Anyway, here is the story, and the illustration that inspired it. Thanks again to David Mallon for his suggestion and his excellent editing of the rough drafts of this (did I mention he is a kick-ass editor as well?)
“You must be my new roommate!”
Alicia Defaore whirled towards the door of the dorm room. She had been standing in a daze, staring at the various horror posters tacked haphazardly to the walls. A tall girl stood in the doorway. Her face was festooned with piercings and asymmetrical hair dyed a neon green shade stuck out in random spikes from her head. Her lean frame was clad in a Misfits t-shirt and sliced-up jeans.
“Y..yes,” Alicia stammered, eyes downcast, “um, that is, this is my room. I mean, our room. They assigned me here.”
Alicia felt awkward, but that wasn’t anything new to her. She had never been able to talk with others well, preferring to lose herself in books. Her high school years in Durnham had been hard, enduring the petty small-mindedness that only the children of a small suburban community could dish out.
The newcomer was striking in her odd way. Alicia would have never dared to try a getup like that in Durnham High School. It was bad enough with her ill-tended sweatpants and well-worn sweaters among the Madonna wannabes.
“Awesome! My name’s Katie. Welcome to Farwater!”
The girl, Katie, stuck her hand out. Alicia noticed a swirl of tattoos running from the fingers all the way up and under her t-shirt sleeves. Alicia shook the offered hand.
“So, I got here a couple days back. I set up the room a bit, I hope you don’t mind. I claimed the bottom bunk.” Katie pointed at a tangle of various clothing and sheets on the bed.
“No it’s, um, fine,” Alicia said, looking down at her unpacked suitcases. She hadn’t really thought about what living with someone was going to be like. Farwater had seemed like a dream in Durnham when she had been sending out college applications. Nestled in the Nepomesset Valley, a slice of Puritan Massachusetts still extant despite the population pressures of nearby Boston and her suburbs, Farwater was the North Shore’s pride when it came to higher education. Boston may have its Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, but locals had a certain hometown pride when it came to their university
Now, looking at this smiling stranger who she would be sharing a cramped dorm room with for the foreseeable future, Alicia wasn’t so sure this was a dream she particularly wanted to star in.
Katie busied herself with a few things as Alicia began to unpack her suitcases. Alicia started as a howl of driving guitars and drums came blasting out of the large boombox on Katie’s desk.
“I hope you like Dreaming God!” Katie yelled over the loud music. “I’m a big fan!”
Alicia nodded slightly, returning to her belongings. Music hadn’t really been a thing in her life. Her passion was books. Any sort of book: science fiction, fantasy, history, philosophy. There were few books that Alicia wouldn’t read. It was so much easier to live in a fictional world than to deal with the terrors of the real.
As Alicia finished unpacking she noted that Katie had a few books of her own. A haphazard pile of them leaned up against the desk. Some were recognizable fantasy novels, Alicia was happy to see. Others she hadn’t heard of before, thick tomes with oddly-cut yellowing pages, many of them sporting Latin titles.
“What’s your major?” Katie asked, turning the music down enough so that she didn’t have to shout.
“I’m in English for now,” Alicia said, “but I might change it if I find I like something better.”
“Good for you!” Katie said, “I’m majoring in library science with a minor in archaeology.”
The two seemed rather an odd pairing, but Alicia was beginning to get the feeling that Katie wasn’t a normal expectation kind of girl.
Katie leafed through one of the books in her odd pile while Alicia worked. When Alicia began to finish up with her unpacking, she stood and stretched.
“Would you like to come out for some food, maybe meet a few people?”
“Umm, sure,” Alicia said, hesitating. The last thing she really wanted to do was go and hang out with a group of strangers, but Katie seemed nice, and it would be an awfully long semester if they didn’t get off on the right foot.
“C’mon, I have some friends down at the Moon Café,” Katie said, heading towards the door.
The two exited the dorm into the bright September morning. Crowds of students swirled around Farwater’s campus, busy hauling in their goods or wandering around rubbernecking. Katie kept up a stream of chatter as they boarded a bus for Farwater Center.
“... So I met these guys at the Dreaming God concert this summer, they're big fans of them too, and we just clicked. Do you like Dreaming God? I just love the singer, Randy Devaneaux.”
Alicia tried hard to keep pace with the river of words coming out of Katie’s mouth, but it was difficult at best. The solid brick buildings of Farwater appeared in the bus windows as it wheezed to a halt.
The two descended to the street, its asphalt baking in the early-September heat. Katie pulled Alicia over to a building sporting the sign reading “The Moon Café”.
Inside was a typical college-town coffee shop layout. Katie ordered a latte, Alicia a green tea. Once they had their orders, Katie tugged Alicia over to a far table where a knot of young people were hunched over coffees and books.
“Guys, this is my new roommate Alicia!” Katie proclaimed to the group. The four people at the table looked up, and Alicia’s breath caught in her throat.
A young man stared at her with intense blue eyes. He was thin, dressed in black, with curly ashen blonde that descended to the collar of his leather jacket. She could feel her heart speed up as he smiled up at her.
“Sondra, Harry, Reggie, Phillip, this is Alicia.”
Alicia barely registered the other three at the table, black-clad teens with heavy amounts of piercings and tattoos. Phillip stood and stuck out his hand.
“It’s is a delight to meet you, Alicia,” he purred. His voice had an accent of some sort, but it was very faint. Alicia couldn’t tell if it was from another country or just some regional difference. His touch sent a shock down her spine. She was reeling, her mind askew. She had never felt like this before while meeting someone.
“Nice, um, yes. To meet you, yes,” she stammered out, her cheeks flushing red. She knew she sounded like a complete idiot, but she seemed helpless to stop it.
The awkward moment passed thankfully and the two sat with the group.
Alicia suddenly had a fierce longing to impress these folks, if for no other reason than to impress Phillip. Steeling herself mentally, and cursing her shabby clothes, she began to engage the others as best as her introverted social skills would allow.
The group was actually fairly interesting. Most of them were studying odd things: ancient languages, archaeology, and the like. Sondra was a theology major of all things. Phillip was the only one with a typical major, business.
“The family insisted,” he said, sipping his latte.
The conversation turned to Alicia, and her interests. Phillip smiled when she mentioned her last name.
“Are you related to the Boston Defaores? They were a fairly infamous family back at the turn of the century.”
Alicia nodded. “Yes, although my family doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Phillip smiled wider. “Most old Boston families enjoy having a few scandals in the ancestral tree. I know mine have a few. You are the first actual Defaore I have met. The Boston branch is long extinct.”
The coffees were drunk, the small talk made. Phillip got up and nodded at the group.
“I have a meeting with my advisor on my fall schedule, so I have to get going,” he said apologetically. Will I see you all at the Ink Spot later?”
“Ink Spot?’ Alicia asked.
“Oh we’ll be there Phillip, don’t you worry!” Katie said. Turning to Alicia she explained, “It’s a local club. Don’t worry, it’s under 21.”
Philip smiled. “I hope to see you there Alicia. I’d love to continue our conversation.”
Alicia exited with Katie and floated back to the dorm. She came crashing to the floor as she suddenly realized that she was going to a club and had absolutely nothing suitable to wear. She had never even been to a club, at least not any club without the word ‘book’ attached to it.
Katie smiled indulgently when Alicia confessed her dilemma.
“Well, I think I can help you out,” she said. “What are roomies for? Plus, I think Phillip likes you. You need to dress to impress.”
The remainder of the day was spent in a blur of reinvention. Katie had an extensive wardrobe, and fortunately she and Alicia were of a similar build. Katie picked out a daring top and short black skirt with black leather boots for Alicia.
“No heels I’m thinking. You don’t have time to get used to them and you’re pretty tall anyway.”
Katie attacked Alicia’s face with her extensive cosmetics collection. After a half hour of intensive work, Katie led Alicia to the mirror.
After it was all said and done, Alicia ended up looking quite different. She was still tall and skinny, but the makeup and the clothes gave her a much edgier look.
“You clean up well!” Katie said, examining Alicia critically.
After Katie got herself together the two returned to Farwater, heading down towards the harbor.
The Ink Spot had started as a warehouse at some point where harbor trade was much more prolific. Now it was just an old crumbling brick building with a neon-flashing sign and the faint sound of bass-heavy music emanating from its depths. A line of college kids and townies waited for entry. The two girls joined the queue and soon were admitted into the club’s twilit depths.
A DJ kept a loud pulsing beat going through the venue as a mass of youths cavorted like supplicants at some pagan festival. Katie grabbed Alicia’s hand and brought her to the back of the club. The same group they’d had coffees with had colonized a table at the fringes of the dance floor. Phillip rose as they approached.
“I’m so happy you came,” he said. “Would you like a drink?”
“Sure,” Alicia replied, her heart racing.
Phillip disappeared to the bar and returned with a round of sodas.
“No alcohol allowed for us,” he said, amused. “But we have something of our own.”
He surreptitiously removed a flask from his jacket and poured a dollop of green liquid into everyone’s drinks.
Alicia became nervous, but didn’t want to seem like a scared little wallflower. She tried the drink, which was actually quite tasty. Her previous experience with alcohol was limited to a few glasses of wine at holidays. The first drink went down, then a second. Phillip asked her to dance with him. The fact that she didn’t know how to dance suddenly seemed of no consequence.
Alone with Phillip among the dark swaying crowd of dancers, Alicia felt as if she could fly. Her feet were light as feathers despite the heavy Doc Martens she wore, and she and Phillip danced for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they returned to the table, and more drinks were procured.
Alicia wasn’t quite sure when it happened, but the night suddenly began to seem further and further away from her. The strobes left colored trails across her vision, the music began to sound more dissonant and unsettling. The faces of the club goers became bestial and leering, those of her table-mates solemn and mask-like.
“I...I need to get some air,” she slurred.
“That’s fine, Alicia,” Katie said. “I think we are heading to our party spot anyway now, right Phillip?”
“Yes, I believe it is about time.”
Alicia stumbled outside into the cool night air. Her companions all followed. They all started walking back towards town. Alicia was not in a state to argue, she followed along, held upright by Katie.
Alicia couldn’t keep her mind focused. There were flashes of darkened streets, then a forest trail. She found herself in front of a stone mausoleum in a large graveyard, her five new friends surrounding her. Phillip produced a large black iron key and worked the lock on the metal door of the tomb.
“Why...why are we here?” Alicia stammered, looking around dazedly.
Phillip smiled at her as the door swung open. Alicia suddenly noticed for the first time that his smile was almost predatory, and his eyes looked a lot less warm and friendly than they had before.
“This is our party spot,” He said. “We want to show it to you. There’s a surprise waiting for you.”
Alicia wanted to protest, but she found herself following the others down a narrow stairway into the bowels of the tomb. She felt almost hypnotized, as if she couldn’t not obey.
After a long dark journey down the stairs, the group entered a large chamber. Various burial chambers studded the walls, with bronze inscriptions denoting the inhabitants. Braziers filled with burning oil were lit in the corners, their flames lighting the granite room with dancing shadows. Alicia could smell something in the air, a pleasant scent she couldn’t identify. Her mouth began to water involuntarily.
In the center of the room was a slab with a form draped in a sheet atop it. Alicia stared horrified. In her stupefied haze she wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeing, but it gave her chills. A rasping deep voice issued from the shadows in the back of the chamber.
“I see you have brought my granddaughter. Well done, O faithful servants.”
Philip bowed deeply, as did the other four.
“As you commanded, my lord. Your scion.”
A large figure advanced towards them. Alicia gasped as the oil flames revealed it to her. Tall, gaunt, with patchy hair and taloned fingers, a bestial face with a mouth full of canine fangs looked her up and down. Spines of bone jutted from the figure’s back, like some ruin of angel wings.
“Sweet Alicia, I have long waited to make your acquaintance. I am Albert Defaore, your great-grandfather.”
Alicia wanted to run, wanted to rush up the stairs into the fresh air of the world, but she was rooted to the spot. Her friends melted away from her as this monster approached. She was horrified to notice that beneath the monstrous features its face resembled her father’s.
“Wha...” was all she could slur out as the gaunt creature calling itself her great-grandfather peered at her with glowing red eyes.
“My dear, you come from a long line of nobility,” Albert intoned, bringing up a clawed finger to caress her face. “Our line are the barons of the barrow, the kings of flesh, masters of the maggot realm. Not every generation has the calling, but you are blessed with it. ”
“No,” Alicia whispered as the black claw traced a line down her throat. “This can’t be happening.”
Albert smiled, revealing a forest of fangs.
“I’m afraid it is,” he said. “I understand that this is a distressing revelation. After all, I once thought I was human as well. But, we are so much more than they are. Once you sample the Eucharist, you will better understand your inheritance.”
“The...the...Eucharist?” Alicia stammered.
“Yes my dear,” he replied, “the flesh that will make you whole.”
He turned from her and stalked to the sheeted form at the table. With a magician’s flair he pulled the sheet away, revealing a naked corpse upon the stone slab.
The corpse was fresh. Blood still dripped from a slashing wound to its throat. It had been a teenage boy, perhaps even someone Alicia had rubbed shoulders with in the club. He looked much younger than he probably was, death making him look like a broken child.
All at once, the smell hit Alicia. It was intoxicating, like smelling a hot meal after not having eaten for days. She began to walk towards the corpse, her mouth filling with saliva. The vestiges of whatever drugs were in her system seemed to burn away, leaving her focusing entirely on the body. The meat. The feast.
Some small portion of her soul, the quiet bookworm she had been up until now, tried desperately to wrest control of her body back, to flee this tableaux of horrors, but it was too late. A hunger burned brightly in her, an impulse so implacable as to transcend conscious thought. She howled and launched herself upon the naked corpse.
The taste. She had never realized how delicious flesh could be. She felt her nails elongating, her teeth enlarging, her sight sharpening. She began to hear the frightened heartbeats of her friends near the stairway, her nose smelled the rich pheromone stew of lust and fear they exuded. There was an exquisite pain as slender bone spines thrust out from her back and shoulders. Rich gobbets of meat traveled down her throat, which distended as she took bigger and bigger bites. Her mind burst with orgasmic joy as the taste suffused her senses. The feeling went beyond love, beyond sex, beyond anything she could ever had imagined. It felt as if her nerves were burning with pleasure.
Sometime later, how long she couldn’t be sure, she pushed herself away from the skeletal ruin on the stone. Her belly was distended, to the point where she almost looked pregnant. Her entire body was streaked in gore. Her top had been ripped away by the emerging spines, her small breasts swinging free. Her talons and spines began to retract, her fangs as well. She began to feel almost human again. Almost.
Alicia turned to her grandfather. His form didn’t seem terrifying anymore. It seemed somehow right.
“Thank you, grandfather,” she said simply, wiping a hand across her gore-streaked face. “You have given me a wonderful gift.”
Albert nodded and turned to the five humans still standing at the stairway.
“You have done your work well, and have been gifted with a sight few humans ever see and live to tell about. Go now, my granddaughter and I have things to discuss.”
The five needed no other prompting. They vanished up the stairs, back to the upper world.
Albert turned back to Alicia.
“You will be able to walk among the humans for a few years more, hunting freely. Alas, your nature will become harder to hide as you age, but there is plenty to feast upon without the need to hunt. You will also age slowly, very slowly. I am still considered quite young despite being more than a hundred years old.”
Alicia smiled a red smile and walked toward the old monster, laying her hand upon his gaunt cheek.
“You look beautiful, grandfather.” she said.
“I will teach you much, my granddaughter. Your apprenticeship begins tonight. Come with me, and I will show you the dark delights that await us in the halls of the maggot kings.”
He bent down and kissed her, his mouth a sweet taste of the grave.