New threads and interesting conversations directly in your inbox. Sign up now and get a daily summary of the latest forum activities!
Discussion in 'Fantasy/Science Fiction Archive' started by Marlow, Mar 28, 2016.
Dude, you paint the picture, and it's a dazzling one
“Mm, that’s creamy,” Hesper moaned through a mouthful of vanilla. “Forgot how much I liked ice cream
cut it out of my diet years ago.”
Dag leaned back against a counter. “Looks like it’s back in your diet.”
“This is an exception,” she stated, reaching for the bourbon. She’d had a few sips more than she’d probably intended and now spoke a little louder than was necessary. “Just for the sake of the experiment. Have to figure out what our demon-summoning friends are thinking.” She shoved another spoonful in her mouth. “Have to know if they’ve unlocked the inaccessible impossible.”
“Ah,” said Dag. He shoved off the counter and paced toward the aisle, wondering if he would have been better off following the deputy on her investigation. Hesper’s magic talk had seemed intriguing at first but had become less and less grounded in any reality Dag recognized.
It didn’t help that her big 'spell experiment' didn’t involve any more fire or flashing lights; somehow her getting drunk and eating ice cream seemed less mystical.
“So, what happens if these people do summon a demon?” He asked after a while. “Is he gonna kill everyone or something?”
Hesper swallowed. “She will probably claim some lives, yes. But with demons it’s usually something bigger...and worse. We don’t know much about this ‘Ilta,’ since she’s outside the hierarchy, but most of these renegade spirits tend to mount world-domination bids, or try to supplant deities, or generally sow chaos.”
destruction and pain will ensue. Hell on earth and all that.”
He eyed her. “And you said you tried to do it once? Summon a demon?”
She held up a finger. “I only tried to contact one. That’s just a matter of lighting candles by your mirror and getting the incantations right
” She stifled a belch. “
and hoping somebody on the other end picks up. Basically eldritch Skype.”
Dag nodded, frowning skeptically.
Her bowl almost empty, she scraped at the melted ice cream at the bottom. “Bringing a demon to our plane
that requires an amount of power rarely seen on earth these days. Mortals can’t usually coordinate enough energies to even attempt it. And if you somehow could, the consequences of messing up the summoning rite are almost worse than the demon itself.”
like a veil, I reckon
between earth and the underworld. Keeps damned souls from escaping and hellfire from burning through to the mortal realm, right?”
“If you’re trying to poke the other side of the veil, it’s got to be navigated with care. You screw something up on your way through, the whole system goes catawampus. Chaos fiends everywhere, anti-energy bleeding through, elemental ruin
“So we need to stop our aspiring demon summoning cult before they even begin. Fortunately, I reckon they’ve only just started gathering up power
and if my experiment works, we’ll know how they’re planning to gather it.” She set down her spoon and drank down the melted remains of the ice cream.
Dag ground his teeth. Hesper spoke with a strange ease about disturbing, unreal things, as though she were an exterminator explaining her plan to tackle an infestation.
She stretched with a long yawn and knocked her spoon off the counter. Unconsciously tugging her tube top back down over her food baby, she set the bowl down and bent over to save the spoon.
Dag opened his mouth for his next question, but it caught in his throat. His eyes widened at Hesper’s widened butt. It was mouth-wateringly round, bulging against the black leather of her tiny skirt. As she bent over, the bottom curve of her cheeks peeked out from beneath.
She straightened up and pressed a hand to her head, swaying for a moment. “Ugh
stood up too fast. Urrp. Also brainfreeze.” She settled back against the counter. “Also maybe a little drunk.”
Dag cleared his throat. “So all the dangerous stuff about demons
you didn’t try to bring one up yourself, I get it, but you did try to, uh, contact one or whatever.” He handed her a fresh bowl. “You had to be aware of the eventual dangers, right?”
“Not like I do now, but yeah,” she admitted. “I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time. I’d just been kicked out of the academy and I was so desperate
” Her face twisted.
“I was power hungry, like I said. Cutting corners to get ahead and feel special again.” She squirted a concerning amount of chocolate syrup onto the ice cream. “I had crafted a ring that could siphon arcane power from my mentor’s artifact collection.”
“I assume that’s like cheating.”
worse. It was dark arts. It was dumb as hell. And it didn’t even work. But he figured out what I was trying to do. Gave me the boot. So, being an angsty teenager, I tried to make up for one stupid gambit with a much stupider one.”
She glanced at the discarded hand-mirror and winced.
“And then that didn’t work either
I wasn’t a good enough practitioner to even break the rules right. But it’s a good thing none of the demons responded to my call
I would have done anything they’d asked at that point.” She held up her hand; a cheap plastic ring clung to her middle finger. “I kept it. Reckoned I oughta never forget how stupid I was. And how lucky.”
Dag wandered over toward the window. “You seem pretty good at magic now. You did the stuff with the dominoes, and then all that with the lights and the fire
Hesper smirked. “Basic stuff. But yeah, I did eventually buckle down and learn my shit. Remedial classes. You know those programs where they take drug addicts and make ‘em talk at middle schools about how bad drugs are?”
“My mentor tracked me down and put me in the demonic version. My job is to find people headed down the wrong path and, uh, talk them out of it.”
"That happen a lot?"
"These days, yeah. I was in Bowling Green last week...this twelve-year-old managed to call up a minor imp...took me six hours catch the damn thing."
Dag squinted out the window. It was hard to tell through the rain, but lower street seemed to be running over with water.
“Okay,” Hesper announced, setting her bowl aside. “If I have any more ice cream I’m going to explode. Time to see if this sacrifice was worth it.”
She gave him an incredulous look. “My figure is important to me. It’ll probably take months to work this off. I’m just saying, the experiment better tell us what we need to know.”
“Power, of course. Hand me my bag.”
He held the tote up for her. She dug out an incandescent light bulb, a magnet, and a length of twine. Tying the bulb and the magnet to each end of the string, she walked unsteadily to the center of the room.
“Step back a little, Dag. Don’t want any interference.”
She held the bulb at arm’s length and raised the magnet up toward the ceiling, under the heptagram. After a few moments, the bulb’s filament flickered faintly. Dag bit his lip.
“Alright, good,” Hesper murmured. “Latent energies from the rituals they did in here...sigils are shining like beacons. We’ll set that tare
” She waved her hands around the bulb and it darkened again. “Ready?”
Dag spread his palms. “Um?”
She took a deep breath and pressed the magnet to her forehead. She stared intently at the bulb, gritting her teeth, but nothing happened.
“Doesn’t make sense. That’s a major nexus
should be able to detect
” She shook her head and let the magnet fall. “Why layer all those enchantments
why else would you want to accelerate something like this?”
Still on the string, the magnet bounced and swung around like a mad pendulum. When it finally came to rest in front of her waist, it eased a little toward her food-baby and the light bulb flared undeniably to life.
Dag gaped, eyes darting from the bulb to her belly.
“Oh,” she said. “...wrong nexus point. That would, uh, make more sense.”
“What’s it mean?”
She stared at the bulb. “Power,” she breathed. “I should
maybe we should do more to confirm. Try more, see if we get more
more. Yeah, more. Dag, get me
get me more.”
Roxie awoke to a long peal of thunder. A sudden gust shook the car beneath her.
She’d fallen into a shallow, half-dreaming doze. It had been less than an hour, judging by her dashboard clock, but she was indignant at herself and cursed vehemently as she wiped the crumbs from her mouth.
“Crumbs,” she realized, eyes wide. “Oh, no.”
In the passenger seat sat the pastry box, empty but for stray frosting and crumpled-up wax paper.
“No, no, no
all of them?” She pressed a hand to her stomach. It was definitely bigger than she remembered. Her waistband was unfastened and she could feel the buttons of her blouse pressing into her flesh. Looking down, she could see little diamonds opening up between the buttons and showing off glimpses of the white tank top underneath. “This can’t be happening.”
She leaned back against the headrest and blew out a long sigh. The sweet flavor of the cream was still on her lips; she tried to distract herself from it by staring out at the square.
The store’s lights were out. Hopefully Hesper and Dag had finished their deluded ritual and gone back to the hotel. On the other side she could see the fast food joint, its glow warm and inviting. Roxie’s stomach suggested she grab another burger or two.
“Damn it, no,” she hissed.
The restaurant’s back door opened and a woman steppedwaddledout, waving goodbye to someone inside. Leaning over, Roxie recognized her face as a clerk who’d served them earlier, but she didn’t recognize the body. She hadn’t been rail thin, Roxie recalled, but she was fairly proportioned and in decent shape. The woman now passing Roxie's squad car, however, sported the swollen belly of a full term pregnancy. It wobbled and rippled with every step, naked and exposed below the hem of a uniform shirt that had stopped fitting fifty pounds ago. The sparkling chain of an elaborate belly button piercing swung to and fro with her gelatinous mass.
The woman weaved a little on her feet, as though she weren’t accustomed to her own weight. She ignored Roxie’s cruiser entirely, staring intently forward until she’d reached the streetcorner. She swayed there for a few minutes, sucking on a large pop.
Roxie pondered getting out to talk with her, but a car pulled up. The woman smiled and greeted the driver, tossing off her uniform’s visor and letting down her hair. As she opened the door she pointed to her stomach with what looked like an expression of excitement.
Once she was in, the car turned and headed up into the woods. A small sticker gleamed from its bumper: the seven-pointed star.
Roxie frowned. She reached over and pulled the flyer from under the pastry box.
“What the hell kind of church is this, anyway?” she muttered, looking it over again. She looked out the window and bent her head to look across the square. The silhouetted church watched over the town like a gargoyle.
Its windows were dark, but a lamp flickered in the parking lot. Roxie started her car.
The church was a simple, blocky building, just large enough for a sanctuary and a few offices and classrooms toward the back. In the rural Midwestern tradition, it was subtle and largely featureless, marked only by a perfunctory steeple and an unlit sign. Shielding her eyes from the rain, Roxie tried to make out the top of the steeple. There was no cross.
She hurried up the front steps. She’d forgotten her poncho in the cruiser, but she’d parked around the corner and would only get wetter going back for it. What worried her most was her midsection; the uniform shirt had come entirely untucked and she could feel her buttons straining with every move. Her slacks were tighter, too, limiting her stride.
She pounded on the huge wooden door, wincing at how the motion jiggled her lovehandles. There was no response. Lightning flashed overhead and on a sudden impulse she seized the door and pulled it open.
Roxie glanced around. The street was empty and her cruiser was out of sight. She rocked back and forth on her feet for a moment and then spun inside.
With the door shut firmly behind her, she stepped cautiously into the narthex. The air was heavy with dust and remarkably dry despite the conditions outside. Roxie felt a sudden thirst, but couldn’t tell if it was the aridity or all the sugar she’d consumed.
She smacked her mag-lite and beamed it around. The narthex was fairly standard, with polite flower pots, chairs, and a bulletin board of announcements. A poster for the food drive hung on the far wall, with a reminder that the start time was ‘dawn.’
Roxie checked her watch. Dawnif the sun could even rise through such a stormwas probably an hour and a half away.
Her stomach gurgled. She tugged vainly down on her shirt, tempted to simply unbutton it. She sucked in, though, and pushed her way into the sanctuary.
There she froze. The chamber was recognizable as a place of worship, but not of any god Roxie knew. Her free hand groped its way to a light panel.
The pews had been removed, as had whatever flooring there had been, leaving only cold flagstones underfoot in a long, open chamber. An enormous heptagram was painted on the floor within a broad chalk circle. A cast-iron brazier stood at its center, piled with wood.
Overlooking it all was a raised dais. The pulpit featured a lone podium, some chairs, and a flat, square platform at the back. Another star hung above it, gleaming bronze against a black curtain.
The long side walls were each lined with serving tables. The left table was mostly empty, but the right was piled high with a smorgasbord of snacks, drinks, and small platesthe ‘donations’ from the travel plaza. The back wall, where Roxie stood, was stacked with couch cushions, pillows, bean bag chairs, and all manner of blankets and sheets.
Roxie made her way to the right table, taking care not to step on the heptagram. A row of bottled water waited at the end. After a moment’s hesitation, she acquiesced to her growing thirst and seized one. As she twisted off its cap, she noticed a row of paintings interspersed between the windows.
The first depicted a haunting scene of a woman wandering through a forest. She was draped in white linens, like something out of classical Greece or Rome. Roxie followed the wall to the next painting, absently grabbing a bag of pretzels from the table.
It was a continuation of the same scene, with the woman encountering a dark cave. The rocks were carved with runes and images of predatory animals. Several pairs of hungry eyes glowed in the dark forest behind the woman.
Roxie tossed away her pop bottle and slid to the next painting. Having apparently ventured into the cave, the woman beheld a long table overflowing with food and drink. Roxie tore herself away from the painting; it was too acute a reminder that she herself was overflowing with food and drink. She paced the sanctuary, circumnavigating the heptagram, but soon found herself staring at the next painting.
There was a new bottle in her hand, somehow. This wasn’t a huge crisis, though, as she needed something to wash down the last candy bar. The woman in the painting had a drink in her hand, too, in the form of a wineskin. Her other hand reached for a plate of grapes as she reclined, feasting, her decadence surrounded by fauns, pixies, and animal-headed servants.
It wasn’t any story or myth Roxie could remember, but she had never given antiquity much attention. She kept staring, though, drawn in by the elaborate scene. In the corner of the cave, at the mouth of what must have been a tunnel to greater depths, one of the pixies could be seen whispering covertly to some kind of urchin. The fat little imp was rubbing his hands with glee and glancing down the tunnel toward a faint orange glow.
Roxie turned away and walked back over toward the dais. She sat with a sigh on one of the steps and rubbed at her eyes. A gust of wind outside rattled the old windows.
She finished her drink and stared at the bottle, blinking. It was a beer bottle, but she couldn’t recall picking it up. The taste in her mouth was definitely beer, though; cheap gas station beer. She looked up and choked. On the floor before her lay the water bottle she’d originally grabbed, along with an empty pretzel bag, an empty package of cookies, several candy bar wrappers, two pop bottles, and a pile of cellophane she couldn’t identify.
“What?” she burped in disbelief. “When
?” She looked at her watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since she’s snuck into the church.
She leapt to her feet and instantly regretted it. Her belly and head complained hotly and she had to wait a minute for the throbbing in her temples to shrink down.
Her gut, however, would not shrink down. She could feel a draft against her muffin top. The uniform shirt, riding up the swell of her abdomen, could no longer reach her waistband at all. Its buttons strained audibly with every move. Roxie debated giving up and unfastening them, but her self-consciousness talked her out of it.
Pacing in frustration, she found herself up in the pulpit. The floor behind the podium caught her eyes: a large square lay uncarpeted and raised above the rest of the floor. It was a piece of corrugated metal and featured, on the far end, a small dial.
It was a commercial scale, Roxie realized. It was centered under the hanging heptagram and flanked on either side by a candelabra.
“What the hell kind of church is this?” she muttered, walking over to it.
The hand on the dial shot up as she stepped on. It bounced a little before settling just shy of two hundred pounds.
Roxie nearly fell over. “No way. No, no, no. No. Uh-uh.”
Her stomach gurgled. She pressed a hand to it and shushed it, but its argument was very convincing. The surface was soft and pliable, a cushion surrounding a glutted swell. The undeniable snugness of her slacks and the straining of her shirt buttons couldn’t be ignored, either. Another belch burbled up.
She looked back at the dial. Two hundred didn’t look like much, given that the scale could apparently handle up to a ton. Studying it more closely, she found a little piece of electrical tape, cut into an arrow. It was pointing to somewhere just past the 650-pound mark.
A refracted beam of light swept overheadheadlights, followed by the sound of tires on gravel.
Roxie went white. She hopped down from the scale and shuffled onto the main floor. Huffing and glancing desperately around, she hurried to pick up her wrappers and bottles and dumped them into the first trash bin she could find. She flicked off the lights and bustled for the door, belly wobbling and sloshing painfully.
Footsteps echoed from the other side of the door, joined by muffled voices. Roxie froze mid-step, heart pounding in her ears.
Her eyes fixed on the nearby coat closet. “Aw, hell,” she hissed. “Worst police officer ever
The church door swung open just as the closet door latched shut. Roxie flattened herself against the wall, wishing there were any coats to hide behind. Her stomach gurgled and she stifled a belch, staring out through the slats in the door.
The bodybuilder twins strode into the church, looking wary. One held a baseball bat and the other a fireaxe. After a moment they stepped apart and in waddled Leila Jones, chin jiggling and cheeks puffing from the walk.
She looked much more presentable now, wrapped in a long black robe trimmed with intricate designs and sigils. The robe sloped out before her, pushed forward by her expansive chest and held forward by her no less expansive paunch. Her hair was styled up in a curly bun and her face politely made up.
“You boys might have to carry me next time we climb those steps,” she chuckled, closing an umbrella. “Smells good in here. I am looking forward to that junk food, mm hmm.”
Roxie held her breath, feeling another burp coming on.
A fourth newcomer followed them into the church. She was a professional-looking woman, dressed rather like a librarian, with heavy makeup and a heavier backside. She carried her own black robe bundled-up under her arm.
“Ah, Ms. Nott,” said Leila, peering at the woman’s posterior. “Right on time. Been enjoying the spoils of our spell?”
She smiled. “Not as much as you, apparently.”
“Had to get a head start. We have a long way to go today.” Leila folded her arms over her gut. “And it’s so hard to stay full. To stay anything, really. I drank a whole twelve-pack and was only drunk for, like, forty minutes. Right, boys?” She asked the twins. “They were all worried for nothing, haha.”
“The acceleration is a blessing and a curse.”
“Indeed. Everything’s ready, though.” She looked back at the door. “Where’s your sister?”
Mrs. Nott swallowed. “We
haven’t found her yet.”
The twins rounded on her. “Still?” Leila murmured.
“She took off up the hill when that cop car came through. She may have made it over to the state park.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry for not telling you soonerforgot the phones are down. I was going to keep looking for her, but, uh, you know.”
Leila cocked an eyebrow.
“I stopped in the burger place to ask if they’d seen her and got, uh, distracted.”
The twins seethed and stepped closer. In the closet, Roxie closed her eyes, breathing slowly. She massaged the exposed roll of her gut, desperate to quiet its rumbling.
Leila burst out laughing. “An admirable distraction. I can’t fault you for that, sister.” She slapped Mrs. Nott on her ample posterior. “Too bad about Lilith getting out, though. We’ll have to find a new, ah, volunteer to serve as a vessel.”
“Who do you think?”
“Not sure yet. But I’m sure a solution will reveal itself, as always.”
Roxie tilted her head back as a surge of indigestion flashed through her. Her belly pooched further forward against the shirt.
The bottom button popped, smacking loudly against the closet door. The twins whirled around, seizing their weapons.
Three more of the buttons followed suit. Roxie whimpered; Leila’s lips stretched into a grin.
As always, lovely!
And we're back.
Hesper jolted upright, glancing around. She was in a dark little compartment, cramped in on all sides. The floor was carpeted, but damp, and she could hear the rain pounding against a metal exterior.
As her vision slowly refocused, she recognized a nearby barrier as the back of a tall carseat. She grabbed the headrest and hoisted herself up to peer over.
“The truck,” she sighed, “I’m in Dag's truck. Okay. Calm down.”
The driver’s door opened. Dag’s head appeared. “You’re awake. Wow.”
“Yep.” She blinked. “What do you mean, ‘wow’ ?”
“You were, uh, very intoxicated. You didn’t have all that much, but I guess you had it too fast
you passed out.”
Hesper frowned, recalling it only vaguely. “Huh. Did you
carry me to your truck?”
“Er, yes.” He shifted himself into the driver’s seat, looking sheepish. “I got kinda spooked sitting there in a torn-up grocery store with you just
snoring on the linoleum.”
“Why not just go back to the room?” she groaned, glancing up at the motel.
“Roxie has the key. She hasn’t come back yet.” He scratched his beard. “And the front desk lady’s gone. So I figured you could sleep on my cot back there while I get something a little less janky over the windshield.” He jerked a thumb up at it: in place of the trashbags was a layer of translucent cellophane.
Hesper blew out a long breath. She climbed to the passenger seat and plopped down with a huff.
She nodded slowly. “Yeah, actually. Totally sober.”
He gave her a skeptical look. “It’s only been, like, an hour.”
“Feels like it’s been ten. It’s probably just from drinking on an empty stom
uh-oh.” She straightened up, winced, and shimmied awkwardly. Her bra strap was digging into the flesh over her ribs. Looking down, she noticed a little more cleavage than she was used to seeing. Below that a humble mound of baby fat stretched out the bottom of her tube top, creasing into a shallow roll over her lap.
It was a lap that rose higher off the seat than usual, too. Twisting around to look, she found the back of her skirt rounded taut by a soft, heart-shaped derriere. The lace of her thong arced up above the skirt’s waistband like a whale tail and she quickly reached back to make things more presentable.
“It worked, then,” she realized. “The enchantment
I was right.”
“That’s what you said, yeah, before you
She tousled her curls. “Sorry for getting carried away. These enchantments, they really kick things to eleven in the ‘maybe just one more’ department. Ugh, this tummy. Are you seeing this?”
He was. “And the light bulb thing? It lit up when you held it to...erm."
"...to my new fat. It's corporeal quintessence. It has to be."
"So it’s a weight gain spell after all? Like...on purpose?”
“It’s probably a simple acceleration spell. Just applied very
specifically, for complex effect, with some magnifications and minor augmentations to facilitate cooperation with the other enchantments
“Intake. Efficiency. A body affected by the spell processes food a lot faster than usual. And more thoroughly. But since our actions and activities are all in real time, there’s no way to use all the energy this generates, so it gets stored
” She glanced down at her gut. “That process gets accelerated, too. Then it’s just a matter of adding an endless appetite curse, which isn’t hardthat one’s pretty popular in catty high school cliquesand you’re off to the races. Or off to the buffet, I suppose.”
Dag thought for a moment. “But I haven’t eaten all night and I feel fine.”
“Hm. So it’s a selective field. Ilta’s a matriarchal demon, after all. Anyway, the important thing is that we know what’s going on: these backwater idiots are trying to store up a pile of fat while prepping the area for the arrival of an indulgence demon.”
“Whoa,” gasped Dag. He followed her every word with fascination, if not comprehension.
“Now I can’t rightly figure where all this is going, but don’t like one bit how we’re getting there. You haven’t seen Roxie?”
“Up to us, then. Listen, Dag. We need to figure out where these people are meeting. A ritual of this magnitude needs a multitude
and they’d need a sacred place large enough to
“How about there?” offered the trucker, jabbing a finger against his side window.
Hesper crawled over him and stared out. Dag leaned back, trying not to stare at her backside.
“The church,” she hissed. “Of course.”
Dag squinted. “Lot of cars in the parking lot for 5:30 in the morning.”
“Those weren’t there when we went by earlier. The party must be starting soon.”
Figures in long black robes were lining up outside the church. Many were still arriving, pulling hoods over their heads as they milled around the lot. Each carried a large offering.
“They’re bringing some pretty big packages with them,” Dag remarked. “What do you think?”
Hesper crawled back to her seat. “Hard to tell from this distance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more food.”
“I didn’t realize there would be so many of them. It looks like half the town.”
“This whole place must be in on it.” Hesper found her tote bag and spread it across her lap. “No wonder there wasn’t a struggle at either store.”
“What do we do?”
Hesper dug a sugar packet and a cup of coffee creamer from the bag. She held them up with an impish grin. “We arm ourselves. And we crash the party."
Dag nodded and pounded his fists.
"Also, I’m gonna need to borrow a few more of your pizzas.”
Behind the church sanctuary was a small office, separated from the pulpit by a half-hidden doorway.
Roxie sat atop one of the desks, flanked on either side by the twins. With her hands behind her on the desk, her unbuttoned shirt and unzipped slacks did little to contain the forward rolls of her belly. Ms. Nott peeled up Roxie’s undershirt to expose the pale paunch in full, giving it a thoughtful look.
“I’m willing to bet that not all of this is new,” the woman sneered, clicking her tongue. “An out of shape copI’m shocked.”
“Still a cop, though. And this feels like an unlawful detainment, among other things.” Roxie stared past her. Her belt, badge, and hat were piled on a chair across the room.
Ms. Nott nodded and reached into a drawer. “I suppose. But in twelve hours your mortal laws won’t mean much anymore.”
She pulled a bowl and brush from the drawer. She handed it to one of the twins, who left the room and quickly returned with the bowl full of orange paint.
With a gleeful grin Ms. Nott slathered a seven-pointed start on Roxie’s gut. Roxie shuddered at the cold touch.
“But twelve hours isn’t much,” Ms. Nott continued. “So let’s get this started, hm?” She pulled a bandana--also orange--from her pocket, rolled it up, and tied it into a gag over Roxie’s mouth.
The twins seized Roxie by her thickened arms and heaved her to her feet. They led her back into the sanctuary and set her in an ornate wooden chair on the dais.
To her left was another chair, taller, wider, and even more lavishly decorated, with a carved heptagram at its crown. Leila Jones waddled up and sat herself in it, her girth settling heavily.
“Tommy, go help them finish the arrangement,” she grunted. “They’re being too picky about what goes whereI’m more interested in quantity than precedent.”
The twins nodded and stepped down from the dais. Out on the sanctuary floor, several dozen robed figures milled about, carrying enormous serving platters, crock pots, punch bowls, coolers, trays, and baskets.
“That’s our midwest,” Roxie muttered to herself. “Even the cults have potlucks.”
Each robe included a long black veil. Roxie watched as the cultists obediently dropped off their offerings: a slender, bent figure with a casserole, a broad, wide-hipped figure with a pudding, a short, petite figure with a stack of frozen pizzas. Roxie fought the sudden urge to lick her lips and hated her mouth for watering.
Organ music drifted in from the balcony, filling the sanctuary. Once all the food had been arranged, the congregation made its way to the center of the room and jostled each other around until they had formed a pair of concentric circles around the giant chalk heptagram on the floor. There were about thirty acolytes in each circle.
They stood back to back and then, at the ringing of a bell, all turned to face forward. It wasn’t a particularly coordinated effortsome had clearly practiced more than othersbut Leila smiled at them with pride.
The sanctuary lights faded. They stood in darkness for a minute, until a glow rose up from below them. The heptagram on the floor shone with a menacing light. A series of candelabras flared to life along the tables and behind Leila on the dais. The music rose, pounding Roxie’s ears.
Ms. Nott took the wooden bowl and uncovered the cistern at the back of the pulpit. Dipping the bowl inside, he filled it to the brim with more paint.
She then descended from the dais, followed by the twins. Walking in stride, they slipped through the rings of devotees and entered the inside of the circle.
Taking care not to step on the chalk of the heptagram, they turned to face one of the acolytes. Her husky figure filled out the dark robe. One of the twins raised his hand and rang a silver bell.
At its tolling, the acolyte pulled her robe open, revealing a fat, almost square-shaped stomach. It was completely exposed and as the robe parted Roxie could see that the woman wore nothing but black underwear and high heels.
Ms. Nott nodded to the proffered belly with a smile. She reached out a hand to touch it an gave it an appreciative squeeze. She then turned to the second twin, who held up the wooden bowl of paint. Ms. Nott dipped a finger in it and traced an orange circle around the woman’s navel.
The acolyte curtsied and closed her robe. Ms. Nott and the twins stepped to the next woman in the circle. The first twin rang his bell again; this new woman opened her robe.
She was a much thinner woman with only a slight pooch to her abdomen, but she displayed it proudly. She sported very thick thighs, too, which Ms. Nott patted with approval before reaching for the paint.
Roxie felt the paint on her own stomach tingle. It was faint, but concerning. The many delicious smells in the room were beginning to overwhelm her, as well. Her head drifted awhile, but a firm scolding from her conscience dragged her attention back to the present.
The ceremony continued. Ms. Nott was having difficulty painting one woman’s navel, which was tucked into the fold of a double belly. Everyone gathered watched with interest.
Roxie turned her head, seeking out the little office door. It would only be a short sprint across the dais, provided no one intercepted her.
“Please don’t,” whispered Leila. “I will chain you down if I have to.”
Roxie swallowed. A hushed gasp went up among the congregation and she panicked, but they were staring at the flat stomach and visible ribs of the next acolyte in line. Ms. Nott clicked her tongue, but gave the woman a reassuring pinch before reaching for the paint anyway.
“And chains are probably my least painful option, deputy,” Leila continued. “Just stayenjoy the service.”
Ms. Nott moved on to the last woman of the inside circle. This acolyte was shorter and smaller than the others, but her tummy poked out happily with a layer of baby fat. Roxie squinted, half-convinced there was a snake tattoo slithering just above the woman’s hip.
“If you insist,” Roxie murmured.
Ms. Nott made her way to the outer circle and inspected the acolytes there in turn. She painted circles on food babies, beer guts, pot bellies, and aprons of flab. Her hands cupped fat rolls, squeezed flesh folds, caressed bulges, pinched lovehandles, and patted overhangs. Roxie’s own stomach continued to growl, joined by an increasingly loud chorus from the other gathered, impatient appetites.
At length the priestess and the twins finished their last visitationa small muffin top at the front of the roomand stomped back up to the pulpit. The twins parted to stand at the end of each table.
Leila stood from her chair, huge and round and jiggling before her congregation.
“Welcome and good morning,” she said in a voice that rang off the uncovered stone. “Let us bless our meal.”
The cultists bowed their heads. Roxie glanced around as the candles began to flicker.
Leila spread her hands. “Underworld, netherworld, behind-world, hear us! I am Leila, devoted servant, calling out on behalf of my gathered sisters.”
“Hear us,” chanted the congregation. Roxie shuddered.
“Ilta,” Leila continued, “we call to you.”
The music ceased.
“Hail, Ilta, ravenous one, who devours the sun, who scatters its crumbs as stars across the night sky
hail, Ilta, insatiable maw of the underworld, whose hunger levels mountains, whose thirst drains oceans
hail, Ilta, ye of appetite infinite.”
The candles flickered, then burned brighter. The congregation turned their veiled eyes upon the brazier at the center of the circle.
“Share with us, Ilta, a pittance of your attentions, that we may honor you with a gift. We bring forth offerings, with all humility, that we may pour such treasures down your ever-avaricious throat and add what modicum of girth we may to your immeasurable stomach.”
“Hear us,” the congregation repeated.
Leila stretched a hand toward Roxie. “We offer also this righteous warrior, plunged unto corruption...may she become today an instrument of your power and sovereignty, that she may learn, through the failure of her mortal and martial authority, the true power of your immortal and inescapable imperium.”
This is great!!
The organ music resumed, faintly, with a driving rhythm.
“And now,” Leila concluded, eyes to the ceiling, belly stretching her robes forward, “let us complete this invocation and begin the amassing of our energies, lest we insult insatiable Ilta with anything less than the fullest and most replete of stomachs.”
“Hear us!” shouted the crowd. The organ’s tempo quickened.
Leila stretched her hands toward the brazier. Her congregation turned in to face it. “Hear us, Ilta, and pity our hunger. Cast your voracious eyes upon us from your depths, grace us with the licking of your lascivious lips, and illuminate us with a portent of your impending presence!”
She splayed her fingers. The candelabras flared and the music swelled. The congregation chanted “hear us!” one last time. A gust swirled through the hall, rustling their black robes and tossing napkins from the banquet tables. But the brazier upon which all their gazes were focused remained unlit.
She grunted and pushed her hands higher. Everyone stared at the brazier; Ms. Nott’s face twisted with growing apprehension.
The wind settled. A handful of the veils twitched as the cultists glanced at one another. Somebody coughed.
“No,” whispered Leila.
“Why didn’t it light?” asked Ms. Nott, lips trembling.
Leila reddened. Her jaw sank into her double chin. “The circle has been disrupted,” she growled. “Step back, my sisters.”
The cultists hurried away from the heptagram and backed into lines along each table. One robed figure remained, however: the petite woman on the far side of the circle. She slowly pulled her right foot back from where it had smudged the chalk line.
“Sabotage! Reveal yourself, sister,” Leila hissed, “and try to explain this betrayal.”
Hesper threw back the hood and shook out her mane of hair. The cultists gasped. “No sister of yours, Leila Jones,” she answered huskily. “I’m putting a stop to this.”
I should have known. And judging by your aura, you’re a fellow practitioneryou stink of righteous indignation even more than this pitiful excuse for a policewoman.”
Roxie stiffened. The heavy hand of one of the twins pressed down on her shoulder.
“I’m indignant for a reason,” Hesper spat. “If you were a real practitioner yourself, you’d know there are rules to this stuff. Summoning demons is a no-no. And summoning renegade demons too mad for the normal underworld hierarchy is a no-no-no-no.”
Leila shook her head. “I’m aware that what we’re doing is a little unorthodox. But we’re not interested in being lectured by an amateur.”
“I’m no amateurI’m Hesper Ashling. I represent the arcane council. And either way I’m not interested seeing in the end of the world. I don’t know exactly what y’all think you’re gonna accomplish here, but it ain’t wise and I ain’t about to let it happen.”
Leila narrowed her eyes. One of the twins stepped over to join the standoff, leaving the other with Roxie.
“What ‘ain’t wise’ is threatening our sisterhood. You are too bound by your rules, Miss Ashling, to realize the power we have unlocked. Leave now, disappear, and you won’t be incinerated.”
Hesper reached into the pocket of her robe. “Call off the ritual.”
Leila sighed, unfolded her arms, and stretched a hand forward. A light appeared in her open palm, a tiny glowing orb. It flared, then flashed, and a ball of fire burst forth with a roar. The cultists ducked; shielding their faces.
Hesper pulled a small hand mirror from her pocket. She whipped it into the air and dove to the floor.
The fireball exploded above her. Flames swirled upward, filling the space overhead, only to suddenly shrink. The blaze shriveled away with a pained, screaming howl and were sucked into the surface of the hand mirror like so much toilet water.
The mirror clattered to the floor, shattering upon the stone.
Roxie shrieked through her gag, writhing in terror. Ms. Nott pressed a knife to her throat, hissing for her to be silent. Leila gritted her teeth and stepped down from the pulpit as the twins stomped forward.
“That was lucky,” murmured Hesper, rising to her feet. She cleared her throat. “My turn, then?”
Throwing her robe open, she dug into her bra and tugged out a white index card. She brandished it like a weapon and stared down the approaching twins. They paused mid-stride, watching warily.
“A material anchor,” Leila scoffed. “Don’t you realize you could be free of such limitations? I am working to unchain our magic, Miss Ashling.”
“By chaining yourself to a spirit of destruction. No thanks.” She flipped the card around. It read, in a bold script, “x2 = -1.”
Ms. Nott’s knife began to dig into Roxie’s skin. Blood trickled down from her neck. Roxie shut her eyes against the pain, whimpering.
Hesper closed her own eyes. The index card lit up with a searing white flare; everyone recoiled and shouted, stumbling backward and clawing at their eyes.
“Can’t see” screamed Leila, falling back onto the steps, her girth wobbling.
Hesper rushed past the blinded cultists and leapt onto the dais. She kicked Ms. Nott out of the way and ripped the bandana from Roxie’s mouth.
“Holy shit! Holy shit!” Roxie sputtered.
“Unholy shit, actually,” Hesper remarked, helping her up from the chair.
“What did you do? What was that?”
“Uh, flashcard. Lucky you had your eyes shut there.”
“Roxie, questions later. We need to run.” Behind her, Leila was stumbling about, searching wildly for anyone in reach.
Roxie took a deep, shaky breath. “Um. Um. Th-there’s a back door. Through that office.” She pointed to the little door behind the pulpit.
Hesper grabbed her hand. “Perfect. Let’s go.”
“The office!” shrieked Ms. Nott. The twins picked themselves up and began feeling their way toward the dais.
Hesper and Roxie blustered into the office. An emergency exit waited at the far end. Roxie slipped away to retrieve her pile of personal items while Hesper kicked over a couple of chairs behind them.
They reached the exit door and fell together against the push-bar, collapsing out into the rain. Hesper shoved the door shut again just as the twins found their way into the office. Roxie pointed to a large clay planter next to the door and they hurried to topple it over and block the way.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Roxie huffed. “I can’t believe this is happening. Did she shoot a fucking
fireball at you?”
Hesper grabbed her hands. “Yeah, she did. But I caught it. Everything’s gonna be okay, Roxie, but we need to get out of here. Where’s your car?”
“This has to be a dream or something
“Roxie. Roxie! Hey, I’m sorry, but this is happening. Y’all can freak out later. Where is your car?”
around the corner, there. By the bushes.”
Hand in hand, they clambered across the back lot. A chair exploded through the office window behind them and one of the twins began to climb through, silent but seething. A gunshot shattered another one of the windows as the two women rounded the corner.
Hesper and Roxie swung around to the far side of the police cruiser and slumped down against the door, gasping for breath. Roxie’s flabby stomach glistened with rainwater, heaving with each out of shape breath. Hesper yelped.
“You okay?” the deputy panted, fidgeting with her hat.
“Yeah. I just sat in a puddle.”
“Place is flooding. The whole street’s a puddle.” She tugged her car keys from inside the hat. “You don’t mind fireballs and cult magic but you worry about getting wet?”
“You’re wearing pants. I’ve got nothing on my backside but a thong.” She watched Roxie unlock the door. “A thong that barely fits now, at that
Another gunshot rang overhead. Roxie swung her door open and reached inside. Hesper tucked a finger into her boot and pulled out a miniature fan.
A flurry of splashes encircled the car, followed by a pair of ominous clicks. Roxie slid back against the open door, shotgun in hand, aiming it over Hesper’s head. Behind Hesper stood one of the twins, pistol trained at Roxie.
Hesper was brandishing her fan over Roxie’s head. Behind the open door stood the other twin, cocking his own pistol. The four of them stared at one another for a moment, fuming.
“Got any more tricks?” asked Roxie.
A roar split their ears. Dag burst from the nearby bushes, swinging a sledgehammer.
Bullrushing the twin behind Hesper, he brought the hammer down on the twin’s hands. The gun fell uselessly and Dag tackled him against the trunk of the car.
As the other twin swung his gun up at the new target, Roxie elbowed the door. It knocked him off balance and he shot wide.
Hesper flapped her fan and a wave of invisible force threw him from his feet, scattering raindrops everywhere.
Roxie heaved herself into the driver’s seat and unlocked the other doors. Dag shoved his opponent down and pulled Hesper after him into the car.
“I saw a light,” he said as Roxie fired up the engine. “Was that the signal?”
“Got you to come running, didn’t it?”
“Guys?” Roxie whispered.
The office door had been forced open. Cultists poured out from the church, jeweled knives at the ready. Leila shoved her way through; her hurrying, jiggling bulk knocked a few of them to the ground. She stretched out a hand, glowing palm forward.
“Drive,” shouted Hesper. “Drive!”
Roxie peeled out. “But where?”
“The hotel?” asked Dag.
“They know I was staying there. And they have to have noticed your truck.”
“My van,” offered Hesper. “Piece of junk blends right in. I left it down at the travel plaza.”
“Okay. This should at least buy us a few minutes to catch our breath and figure out a plan,” said Hesper, pulling the back doors of the van shut. She threw off her black robe and peered through the dusty windows.
The plaza’s parking lot, close as it was to the bloated creek, was beginning to flood. A couple inches of water covered the asphalt, hiding deep pools in the many potholes. They’d parked Roxie’s squad car as close to the bridge as the water would allow and had splashed their way around the plaza to where Hesper’s van was tucked out of sight.
It was a cozy van, at least on the inside. It had probably been state of the art in the early eighties. Hesper turned to check on Dag and Roxie, who were huddled on the middle seat bench and staring back at her, shell-shocked.
“Get down,” she urged, climbing over the rear seat. “They’ll see us through the windows. Yeah, just lie down on the floor between the seats. Good blind spot. I’ll keep watch.”
Dag flopped down to the floor, broad chest facing up. Roxie watched and grimaced. It was immediately clear that there was scarcely room for him, much less the both of them. But at Hesper’s prodding she wriggled down and squeezed herself half next to him and half on top of him. Her pot-belly squished against his barrel-like torso, her khaki uniform melding with his brown flannel in the shadows.
Hesper clambered over the seat and straddled them, keeping her head at window height. Glancing up, Roxie couldn’t help but notice the weight the petite, lingerie-clad woman had put on since leaving the motel. A distinct pouch of baby fat pushed forward from her abdomen and her softened butt cheeks, particularly from Roxie’s perspective, looked positively swollen. The threads of Hesper’s fishnets were spread thin.
“See anything?” asked Dag.
“Nothing but rain. Guess we had a bigger head start than I thought. Nice driving, deputysaved our asses back there.”
“Saved your asses?” Roxie scoffed. “I’d still be their guest of honor if you hadn’t showed up. They would have cut me open and sacrificed my guts to their fucked-up appetite god or whatever.” Her guts gurgled loudly at the thought.
Hesper shook out her curls. “Demon. And hey, I couldn’t just let them do thatI was just starting to like those guts of yours.”
“Plus, I’ve always wanted to hit somebody with a hammer,” added Dag.
“But seriously, thank you,” Roxie continued, watching Hesper’s uncovered butt bounce as she shifted around. “I thought I was dead. I could kiss you guys.”
Hesper cocked an eyebrow down at her. “We’re not out of this yet. But be carefulI may just hold you to that.”
Roxie adjusted her waistband. “So what was your plan before I told you about the back door? Fight everybody?”
“Something like that, probably. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead..I can be big on improvisation. And I did bring some insurance in the pizza boxes, just in case.” Something outside caught her eye. “Okay, quiet. Here they come.”
She flopped down on top of Dag. He winced, but held his breath and managed to keep silent while she arranged herself face-down across his and Roxie’s stomachs.
“Insurance in the pizza boxes?” Roxie whispered.
“Couple of sugar packets. Now, shh.”
Flashlight beams swept through the windows. They could hear footsteps splashing outside in the flooded parking lot. Women’s voices grumbled to one another.
Roxie’s stomach grumbled in reply. Hesper shot her a look, but her own tummy let out a long whine as well. Gritting her teeth, Hesper reached back to adjust her underwear. The thong was cutting into the soft flesh of her hips.
The splashing drew closer. The fugitives held their collective breath.
“Hey! I think the police car’s over there!” somebody shouted. “Isn’t that it by the abutment?”
“They must be trying to cross the creek.”
“Couldn’t have had much luck with thatthey’ll regret trying it. Here, come on.”
The footsteps splashed away. The windows went dark again.
Roxie’s stomach groaned.
“Shit. Sorry, guys, I’ve had this stupid appetite all night
“Not your fault,” Hesper whispered, pressing a hand to her own abdomen.
“I feel like I could eat this whole fucking van,” Roxie moaned. “What is going on? It’s not more of this magic stuff, is it?”
Dag shifted between them. “It’s part of what the cult’s doing, right? Hesper said it was part of an enchantment.”
Hesper nodded. “Yep. Exaggerated hunger and accelerated, uh, fat storage. Our friends out there are trying to put on a lot of weight in a short amount of time.” She sat up, slowly and peeked out the window. “So, yes, more magic stuff.”
“But why?” asked Roxie. “What would they stand to gain by
okay, I worded that wrong.”
“Corporal Quintus?” offered Dag, lifting his head.
“Corporeal quintessence,” Hesper corrected him. “I always reckoned it was a myth. A pipe-dream for corner-cutting wannabes like myself. But it looks like this Leila girl has cracked it.”
“What is it, though?”
Hesper pushed herself up onto the seat. “Energy storage. Uh, here
think about the magic you’ve seen me do tonight
you’re just gonna have to accept it’s real at this point, deputy. So, I had to say words and hold up a thing before anything cool happened, right? That flash spell, you remember? It was anchored in the index card. The divination stuff I did at the plaza used the strings and whatnot and nothing happened till the thunder came through.”
“Mortal magic is manipulation of energy. Has to have a material anchor and a real-world energy source. For that first divination I used the thunder. For the other one I had to light the match first. I used the fire, but I couldn’t generate it from nothing.”
“But when Leila threw that fireball at you
“Exactly. Fire from nowhere. All the candles in the room couldn’t have added up to that blaze.” She tapped her chin, as though still working through the logic herself. “Leila’s weight gain enchantment, at least as far as I can tell, allows a practitioner to store arcane energythat’s the quintessencestore it along with how her body naturally stores
energy.” She looked down and gave her tummy a squeeze.
Roxie put a hand to her own gut. “So that would make me 30 pounds more magical than when I started my shift?”
Dag twisted to face her. “You’re two hundred pounds?” he gasped. Roxie grimaced.
“In theory,” Hesper mused. “But it wouldn’t do anything for you unless you were a practitioner. Hell, I’m a practitioner and I haven’t figured out how to access the energy myself. I know it’s in there..." She gave her tummy a pat. "...but I can’t tap into it. Our cult here seems to have solved the problem, though.”
“So me, I’m just getting fatter,” Roxie sighed. To allow herself to stretch out a bit more, she’d slipped off of Dag and under the bench. She could feel her gut squish against the metal frame.
“Yep. It’s just an effect of being in the enchantment’s range.”
“Leila was the only one doing magic, though,” the deputy realized. “Are the rest of them
Hesper climbed into the rear seat. “Hm, good point. She probably is the only practitioner of them, sureshe just impressed all these local girls with her abilities.”
“Cult of personality,” Dag agreed.
“So why make everyone in town fat if she’s the only one to benefit?” wondered Roxie.
Hesper nodded. “Not sure. Might be she can draw energy from her followers
or might be she’s just a little weird in the head.” She unzipped her boots and began pulling one of them off. “Either way, she’s set this up so that she’ll have more power at her chubby little fingertips than mortal earth has seen in a long time.”
“Just in time to summon a demon.”
“Right. And that’s what I can’t reckonusually when you call a demon, it’s because you’re asking it for power. That’s
that’s why I called, anyway.” She tugged off her other boot. “Not sure what you ask a demon for when you already have all that power
“Can’t be good,” said Dag.
“Nope. And I reckon it’s in our interest to stop her.” She looked back and forth between them. “Y’all with me?”
Roxie took a deep breath. “Sounds like a public safety issue to me.”
“Not like we’re going anywhere else tonight,” laughed Dag.
Hesper clapped her hands. “Outstanding. No demon apocalypse on our watch. Dag, where did my bag end up?”
“Front seat. I’ll get it.”
“She may have a bellyful of power, but we’re not without our tricks,” she concluded, nodding to herself. “Time to go on the offensive, y’all.”
The window behind her shattered. A muscular hand shot through the opening and seized Hesper by the forehead, wrenching it back against the frame with a crack.
Dag heaved himself up. Roxie shrieked and tried to wriggle out from beneath the bench.
The back door flew open. Ms. Nott, thoroughly soaked and brimming with rage, leapt into the van and plunged one of the cult’s bejeweled knives hilt-deep into Hesper’s throat.
Hesper sputtered. Blood trickled from her mouth. The hand over her head released her and one of the twins yanked her out of the van.
Her body splashed down into the flooded parking lot and lay there, eyes staring agape into the driving rain.
Well, THAT was a quick offense!
What?! The only practitioner died?!
Roxie’s uniform shirt flopped to the floor and joined her shoes in the corner of the room. Her trousers slapped against the wall and tumbled down onto the pile.
Leila pulled off the deputy’s hat and smirked at it. She paced a little before tossing it away like a Frisbee, then watched as the twins finished chaining Roxie’s hands over her head.
They were back in the church’s office. The desks had been shoved aside so that Roxie could be shackled against the windowless back wall. A low chant from the congregation resounded from the sanctuary.
With her arms stretched overhead, the deputy’s back arched and her stomach jutted forward like a melon. Stripped to her tank top and underwear, she began to shiver. The spare tire around her waist flashed with goosebumps.
“Don’t worry,” Leila purred, “it’ll be plenty warm in here soon. Your conjuror friend only interrupted our initial invocation
delayed us maybe an hour or so. But we’ll restart in a few minutes and still have all day to get you ready for the rites.” She pushed Roxie’s tank top up, letting the whole of her saggy midsection flop out. “Mm.”
“Found one,” said Ms. Nott, appearing in the door. She held up a bathroom scale.
“Fantastic. This will be much simpler. Easier to keep you back here where you can’t mess anything up, deputy. Here, Ms. Nott, slide it under her.”
The twins lifted Roxie off the ground with disturbing ease. Ms. Nott set down the scale and slid it under Roxie’s feet.
“203,” Leila read. “Not bad.” She turned to one of the twins. “So we’ll need another, what, one-thirty on top of that. She should be at least half of me when I reach the threshold weight, or the redirection may not take.”
Roxie scoffed. “Dream on. I won’t eat another damn thing.” She glared with all her exasperated fury, but her stomach rumbled loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Sure you won’t.”
“What about him?” asked Ms. Nott, gesturing to Dag.
Leila scratched her double chin. The trucker lay unconscious in the corner, a bloody bandage around his head.
“We could use more help in the kitchen. Put him to work.”
“Take him downstairs,” Ms. Nott commanded, waving the twins toward him.
Leila stretched, yawned, and patted Roxie on the cheek. “Let’s get this thing started. I am famished.”
” Roxie choked, shaking her head. “At least tell me what the fuck is going on.”
Leila smiled at her. “It’s very simple, deputy. Between now and sundown we’re going to fill you up with as much food as you can take. We’ll all be doing the same thing out there, so don’t feel singled out or anything, haha.” She adjusted her priestess robes and yawned. “Anyway, then, once the sun’s down, well
then you get to die.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll all be doing the same thing, then?”
“Oh, ah, no. You’re right. You can feel singled out when it comes to that part, I suppose. But if it’s any consolation, officer, it’s for a great cause.” She headed for the door. “And to be fair, you weren’t even supposed to be here. Ms. Nott’s little sister was supposed to be taking one for the team today, but she seems to have gotten cold feet.”
“And then you chased her out of town,” added Ms. Nott.
Roxie glared at the floor.
Leila clicked her tongue. “Alright, friends. Our congregation awaits. And Roxie, at least try to enjoy your last meal
we’ll have Tommy here bring your first course in as soon as we finish the invocation and this stuff is deliciousmmjust to die for.”
Dag’s eyes fluttered open. He glanced around, blinking in confusion. His head throbbed and when he pressed a hand to his temple it flashed in pain.
“Good morning,” said a polite voice. “Glad you decided to join us
thought maybe you had a concussion.”
The voice belonged to a fat, middle aged man in an apron. He was leaning back against a long metal prep table. Dag slowly recognized the room as a commercial-style kitchen. The windows were short and high up on the wallthe room must have been in the church’s basement.
“Renovations,” Dag remembered.
“What’s your name, hoss?” asked the cook.
Dag stood and glared at him. “Are you working with those psychos up there? I’m not telling you anything.”
“D’aw, don’t be like that. The ladies are doing great work for the community. Us fellers down here” He gestured to the handful of other cooks, all men. “are right thankful to be a part. You should, too.”
“They just killed my friend. Stabbed her in the throat.”
The cook nodded. “Your friend was a problem. The sisterhood protects the town from problems.” He put a hand on his hip, making sure Dag noticed the gun holstered there. The other cooks did the same. “Are you gonna be a problem, hoss?”
Dag gritted his teeth. He tried to step forward, but found his feet shackled to a wash basin.
“Yeah, no, I don’t think you will be. Because we have your other friend upstairs. You decide to be a problem, well, that little pig of a cop will feel the consequences. So you’re gonna warsh them dishes, hoss, and do anything else me or the fellers tell you to. Clear?”
After a long glare and a deep breath, Dag turned his back to them and reached into the wash basin. It was piled high with pans and trays. “I thought this was a potluck,” he grumbled.
“The first couple courses, sure,” the man laughed. “But this party lasts all day.”
Dag felt through the water for a sponge and began scraping one of the pans. He shut his eyes, quaking with anger.
The cook threw a sidelong glance at the stairway. The twin standing there nodded and headed back upstairs.
“Hear us,” chanted the congregation, “hear us!”
Up on the dais, Leila stretched her hands toward the brazier. Her congregation turned in to face it. “Hear us, Ilta, and pity our hunger. Cast your voracious eyes upon us from your depths, grace us with the licking of your rapacious lips, and illuminate us with a portent of your impending presence!”
She splayed her fingers. The candelabras flared and the music swelled. The congregation chanted “hear us!” one last time. A gust swirled through the hall, rustling their black robes and tossing napkins from the banquet tables.
A whorl of smoke puffed up from the brazier. Leila grinned and shut her eyes.
The brazier erupted in a sudden blaze. The congregation cheered and howled, some shielding their eyes or waving off the blast of heat.
“Behold,” cried Leila, “the promise of arrival! Come sundown this very evening, my sisters, we shall know the presence of our patron and receive her blessing! As the rain outside floods the streets, the might of our sisterhood shall flood this world! We are heard, sisters; we are heard!”
“We are heard!” they shouted with glee.
Leila backed up a few steps. “And it now falls to us to prepare ourselves, sisters! Eat! Drink! Gratify your every decadent urge! We must fill this day by filling ourselves, sisters, for accursed is she who presents herself before Ilta with belt buckled and button unburstone cannot be lifted up lest she be filled out!”
The congregation tore off their robes and hurled them into a pile around the brazier. They shrieked and ululated as Leila bellowed on, dancing with one another in a bouncing, jiggling display.
“Let us feast,” Leila concluded, settling herself into the great chair. She had kept her robe on and reclined in her throne like an empress. The jewel in her ring glinted in the firelight.
The twins arranged a trio of folding tables before her and covered them with serving platters and silverware. Ms. Nott stepped down from the pulpit and guided the jubilant congregation along the buffet tables.
Leila rubbed her hands and inhaled the aroma of a large breakfast. “Keep it coming, Tommy. I don’t want either of these tables empty as long as the sun’s up.”
The cultists’ meeting reminds me a bit of Young Sherlock Holmes: [ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzahXAGAL9I[/ame]
Rame Tep, Rame Tep!
Keep up the good work!
Definitely! Had some Eyes Wide Shut stuck in my head, too.
Roxie stared across the office. The storm continued, but it had grown light enough outside that she could see her patrol car in the parking lot. She frowned, wondering why the cultists had bothered to bring it back up.
Her hat sat on the windowsill. Its tarnished star taunted her.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “Hesper, I’m so sorry
The sanctuary door swung open, letting in the sounds of a raucous party. The cultists laughed and sang through mouthfuls of untold quantities of food.
Ms. Nott entered, pushing a small cart. Aboard was an assortment of serving plates. Roxie gulped and her stomach leapt.
“Time for breakfast,” Ms. Nott chirped. “First breakfast, anyway. We’ll see how many we get in you before we switch to brunch.”
“I’m not hungry,” Roxie choked. Her stomach promptly growled.
“Of course you are. I know I am
but I drew the short straw and get to take the first shift in here. So, hungry as I am, I don’t get to eat anything until you’ve finished everything on this cart.”
She parked the cart next to Roxie and swept a hand over it.
“Just look at this exquisite breakfast. Think of all the effort and care that went into it. Wouldn’t want to waste that.”
“You people are insane.”
Ms. Nott ignored her. “Look at this stack of pancakes,” she continued, gesturing to what might have been more accurately called a ‘tower.’
Roxie’s eyes widened at the veritable bowl of syrup waiting next to the pancakes. She took a shaky breath.
“After that, we’ve got a big plate of biscuits and all this sausage gravy to go with them. Mm. Oh, how do you like your eggs? If you can’t decide, don’t worryI brought lots of different options and you can just try them all.”
“How about I try none,” Roxie growled, “and you push that cart right back out of here?”
Ms. Nott sucked her teeth. “Now, deputy, of all the options I brought up, that isn’t one of them.”
“I don’t want any of that shit in my belly. Back off.”
” The bottom-heavy woman folded up a pancake, dipped it in the syrup, and jabbed it into Roxie’s mouth. “
it isn’t your belly anymore, you see.”
The sudden movement caught Roxie off guard. The pancake was in her mouth. Its savory flavor and fluffy texture were so satisfying and so arousing
she had greedily swallowed by the time she realized what was happening.
Ms. Nott filled a glass of juice. “Deputy, come on, now. Feeding folks is what I do best.” She seized Roxie’s jaw, lifted, and poured the juice into her mouth.
The rushing flood of sweetness overwhelmed Roxie. Her stomach awakened; it was so ravenous she feared it might consume her from within.
“Another pancake?” Ms. Nott asked, smirking.
Roxie vehemently shook her head. But when the woman poked another pancake at her mouth, she bit into it with involuntary zeal.
Ms. Nott lifted the plate of pancakes and held it under Roxie’s nose. Roxie’s eyes rolled back, her eyes closing.
“What an aroma,” Ms. Nott purred. “I wonder how many we can fit in your mouth at once.”
” Roxie stammered. “You sure you
don’t want any for yourself? I’m happy to share.”
The other woman hesitated, glancing at the cart, and swallowed. “I suppose I do.” She picked up a couple of the pancakes. “But I don’t like sharing.”
“Ah. Well, it’s all yours, then. You don’t have to share with me.”
“I didn’t get to be the lieutenant of our sisterhood without a lot of willpower, deputy. If you think I can’t stand here force feeding you without taking a single bite for myself, you’ve got another thing coming.” She held up the pancakes, dripping with syrup. “You’ve got a lot coming, in fact
Roxie fought, but had finished the whole stack of pancakes within five minutes. Ms. Nott celebrated by pouring what remained of the syrup bowl down Roxie’s throat, giggling as it spilled over her lips and began trickling down her neck.
She followed it up with a plate of scrambled eggs, holding Roxie’s face still while pushing huge forkfuls into her mouth. A warm glow was spreading in Roxie’s stomach and she could feel the orange paint around her navel tingling faintly.
Ms. Nott stuffed the biscuits into her next, one by one, smothering each with the thick gravy. Roxie felt her eyes beginning to glaze over and there was a pressure behind them, bulging them out.
Her fitful struggles grew less frequent and more sluggish. Her spiteful resistance quieted to an occasional, reluctant glare. It was difficult to remain focused on her anger with her cravings being so generously answered. Ms. Nott hummed happily to herself as she worked through each dish, occasionally casting an eye toward the door and murmuring in anticipation of her return to the feast.
Eventually the plates and bowls stood empty; Roxie’s stomach stood anything but. Ms. Nott drained the last of the juice pitcher down Roxie’s throat and backed away, like an artist inspecting her latest work.
Roxie hung limply against her chains. Her bloated gut gurgled. Her face and chest was sticky with dribbled syrup. She gazed up at the ceiling and belched.
“Wonderfully glutted,” mused Ms. Nott. “Leila will be delighted.” She grabbed the cart and headed for the door. “You’ll get a half hour or so to digest nowwe know how fullness can require reprieve, yesand then someone will be back with second breakfast.”
“Joy,” huffed Roxie.
“I hear they’re making waffles!” Ms. Nott giggled and pushed her way out of the office.
The sanctuary bustled with energy and activity. Cultists rushed from table to table, loading up plates and filling glasses. They milled about as they ate, thrilled with every detail of the meal. A parcel of them were still singing in one corner, and a few others were dancing, though much more slowly and cautiously now.
Leila sat in her throne, head back, mouth open, as the twins took turns feeding her from a similar breakfast spread. They gave her only enough time to chew and swallow before depositing the next pancake or next spoonful. Occasionally she held up a hand and was treated to one of the many beverages before her.
She paused as Ms. Nott passed. “Anything left on that cart?”
“Not a crumb,” Ms. Nott replied, beaming. “She finished every last morsel.”
“Good, good.” Leila rocked with a burp. “I had a feeling she’d do well. Got a hunger in her, that one. Go drop the cart in the kitchen and then you can grab a plate.”
Ms. Nott bounced. “I already know where to start. Can’t wait to catch up.”
Leila reached out and patted the woman’s tummy. “Good work. Alright, boys, back at it. Mmph.”
Roxie banged the back of her head against the wall. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
They’d left her alone in the office. It should have been her opportunity to mount a daring escape, but she wasn’t making progress.
She’d writhed against her manacles for a while, but her arms had been raised overhead so long they had fallen asleep and were all but useless. There was nothing within reach of her feet, either, and when she’d tried to stretch herself horizontally to the nearest desktop she’d ended up swinging back against the wall like a drunken pendulum.
She stared at the ceiling. “Just walked in here like a fucking idiot. No warrant, no cause, just ‘hey, hm, wonder what’s in that creepy-looking church?’ Sat there stuck under a carseat while Hesper
” She choked, blinking as her eyes welled up. “What the fuck, Roxie
what happened to you? You were so pumped to be a hero and now you’ve just failedjust fucking failedat literally every chance to be one.”
She thrashed against the chains. She twisted round and slammed herself bodily into the wall a few times. The last slam shook the wall enough that a heptagram hanging on the far side of the room fell off its hook and clattered to the floor.
“Damn it,” she groaned, wincing.
Lightning crackled outside. The heptagram reflected its pale flash.
Roxie swallowed. “Alright, spirit world, or whatever,” she whimpered to the empty room. “I don’t know who, or which side, um, to ask
are there even sides? Come on, Rox. Anyway, I don’t have all that magical shit to ask with. But look, if anyone out there is listening
wouldn’t, uh, wouldn’t say no to a little good luck for once here.”
Ms. Nott is such a sexy feeder! I sure would love to see "MORE" of her!
The sky overhead swirled with hot rage, ruddy colors flashing and darkening and shifting. There was no more rain and the air had grown impossibly still, despite the swirling heavens. The ground underfoot was remarkably smooth, like slate, but soft and pliable.
Hesper prodded it with her foot. Doing so created a small indentation, but it flattened as soon as she drew her foot back. Looking around, she realized she was standing in a large, shallow depression. It seemed she was somehow weighing down the land where she stood.
She took a few cautious steps. The center of the crater followed her, as though she were walking across a giant trampoline. Hesper scanned the horizon, but couldn’t tell how far it stretched.
Her neck itched. She reached a hand to it and felt a gaping slit to the left of her throat, cleaned of blood but certainly not healed.
She felt movement in the ground and turned around. A woman was walking her way, bringing her own depression in the ground with her. As she approached Hesper, their respective craters began to merge.
The woman was tall and graceful, with a striking hourglass figure. She was naked and her skin, if it could be called that, was jet black. There was a lustrous sheen to it, as though she were sculpted from a block of obsidian. Her eyes glowed with a familiar orange fire.
Hesper folded her arms. “You must be Ilta.”
The demon smiled. “I must be,” she replied in an echoing voice that seemed to come more from the ground than her mouth. “I am pleased to meet you, Hesper Ashling.”
“I take it this is your
realm,” Hesper ventured, looking around, “and I’m about dead.”
“It is. And you are not yet death’s property, no. Not while I hold you here.”
Hesper studied her. “You’re a lot
slimmer than I expected.”
Ilta ran a clawed hand down her flat stomach, cocking her narrow waist. “What you see before you is a projection. My true bodymy true girthis too vast for mortal perception. I find wearing it rather impractical when holding court with those as tiny and inconsequential as yourself.” She bent down and patted the ground. It wobbled faintly. “But I assure you, dear Hesper, that it is present.”
Hesper swallowed, but kept her eyes locked on Ilta’s.
“When you were sixteen,” the demon purred, “you attempted a rite of invocation. You called out to the underworld, seeking counsel and offering your servitude in exchange for demonic favor.”
“Yeah. Nobody answered.”
“The call was nonetheless heard. And the perceptive of us here took notice.” She circled Hesper. “Your humility was appreciated
and remembered. You brought no scheme to entrap us, no ambition to outwit us. You simply called. And now, with circumstances arisen as they are, I have intercepted you on your way to death’s door that I may answer your very earnest call
and hold you to your offer.”
“That was over a decade ago.”
“There is no expiration date on desperate pleas, dear Hesper. And oh, do I remember your desperation.” She stood behind Hesper, draping her long fingers over the conjuror’s shoulders. “You would not renege on a deal with the underworld, would you? I expect you know what becomes of those who do.”
Hesper stepped away and turned to face the demon. Ilta pulled her hands back, a mischievous grin on her face. She wrapped her arms over her chest and waist, pushing up her cleavage and caressing her navel.
“I reckon I can at least hear you out,” Hesper muttered.
Ilta grinned, baring her teeth. “As I said, I only propose that you honor your original offer: you perform for me a service and I reward you with a favor. Why don’t you sit? I’m quite comfortable.”
Hesper hesitated, but lowered herself to the ground. She stared up at the demon. “I’m listening.”
Ilta reached a hand to Hesper’s head, feeling her strawberry curls. “This situation in Renaeville
the coven who put that hole in your lovely little neck
it is a situation which has attracted my attention.”
“Yeah, they’ve been working pretty hard to get you up there.”
“A noble, if misguided goal. One which should certainly visit nothing but havoc and pain upon them.” She knelt down behind Hesper, continuing to play with her hair. “More to the point: I have no desire to go.”
Hesper blinked. “You don’t want a cult devoted to you
to summon you? You don’t want whatever great sacrifice they’re planning?”
Ilta frowned. “I want nothing of the sort. Hesper, darling,” she said huskily, massaging Hesper’s shoulders, “I’ve stayed out of earthly affairs for the past thousand years. I let my temples rot and my followers scatter
I simply don’t find mortals very filling anymore. I daresay I’ve
outgrown your plane.”
The ground beneath them rumbled. Hesper glanced down at it, but the demon’s hands were very calming. Her touch was cold, but it created warmth. “I see. Well, in all honesty, I wasn’t big on the idea of you coming up, either. No offense, but demon-raising usually just sows, you know, chaos and destruction.”
“Oh, of course. No offense taken. Moreover, I would have to rise up from my throne. And I’m afraid I’m not as
as I was in my earth-ravaging days. The price of decadence, dearest, but one worth paying. It is a decadence which I see you are finally beginning to discover, hm
” She gave Hesper’s tummy a squeeze.
Hesper took in a sharp breath, trying to keep her lip from quivering. “So
“Protocol, darling,” the demon sighed, clicking her tongue. “Rules and rituals reign over our kind, as you know. If those imbeciles conclude their regrettable rites, I shall be required to rise. Oh, Hesper, my poor legs cramp at the very thought.”
The hand on Hesper’s gut began to gently caress it. Hesper felt herself relaxing herself back into the demon’s embrace. Ilta rested her chin on Hesper’s shoulder. Her other hand drifted down Hesper’s side and joined its partner on her stomach, cradling the softening bulge.
“I propose this to you, lovely little Hesper: I restore you to your body on earth, abrogating that troublesome wound in your neck.” Her hands ran up and down Hesper’s body.
“And in return?” Hesper asked, shuddering, her eyes falling closed.
“In return, you continue your mission. Prevent the coven from carrying out their ritual as planned. Interrupt them, impede them, inhibit them
and retrieve for me a prize from my would-be priestess. Without it, she shall be unable to attempt this again.”
Hesper leaned her head back, draping her hair down Ilta’s back. She could feel the demon’s bosom heaving against her. “Prize?”
“Yes. It seems a rival of mine has furnished Miss Leila with a bauble, an artifact of power
there is no shortage of backstabbing schemes among us demons, and I’m sure this is the beginning of some such impetulance
“Corporeal quintessence,” Hesper realized.
“As you call it. Leila inherited the knowledge of it from her mentor. My rival gave her this bauble as a means to access the power.” She stroked Hesper’s hair. “Hesper, I would very much rather have the key to such power in my hands rather than in those of some ambitious mortal. Ambition is so
vexing. I much prefer appetite.”
Hesper laid her hands over Ilta’s. “So you give me a second shot at life
and in return you want me to save the world
” She twisted round to look her in the eyes. “
Ilta smiled. “Precisely. I am spared the trouble of rising from the comfort of my throne. You are spared the chaos and destruction of my arrival. And your imminent death, of course.”
“And give you an edge in your
“A welcome gain
as all are gains, mm. In exchange, you come away with the knowledge of new powerthe knowledge you sought when you first called us all those years ago.” She turned and slowly laid Hesper down on the ground. “I have answered your call, and shall fulfil my promise if you will yours.”
Hesper stared at her. “I accept.”
“Delightful,” Ilta cooed. “I hope it does not sicken you too deeply to have bargained with my kind
I know how you have regretted calling to us.”
“I reckon the other option ain’t much better,” Hesper admitted. “I can save the soul-searching till after the job’s done.”
Ilta bent low over her, licking her lips. “I’m glad you can see reason
very wise of you. Let us seal our arrangement, darling Hesper.”
The demon kissed her. Hesper arched her back against her.
“Delicious,” Ilta whispered, pulling her lips away. “We are bonded until the contract is fulfilled. Bear in mind, the pact is singular. Should you perish again, the deal will be considered void. I cannot steal you from death again.”
Hesper grimaced. “I understand. Might need a little guidance, though. If Leila’s got access to all that power, what am I supposed to bring against her?”
Ilta stroked her cheek. “I think you already know. You can find power in any pantry, any cupboard, dear Hesper. You have until sundown to seek it out.”
“I can’t access that power.”
“Not yet, perhaps.” She reached down and kneaded Hesper’s belly. “But there’s no reason not to store it up until you can.”
“I trust in your resourcefulness, Hesper. And your newfound
She kissed Hesper again, longer and more deeply. Hesper moaned quietly. Ilta pulled away, then kissed the wound on Hesper’s neck.
“As for this,” the demon added, “you must keep it covered. Any cloth will doit has done bleeding, but should it remain exposed for any amount of time you shall quickly expire and all this dealing will have been for naught. Is that clear?”
Ilta gave her a peck on the forehead. “Good. Are you ready?”
I'm glad that Hesper is "alive".
Ilta seems like a fat planet. This reminds me of the Inca god Viracocha.
Viracocha was one of the most important deities in the Inca pantheon and seen as the creator of all things, or the substance from which all things are created, and intimately associated with the sea. Viracocha created the universe, sun, moon, and stars, time (by commanding the sun to move over the sky)
Wira means fat, and qucha means lake, sea, or reservoir.
The wikipedia article also offers a different, pre-Incan etymology, but anyway, “fat reservoir” fits well.
The German wikipedia article mentions that the Inca knew fat as a source of power.
So, it seems logical, that all things have been created from the power of fat.
This concept reminds of the Kween weight gain stories. Kween, too, is an ancient and fat being. The source of Kween’s godlike magical power, which she uses to make herself and others fatter, is her fat tissue.
I like the sound of that. A mythology of indulgence--maybe some kind of feeding pantheon--seems thematically fitting for our community.
Big fan of the Kween stories...hoping there's more to come from that saga someday. Glad you're enjoying this one!
The sky overhead swirled with thick grey cloud. Thunder rolled in the distance. Rain spattered down on Hesper’s face. She coughed, gasped, and clapped her hand to her throat. Everything was cold; the warmth Ilta’s touch had created in her was gone.
She was lying, face up, half-submerged in three or four inches of water. Sitting up, she found herself near what had been the edge of the creek bed. Now the flooded stream had overflowed its banks and was spilling into the surrounding basin.
Groaning, Hesper got to her knees, then finally to her feet, using her free hand to straighten her rain-soaked underwear. She could see the travel plaza just up the road, with her van still in the parking lot.
Floodwater swirled around her naked ankles. Shivering, she set off toward the plaza, stepping cautiously around potholes and holding her right hand to her neck. Ilta had been right: there was no flow of blood, but the hole was definitely wide open.
“This is gonna get awkward,” she muttered. “Might need two hands at some point
After a long slog and a few stumbles, she reached the van.
The back doors were still hanging open. The dome light was on, but shone only faintly; there evidently wasn’t much left in the battery. Hesper climbed in and found her black robe crumpled on the floor.
She felt through it and pulled out the orange bandana she’d taken from Roxie’s mouth. She frowned at it and doubled it over into a rectangle.
“Only one way to find out.” She took a deep breath.
In a quick move, she took her right hand from the wound and wrapped the bandana around her throat in its place.
She held her breath for a few more moments, eyes squeezed shut. Nothing happened. She didn’t keel over dead. She opened one eye at a time, exhaled slowly, and tied the bandana as tight as she dared, double-knotted.
It wasn’t comfortable, but according to Ilta it would keep her alive. She got up and headed forward through the van.
” she huffed, working her way to the front seat. There she found her tote bag tucked under the center console. “Yessss. Hey there, partner.”
She tried the ignition, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. The dome light dimmed, then wouldn’t glow at all.
“Damn it.” She squinted out through the windshield.
The sun was still nowhere to be seen, but the cloud cover allowed just enough light to shift the world from starless black to a bleak grey. Through the trees behind the travel plaza, Hesper could make out the shape of a small house.
She opened her bag, but found it had been ransacked. Most of her tricks and trinkets were missing. Her change of clothes was still inside and she found her boots stuffed under one of the seats, but all of her most important spellcasting materials were gone.
Setting the bag down, she reached over and opened the glove box. Three bottles of Kentucky bourbon rolled down and clinked against each other.
“Oh thank goodness,” she sighed, picking one up to kiss its label. “Now, y’all stay right there. I'll be back when this is all over.” She replaced the bottle and closed them back up in the compartment.
Huddling up under her cloak, she hopped down from the van and slung the tote bag over her shoulder. She slapped the hood of the van, put her head down, and began trudging toward the house.
“Fucking cults,” she growled.
It was an old white house with a yard full of junk. A pair of painted wagon wheels welcomed Hesper into the driveway and a broken rocking chair sat uselessly on the porch.
Hesper grimaced at the front door and adjusted her bandana. Out of habit, she reached into her bag, only to remember that the skeleton key she’d enchanted was no longer inside. She paced the porch for a minute, then shrugged and rang the doorbell.
No one answered. Looking around, she saw no lights on in the windows.
“All up at the potluck,” she decided, noticing dark windows in the houses further up the street. “Alright, then.”
She picked up a rock from the front walk and took aim at the nearest window. There she froze, eyebrow cocked, and lowered the rock.
“This is rural Indiana,” she realized. Dropping the rock, she stepped back up to the front door and turned the handle.
It swung open. A cat trotted up to meet her, whining. It wound around her ankles, sniffing, and then sauntered off.
Hesper followed it inside, locking the door behind her. “Anybody home?”
No answer, again. Hesper peeked around the ground floor. Locating the kitchen, she found a box of toaster pastries waiting unopened on the counter. After a moment’s hesitation, she popped the cardboard lid and tore open the packaging of a pastry. Pushing it into her mouth and tucking the box under her arm, she made her way upstairs. The cat followed, staring up at her uncovered butt as it with each step.
She found the bathroom and got the shower running, dumped her bag on the bed, and stripped out of her wet underwear, working her way through the toaster pastries as she went. They were gone by the time the shower had heated up and she could feel her stomach awaken as she stood there in the steam.
“Sundown,” she wondered aloud, scrubbing her hair. “Equinox today
puts it around 7:30
7:20, maybe. Need a plan. Need a plan.”
None had materialized by the time she stepped out of the shower. She toweled off, taking extra care around her bandana-covered neck, and dug through the drawers for a blow-dryer.
“Come on, Hesper. You’re Kentucky’s foremost occult detective. You can do this.”
Her mass of hair took a long time to dry. Once it finally had, it seemed larger and wilder than ever. She considered doing something with it, but shrugged and headed back to the bedroom.
“Alright. Leila’s got power. Lots of it. And will have plenty more by tonight, with this enchantment in effect.” Hesper stepped into a new, drier pair of black lace underwear. “And she’s got the artifact that lets her use that power.”
She reached back to snap her bra into place. “Why all that power to bring up a demon, though? I put a call through with just some roadkill and a couple of candles when I was a teenager. Took ten years to get a response, I suppose
“Unless the power’s not for the summoning. Must be another play
storing it up for something.” She nodded to herself, pulling on a new pair of fishnets. “Means she probably can’t afford to waste any of it.”
She shook out her tube top. “So you force her hand. Make enough trouble she has to throw some magic at you instead of her goal. Maybe see if you can pick out this artifact she’s using
” Once the top was on, she shimmied her way into the skirt. “
and get a hold of it.”
“Yes,” she decided, clapping her hands together. “Get a hold of it, access the power you’ve stored up, and take control of the situation. Hell, yes. There we go.”
She puffed out her chest and set her hands on her hips. The mirror showed her a tough, if diminutive woman, ready for anything. It also showed her, however, the slight beer gut exposed by the shortness of her top. The curve of the snake tattoo only served to outline the bulge of her midriff.
“For that to work, though
gonna need to store up some power of our own.”
There was an old scale in the corner of the bathroom. She shuffled over and jumped up on it; the needle swept up the dial and bounced back and forth over 155.
Hesper stared at the mirror and sighed. “Goodbye, meticulously-maintained petite figure.”
The cat meowed at her from the doorway.
She zipped up her bag. “Yep. Okay, darlin’, let’s see what y’all have in the fridge.”
Separate names with a comma.