IN THE BONES

By Tracy Sharp


Another one missing.

I sat at my small, round kitchen table and stared down at the newspaper in front of me. That made twelve in just three months. Seven women and five men. What in hell was going on? Whoever was abducting these people had no apparent preference. The victims were between fifteen and forty years old. They were of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. In four cases the women’s purses had been left behind, and two of the men’s wallets had not been taken. There didn’t appear to be any money or credit cards taken. Who was abducting these people and why?

I sighed heavily and wrapped my hands around my oversized coffee mug.

A muffled sound coming from the far end of my bachelor apartment pulled me from my dark thoughts. Toby Jelinek stretched on my bed, his bare chest lifting as he curled his arms up around his shaggy head. His arms and legs were also hairless.

I shook my head. “Toby. Please at least let the hair on your legs grow back.”

He lifted his head to peer at me with sleepy eyes, auburn locks falling across his forehead. “No can do. I told you, Jacy. It’s better for blading. I’m faster without the hair.”

“ Like leg hair is going to make a huge difference.”

“ Yeah, it does.” He patted a space beside him on the bed. The white top sheet curled around one leg and wrapped around his hips like a snake. “Come on back to bed for a while. I’ll remind you what a smooth ride I am without the hair.”

One corner of my mouth lifted in a half smile. He was a smooth ride. I couldn’t argue that. But I had to get going. “No time. I have to get to class.”

He turned at looked at the bedside clock. “You have an hour.”

I carried my mug to the kitchenette sink. “I have prep work.”

He shook his head and pushed himself off the bed, heading toward me. “Smart girls.”

“ Smart older girls.” I ran the water and rinsed my mug.

“ Not that much older. Five years is nothing.” I felt his hands lift my nightshirt and slide around my waist. His breath moved over my ear, sending renewed heat through my body. “Are you sure you don’t have time for just one more for the road?”

I pushed my ass against his pelvis and felt his cock move against me. He was ready for action alright. How could I let it go to waste? “Why don’t you fuck me while I decide?”

When he slid into me I leaned over the sink and closed my eyes, letting the sensation thrill through me, sweeping me away from everything.

When my last class ended I headed into the parking lot and slid into my powder blue 1965 Mustang convertible. I’d bought from an ex-boyfriend who had restored it and had given me a good deal on it. I grinned as I glanced down at the hood. Tomas Alverez. Grease Monkey. Oh the fun we’d had that summer. This wasn’t exactly a winter car, so I have to park it for the winters. Tom still lets me use his garage.

I swung into the parking lot of the Klassy Kitty, the gentlemen’s club I work at nights and weekends to put myself through college. I’m in the last year of my graduate degree in Anthropology, and I have to make my cash somehow. I bartend mostly, but when they’re short on dancers I’ll take the stage. The tips are fantastic, even if not all the patrons are ‘gentlemen’.

It was still early when I took my place behind the bar, counting the float to make sure the day bartender hadn’t decided to take a couple of bills like he’d been known to do before, on occasion. He was the nephew of the owner, so nothing was done about it. But I had to watch my back. I had Jerry, the manager, count the money before I shut the drawer.

“ Cookie’s out tonight. Some kind of stomach bug. Would you do her set?”

I really didn’t feel like it. Something had me jumpy. On edge. But the way Jerry was looking at me, pleading with those cartoonishly enormous eyes, I couldn’t say ‘no’. “Fine. But if she keeps calling in like this you’ll have to get another dancer.”

“ Already auditioning prospects.”

The place was like a revolving door, anyway. Girls came. Girls went. People barely even remembered their faces mere days after they’d moved on. Though customers rarely looked at their faces anyway. Such was the life of an exotic dancer.

The bar was hopping and I was in my zone, the place where I was on autopilot, slamming drinks down and taking money, making change faster than any bartender Jerry had ever met. He didn’t want to lose me. I was good. I kept the customers happy. I barely looked at their faces when they ordered. Get them in, get them gone. The faster I was, the more money I made. It wasn’t unusual for me to walk out of there with five hundred in tips.

But a finger brushed against mine as I placed the shot glass on the bar, and warmth moved through my hand and accelerated the beat of my heart. I lifted my head and gazed into a pair of amber eyes which seemed to glow from deep within. Had to be contacts. Nobody had that color of eyes. Golden amber, like the eyes of a cat.

All sound faded, and the other customers seemed to blur around me. I felt my breath leave me and heat bloomed between my legs, making my clit throb. “Oh.” The single word escaped my lips without my meaning it to.

“ Thank you, Jacy.” His lips were parted, but I could’ve sworn they hadn’t moved.

I nodded stupidly. “My job.”

A lock of dark hair fell over one eye and he smiled. He was freakishly handsome. I wondered if he were a model or an actor.

Then he moved away, walking seemingly in slow motion, through the crowd.

I felt a hand on my arm. Jerry stood beside me. “You’re on in fifteen, Jace. I’ll take over.”

I changed into the black satin g-string and knee high boots I kept in a locker back stage. I lined my dark eyes with a black kohl pencil, and brushed my long black hair until it gleamed. I put crimson lipstick on my full lips and blew myself a kiss in the mirror.

I did my set, bumping and grinding to Roxy Music’s ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ all the while looking for the strange man with the amber eyes. Once I thought I saw a flash of his face, but then he wasn’t there. I closed my eyes and let the silky voice of Bryan Ferry move over me, wrapping a leg around the pole and swinging around, arching my back until I hung upside down.

I thought I heard heavy breathing all around me. I lifted myself right-side-up and curled my legs around the pole again, moving myself against the cool metal. This was the part where I grind myself against the pole, mimicking fucking movements. I’d done it countless times and I always got a good reaction from the crowd. It was all for show. But this time when my moved myself against the cool metal pleasure zinged through me, and before I knew it I was shuddering, wave after wave moving through me as I bit my lip, stifling a moan.

Loud clapping brought me back to my senses. The audience thought it was an act, cheering and waving bills at me. I snatched them away and hurried off the stage and into the backstage area.

I’d never come on stage before and I wondered what in hell was wrong with me. But I shoved the thought away as I changed back into my street clothes, hurrying because now my bladder was full. Tayan would be on in a few minutes and I hadn’t seen her all evening. I’d do a search of the place starting with the bathroom. Tayan often brought her lovers into the stalls.

There was no bathroom for the girls back stage so we had to share the bathroom with the women customers, which was fine with me. When I pushed through the bathroom door I heard soft moaning coming from one of the stalls. A woman stood at the sinks, bent over white lines on the counter. I’d never seen cocaine look so coarse. Must be a new type, I thought. She lifted her head to look at me, her blonde hair swinging around her chin. She looked at me beneath sharply cut bangs with amber/golden eyes, smiling at me before she went back to her rolled up bill and white lines.

The same shade as the eyes of the strange man I’d encountered earlier in the night. The one who’d left such an impression on me. Must be the newest color for contacts. That exotic gold color. Bizarre shit.

Another moan came from the stall.

I squatted down and saw a pair of high heeled boots, probably knee highs, spread apart. They were straddled by Tayan’s brown riding boots.

I knocked on the stall door. “Tayan?”

A pause, then a disappointed groan. “Yeah. Give me a minute. Just finishing up in here.”

Tayan likes the ladies. She gets more action than most men I know.

“ Well you’re on in like five minutes. So hurry it up, would ya?”

“ Mmhm.”

***


Closing time. Finally. It had been one weird-ass night and I just wanted to go home. Toby would be waiting for me. It was his birthday, and I’d promised him some birthday fun.

I heard giggling and looked up to see Tayan heading out the door with a long haired brunette draped over her, gazing up at her with complete adoration. I watched as they headed to the door, Tayan’s long, lithe body clad in leather pants and a white tank top. Her short black hair shooting out in all directions. She was a stunning girl with even features, having been a model for a few years before she got tired of the game. The giggly girl was petite, only coming to her shoulder.

I grinned and shook my head. “If only they could bottle it.”

“ This is Jenny.” Tayan winked at me and flashed me a grin.

Jenny wiggled her fingers in my direction but didn’t look at me, completely taken with Tayan, who lifted her hand to me as they headed to the door. “Later, Jace.”

The blond who’d been in the bathroom with them trailed close behind. Her four in heels clicked on the hard wood floor, her long legs bare beneath a red mini skirt. She threw me a smoky look as she walked passed me, and I found I couldn’t look away from her amber gaze. She was hypnotizing.

“ Night, Jace.”

I pulled my gaze from the blond and looked at Jerry, who stood at the door. He held it open for Tayan and the giggly girl. “You want me to wait for you?”

I shook my head and glanced at the blond as she went through the door. Strange night.

“ All right. See you tomorrow.”

I nodded and went back to counting, my lips moving silently.

I heard the door bang shut behind him.

All was quiet as I finished counting the deposit and placing it into the bag. I brought it back to the safe and locked it up. I checked the bathrooms. Empty. Back stage. Empty.

I sighed. Time to go. I went behind the bar and bent to grab my jacket and purse. When I stood up my heart leapt into my throat.

A pair of amber eyes peered into mine. The strange man from earlier.

My hand flew to my chest and I took a deep breath. “You scared me.”

He gazed down at me, his face expressionless.

“ We’re closed, Sir. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”

“ I apologize. I didn’t mean to startle you.” He stepped around the bar and stood before me.

Clearly, this guy wasn’t planning on leaving empty handed. He gazed down at me, those odd yellow eyes gazing into my own.

I’m no shorty. I’m five feet nine inches tall. But this guy towered above me, making me drop my head back to look up at him. I took a step back. Felt the edge of the bar at my back. There was nowhere else to move.

He stepped forward.

“ Step back, Sir.” I added bravado I didn’t feel to my voice. “Please leave.” Even as I said these words I knew they were useless. My voice sounded far away and I was suddenly wrapped in a sensual haze, the desire to have him inside of me so strong I was breathless.

My heart drilled against my ribcage as he slowly bent toward me. His gaze froze me in place. My mind shrieked for me to snap out of it. Punch or kick him. Scratch those strange eyes out of his head. But my body was now numb. I couldn’t move.

I watched helplessly as his eyes rolled back in his head like a shark’s. His jaw yawned open revealing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Teeth filled the roof of his mouth, and a black, forked tongue darted out from between them. His open mouth was large enough to swallow my face if he wanted to. His breath touched my skin, hot and rancid, smelling like something long since dead.

I tried to scream but managed only a low groan deep in my throat.

I saw a bottle come down on his head, shards of glass flying outward. Clear booze ran down his face and he howled. His skin bubbled as if it had been hit with acid.

A hand grabbed my arm and yanked me, and then I was away from him, Tayan pulling across the bar, through the door and out into the parking lot.

She pulled me toward my car, throwing open the passenger door and shoving me into the seat. “Give me the keys!”

My mind was still fuzzy but I managed to pull my keys from my purse and hold them out to her. I was amazed I’d held on to my purse throughout my fun and games with Mr. Freak Show.

Tayan cranked the engine and sped out of the parking lot, heading out onto the road and toward the interstate. “Holy fuck.” She kept glancing into the rear view mirror. “Holy fuck.”

“ What the hell was that? He wasn’t . . . Jesus, Tayan. What was he?”

“ I don’t know.” She shook her head. “But I’m glad I got in there when I did.”

“ Thanks,” I said to her. I was still in shock. Still numb. “What made you come back?”

“ I had a similar experience with Blondie.” She gave me a sideways glance. “I’d seen her with him earlier in the night. Both with those weird-ass eyes.” She stared at the road ahead of us, but wasn’t seeing it. “Thought we’d have a little fun in the back of Jenny’s van. She drives an old piece of shit her dad gave her.” She wiped the back of her hand under her nose. “She got Jenny.”

“ Oh God.”

“ I hit her with a bottle of vodka me and Jenny were sharing. But it was too late.” Her voice cracked. “Jenny’s face. Oh, God. Her face.”

I shuddered. “Shit, Tayan. We’ve gotta do something. Tell someone.”

She looked at me with an ‘as if’ look. “Who are we going to tell, Jace? The cops? What would we say? Oh hi officer. We were just attacked by a couple of aliens at a strip joint. Yes, we’re strippers. Yes, I’ve been using drugs and alcohol.”

I sank lower into my seat. “What the hell are they?”

She shook her head as she watched the road. “Not human.”

***


We drove around for a while, not knowing where to go. It wasn’t something I could just share with Toby. Not without consequences. I called him on my cell and told him there had been an incident at the bar and that I had to stay and give a statement to the police.

Chances were that Jenny was dead. But we had to know for sure. We drove back to the Klassy Kitty, where her lonely van sat in the empty parking lot.

We parked a few spots away from it, then we both sat staring at it, dread creeping over us.

I really didn’t want to get out of that car. I wanted to get the fuck out of there, double time. “Do you want to come back in the morning? You know, in the light of day?”

“ The van might be gone by then.” She sat for a moment more, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Come on. Let’s go.”

We climbed out of the mustang and headed slowly toward the van. The doors were all closed. We peered into the windows. Everything was dark except what was visible by the light of the moon. There was no sign of life within it.

We went to the back of the vehicle. Tayan reached out and gripped the door handles.

“ One,” she said in a shaky whisper.

“ Two,” I breathed.

“ Three!” She screamed, whipping the doors open.

There was no one in the van. No bodies, living or dead.

We both looked down at the scattered, jagged edges of broken glass pieces lying on the carpet of the van.

***


I didn’t say a word to Toby about what had happened that night. I simply dropped Tayan off at her apartment and drove home. Before Tayan got out of the car we agreed to wait and see what happened the following night. We had no way of knowing where these creatures lived or where they took their victims. We couldn’t make a move without gaining more knowledge on them. And we couldn’t tell anyone about them. Who would believe us?

Toby was sitting on my bed, tapping away on his laptop when I opened the door to my apartment. He’s a consultant for various large corporations. He hacks into their systems and tells them how to prevent another hacker from doing the same. He gets paid well to do what he loves best.

“ Didn’t I tell you to keep the door locked?” The irritation in my tone masked the fear that was clawing at my stomach.

He looked at me, his eyes wounded. “Sorry.”

I felt like an asshole. I went to the bed and kneeled in front of him, wrapping my arms around him. “It’s okay. Just, lock it from now on, okay? Somebody out there is taking people, right from their own homes sometimes, and nobody knows what happened to them.”

“ Nothing will happen to me, babe.”

“ It could. You’re cute but you’re not invincible.”

“ No, but . . . ” He gently pushed me away and reached down under the mattress. His hand came up with a .38 caliber. “This sure helps.”

“ Aw, Jesus, Toby. Where did you get that?”

“ If I tell you I’d have to kill you.”

I was aware that Toby sometimes mingled with characters of dubious repute. We had a kind of ‘don’t’ ask, don’t tell’, relationship. “Don’t bring guns into my home.”

“ It’s for you, Jace. It’s just a little reassurance that nothing will happen to you.”

“ I’d shoot my foot off.”

“ No you wouldn’t. It’s easy. Just point and shoot.” He held his arm out, aiming at a Van Gogh print on my wall.

I thought of the razor sharp teeth of the creature I’d narrowly escaped. I’d been numb. Unable to move. I wouldn’t let one of those things get that close to me again. The .38 might help with that.

“ Okay. But keep it out of sight. All right?”

“ Sure. But it’s right here if you need it.” He returned the .38 back to its hiding place under the mattress.

I leaned in and kissed his lips. “Thank you. But I thought it was your birthday, not mine.”

He grinned. “Why yes. It is. Got anything for me?”

“ Darn. I haven’t had time to shop. What ever will I give you?”

He closed the laptop and placed it on the floor, then he leaned back on his elbows. “I’m open to suggestions.”

I crawled over his body, pushed him onto his back and ran my tongue along the band of his boxers.

“ Oooh boy. Happy birthday to me,” he said, his voice dreamy and breathless.

“ Uh huh.” I pulled the boxers down and flung them across the room. “You won’t be needing those for a while.”

“ Good deal.”

I moved my mouth over him and he lifted his ass to meet me. A throaty moan escaped his lips and I felt my pussy swirl. I worked slowly, teasing him until he began tugging at my shoulders, lifting me up toward him.

I climbed up and leaned in, kissing him long and deep as he unzipped my jeans and pulled them down over my hips, careful not to pull my thong down. He used his legs to pull my jeans down over my legs and I kicked them off. They landed on the floor in a heap.

Our tongues slid over each other and he yanked my top off and threw it on somewhere near the jeans. He left my bra alone.

I moved my pussy against his erection, feeling my clit swell as I nibbled on his lower lip and sucked his tongue, breathing him into me. I felt myself being swept away in the delicious sensations racing through my entire body as I moved against him. My nipples poked against the fabric of my bra, begging to be released.

I moved the crotch of my thong to the side and moved my wetness against him. He groaned into my mouth and his hands cupped my ass firmly. I moved my clit against his erection, feeling the tension building inside of me. Pressure balled in my abdomen and I moved faster against him, stopping just before I came. I pulled my mouth away from him, sat up, and gazed down at him.

His eyes were half lidded, smoky with desire. A little smile touched his mouth.

I pulled the crotch of the thong further to the side and slid over him, crying out with the exquisite thrill of him moving inside of me. My walls tightened around him and I pushed down onto him, luxuriating in the sensation of him filling me.

His mouth opened and he threw his head back. “Oh fuck. That is so perfect.”

“ Uh huh,” I breathed, leaning in and kissing his mouth again.

I sat back and began rotating my hips, slowly at first, enjoying him completely. But my need overtook me and I was soon moving faster, leaning over him, hands on either side of his head, gazing into his eyes as my orgasm built.

Toby gazed back at me. “Come on, baby. Come for me.” He placed his hands on my hips, lifting me then slamming me back down onto him.

When I came I kissed his mouth, crying out into it, and there was no thought of anything but him in my mind. My walls contracted over and over, and pleasure coursed through me as he sucked my tongue and emptied himself into me.

I pulled back a little, murmuring against his lips. “Happy birthday.”

“ Yes it is,” he breathed, pulling me closer to him and kissing my neck through my hair.

***


At first I wasn’t sure what woke me. I’d been reluctant to let go of my dream. I grasped at it, grappling with the sleep fingers of my mind, but it slipped away, leaving me confused in those few moments between waking and dreaming when you don’t know where you are.

But then I heard it.

A distinct creak on the floor. Somebody was in my apartment.

It was a hot night. I’d left the balcony doors open, leaving only the screen door closed.

My eyes flew open and I peered into the darkness, straining to see who was there. At first I didn’t see anything. Then my stomach turned to ice as I made out a shadow darker than the darkness surrounding it. The shape moved slowly to the bed. It was tall and solid looking, and I could smell its foul breath from where I lay.

I didn’t think. I just moved, launching myself to the edge of the bed, feeling around for the gun. I felt a brief moment of triumph as my fingers closed around it. But as I brought my arm around and aimed at the figure it wrapped itself around Toby, seeming to cover him completely, then straightened again and headed back out toward the balcony doors.

If I shot blindly I might hit Toby, and I’d had no practice shooting guns. I groped for the lamp beside the bed and flicked it on.

Light flooded the room. The man, the creature, from the bar stood with Toby thrown over his shoulder. Toby hung motionless, his eyes wide and dazed. He was in a trance. The same one I’d been in earlier when the thing was about to swallow my head.

I pointed and aimed at the creature’s legs, then pulled the trigger.

He stopped, turned, and dropped Toby to the floor, facing me with glowing eyes. Half his face was gone, his features melted into each other like a Picasso.

My breath caught in my throat. I aimed for his chest and pulled the trigger.

He snarled at me, his teeth white and wet, froth bubbling at the corners of his mouth.

Fuck. He wasn’t even fazed. I was just pissing him off. My heart battered against my chest.

The head. Try the head. I aimed at his head and pulled again.

The bullet lodged in his forehead. He balled his hands into fists and roared at me. The bullet popped out of his forehead and bounced to the floor.

“ Holy shit.” I was screwed. Cold fear gripped me, turned my stomach to ice. I forced strength into my voice. “Leave him alone, you filthy freak!”

He laughed at me. The sound was like dry leaves.

He stretched his arm out to me. “Come with me and I will.”

So this was a game. I’d bested him. I’d pissed him off so he was trying to hurt me in a way that I had to pay attention to him. Not unlike some earth men who are spurned. Fucking bizarre.

“ Oh, I don’t think so, fucker. Maybe some other time.” It was a strange thing to say. But the situation was so surreal. I started giggling. A nervous, high pitched, hysterical giggle.

His eyes widened, then narrowed. He picked Toby up like a sack of potatoes and threw him over his shoulder.

Then he jumped over the balcony railing and vanished into the dark.

I stayed up all night, sitting on my bed, arms wrapped around my knees. If the strange creature wanted me to go after him, Toby was likely still live. But I didn’t think he would be for long. If I gave myself up to this . . . . thing, he’d kill Toby anyway. He wouldn’t chance that Toby would open his mouth about him and his freaky friends.

But I couldn’t just let him have Toby. I was the reason he was in the mess he was in. The creature had followed me back to my place. I’d stupidly put Toby’s life in danger by coming back here.

I skipped my classes for the day. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to be academically brilliant. And I didn’t want anyone else I may come into contact with becoming a target. So I called Tayan. And I waited.

***


I picked Tayan up a half hour before our shifts started at the Klassy Kitty.

“ So you think they’re going to come back tonight?” She looked at me sideways, her blue eyes shot through with red. Apparently she hadn’t slept, either. “That would be kind of stupid, don’t you think?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. He made it pretty clear he was taking Toby to get to me. He wants me to ‘go with him’, whatever the fuck that means.”

“ I think that means he has the alien hots for you, which means he wants to eat your face off. I guess it’s the equivalent of an affectionate gesture where these things come from. Different customs, you know.”

“ Evidently.”

“ So our plan is to what?”

“ We don’t have one.”

“ Oh. Lovely.” She shifted in her seat, moving her long legs to the side. She was wore black jeans and cowboy boots. “I feel real good about this, Jace. Real good.”

I glanced at her face. “Look, how can we formulate a plan when we don’t know what they’re going to do? We can’t.”

She shook her head, pushing out a long breath. “This is fucking crazy.”

“ Okay, listen. Let’s go through what we do know.” I held up a finger. “One, we know that bullets don’t work.”

“ Right. That’s my favorite one right there.”

“ Two, we know that for some reason, booze does work. It acts like an acid on their skin.”

“ Yeah, but that’s weird. Because you said that the guy ordered a drink from you.”

“ Yes. But I didn’t see him drink it. It was probably all for show.”

She nodded her head slowly. “Right. Why do you think the booze does that to them?”

“ I don’t know. But it’s toxic to them. That’s all that matters.”

“ Maybe they don’t have alcohol on their planet. So they’re allergic it. You know?” She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. “Like a severe allergy.”

“ We’ll have to keep a bottle or two near us at all times. They’re not fucking around.”

“ What else might hurt or kill them?” I pulled into the parking lot of the Klassy Kitty, then looked at her pale, oval face. “What would hurt or kill most any creature?”

The thought came to us at the same time, and we voiced it together.

“ Fire.”

***


The bar was already hopping by the time we got into the place. Cookie had decided to come in for her shift and was on the floor of the stage, arching her back and stretching her legs out toward the audience, spreading them wide for the regulars in perv row.

“ Hey, ladies.” Jerry was wiping off an empty table. His brows furrowed when he saw us. “What’s the matter? You two look like you’ve seen your own ghosts.”

Tayan jumped in. “We saw a pretty bad accident on the way in. Spooky shit.”

I was thankful for her quick response, because I had nothing to say except maybe a few stammered syllables. I nodded my head.

Jerry straightened out, his face interested. “Oh yeah? Where’s that?”

“ We took one of those back roads because the highway was bogged down. I don’t know the name of that street.” She looked at me. “Do you?”

I shook my head. “Uh, no. I never know the names of streets, though.” I gave a hysterical little giggle.

Jerry lifted his brows at me. “Huh. Well, there’s assholes everywhere. You gotta have eyes at the back of your fuckin’ head these days, yanno?”

“ Yeah.” I nodded quickly.

Tayan tugged me toward the bar. “Come on, chatty Cathy, before you throw our asses in the bag. Remind me never to ask you to lie for me. Jesus.”

I went opened the drawer and began counting the cash. Again, I got Jerry to count it after me. Tayan served drinks until I was finished, then I took over serving and she went into the back where the cases of booze were kept. After a few minutes she came back into the bar and grabbed several rags from under the sink, throwing me a serious glance, then went back into the back.

It didn’t take long before she was back working the bar with me. Things were going status quo for the first couple of hours. But I still couldn’t relax. My muscles were bunched at the back of my neck and I was jumpy as hell. People who I’d known for years, who I’d always joked with during my shifts suddenly seemed sinister to me. Their smiles appeared to be pasted on, and too wide, like the joker from the Batman movies. I knew this was all in my head, but couldn’t seem to calm down.

Tayan was on edge too, but she hid it well. Her smile was a bit too quick and her normally cool, easy movements were jerky. We were both walking a fine line, waiting for what we both knew was going to happen that night.

Then it happened.

Jenny came walking into the bar, her hips swinging and her stride long and slow. She turned her head to look at us and we both saw it at once. Her normally giddy personality was gone, replaced by a sultry, sensual creature. Watching her, everyone else in the bar seemed to fade into the background. Her gaze glowed amber/gold. And when we pulled our eyes from her to look at each other, we knew that Jenny was gone. Whoever that Jenny thing was, it certainly wasn’t her.

We kept an eye on her, and when she walked out of the bar with a middle-aged suit with spray on hair, Tayan turned to me.

“ Keys.” She held out her hand.

With shaking fingers I dropped my keys into her steady, waiting palm.

“ I’ll be back as soon as I know.”

I stared at her.

“ I will. Just trust me, will you?”

I grabbed a bottle of vodka from under the bar and handed it to her. “Just in case.”

“ Thanks.”

Then she was around the bar and heading out the door. I watched as she said something to Jerry, and the door swung shut behind her.

I hoped that no more of those things showed up while I was closing up for the night.

None did. But everything seemed deathly quiet as I waited alone in the parking lot for Tayan to come back. I watched the road for my Mustang to come swinging back into the parking lot. I checked my watch. 1:30 a.m. It was late august and a pre-autumn chill touched my face and moved through my hair. I wrapped my coat more closely around myself.

The parking lot of the Klassy Kitty was surrounded by fairly thick woods. I scanned the darkness nervously, wondering what lurked in the shadows of the trees, peering back at me. I was all alone, and had no weapons except for the backpack Tayan had filled with bottles of liquor from the cases in the storage room behind the bar. We’d pay Jerry back once it was all over. Right now we couldn’t afford to worry about it.

I shivered as a gust of frigid wind pushed at me. I leaned against the building and wished I smoked. Standing out there, waiting in the dark, was getting to me. If no creatures were out there watching me, there were definitely enough freaks out there who’ve been caught waiting for dancers in the years I’d been with the Klassy Kitty. Some were just love-struck fans. Some were not. You just never knew.

What if she didn’t show up? What if something happened to her?

Fuck. Stop. Just stop.

I blew out a ragged breath and squared my shoulders. Watched cars go by.

At almost 2:00 a.m. the Mustang swung into the parking lot. Tayan pulled up beside me and waved me into the car.

“ You won’t fucking believe it.” Her eyes were wide and her face pale in the moonlight. But I couldn’t see the color of her eyes. It was just too dark. “Jesus, Jace. It’s unbelievable.”

And it was.

***


Tayan drove us way out into the boonies, where there wasn’t much but dirt road and corn fields. We drove for miles. The clock on the dash said that it was 3 a.m. Out there we could get nothing but a Christian talk radio station. A deep and reverent voice warned us about our sins finding us out. Whatever that meant.

Tayan shut the radio off. “Fuck that shit. Bastard probably goes home and ass bashes his pigs every night.”

“ Oh, I’m sure he has a favorite. They probably aren’t all lucky enough to get the same treatment.”

“ They can always hope. Tomorrow is a new day.”

She turned onto a side road, which had become narrower by the second. Trees canopied the road, blocking out the moonlight, so other than the headlights, there was no light at all. Finally, after what had seemed an eternity, she’d parked the car on the side of the road.

“ This is where we start walking.” She opened the door and stepped out of the Mustang. I heard bottles clinking inside her back pack.

I gaped at her, not that she could see me. “What? Walking where?”

“ You’ll see.” She closed the car, and a small beam of light emanated from her hand. She held a tiny flashlight. “I always carry this little thing, just in case. Come on.”

I sense of foreboding crept over me, but I got of out the car and followed her.

We seemed to walk forever. Branches slapped at me, scratching my cheeks, forehead and arms. The mosquitoes were merciless, and I hoped to God I wasn’t plowing through poisoned oak. I listened to the sound of the bottles clinking against each other.

Tayan’s voice startled me and I jumped. “Christ. I hope we don’t end up covered in ticks.”

“ Oh God. You had to say that, didn’t you?”

“ Well you heard about what happened to Curtis, didn’t you?”

Curtis, that was the owner’s sticky fingered nephew. “No. What?”

He was out in the woods hunting one morning, and he took himself a piss out in the woods. Ended up with a tick on his balls.”

I felt a grin spread over my scratched face. “Shut up. He did not.”

“ I swear to God.”

I started laughing. The sound was strange out in the dark woods in the middle of the night.

“ That’s not all.”

I caught my breath. “There’s more?”

“ Soon after he gets the tick off his balls, the tell-tale ring around where the tick sunk its head into his nuts? That’s indicative of lime disease.”

“ Holy shit. Are you serious?”

“ Uh huh. The doc told him he has lime disease now.”

Lime disease is serious. But I couldn’t help but feel a petty kind of glee over Curtis’ bad fortune. “Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.”

I heard her slap at her skin. “Fuckers!” Another slap. “No shit. That’s what I thought. Okay, were here.”

I looked up and my breath caught in my throat. “Holy hell.”

“ Yeah. My words exactly when I followed them here earlier.”

We crouched at the edge of the woods overlooking a baseball field sized clearing, on which sat an enormous, dome shaped building, which appeared to have been built of some kind of metal. The place seemed to glow from the inside.

I turned to look at Tayan. “What the hell is it?”

Her face was deadly serious in the glow of the strange dome-like structure. “It’s where they take the bodies of their victims.”

“ Oh Jesus.” My mind refused to grasp it. “How do you know that?”

“ Because I saw that Jenny imposter take Mr. Spray on Hair in there, that’s why. I don’t know where he thought she was taking him, but he went along gleefully.”

I shuddered, wrapping my arms around myself. “Oh, shit, Tayan. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“ Yes you can. We don’t go after them, they’ll come after us. It’s only a matter of time before Jenny comes to get me.”

I stared at the structure, icy fingers of fear clutching at my stomach.

Tayan sensed my dread and in true Tayan fashion, broke the tension. “And what the hell was she thinking picking up Mr. Spray on Hair, anyway? He shoulda used a fuckin’ Chia pet. It woulda looked better.”

I giggled, trying to be as quiet about it as I could, but soon I was laughing so hard that barely any sound was coming from me anyway.

“ And Jenny is as gay as gay gets. There’s no way she’d pick up any man, let alone that chump.”

This brought on a fresh string of giggles from me. “Okay, enough. I’m okay.”

She grinned. “One more thing before we go.”

“ What?”

She leaned in and kissed me. I sucked in a breath, paralyzed at first. But the softness of her lips and the warmth of her tongue stroking mine made me light headed and weak. I leaned into her and found myself kissing her back. She tasted like strawberries. She smelled like a peach. The kiss was long and languid, and so sensual that despite my fear, heat raced through my body, and delicious tension knotted in my lower abdomen.

She gently broke the kiss and smiled at me.

I blinked at her. “Wow.”

“ I just had to do that. You know. In case.”

“ Okay. Uh. Thanks.”

“ No problem. Let’s go.”

***


We crouched outside the structure. Tayan opened the back pack. She took out two bottles of whiskey, unscrewed the tops and poured the alcohol over two rags, soaking them. “This isn’t gonna be pretty, Jace. Once we start this shit, we can’t back down, okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

She shoved a rag down into each bottle, leaving a tail hanging out. “I’m serious. You hesitate and you’ll get us both killed, and Toby, too, if he’s still alive.”

I swallowed. “I know. Don’t worry.” But I was worried. I was terrified. Fear was clawing at my heart. I could barely breathe.

“ Okay, listen. Every so often one of them comes out or goes in through that door.” She tilted her head to indicate the front side of the building we were hiding from. “There’s a big door there, but there’s no handle. The door senses them and it lifts up to let them in or out. I’m sure it won’t work for us. I’m not brave enough to try, anyway.”

She soaked two more rags and loaded two more bottles while she explained. “When we see or hear one approaching or coming out, we attack.” She handed two of the bottles to me.

I grasped them tightly, feeling like a kid with a pea shooter up against a dinosaur. “God, I hope this works.”

“ Don’t think, Jace. Just act. When it’s time, just do it. Hit them in the head. Hard. The bottle has to break for this to work.”

“ Okay.”

“ Jacy.”

My mouth was dry. “Yeah?”

“ Don’t fucking miss.”

“ Right.”

A humming sound came from the front of the building. It sounded like a giant mutant mosquito.

“ Oh, fuck.” Tayan stood up, slung the backpack over her shoulder, and grabbed the remaining two bottles from the ground. “Show time.”

I felt my eyes widen as adrenalin thrilled through my veins, making my heart drill against my rib cage. I gripped the two bottles and got ready to pounce. The fight or flight instinct was warring within me. I wanted to flee. But I knew that Tayan was right. They’d come after us. And Toby would die.

“ Wait. Just a sec.” Her whisper sounded like the fluttering wings of panicked birds. Time seemed to freeze as she listened, her face hard and her eyes wild.

The humming stopped. The door was fully opened.

She lit all four rags and they went up in flames within a split second.

“ Now!” she whispered.

We leapt from our hiding spot at the side of the building and raced toward two figures moving away from the door. A woman and a man. Tayan whipped a bottle at the head of the man. It smashed against his skull and within moments he was enveloped in flames. He screamed and ran toward the woods.

Without thinking about it I drew my arm back and flung a bottle at the woman. She was tall and lean, and she side-stepped lightening fast. I threw my second bottle at her. Again she dodged it, her long, red hair flying around her head as she spun away.

Tayan was stuffing another rag into a bottle. She lit it.

I blew the female alien a kiss and winked at her.

She snarled at me, showing me her teeth.

“ What are you waiting for? You’re not so fucking scary.” I lifted my top and showed her my tits. Why I did this, I have no idea. It was the best form of distraction I could think of at the time.

Her brows furrowed, momentarily confused.

Tayan came up behind her and smashed her over the head with a lit bottle.

She shrieked and clawed at herself, rolling around on the ground.

“ Good call.” Tayan came toward me, grinning. “I’ve been waiting for you to do that. Wasn’t quite the way I’d pictured it though. Come on!” She grabbed my arm. “The door is closing!”

We ran toward the door as it slid steadily downward. Eight feet. Six feet. Four feet.

Bending down, we just barely made it under at about three feet.

The door slid closed behind us with an echoing thunk.

We stood in the long white corridor for a moment, catching our breath. There were oval doorways all along the corridor, on both sides, but with no doors. Toby could be in any one of them.

Tayan got four more bottles ready and handed me a lighter. “You take the left, I’ll take the right. Be careful. Look before you leap.”

“ Yeah, and eat my veggies.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “Jacy makes a funny. Very good.”

I gave her a nervous grin. “Better late than never.”

“ Good philosophy. Now quit stalling and let’s get ‘er done.” She headed for the first door.

I watched her peek inside, then disappear.

Taking in a deep breath, I stared at the first doorway on the left. “Here goes nothing.” Keeping close to the wall, I peered inside the room.

White powder. Coarse. Like the powder I’d seen the female alien snorting the other night. It had a slight reddish hue to it, and it smelled strange, like something that had belonged to something living, once. I quickly looked around, scanning the room. Nothing but huge piles of the stuff. I faced the door way again. Listened. Heard nothing. I poked my head out into the corridor. Nothing on either side. I ducked back out in time to see Tayan heading into another doorway.

I crept up to the second doorway on my side. Listened. The sound of many tiny droplets pattering. Like rain against a window. A coppery smell invaded my nostrils and my eyes watered. It smelled like old, wet pennies. What was that? I peered into the room and caught the scream before it tore from my throat.

Bodies. Countless bodies. But not whole. The skins of people hung, slit open, with nothing inside of them. I slapped a hand over my mouth and backed out of the room, pressing myself against the wall. I fought panic and nausea, taking long breaths and thinking of Toby’s lopsided smile, and the sleepy look of his eyes when he was aroused.

Tayan popped out of a room wearing the same horrified look I’m sure I was wearing. “Oh God,” she mouthed. She stepped over to me, staring at me with haunted eyes.

We heard a rumbling sound, like a cart being pushed, coming from the next room down from the one Tayan had just come from. We ducked into the room with hanging skins, leaning tightly against the wall. I closed my eyes tight against the horrible sight, and I felt Tayan stiffen beside me.

Please don’t let them come in here. Please.

The rumbling came toward the doorway, but kept on going on to the one I’d left. The one with the giant mounds of powder.

“ Come on,” Tayan whispered. “We can’t stay in here.”

We ducked out of the room and back into the corridor, avoiding the next doorway on the left, as that was the one the rumbling sound had just come from.

Refusing to be alone for even a second, I followed Tayan to the next doorway on the right. There was no sound so we peered inside.

My breath caught in my throat.

Toby was on a metal table, lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. There were metal carts stacked up against each other all along the wall.

“ Toby,” I breathed, hurrying over to him.

“ He’s out of it,” Tayan whispered.

We stood over him. I shook him. No response. I leaned in and whispered into his ear. “Toby.”

“ He isn’t hearing you, Jace. We’ll have to put him in one of those carts and wheel him out of here. He’s too heavy for us to carry and it would take too long trying to drag him.”

I looked at the carts and shivered, knowing that they were used to transport the powder from one room to another. The powder they used as a drug.

The powder ground from human bones.

***


We moved quickly. Tayan grabbed a cart and rolled it over to the side of the table. We lifted him, Tayan taking his feet, me grabbing him under his arms, and lowered him into the cart. We tucked our bottles around him, in between his body and the cart. They were close and the ready when we needed them. Toby’s legs hung motionless over the side. He stared into space, oblivious.

“ Fun guy you got here, Jace.”

I was far to scared to laugh.

We rolled him over to the door, and I cursed the loud sound the wheels made on the floor. We stopped and listened. Heard nothing.

Tayan nodded once and we headed out into the corridor.

But we didn’t have clearance to use the door. Panic raced through me. “How the hell are we gonna get out of here?”

“ We duck into one of the rooms next to the door and wait for one of them to enter or leave.” Tayan grunted as we rolled the cart ahead. Toby was heavy. Wheels or not.

I hated the idea. I stared at the door as we got closer to it. There was a square box next to it with a screen on it. Just big enough for a hand. Neither of our hands would work. Some kind of alarm would sound if we tried. Then we’d be in a world of shit. As if we weren’t already.

We came to the door and I looked left and right. “Which room?”

Tayan paled. “Not the one on the right. Trust me.”

I didn’t want to surmise what could be worse than what I’d already seen.

We ducked into the room where the ground bone was kept.

“ I don’t get it,” Tayan whispered. “Why kill some of us but turn others, like Jenny? What is it about her that made them want her to be one of them?”

“ Maybe there’s something wrong with her. Something genetic, so they couldn’t use her bones. So---”

Then my heart flew into my throat. The deep sound of rumbling coming down the hall.

“ Oh, fuck,” Tayan breathed.

The rumbling came closer.

We both reached for a bottle in the cart. I found my lighter in pocket and lit the end of the rag. Tayan had already lit her’s.

We stood hiding on either side of the door way, our eyes were locked as we waited.

The rumbling became louder and louder until it was right outside the door.

I glanced at Toby and my eyes widened.

The cart was sitting right in front of the door, with Toby lying in it.

Too late. No time to move him now.

The rumbling stopped. There was dead silence for a long moment. The alien sensed us there.

“ Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We swung around and stepped through the door at the same time, both throwing our arms back.

But it wasn’t an alien.

Jerry stood there, staring at eyes with crazed eyes, too shocked to duck.

I almost faltered. Almost.

Not wanting to waste the bottles on him, we opted to beat the shit out of him. I stepped forward and kicked him in the crotch. He staggered back, mouth opening and closing like a suffocating fish.

Tayan booted him in the gut. “You stupid fuck! What are they giving you, to be their supplier of bones, Jerry? It’s not money.”

The air went out of him and he fell on his ass. “T-t-hey would’ve killed me,” he sputtered, holding his hand out to ward off another blow. “I’m not the only one. They have people on the inside all over the city.”

“ Get up!” Tayan yanked on his arm. He wouldn’t budge. “Get up or I’ll fucking burn you alive, Jerry. I swear to God.” She held up both her bottles. The rags were burning down pretty fast. Same with mine.

I smashed mine into the corridor, watching them smash and ignite, liquid flame racing across the floor.

His eyes rolled over to her and he knew she wasn’t kidding.

He stood on shaky legs, and then screamed blue murder. “Help! Intruders!”

Tayan tossed her bottles onto the already burning floor. They exploded, hot glass flying everywhere. I felt a few small pieces lodge in my face, but I was too pumped up on adrenaline to feel the pain.

I kicked Jerry in the nuts again, then pushed him forward. “Give me your hand.”

He tried to scream but no sound came out. I’d kicked his nuts pretty good. Twice.

Tayan grabbed his arm and dragged him to the door, trying to push his hand toward the hand scanner.

The sound of feet coming toward us let us know that Jerry’s help had promptly arrived. The aliens stood before the fire, the amber glow of their eyes lost in the fire, but their teeth were white and sharp on the other side of the flames.

I got behind Jerry and placed my boot on his lower back, then shoved him forward as hard as I could. It was just enough for Tayan to get his hand on the scanner.

The door started its slow journey up.

An alien leapt above the flames and bounded toward us like something out of hell.

Tayan ripped her back pack off her shoulder and grabbed a bottle, whipping it at his head. It smashed against his forehead and he roared, smacking at his face and head.

I grabbed the cart and rolled Toby out of the building as fast as I could.

Tayan flung the back pack into the fire just as it started downward.

She ducked under the door as the explosion popped our ears and sent heat moving over us.

The door thunked shut.

And Toby woke up.

***


Toby remembers the noise and our shouts. He remembers running but he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t remember anything after falling asleep at my apartment. I think it’s better this way. I never told him why we were outside that structure as a fiery dawn was breaking all around us. And something in him didn’t push. Something that told him he didn’t want to know.

And sometimes, in the early morning hours when we’re curled around each other and I’m listening to him breathing, he’ll cry out in his sleep. Then I stroke his curls and kiss his mouth, and help him forget the dreams.

But I’m always looking over my shoulder. I’m always very observant of the color of a person’s eyes. Once I thought I saw Jenny in a crowd. She looked right at me. But then a few people passed in front of her and then she was gone. As if she’d never even been there at all.

Maybe she hadn’t.

I pray she hadn’t.

But if she had, I’ll be ready.

Tayan and I will be waiting.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tracy Sharp is the author of Repo Chick Blues and her work has appeared in the Spring 2006 Issue of Spinetingler Magazine. She recently joined our editor staff and you can learn more about Tracy by visiting her website or reading the staff profile featured in this issue.


Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

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FEATURED BOOKS

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice