I received a letter in the mail.
A bright crimson envelope with sparkles, that when held a certain way, looked like it was covered with wet blood. A red Santa hat sticker held it closed. No return address. My name was written on it in fancy scrawling cursive letters.
Inside, a letter on crude textured hand-made paper with crushed flowers, linen, and plant fibers.
Dear Miss Anna Gormleigh,
In light of current events that have been brought to my attention in regards to your recent unemployment, I should like to cordially invite you, and a guest of your choice, to join me for a grand Christmas feast at my esteemed estate in the hills.
As you may well know, I am a widower of great import, with a habit of being charitable once a year, at the time of our Lord’s birth. By attending my exclusive soiree, you shall be given the chance to put your name in the lottery pot, the winner of which shall be endowed with great riches beyond imagination. This is a chance at a new life, with all your old worries gone and to be thought of no more.
Please be there at 5 p.m. sharp, as it is a first come, first to be served basis. Be prompt. The doors and the front gate will be locked at 8:05 pm. Formal attire is mandatory.
I do so look forward to meeting you in person.
Joining the letter was a fancy invitation on scarlet paper written in gold lettering with the address, date and time. My name was on it.
I stared at it. “Holy shit.”
I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a dream. No way this could be true. And yet, here it was. In my very hands.
Me. Receiving a letter to earn a life grant from THE Hamlet Penderghast? Owner of the multi-trillion dollar Rouge Hat Foundation?
My hands shook. My mind raced.
I held the letter to my face and smelled it. A faint hint of cloves and cinnamon under French vanilla, and a pleasant musky smell that I could not quite put my finger on.
This was it. The real deal.
It was true.
I heard about people receiving letters from him before, it was a life-changing event.
All my life, I had prayed for something like this to happen. Now, suddenly, all of my dreams were finally within my reach. All I had to do, was show up and charm the old man and convince him to make his riches, mine.
It was like trying to rig the lottery…I had to figure out a way to skew it in my favor.
Did that mean arriving early, or late?
What color dress to wear? How slutty should it be? Low back and plunging neckline, or both? Was he a perverted old man? Or celibate in his old age?
I trembled, nervous and excited. With sweaty palms, I called my closest (OK, not that close, but she was the hottest and most well-cultured woman I knew) friend Lisa, and told her the news.
“No. Freaking. Way.”
“Yup!” I texted her a picture of the letter.
“Holy shit! Anna! You’re in! You’re so in!”
“I know! I can’t believe it. Anyways, it says that I can bring a plus one, so…want to come with me?”
“Oh. Wow. Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather bring Steve?”
Steve, loser boyfriend, worst manners in the world.
“No…he’s got family and is going to be out of town. I’d rather not bug him, just in case things don’t work out. He takes things hard if he gets his hopes up too much.”
“Oh…I see. OK. Sure. I’ll go with you. It’ll be a night to remember!”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at 4 p.m.”
I hung up and hummed the annoying new Christmas pop song on the radio. “Santa is Hungry for Your Love” as I dug through my closet.
I had two weeks until the big night, but I wanted to be 100% ready beforehand.
I got my nails and hair done, blew through a good chunk of my savings dolling myself up. But, like Lisa said, this was the biggest night of my life. It was worth it.
The stress and sleepless nights and debt collectors calling me at all hours, it would all be over soon.
Soon, I was going to have my day and never have want for anything ever again.
The weeks rushed by in a whirlwind. I was giddy, so excited that I barely ate--telling myself that I’d eat a ton at the dinner, imagining all the fancy rich people foods on such elegant spread in a dining hall; complete with dogs by the fireplace, fire crackling happily as we sipped on spiced wine and nibbled on sugared fruits, sweetmeats, and pies, and a rack of lamb, and Oh my God I was so hungry.
Not just for food.
I was hungry for a new life. A new start. A life free from poverty and Ramen noodles and eggs and powdered milk every day.
So. Very. Hungry.
I was curling my hair, imagining a feast for a kind and accidentally touched the hot iron.
“Shit!” I dropped it and it fell to the floor. I spread my bare feet in panic before they touched it. I picked up the iron, my finger throbbing from the pain and grit my teeth.
I was just touching up the job the hairdresser did earlier. I had a stray stubborn lock that refused to stay curled.
I sprayed it aggressively and stepped out of the bathroom to my bedroom, sucking gingerly on my burnt index finger. A red spot bloomed where my skin came into contact with the hot iron. It hurt, but I wasn't going to let it ruin my night.
I didn’t have time to get burn cream, so I just covered it with a clear band-aid and hoped for the best. Maybe he wouldn’t notice it. It hurt like a bitch, and I couldn't ignore it. It was distracting
I slipped on my burgundy red dress (sparkling with plunging neckline and bareback) and matching stiletto heels. I put on the wishbone necklace that Steve gave me for good luck a year ago when I got my last job- the one that recently fired me with no notice, the bastards. The charm was gold with a pearl inlay. I had hoped that it would bring me luck this time, but maybe I had decided to wear it to have a part of Steve with me, if only in spirit.
I double-checked myself in the mirror and then grabbed my things and rushed out the door.
I picked up Lisa and we drove to the estate, both of us chatting up a storm, that is until we saw the looming mansion on the hill.
My mouth went dry. I was so nervous that suddenly I really had to pee.
I laughed nervously. “Oh, I’m fine. It’s just…in the winter night, with the snow falling around it, it should be peaceful, like a storybook castle. But it looks more like an evil step-mother’s house from a fairy tale.”
“Yeah. It does. Probably just a trick of the light, right?”
The gates were open, stone gargoyles on the concrete wall grinned viciously down at us. They looked like they would come alive and eat us at any moment.
Lisa shifted in her seat. “I thought it’d be more festive. But, there are no Christmas lights on the trees out front. Don’t rich people love that sort of thing?”
“I bet he just likes a more natural look in his yard. I bet you anything the interior is full of decorations like Santa threw up all over.”
She laughed and her face lit up, putting me at ease.
I found a place to park, thinking it odd that there was no valet, and we trudged up the path, the snow freshly paved, crunching under our dress shoes.
“I swear to God, I feel like I’m going to fall and twist my ankle.”
“If you do, you can sue his pants off for damages.”
“Anna!” she admonished, and we laughed and walked up the concrete steps. I rang the doorbell and checked the time on my watch. 4:50 p.m.
We were on time.
I glanced back and noticed car tire tracks leading around the back of the property.
Were we the first guests to arrive? Or not? What did the invitation say? First come, first served?
We were late, after all.
A sour-faced butler opened the door and he inhaled through his nose loudly. “Yes?”
“Um… Hi. Hello, I’m Anna Gormleigh. Here’s my invitation. Lisa is my plus one.”
He too the invite slowly and looked at me. “Does Lisa have a surname?”
I blushed, embarrassed. Lisa stood closer to me and put a calming hand on my own.
“Lisa Hancock,” she said firmly. Thank God she came with me. I was so stressed, I couldn’t even think straight.
I looked away, hiding the tears welling up in my eyes. I rubbed my thumb against the bandaid I used to hide my burn and focused on the pain.
If my mascara ran now…fuck.
Calm down Anna. Calm down. It’s fine. It’s all going to be fine. Right?
“Courage,” Lisa whispered as the butler led us indoors.
We were hit with a wave of delicious scents, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, vanilla. They seemed to cover up a sickly sweet scent that I couldn’t quite place. The entrance way was white marble. A big brass fireplace with a fire happily snapping away greeted us as we stepped forward on the mirrored stone floor. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
A huge Christmas tree stood in the center of the foyer. It was sprayed with white flocking and covered in ornaments. Shreds of red tinsel hung were strung along it, that made it look like the tree limbs were weeping blood. The crimson bulbs stood out in a striking pattern of droplets of scarlet in white snow.
It was beautiful, and it made me hungry to see more.
The butler took our jackets and told us to wait a moment by the fire.
As soon as he left, Lisa turned to me, beaming.
“This place is gorgeous! Thank you so much for bringing me.”
I smiled. She was cute when she was excited. She was like a little girl at times, but in a good way.
“You’re welcome. God, I’m so nervous.”
“Don’t be. Just act like you belong here. Because if anyone deserves it, it’s you.”
“Oh stop, you’ll make me blush again.”
“So what if you do, with all this red around us, you’ll blend right in, right?”
I laughed and the huge double doors to our left opened. A woman in a French maid outfit stepped out and curtsied.
“Right this way, misses.”
“Misses?” Lisa whispered and we grinned at each other. It was like I was sixteen all over again and going to prom with the hottest senior boy at school.
Inside, there were a number of brown leather chairs in a half circle, all facing each other, and a smaller, less elegant fireplace roaring away, filling the room with warm yellow light.
It had gotten dark outside. The large windows had their long drapes pulled open, and all I could see was my reflection in them as I walked past I looked so…hungry.
A middle-aged hipster man in pressed jeans, trendy sweater, beard and man bun sat next to a plump woman in a rumpled dress that was one size too small for her. It showed off the fat rolls on her sides and I tried not to outwardly grimace at how tacky she looked. If this were a different scenario, I'd feel bad for her, but right now? I just saw her as someone to easily beat in the lottery.
On the opposite side of the half circle, an androgynous goth college kid, of which I couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a guy, sat sideways with feet dangling off the side of the chair. The kid wore paint-spattered torn jeans, a faded metal band t-shirt, and a red knit winter hat. They were playing a game on their smart-phone and not paying attention to any of us. Perhaps he or she was the grandchild?
The hipster man adjusted his over-sized black-rimmed glasses and stood up to greet us with an outstretched hand.
“Hi! I’m Mike, this is my sister Lorraine.”
We shook his hand. Lorraine didn’t stand to greet us. She just looked down her piggy nose at me and I could practically see the jealousy roll off of her in waves of heat.
She hated me already. Which was fine by me. I didn’t care for her either. In fact, the more she stared at me, the more my loathing for her grew, until I could barely contain my rage.
“Quite incredible to be here, isn't it?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure is,” I said through a forced smile.
My heart raced. I was furious. I dug my finger into the burn spot, making it hurt worse. If there wasn't a band-aid covering it, I would've cut open the skin with my thumbnail.
Bastards. How long have they been here?
I wanted to kill them.
An image of my hand grabbing the fire poker and bashing their faces in flashed in my mind. I tried to shake it off, but I kept thinking about wanting to make them bleed.
How dare they? This was MY turn. My chance to change my life. Forever.
They needed to die. And fast.
“Did you have trouble with driving up here in the snow?” he asked me.
“Oh, no. I’m used to it.”
Lisa sat down next to the goth kid and I saw a slight frown on her face.
“Where did you park?” Lisa asked.
“Out front. Why?”
“We didn’t see your car.”
“The valet moved it,” the college kid said, not looking up from their game. I saw limp hair under that red cap, it was greasy, almost wet looking, and for a brief second, I thought I saw blood. I blinked and looked at them again. No. Their scalp was not covered in blood.
I was just seeing things.
“I’m sorry,” Lisa said. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Cinnamon,” the kid replied. Their voice, like their appearance, made it hard to determine what sex they were. So was their name, apparently.
“Oh, what a nice name.”
“Whatever.” Cinnamon stood up. “I’ll go tell Uncle Hamlet that you’re here. I don’t want to wait much longer. I’m starving.”
“Oh, OK,” I said.
When Cinnamon walked past I noticed that their teeth didn’t quite fit their mouth. Maybe too young for braces? I kept looking at their cranberry colored lips as they shuffled out of the room.
Mike cleared his throat. “Uh…I didn’t give my car keys to anyone. Cinnamon said that the valet moved my car, but that can't be possible.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
He dug them out of his pants pockets and held them up. “See? I still have my keys."
"That's weird." Please leave now. Just go. Don't come back.
"I’m going to go look, just in case. Maybe you just didn’t see it out there? It’s a white car. It could’ve blended in with the snow bank in the dark.”
“I guess. I mean, I was so nervous driving up, it's possible that I could’ve missed it.” Yes. That's it. Go outside, and freeze to death. Get out of my way.
His fat sister made an annoyed face.
“Oh, don’t be like that. I’ll be right back,” he said and left her there, with us.
“Anna, there were tire tracks in the snow leading behind the mansion,” Lisa said and went to look out the window. She cupped her hands around her eyes to block out some of the glare and peered outside. “They’re gone now.”
“What? Really?” I peeked beside her. The snowfall had increased, a blanket of white filled the air and completely covered our footprints. It was as if we had never been there.
“Wow. I didn’t think it was snowing that hard. Guess it picked up after we got inside.”
A manservant walked in, looking bored, holding a tray of appetizers. Red pomegranate seeds on stark white beds of cheese and red apple slices. Simple, yet elegant.
When offered, I graciously picked one up and took a bite.
The pomegranate meat spurted satisfyingly in my mouth.
I wanted it to be Lorraine’s head. My mouth crunching down on her skull, making the blood and eye goop everywhere.
I swallowed the seed pit and coughed.
“Oh my God are you OK?” Lisa asked.
I nodded and spit out the seed. “Sorry,” I said, eyes watering. The seed had scraped the back of my throat. I felt…weird. My lips tingled, so did my fingers.
Am I allergic to pomegranate?
I became light-headed. My lips and tongue itched and I could feel my gums like they were swelling up. My teeth ached. Maybe I chipped one on the pomegranate seed?
I took water that another waiter offered and chugged it down. It was very unladylike, but I really didn’t care at that point.
“You’re not supposed to eat the pit,” Lisa whispered.
“I know. Shut up.”
Lorraine pointed to my face. I fought back the urge to bite her pudgy piggy finger off. “You got some juice on your face.”
“Thanks.” I dabbed my lips with a napkin.
Lisa took my arm and whispered in my ear, “Stop glaring at her. She’s trying to be nice.”
“What? I’m not glaring at her.”
“You are. Cut it out. It looks bad.”
Part of me wanted to rip my arm away or break Lisa’s fingers. I wondered what it would feel like, sinking my teeth into the flesh of her tender digits.
The thought should’ve startled me, but it didn’t.
My hands grew sweaty and the band-aid on my finger came loose, so I took it off, and stared when I saw that the burn was suddenly gone.
Had I imagined it? Or did it just heal, somehow?
What was going on here?
Suddenly I was acutely aware of how quiet the house was. Aside from the sound of snow plinking against the windows, and Lorraine breathing loudly through her nose, there was no other sound to be heard.
I looked for one of the wait staff, to ask for some more water, and I couldn't find them. The wait staff had just…disappeared. I saw them standing in the doorway one minute and the next, it was as though they had never existed, to begin with.
I rubbed my top gums with a finger. Why did they hurt so much? They definitely were swollen.
“Are you all right?” Lisa whispered.
“I think I might be allergic to pomegranate.”
“Oh no. I think I might have some antihistamine in my purse. Let me go check.”
Lorraine waddled to the window and stared out, squinted her piggy eyes. “What do you think happened to our car? We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. Who would steal it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you should go find Michael and see if he figured out what happened.”
“Good idea,” she said and snatched up her purse and heavily stomped out of the room.
I sighed in relief. Maybe she’d get lost and find herself locked in a closet or something. Anything to get her out of the run for the money.
Her footsteps faded as she tromped down the winding hallway, looking for her brother.
"They have to be in here somewhere," Lisa muttered as she dug in her purse.
I looked pleadingly at her, feeling my gums swell so much that I thought they’d bulge my teeth out of my mouth.
She gave me an apologetic look. “I thought I brought some with me, but I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
“Maybe the host has some. Old people often have huge medicine cabinets, right?”
“I hope so. If not, I can always run out and get some for you. I mean, it’d be better for your guest to leave, than for you to go. This is such an important night for you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Hun, your lips are swelling up. I think it would be for the best. I’d rather go and risk the snow, than end up sitting with you in the emergency room.”
“You’re right. Here, take my car keys. I’m insured so don’t worry if something happens.”
“OK.” She took them, hung her purse on her slim shoulder and left to go find her jacket.
I sat down by the fire and tried to calm myself down. I had an icy pit growing in my stomach. I was nervous, my chest felt tight.
Then. I noticed it.
Something smelled good. I hadn’t noticed it before.
What was it?
Apples. Cloves. Nutmeg. Raisins. Currants. Candied Citrus…Mincemeat pie? Maybe?
My stomach growled.
Maybe I needed to eat more? It would calm my nerves.
I just needed to stay away from the pomegranate. I went to go look for where the delicious food was displayed and there was a bang of a door, followed by a thump, and a long heavy dragging sound.
“What the hell was that?”
I poked my head out the door and froze. A streak of wet red paint ran across the foyer to a door on the opposite side of the hall.
No wait...that couldn't be paint. It smelled like spiced wine and gingerbread cookies.
As I stepped closer to investigate the wet paint, the wind picked up and began to howl outside, throwing snow up against the front of the house. It was turning into a blizzard.
We might be stuck here until morning when the snow plows cleared the road.
“Hey!” Lorraine called out and I looked down the hallway at her. She looked very worried, on the verge of tears. “Do you know where the help went off to? I can’t find anyone.”
“What’s that on the floor? Is that blood? It is! That's blood! Oh my God! Mikey? Mike? Where are you?” she shouted and ran towards the door that the paint streak led to.
Just then, Cinnamon slammed the door open and smacked Lorraine square in the face. She slipped in the paint and fell, cracking her head hard on the marble floor.
“Oh. Shit,” Cinnamon said and kneeled by her. I saw him or her (I still wasn't sure) tuck something metallic and sharp looking in their pants pocket. “Help me, will you?” they asked and looked at me.
“Is she dead?”
“Not yet. Why? You want her dead?”
I smiled. “Yes.”
“Well, then. Help me drag her in here and we’ll make that happen.”
I was giddy, like a kid in a candy shop. Here was the competition, dropping like flies.
I helped the androgynous Cinnamon, who, upon closer inspection had no Adam’s Apple, and I realized that she was a young woman. She was a Goth girl who could very easily pass for a boy.
I helped her pick up Lorraine and carry her into the room we were staying in.
“Let's put her down on the couch. We’ll take care of her body in a little bit.”
Someone stepped into the room and I turned, expecting to see Lisa, but instead, standing in the doorway was a tall, sophisticated elderly gentleman in a burgundy red suit and tie, with a jaunty fur-lined Santa hat covering white hair that had yellowed with age.
He had an air of elegance about him. He didn’t appear fragile or weak, as one would expect of someone his age. He stood straight up, as though he had a backbone made of steel.
“Ah. Uncle Ham. Sorry, I was just trying to clean things up, as you asked, but I appear to have made more of a mess of things.”
“Not to worry, young Cinnamon. These things happen.”
“Lorraine slipped in the hallway and hit her head,” I said and Cinnamon’s eyes flicked my way. A sly smile curved up a corner of her mouth and she nodded in approval.
“I can see that,” Penderghast said, a glint of malice in his black licorice eyes. He smelled of candied apples. My mouth watered at the taste in the air.
So hungry. I really should’ve eaten something before we left.
Penderghast stepped over to where Lorraine lay like a beached whale, her eyes glazed over in a daze. She had to have a concussion.
“Michael, I have to find Michael,” she blubbered.
“Oh? Would you like to join him? He’s in the other room. I…ran into him as he stepped out to inquire about your vehicle. Rest assured, your car is fine,” he said and smiled.
I stared at him. Hamlet’s mouth had thick bright red gums. His lips barely closed down over his huge pointed shark's teeth. They were cracked in places like they had chipped from being filed into triangles.
I ran my tongue over my own teeth.
What would it feel like, for mine to be that sharp? Would I bite off my own tongue by accident? What could they bite through?
“Oh, good,” Lorraine said, “Take me to my brother. I want to go home now.”
“Of course,” he said and put out a hand, helping her to her feet. She wobbled and barely walked in a straight line as he escorted her out. His tall form easily held up her tubby body. I was impressed by his strength.
I wanted to be like that. Strong, lean, all muscle and jaws and teeth. The ultimate predator of humanity.
Penderghast glanced back at me and winked as the door swung shut. It made my heart leap in my chest.
Cinnamon sighed. “I’ll be right back. Gonna clean up the floor before the blood sets.”
“Sure,” I said taken aback.
Blood? I thought that was paint. It certainly didn't smell like blood to me.
After a few moments, Lisa slipped into the room, startling me.
“Anna,” she hissed, handing me my jacket and hurriedly put on her own. “Come on. We have to get out of here.”
I stood there for a moment, and then tossed my jacket over the couch arm. “I’m not going anywhere. I belong here.”
“Are you serious? This place is fucked up! Didn't you see the blood?"
"Blood? No. That was paint."
Lisa gave me a look like she wanted to smack me. "You're crazy. That was blood. Mike's blood. Cinnamon hit him with something. I saw her drag him into the side room. These people, they aren’t who you think they are.”
“What the hell would you know? I didn’t have to invite you, you know. I could’ve asked someone else.”
“I know, and as your friend, I am telling you, we need to get out of here before they kill us too.”
“Stop over-reacting. It’s fine. I’m not going to throw away this opportunity. It is going to change my life. Forever.”
“What are you talking about? I thought you were having an allergic reaction. I thought you wanted to go get medical attention. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I’m fine now. Never felt better.”
“OK, fine. But, we need to leave. Now. Before they get rid of our car too.”
“You mean my car.”
“Yes. So come on!” She tried to pull me by the arm and I dug my heels in and didn’t budge. “Anna. Please! Let’s go!”
“Did you see their teeth?”
“What uber rich person doesn’t have perfect teeth? Their dentists all know them on a first name basis.”
“Maybe it’s a genetic condition. Maybe they aren’t shallow and don’t worry about how their mouths look. Ever think of that?”
“Anna, I’m trying to save your life! Now come on!” she grabbed my jacket and yanked me towards the front entrance.
“No. We’re leaving. Before they kill us too.”
I grabbed the door frame and stopped walking. She stumbled forward and glared at me.
“What is your problem?”
Anger flared in me.
How dare she ruin this for me. I waited my whole life for an opportunity like this and here she wanted to run home like a little girl.
I was grinding my teeth. I didn’t notice until I bit down and my teeth sliced through it, the tip of my tongue came clean off. I winced and blood quickly filled my mouth. It tasted like sweet plum wine. My stomach growled and I swallowed. It was delicious.
Lisa stared at me in horror. “Oh. My. God. Did you just…did you just bite off the tip of your tongue and eat it?”
“Yes. It tasted really good,” I said, my blood dribbling down my chin.
“Oh fuck this shit,” she said and ran off towards the front door. It wouldn’t open. She made a growl of frustration and ran the other way, past me, towards the back of the building. “I’m leaving. Get a cab to drive you home,” she shouted back at me.
“Oh…you’re not going anywhere,” I whispered and chuckled. This was going to be fun.
I saw that Cinnamon left the door open to the room where the "blood" streak trailed into.
I walked over and inside, I saw a huge life-sized canvas standing. A ghastly painting of innards and intestine strung upon a Christmas tree. It was oddly pretty and grotesque at the same time.
Next to it was a metal table, with a now naked Michael lay. He was pale. Not breathing. Dead.
His arms hung off the sides, long cuts ran down the undersides, his hands in buckets where his blood was draining. I was hit with an overwhelming scent of mint and fresh squeezed orange juice, mixed with cloves and nutmeg.
My tongue stopped bleeding, it tingled and itched horribly and in an instant, I felt it grow back. I loved it. Wondered how many times I could bite off the end and eat it before it stopped growing back.
Cinnamon stood on the far side of the table and was cutting off patches of skin from his thigh.
“Hairy bastard, isn't’ he?” she asked and grinned. Her teeth, serrated, chunky, like a jumble of shark’s teeth, over-filled her mouth.
“Want some?” she asked and motioned to the glistening bundle of muscle that she had uncovered on his leg. “It’s like well-seasoned pork tenderloin. He tastes really good.”
I took a deep breath in. Heat filled my belly and crawled down to my crotch, where it left me tingling and wet. It surprised me. This feeling of intense arousal. I was so hungry. For food. For sex. For life. I wanted to eat him. I wanted to eat all of him, and keep eating until I was so stuffed that I couldn't even move.
“Yes. Yes,. I do,” I said, my heart pounding, as my greedy hunger took over all of my senses.
"Oh? Looks like you want to do more than that, sweet cheeks."
"I want to rub his minty citrus blood all over me and bath in it while I eat him," I said and ran my hands over my tits and squeezed them hard.
“Hot damn! He was right! You ARE one of us!”
“One of what?” I asked and slowly stepped up to the table.
“A redcap. Uncle finds us and adopts us into the family. We’re cousins, of a sort, you and I.”
“Does this mean that I get the money?”
“Honey, you get that, and more. Much, much more,” she handed me a thick quivering cord of dark red meat from Mike’s thigh. I took it and licked my lips. It smelled so sweet, like Christmas cookies. Not savory at all. Definitely not like pork loin, like she had said.
“Why does it smell like that?” I asked.
“Like what, my dear?”
I jumped. Penderghast was in the room. Somehow, he had snuck up on us.
“Like spiced wine and apples and oranges. Like Christmas cookies and spiked eggnog,” I said. "Cinnamon said he tasted like pork loin, but I don't smell that at all on his flesh."
He grinned and stepped over. I saw that his long-fingered hands were slicked with blood.
“Because, my dear Anna, you aren’t human. Not anymore. Not since you stepped foot in here and ate the pomegranate.”
I frowned. “What?”
I knew that I should be scared, but I wasn’t. I was thrilled. Excited, sexually aroused. Everything was warm and pulsing in me. I never felt more alive in my life.
“Once you eat fairy food, you can never leave. Those who remain human, become our meals. Those who change, who transform into their true gluttonous natures, like you, and become family.
“You inherited the fairy magic. Congratulations."
"Fairy? Magic? I don't quite understand."
"You felt it, the minute you bit down on the pomegranate, didn't you? That hot, tingling that made your gums bulge and teeth grow?"
"Well, once a year, on Christmas Eve, I can grant riches and immortality to one lucky person. If their true natures matches my own dark appetites, they become like me. And my dear, the lucky winner of the lottery this year, was you,” he said and lifted my chin with a bloody hand. It smelled like strawberry shortcake. My stomach growled. “You want to lick the blood off, don’t you?”
“You may if you like.”
“Thank you, Uncle,” I said and slowly licked and sucked the blood off. Sighing and closing my eyes as I swallowed. “Yummy.”
“Does Lisa taste delicious?”
“Yes. Oh God, yes.”
“Want to eat her. All of her?”
He grinned. “Very well. Eat your appetizer, first."
"Finish up what you hold in your eager hands, and we’ll move to the dining room for the main course.”
I glanced down at the slab of muscle in my hands. Meat. Sweet, sweet meat. I hungrily tore into it, blood dripping down my chin and plopping on my shoes and the floor as I chewed. It had the pleasant texture of rare steak but tasted like mincemeat pie. It settled warmly in my stomach, like a hot wine.
Penderghast nodded approvingly and then gently escorted me to the dining area. Lorraine and Lisa were cut open on the long table. Heads cut off and placed on the fireplace mantle with apples in their mouths.
It made my heart leap with joy. We were going to eat my friend. Finally, she’d be useful for something.
Cinnamon came in and started pulling out their intestines, dragging them along the floor and hanging them about the room like garland.
“Your cousin Cinnamon has great taste in interior decor, don’t you think?”
I smiled. “She does.”
“Heart, or liver first?”
“Liver. Please,” I said and sat down in front of Lisa’s butchered body.
Penderghast placed her large, slippery, wet liver on my plate and motioned for me to eat.
I dug right in. She tasted so good. Like caramel apple cheesecake. I couldn’t get enough of it.
The more I ate, the more I wanted. Even after gorging myself on her flesh, my stomach felt empty.
Sighing I sat back and licked the gore off my hands.
He nodded. “Everything has a price. My gifts you to, their price is eternal hunger. It will never cease. But, you shall grow accustomed to it, in time.”
“Yes. It’s a fair trade-off though, don’t you think?”
“How is that?”
“You get to inherit my riches, you never have need or want for anything ever again. All you have to do is eat and eat and eat to your heart’s content and never grow fat. And next year, you shall go out and invite four more humans to the feast. How does that sound?”
“It sounds delicious.”
He stood behind me and reached down and hugged me like a favored child. “Merry Christmas, Anise Seed.”
“Merry Christmas Uncle Ham.”
He laughed and I laughed and we ate the rest of my friend. She was the best thing I ever had for the holidays.