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The state fair was a busy place, but Amanda had no trouble picking her man out of a crowd. He was the guy with the gold watch and the Ralph Lauren polo shirt. Anybody that knew her would have been sure that she would have gone for the one with the Marilyn Manson t-shirt and the black fingernail polish. But Amanda had been around the block too many times to fall for that old trick. She knew which costumes worked and which ones didn't. As often as not, those who tried to look the darkest and the most depressed were often the ones who sang in the shower and read the morning paper over hot coffee and bagels. No, this one was most certainly her type.
Amanda kept her distance at first. Still, she never drifted far enough away that she couldn't watch him touching the derrieres of the women he got close to in the tightly-packed crowd of thrill-seekers.
What a deviant, she thought as she saw him cop feel after feel. He's just my type.
Once the throng thinned out, the man looked around as if trying to decide where to go next. Finally he chose one of the test-your-luck booths, one that challenged customers to throw a ring around the neck of an oversized milk bottle. The man won a teddy bear on the third try. When he thought no one was looking he tore the plush animal's head off and handed it to a little girl that was passing by.
This guy just keeps getting better and better, she thought.
At last, deciding that this was the man for her, Amanda approached him. The man's eyes went wide as he saw her. He was scared, not attracted, and that was almost always a good sign.
"You by yourself?" she asked even though she hadn'tseen him with anyone else.
"Um, no," the man stammered. "My girlfriend is around here somewhere."
"Why isn't she with you?"
"She went to get something to drink a while ago. I guess she got tied up in one of those long concession lines. But she should be back any minute."
"I'm here by myself," Amanda confessed. The man's eyes lit up instantly, much brighter than some of the run-down amusement rides that flashed neon in the dark.
I've got him now, Amanda thought to herself as she pictured the two of them in one of the public bathrooms, biting each other, drawing and tasting blood. He's ashamed of being here by himself. But he's looking for the same thing I am.
"You want a little company?" she asked, delighting in the way he squirmed with each word. "Just until your girlfriend gets back."
"She probably wouldn't appreciate that."
"But you want to. Don't you?"
"I really shouldn't say."
"Oh, come on now. You've probably got all kind of kinky fantasies ricocheting around in that smart head of yours. And you can't find anyone in your social class who would go for that sort of thing. Am I right?"
The man took a few steps toward the midway. He obviously wanted to run away, but Amanda had embedded the first barb in his flesh with the mention of fantasy. He was on the hook, and his curiosity was the extremity that snagged.
"What do you do for a living?" she asked him.
"Accountant," he replied, looking every bit like the kind that sits at a desk day after day.
"An accountant at the state fair. Boy, you don't see that every day of the week."
"I came here out of boredom," he said almost defensively. Amanda couldn't imagine what it would take to bore an accountant, but she definitely knew the cure for his problem.
"I'll bet there aren't many accountants that have the sorts of thoughts that you do. You're probably afraid to tell anyone what you'd like to do to a woman. Am I right?"
It was a shot in the dark, but she was fairly certain that he was every bit the man she was hoping for. The man shrugged his shoulders. It was all the answer Amanda needed.
"What's your name?"
"William," he said, staring at the polished tips of his Gucci loafers. "William Smith."
Jeez Louise, Amanda thought to herself, even his name is ordinary.
"Okay, William Smith. I think it's time you had a little fun."
"I told you," William said, sweating a little now. "My girlfriend is around here somewhere."
"All right, then," Amanda conceded. "Tell me about your girlfriend. What's her name? What's she do for a living? What's she like in bed? What makes you think this is the girl for you?"
"I really should be going," William said, walking briskly off toward the flashing neon lights of the carousel. "My girlfriend's around here somewhere. I'm telling the truth."
Amanda was unperturbed by the rejection. He was nervous, and understandably so. Like most balding, portly businessmen with affluence and influence, he was probably used to being treated as such, not like some backstreet gigolo. It wasn't everyday an attractive woman walked up to a man like him with an invitation to let his mind run wild with possibility. Still, Amanda knew he was intrigued. She was confident that the two of them would be bleeding before the night was over. The knives in her handbag were counting on it. Like insolent children, they were tyrannical about their evening feeding.
"Just be patient," Amanda whispered to her blades. "Mama is going to take care of you shortly."
But they simply refused to be quiet. With a sigh, she took each one of them out of her purse and ran the serrated edges across her palm, giving them just enough blood to keep them quiet while she tried to put her finger on William Smith's desire. They seemed content for the time being, and Amanda quickly shoved them back in her handbag, unwilling to lose her man.
Being careful to keep William in sight, Amanda ran up to a food vendor and ordered a coke. She put her hand over the cup and turned it over so that the soda ran out, leaving only the ice. Then she took off the coverlet she had been wearing. She was wearing a flimsy white tank top underneath. The ice was cold in her hands and was even colder against her skin, but she made no attempt to hide her jutting nipples.
"William," she shouted over the sweet din of the calliope and the whirring grind of machinery spinning motion-sick fun seekers around in a hundred different directions.
William didn't acknowledge her at first. He simply kept his head down and seemed to walk even faster.
"William, sweetheart," Amanda shouted, louder this time. "Wait for me."
William immediately stopped and waited on her to catch up to him.
"What do you want?" he said forcefully.
Amanda pushed her chest out playfully as she spoke. "I just don't think you're giving me a fair shot here, William. We could be good together, you and I. I know a desperate man when I see one."
William couldn't help but see what he was meant to. His eyes lighted on Amanda's jutting breasts for a moment like two nervous flies, only to take to the air again seconds later, not wanting to seem too obvious in his curiosity.
"It's all right," Amanda said, taking one step closer. "You like. You look. I like a man who isn't afraid to be up front about what he wants."
"I don't want you. You probably just think I'm rich and want a quick payday."
"Are you calling me a whore?" Amanda said angrily, hoping her act was convincing enough. "Because if you are--"
"No, no," William said, raising his hands in protest. Amanda took a step forward, pushing her breasts into his palms. William backed away as if fearful of catching plague. But Amanda felt that one gentle, involuntary squeeze before William got hold of himself.
"My girlfriend is around here somewhere," William said. "She would kill me if she saw what we were doing."
"But you like it. It's all right to admit."
William didn't say anything at first, and Amanda could hear her little knives chattering away excitedly inside her purse. They knew that the blood was close at hand.
"Well, do you like me or not?"
"You're just like my girlfriend," William said in an almost frustrated tone of voice.
"I'll take that as a yes," Amanda replied happily. "Now, where can we go for a little privacy?"
"How about theTunnel of Love?" William suggested, almost whispering. He checked once over his shoulder to make sure that nobody was staring.
"Ooh, you are bad," Amanda replied, giving William a quick peck on the lips. His face immediately reddened.
William's hand was sweaty when Amanda grabbed it, and she knew that he was as nervous as a schoolboy on his first date. This was definitely going to be easy.
"So tell me about your girlfriend," Amanda said as they passed The Spyder, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Himalayan.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea," William said, as if mentioning his girlfriend's name in Amanda's presence would make her privy to his infidelity.
"Sure it is. I need to know what kind of competition I'm up against."
"There is no competition," William said flatly.
"So you don't have a girlfriend?"
"No, I do. She's around here somewhere. But there is no competition. You don't have to worry about her invading on your territory or anything."
"Oh, I get it. She'll be the woman you take out in public. I'll be the one you come home and screw. Parade your sunshine around when the world's looking, and caress your darkness when the world's asleep. I guess I can handle that, though. Once you give in to your fantasies they'll eventually transform you, anyway. Like a butterfly from a chrysalis. You'll be a completely new man. Now, back to Little Miss Prom Queen."
"What do you want to know?"
"Her name is Ginger. You're a lot like her. Pretty, assertive, outgoing. But she was never as out front about things as you."
"Small cup size, huh?" Amanda said, laughing at her own joke. "How long have the two of you been together?"
"It was at first, but not now. I don't think she's capable of the kind of commitment I'm looking for."
"So you're ready for a fling?"
"I didn't say that," William said nervously as they approached the Hall of Mirrors.
"You didn't have to," Amanda said, whispering in his ear. "I can tell by the way you tremble."
"It's not what you think," he protested.
"So what is it?"
"I'm not comfortable talking about it right now."
"Maybe you'll tell me in the Tunnel of Love."
And maybe you'll feed my hungry knives, Amanda thought as they got in line for tickets.
"You're not crazy or anything, are you?" William asked her once they were both in the tiny rowboat.
"Well, everybody's a little crazy," Amanda replied. "But I'm about as normal as the next gal."
"I think that's probably true. You're a lot like Ginger."
"Ginger," Amanda repeated as they floated in the darkness. "That sounds like a whore's name. No offense."
"Like I said, I think the two of you are a lot a like," William whispered. Amanda reacted in time to see him raise one of the oars. But she wasn't fast enough to keep him from knocking her out with it. And even if she'd seen it coming, she wouldn't have made any attempt to get out of the way. After all, this is what she had spent her entire evening pursuing.
She woke up to the sound of hungry knives crying out for a meal of blood -- and pain.
"Hush," she told the blades. "I'll tend to you in a minute. But first, Mr. William Smith."
Yet it seemed she had underestimated William. She had also taken him for a liar when he had mentioned a girlfriend. And yet the corpse confirmed that there was, in fact, a Ginger.
"Where are we?" she asked, testing the chains that bound her to a fiberglass stalactite.
"In one of the maintenance caves," he said by the light of an emergency flare that he had broken open. "Nobody comes into one of these unless there's trouble. Hopefully, we won't see anybody for quite a while."
"What do you want?" Amanda said, trying to sound frightened.
"I want an honest woman, and I don't think you're the one who can give me that. I want a woman who won't screw one of the partners in my accounting firm behind my back. I want a woman who can tell me she loves me and mean it. I want a woman who knows what the word loyalty means. Are you that sort of woman? I don't think so. You're the kind who hardens her nipples with ice cubes to get a balding accountant's attention. You're also the kind who gets to find out just what Ginger went through before I finished with her."
"You're much better than the guy in the Marilyn Manson t-shirt. I knew it all along."
"What are you talking about?" William said, obviously confused.
"You're not going to kill me," Amanda said, struggling against her restraints. "I'm not a slut like Ginger. I just threw myself at you to get your attention."
"Well, you've got it now. And I'm not likely to ignore you any time soon."
"You said that Ginger and I were a lot alike, and we may have been in some ways. But you and I are alike too."
"What do you mean?"
"Close your eyes and listen. Tell me what you hear."
"I hear the sound of baby birds crying in their nest, waiting for their mother to regurgitate a chunk of worm."
"What else do you hear?"
"I hear the gurgle of a newborn farm animal at its mother's teat."
"I thought so," Amanda said, knowing that she would be out of her chains in no time flat. "We hear the same things."
"Open my purse," she said. "It will all be clear to you."
William did as he was told. His eyes went wide at the sight of so many knives.
"You're that mother bird, William. Feed those babies. Give them what they need."
"All right. I will," he said, running one of the razor-sharp blades across Amanda's abdomen.
"What do you hear now?" she whimpered.
"I hear the rushing of blood and the contentment of small children."
"I hear it too," Amanda confessed. "Ginger wasn't able to hear it, though. I'd bet on it."
"We're special," William said.
"Untie me then. You're just the kind of man I've been looking for."
Amanda took one of the knives once her arms were free. William's blood ran over the stainless steel.
"I told you my girlfriend was around here somewhere," William said, stabbing Ginger's body a few times with one of the ravenous blades. "I guess you see now that I wasn't lying."
"I guess so," Amanda conceded. "Is there anything else I should know about? Or will I be pleasantly surprised."
"Just one thing," William replied, slipping out of his polo shirt to reveal a chest full of whitish-pink scars. "I'm not like other guys."
"That's why I like you," Amanda said, lifting her tank top to reveal a connect-the-dots mosaic of cigarette burns on her breasts.
"You're definitely not like other girls," William said, his eyes alight with excitement.
"And just think we haven't even begun to scratch the surface yet," she said.
"I think that's all about to change," William replied with a smile and a quick flick of the knife.
Amanda groaned as the malnourished blade bit deep into her stomach. William sighed with pleasure as the knife in Amanda's hand found its way into his thigh.
"You're a nice girl," he sighed as his life drained away.
"And you're a nice guy," Amanda replied, thinking it odd how destiny could bring together two people who were perfect for each other only to tear them apart again.
"I love you," Amanda said, burying the knife in William's flesh.
"I love you, too," William gasped, fear suddenly rushing into his eyes. "So much it hurts."
"Then show me."
William, however, didn't need any encouragement. His mouth was already open and heading straight for Amanda's outstretched hand. She stuck her index finger between his lips willingly, screaming only when he chomped down, severing the digit at the second knuckle.
"An accountant's worst nightmare," William said after spitting the finger out. "It's hard to run a ten-key without that little baby."
"You bit my finger off," Amanda shrieked, equally appalled and aroused. Even in the dark, William could see her nipples prodding the thin cloth of the tank top.
"You like that, don't you, you little bitch?"
"I can see you clearly now," Amanda said in a shaky voice. "You're that butterfly I mentioned emerging from the chrysalis. Ripping your way out of your old life, being born anew."
"Caterpillars are for accountants," William agreed, wiping blood off of his bald pate. "Butterflies are for sadists. It feels good to push through the cocoon."
"You're definitely not the mild-mannered William Smith anymore," she said, writing her name in his exposed stomach with the tip of the knife.
"You made me what I am today," he said with a groan as Amanda straddled him and leaned forward to sink her teeth into his neck.
"No, he was always there lurking. You just needed some help bringing him out."
"Who says he's out yet?" William asked, clamping down on Amanda's earlobe and pulling away with a sharp ripping of flesh. Amanda howled. William laughed as the blood spurted onto his lips, spattered against his forehead, dripped onto his chest.
"Isn't he out yet?" Amanda sobbed.
"Not even close," William said as he drove the knife into Amanda's abdomen and wrenched it upward, sending a crimson geyser jettisoning outward, baptizing him in blood. There was no pain on Amanda's face, only pure surprise.
"Are you a new man?" Amanda whispered.
"Not yet," William said, kissing her on the forehead. "But soon."
Amanda felt William's transition more than she actually saw it. Like a pelvic exam gone terribly wrong, William completely eschewed the vagina and rammed his hand into the gut wound he had made. Amanda gasped for breath as she felt his hand brush against her ribs and wrap around her heart.
"The butterfly is finally free," he said as Amanda's eyes went dim. But she had nothing more to say. After so much blood and pain and suffering, she had finally given her heart to another man. The only question now was what he was planning to do with it. The old William would have undoubtedly smuggled it home in secret and fondled it like he would a rubber woman. But this was the new William, the caterpillar that was no longer. This was what had emerged from the chrysalis like afterbirth from a womb. The world glimpsed through his eyes was suddenly full of mystery and wonder and blood again.
* * *
Moments later, something that looked like William Smith went back out into the carnival. Unlike before, he had a purpose and it had nothing to do with hiding in the shadows or crouching in the darkness.
It had everything to do with spreading his wings.
Copyright © 2004 by Jason Brannon
Posted January 2, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 16, 2012
No text was provided for this review.