The following is Christmas horror fiction from author Chaz Wood, exclusively written for Freethunk.net. Read all the way through to the end and you may be emotionally torn in several different directions.
“How much for a private?”
It had been a night like any other night. A night of neon, dry ice, itchy eyes and sore feet. The dancer hadn’t been having the best of luck lately, and the cold, dark nights had begun to weigh her down, as though the receding sun was taking all her hope and enthusiasm away with it. Everything was an effort. For someone who was paid to give pleasure to others, she saw very little of that commodity herself; wasn’t even sure she ever would again. The Christmas rush which accelerated daily in the real world outside only helped to remind her just how empty, meaningless, pointless her life was. Nobody had celebrated her birthday for the past two years – why the hell should she get excited about celebrating someone else’s, someone who may not even have existed?
She’d worked in Chicago and LA before making the trip to New York, hoping the change of scene would bring changes of fortune. But it didn’t matter – one sleazy blue-collar red-light inferno looked like any other, although few existed with the robust pulchritude of 42nd Street. All the men looked the same everywhere – sightless eyes, gargoyle mouths spewing second-hand and third-rate aphorisms like dirty rainwater. The women looked aloof, sometimes slightly uncomfortable, more often than not clinging too-tightly to the arm of whichever chaperone had led them there. Now and again, one would even look vaguely interested, and if one happened to look at home, it was even odds that she was in the business herself and checking out the competition.
It happened that night, a few days short of Christ’s unlikely birthday. It was raining outside and the forecasts had promised snow later on. She’d been glad for her job that evening, grateful for the small mercies, that she wasn’t housed in wet blankets and cardboard like some of the wrecks she’d passed on her way in and would no doubt pass on the way out, as well.
It had been a long night. She’d had no invitations, no requests. It was late, her calves and thighs were starting to hurt from the relentless plodding which had started off as her usual strut, and had now ended up an unmotivated skiff-skiff across the tables. Maybe her sour attitude was infectious – maybe it reflected on her face just a little too much. Maybe she was too skinny, or putting on a bit too much weight, or a bit too old now for this kind of thing, maybe she just didn’t give a damn any more.
She had never been born to be a showgirl. Two failed marriages and a string of ill-judged affairs had left her over the proverbial barrel, emotionally and financially. She had been walking home one night in the rain, mentally choosing between razor blades or the full contents of the paracetamol jar as a solution, when she passed the door of the “Desert Fox”. ‘Hostesses/dancers wanted – apply within!’ yelled the notice in the window of the entrance booth. The manager auditioned her, laughed at her attempts to cavort in 5 inch stilettos but hired her as a waitress anyway on account of her 36-inch assets. Within two months, she’d seen enough, and practised enough, to be able to graduate to the dance floor. And there she stayed. A pantomime life, fuelled by spastic strobe lights and burning spurts of whiskey, but a life at least, until this night.
As the last group of men at her table laughed among themselves and turned their backs, seeking drinks at the bar, she stopped.
Kicked her heels on the wood, would have dropped her hands to her hips if she’d had the energy. The lights continued to strobe at the corner of her eye, flickering like an old silent movie about to break down and burn in its projector. So, oiled up skin and wobbling boobs weren’t where it was at for that gang. She knew if she’d ripped her G-string off and opened herself up right there in their faces that they would still have preferred the support of the bar and the dribbling profanities that passed for conversation.
Or perhaps they just had some taste.
She felt an uncomfortable itch in her groin, where the sweat and the baby oil mingled under hot black lycra. Longing to scratch it, but knowing if she started, it would only burn and drive her mad for the rest of the night. She’d forgotten to shave again. How wonderful. It would turn into a zit, get infected and burst, and that would be her back to waiting tables topless again for minimum wage until it cleared up.
The slobs at the bar pulled on Santa Claus hats and got another round in. They were laughing with the barmaid, who was about ten years younger than her and magnificently carefree. Arlene or Darlene or something which rhymed with that; blonde and tanned and trim, not pale and freckled and ginger-haired, nor on the side of thirty which succumbed to gravity too readily.
It was the night she asked herself that question again: razorblades or paracetamol? She looked at the empty glasses on the table under her, considered breaking one there and then and taking it to the bathroom with her. Nobody would notice, after all. The way that nobody had even noticed that she hadn’t moved a muscle in two minutes. The music was starting to get on her nerves, as though she had never actually noticed it before: Guns ‘n Roses, a band she used to love.
And then she showed up, on the dirty side of midnight, swishing and striding through the bar like a dark-robed hunter, sweeping all before her with a calm sense of majesty.
Moving through the crowd with a purpose, head moving in line with a hidden sense, as though homing in on something or someone. She came to the stage, right up to the edge, elbow resting on the rail to physically impose herself upon the dance space, demanding attention, expecting service.
Her eyes travelled upwards to the dancer’s, dragged her down to that level.
“Sorry – what did you say?”
“I said – how much for a private?”
The accent was strong, maybe European or Southern Hemisphere, though hard to define. Her hair was long and platinum, and shone like gunmetal in the lights. She was dressed in black and wine-red, impeccably in fact, and looked as though she should have been partying on uptown in an Italian restaurant than hanging around a mediocre strip joint. And she had drawn more attention in the past minute, than the previous two hours of bored jiggling had managed.
“How much? Uh – hang on.” The dancer bent, suddenly invigorated. She pulled herself down to the floor and did fussy, nervous things with her hair. Looked around – Drum, the manager, was nowhere in sight. For a moment, she felt cold panic set in. Could she still handle this – especially such an incongruous, unknown quantity?
The other woman blinked gray-green eyes under wonderfully thick lashes, waiting.
“Eighty.” she swallowed a dry lump of fear. “No, let’s say-” she was about to make it fifty – she hadn’t been worth that kind of money for weeks now – but a stack of notes appeared under her nose to silence her.
“Deal. Put this somewhere safe and lead on.”
As they walked to the private room, drawing hushed comment and query, the stranger spoke.
“My name’s Anaïs, by the way.”
“Interesting name. Never heard it before.”
“It’s French, dear. Derived from that of the ancient Persian goddess of love, Anahita.”
“You don’t look ancient, or Persian for that matter.”
“I’m flattered. But I’m not paying you for compliments, darling. I’m paying for pleasure. Speaking of which-” The door opened at Anaïs’ touch and she stood back, waiting. “The goddess also leant her name to a species of nocturnal, predatory spiders.” she twisted her mouth at one corner. “Well, no-one’s perfect, eh.”
The dancer hesitated, not knowing how to handle this one. She crossed the floor into the private room, the room it had taken her three weeks to see the inside of after graduating from serving drinks to dancing. Drum liked to keep things low-key, and this one was furnished in soft velvet drapes of mainly mauve and red.
Anaïs let the door close on them both and strode over to the couch, foregoing the close-up seat at the edge of the circular stage.
The dancer leant herself against the pole, trying hard to invoke a fraction of the confidence that was seeping from the other woman. “I can definitely only see two legs from here,” she tried, holding back a nervous laugh. Anaïs stretched out slowly, crossing those very artefacts, encased in shiny black leather jeans. A little shrug fluttered across her shoulders. She had paid, now she was anticipating service.
The other woman wiped the anxious grimace from her face. She could taste sweat on her palm. That zit was beginning to pulse under her skin, like something from An American Werewolf in London. No, Alien. That would be more like it. Some deformed little ugly space bug making a break for it. Hell, right at that moment she wished she could escape from her cold, shivering body as well and flee out into the night.
“Sorry, Anaïs. I don’t do this very often. So I apologise if I’m a bit-”
“No apologies necessary.”
“Ssh. Don’t say. I like a mystery. Perhaps I’ll find out, one day. Now, please – in your own time.” Spoken with a remarkable lack of impatience, though the hand gesture suggested otherwise, a grandiose sweep in the direction of the dance floor.
Anxiety tugged at the side of her jaw. She turned to switch on the boom box and adjusted the CD platter. This was personal choice time, so she threw out the cheap disco, the trashy rock, the sleazy lounge jazz and slipped on a homemade disc of Dead Can Dance. It was the music she had learned her moves to in the bedroom, and which she hoped would remind her exactly what she was supposed to be doing here.
The first track was The Host of Seraphim. Perfect backing, in fact. Anaïs’ eyes betrayed some recognition, and with a few steps across the floor, the old moves started to fill the dancer’s limbs, gently thawing out the chill which had held her stiff. It only then occurred to her that she was already half naked, and found herself having to improvise around that, but she warmed to the performance, ramping it up from slow and aloof to grinding and intimate.
The G-string finally made its way to her ankles after the longest tease she had ever performed. Almost hobbling herself in her excitement, she drew herself down to the floor to reclaim her breath, some composure, and gear up for the predictable self-loving, oil-soaked climax. Throughout it all, Anaïs had sat entranced as though viewing some piece of classical art, chin-stroking and head-twitching with thoughtful calm. As the G-string was kicked up and away, Anaïs sat back, arms draped across the back of the seat and made full eye contact for the first time that night, her gray-green eyes demanding acknowledgement.
The dancer arose, slowly enacting the classic birth of Venus, and couldn’t resist a quick glance down to check on the zit-in-waiting. It looked like a boil, it was going to be a bad one. Deciding that Anaïs wouldn’t be thankful for a close-up view of glistening pustulence, she turned to crawl away to the pole when a light touch brushed her shoulder. She froze – no touching was Rule No. 1, and that went for anyone, no matter how much they paid or how much they begged. Drum, if nothing else, was a businessman, and called Verboten on anything likely to endanger the smooth and profitable running of that business. His women were dancers, he would say, entertainers; he didn’t employ hookers, and he publicly despised pimps with a loud and colourful repertoire of four-letter epithets.
“Don’t turn away,” the customer smiled, her words timed perfectly to snake their way around the dancer’s ears as the beat died and the music faded into the whooshing synthesized outro. The touch lifted again, and when she turned, Drum’s least confident entertainer was eye to eye with that serene stare, shades and tones of forest glades and cool autumn sunsets swirling in the irises. They were eyes which did not speak; they sang, melodies arcane littered with timeless truths and ancient secrets. By some clumsy quirk, she had managed to put the music on repeat mode and the track began again, subdued sitars twirling sensations of glory and ecstasy around her tired, tortured mind. A long finger touched itself to her parted, quivering lips.
“That was entrancing,” Anaïs said. “I don’t need any more.”
Reluctantly, the dancer pulled herself away and switched off the boom box. The other woman had migrated to the doorway, without making any noise in doing so.
“Wait for me.” she said. “Please. I know you’re hurting. We are all cursed, in our own way. But it is only through great acts of discipline, sacrifice, and personal strength that we may lift those curses that lie upon us, and bask in true happiness.”
The dancer was still confused. She scratched at that damn zit and it flared up. She would pop it that night in the bath. It was home time – she’d already earned her right to catch a cab and soak up sandalwood-scented bubbles.
Anaïs smiled broadly, a smile so enchanting that the dancer longed to see more of it. She wanted to meet Anaïs later; no, sooner; to share that smile again, drift through those eyes, feel that once-forbidden touch everywhere, for ever.
But Anaïs shook her head. “Not tonight. I can’t. I must not. I’ll be back, someday – someday, I’ll take you away. Far away from here, and all the hurt and all the fears will fade, forever.”
She stooped to pick up the G-string, hung it from her finger. “When?”
“That would be telling.”
“Well, yes it would. What’s wrong with telling? Thought you were named after the goddess of love. Not tease.”
“No, dear. That’s your job, isn’t it? And you do it very well. All you have to do is keep on doing it, as best as you can. And I’ll be back to partake of your delights again, and more besides. I promise.”
“I’ll wait for you. I promise too.”
And with that, Anaïs was gone. The wait had begun.
See Act 2 next for the story’s conclusion…