Desire Too Far
By T.C. Logan
Unzipping the air with her little black wand, a middle aged woman with curly black hair, a blacker full-length silk dress, and skin as pale as summer moonlight stepped out of her habitat's bedroom into another dimension.
Billy Holliday, or someone doing an excellent imitation, filled the crowded, smoky room with ecstatic melody (The Blues are Brewin'...yes, that was it) and the striving harmonics of a slightly over-driven sound system tickled her bare arms and face. The energy here was two marks above high-tide, with every patron decked out in 40's style formals. Beautiful people, made more beautiful by the music and excitement, jawed at each other, made eyes through the smoke at each other, leaned to and fro with drinks held lazily and senses alert for opportunity. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian...perfectly attired with even more perfectly mannered. What a night this would be!
Jackie hastily tucked the wand into her purse, examined herself in the bar mirror, and smiled. She didn't always come through looking this good, but she was pleased with what she saw. She risked a wink at the bartender, who smiled and nodded as if she had been there all evening, and approached a nearby table. Billy (yes, she saw now it really was Billy Holliday) and her small orchestra had begun a new song...(You Can't Lose a Broken Heart, the lyric went), and couple were rising from their seats to dance close and slow.
"Mind if I watch your drinks?" Jackie smiled.
The woman, a platinum blonde with squinty gray eyes, looked at her reproachfully.
"Sure, go right ahead," the young man said, and led his dancing partner away through the crowd.
Jackie settled at the table, sliding her hand across the real wood, eying one of the drinks she had offered to guard. She looked at her watch -- four hours to go. Surely she could make it happen in less than two, and spend the rest of her time gallivanting about this exciting new world.
"I hope you don't think I'm too forward...I just can't let a beautiful young woman alone, not in a shady joint like this one." He was tall, mid-forties, half-Caucasian and half something with smooth, richly tanned skin. Two dark eyes smiled down at her; Jackie looked carefully away.
"Not at all. Sometimes a woman likes to take a risk, though."
He tried to engage her eye again. She resisted, but took the cigarette he offered, watching his perfectly-shaped, perfectly manicured hands with fascination. The cigarette was long and dark, Cuban perhaps? The smoke was sweet and pungent, stinging her eyes but delighting her tongue.
She nodded and he sat beside her.
"She's really something, isn't she?" He was looking toward the stage.
"She's always been a favorite of mine." A slip, but a minor one.
He started, then looked knowingly at her. "You have her recordings?"
She recovered quickly. "Not all," She smiled, touching his sleeve ever-so-lightly. "But she's a nice voice to come home to. You?"
He smiled back, a broad white flash of perfect teeth. "Every one. But music is my thing, you know. I'm Jimmy, Jimmy Bowman. That's my brother Roger up there on bones."
"Oh really? Are you a musician? I'm Jackie. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise pleased. No, no." He shook his head ruefully. "I make deals, sign contracts, that sort of thing."
"Really? You're not just trying to put one over on a simple country girl?"
He laughed aloud. "I have a feeling you're not too country...or girlish either."
A waiter arrived with two tall, elaborate drinks.
"You don't mind?" he asked, looking concerned.
"I never mind."
The waiter nodded and set them on the table. Jackie took the sweating glass and leaned confidingly toward Jimmy. "To new friendships?" she said.
"I'll drink to that," he said.
Whatever the drink was, it was cold, silky, and strong. Billy was taking a break now, and the band played a saucy swing number under the swelling din of talk. The young couple she had copped the table from didn't return. Over the lip of her glass, Jackie eyed her catch. Yes, this was going to be a splendid evening.
* * * *
With a few drinks and her ever-demure insistence, it was easy to keep Jimmy talking about himself -- his music deals, his recent travels to Europe, and what it was like to be around big names all the time. "You get used to the glitter and lights, but some people, well...they have a kind of presence, you know? It's hard to shake off a feeling that they're bigger than life, bigger than the rest of us."
"That must be something," she murmured, let herself drift into those deep brown eyes. A pleasant warmth was spreading out from her tummy. Oops, slow down, now. Don't want to scare him off.
"It is, it is. But what about you, my sweet? I hardly know a thing about you." He tipped his glass to her.
"Me?" It was getting hard to focus, let alone invent anything cogent. She looked at their table, at the six empty glasses of booze. "I don't have much of a story to tell, just a working girl trying to get by."
He leaned in for the next question, and mercifully the crowd erupted into cheers and eager applause.
"Oh my, is that --?" She gaped at the stage where a balding black man clutched his horn, smiling and nodding at the audience.
"Louis Armstrong, I'll be..." Jimmy nodded approvingly. "Didn't know he was going to show."
They started to play, and Jackie sat spellbound. The wand didn't always take her to such special moments, such special places. Sometimes it took her places she didn't want to be at all. But for this smoky jazz joint full of sass and beauty, she would happily go through all the let-downs again. She turned back to Jimmy, conscious of her own broad smile, the sweat on her chest and neck, her aching nipples, and him watching her.
He caught her eyes and held them.
"Take me somewhere, " she whispered, breathless. "Somewhere close."
He looked surprised, but only slightly. He took her hand and kissed it.
* * * *
It was a hotel, after all. The Reisen, The Jumpin'est Joint in Chicago, the lobby sign read. The old building was in the grand style of the late 1800's, but a recent makeover counterpointed it with Art Nouveau -- whiplash filigree arches, peacock sconces, central nymph-with-irises fountain -- with more regular and confined Art Deco carpet and paneling. A strange contrast and a little garish. They made their way casually, inconspicuously to the screen-gated elevator, where the operator politely averted his eyes and punched the appropriate buttons. Jackie was reeling from the smoke and drink, almost falling against her expectant lover, a clumsiness she covered with giggles and warm, wet kisses.
"Here you are, sir," opening the gate and quietly pocketing his tip. "Have a fine evening." Was there a trace of humor in his voice? His lined, weary face revealed nothing.
The room was as resplendent (and contradictory) as the lobby had been. Heavy satin curtains, Tiffany lamps, colorful cubist paintings. And the bed...a huge, four-posted house of pillows and satin and rich, woven hues of rougher fabrics.
Jimmy aimed her toward one of the claw-foot chairs. She resisted, pulling him instead toward the bed.
"Now don't be shy...." she crooned, and began unbuttoning his shirt. She only had two hours left, after all.
He grinned at her, silently compliant. Then he began unlacing her dress.
"Mmmm. You smell good," she murmured in his ear. "You --"
Her mouth was silenced by his own, now insistent. And suddenly his hand had found her breast, those long and lovely fingers raking across her nipple.
His arms so strong and sure, his breathing slow and rough. She tore at his belt, the buttons of his heavy black trousers, pulling him over her as she lay back on the bed, her evening dress slipping further past her hips. Yes! Then her hands found him, long and firm and hot as sunlit brick, and --- squirming? The broad scaly head of his sex abruptly thrust itself free of his boxers, it's lumpy, writhing neck extending through her clenching hands toward the softer, hotter, wetter parts of her prone body. A snake? A serpent?
"Ah....ah...." she choked on her scream, mouth working to expunge the terrible horror exploding inside her mind. NO NO NO NO NO NO!
And Jimmy, or whatever his name was, lost in his own excitement, lowering himself onto her, parting her thighs with those beautiful, delicate hands of his; moaning, reaching....
With a surge of panic she lurched sideways, throwing herself onto the floor, scrambling away, away from the demon on the bed.
"Jackie?" She heard the pain and shock in his tone, the strained question within a question.
Gasping for breath she rushed to her purse, fumbling crazily with the clasp. It won't open, why won't it open? Her dress tangled around her ankles as she turned to the bed, holding up a shaking hand, trying not to look at him.
But she saw the shock and disbelief on his face change suddenly as he looked at her naked loins and the smooth bush of her crotch. "You!" He was still kneeling on the bed, frozen. "Human? Human!?" It was an accusation, an angry reproach.
The purse opened at last, and somewhere inside was her only hope of escape, if she could just... find it...in time.
Jimmy was getting off the bed, still gaping at her body. No one had ever looked at her quite that way before, but no one had ever had a snake for a penis, either. Then he was digging frantically through his jacket pockets. "Stop," he said. It was a low, hungry voice. Not at all like Jimmy's.
There! She lifted the firmly reassuring black wand out into plain view, watched his eyes grow round and his hands freeze in place. "I'm sorry," she said shakily, and swiped the wand across the air. Instantly the rift was opened, and she stepped hurriedly through it.
"No!" he cried, and dove after her.
* * * *
The rift closed neatly behind her as Jackie stepped back into her bedroom, cutting off the horrors of another world with a staticky snap. She scurried into the bathroom, holding back a scream with her hand, and vomited into the vac basin. Oh, shit...I've really done it now...
"Jackie?" A soft voice behind her.
She froze, her horror turning cold and dark and very, very still. Marcie? What are you doing home so soon! Marcie!
"Jackie what in the world happened to....?"
But Marcie would see the wand still clutched in Jackie's hand, would smell the smoke and booze and musky arousal of her nakedness. Jackie could not turn around, could not face her partner of ten years, her always-devoted and ever-unsuspecting lover and friend.
"I know this looks bad..." Jackie began, speaking into the vac basin's cold, brushed aluminum. "I --"
"Oh, Jackie," the voice was tearful now, on the verge of sobs. "Oh darling, how could you do this? How long has this been going on ?! My -- How could you!"
Then footsteps running from the bedroom, footsteps that should not have been arriving for hours yet. So carefully planned, always so carefully planned not to hurt poor Marcie's feelings. The front door swished open and shut. Then silence.
Jackie collapsed onto the mica-shiny floor, curling into fetal denial of what she had jsut done -- what she had been caught doing. Oh God...oh god....
The air seemed too thick to breath, and the silence too loud to bear.
* * * *
When Marcie returned three hours later from a walk which tried to cope with what she had seen and felt, the habitat she and Jackie had shared these last three years was a riot of flashing lights and deafening noise. From the parkscape where she stood, the entire twenty-story building was lit blindingly bright, and brighter still some sort of grid wove a broad phosphorescent sphere around their condo on the twelfth floor, a bulbous cage curving into and out of the building. At least a dozen aeros hovered about the white stucco habitat, with thick black cables extending to the balcony and into the windows. The evacuated (willingly or not she could not tell) crowd of tenants gawked up at the scene, ignoring her.
"What's going on," she asked a bathrobed man she did not recognize -- and hoped would not recognize her.
"Dunno," he shrugged. "Some kind of escaped chemical or something."
"No no," said a plump woman, clutching her wide-eyed children about her, "There was aliens up there. That's AFS-ops, see the logo? The black stripes there on the aeros, and that's one of them encapsulation grids, see?"
Marcie woke suddenly from her confusion and grief, and renewed tears spilled without warning down her face. "Oh, Jackie..." she said, and pushed her way through the crowd. "Let me through!" she cried.
But the armored police at the door would not let her in, no matter how she yelled, cried and pleaded, no matter how she threatened. She collapsed sobbing to the ground, and someone -- one of her neighbors, she thought -- held her, trying to comfort her incoherent cries.
After, when the AFSops people were gone and the building was taken off quarantine, she could not even find the inside of her condo, or any of her most treasured belongings, or her beloved Jackie. She fired request after request at AFSops, hired lawyers and e-hounds and even a freelance journalist to dig out the truth, but no one would tell her what had happened, no one from AFSops would even speak with her.
Much later, when she was older and time had worn her shock and loss to a vague ache more often missed than felt, Marcie would receive a small package on her doorstep with no source address. In it she would find a black silk dress, a shiny faux-vinyl purse, and a strange square of crisp grey cardboard with a picture of a beautiful young black woman singing into an oversized, squarish microphone. The cardboard was a sleeve which contained something stranger still, but she chose never to examine the flat, hard round of plastic more closely than that first, worried glance. Where had this come from? Had Jackie sent it to her from some other time or place? If so, how had she escaped?
Marcie would keep these items in her closet and never look at them, though she knew (or guessed she might know) what they represented. Eventually, when she decided it would be best for her own frail health to move south, away from the harsh northern winters and increasingly humid summers, she forgot about the package altogether, leaving it behind for good or ill along with many unpleasant and uncertain boxes of memory. She had lost so much, so much she never found again, though she never lost her broken heart.
*** END ***