Weird Tales Winner
|Moira Radcliffe reflexively puckered her lips and blinked once, then twice. A face examined her from the glass she could not accept as her own, dry and wrinkled at the cheek, sunken around the eyes. She pursed her lips, then slid on the gold bracelet, the one with the encrusted diamonds. But what she saw was the dark spots on her thinning wrist. She closed her eyes against the evidence, then sighed. She reached for the purse, then opened it to count the bills inside. There were far too many to carry safely alone at night; hopefully, there were enough.
"Go in, Ma'am. You're expected."
The doorway opened, wafting an indefinable scent and strands of Mozart her way. Moira stepped forward, taking care to keep her shoulders back and head straight. Towering over her was the security, a man with dark hair, sunglasses, and a body that seemed sculpted to fit a suit. His eyes brushed past her, and he turned back to the street before she had even passed.
The room was smaller than Moira expected, host to about a dozen low round tables, each with a single sitting couch before it. However, it spoke of money, from the gilded upholstery of the couches to the embroidered red linen of the tablecloths, complimenting the velvet drapes that sectioned off the front of the room. There were several women of different ages and dress seated in the room already, each alone with her drink and perhaps a cigarette. The bottle-blond to her left was wearing enough ornamentation for a Christmas tree. There were even two men. The first looked past her to the blond, licking his lips, then downed his wine.
A dark-haired gentleman her own age entered from a door on the left. The host's smile disarmed her anxiety, as he gestured toward a table in the back. "Right this way. May I get you anything?"
Mrs. Radcliffe eased into a seat at the couch, ordered a martini, and waited.
Moira had nearly reached the bottom of the second glass when the music faded and the curtains opened, revealing a lovely blond slip of a girl. She swayed across the stage in a royal blue silk robe that scarcely managed to keep her waist covered and left little else to the imagination.
"Welcome," she said, her voice penetrating the smoky air. "Beauty is fleeting, and strength fades. But memories grow sweeter with age, and tonight's will be very sweet. Raise your paddle and bid, if you would like to taste them."
The first woman to pass across the stage, wearing nothing but heels, was sloe-eyed and raven-haired, with flawless hips and lips like blood. Moira waited as paddle after paddle was raised until finally there was stillness. Then the beauty laid herself on an altar at the center of the stage. The blue-robed woman donned pure white gloves, then scattered orchids across the breasts of the naked woman, and muttered strange words that confounded Moira's ears. The host approached with a carven stone bowl, and the robed woman carefully plucked the petals from the supine figure, placing them in the bowl. Then he lifted a pestle to the bowl, grinding the petals along with a clear liquid from a flask at his side. He turned and carefully presented them to an older lady in furs at the front of the room. Eyes wide and hands shaking, she lifted the bowl to her lips and drank. Within seconds, she sank into her couch. Just then the beautiful siren on the altar onstage rose, gave the room a wicked grin, and exited the stage. Then the next woman entered, to repeat the process.
The third woman was Moira's. She was tall and golden from head to toe, as perfect as if carved by a master sculptor. Moira was destined to have her, if she had to bid a dozen times. In the end, it only took nine, and soon the stone bowl was at her own lips, and the world faded from view.
Katherine shivered as the connection was made, then rose from the table. The ritual invigorated her, though it left a hunger on her face that made the women shiver and the men stiffen. A hunger she had plans to sate, happily, courtesy in part of the money and connections this job helped provide. Donning a sparkling golden gown and heels, she slipped out back to the waiting car.
"You're late to the party, my dear", the senator said when she arrived, handing her a glass of champagne, as the heavenly bodyguard standing behind him caressed her with his eyes.
"I am never late," Katherine purred, "though you have the unfortunate habit of being early."
Katherine moved through the party like a hurricane, bending one powerful man around her finger after the other, with the confidence of youth and the deftness of an artist, pausing only long enough to show the senator's bodyguard to the bathroom, where she let his body fulfill the exquisite promise his eyes had made.
Then it was on to dance with the governor, the one everyone said would be president. She had his heart in her hands within moments, and he led her to the balcony for a long midnight kiss. And then, suddenly - pain, and blood. All the world began to spin around the frightened governor, the surging bodyguards, and the jealous and angry senator's red knife. His words seemed so distant, "Cheating bitch..."
Mrs. Radcliffe bolted up from the couch with a start, hand on her chest. Her wrinkled, sagging chest. She wrapped her arms around herself and the rush of terrifying memories within. It had she seemed so real - was she dead? But no, Moira wasn't dead, only alone. And broken.