By Dustin Walker
This Story Won First Prize in Our Contest
The men who came to see me weren’t regular johns. They shuffled into my windowless room, eyes shiny with tears, clutching a photograph or some other memento.
They never stared at my tits. Never touched my ass. Because they weren’t interested in me at all, only the person I could become for them.
So before Henry arrived, I expected him to fit that persona. But instead, he flashed me a warm smile and shook my hand. The guy even held my gaze—most of the johns who visited our remote brothel just stared at the floor—never making eye contact until things got going.
“Have a seat.” I nodded at the duct-taped metal chair next to my bed.
Lilith, my pimp, only let us have the basics: bed, chair, dresser. And needles, of course. Just enough junk to help us cope with captivity, without making us so whacked-out we couldn’t talk to clients.
“OK, thanks…Susan, was it?” Henry asked, his voice low and compliant. It didn’t match his looks: crew cut, broad jaw, muscular arms.
I nodded. “Who do you want to have sex with?”
Henry rubbed his hands against his jeans and glanced around the room, as if he were trying to spot something hidden within the flaking yellow wallpaper. Was he nervous? Or was it something else? Guilt. Shame. Sick fascination, maybe. I’m great at summoning the dead, but terrible at reading the living.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold necklace. After staring at it for a few seconds, he handed it to me.
“My girlfriend, Stacey. This was hers.”
It’s almost always a wife or girlfriend. Sometimes a mistress. Most men want to have sex with their dead lovers because they crave that connection. Even if it’s my body they’re thrusting into, when they hear their loved one’s voice and look into her eyes, it feels like they’re making love to them. And for a few moments, their heartbreak fades away.
But Henry didn’t seem heartbroken, which made me wonder if he was an undercover cop. God, I hoped he was a cop.
I took my summoning board out from under the bed. His eyes lingered over it, taking in the intricate circles and ragged lines that weaved across the weathered oak surface. I placed the necklace in the center of the board, and Stacey’s energy flowed out like water from a busted dam.
She had been a wild one. The type of person who goes on spontaneous Vegas trips and tries skydiving on a whim. A risk-taker. Maybe even the type of person who falls into a life of crime. Someone who winds up dead on the streets, perhaps, with their jewelry confiscated by the cops. Jewelry that could later be used in an undercover witchcraft sting.
I crunched up a handful of sage and sprinkled it on the necklace. Then I pricked my finger with a dagger and squeezed out a few drops of blood. They made tiny splashes as they hit the board.
“You’ll have anywhere from two to twenty minutes. And there’s zero refunds if you get shortchanged.”
“Okay,” he said.
No complaints about the refund policy. This guy’s gotta be a cop. A spark of hope glowed inside my chest—hope that any minute, a SWAT team would bust in and finally free me and all the other girls in the brothel.
I focused on the necklace. Closed my eyes.
And let my mind drift into the ether.
The sense of slow-falling into darkness.
Of being weightless.
And finally, feeling someone else with me.
Stacey formed in my mind like gases forming into a solid. The smell of her vanilla perfume. The feel of her soft, slender hands. As she filled my body, my spirit slipped away. Floating up to the ceiling, high enough to see Henry’s tiny bald spot.
“What is this…where am I?” Stacey’s wide blue eyes replaced my brown ones.
“Henry? Holy shit, is that you?”
His face twisted into a big, crooked smile. That’s when I realized this guy wasn’t a goddamn cop.
“Baby, you’re really back.” He caressed Stacey’s cheek—my cheek. “We need to move fast.”
Henry reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a ziplock bag full of white powder. At first, I thought it was coke. But then he poured it over my summoning board, tracing a circle around Stacey’s necklace.
“This is our second chance, baby.”
The world began to dissolve around me.
“What do you mean?” Stacey said. “I don’t understand.”
I didn’t understand either. Until I realized what was in that bag: salt. Fucking blessed salt, which could sever the link to my body and leave me forever in limbo.
I tried to retake control of myself, but I was already too weak.
“I know this body isn’t perfect, but you’ll be happy in it. We’ll be happy.” Henry flashed that crooked smile of his again.
Hot lead bubbled inside me. And that glimmer of hope—the first ever since I’ve been trapped here—vanished beneath a tidal wave of rage.
I screamed. Fiery and shrill.
Loud enough to echo through the ether.
Loud enough for my pimp to hear me.
Lilith came crashing in like a diesel pickup at a ballet recital, slamming Stacey out of my body and filling it with her demonic energy.
The lights flickered. The floor rumbled. And a low, whistling filled the room. Henry jumped to his feet the moment those baby blue eyes morphed into twin jet-black orbs.
He stood frozen, eyes wide, as his upper body bowed backwards while his legs stayed stiff in place.
I looked away just before the moist crack of his spine rang out.
In hindsight, I should have realized Henry was no undercover detective. Should have questioned him a little more closely before channeling Stacey.
What can I say? I’m great at summoning the dead, but terrible at reading the living.