It had been a great party filled with drugs, sex, and laughter, and after everyone was wasted, Milt, Jack, and Belle found the panel to the Grandlys’s attic. Giggling, Milt swayed on his feet and looked at them.
“Shall we?” he asked.
Jack hiccoughed. “Why not?”
Milt took the slender pole from the wall and tried to insert its hook through the ring above. On the tenth or twelfth attempt, he succeeded and pulled the ladder down.
He bowed drunkenly to Belle, a fat, unattractive girl he liked to poke fun at. “Ladies first, my not-so-little Belle.”
“I’m no lady, buster.” She pushed past him and started up. Near the top, her bravery waned and she looked down. “Hey, it’s dark up here.”
“Check for a switch,” Jack said.
She turned back and resumed her ascent, only to trip and almost fall. Fortunately, she caught herself.
“Take it easy!” both cried. “Don’t fall.”
“Thanks for the advice,” she said sarcastically. She took two more steps and stood in the attic.
At once the lights came on.
“Whoa!” Jack said. “It’s like it expected you.”
“No, it’s just automatic,” Milt said. “C’mon, let’s go up.”
They joined Belle and looked about, finding a neat but musty attic. Despite the light, the corners of the room were deep in shadows.
“Looks like no one’s been up here in years,” Jack said.
“More like centuries,” Milt said. “C’mon, let’s investigate.”
After ten minutes, they found only old furniture and empty suitcases. A half-filled family album amused them for less than a minute.
They were about to leave when Belle called, “Hey, look at this. I found it way in the back.” She held something up.
They peered in her direction. “What is it?” Jack asked.
“What do you think it is? It’s a bottle of wine.”
She carried it out to the middle of the attic where they could see better. “Yeah, you’re right,” Jack said. While the bottle was ornate and beautiful, the label was cryptic.
“What does it say?” Milt asked.
“Looks like Latin,” Jack said. “I took it once.” He shrugged and lit a joint.
Milt took the bottle and rubbed it, blew off some dust. “Damn thing’s freakin’ ancient,” he said. He wrinkled his nose and sneezed, almost dropping it.
“Careful,” Belle said. She reclaimed the bottle and examined the label. “Could be a warning,” she said.
Jack shivered in mock fear. “What if it is, B-B-Belle-y girl?” He tapped the cork. “This thing is stuck so tight, you couldn’t get it out with a…whoa!”
As if by magic, the cork popped out in his hand.
They stared at the cork in surprise. “How did that happen?” Jack said.
Belle smiled. “Does it matter? What we need now is three glasses.”
“Screw the glasses,” Milt said. “Let’s swig from the bottle.”
“You’re so uncouth,” Belle said. “This is rare, aged wine, exquisite spirits.”
Jack laughed. “In that case, ladies first,” he mocked, echoing Milt’s false politeness at the ladder.
“You two are real gentlemen, aren’t you?” she said, her double chin jiggling. “Not this time, Galahad. You go first.”
Jack stamped out his roach, then took a couple of sips. He passed the bottle to Milt, who passed it in turn to Belle.
Moments passed as shadows seemed to creep closer.
The wine was delicate and subtle, like nothing they had ever tasted. “Not bad!” Milt said.
“Man, that’s good stuff,” Jack agreed.
“It is, isn’t it?” Belle said. She frowned. “Has a bit of a weird taste, though.”
“Weird taste?” Milt smacked his lips. “Oh, yeah!”
“Wow!” Jack said.
More moments passed. Then Milt clutched his chest. “Something’s movin’ inside me!”
Jack grabbed his throat. “Yeah, and it’s coming up!”
They started to scream.
Belle’s screams were high, but theirs were even higher, the screams of the utterly damned. They fell to the floor and writhed in agony, feeling as if their bowels were being torn apart.
Then, to their great relief, Milt and Jack felt the pain fade. They lay still and watched something rise from their throats and hover above them in the air. Hideous spirits, that were old when the Earth was young, waved slimy tentacles and smiled with multiple mouths. The things turned from black to an angry red and came closer, drenching them in a rancid stink.
They both cringed, expecting to die.
Then, to their amazement, the creatures vanished.
Milt gasped and looked at Jack. “They’re gone!” he said. “We’re all right.”
Belle emerged from the shadows. They stared at her.
She wasn’t the girl they remembered. Belle was no longer fat and homely, but slender and lovely, as beautiful as the spirits had been ugly.
Stunned, they watched her clothes slip down her body and fall to the floor. “Oh my,” Belle said, “it seems I’ve lost a little weight.”
“B-Belle,” Jack asked. “Is that you?”
“Indeed it is.”
“What happened to you? Why are you so—”
“Wait a minute,” Milt said. “I didn’t see any monster come from you.”
She smiled, only there was something wrong with her mouth. She seemed to have too many teeth.
“He’s taught me so much,” Belle said. “He only stays with females.”
“Yes. He’s inside me now. You see, like those of His kind, He finds males to be inferior vessels, unworthy of His glory.” She twirled around, bathing them in her new scent. “Oh, I have so much to see and do, and so many new powers, all consecrated to His will. But first, there is one thing I must do.”
“What?” they croaked.
Belle bent down and licked her lovely lips. “Yum, yum. Boys, I’m afraid you’re about to learn that I’m no longer a lady.”