Once there stood a pretty little town in a country far, far away surrounded by fields of wheat and barley. This town was of no great importance except to those who lived and work and died there. One day a plague came and death reigned till the walls crumbled. Before that cruel event a certain government official resided among the town’s few inhabitants. Throughout the surrounding district this official had prodigious power and was known as a stickler for the protocols of administration, and a man incredibly susceptible to corruption. His greed was known beyond the town’s walls. Folk would set sums of money aside in case some by-law or other was encountered, or some rather sticky ‘red-tape’ bound them in the course of conducting their business. Invariably the Official put before the wealthy and individuals to whom he took an instant dislike stern and rigid restrictions on their lawful pursuits. The Official grew fat and lazy from the fruits of his labours. To him everyone and everything was a commodity to be possessed, and like all men he had a burning love: or rather, in his case, a lust. As a single wealthy man he felt the town owed him a wife. The object of his desires was the daughter of a local businessman and landowner. However, the daughter rebuffed the Official’s many claims upon her hand.
One day it so happened that a clerical error brought to the Official much happiness. A miscalculation on the part of the daughter’s father’s estate meant that the latter owed the Official, that is to say the government, a large sum in unpaid taxes on undeclared land and holdings. This situation, the Official solemnly pointed out, could put a transgressor into prison for a number of years. The Official was not a mean-hearted fellow and was, as he put it, “Open to compromise”. If the Landowner would consent to the Official marrying his daughter, certain matters could be overlooked.
The Official married the daughter and was more than pleased with his acquisition using her as he pleased. The union signalled the end of the young woman’s ambitions of education and travel and her marital home became a prison, her bed chamber a cell for torture and abuse. The silk sheets bought as wedding gifts often soaked up her blood. There was no affection. Sometimes he forced her to watch him seduce one of their young maids. Now and again he would invite a young man passing through town on business to dine with them, then he watched while the young man took his wife. These visitors would then fall foul of a law or some “red-tape” and find themselves in prison for a day or two before being asked to move on quickly. Needless to say, word soon spread among the travelling community of businessmen. One day that word reached the ear of a tall, dark stranger who smouldered and simmered and caught the eye of young maidens who dreamed of being with him, taken from their dreary lives and whisked in his strong arms to his palace and comfort. He was so handsome folk believed him to be a prince from some great far-off kingdom.
The ‘prince’ rode into town and into the Official and his wife’s life. The stranger beguiled her and she accepted him into their loveless abode gladly. A man of such looks, she thought, and obvious wealth must possess a pleasant temper and be a welcome respite to the demonic demands of her spiteful spouse. The Official was beside himself. Here, he believed, was a man of means and connections who might wish to cover up a diplomatic transgression and pay handsomely for it. After a sumptuous meal the Official invited the young man upstairs. It was summer, a mid-summer day of oppressing temperature. In the heady heat of the evening she lay on the silk sheets that had witnessed much pain for her. She lay naked, eager for this stranger standing above her. Her husband sat in his usual place, his loins exposed from above the knee and massaged himself waiting for the delights to unfold. The tall stranger stood above her whispering to himself in a language she could not understand, praising her beauty, her presence. He lay with her and she became filled with an intoxicating scent. So powerful was it she lost all sense of time and bearing. She felt him inside her, in her, on her, seeping through her skin. And then she found herself in the squalid surroundings of a claustrophobic chamber less than half the size of her marital cell, and furnished with fewer accoutrements. The Stranger leaned over her. The handsome façade faded to reveal the inner monster concealing it. Charcoal flaked from him, as it had when he lay with her. It was on her skin and deep inside her flesh. As was her own monster. She knew him now as Carbonibus.
“You will stay here,” he told her; “as my play-thing and be the guardian of the secrets of this place and of your own sin. You will only be set free from my power when someone can offer me what I want. Then you shall both be united in your doom.”
Someone knocked on the door. I didn’t answer straightaway in the vain hope whoever it was would leave. The door remained closed but I knew who was standing there since I’d seen him in the street. Instead of doing my duty I listened to the rain gently tapping the pane I pressed my cheek against. It felt smooth and sensuous. My condition blurred my senses. I’d lost so much. The last beauty I could feel I wanted to cherish while that chance remained.
The Young Buck trying his luck repeated his enquiry. Roaches scurried and hurried interrupting irrelevant errands. We lived here together, them and me, co-existed as predator and prey. I saw one nonchalantly crawling along the windowsill and I plucked it like a ripe berry from a bramble. In my weak mind I saw them as berries. Roaches had a similar texture when they crunched and burst in my mouth.
The door opened. The Buck peered round the jamb, and said, “Hello? I… er …”
I sat on the sill silent and still watching his silhouette through my peripheral eye. He crept into the doorway looking timid and shy staring at what he saw, or what he believed he saw. Maybe he expected me to haul him over the bed and spank him for disturbing me.
“I-I let myself in.”
“So I see.”
“He … er … gave me a key.”
“Jervis. The man outside. Your p….”
“Pimp?” I said, turning to him; “Jervis. Was that the name he gave you?”
“Wh-what do you call him?”
“Did you touch him?”
“I… er… No. No, I don’t … At least I don’t think so.”
“Did you or didn’t you?”
“No. I-I didn’t. Why? What’s so …?”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure.”
I saw him, this Buck. He was young and full of vitality. Hope hung over him like fog on a bay. I could smell it. His face contorted with disgust at my surroundings. His glittering eyes darted here and there, but mostly lighted on me. They lingered on my legs. I could feel him pushing an imaginary hand under the hem of my summer dress. Then he stared at the single-bed. There was a bulge in his jeans. Nervously he peeled his jacket from his shoulders. A hand ruffled his chestnut hair. A few drops of water tapped the floorboards.
Was he my liberator? If so, what did he have to tempt Charcoal-man?
“Why are you here?” I asked him.
“To … er… see you.”
“I know that. But why?”
“A colleague … er … came. Ha, ha, ha… And he … You know.”
“No. I don’t know.”
“Well… Well he said you were … er … the best.”
“The one and only, hey?”
“Er … Yeah!”
“Sure. Put the light on. The switch is on your left.”
As the light blasted my sustenance from their meanderings I drew the curtains. Before they snapped shut I looked down at the solitary figure in the street. The lamp cast a shadow over his face but I could sense Charcoal-man’s malicious grin. The first time I saw that grin, and those mendacious eyes, was the day I first felt his flaking skin.
Behind me Buck waited with an anxious patience. I turned. Light still poured in from the hallway.
“Aren’t you going to shut the door?”
“Oh, y-yes. Sorry.”
He closed the door and we were alone together in private to do what adult strangers do in private rooms behind closed doors.
“M… my name’s…”
“I don’t care what your name is, mate. So, how much has Jervis wangled out of you?”
“He wanted £100.”
“Ha, ha, ha…”
“The last bloke had more bottle, obviously.”
“He only paid forty-quid.”
“Oh. H-How much will you, you know…?”
“Not a penny.”
“Yes. That’s what I implied by not a penny.”
“What do you care?”
“You… you do this and live here… and …”
“What do I do?”
“Er… This. What we’re going to do…”
“And what are we going to do?”
“To … erm …”
“Erh… Yeah,” he said, as a wry expectant smile burst across his lips. How naive, I thought.
“Hmm… I see. Well, I suppose we’d better get you some entertainment for your £100, hadn’t we?”
“Look, I’ll have a word with Jervis…”
“Don’t waste your time … unless, of course, you want a refund. Right, sit on the bed.”
“Are … Are you going to start with a … a blow … er … blow job?”
“Just sit on the bed.”
“Do you want me to take my… erm… clothes off?”
“Just sit on the bed will you.”
He sat. His body hunched into his nervousness. I looked at him. He stared back. I could see clearly a child wanting to be a man and I was gripped by the urge to kick him out of my room. But the feeling passed in the few moments it took to switch off the light and stand in front of him. Yes, Charcoal-man, I’d entertain your guest.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked him.
“Y-yes. … I do.”
“Is she pretty?”
“Yes. Very. Her name’s…”
“Is she pure? Innocent?”
“Er … yes… yes. I think so. Yes… of course she is. We work together … at a bank. That’s where we m…”
“Is she a virgin?”
“Have you screwed her? Has a man taken her yet?”
“No. No, she’s not like that.”
“What have you come here for?”
“Well, you know. To er… to get … some experience. I … when we … you know, me and Paula, when we do it, well, I want it to be … you know…”
“How sweet. So who told you about Jervis?”
“That… er … That colleague of mine. At the bank. You know. He said … he told me you were … you know… the best experience he’d ever had.”
“He, this colleague of yours, told you that?”
“Did he, this colleague of yours, go into any details?”
“Yes, details. About what I do, what I did for him?”
“No… No, he … he just said you do … erm … tricks, and I thought he meant you were a …”
“Yes. No, I mean a prostitute.”
That colleague either hated this kid or else Charcoal-man had promised this colleague something in return. I stepped over to Young Buck, took his hair in my fist and said: “When we’re done here, go home and don’t ever come back. Don’t ever contact Charc … Jervis again. Ever. If Jervis tries to contact you, have nothing to do with him. Do you understand?”
“You’re hurting me.”
“Do you understand me?”
“Go back to your sweet little virgin and forget I ever existed. Promise me that.”
“Yes… Yes. Please, you’re hurting me.”
I let him go. He nursed himself like a scalded child. I knew what Charcoal-man was up to. Young Buck’s pain was for his little sweetheart who was probably at home watching TV and completely unaware of what her boyfriend was up to, what he was doing, what he was capable of doing.
“Just remember you promised me. Now, I’d better give you what you paid Jarvis for.”
“Under the bed you’ll find a box. Bring it out.”
Buck reached down and came back up with a brown storage box. He held it up.
“Go on, open it,” I said: “You’ve paid for that privilege.”
Buck looked at me, then at the box. Something shuffled inside upsetting the box in his hands. He dropped it. The box crashed to floor its lid sundering on impact. My prey sprang from its confinement.
“Oh my God. There’s a… there’s a rat and it’s loose.”
A rat. An overfed captive dragged from the alley behind the restaurants further down the street. Large and plump and full of warm sweet blood.
“Don’t worry,” I said, air hissing through my teeth: “I’ve filled up any possible escape route. He can’t get away. He’s trapped… like a rat.”
Buck glared at me with disgusted incomprehension. I didn’t care. The rat was loose and the hunt was on. My eyes shut tight. I breathed deeply. Musty air filled my lungs as my fingers felt their own way over the mock-ivory buttons of my dress. Inside me it surged swelling my stomach. My dress slid over my shoulders and dropped to the floor revealing my naked impregnated body to Buck’s bulging eyes. I excited him. Then revulsion hit him as my abdomen rippled sending blood from his face. My stomach expanded as the gestating form inside me stretched my skin to its limit. My fingers blackened and I felt the need for release as I dug the blunt nail tips into my pulsing belly clawing at my own flesh. As I pulled back layers of skin the room bent into view like a warped image in a convex mirror. My eyes were shut tight but I could see everything. Buck cowered on my bed, his mouth agape with a scream caught in his throat. A serpent uncoiled from within me and slapped to the floor with a sodden thump. The scent of livid fish merged with the stale fug of air. The serpent writhed and stretched. Its nostrils flared. It could smell a rat. I could sense it scurrying about the floor desperation burning its mind. I felt it, tasted its fear on my darting tongue. The rat sensed me, too, and something else: its own grisly death.
The rat ran here and there scratching at every shadow it came to hoping to find a gap, any gap. It only needed a pencil-sized hole. However, with meticulous care I’d filled every single crevice. Wire wool now greeted my little friend’s enquiries.
Fear drove the rat on. It knew salvation lay beyond the wall, beyond the soft plaster and the cruel steel strands. Its face reduced to a mass of blood-matted fur. Spots dripped out trials betraying its presence in the darkest recesses of my chamber. The warm scent of blood excited me. I could taste it over urine and discarded detritus soiling the floorboards. Buck yelled as the rat scurried under the bed. Its claws scraped and scratched every surface. The serpent slithered across the floor and slapped against obstacles. Its scales slid over the skirting boards. Buck climbed the wall. Roaches poured from every orifice and ran in all directions. Everyone and every thing could feel my presence. I felt the power in their fear pour through me. Buck’s throat finally loosened and he screamed. The pitch hurt my sensitive ears. I cried out. The rat, sensing its moment, hurried into shadow.
My snake recoiled and hit a bed leg. The frame moved. Buck screamed again. The rat darted across the room. I slithered after it. The rat was pinned in a corner. Buck watched intently, hooked by the horror shaping his face. I stood transfixed, bound by my corruption to my place. A quasi calm settled on the room. We all breathed heavily on the fug filled air.
Time laboured. I could feel the rat searching with every sense it had. It eyed me while it gnawed at wood barring its way to freedom and life. Its nose picked up the wisps of clean air seeping into the room.
I could smell it. The rat’s aroma drifted across the room carried on eddies of draft. The rat cowered by the skirting. I could hear it breathing.
I could hear Buck, too, muttering inaudibly. He was distracted me.
My serpent retracted and lay flat and still on the rough boards. The rat, hackles raised, lifted its head, sniffed the air, breathed the warning signs of danger. Caution moved each footfall forward. It crept from the shadows into the shimmering half-light of a city night. I could see it, like a grey card on charcoal. Its eyes glittered in the dark. Its breathing grated on my ears. I could smell its blood being pumped through its veins by a rapidly pounding heart. I could smell its blood through its skin, through its fur. The rat was exposed on the floorboards. My serpent lifted menacingly, body arching up. The rat watched me and waited. I struck as silent as an arrow through night air with my mouth agape. But the rat was ready, and waiting. It had decided attack was its strongest rampart. Its claws sank into the floorboards and it leapt. Our forms collided mid-air. I tried to twist, to turn into the rodent’s body, but invertebrate litheness failed me. Sharp teeth sank into my jaw. I yelped. The serpent flailed and bucked vainly flinging the rat from side to side, vainly hoping it would let go. Even when its back bashed against a board, it held on fast and dug into me. My blood flowed. I could taste the coldness of myself over the elongated muscle flicking the air, lashing about my serpent’s head, licking the flanks of the rat. Only when my scale-clad flesh gave way, did the rodent let go and fly towards the door.
My serpent dipped its spade-shaped head and twisted its torso like a cable. Its brain filled with pre-historic responses and seethed with ire. The spade-head swung round and beat the rat across the floorboards sending it cartwheeling. The serpent twisted again and batted it the other way. I was toying with it, tormenting my disoriented prey like a cat with a mouse on the hearthrug. My scaly body punched it through the air and let it fall. Rat landed with a thud. It was dazed and shocked and too exhausted to crawl away. I coiled myself round it, my spade-head loitering ready for the coup de grâce. I could see the rat’s warped and distorted body lying helpless by the door, just inches from salvation but moments from death. I cinched my lithe body around the rodent. It squealed. A death rattle ran through its teeth, through its body. My jaws opened and razor fangs sank into the mammal’s flesh. Warm blood flowed into me. I felt my body stiffen, yet muscles spasm, and my back arched with the thrill of the kill. Buck stared with incredulity. Revulsion swooned in his eyes. He was enraptured.
When I’d finished feeding, my snake slithered back inside me and reclined within my abdomen. I dressed then stepped closer to Buck and leaned over him. My summer dress clung to my sweat-soaked nakedness. He cowered from me as his fear and excitement soaked him. I saw then, in his eyes, how much he loathed me, how much he wanted me. The promise he made a moment ago was worthless. I drew him closer and pressed his head to my belly. The serpent quivered. He shuddered.
“Remember your promise,” I said, my voice barely a whisper above the disappointment I would feel over his betrayal, for the reneging of his word.
“W… What … W… What was that?”
“Don’t talk. Just listen, and listen well. Go home. Go back to your sweetheart. Keep your jobs, your home-sweet-home, your meaningless little lives, and forget you ever saw me. Forget you were ever here. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Y-Yes. … Yes, I-I understand.”
I let him go. My sweat and the impression of my dress covered one side of his face. I would soon see the other side. Buck glared at me wrapped in his own discomfort and confusion. He wouldn’t keep his promise. I knew it. He knew it, too. We both knew he’d offer Charcoal-man what he wanted. That demon of shadow wanted fresh meat: sweet, innocent, virgin meat.
Stranger climbed off the bed and staggered away. As he pulled the door open, I gabbed it and said: “Don’t do anything stupid. If you do, we’ll both end in a hovel like this.”
He just stared at me. I could see only resolve in his childish eyes. What was left of my human heart sank. I had tried.
With my strength fading fast I forced myself to peer through the curtains. I wanted to see. I wanted to see I was wrong. That minuscule part left of my humanity wanted to see an empty street, a lonely Charcoal-man. That person I once was wanted Buck to walk away. Alas, the weak child staggered across the road. Two shadows conversed under a pool of sick-yellow light. Charcoal-man nodded. I felt his grin. The sweet, innocent virgin was his. And I was Buck’s. I would be set free from Charcoal-man’s power when someone offered him what he wanted. Now you and I, Bucko, would be united in our doom.
Part of me rejoiced. I’d be leaving that existence, that twilight world of two entities: the draco and the human. Neither one thing, nor the other. Neither reptile, nor woman. But once Carbonibus left me to myself, I would soon cease to be. And Buck would fade with me while his sweetheart would be impregnated with Charcoal-man.
I had a life, once. Then I sold myself to an arrogant man who offered me everything, but provided nothing except coldness and loneliness in the home his greed and ambition procured.
One day he brought a handsome stranger into our marital bed.
The man called himself Goldman. My husband invited him to our home to dine. A business partner, he said. I was rapt by this stranger’s presence, intoxicated by the scent of his exotic allure. After dinner my husband suggested we got ‘to know each other better’. They took me up to our oversized bedroom. Goldman told me to lay naked on the king-sized bed and he knelt over me. I looked up in awe at his strong, firm muscles. I wanted him. Some excitement seemed to have seeped into my life. He leaned in closer and his warm breath brushed my neck.
“Touch me,” he whispered: “Touch me and take me into you. Feel me inside you. Let me fill every part of you.”
I touched him. My hands pressed his chest. Immediately, I felt the coldness of glass his skin began flaking, crumbling like charcoal. My skin turned ashen grey-black. Every muscle in my body tensed and I curled into a ball. My abdomen swelled grotesquely and cramped up like a thousand period pains happening simultaneously. I convulsed violently with the violence of my sudden condition. A scream rent my chest and I thought my lungs might burst. Then I passed from consciousness, from reality.
How long I was out for I don’t recall. When I opened my eyes Goldman had gone. I sat up. The pain lingered but ebbed away. I heard a voice and found him standing over me holding a dress. Carbonibus’ emerald eyes looked at me from under his wide brimmed hat.
“Stand up,” he said; “and put this on. We are leaving. I am your master now. You belong to me.”
I did as he bid. It was as though my body obeyed even though my mind screamed, never! I looked about for the protecting hand of my spouse. But he sat on the sofa absorbed in the presence of a gaunt, pale woman I’d never seen before.
Charcoal-man led me from that cold loveless home into a stark chamber devoid of emotion. He set me up in the room in which I met Buck and as I stepped through the door, Charcoal-man whispered: “You will stay here as my play-thing and be the guardian of the secrets of this place and of your own sin. You will only be set free from my yoke when someone can offer me what I want. Then you shall both be united in your doom.”
One trick a day was all I could do. Afterwards I would lie on my bed plucking roaches from the wall. That was my reality. Tranquillity and the fug of death settled in the air. The rat’s body lay where I’d left it to rot. I didn’t care about it anymore. I didn’t care about anything anymore.
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Image from: http://www.arcangel.com