Served Cold

“Keep your hands on the wheel and your mind out of the gutter.”

Denny Murchison took his hand from his wife’s knee. However, his mind wasn’t going anywhere. He had spent the day watching her lounge around the lake in that new swimsuit and his blood was up. He had an appetite for her soft, warm flesh that driving home could not leave behind.

“You used to be more fun,” he complained.

“You used to ply me with dinner and drinks.”

“It’s eleven-thirty and we’re in the middle of no…” Denny’s voice trailed away.

“Oh no. I know that look,” Ceil said. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“I know a place. That is, I know of a place.” A crooked grin spread across his lips. “It’s about five miles off the interstate.”

“And how do you know about this place?”

“Charlie Roberts. He used to rave about this little place in the sticks with great food.”

“Isn’t he the guy who was having an affair with Alan Hastings’s wife…until Alan found out? Whatever happened to him anyway?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy.” Denny shifted in his seat. “But I don‘t think there was anything to the rumors about him and Alan’s wife. But, who knows, she did get around. I think he finally left to avoid seeing Alan at the office every day.”

“Maybe,” she said.

“Maybe? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe after dinner and a few drinks, we could forget Charlie and you could get lucky.”

Triple sevens dropped; bells rang; and Denny’s face lit up– jackpot. He stepped down on the accelerator and his hand found its way back to her knee. Denny slowed and prayed he didn’t miss the exit in the autumn fog that spread over the Arbuckle Mountains. His good luck continued, the green Honey Creek exit sign materialized out of the mist. Denny flipped on the blinker and left the interstate for the narrow two-lane blacktop that dipped and twisted through the mountains. He wasn’t slowing down now even if vision was down to nothing.

“Denny!” Ceil screamed.

Tires squealed and the contents of the car rushed for the windshield. Denny instinctively held out an arm to keep Ceil from joining the flying contents of the car. The armadillo met the Charger’s bumper with a loud crack and bounced into the ditch. Denny held the wheel straight and rode the brakes until they came to a stop.

“Lord love a duck,” he gasped.

A quick inspection of the bumper and wheel well told him the car was still drivable despite a football size dent in the fender.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scream so loud. It just came out.” Ceil cast a glance toward the roadside. The armadillo was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, that poor little animal.”

“That poor little animal probably just cost us a thousand bucks. That fender has one hell of a dent in it.”

“Let’s go home,” Ceil said when he was back behind the wheel.

“What? No way. I mean, don’t cry honey.” Denny patted her arm. “Look, we‘re here.”

Denny pointed at a red blur in the mist up ahead. He eased his Charger between a pair of pickups in the parking lot. It was midnight, but a dozen cars were parked outside Ruby’s Road Kill Café.

“The Road Kill Café? That’s your idea of romantic?”

“It’s all in fun, Ceil.” He said. ”Trust me. Charlie said the food here is great. And look, they have cabins.”

“I don’t know about this,” Ceil said.

Denny squeezed the seat of her jeans and gave her a pat.

“Aw, c’mon Ceil. Buy you a drink.”

 

The Road Kill Café was a renovated barn set back from the road in a grove of oaks. Its imminent collapse was an illusion created by the architect and carried out by some very skilled carpenters. The worn and weathered wood was only skin deep. The inside was clean, neat and way over the top. The farm equipment that hung from the open rafters matched the green and yellow tractor signs on the walls and the linen on the tables. In the center of the room, a salad bar was built upon the bed of a ’54 Ford pickup. Bales of straw scattered throughout the place served as perches for woodland creatures with glass eyes who were the inspiration for the menu offerings. A tall brunette, tightly wedged into a pair of very short cut off jeans and overflowing from a flannel shirt knotted at her waist, introduced herself as Emily and escorted them to a corner booth.

“Put your eyes back in your head,” Ceil whispered.

Denny ducked into the booth ahead of Ceil. His eyes weren’t the only thing bulging and that was a revelation he’d rather not share…not yet. Drinks arrived with a pair of 1×8’s with the menu burned into the weathered wood.

“Sautéed squirrel? Possum on the half shell? You’ve got to be kidding,” Ceil said.

“Just the owner’s fun,” Emily said. “It’s chicken.”

“Start us off with some Critter Fritters,” Denny said before Ceil could protest.

“You got it, sweetie,” Emily said and swayed away toward the kitchen.

It took all the will power he possessed, but Denny mustered his strength and managed to keep his eyes and smile on Ceil.

“Critter Fritters?” she asked.

“I’m feeling adventurous. Isn’t that what this detour is all about?”

Ceil blushed. Denny was right. Time to relax and have fun. A wicked smile broke across her face; grew wider and she tossed back the Jack and Coke. Her hand began lazy trips up and down his thigh. She gave his crotch a gentle squeeze.

“Is it hot in here?” Denny asked.

“Not yet,” she replied. Her hand continued to travel his thigh. “But the forecast is definitely for hot times ahead.”

“I knew it,” Emily squealed. “You’re Ceil Murchison. Channel 38. We watch you all the time. Wait until I tell Ruby.”

A few heads turned at the mention of her name. However, most of the patrons were too engrossed in their food to care.

“Thank you,” Ceil said. “This is my husband Denny.”

“Hello,” Emily’s face tightened like she had just bitten into a lemon. The distaste altered her voice as well. “I’ve read his column.”

“Sooo, what’s good?” Ceil came to the rescue.

“There’s not a bad choice. For first-timers, I recommend Deer-in-the-Headlights.”

“Make it two,” Denny spoke up.

“And another round while we’re waiting,” Ceil added. “I just have to ask. It’s not really road kill is it?”

Emily giggled and shook her head. “We try to make it look that way. It’s really prime rib.”

“Is it true you have cabins to rent?” Denny asked.

“Sure do. Check with Ruby.” Emily pointed to a door at the far end of the room. “She’s down that hall.”

 

The hand-carved oak door Emily pointed to seemed out of place in the whole dilapidated barn setting. A chill sent a tingle up Denny‘s arm when his hand touched the knob. He snatched his hand away leaving the door open. The hallway was dark. A single low-wattage bulb at the far end lit the way down a hall so narrow Denny could easily touch both walls without extending his arms. Sure he had misunderstood her instructions, Denny looked back at Emily still standing at their booth talking to Ceil. She saw his bewilderment, nodded assurance and motioned for him to go. The glow seeping in from the café reassured him of his steps. Denny decided he could make it okay…until the door swung closed behind him. Darkness fell around him and the walls drew closer in a tender embrace. His right foot slid forward. The floor gave slightly but remained blissfully silent.

Denny’s foot struck an uneven shift in the floor and flecks of light filled the air in front of him. Denny shivered. A crawling sensation walked his neck.

“Dust,” he whispered to himself.

“Liar,” said the inner Denny who didn’t think there was enough light to illuminate dust motes.

The air, warm and humid, sighed against his cheek. The sound of his own ragged breathing echoed in the tiny space. For a moment it was difficult for him to tell if he was the only one breathing in the air. A jolt of panic sent him running for the light.

He reached the end and opened the door to a crackling fire and scented oil lamps that lit a spacious parlor. Denny drank in light until his hands quit shaking.

“Hello,” he called. “Anybody here?”

Atop a mahogany desk opposite the fire, lay an open book held open by a delicate silver bell. Denny rang the bell and waited. The notes carried only a few feet before being answered by the sound of latches opening and wheels on a rusted track. A panel opened and a woman stepped into the room with such fluidity Denny swore she floated. Her beauty took his breath. Bare porcelain skin glistened in the firelight beneath ebony tresses that cascaded over her shoulders. “Little black dress” took on a new meaning. Silk poured over her curves and sank with a licentious invitation into the hollows.

“Ruby?” Denny squeaked.

“Welcome, Mr. Murchison.”

“You know my name?”

“Of course.” Her smile revealed twin rows of perfect teeth. Your picture is at the top of your column. I must say it doesn’t do you justice.”

“The waitress seemed to think it lacked the tail and pitchfork.”

Ruby’s soft laugh was the sound of a gentle breeze through glass chimes.

“That would not necessarily rescind the welcome,” she said. “Though it is a bit old fashioned.”

“That’s a unique opinion for this part of the country.”

“You will find Ruby’s is a rather unique place.”

“Not nearly as unique as the owner,” he ventured, “Or as beautiful.”

“You make me blush.”

Denny saw no rising color in her cheeks but felt the heat in waves radiating from her. Ruby eyes turned down. His eyes followed her gaze. There was no hiding the huge erection pushing against his pants. When he looked up she was smiling at him.

“Do you have a vacant cabin?” he said around the lump in his throat.

A long, sensuous finger marked the spot. “Please sign my book,” she said.

Unbidden visions of her skin on his robbed Denny’s scrawl of its usual flourish.

“You seem…distracted, Mr. Murchison.” She purred. “Don’t let that spoil your appetite. We have so many delicious treats at Ruby’s.

Denny’s eyes rose to hers. The placid blue was a lie. There was nothing cool there…it was all fire. Denny leaned closer. His senses hummed with sexual electricity.

“Mr. Murchison?” her voice called him back. “Your key.”

Ruby placed the key in his hand. Her palm tenderly caressed his hand before she stepped back and the panel closed. Denny decided he had enough of the hall. There was a short set of stairs to his right. He decided to see if the led to another way out. At the top of the steps, French doors opened onto a fog-shrouded rose garden. Denny stepped outside. The lights of the café peeked through the mist an impossible thirty yards away.

“How?” he said and scratched his head.

He was being ridiculous. The dark and his panic in the hall had distorted his perception. There was nothing sinister about it. He let his anxiety get the better of him for a moment. Everything was fine now…and Ciel was waiting for him. Hungry and horny, he hurried back to the cafe.

“The Critter Fritters are fabulush,” Ciel said.

“And you’re drunk.”

“Maybe. Jus’ a little. Sit down, handsome.”

The food was fabulous. The Road Kill deserved five stars for presentation. The prime rib was rough cut; bathed in a thick, red sauce that resembled blood and served on platters with headlights for handles. The smoky, woodsy fragrance drove Denny to attack the meal like a starved refugee. The meal vanished, but not his hunger.

“Let’s order dessert,” Denny murmured through the last mouthful of meat.

“I thought I was dessert? Ceil said.

Denny paid the check and Emily led them to a tiny fleet of golf carts.

“You’re in Cabin 3,” Emily pointed the way. “Just follow the path.”

The path entered the rose garden and diverged into spokes that led to a semi-circle of identical cabins. The cabins shared the rustic, rundown look of the café complete with crooked smokestacks and a shutter hanging askew from one of the windows. Inside, thick carpet covered the living area and the single bedroom. A gas fire burned on a granite hearth beneath a mantle fashioned from an old barn spar. French doors behind heavy drapes led to an outside seating area. A massive bed covered in an old style quilt dominated the bedroom. Connected to the bedroom was a bath with heated tile floor; a shower of river rock with a dozen shower heads took up the back wall of the bath.

“Mmmmm, champagne and strawberries,” Ceil said.

“Bring them out here,” Denny called from outside.

Ceil kicked off her shoes, gathered up the champagne and two glasses and headed outside. She was met by clouds of steam rising from a large hot tub to meet the fog above. A shirtless Denny was slipping out of his pants.

“C’mon, get naked,” he called to her and stepped into the water.

Red lights recessed in the water added to the bubbling sensation of warmth. Ceil set the champagne on the edge of the tub. And began to unbutton her blouse.

“I didn’t think country folk went in for this sort of thing,” Ceil said with a laugh.

“How do you think they came to have such large families?”

Ceil cast about her for prying eyes. Seeing nothing but fog and the steam from the tub, she let her blouse fall to the deck and reached for her bra hooks.

“No one’s gonna see,” Denny chided. “And what if they do?”

Denny lowered himself into the water. Ceil giggled and abandoned her clothes. Her silken skin slid over his until their lips met.

Denny slipped from the sheets just before dawn. Something was moving outside. Careful not to wake Ceil, he padded from the bed to a window in the other room. He pulled back the drape…nothing but fog and the faint outline of the nearby trees. He jumped as warm skin pressed against his back. A hand slipped around Denny’s ribs and moved south.

“Enjoy the view. You can pay me back later,” Ceil whispered in his ear.

Denny forgot the mysterious sound; forgot the fog and trees; he lost himself to all but the steady rhythm of her soft fingers. The rhythm quickened until a tremor shook his body and buckled his knees. Denny let the curtain fall.

That,” he puffed, “was incredible.”

Denny led Ceil fell back on the bed. He kissed her navel; moved down her body until his lips reached their destination. Ceil gasped and shuddered with delight.

They awakened hours later. They found their hastily discarded clothes now hung neatly near the bathroom door. The champagne had been replaced by juice, coffee and a note announcing breakfast was served until ten.

“I hope I was covered up,” Ceil said.

“I’m starved,” Denny replied.

“Well you missed breakfast,” she pointed at the mantle clock. “You want coffee?”

By the time both of them were showered and dressed, it was check-out time. Denny insisted they stop in the café for lunch before heading home. Ceil gave him a weak nod and followed him back to the booth they occupied the night before. Her appetite for food and fun was gone. A strained pallor replaced the previous night’s glow. As she watched Denny inhale a pair of rare Road Kill Burgers, the pallor gradually was overtaken by a creeping shade of gray.

“You don’t look so good,” he said stuffing fries into his mouth.

“No kidding,” she growled. “What was your first clue?”

“This is great,” he said ignoring her. “I’m getting one to go. You want one?”

“God, no. That really looks like they scraped it off the road.”

Denny ordered two burgers to go while Ceil staggered to the car. Her stomach was boiling and threatening to blow. She made it to the car and all was well…until Denny arrived with a grease-stained bag of burgers. Ceil opened her door and fired the opening salvo in a gastric rebellion that lasted throughout the long ride home.

***

The next day Denny wheeled his gaunt wife into the emergency room at St. Stephens. The nurses tried a dozen times to find a vein that still had fluid left in it. After being poked, prodded and given a second liter of intravenous fluid, Ceil started to feel better. Her relief lasted just long enough for a nurse to appear bearing new torture.

“You want what?” Ceil asked.

Denny helped her to the bathroom and Ceil awarded the nurse with a sample of foul-smelling liquid stool. The doctor arrived about thirty minutes later wearing a big smile.

“We got lucky,” he said. “The bug showed up on the first try.”

“What is it?” Ceil asked.

“Giardia,” he announced still beaming. “It usually comes from contaminated food or water. You haven’t crossed paths with any beavers recently, have you?”

“Denny.” Menace blazed up into Ceil’s eyes. “You son-of-a-bitch, You did this to me.”

“Ma’am, I really don’t think…” the doctor’s voice and the smile faded away.

“This is all your fault’” she stabbed a finger at Denny. “You and your Road Kill Café.”

“Road Kill Café, eh?” the doctor looked at Denny and shook his head. “Well, don’t worry, an antibiotic that will clear this right up.”

“You’re a life saver, Doc,” Denny said.

***

Ceil was herself again in a couple of days. Her anger abated a bit more slowly, but eventually, it was safe once more for him to enter the room. Denny had the good sense not to mention the Road Kill Café to Ceil, but he couldn’t keep his mind away from the place. He had to get back there. He tried to tell himself it was just the novelty of sex in a strange place. His mind, however, refused to accept the idea. There was something magical about the place, he was sure of it. There was something in the water or…was it the food? It had to be the food. If he could only get Ceil back there. His mind refused to work on anything else. He couldn’t write and his stack of reserve articles dwindled to a single copy in the bottom of his desk. Meals were tasteless even at the city’s finest restaurants. Sex became mechanical. Denny lost weight. He couldn’t concentrate at work.

Desperate, Denny decided to go Ruby’s alone…“ just for dinner.” That’s what he told himself, but the memory of Ruby in her parlor grew more vivid every day. He could lie to himself. He would never get away with lying Ceil. Fortunately, he didn’t have to. Opportunity knocked a few days later when Channel 38 decided to send her on an around-the-state tour delivering a series of tornado safety talks. He managed to convince his boss he was working on a story about unique eateries and need to do some research.

Denny arrived at the Road Kill Café around eight on a Tuesday night. It was crowded, but Emily was on duty and whisked the Reserved sign from an empty booth. Denny was salivating like Pavlov’s pup and suddenly charged with raw electricity. He took out his notepad. Ideas came in a torrent. He scribbled down a month of columns before the food arrived. He was alive again. He dove into the food with equal abandon.

“I love to watch a hungry man,” Ruby said.

Denny wiped his chin and looked up at his hostess. Ruby placed her palms on the corner of his table and leaned forward. Her face was a couple of feet from his. She put a slender finger beneath his chin and lifted his eyes up to meet hers. He swam for just a moment in the deep blue pools of her eyes.

“Ruby, what a surprise. Won’t you join me?”

Ruby glided into the booth beside him. Denny moved to make room. She moved closer, the warm flesh of her bare arm pressed against his and her soft thigh rested beside him. Her calculated closeness had the desired effect. He abandoned the meal to stare at her.

“Are you here all alone?”

The playfulness in her voice sent a wave of warmth through him.

“Ceil’s out of town,” he said.

“You mean you drove all this way to– what?–taste my wares?”

Ruby gave her hips a twist turning her wares his way. Denny swallowed hard and rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants. Ruby smiled at the color rising above his collar.

“You’re shy? How quaint,” she nudged him with her shoulder and leaned against him. “I would never have guessed; not after your last time here.”

“Last time?” his voice squeaked.

“You and the missus–in the window,” her smile widened. “I found it quite erotic. Don’t tell me you have forgotten already.”

“I…er, that is we…well…you saw?”

“Right up to the explosive climax.”

Denny’s face went deep red.

“Don’t be embarrassed, love.” Her hand touched his thigh. “You came to here to have a good time. You indulged yourself. What’s wrong with that?”

Denny found himself unable to answer. He was rescued by Emily’s arrival at the table. She gave him a knowing smile and the check.

“I’ll take that,” Ruby said plucking the check from her hand.

“I can’t let you…”

“Of course you can. I like to watch a hungry man, remember? Besides, you’ll be back and you can pay then.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Ruby waved a hand. “You’re a hungry man and not afraid to indulge your appetite now and then. You’ll be back.”

She pressed against him and caressed his cheek. Soft swells of white skin framed by raven tresses filled his eyes and carried him away. Ruby’s musical laughter brought him back. He blinked away the mental fog as she broke contact and slid seductively from the booth.

“Come see me some time,” she purred.

He finished his meal in a haze of sights, scents, and sensations far removed from the food before him. The haze lift as he walked across the parking lot to his car. He reached for the door handle and discovered he was carrying take out. He lifted the driver’s door handle and caught movement from the corner of his eye.

“Who the hell is that?” Denny blurted out. “Show yourself.”

“Shhhh.” A little man popped up on the opposite side of the car and held a knotted finger to his lips. He waved Denny around the car.

The man was crouched unnecessarily against the passenger door. Even standing fully erect his chin scarcely reached the bottom of the window. The face was vaguely familiar, but nothing else about the man seemed quite right. The mass of black hair on his head was divided down the middle by a streak of gray. His eyes, as black as his hair, seemed to lack pupils. His clothes hung loosely from his body. Shriveled…the word popped into Denny’s mind unbidden as he squatted beside the man. The little man pointed to the bag in Denny’s hand.

“Get rid of that,” he said and grabbed for the bag.

“You’re crazy.” Denny tried to stand but the man held to his coat.

“Listen to me, Denny. For once in your life, just listen.”

“Who are you?” Dennys said. “How do you know my name?”

“Call me Ishmael, but shut your pie hole, you idiot. Get the hell out of here as fast as this care can go. Get out and never come back, understand?”

Ishmael flinched at the sound of a door closing. His brow knit together making a sharp V at the end of the gray streak of hair. Sharp yellow teeth snatched the bag from Denny’s hand and Ishmael scurried away on all fours.

“Charlie? Sweetie, is that you?” The woman’s voice was soft and sweet on top, but there was sharpened steel at its heart.

The keys fell from Denny’s hand. His recognition of the voice was confirmed seconds later by the appearance of another familiar face.

“Oh, it’s you,” the voice said, the steel barbs gone.

Denny’s eyes traced long, shapely legs to the face.

“Emily,” he said. “I dropped my keys.”

Emily knelt beside him. She reached across his legs for the keys, her young, full breasts pressed his thigh.

“Here they are, lover.” Emily jiggled the keys. “Denny? Your keys?

Her eyes followed his gaze. Emily pushed the errant breast back into her plaid shirt and re-fastened the top button. She brushed her cheek on his.

“Drive safely,” she whispered in his ear. “I’ll be waiting.”

***

The glaring red numbers on the clock declared it to be 2:22 am. Denny couldn’t sleep. His mind refused to give up the replay of flesh fueled scenarios of writhing limbs and carnal delights.  He resorted to an old adolescent remedy…twice, without success and decided on a different approach. He found the Lortab from his last trip to the dentist; shook three into his hand and washed them down with a bottle of Bud.

“Better living through pharmacology,” Denny pronounced. “With a little help from Anheuser Busch.”

He dropped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Sleep came slowly…but certainly.

The orchestrated chaos of the Road Kill Café kitchen whirled around him. Flying knives separated skin, and bone from meat and sliced vegetables. Spoons stirred bubbling sauces and served up mounds of food. Steaming plates of delectable dishes were passed around. Business was booming. The kitchen staff was as varied as the menu.     Denny chuckled to himself as he walked unseen through the room. Aliens, that was Ruby’s secret. She staffed her kitchen with aliens. Chimeric blends of man and beast, more Lewis Carroll than George Lucas, tossed salads, flipped frying meat, and conjured confections from raw ingredients.

“Hey Denny,” Ishmael called and waved from a corner of the kitchen.

Denny worked his way through the crowd to where the little man waited. He followed Ishmael out of the kitchen and past diners bolting down great hunks of meat and ogling the waitresses.

“They’re all fools,” Ishmael said. “And so are you. I told you to stay away. What are you doing back here?”

“Dreaming–I think.”

“Yeah, well, dreaming of this place ain’t safe either.”

“What’s with all the weird people or animals or whatever they are?”

“They are Nephesh.”

“What?”

“Breathing creatures; walking appetites.”

“And you’re…?”

“Yeah, I one of them. At least, I will be if they catch me again.”

“Are you bothering the customers again?” Ruby’s interrupted.

Ishmael scurried away with his tail between his legs. Denny didn’t remember a tail from before, but this couldn’t be real so what the hell. Besides, his attention was drawn to Ruby. She wore a long string of deep red stones; matching lipstick and nothing else.

“Lord, don’t let me wake up now,” Denny pleaded.

Ruby smiled and glanced down. “You’re glad to see me.”

Denny discovered he was naked too. Ruby was right. Her fingers closed on the throbbing proof of his delight and pulled him to her. Her leg wrapped itself around his waist as she guided him inside her.

“Right here?” Denny asked.

“Right here. Right now, lover. After all, it’s only a dream.”

 

An icy flood snatched Denny from her embrace. He gasped; sucked in water and began to cough in great gulping spasms that dumped him onto the floor.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” somewhere above a pair of red shoes a voice snarled at him.

“Ruby?” Denny croaked.

“Ruby?! You rotten bastard,” more ice water followed Ceil’s voice and the red shoes stomped out ahead of a slamming door.

“Oh shit,” he said. “Ceil wait!”

Denny wrapped himself in the sheet on his way to the living room. Ceil’s was sitting on the couch. Her lips were nonexistent. She folded arms across her chest, crossed legs, and rapidly swinging right foot told Denny talk was useless. He dropped into a chair.

“You went back there, didn‘t you?” Ceil demanded. “Oh, don’t bother, I know you did.”

“Sorry. Did you want to go?”

“Being a smart ass won’t help.”

“Doesn’t look like anything I say is going to matter.”

“Did you sleep with her too?”

“Who? What? Are you crazy?”

“You tell me. You were the one with the hard-on moaning her name.”

“I was dreaming for God’s sake.”

“And having a hell of a time doing it by the looks of things.” Hot tears ran down her cheeks as Ceil ran to the bedroom.

 

The next morning Denny made an attempt at an apology. Ceil remained unmoved. They parted after a silent breakfast. Her wondering how he couldn’t see how much he hurt her. He was beginning to entertain the idea of committing the crime for which he was being punished.

It was useless trying to work. Denny polished Sunday’s column and blew off the rest of the day. He stormed out of the office and climbed behind the wheel of his car. He picked up his phone and called up voice mail. No messages. No missed calls. Denny knew he had to try once more. Ceil’s voice mail answered after the fourth ring. She invited him to leave his name and number and she’d get back to him as soon as possible. Denny hit disconnect, tossed the phone onto the floor, and turned the key. The Road Kill opened at five. If he kept to the speed limit, he would be there right on time.

He stopped off in Pauls Valley to pee. He didn’t want to be seen sitting there waiting for Ruby’s doors to open like the rest of the guys. He had no idea how he knew there was a crowd, but when he pulled in a dozen cars were already in the lot.

     “Regulars.” The word jumped into his head flowed closely by a second. “Nephesh.”

He looked at the phone. It slept silently on the floor. He needed Ceil. The image of her on the couch, arms tightly crossed, jumped into his head. Denny decided.

The gravel crunched underfoot as he walked to Ruby‘s door. The whirr of cicadas and wood smoke filled the air and somewhere overhead a woodpecker beat out a staccato rhythm. It was a beautifully normal spring day. Except, it wasn’t and he knew it. He was standing in a parking lot intending to commit adultery with a woman who was more fantasy than reality. How was that normal?

“Well,” he told himself. “It’s not like it’s the first time.”

Movement suddenly caught Denny’s eye. A rustling sound came from beneath the steps leading to Ruby’s door. Denny bent to get a look at the source of the commotion. A face retreated into the shadows.

“Ishmael?” Denny called.

A pair of eyes opened in the dark. “Go away.”

“Are you okay under there?”

“No. Why won’t you listen and stay away from this place?”

A waddling black creature with a single white stripe from head to tail came out of the shadows. An elongated, vaguely human face looked up at Denny. Denny’s knees gave way. He landed with a thud. At last, he recognized the face. Ishmael was what remained of Charlie Roberts. The creature vanished under the restaurant. Denny’s heart was hammering. He didn’t know lust and fear could live so close together. Denny’s head continued to pound even after his heart resumed a normal pace. Denny made it to his feet with a single try. His hands were still shaking. He had to flee.

“Are you okay, lover?” a petite blonde in flannel and Daisy Duke shorts asked from above.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m fine,” Denny said as his eyes traveled up her long legs.

“Yes, you are,” she said with a smile. “Come inside and let Emily take care of you.”

She took his hand and led him inside to a booth. Denny watched the pockets of her jeans roll with every step towards the bar. He was immediately famished. Emily cast a glance over her shoulder, saw him watching her, and gave him a wave. She was back moments later with a double Jack and Coke.

“See anything you like?” she asked.

“It all looks so good,” Denny said.

“Oh, believe me, it is. While you‘re deciding, could I get you something from the menu?”

Denny swallowed hard. His throat was as dry as last year’s bird nest. The first drink helped smooth things out. After a second drink, Charlie was a whisper beneath the rumble of Denny‘s hunger. By the time the food arrived, the little skunk was forgotten. Denny ate with gusto.

“Are you ready for dessert?” Emily asked when he had finished.

“What do you have in mind?”

She hooked a finger in flannel and pulled the material away from a taut pink nipple. “Follow me.”

Denny obeyed. The compulsion to grope his guide was crushing him. Emily led him outside and towards the main house. When she stopped to unlock the door, Denny lost the battle with his will. His left arm snaked around her waist and the right curled up to cup her breast. She leaned back into him letting him explore.

“Let’s go inside,” she finally whispered.

She took his hand and led him through the door. The house glowed with candlelight and smelled of jasmine. Emily took him upstairs. At the end of a long hall, she drew his hand to its former place and kissed him deeply. She tasted of honey and cinnamon. Denny pulled her to him. Her soft curves molded themselves to him. Her shirt fell to the floor. Lynn pulled away. She held him at arm’s length while she caught her breath.

“Promise,” she panted, “to save some for me.”

“Huh?”

Emily opened the door. A soft red light poured from the room followed by air heavy with the moist, heady scent of a woman. A soft hand on his back propelled him inside. He heard the door close behind him.

Ruby floated up to him from a sea of satin. Stones the color of blood dripped from her milky white neck into the valley of her breasts. Her eyes burned. She laid a finger on his lips and slowly undressed him. Want consumed him and carried him down to her upon the satin sheets. Their bodies merged. Her hunger matched his; overwhelmed him and pushed him on. Denny threw aside consciousness and cascaded over the edge. Reality flowed into fantasy tumbling along an endless stream of desire, rapturous release and rekindled passion. The moon climbed the sky and sank again over their writhing bodies.

 

***

 

Denny awakened alone. Sun streaming through the open curtains warmed his bare skin. He’d had hangovers before, but nothing like this. The tic of the clock reverberated between his ears. He prayed it wouldn’t chime–not now. He was sure the sound would shatter his skull. He lay still until the pain subsided enough to think. This was no hangover. There was the familiar dull buzz inside his head, but something was different. Denny was empty; wiped clean. His worries were gone. No guilt; no press of commitment; nothing demanding his attention, except his hunger. Denny slept.

The rich smell of fresh coffee brought him back. Denny opened one eye. A statuesque brunette in only a maid’s apron placed a silver tray on the bedside table. She poured coffee into a cup; blew him a kiss and was gone. Denny’s stomach rumbled. He stuffed pastry into his mouth until his stomach was silent. Then washed the sugar away with the coffee. He felt almost human again.

Denny swung his legs off the bed. His feet announced their arrival on the floor with a shockwave of pain that screamed along his spine and burned into his brain. Every bone touching the floor felt out of joint and bent into strange angles. The joints were knotted and swollen. Denny swayed; caught the edge of the bed; and steadied himself. He lowered himself back into bed, the pain eased, and he slept once more.

Nephesh chased nymphs across Denny’s dreams. Their wild mating was dreadful and exciting. Hunger gnawed at his mind and strained at his groin. Through the dreamscape, a woman came to him. Her black robe flowed on the breeze revealing her long, white legs and bare feet. She opened the robe and let it the wind carry it away.

“Dreaming of me?” Ruby whispered in his ear.

Denny opened his eyes and the naked woman of his dreams was pressed against his side. Her leg moved across him. She rose above him. Liquid satin slid over him; engulfed him; drew him deep. She began to move in lazy circles. Denny moaned and pushed his hips towards her.

“I love to watch a hungry man. Especially one that’s hungry for me.”

Ruby was relentless. Drawing him deep into her and driving him to repeated orgasms he didn’t know he was capable of. Drained of strength, Denny collapsed. Ruby lay beside him. Her touch played softly upon his chest.

“You’re strong,” she said. “Eat.”

Emily came into the room and placed a tray before him. Denny ignored the food and stroked Ruby’s breast. The nipple was instantly erect. Fire flashed in her eye. Ruby’s tongue wet her lips. She chuckled softly.

“Later,” she whispered and left him.

Denny bolted down everything. Decided he wanted more and reached for the phone. The hand he saw close on the receiver was that of a rheumatic. Long heavy nails protruded from gnarled fingers. Panic seized him.

“Holy shit,” he cried and scrambled out of bed.

Pain erupted from his feet. Denny fell; caught himself and pain echoed up his arms. Denny howled. He lay on his back gulping air until his cry became a muted whimper. He had to get back to bed. Denny eased himself up and sat beside the bed. The pain was still there, but better. Not wanting to take a chance on his hands closing without pain, Denny hooked his elbows on the bed; hauled himself up and rolled to the center.

Outside twilight turned to darkness. Denny lay unmoving. The pain long past, he had no memory of passing time. In the hall, he heard intimate conversation broken irregularly by laughter. Footsteps approached. They stopped outside his door. Denny watched the silent turn of the doorknob. The door eased open and a figure stepped inside.

“Denny?”

“Emily is that you?”

The snap of a match bursting to life set her skin a glow. Emily touched it to a candle. She lit a second candle on the bedside and drew back the sheet. Her fingers worked the buttons of her shirt. Denny licked his lips. His hunger was back. Emily leaned to him.

“Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were for the last time,” she cooed and fell into his arms.

Hours later, the clock struck twelve. Emily rose from their bed. The candles had long since gone out, but Denny could see surprisingly well. Ruby entered the room and embraced Emily their bare bodies pressed against one another filled him with renewed lust. He reached for them and saw his reflection in the mirror. The dark circles around his eyes were more than shock and exhaustion. Denny cowered against the headboard. Ruby came and sat beside him on the bed. She gently stroked his head before gathering him into her arms.

“Don’t fret,” Ruby assured him. “I’m setting you free.”

Denny growled in his throat and leaped at the smug smile on Ruby’s face. Strong arms held him. Denny bit and clawed; fought desperately to break away.

“You know what to do?” Ruby asked.

“Yes,” Emily said. “We have the address.”

“Good,” Ruby said. “You make the delivery and I will make the call.”

Three hours and two hundred miles away in the house on Barclay Road, in a city known simply as The Village, the phone rang. Ceil Murchison lifted the receiver to her ear.

“Hello.” She said.

“Look out on the patio,” Ruby said.

Ceil padded through the house to the French doors that opened onto the patio.

“Do you see it, er, him?” Ruby asked.

“He’s so cute. Do they all look–you know–the same?”

“No” Everyone is different,” Ruby told her. “Appetites are unique. It’s the hunger that’s always the same. Enjoy your new pet.”

The phone went dead. Ceil stood naked before the door watching the little masked visitor pace his former patio.

“Who was that on the phone?” Alan Hastings asked. He slipped his arm around Ceil and nuzzled her ear.

“Oh, it’s just Denny.”

“You know we should have had them bring Charlie too.”

 

 

 

 

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