again.

The constant disappearances were now front-page news, and the streets were

deserted at night. We had to start risking daylight grabs. On top of that, we

had run out of thugs. We moved on to obnoxious construction workers who shouted

obscenities at passing women. When those were gone too, we started grabbing just

about anyone who looked like they were someone we wouldn't like. Becky was even

less choosy than me. I was alarmed to find she had started on women too. First

the hookers disappeared. Then, once, Becky brought home a pair of shrunken

off-duty stewardesses who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong

time. Becky made them wrestle each other nude in a pool of vegetable oil in her

palm before we ate them. Things were getting out of hand. Pardon the pun.

At the same time, though, our social lives had never been better. I was getting

laid regularly by hunks who'd never even looked at me before. Becky was too,

but, ominously, I never saw her lovers the next morning.

And then Becky dumped a whole shitload of little people all over the coffee

table.

 

* * *

I bit my tongue and counted to ten. "Becky," I said calmly, "where did you get

all these people?"

Becky shrugged. "Second year poli-sci class. I was going to flunk it and the

prof wouldn't let me drop it. Half of them are business majors anyway. The world

could do with a few less of them." She took a swig from her Tab.

"You're out of your mind!" I shouted, waving my arms. The people on the table in

front of me cowered back. "You are out. Of. Your. Mind. Totally. What the hell

do you think is going to happen when a whole fucking class full of people

disappears? We're going to have fucking FBI, CIA, every fucking letter in the

alphabet crawling all over here looking for UFOs, communists, and sasquatches."

"So what?" said Becky. She picked three little bodies from the group on the

table and looked at them closely. "Hey, Sarah. Allen. Hi, Frank. Got a new

assignment for you." With one thumb, she pulled the front of her stretch-pants

open and dumped the tiny people inside, then let the pants snap back,

effectively pinning them against her cunt. I could see them squirming through

the material.

"So what?" I repeated, unable to believe what I heard. "So what? So fucking

what?! They have guns, Becky! And investigators, and DNA testing, and maybe even

fucking psychics, real ones. Not to mention the fact that I went out with Allen

last week and you've got my damn boyfriend stuck to your fucking twat."

"You use the word 'fuck' a lot, Gwen," said Becky.

I threw my hands in the air and shouted in frustration. "Fine. Just fine. We're

completely fucked, you know. We can't even leave, transfer out, because it'd

make us look suspicious."

Becky leaned forward to look at our prisoners on the coffee table and grinned

evilly at them. "You know all those people that've been disappearing? Know what

happened to them? Same thing that just happened to you lot. Know where those

people are now? Gwen and me ate them all."

"Shit!" I yelled. A collective chirp of fear went up from the little people and

they scattered again. "Damn you, Becky, I just got them calmed down! Son of a

bitch. Get back here!"

I got most of them corralled again, but I had to knock a few around to show them

I meant business. At least a dozen, though, jumped off the far side of the

coffee table and started running through the waist-high pile of the carpeting.

Becky gave a whoop and jumped to her feet. She edged around the coffee table,

and began stamping one of her pump-shod feet. The second time it came up, I saw

spatters of red on the glossy black surface, then it slammed down again. Up and

down, up and down went her foot, and Becky laughed the whole time. I dared a

quick peek over the table, and what I saw made me ill. The carpet was dyed red

in spots the size of a silver dollar.

"Man, was that a blast!" said Becky at last, as she collapsed panting into her

chair. I could see only two of the little bulges against her groin through the

stretch-pants, and guessed one must have either been worked into her cunt, or

had slipped down between the crack of her ass. Either way, whoever it was wasn't

going to last very long, and I wondered bitterly if it was Allen.

"I can't believe you did that," I said quietly. "I just got through telling you

we're up shit creek, and you wasted a dozen of them."

"Aw, lighten up," said Becky, her gorgeous lower lip pouting out like a petulant

child's. "There's still plenty left. Halfsies?"

I sighed. Well, waste not, want not. "Yeah, okay," I said, and used my arm to

cut the crowd of little people into two camps of roughly the same size. Half of

them I swept with my arm into a sack formed by the bottom of my shirt and leaned

back on the couch with my feet tucked up underneath me. While the people left on

the table watched in horror, I began popping my half into my mouth one at a time

and swallowing.

It didn't take long. There were twenty of them, but they were only an inch tall

and I didn't waste any time. Lift, insert, swallow. Repeat. When I was done, a

brushed the few tiny assorted jackets and shoes from my shirt. I had never eaten

so many at one time, and I could feel them squirming around inside me. It made

me feel kind of sick, and I wished they'd just sit still and wait. When it

hadn't died down a minute later, I grabbed Becky's Tab and drank down the rest

of the can. They stopped moving soon after that.

Becky, as usual, dragged things out half of forever. "Okay, girls over here, and

boys over there," she said. Her terrified prisoners obeyed instantly. "Good.

Now, all the girls will lift their skirts or pull down their pants. Anyone not

wearing underwear like a good little girl gets eaten."

The two women who made a break for it were snatched up, stripped to verify lack

of undergarments, and dropped into Becky's mouth. She swallowed and the tiny

women disappeared.

"I always knew Sharon and Sandy were a couple of sluts," said Becky darkly.

"Ready for anything, that's them."

Becky's games got progressively crueler. She had the men gang-raping the women

and each other. She had the women attacking each other with their fists,

fighting not to be next to get eaten. For fun, she tore off one man's arms and

legs, ate his body, and made the rest of them masturbate with his severed limbs.

When it became too much for me, I got up and went to my room. I held my pillow

over my head to try and drown out the sound of Becky's sadistic laughter. One

way or another this had to end soon.

I must have fallen asleep then. I woke up to the sound of familiar sing-song

words. I was fuzzy-brained for a second until I turned to see where the sound

was coming from and saw Becky standing in the doorway. Her eyes met mine, and I

knew this was the end. Everything I needed to know was in those eyes. A bit of

sadness, yes, even regret. But mostly there was an insane, gloating glee. Her

look said I was no longer to be trusted. Our association had come to an end. She

was reciting the magic words I knew so well. Who knew what unholy tortures she

was planning to inflict on me before I knew the relative peace of death?

Becky finished the spell and a kind of thrumming vibration passed through my

body. For the smallest fraction of a fraction of a second, the bed I laid upon

seemed the size of ten football fields. Then Becky gave a cry and vanished.

I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Between my breasts, my pendant felt

unnaturally warm, and I pulled it out by the chain. It was star-shaped with five

points, the size of a dime, and in the middle was a single blood-red eye. I was

not surprised to see that the eye was glaring balefully, nor was I suprised that

a star-shaped birthmark had appeared between my breasts where the pendant had

lain.

The pendant had been my insurance. Just in case. In the translated pages from

the book that even now were still safely tucked under my mattress, I had found a

description of a talisman that would protect a person from the shrinking spell

-- and more, would cause the spell to be reflected upon the caster.

I swung my legs out of bed and stood up. Though she had tried to run, I had no

difficulty finding Becky. After all, she was only an inch tall. When I picked

her up, she fell limp in my hand. She wouldn't look at me. She knew what had to

happen.

"I'm sorry it had to end this way," I said. There was no reaction except for

tiny vibrations I could feel through my palm. I guessed she was crying. I felt

badly. But not too badly -- she had meant to do no better to me, and probably

considerably worse.

I made it fast. Becky hovered over my open mouth, pinched between my thumb and

forefinger. I released my hold, and she dropped into my mouth, lingered only

long enough for me to taste the ghost of a flavour, the sweet, musky cinnamon

flavour of her skin, and then I swallowed.

Becky had learned at last the high cost of beauty.

The High Cost of Beauty

MORE ABOUT The High Cost of Beauty