a short story by Garry Kilworth
He found himself in an exotic city, in an oriental country, but was not quite sure which city or which country. Having taken the sleeping pill he had been bemused when awakened from a deep pool of sleep, to be told the plane had developed engine trouble and they had to make an emergency landing. The airline had driven the passengers from the airport to a hotel, where a room had been provided. It was the Hilton. One might be in a Hilton in Bangkok, New York or Amsterdam: they all had similar interior plans, similar decor. The hotel was no indication of where he was. Nor were the staff, who simply looked oriental. They might have been Korean, or Thai, or Vietnamese: Walt was no great traveler and could not separate these nationalities from one another. In an American city he had once mistaken a Filipino maid for Chinese.
So, here he was, wandering streets encrusted with neon lights - red, blue, pink, opal - each sign like pouting lips begging him to enter the establishments they advertised. There were bars, night clubs, nude theaters, dancing palaces, houses of erotic fantasy ... his mind had stopped on that one, fixed on it. Houses of erotic fantasy! This was a new one on him. At first he had decided he would not go inside one, but simply think about it further in a bar. But sidestreets and backstreets and a long narrow alley had led him to one of these houses of fantasy which unlike the others seemed to be trying to hide itself, down below the street. The sign bidding him to enter was level with his knees and the steps under the sign led down to a basement.
Should he go inside? Did he have time before the aircraft was repaired. Sure, he had the whole night. Perhaps all of next day too! He was lost anyway. It would be necessary to call a cab to get back to the hotel. There was no way he could find it himself. Especially not in the dark.
'How much?' he asked the man standing at the open door. 'How much for an erotic fantasy?'
'What one?' came back the reply. 'Ordinary, Special or Extra-special?'
'Will traveler's checks do? American dollars?'
The man smiled. 'Of course.'
'Then I want the best.'
'Extra-special - four hundred dollar.'
'Four hundred?' cried Walt.
The man laid a slim-fingered hand on Walt's sleeve and moved conspiratorially closer, as if about to reveal a sacred trust.
'Listen, mister - you never have something like this again. Four hundred very cheap for this. She very beautiful woman. What happen if you say no? You go home. You sit in chair by fire and make regrets. You tell yourself you would pay one thousand dollar for chance like this again.'
He let these words sink in, then he added, 'Maybe you just want Ordinary or Special - but not so good. I tell you mister, you not want your autumn years to be filled with sadness. Extra-special is best of best.'
Walt knew his own true nature. He knew his own weaknesses. In the past he had bought toys for more than four hundred. That mountain bicycle for a start. That had cost him five-fifty and he hardly ever used it. The chance of an experience like this did not come twice in a lifetime. He really had no choice.
'I'll take the Extra-special.'
The man was effusive.
'You make good choice. This wonderful adventure. Very fantasy. Very erotic.' The man did a little shimmy with his hips and smiled one of those enigmatic smiles that only Orientals can seem to produce. 'I guarantee you never have nothing like this before in your life. You not forget this night for a thousand years.'
'I should live so long,' replied Walt, dryly.
Walt had never been with an oriental woman. In truth he had not had sex for quite a time, not since his marriage to Jody had broken up a year ago. This would be quite a new experience for him. He believed he liked diminutive females. They appeared to be more submissive. That might not have been true, but it seemed so. Jody had not just been a muscular five-feet-eight. She had also been a work-out freak. When her arms gripped him around the back of his neck, and legs locked behind him, her heels driving him into her, he had felt as if he were in some kind of medieval vice, a fucking-machine built to pummel men's genitals to pulp. He had felt manacled. No need for handcuffs or leather straps: Jody had been a human bondage device all by herself!
He was led through narrow winding passageways, the walls lined with red and gold flock wallpaper, to a wooden door. The man turned and smiled as he produced a large iron key. The door was opened and Walt pressed gently inside.
'Woman come in a moment. She pretty. You like her.'
'I'd better,' said Walt, staring around him.
There was a musky perfume coming from somewhere. He discovered holes in the sides of the bed and guessed they were vents. The aroma was powerful and intoxicating, with some kind of an aphrodisiac quality. He felt himself being aroused. Walt had heard of certain foods and drinks doing that, but not a fragrance.
The room was weird by his standards.
He inspected the bed , which was large with black satin sheets.
Each side had a huge round red pillow with a hole for its center.
The headboard was carved with a painted rainforest scene. There was a red monkey motif following the oval shape of the bedhead: mischievous-looking creatures with round quizzical mouths, linking tails. Snakes slid in and out of stylized undergrowth. There were tigers in there somewhere, half in and half out of shadow. Magnolia trees stood leafless and bare, with dark-red cupola-shaped buds on the tips of their branches. Succulent pitcher plants, with deep mysterious recesses, grew from mossy banks. Vines entangled and wound their way throughout the whole scene, binding all the individual beasts and plants together. Incongruously, right in the center of the headboard there was a long railway train entering a deep tunnel.
When he studied the picture closer he could see death in there too.
There were the symbolic skulls, obvious to any culture. He noticed that these were arranged in casual piles with exactly four skulls to each heap. There were shapes of pale light which might have been severed hands scattered throughout the undergrowth of the jungle, secreted in pockets of dead leaves. White flowers and white feathers decorated the floor of the rainforest. Rib bones curling out of rotten logs, were hung with hair-moss, dripping with a substance that might once have been human skin.
'We're having none of that sort of thing,' he murmured to himself, half-jokingly. 'She'd better be alive when she comes in here.'
It was then he turned his attention again to the walls, floor and ceiling.
It was all mirrors, mirrors everywhere: on floor, ceiling and all four walls.
Reflections of the bed went into infinity in all directions. When he stepped further into the room, a thousand-thousand Walts went with him, like a curved line of soldiers. When he stood still, he was the hub of helicopter rotary blades made of Walts, which whirled gracefully away into light years beyond. It was while he was thus experimenting with the simulacra that he was aware of another presence. She suddenly appeared by his side in the mirrors, startling him.
'Did you just come in?' he said, looking at the closed door. 'I didn't hear you enter.'
'I am very quiet,' she said, smiling.
She was an enchanting, delicate young woman whose very form and beauty took his breath away. He was not just astonished but shocked by her loveliness. He felt inferior to such a woman. She could not possibly want to stay in this room with a clumsy oaf like him. If she did, there must be something wrong with her, something hidden and perhaps vile.
'Are you - well?' he asked.
'Yes thank you,' she breathed, misunderstanding him. 'I am perfectly well, thank you very much.'
Her breath smelled of oranges and mint, as the words came out of her mouth like invisible bubbles. Suddenly, he did not care. She could be riddled with horrors for all he worried at that moment. He knew this was his one chance to have such a woman, for he would surely never get another. There were drums in his loins. Heavy metal music coursed through his thighs and belly. This was happening to him. Two hours ago he had been just another seedy passenger on a plane. Now he was a king with the most exquisite concubine in the land. He watched as she removed her scant clothes to reveal small breasts with brown tips, a smooth flat stomach with a neat dark triangle below it. Walt swallowed hard and began trembling.
'Shall I - shall I undress now?'
Once Walt had stripped himself, she took his clothes and put them in a box under the bed, as if they were tainted things. Then she lay beside him on the bed, where he was studying himself in the ceiling mirror, his erection somehow larger and more formidable in this looking-glass. Thousands of curved penises went sweeping away in a crescent, like a palisade of sharpened stakes on a medieval battlefield, ready to pierce the chargers of rash knights. Then her rosebud mouth was on his breast and he could feel the dry silkiness of her breast beneath his armpit. A lump came to his throat. He began to cry soft tears. He did not know why. They just came from somewhere deep inside and flowed down his cheeks. She licked the tears from his eyelashes, saying they were deliciously salty.
Then, when she reached for him down below, he felt her fingernails graze his abdomen.
'Ouch,' he said, looking down.
'Sorry' she replied, smiling.
But he was astonished. He had not noticed before now, but her fingernails were about an inch long, and very sharp. Her hands were like those of a goddess from some dark jungle religion. If she wished she could pierce his skin with those claws. It was not a thought that rested lightly on his mind.
'Good God,' he said. 'Don't you ever cut those?'
'My people believe it is beautiful to have long nails,' she explained in a disappointed voice. 'You not like them?'
'I - well - they just look a little dangerous, that's all.'
But then, looking down on her, he forgot about the nails.
They made love not just once, but three times in the next two hours. This was remarkable enough, since Walt was normally a once and then roll over and go to sleep man. But even after the third session he was still ready to go again. He guessed it had something to do with that smell of musk.
Then he found the gun.
He had thrust his hand under his pillow accidentally during a moment of passion to find a pearl-handled revolver there. He whipped it out to study it. It was an automatic, manufactured in Japan, an exact copy of one of the Colt .38 models. On checking it he found it loaded. A magazine of twenty-seven rounds. Having been a sergeant in the army, he knew how to use it. Its presence in the room gave him concern.
'What's it doing here?' he demanded to know. 'Why?'
'Sometimes in the past we have had robbers,' she explained. 'It is for your own protection, in case we are attacked.'
'Are we likely to be?' he questioned, alarmed, thinking of Chinese triads, or Burmese bandits, or even Indonesian pirates. He did not know where he was. It could be any of them. Perhaps even Cambodian rebels looking for hostages? 'I don't like this - where are my clothes?'
Slim long-nailed hands restrained him, pressed against his hairy chest, forcing him back down on the bed with their sheer daintiness.
'You must not worry. It is all in the past.'
'Are you positive?'
Her small buttocks somehow worked themselves underneath his hands. The gun was back under the pillow. He was fondling crevices again, finding his potency amazingly fresh. Never had such energy coursed through his body before this night. Jody would have at first been delighted, then not so delighted, then finally weary of him. He always suspected she pretended a high sex drive in order to humiliate him. He could have used this newly-discovered potency to destroy her domination over him.
Where had it been when Jody was at her most demanding? It had not been her fault. It had not been his. It must have been the fault of the time and place. He should have thought of mirrors before. It was, after all, simply Narcissism taken to extremes. It was fun to watch.
He found, after a while, that he enjoyed her mirror image better than the flesh and blood. If she was lovely in life, she was superlative in glass. They tried many different positions and he adored the reflections which tumbled away from him in all directions. Superb forms, equal to those produced by any sculptor he cared to name. Poetry in moving images. He preferred the silence to words or music. This was art. This was profound. This was the sport of angels...
'Hey!' Alarmed, he sat up quickly. 'Did you see that?'
'What? What have you seen?'
He stared into the right hand wall. He could have sworn ... but it was impossible. He was surely drugged by that heavy narcotic called sex.
'It doesn't matter,' he said, resuming what he had been doing, what she had been doing to him. 'I'm seeing things.'
But then it happened again and he was sure this time.
'I did see it,' he cried, pushing her away. 'That - that...'
It was the hundredth, no, perhaps even further back than that, about the hundred-and-fiftieth reflection of himself and the girl. This distant set of reflections had been doing something different. Walt and the woman had actually been in one position, and this particular couple, out of the thousands before and after them, had been in another! Surely that was impossible. Unless there was some sort of flaw in the mirror. But wouldn't that affect all the images? He tried to decide whether it worried him or whether he was merely intrigued by this strange phenomenon. Eventually he decided on the latter. Maybe it was because he was sated. Overload? His mind was playing tricks on his eyes. Yes, he was seeing things. It might be interesting to go with it, allow himself to be swept along with the illusion.
He lay back again and she eased herself on top of him.
Walt's eyes scanned the mirrors, watching for the one rebel image to appear. All around him were couples locked in the shape of a reversed T. Wait! Yes, there. One pair on the far wall, way back down the line, had flipped over with the man now on top. Walt stared in fresh amazement as this movement fanned out from this single couple. Forwards down the line the images began riffling, running down towards him like a row of dominoes. Flip, flip, flip. It was a fantastic sight. He had seen computer images do this, but these were simply mirrors. Then the line reached him and his consort.
He suddenly felt himself being flipped over. Their sexual roles were instantly reversed. He was now on top of her.
At the same time as this physical miracle took place he had an orgasm that was like a massive jolt of electricity rushing through his loins.
'Jesus!' he yelled. 'Arrrggghhhh! Christ!'
The sweat poured from his naked body. He had never felt anything like this before, not even his first time over that gravestone at the back of St Peter's church. His head ached from the absolute pure passion of the moment. Semen gushed from him in a torrent. And yet afterwards he did not feel drained of desire. There was still a river of raw lust rushing through him. Her hands were all over him still, rousing him again, bringing him to a new and superhuman state of sexual excitement.
'Again!' he cried. 'Let's do it again. Did you feel it too? You must have felt it. I heard you yell. You loved it didn't you? Christ I feel randy. I'm ready for half-a-dozen of those. I bet it's better than any drug. What do you say - let's go for another one, eh?'
She smiled at him with small even teeth. Then she worked her contortions to form the two of them into a new interlocking puzzle. Her body was fantastic. Walt thought she must have bones of rubber the way she was able to arch her back, put her legs under her own arms, bend her waist that way. Eagerly he stared into the mirrors around him, searching for that one set which would herald an unbelievable orgasm.
Yes, there it was, on the ceiling.
'Here it comes,' he yelled in excitement. 'Here it co ... aaarrrrhhgggg - oh GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD...'
The small three-letter word was appropriate. He was having the orgasms of a young god. The world was not just moving. It was spinning at ten times its normal speed, hurtling through space a thousand times faster than usual. He held her small naked body to his as if they could fuse together, meld, merge. She let out a high tinkling laugh. Incredibly she was enjoying it as much as he was. Oh, he knew that hookers faked it all the time, that they were good at making the right noises at the right moment, but he could tell she was luxuriating in it - not wildly like himself, but sensitively. It was as if she were enjoying a glass of fine Champagne in a hot bubble bath.
'Again?' she said, laughing.
Thrice more they were manipulated by the couples in the mirrors and each time it got better and better. Finally Walt did not think he could stand another one and he suggested they have a cigarette. He went to the box under the bed and found his packet of Camels. He lit one, but she refused, with a little shake of her head. Walt shrugged and lay back on the bed, puffing away contentedly. Four hundred dollars? Christ this had been worth a million. Fantastic experience. Jody would have been proud of him. Or perhaps not? Maybe she would be jealous. That thought was very pleasing to him, since he was the one who had been dumped.
He lay there in a state of bliss, studying a thousand-thousand Walts with lit cigarettes, all in equal states of bliss. He arced his red-ended cigarette through the air, made designs as might a child with a sparkler. The Walts all copied him, faithfully, their lit cigarettes tracing figures of eights, centripetals and other pretty shapes.
Beside the Walts lay the beautiful oriental women, resting like lilies on black satin sheets. Their arms were by their sides, limp and lovely. Their mouths slightly open, revealing a hint of white teeth between the cupid's-bow lips, their eyes closed.
Suddenly, as he stared, there was a tiny movement amongst one of the images down the curving line. The stirring of a butterfly. The flutter of a moth.
What now? He frowned. He was enjoying his cigarette.
A search of the couples revealed nothing at first and then he saw her, way, way back down the long sweep of oriental beauties.
She had opened her eyes.
He glanced quickly at the real woman beside him, to see that her own eyes were still tightly closed. He looked back at the woman in the distance. So, this one was staring out at him from her place in the line, way out in space somewhere. So what?
Then he saw that the Walt beside her was unaware of her changed state. That should not be, for he - the real Walt - was certainly aware.
The next move made Walt start with horror. The distant female image had used those long sharp fingernails at the end of a flattened palm. Her hand was like a knife with a serrated blade. In one swift movement she had slit the throat of the man beside her. Blood spurted up in a fountain, dousing the cigarette. The reflection of Walt made a motion as if gargling and pressed his hands to the gaping wound. To no avail. The blood gushed between his fingers, splashing on the black satin sheets.
And her face was twisted in an ugly triumph, as if she had just performed a great duty for herself. She stared out gleefully at the real Walt. It was horrible to witness the savage joy in her expression. It was as if she hated him with a primitive passion, a loathing nursed by ten thousand years of servitude.
He watched horrified as his dying image, deep inside the mirrors, reached out wildly with blood-blinded eyes, seeking a hold on his murderess, only to find its fingers groping between her open legs, scrabbling for a grip on the sparse hair of her vagina. Desperate fumblings, unable to get a hold on that elusive female center. It was her magnet, yet now she used it to repel what she had once attracted. His hand fell back, clawed at his terrible wound, which opened like a second mouth crying for pity.
She threw back her head and silently laughed.
All this happened within the tiniest fraction of a second.
Then, inevitably, all along the line the women began slitting the throats of the unsuspecting Walts, one after another, slash, slash, slash, slash, slash, with the same reactions, the same twist of the female features. The blood and gore rushed down towards him like a swiftly-burning fuse. In that instant he knew he was going to die. When the line of murders reached the end, the nearest reflections, the woman beside him would wake and then slit his throat with her scissor-sharp claws.
Down the line came that sweep of slashing hands on the end of white arms, like a sea wave surging down a long curved bay.
'NO!' he screamed.
Instead, he reached under his own pillow and found the automatic pistol. In the next moment, before the line of arms reached his bed, he shot the woman beside him twice in the chest. She did not even open her eyes. There was the faintest of grunts and then she flopped over the edge of the bed, to strike the glass floor with the sound of a dead fish hitting a slab of marble.
Walt sat there trembling, the gun still gripped tightly in his fist. At any moment he expected the door to be flung open. There would be oriental men wielding meat cleavers tumbling into the room. They would see the dead body and set about him, hacking him to pieces, leaving him bleeding from a thousand cuts. In his mind he could feel the cold bite of the choppers and butcher's knives now, biting into his vulnerable flesh. Bile rose to his mouth, as the terror of a horrible death washed through his stomach.
He had twenty-five rounds left in the automatic. He waited in abject misery, wondering how he had got into this mess, and how he would ever get out of it.
No one came.
He waited for at least ten minutes, before breaking down and sobbing, burying his face in one of the pillows.
Then he suddenly got angry. Red, misty rage swamped his brain. He sat up quickly. What the hell was all this? They had set him up, somehow. He was a patsy. They had used him to murder a woman whose name he did not know. What would he say to the police? The whole story was so fantastic the cops would laugh at him. Yet it was possible, with modern technology, to arrange something like this. The mirrors could be screens, displaying pictures they picked up through hidden cameras. Once the computers behind the screens had the images, they could do what they liked with them. All right, he had experienced unbelievable orgasms, but those could have been drug-induced, using that fragrance which pervaded the room at all times.
He stared again at the terrible mirrors and another thought came to him.
Maybe it was more devious still!
He remembered they could often hide prying eyes behind them. He finally saw through their whole filthy deviant scheme now. There was an audience behind those mirrors, paying to watch him make love to, then murder a young woman. Voyeurs of sex and death. The owners were using him to supply their jaded customers, those men who had seen and done everything, with a new excitement, a new experience. He imagined drooling customers watching open-mouthed as he and the woman frolicked on the bed, cried out in ecstasy, desire overflowing. Then the spectacle of the murder, the weapon blasting, the bullets striking flesh, the fear on the face of the murderer, the subsequent show of remorse. They probably loved every twisted minute of it: their voyeurism satiated with visions of fornication and blood.
Well this was Walt Jones they were dealing with, not some namby-pamby from the suburbs of Suckerville. He was not going to lie down for this kind of deception. He was going to make them pay in more than money.
'You bastards!' he shrieked. 'You bloody bastards!'
He began firing then, at random, the bullets shattering the mirrors all around him, above him. Walt imagined the terrified audience behind those mirrors, running for their lives as he pumped rounds into the walls and ceiling. He felt a barbarous achievement as the mirrors crashed all around him, the shards falling on his bed, slicing and piercing his naked body. It was raining glass and he did not care whether one of those dagger-sharp shards pierced his heart or not. He felt he really deserved to die with the woman. Those monsters had forced on him the role of executioner for their own anomalous cravings and he had failed to see how they were manipulating him.
Finally, he was out of ammunition, the mirrors all broken.
He shook his head. Fragments like diamonds fell from his hair. Bits of mirror lay all around him, reflecting parts of him: an eye, a tooth, a foot. Debris of his lust, his hunger for secret pockets of flesh. He wondered what made a man risk all to simply merge with woman for a few moments of high pleasure. How deep-seated was the desire to perform the futile act of procreation simply for itself.
Blood seeped from his wounds, staining the bedsheets. He leaned over to look at the body of the woman. There was a need to know she had not been mutilated. Some subconscious impulse to make sure her previously unblemished form had not been further disfigured by the falling segments of mirror, some of them shaped like scimitars.
She was gone. Her corpse was gone. The space on the floor where she should have lain was simply covered in splinters of glass.
Looking around him at the walls and up at the ceiling, he could see no evidence of hidden recesses from which people might have viewed.
'What?' cried Walt, distressed. 'What is this?'
Frantically he began searching through the shards, thinking the woman's body might be underneath. As he moved the broken slices of mirror around he discovered parts of her shattered image still captured in the glass. Sobbing hysterically, he began to piece her together again, like a puzzle - a pretty brow here, a small breast there, a piece of thigh - and gradually he began to reform her. She was cracked of course, a flawed image, but she remained just as beautiful under the faults and fissures.
Once he had her complete face, she opened her eyes, looked out at him, and smiled a sweet smile.
'Oh, God!' cried Walt. 'You're still alive in there.'
At that moment the door began to open. A high wind suddenly rose from nowhere. Glass began swirling, whirling around the room in a blinding blizzard. Faster and faster flew the shards, until it was as if he were in the vortex of some mighty storm, whose snowflakes were deadly slivers of obsidian. He put his arms around his head to protect himself from the hurricane, but the blast around him did not touch. It showered debris against the bare walls and ceiling. As the fragments flew into the walls and ceiling, they refitted like a self-making jigsaw, until finally the wind died and the mirrors were all back in place, with not a crack to be seen.
'Christ help me,' moaned Walt.
Gradually he unfolded his arms, uncurled himself from the fetal position. Looking down he saw that his earlier wounds had miraculously healed, that there were no cuts or abrasions. It was as if he had never been lacerated in the first place by the falling glass. He was clean in every part.
An oriental man walked in, smiling. The same man Walt had met earlier. He had a drink in his hand. Giving it to Walt he looked around him and his grin grew broader. He shook his head, looking about him.
'All over so soon? You finish quick. You want to go again? Only two hundred dollars this time. Extra-extra-special. Only two hundred. You want?'
Walt whimpered and hugged his knees to his chest.
© Garry Kilworth 1998, 1999
This story first appeared in Sirens and Daemon Lovers (1998), edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling and published by HarperCollins (USA).
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