Said the Fish
The restraints set and her mouth
sealed, she became at last bewitching: light rippled across black, satiny hair;
deep brown irises danced; fingers scrabbled and limbs twisted, sending rough
waves across the sea of her skin. Now, right now, she would be more focused and
aware and present than at any other time in her life. He spread his arms,
welcoming her to his world, one that she would inhabit fully. He breathed until
the anticipation in his hands stilled.
“Life is all in your head,” he
told her. “Nothing you hear, taste, see, or feel is real until it pours through
your nerves and up into your brain.
Around six, Melody secured a
table at Dancing Under the Influence with a clear view of the entrance, the
bar, and the open space that would later host dancers or knots of talkers or
both. Just after six-thirty she observed him weave through the loiterers up
front and beeline to a stool at the back. Fridays he parked in that same crappy
corner where the bar curved into the wall near the corridor to the toilets.
During her tours of promising clubs and bars she’d noticed him and decided that
of the people she had been following he fit the profile closest. He, however,
hadn’t seemed to notice her, safely distant and her looks dialed down. She’d
never seen him dancing, but he chatted women up and he sure drank.
She abandoned her table and
passed behind him to the women’s bathroom. At the sink she removed her blouse
and rolled it into her large purse, and then shifted the Taser and handcuffs
back to the top. She was dressed to mimic the type he approached: top covered
tightly; a short skirt over hose; heels somewhere between sensible and
provocative. She yanked off her scrunchy, fluffed her hair into place,
retouched her makeup.
stool next to him remained vacant. She sat
and started to open her mouth.
“Hey!” the woman beside her
snapped, “That’s my guy’s seat.”
“Then when he returns, I’ll give
it back. Until then, I’m using it.”
The woman swung her head towards
the dance area, and Melody tracked the woman’s gaze to a man trotting, arms
outstretched, towards an attractive woman responding in kind. Obviously, they
knew one other better than well, and probably they would yammer a while.
“I promise I’ll move when he
comes back,” Melody added, smiling. Then she turned to the man and pinged his
nearly empty bottle with a fingernail. “Can I buy you another so I’m not
He missed a beat, recovered.
“I’ll get it.”
She smiled and dropped her purse
next to her feet. “Thanks. I’m Melody, and how about a Dos Equis with lime?”
“Jim.” He half-stood and began
casting for a free bartender. She rested her chin on interlaced fingers. A
staccato of clicks sprang up, and she slid her gaze left. The woman was pecking
nails on the countertop and staring towards her chattering boyfriend, whose
left hand idled on his friend’s hip. Melody leaned over.
“Your guy the red Polo in
The woman whipped her head. “Why
do you want to know?”
“Hey, not the enemy. You want to
go over, I can save your seat?”
The woman got up, stopped,
turned. “You watch my purse.”
Melody marveled at how trusting
the public could sometimes be with complete strangers, and turned back to Jim.
He had succeeded in hooking a bartender, and bottles soon followed. He tapped
his into hers. “Cheers.”
“Rah-rah. Go team alkie.” She
took a sip.
He had a good fake laugh; you
had to pay attention to notice the artifice. But he’d made the effort. That was
He leaned forward and gazed
down, ostensibly at her neck. “You going to turn red?”
“Yeah, but if you want to see
the full Asian glow, wait until my second.”
She dipped into the small talk
that she had found, over the years, worked in loud bars—simple, effective,
forgettable. Her beer barely touched, his Dos Equis empty, she interrupted him.
“Look, it’s damn noisy in here.
Do you want to go outside?”
Of course he did—she’d observed
him unsuccessfully approaching women for weeks. As she got up, she snatched the
woman’s purse and as they passed the trio handed it off. Outdoors she let him
take charge of guiding her. He turned south and as they moved farther from the
club, she smiled at him more. She squeezed his upper arm. “Do you take care of
“You know, eat well, get enough
sleep, exercise. It’s important.”
“Where did that come from?”
“I’m into health.” She looked
in the eyes. “Take nothing for granted. You know, watch what you eat every meal
every day, go to sleep and wake appropriately, and so on. Set up routines that
keep you healthy, wealthy, and lithe. You think I’m lithe, right?”
His face flashed an expression,
and then he hid it. The topic had put him off and made her seem less perfect,
which was all to the good because he’d be less likely to be second-guessing his
“I don’t know about that. Seems
like a lot of life you have no say over. For instance, you breathe what’s
there. You fall asleep ‘cause your body gets tired. You could inherit bad
genes. Everything good or bad hits you from the outside.” He tapped his head.
“Only thing you control is what you think of it. No matter what life throws me
I turn it into lemonade.”
“I monitor myself,” she
continued. “Do you know about chi? You can control your body’s energy with
breath and your mind. In Chinese medicine everything comes down to blood and
She could see him starting to
reconsider. “Hey,” she said, “I feel like coffee.”
“What? Sure. Anywhere in mind?”
She gathered a deep breath and
leaked it out, as if considering. “I’m burnt out on crowds and noise, and any
coffee shop will be full of people and canned music of which I might like, oh, one
out of ten songs, maybe. Do you live close by?”
She felt him tense. He
hesitated, as if it was going too easily, then agreed and switched their
direction. To relax him again she went back to the bland bar talk. Two blocks
later they turned down a side street, almost an alley.
“Here we are.”
She squinted—the nearest
streetlight was burned out—at his car, a cobalt blue hatchback with tinted
windows. In the shadows the license plate was unreadable. She slipped in,
unclipped her purse, and put it on her lap. He settled into his seat and
fumbled with the keys before getting the car started.
His house, at the end of a
driveway that curved through tall evergreens and rampant bushes, was small and
nondescript. The porch light had either burned out or was off, and when the
automatic door on the garage rose that one did not come on either. She waited
to get out until he had crossed the floor and flipped on the light, and she
followed him, her hand partially in her purse, through the mud room connecting
to the kitchen. She noted that anyone could easily transfer things from house
to car or vice versa without being seen. He led her to the living room: a
minimal mishmash of cheap furnishings and subdued colors, closed Venetian
blinds, no visible books or magazines, an open laptop on the coffee table, worn
brown carpet, and to the right a hall with the inevitable bathroom and bedroom
doors. It smelled like someone twice as old lived here.
“I like this place. So open. I
take sugar, no cream.”
When he left, she checked the
mail on his table. All bills and junk, nothing personal.
The coffee was taking forever,
he felt. Inside he was already boiling. He could taste his desire, and she
would not label it healthy. No, sir. She had been so easy so far; he didn’t see
any impediments now. “How many spoonfuls?” he called out as he dribbled powder
into her cup.
He placed the vial back in the
hollow and patted the tile into place. Sugar, then coffee, went into her cup.
He stirred thoroughly.
She was on the couch, fingers
knit across her shins. He set her cup on the table and sat beside her, not too
close. He took a sip and put down his cup.
She turned to him and reached
for his head. He started, then relaxed, expecting her to pull him to her lips,
but she put her thumbs at the apex of his ears and arced her index fingers like
“Right here,” she said poking
the center top of his skull, “is the Baht Mui, a major chi point you can use to
take in energy. You carry the chi on your breath down through channels. Chi is
life. Picture thought: invisible but real, crossing your body the same way
electricity zips through your brain. You can manipulate chi with your mind,
and,” she smiled, “thoughts with chi. Do you understand?”
He didn’t, and this deviation did
not please him.
“I suppose, but—”
“Of course, chi can’t jump empty
spaces, so you have to connect the top of your mouth to the lower. The tongue
can do that.” She leaning in, her hands still on his head, and she entered his
mouth, warm and insistent. He really did feel electrified, a disturbing tingle.
He pulled away.
“Let’s slow this down,” he said,
pulling her hands away. “Why don’t you have your coffee and tell me more about
She drank, her eyes clouded, and
he guided her to the bed. He removed her clothes, dressed her in a gag and
restraints, and displayed the instruments so that, no matter where her gaze
lighted, some portent of her fate waited. He began removing her clothes—wasn’t
she Asian before? Impatient, trembling, he stroked her cheek. Why don’t you drink your coffee and we can talk more
it? Her eyes clouded—yes, she was
Asian—and he led her into the bedroom. As he removed her clothes, an irritating
déjà vu washed over him. He sat on the
mattress. Yammering, the woman flipped through her phone, showing him pictures
of her dog as she drank the herbal tea. Why were expensive jeans on the floor
when he had removed a skirt? Annoyed at
his lack of focus, he flitted around the room, placing instruments, again feeling
that wearying déjà vu.
Melody closed the door and
placed the keys on the hook. She set the bag of groceries on the counter and
flipped back the hood on her sweat jacket. She peeked into the living room. Jim
sat quietly on the couch, handcuffs loose around his ankles. After she put away
the food, she grabbed a saucer and went over and ruffled his hair while
avoiding his eyes. Plopping heavily next to him she took the protective tube
out from her purse. She twisted the top and slid out the scalpel, and then
lifted Jim’s arm over the saucer on the coffee table. She made a small incision
and held it above the little dish. When enough had fallen, she placed a thumb
over the cut and lifted his arm. With her other hand she swapped her thumb with
a cotton-ball from the bag on the table. She secured it to the new wound with a
strip of gauze.
ran over tongue. She closed her eyes as
his energy flowed into her, but weaker today. Probably only a day or two of
feeding left. She would need to find someone new. Marco’s, that dive bar across
town, bustled on Wednesdays of all nights, and the man she’d been observing
there, sitting mostly alone and ordering five or six beers over his visits,
she’d see what could be done with him.
She cleaned the scalpel in the kitchen,
replaced it in its case, and put the case in her purse. She checked Jim’s face.
The expression disturbed her. She had sandblasted his brain that night,
clearing away all but the strongest memory loops and obsessions. Whatever
thoughts he was inhabiting—it sure wasn’t sitting in a bar, or anything mundane
like that—she did not want to know, especially after investigating his bedroom.
She stood. Today she would strip his garage of sellable items, then catch her
afternoon class. Tomorrow, if he looked less fresh, she would stuff him into the
back of his car and drive him to Andre’s. Hopefully, Jim hadn’t done too much
damage to his kidneys or other organs. Why didn’t people take better care of
themselves? She went to the garage, happy she’d not have to look at that face
Jim waited for her to slowly
come to her senses. He usually loved this part—the fear, the surprise, the
helpless terror. He frowned. Tonight, a strange sensation stole over him, a
curious déjà vu. Usually each woman’s blooming was unique. He shrugged it off
and prepared to greet her fluttering eyes. Everything was perfect. Her eyes
clouded, and he gently guided her to the bedroom.
Ken Hueler teaches kung fu in the San Francisco Bay Area and,
with fellow members of the Horror Writer’s Association’s local chapter, gets up
to all sorts of adventures (only some involving margaritas). His work has
appeared in Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Space & Time, Weekly Mystery
Magazine, and the charity anthology Tales for the Camp Fire. You can learn more