The High Cost of Beauty-----------------------by Andrew Nellisa.k.a. the Poison Pencopyright 1997The apartment door slammed open, probably leaving another dent in the wall inthe shape of a doorknob. I hate it when she does that. I've told her a hundredtimes and she just doesn't listen. When school term ends it'll be me with thetrowel and spackle trying to hide the damage from the landlord.

"You get them?" I called out. She hates it when I yell across the apartment.

I'll stop yelling when she stops slamming the door open.

She didn't answer right away, so I knew she was in the kitchen, trying to sneakone by herself probably. I wasn't concerned. Sometimes when it was my turn I'dsneak an extra one too.

"Yeah, I got them all right." She came into the living room with a biggoofy-looking grin on her face. Her teeth were whiter than white and perfectlyspaced, a far cry from what they used to be, but it still looked out of place onher face. A face like that was made for scowling, not for grinning. Or maybe allthat scowling she did kind of soaked in until not even the Goddess could get itout.

Normally we carried them in a pencil case. When I saw her walking in with aplastic shopping bag I knew something was wrong. She upended the bag onto thecoffee table and something like fifty tiny, inch-tall people came tumbling out.

"Oh Gods," I groaned. "What the hell did you do?"She just shrugged. "If two are good, fifty are twenty-five times better, right?"I wish I could say that I didn't believe she could do something so boneheadedstupid, but I'd be lying. This was the same person, after all, who melted ourmicrowave trying to dry her bra in it.

Some of the little people were trying to make getaways, and I had all I couldhandle keeping them corralled on the coffee table with my hands. "Hey!" Ishouted, bowling some of them over with my voice alone. "Knock it off or I'mgonna get pissed."They settled down pretty fast.

While I was busy playing warden to our prisoners, Becky -- that's my roomie --got up and grabbed herself a can of Tab from the kitchen. I could have hit her,I swear.

 * * *Everything started at the beginning of term, when Becky moved in. I needed aroom-mate pretty badly and I was in no position to be picky. I'd seen Beckyaround campus. She wore a lot of black and ugly silver jewellery, but she wasavailable, she had rent money, and I knew after taking one look at her face thatshe wasn't going to be dragging too many guys home.

That last bit was important, because my last roomie had been a real looker.

Every morning I'd end up sharing the kitchen with a different guy wrapped in atowel while she showered. It wouln't have been so bad if I was getting anymyself, but between my course load and my lard butt, the only action I wasgetting required batteries.

I guess I should stress, neither Becky nor I were too hot in the looksdepartment. Okay, I wasn't exactly hideous, but let's just say I wasn't shoppingfor clothes in the petite section. Becky, on the other hand, must have been themodel people had in mind when they created the stereotype for witches. Her teethwere yellow and kind of crooked (I don't think she brushed), her hair was anondescript shade of brown, and with that huge ass on those little pipestem legsshe looked like a beach ball on stilts.

I have to admit I was a little surprised the first time I came home to findBecky naked and crosslegged in the living room, with candles all over the place.

But hey, she didn't leave her stockings hanging in the shower, so I wasn't goingto complain. If playing witch made her happy, that was fine with me. The book infront of her, though, was something else again.

Oh, I don't think I mentioned who I was yet. My name's Guinivere, but everyonecalls me Gwen. I got my degree in linguistics last year, and I'm in the graduateprogram now. It's no big deal, really. I've got an eye for languages. Alwayshave.

Well, that book Becky had was pretty special. Becky used to leave it lyingaround all the time, and we were always using it as a coaster for our coffeemugs. For lack of anything else to read one day, I picked it up and startedleafing through it. It was old, leather-bound and hand-stitched. The pages wererough, probably hand-made. What really surprised me, though, was finding that itwas written in coinos Greek. Coinos is a dead dialect of Greek, and no one wouldeven remember it if so many of the original versions of the Bible weren'twritten in it.

I asked Becky about the book, and she said it had been in her family forgenerations, an heirloom. I decided not to point out the stamp in the back ofthe book that read, "Property of Miskatonic University Library."According to Becky, it was some kind of how-to witchcraft manual, and she hadtranslated a few pages so far with the help of a Greek/English dictionary. Thefact that she was using a modern dictionary and had just guessed at most of thewords more or less at random didn't seem to bother her in the slightest.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I made photocopies of the pages andcarried them around with me. When I had spare time between classes, I'dtranslate a passage or two. At one point, I must have had a hundred referenceworks piled around the apartment. As pages began to emerge, I slowly realizedthat what I had was more than just an antique. I started to suspect that I hadstumbled on something unique. Nowhere could I find references to any book likethis one. An idea formed that this could be the key to one hell of a doctoralthesis.

Not to boast or anything, but I had the whole thing translated in less than amonth. That's not to say that it was perfect. Far from it. A lot of the wordswere completely unique, and for those I needed help from Becky. "See, it's anobvious reference to Diana," she would say, leaning over my shoulder. "Diana isthe Huntress of the Woods." This in reference to one of the names that keptpopping up, and which translated into something like "the dark she-goat whichlives in the forest."Once we started, a lot of stuff fell into place. "The black prince of chaos,cloven of foot," became Pan. We tentatively identified "he who is dead yetdreams beneath the seas" as Poseidon. Some we were never able to agree on. "Themad lord of lords, who thinks not at the heart of madness" could have beenCronus, Zeus, or neither.

One thing was clear, whoever wrote the book wasn't playing with a full deck. Itdidn't help that it looked like it had been translated a few times along theway. Probably by the same people they hire to translate assembly instructionsfrom Korean to English, by the looks of it: "Happy to be inserting screw A intomost intriguing slot B."A lot of stuff that I couldn't translate I spelled out phonetically, which ofcourse Becky instantly assumed to be some kind of magical spells. I did a lot ofeye-rolling at the time, I remember that. Of course, that was before theweirdness started.

I never did like the way Becky acted over that book. For weeks she neglected herclasses and spent her time in her room, reading that damned book. She didn't eatand, well, to be blunt, she didn't bathe too much either and she really startedto stink.

The breakthrough came one night while I was trying to sleep, my pillow over myhead to try and block that endless chanting drone that came from Becky's room.

There was a brief second in which I... felt something. I can't explain it now.

Anyway, it was followed by a smell that I associated with the sea and woke allkinds of strange associations in my head. Then the chanting stopped and Beckyscreamed.

I'd like to say that I got up and rushed straight into her room, but the fact isI laid there in my bed, frozen with fear. Up until then I had believed that Iwas a modern, skeptical, level-headed woman who put witchcraft into the samecategory as ghosts and kindly old Jewish men in the sky who turned people intopillars of salt. But I knew as I laid there that some part of me believedand would always believe. There were things out there in the dark inimical tohuman life, and I both knew and feared them.

The screaming had stopped but the silence that followed was worse. I laid there,staring at the ceiling, until I heard a voice from the doorway. "Gwen?" Beckywas standing in the open door frame, naked and shivering, but, so help me, hereyes were so bright they glittered.

"They came, Gwen." I had no doubts who "they" were. My world had turned insideout in the space of five minutes. Not only was I suddenly forced to admit theexistance of the supernatural into my reality, but I instinctively knew it wasno kind, benevolent Jehovah that reigned in the heavens.

We spent the rest of the night lying together in my bed, talking. We watched thesun rise together like castaways waiting for a sail to appear over the horizon.

Neither one of us wanted to be alone in the darkness that night.

In the morning we found a pool of salty, muddy water on the floor of Becky'sroom. A few pop-eyed fish with oversized jaws and iridescent scales had died onthe floor, and several squid had managed to crawl under the dresser before theydied. We cleaned the room from top to bottom without saying a word, though thesmell of the sea lingered in there for months, as if a little bit of its essencehad been absorbed by the walls. I never asked her what she had seen, and shenever told me.

Becky was more careful after that. We both spent our evenings poring over thetranslations, making notes, cross-referencing. I didn't know then what I waslooking for, or even that I was looking for anything, but when Becky found it Iknew my search was at an end.

"Gwen, come here, look at this," Becky had said, her eyes blazing with triumph.

It was unmistakably a ritual, a very simple one, and its gleaming promise wasunearthly beauty for the person performing it.

My mouth was dry as I read through it. It's such a superficial thing, beauty.

Inconsequential. And yet I hungered for it as I had never hungered for anythingelse in my life. Then, like a blow to the gut, I saw the problem. The effectswere not permanent and required regular maintenance; and the price of the ritualwas one human heart, to be consumed living and still beating.

I must have groaned out loud at that point because Becky took the papers awayfrom me and stared straight into my eyes. "Gwen, this is too good for us to passup. We have to. This is the reason the book fell into our hands. Can't you see?It was meant to be.""You can't be serious!" But I could see from her expression that she was.

"Becky, that's crazy. Eating a human heart? It's grotesque, like something outof a bad horror story.""Look at me!" she had shouted, startling me with a sudden squall of tears. "I'mugly. I've always been ugly. Damn you, I'm not going to pass up this chance.

Look, Gwen, there's lots of useless people out there. You know it and I know it.

Bastards the world would be better without anyway. Rapists and child-beaters andmurderers. Think, Gwen, think! Everyone wins. And we get to be... beautiful."A week later I killed a man.

We had discussed it to death. Everything was planned out down to the lastdetail. Nothing could have gone wrong, and everything did. His name was JohnMontagne, and he was a right bastard. He sold dope, and if you were short oncash when you needed a fix, he was always willing to help you peddle your assfor a cut of the profits. I guess he'd been taking the same law degree for aboutten years and never saw the need to graduate. Why should he? He was making moremoney on campus than he'd ever make as a junior lawyer.

The plan was to get him up to the apartment on the pretext of making a buy, thendrugging him with sleeping pills in his drink. The first problem was getting thesleeping pills to dissolve. They wouldn't. We finally ground them up as small aswe could and hoped he wouldn't notice. Then, when we got the son of a bitchupstairs, we couldn't get him to drink the damn beer.

Becky and I were both nervous as hell, and it must have shown, because Montagneguessed that something was wrong. He pulled a knife we hadn't known he had, andBecky panicked, trying to club him on the back of the head with the big plank ofwood we used to keep our window open. It didn't knock him out, but it did makehim really mad. The next few minutes are still a blur to me.

Montagne went staggering though the apartment, knocking things over, with me andBecky hanging off of him. He stabbed Becky in the meaty part of her upper arm,and I got a nasty cut on my forehead. It wasn't very serious but it bled a lotand, at the time, I thought I was going to die. There was blood all over theplace. That's what gave me the courage, I think, to do what I did.

The tip of Montagne's loafer caught on the edge of the living room rug, and hewent down hard with Becky on top. While the two of them wrestled on the floor, Iran to the kitchen and grabbed the big bread knife I had bought for later. Icame back just as Montagne threw Becky off, clambered to his knees, and liftedhis knife into the air. The bread knife in my hand flashed downward. The fleshon the side of his neck peeled back like a set of obscene lips.

I've never seen anything uglier than watching Montagne die. His knife fell outof his hands and he fell over as a huge crimson jet exploded out of his neck. Ididn't know anyone could have so much blood in him. It was everywhere. It washot and sticky, and I could smell it. He made bubbling, whistling noises out ofthe hole in his neck. The stink of shit filled the air as he emptied his bowels,which was the last thing he did before Becky took the knife from my hands andbegan cutting.

That was enough for me. I turned and puked all over the gore-caked floor.

Montagne was still twitching when Becky slashed open his gut and shoved her arminto his steaming intestines up to the elbow. His heart come out in her hand,trailing a tangle of guts and arteries, and purple-red organs I couldn'tidentify.

Montagne saw it, I'm certain he did. His eyes were still open and staring whenBecky sunk her teeth into his quivering heart and tore. She kneeled therebriefly, covered in blood and holding a fistful of glistening organs, with herteeth sunk into the rubbery muscle of Montagne's finally-stilled heart. Then sheheaved up her lunch and her mouthful of flesh into Montagne's half-emptiedintestinal cavity.

The clean-up took two days. Both of us, Becky and I, spent a lot of that timeretching up the lining of our stomachs. It was one thing to discuss sawing abody up into pieces for disposal, and another thing altogether to actually doit. The blood was the worst part. It was everywhere and it started to rot beforewe could wash it all away. It was a sick, sweet smell that I'll never forget.

We took turns carrying the plastic-wrapped pieces of John Montagne to the riverunder cover of darkness.

For a week neither of us spoke. The hunted, fugitive look in our eyes saideverything for us. We had killed a man for nothing. In the end neither one of ushad had the courage to eat his living heart. It was over, I thought then.

Really, it was just beginning.

While I was wandering around in a state of shock, Becky had been digging throughthe book again. I was astounded when Becky told me she had a solution to ourproblem. The fact that she could even consider repeating the exercise left mestunned and horrified.

"Okay Gwen, I've been thinking about this," Becky said. "I assume you have nophilosophical objection to, well, let's call it what it is, cannibalism."I blinked a few times. "Well, yeah, I guess that's what it is. I hadn't thoughtof it that way, but eating someone's heart is pretty definitely cannibalism. Iguess you're right, then. Meat's meat, you know?"Becky grinned with those yellow snaggle-teeth. "Then the problem is solved." Sheheld out her hand.

"What are you -- oh my God." There, in the middle of her palm, was what lookedon first inspection to be a fuzzy insect but which, when I looked closer, wasvery definitely a very tiny, perfectly formed cat. It could have stoodcomfortably on the nail of my little finger.

"No risks, no blood to clean up... no body to dispose of after." So saying,Becky tossed the miniscule animal into her mouth and swallowed it like a pill.

"That," I said, feeling a smile forming on my lips, "is un-fucking- believablyamazing."We got our first taste of success the very next night.

I was working on an essay I should have written a week earlier, but I couldn'tkeep my mind on it. My imagination kept drifting, and I saw that cat again, itstail twitching nervously behind it as it stood on Becky's palm. What would aperson feel like in similar circumstances, I wondered. Would he be afraid? Wouldhe refuse to believe his own senses? I even thought about what it would be liketo die alone and in the dark, knowing you'd been eaten, feeling your fleshdissolving in stomach acid, the air foetid and stifling around you. The imagewas so vivid I shuddered. Could I really bring myself to inflict that kind ofhell on someone?Becky came into my room, breaking my train of thought. "I've got a surprise foryou," she said. Her eyes were shining like a cat's, and I realized that at thatvery second, with her whole body alive with excitement, Becky was actually verypretty. I was a little sad when I realized that there was no way I'd ever beable to convince her of that. I sighed and pushed my paper away. I wasn'tgetting anywhere with it anyway.

I was aware of Becky scrutinizing me, watching for my reaction, as she held upher right fist in front of me. I knew what I would see even before her fingersopened. Two inch-tall men climbed hesitantly to their knees in the centre of herpalm.

"Who --" My mouth was suddenly dry and I wet my lips. "Who are they?" I asked ina whisper.

"Thugs," said Becky. "Pimps. I see them every time I go downtown, hanging aroundon a streetcorner. They'll be no loss to anyone, least of all their girls. Goahead," she said with an intensity that gave me the creeps. "Take one."I reached out with my fingers, and the little men cringed back, obviouslyterrified of me. I stopped. They were so tiny, so... helpless. This wasn't afully grown man, a dangerous man with a knife, who could be killed in the heatof the moment. I could read the terror in their expressions as they looked atme, and I felt a wave of guilt.

"I don't think I can," I said. I think I was trembling. The look of instantrelief on their faces might have been my imagination, but I don't think so.

Becky's other hand flashed out suddenly, snatching one of the little men withher fingers. The faint squeak I heard must have been his blood-curling scream ashe found himself popped inside the great, dark cavern of Becky's mouth. I sawhim struggle to stand on her tongue. Her lips closed. She swallowed and he wasgone. "Ia Poseidon," she said in a powerful voice. "Poseidon fhtagn. O Diana,Dark She-Goat of the Woods, I, thy worshipper, pray thou grant me the boon ofcomeliness. Thy price is paid, Beautiful One."My hand was still extended, frozen in place. Becky grasped me by the wrist andturned my hand over, palm up. Then she tipped her other hand into mine, dumpingthe tiny man into my palm.

His weight was negligible, but I could feel him. His feet made little dimples inmy flesh. A dark patch in the front of his pants testified to his fear, even ifit hadn't been evident in the round, staring eyes and completely submissiveposture. His defencelessness made me want to protect him, to run and hide himfrom the world. And curiously, that's what made what I did possible.

I could kill out of fear, I knew that. I had done that. But I could not kill aman in cold blood out of hatred or avarice or anger. It just wasn't in me. As Ilooked at him, some primal instinct made me want to shield his fragile body withmy own. As gently as I might handle a newborn baby, I lifted the tiny wrigglingbody with my fingers and placed him in my mouth. Just as gently, I manoeveredhim to the back of my mouth with my tongue, where he hung for a second, poisedat the brink of forever. Then I swallowed and felt him kneeded down my throatinto the dark, humid womb of my stomach. It was done. A man would die inunimaginable torment within me, but paradoxically protected from all harm fromthe rest of the world. I hadn't been aware of my arousal until I felt a tinytingle of warmth from my groin.

Words came tumbling from my mouth, and I neither understood them, nor knew why Isaid them. "Ia, Great Mother of a Thousand Young, whose husband art the Way andthe Gate. Ia, Black Goat, in whose womb art the seeds of Destruction. From mywomb to thine, life for life, thy terrible hunger art sated. Ia Shub-Niggurath!Ia! Ia! Chaugnar ph'nblementh ak-yuthagn --"At some point Becky must have slapped me, because when my vision cleared and thewords stopped coming my cheek stung. Her face was chalk-white, and twisted in arictus of fear. "Gwen," she said, her voice haggard. "Please. Never do thatagain. Please. As you value your soul and your sanity. Never."That night the apartment was filled with shadows where no shadows ought to be,shadows that flickered and... oozed. Becky and I spent the night together in thesame bed, swaddled in covers and clasped as close to each other as humanlypossible for the sheer animal need of physical contact. So quickly the veneer ofcivilization is stripped from our souls, and how quickly we become the savage,hunkered in a cave, staring fearfully at the darkness beyond the faint circle offirelight.

Somehow we both managed to sleep during that night. We woke with the rising ofthe sun and watched the twisting shadows grudgingly relent, slinking away intocorners and finally vanishing altogether.

"Gwen?" I heard the amazement in Becky's voice. "Gwen, you... you'rebeautiful."I looked over at Becky and was similarly surprised. Her teeth had miraculouslystraightened while she slept, and gleamed white and perfect in the sun. Herbrown hair was the rich, dark colour of polished teak and fell in great tumblingwaves down her creamy shoulders. No single part of her had changed entirely, buteach had been just slightly improved. The cumulative effect was fantastic. I wassuddenly and uncomfortably aware of being in the same bed with what might be themost beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Becky must have been thinking much the same thing, because she reached out withone flawless, soft finger and let it trail over the strong cheekbones I had nothad a day before, then over the thick, lush lips that had swollen from my facelike a budding flower. I opened my mouth and ran my tongue over the tip of herfinger. Her skin tasted of sugar and cinnamon.

I'm not a lesbian. At least, I don't think so. But we spent that morningtogether in bed, exploring each other's bodies with our mouths and revelling inour newfound beauty. We had both become exquisite creatures, powerfully sexual,and for a few sweet hours we let ourselves experience the joys of perfect, taut,honeyed flesh.

Strangely, no one seemed to notice our respective transformations. At least, notconsciously. I did get a lot of frankly sexual looks -- from men and women both-- that were a completely new experience for me. Suddenly people were openingdoors for me and buying me drinks after class, and I could only assume the samething was happening for Becky.

It didn't last, though. Within a week the shine was fading. The life of a manwas worth exactly seven days of radiant beauty. Cheap at the price.

Becky taught me the ritual that shrank our little beauty pills. It wasn'tespecially hard for me. The words sounded like nonsense, but my linguistictraining held me in good stead, and I mastered them in less than an hour. It hadtaken Becky three days to do the same thing.

Eight days after first eating a human being, we went out together in search oftwo more men the world could do without. Becky pointed out two young,drug-dealing hoodlums in the alley between a liquor store and a cigar shop. Inodded and a few minutes later we had our little prisoners wrapped in our fistsas we made our way home.

It was much easier this time. It was a simple matter of doing what I had to doin order to keep what was mine, what I deserved. I popped him into my mouth andwashed him down with a quick swallow of Tab. Becky, on the other hand, took along time, and it left me with an oddly cold feeling.

"I'm going to eat you," Becky told the little man she had pinched in herfingers. Her smile was malicious. "You're going to slide like a little oysterdown my throat, and then you're going to burn down there in the dark, and youwon't even amount to a snack. What do you think of that?"His shrill little squeaks were pitiful, and I wished she'd just eat him and getit over with, but that was the whole point, I think. She didn't want to get itover with, she wanted to savour it. Savour him. In the end, Becky broke both hislegs with the tip of one fingernail before she swallowed him. That disturbed me,and I told her so. I didn't see why we had to be more cruel than we had to.

Becky's eyes were cold and flinty when she answered. "You handle it your way,and I'll handle it my way. There's plenty to go around."I shrugged. I wasn't about to get in a fight with my room-mate over somethingthat was really academic anyway. Dead's dead, and I didn't think it made muchdifference to the men whether the suffering started before or after they wereeaten. Still, I wasn't entirely stupid. After Becky went to bed, I went throughthe binder that held the translated pages of the book. An hour later I removed afew pages and hid them in between the mattress and boxspring of my bed.


Weeks became months, and we slipped into a routine. Once a week Becky and Iwould take turns going out and grabbing a couple of low-lifes. We agreed that itwas best not to overdo things. No more than those two once a week. The citywasn't so big that disappearances on that scale went without notice, and wedidn't want to attract any more attention than we had to. Still, we both noticedthat an extra little beauty pill now and then seemed to improve our appearanceby a small margin. I would cheat on our deal once in a while, and I know she didtoo. We both pretended not to know what the other was doing, and it worked outfine for the most part.

I kept my eye on the news, though. An awful lot of people were going missing. Alot more than could be accounted for by our predations and a little cheating. Mysuspicions didn't take long to gel. I started watching Becky very closely.

Confirmation of my suspicion came unexpectedly one night when the toilet backedup and I had to plunge it. Along with the expected used tampon, a couple oftiny, half-rotted corpses floated to the surface of the toilet bowl. I flushedthem away and waited until the morning to confront Becky.

"Yeah, okay, so I have a little fun," said Becky, glowering at me through herlong, luxurient lashes. Every day her looks seemed to get more sensual, moreexotic. She was a walking wet dream, and even I had trouble looking away fromthe smooth curve of her legs.

"What do you mean by fun? You're wasting them! You flushed two of them down thecrapper, for fuck sake. In case you hadn't noticed, things are getting a lottougher. You seen any pimps or drug dealers on the street lately? I haven't.

They're gone, Becky. We're burning through them like crazy." I scowled at her.

"Tiny criminals are a non-renewable resource, know what I mean?""Hey, cut me some slack," said Becky. "You know they're useless if they'realready dead. Sometimes they break when I'm playing with them.""What do you mean by playing," I asked, although I think I had an idea. I wasn'tentirely innocent.

"Don't tell me you haven't tried stuffing some up your cunt," said Becky. Iblushed furiously and she smirked. She had made her point.

"I tried it exactly once!" I said. It was true. One night I was really horny andOld Faithful, my battery-powered friend, just wasn't up to it. I went out whileBecky was sleeping and grabbed a couple of guys who looked like they were up tono good off the street. Like Becky had said, they tended to break, and neitherone survived the experience. Pulling little bloody corpses out of my mostprivate place made me sick to my stomach. I ate the evidence and never tried itagain.

The constant disappearances were now front-page news, and the streets weredeserted at night. We had to start risking daylight grabs. On top of that, wehad run out of thugs. We moved on to obnoxious construction workers who shoutedobscenities at passing women. When those were gone too, we started grabbing justabout anyone who looked like they were someone we wouldn't like. Becky was evenless choosy than me. I was alarmed to find she had started on women too. Firstthe hookers disappeared. Then, once, Becky brought home a pair of shrunkenoff-duty stewardesses who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrongtime. Becky made them wrestle each other nude in a pool of vegetable oil in herpalm before we ate them. Things were getting out of hand. Pardon the pun.

At the same time, though, our social lives had never been better. I was gettinglaid regularly by hunks who'd never even looked at me before. Becky was too,but, ominously, I never saw her lovers the next morning.

And then Becky dumped a whole shitload of little people all over the coffeetable.

 * * *I bit my tongue and counted to ten. "Becky," I said calmly, "where did you getall these people?"Becky shrugged. "Second year poli-sci class. I was going to flunk it and theprof wouldn't let me drop it. Half of them are business majors anyway. The worldcould do with a few less of them." She took a swig from her Tab.

"You're out of your mind!" I shouted, waving my arms. The people on the table infront of me cowered back. "You are out. Of. Your. Mind. Totally. What the helldo you think is going to happen when a whole fucking class full of peopledisappears? We're going to have fucking FBI, CIA, every fucking letter in thealphabet crawling all over here looking for UFOs, communists, and sasquatches.""So what?" said Becky. She picked three little bodies from the group on thetable and looked at them closely. "Hey, Sarah. Allen. Hi, Frank. Got a newassignment for you." With one thumb, she pulled the front of her stretch-pantsopen and dumped the tiny people inside, then let the pants snap back,effectively pinning them against her cunt. I could see them squirming throughthe material.

"So what?" I repeated, unable to believe what I heard. "So what? So fuckingwhat?! They have guns, Becky! And investigators, and DNA testing, and maybe evenfucking psychics, real ones. Not to mention the fact that I went out with Allenlast week and you've got my damn boyfriend stuck to your fucking twat.""You use the word 'fuck' a lot, Gwen," said Becky.

I threw my hands in the air and shouted in frustration. "Fine. Just fine. We'recompletely fucked, you know. We can't even leave, transfer out, because it'dmake us look suspicious."Becky leaned forward to look at our prisoners on the coffee table and grinnedevilly at them. "You know all those people that've been disappearing? Know whathappened to them? Same thing that just happened to you lot. Know where thosepeople are now? Gwen and me ate them all.""Shit!" I yelled. A collective chirp of fear went up from the little people andthey scattered again. "Damn you, Becky, I just got them calmed down! Son of abitch. Get back here!"I got most of them corralled again, but I had to knock a few around to show themI meant business. At least a dozen, though, jumped off the far side of thecoffee table and started running through the waist-high pile of the carpeting.

Becky gave a whoop and jumped to her feet. She edged around the coffee table,and began stamping one of her pump-shod feet. The second time it came up, I sawspatters of red on the glossy black surface, then it slammed down again. Up anddown, up and down went her foot, and Becky laughed the whole time. I dared aquick peek over the table, and what I saw made me ill. The carpet was dyed redin spots the size of a silver dollar.

"Man, was that a blast!" said Becky at last, as she collapsed panting into herchair. I could see only two of the little bulges against her groin through thestretch-pants, and guessed one must have either been worked into her cunt, orhad slipped down between the crack of her ass. Either way, whoever it was wasn'tgoing to last very long, and I wondered bitterly if it was Allen.

"I can't believe you did that," I said quietly. "I just got through telling youwe're up shit creek, and you wasted a dozen of them.""Aw, lighten up," said Becky, her gorgeous lower lip pouting out like a petulantchild's. "There's still plenty left. Halfsies?"I sighed. Well, waste not, want not. "Yeah, okay," I said, and used my arm tocut the crowd of little people into two camps of roughly the same size. Half ofthem I swept with my arm into a sack formed by the bottom of my shirt and leanedback on the couch with my feet tucked up underneath me. While the people left onthe table watched in horror, I began popping my half into my mouth one at a timeand swallowing.

It didn't take long. There were twenty of them, but they were only an inch talland I didn't waste any time. Lift, insert, swallow. Repeat. When I was done, abrushed the few tiny assorted jackets and shoes from my shirt. I had never eatenso many at one time, and I could feel them squirming around inside me. It mademe feel kind of sick, and I wished they'd just sit still and wait. When ithadn't died down a minute later, I grabbed Becky's Tab and drank down the restof the can. They stopped moving soon after that.

Becky, as usual, dragged things out half of forever. "Okay, girls over here, andboys over there," she said. Her terrified prisoners obeyed instantly. "Good.

Now, all the girls will lift their skirts or pull down their pants. Anyone notwearing underwear like a good little girl gets eaten."The two women who made a break for it were snatched up, stripped to verify lackof undergarments, and dropped into Becky's mouth. She swallowed and the tinywomen disappeared.

"I always knew Sharon and Sandy were a couple of sluts," said Becky darkly.

"Ready for anything, that's them."Becky's games got progressively crueler. She had the men gang-raping the womenand each other. She had the women attacking each other with their fists,fighting not to be next to get eaten. For fun, she tore off one man's arms andlegs, ate his body, and made the rest of them masturbate with his severed limbs.

When it became too much for me, I got up and went to my room. I held my pillowover my head to try and drown out the sound of Becky's sadistic laughter. Oneway or another this had to end soon.

I must have fallen asleep then. I woke up to the sound of familiar sing-songwords. I was fuzzy-brained for a second until I turned to see where the soundwas coming from and saw Becky standing in the doorway. Her eyes met mine, and Iknew this was the end. Everything I needed to know was in those eyes. A bit ofsadness, yes, even regret. But mostly there was an insane, gloating glee. Herlook said I was no longer to be trusted. Our association had come to an end. Shewas reciting the magic words I knew so well. Who knew what unholy tortures shewas planning to inflict on me before I knew the relative peace of death?Becky finished the spell and a kind of thrumming vibration passed through mybody. For the smallest fraction of a fraction of a second, the bed I laid uponseemed the size of ten football fields. Then Becky gave a cry and vanished.

I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Between my breasts, my pendant feltunnaturally warm, and I pulled it out by the chain. It was star-shaped with fivepoints, the size of a dime, and in the middle was a single blood-red eye. I wasnot surprised to see that the eye was glaring balefully, nor was I suprised thata star-shaped birthmark had appeared between my breasts where the pendant hadlain.

The pendant had been my insurance. Just in case. In the translated pages fromthe book that even now were still safely tucked under my mattress, I had found adescription of a talisman that would protect a person from the shrinking spell-- and more, would cause the spell to be reflected upon the caster.

I swung my legs out of bed and stood up. Though she had tried to run, I had nodifficulty finding Becky. After all, she was only an inch tall. When I pickedher up, she fell limp in my hand. She wouldn't look at me. She knew what had tohappen.

"I'm sorry it had to end this way," I said. There was no reaction except fortiny vibrations I could feel through my palm. I guessed she was crying. I feltbadly. But not too badly -- she had meant to do no better to me, and probablyconsiderably worse.

I made it fast. Becky hovered over my open mouth, pinched between my thumb andforefinger. I released my hold, and she dropped into my mouth, lingered onlylong enough for me to taste the ghost of a flavour, the sweet, musky cinnamonflavour of her skin, and then I swallowed.

Becky had learned at last the high cost of beauty.