No Accounting for Taste
"If she only knew"…
Orry Eisen may have been facing his laptop, reclining in bed as Daphne's violin shaped form napped beside him, but he couldn't keep his eyes from looking sideways at her.
What would she think of his inner preoccupation with the disappearances? Sure, most of the city had become obsessed with them - how many times in a generation does one witness an epidemic of child abduction on this scale - and beautiful Daphne had taken to spending every night at his place for the past few months since it started; sort of a fringe benefit, Orry guessed, if horror like this could have such a thing.
And they discussed the case often. She posited that it was possibly a child porn or slavery racket - a group of wackos rather than one. She wasn't alone in this theory; it had been bandied about in the press, and law enforcement at the highest federal level had been mobilized. He thought it to be the work of only one man. Leads, thus far, were nonexistent, and as of that week, two dozen little boys and girls had vanished, gone as if out of this very dimension…
But Orry was…impressed. This guy was good.
It was an uneasy, private feeling, igniting a vague white-hot panic that must have been what Ted Bundy meant when he described the rush just after a kill. It festered deep within him, like a rotted trap door covering a pungent ugliness whose scent repulsed yet attracted, and Orry could not resist pulling it open and poking his head down into those hidden recesses; the psychic bilge of his childhood from whence terrors, real or imagined, could spring. As a fantasy sci-fi and horror writer he needed such a place, but he didn't dare share it with his Daphne.
There was a signature to the work of the best serial murderers; the Gacys, the Bundys, the Dahmers. Orry wondered if they ever felt competitive with each other, or whether a long jailed serial killer was jealous or bitter about his more contemporary newsmaker, the way, say, a celebrated songwriter from the seventies bristled at the chart toppers of today. Surely these creatures took pride in their work. And surely any living stealer of life had to admire the precision and consistency of this child nabbing Unsub. No, these missing kids felt like a lone killer's M.O. Perhaps Daphne's was the more erudite view, but then she hadn't peeked into that inner trap door the way he had. She hadn't seen.
Not that her opinion made her feel safe. Daph was terrified that Orry could be right, and whoever it was would start casting a bigger net. Ted Bundy's victims kept getting younger, why couldn't this guy's start trending older? Or, if she had it pegged, maybe her 'syndicate' might need a few beautiful babysitters for their growing stable…
"Hey", she rolled over to face him, "don't you wanna nap? Tonight being the night? You know how nervous I am. I don't want you sleepy your first and last night at my place." She smiled, kissing his cheek.
He gave her long auburn hair a stroke. "I'm O.K. babe. Just got book on the brain. You know how proud and excited I am for you graduating, don't ya? Not to mention getting out of that God forsaken neighborhood?"
She smiled in sleepy adoration. "Did you know you do this kind of crinkle with your nose whenever you compliment me? It's awfully cute, Mr."
Her lids drifted deliciously shut again as he pet her.
'Christ, she's luminous. Doesn't she have eyes?' he thought, as he did almost every time he took her in. Score one for the dweebs.
They did make a physically unlikely pair. The film could star Charlize Theron on the arm of a young Albert Brooks, if he Deniro'd on 20 pounds to accurately portray the currently extra stout Orry Eisen. Much of the weight had appeared over the course of their courtship, and this at least, Orry could lay at Daphne's feet. She was, after all, finishing her 100-hour externship at Lady V, the pre-eminent patisserie in a city teeming with haute cuisine. She was one helluva pastry chef, and he was content to be her 'Triple A' (ask any asshole) test taster. He was only glad he hadn't met her earlier in her culinary training, or he might be flirting with morbid obesity only these few months later.
When they were out he'd try to catch her glancing back at any number of six-foot plus gym cut studs that passed by, devouring her with their eyes only to then fix Orry with a blithe glance that cast him as "gay best friend / relative". But never once did her gaze waiver. She was either that slick, or, fuck it, that loyal.
He was sure he fell short. He had to. On the other hand, was it that preposterous, her going for him? How many times did he see a beautiful woman and then go slack-jawed at her seemingly inferior choice of partner? For that matter, what about a handsome, rich, bachelor taken off the market by some hideous beast that looked about to eat him alive?
Shit, even if she did eventually dump him, he'd have a surfeit of iPhone photos to pine over with sympathetic females. As visual currency, they were million dollar bearer bonds. Girls previously far above his pay grade would be newly fair game for this once platonic nerdling doughboy, all thanks to Daphne. He smiled to himself.
"What's funny?" She was up again, softly watching him, and now he felt her light tap-touch playing up his leg under the covers. His desires instantly twitched, like tiny cracks forming in the wall of a giant dam.
She smiled. "Can't you nap? Is it the dreams again?"
"No, no, not that. I'm just trying to find a way into the book. I gotta say, I liked working in a vacuum a lot better."
"It'll be brilliant. You're brilliant. That's why I love you."
He had had one of the nightmares though.
It was always the same. Tentacles, dozens of them, seemingly disembodied and riddled not with suction cups, but a myriad of tiny eyes and razor sharp bristles, reaching through darkness to lovingly envelop his face and head. He'd been having them almost precisely since the children started to disappear. The tentacles felt almost motherly in their ministrations, and he had the sense he was sinking; that his entire body was retracting, compressing into itself. There was never a face, but he could sense that somewhere beyond what he could see, those murderous, suffocating tendrils were connected to something huge, something that was…smiling.
He knew the easy Freudian metaphor - that this was a 'smothering mother' dream, unprocessed despair from an adolescence spent being made partner by a seductive, inappropriate parent, blah blah. Yes, and it also coincided with a new relationship, he got that too. Sorry Doc, none of that crap helped how he felt when he woke from them.
Daphne rolled onto her back and put her hands up behind her head, the covers drifting lower to reveal her otherworldly torso. With immense effort, Orry reconciled his adult sense of respect with his adolescent glee and stayed on her eyes.
"I know just how you feel, darling", she sighed. "Before my final exam I found myself staring at my hands, wondering how in Hell they were any better at baking now than they were a year ago. It's so much more fun when no one expects you."
He nodded. "I mean the whole point of the ending of my last novel was you're not supposed to know what happens to the world. Like at the end of 'Rosemary's Baby', where she's seen the child and decides to be its mother, and the camera pans out over the city, and you're taken out of the story. I love shit liked that! It's why I ended 'Temples of the Damned' with The Great Armies being summoned by Cthulhu. They all do this chant, and that should have been the end."
Instead, Orry had gotten an advance from his publisher, the size of which dictated his sudden position: at the beginning of book two in a potentially blockbuster fantasy horror series he'd never intended to write.
"I mean, how do I draw out the destruction of human civilization at the hands of armies of Lovecraft demons over the course of several books? 'Temples' was my first novel. Ugh…"
"You know I fully intend to read every word of your book by the way, right babe?" She was sitting up now, stroking his face. "These child abductions have just… I cannot understand this world. It's hard for me to read even dark fiction and not panic. You're not hurt, are you? Please tell me you believe me."
He laughed and kissed her forehead. "Baby, you reading my stuff is the last thing I'm worried about. It's not your thing even when the city's safe. And that's fine! Don't forget what you told me at the convention. It was funny then, and it's funny now."
They really had met cute. Orry led a five-author panel examining the 'relationship between science fiction and religion.' At issue was the meaning of that battle hymn that closes his novel - a hybrid of language woven from the materials of HP Lovecraft and August Derleth. Beginning with the famous cry of 'Teke lili!" he had by both diligence and sheer luck cobbled together a powerful, proprietary new couplet; one that felt natural, and had a poignant lilt that perfectly served his story's climax, but which stirred controversy among Lovecraft purists because of its mixed language. How tiresome it was, servicing the views of these hygienically challenged, armchair mythologists. He was a writer of fiction. Wasn't he entitled to creative license, for Christ's sake?
Yet, for the Hell of it, he'd indulged one of the whining dragon masters that day, and loudly bellowed the "Battle Call of The Damned" so that all in attendance could appreciate its aesthetic merits. It was upon delivering the final 'No More!' that he noticed her, so incongruous in that crowd. From up on his dais she was a fresh little strawberry bonbon that had somehow been plopped smack in the middle of a mass of rotted spinach. Her then-boyfriend, Abdul something or other, had apparently dragged her along because there was a booth where purported excerpts from the actual Necronomicon would be unveiled. Maybe that explained the douche's disappearing act. At the time, Orry could only imagine she'd approached him because of his incessant staring.
"Sorry", she'd said, sounding like aural gossamer as he signed books for his fanboys, "I don't mean to interrupt, but I thought since you were up there you might have a little inside info for a civilian?"
"Um, I, I sure hope so," he'd stammered. "A civilian? As in, not a horror sci-fi fan?"
"I think before I start learning of unspeakable outer dimensions I should work on my fear of my utility bill."
Even he was surprised at his wonderfully honest belly laugh. She broke into a sheepish smile that could cure atheism.
"So…the bathrooms? Like, where do the High Wizards, you know, wiz? I don't think I'd survive these toilet casket thingies."
He'd happily escorted her, stood sentinel, and then guided her back to her handsomely villainous looking Arab beau. She smiled a wink, fumblingly mentioned finding him on Facebook, and disappeared.
Orry was astonished when the friend request actually showed up two days later. He no longer remembered who'd instigated their first IM conversation, but she'd eighty-six'd Doctor Evil by then, her mentioning of which reminded Orry of some of Momsey's advice - 'when she starts telling you her personal life, she's interested' - inapplicable as it seemed in this case. Nevertheless he pressed on, learning of her culinary education, and the proximity of Lady V Patisserie to his place.
He'd actively avoided touching any counters during his first pop-in, for fear of squeaking caused by his clammy palms. Heck, she finally asked him out.
Things moved quickly then, and he found that his creative confidence served him well with women, given an opportunity. The rules and worlds he created in his stories required an openness, discipline and restraint that he found he could adapt to the building of a relationship. Of course, none of his far-flung, horrific fictional worlds held a candle to the infinitely more terrifying landscape of actual sex and romance. But he sure loved being a good student.
Abdul had been the "cute rich guy" chapter for her, and, she'd confessed during one of their early sleepovers, she'd learned far more from him about what she didn't want in a man. Orry Eisen, she'd said, taught her that the only male sex organ that mattered, size-wise, was the brain. And Orry, she cooed, put John Holmes to shame.
It was troubling, seeing her dissolve into tears over the horrors of late, even as he found them so alluring. He hid behind his muse, telling her that following the cases fueled his own creativity. The clippings that he'd cut and pasted, for example, showed him a metaphorical world where a predator snatched innocence from the embrace of home. But secretly he was frustrated over the lack of detail in the reports. It was as though the kids were simply there and then they weren't. There had to be stuff they were holding back…
They talked about the kind of ravages such trauma caused, but when it came to their own childhoods, they both tended to clam up. Orry suspected it was precisely because hers lacked anything of the dysfunction of his, which he was only too happy to leave off the table. His archetypes had died hard once he discovered, at thirteen, how mom was cuckolding his dad. He'd retreated within, and writing blossomed soon after. Trust of women remained a largely unchecked issue, but no dalliance prior to Daphne had rounded month three. He'd even been virtually oblivious to the break-ups, immersed in his inventions of other dimensions.
"Babe?" She rolled over to face him. "So, after we celebrate tonight, and you recover from the trauma of seeing my shit hole apartment…"
"Will you stop!" he cackled. "The only reason I haven't been to your place is you refuse to let me see it. You're young. You're in school. I wasn't ever expecting the penthouse at the Gansevoort."
"Well, still I love you even for just driving around Forget Me Not and waiting."
"As opposed to you hailing cabs or walking to subways down there? Please. And it's only been six months. Any longer and I would've felt weird."
"Well I only want you to write weird, not feel it." She tickled his Michelin of a mid-section. "Bubbly's in the fridge?"
"It's chillin'. And you still wanna bake for me at your place? The inaugural post-school pastry?"
"The Pate a Choux shells are chillin' in my fridge, I'll have you know."
"How sneaky, Missy! And those are the ones you use for the French whoopee pie thingies I love?"
"Choux Chantilly, silly. Your favorite."
He patted his girth grimly. "Don't I know it."
She shot him a look. "I love you the way, and weight, you are now. Just a little extra you to keep me warm and happy. What more could a girl want?"
"How about a drawer here?"
Silence. She welled up a little. "Jesus, am I pregnant? I cry at everything lately…. Really?"
"Daph, you pretty much live here now, we never fight, dessert's included; fuck yeah really."
She threw her arms around him. "I'm gonna dress so pretty for dinner tonight. And since it's our one and only night in Forget Me Not, let's just trash the place. Do whatever you want to me up there."
"God damn it you're hot."
"For you, Daddy." She hopped up. "I'm jumping in the shower. Come on, it's get ready-o'clock."
He sighed, and closed his laptop. "Yeah. Who'm I kidding…"
She poked her head back out before she closed the bathroom door.
"I'm officially happy", she chirped. "Know what I think?"
" 'What's that?' he said, fatly."
"Stop! I think the universe is turning. I think that all those children are going to be found. I think I'm gonna make you the best French whoopee pies of your life tonight. And, I think my tiny place is going to be host to the most epically fun slumming in History."
Door closed. Shower on. Orry shut his eyes hard, then hoisted himself up and ambled over to the 2nd bathroom with one hell of a private, shit-eating grin.
"You just totally checked him out."
"What? What are you talking about?" she smiled, still chewing.
They were sitting at ID 30, a cutting edge "Noodle Bar", which was a hip term for a modern art festooned Asian eatery where dinner for two ran upwards of three hundred bucks. A scruffy, GQ-ready type had just walked past their table and, for the first time, he'd caught her. He was sure.
His reflex was to laugh. Then suddenly, something he'd never felt before, hot and hurt, bloomed like a mushroom cloud within him.
"Why now?" he blurted. "Is it because I asked you to move in?"
"Babe, I really don't know what you're…"
"Oh knock it off, Daph. A very cute guy just passed and your eyes absolutely went to him. I saw it."
"They did not. I never do that."
"Well you just did it now."
"In that case my eyes went mindlessly to someone, anyone passing me. Like anyone's would. I wasn't conscious of the person."
"Gimme a break, Daphne."
"Orry, even when I'm alone I don't check guys out. And I'd certainly never do it with you sitting across from me."
Orry felt sick, feverish. He was leaning in to her now, whispering like he was shouting. "I can't believe this. Of course. So, what were you thinking about? What he'd be like sexually? Be honest!"
She stayed measured. "Honey, this isn't like you. What's the matter?"
"Don't skirt it! Just answer me! Were you thinking about how he'd feel to fuck?"
She stared at him for a few moments, picked up her napkin, and dabbed her chin. Her eyes were glassy as she rose from her seat.
"I…I'm going to the bathroom. I'll be right back."
Orry sat there, dazed. Jesus, man, get ahold of it. You're blowing everything.
"It's just a matter of time, fat boy," he muttered to himself, "a matter of time before she takes a mammoth shit all over your fat fucking heart." He clenched his fists under the table.
By the time she returned he was in a gauzy, almost fugue state. She sat back down, and stared at him, hard.
"I really don't appreciate the way you just accused me. It was insulting, and disrespectful. I've given you no reason to think that way, and if you're so insecure that you let your mind trick you into destructive visuals of me, well, that really makes me sad, and I wish you'd instead choose to share those feelings with me so I can help you get out of them." She reached her hand across to his.
"Are you hearing me Orry? Where'd you go? I am here for you. I only have eyes for you. No one else."
He was awash in shame. He blinked several times.
She continued. "Do you know how special tonight is? Me finishing my schooling and having you at my apartment? Do you know how huge that is to me?"
He nodded, child-like.
"Did you also happen to know that you're the first guy I've ever let see my place?"
"You never told me that."
"Well, it's true. You're the first. Tonight is so special. The stars have truly, finally aligned. They really have."
He snorted involuntarily at the cliché, then caught himself.
"You've… got to admit that up til now I've… been good." His voice was flat. "I haven't been jealous, considering how different we are from each other. Physically, I mean."
She cocked her head. "I wouldn't change a hair on your head. And honestly," she pouted, "sometimes I get scared that you only go out with me because of my looks. Which hurts."
"That's ridiculous. You're the funniest girl I've ever met. That's what turns me on the most about you," he lied.
A smile then found its way to him. Something clicked, cleared.
"I'm sorry," he blurted. "I'm so scared of starting this book. It feels like all eyes are suddenly on me. Total overwhelm. The dreams aren't helping either. I wake up feeling like I'm doing something…wrong somehow, writing it. I'm sorry."
She squeezed his hand. "It's ok. Everyone gets insecure. And having to write the story of the world being reclaimed by giant monster aliens…that's a hell of a task. And I know I haven't read anything yet, but…well, I did at least hear your chant that day, the day we met. I thought it was the coolest thing ever." she winked.
"Well I'm still glad you're not a Scientologist."
She laughed. He laughed. Their eyes locked. Relief. He picked her hand up and kissed it gently. "Why don't we go make some Forget Me Not dessert?"
He swore she actually blushed. He was back.
Her place really couldn't have been in a shittier area. They called it 'Forget Me Not' because anything above 31st avenue north felt abandoned, except by very poor families, and very brave students. Its only appeal was its proximity to the water, whose gray waves lapped listlessly at the littered beaches obscured by it's vastly depreciated low to mid-rise architecture. Every new administration had Forget Me Not's revitalization 2 nd or 3rd on its to do list, but thus far this sad, gloomy nook of the city stayed unkempt.
Oddly, few of the victims came from there.
Why not here ? He wondered. This place is a candy store for something like this. Orry felt that white-hot surge rising in him as he drove them into its tucked-away streets. The shame took him then, for thinking of such things on a night like this.
They parked one street over from her place. A pre-owned, gray Hyundai Elantra wouldn't exactly be catnip to the local jackers, at least he hoped.
Speaking of catnip, Orry was struck by the distant feline chorus that seemed to greet them as they approached the crudely painted black entrance door of her walkup.
"Do you hear that?" he asked as she fumbled with the keys.
"The fifty thousand cats? Everyone hears that." They entered the tiny, bleak lobby and began up the stairs. "This old lady one floor up from me. I don't know how many she's got, but they never seem to stop. For all I know she's died and no one knows it."
The kitty squeals got briefly louder as they approached the third floor landing.
"I've never met her so I'd feel awkward going up there. But yeah, it gets loud. Here we are. Wow, can't believe we're doing this!" she shot him a conspiratorial smile.
They were on the fourth floor now, moving down a short hallway to her door, a shade of blue Orry could scarcely imagine any landlord choosing. She jiggled the lock and pushed inside ahead of him, hitting the lights as she entered. The cats seemed to fade away as he took in her tiny, neat, charmingly feminine place.
"This is adorable!" he smiled, gesturing grandly with his hand. "I can't believe you waited this long to show me."
She giggled, closing the door behind him. "It's pathetic, admit it."
He caught her gaze and held it. "Far from it. I love it. It's got your spirit. Just like you stuck out so pretty at the convention, this little place is like a perfect, pink and white snowflake in an otherwise mud-muck building."
She threw her head back, laughing. "Mud muck! God, I'm so excited all of a sudden, aren't you?"
He looked at her, one eyebrow slightly arched. "Oh yeah."
She shimmied over to the Refrigerator, then turned to him. "Actually, there's more to it. I want to show you before dessert."
He looked around, curious. "Really?"
Daphne was gleaming now. "Mind if I change first?"
He felt himself stiffen as he grinned. "Course not."
"Yay!" She bopped over and swirled around, her back to him.
"Can you unzip me?"
His breathing quickened slightly. The prospect of seeing her undressed was still an instant trigger, even after six months.
"I swear," he gushed, "I still can't believe you approached me back then, speaking of the conference."
He reached out for her zipper as she held up her hair.
"What do you mean, darling?" she purred. "As I recall, it was you who called me that day."
Did the cats just get louder, or were his senses suddenly sharper?
"I called you?" he began to draw down on the zipper.
"Of course, my child. I've done this all for you. Out of gratitude. Did you not love the pastries?"
He laughed and recoiled, "'my child?' Cute, babe, and yes, more please."
The zipper caught for a moment. He yanked at it.
She cooed lustily. "A rather fun way to fatten you up, no? While my children picked a few little treats for the Feast?"
"The what?" He was lost for a moment, concentrating. He had yanked again, and finally the fastener pulled free and downward.
Daphne turned to face him.
"The Feast," she said.
Her dress fell away completely then, and she began changing - growing upward, protruding outward, spreading everywhere at once. She was suddenly not Daphne anymore - not at all - but something…Else, something Orry's eyes could not begin to comprehend.
"Daph…?" he eked, frozen.
The enormous, monstrous Thing that now stood where Daphne had just been cast a few of its many eye and barb laden tentacles swiftly around him, keeping him in place. Its center was a giant, trunk-like blob supported around its bottom by spidery legs that clacked eagerly on the floor. One huge cyclopean eye darted about.
The walls of the apartment fell away next, revealing infinite blackness, from whence the cries were now increasing…
"Your Daphne was she who I showed you. She was my gratitude for the Call that you provided. The children are a few first pickings, for my children. To eat, of course."
Shock allowed Orry's senses to remain functional for the few remaining moments of his life. He could barely hear himself.
"W-w-what…have I done…"
"You summoned us. I am one of the thousand young of Shub Niggurath, the great Shoggoth Warrior, and descendant of Cthulhu. The astral alignment is finally perfect. You, fatted now, will be the first."
He managed to scream; a scream unlike any he had ever uttered or heard.
He watched as a gaping maw opened in her bulbous center, and a hideous, brown tongue shot out to lap at his face, as the gelatinous eyes and bristles of the tentacles ripped away his clothing, and scraped and sucked impatiently at his flesh.
"Tonight we return from Temples far beneath the seas, from the Great City R'Lyeh, to eat you all, and take back this that was once ours; a dimension you polluted as we slept!"
Orry's mind raced one last desperate yard, as other distant cries began to surround them.
"I…I could chronicle it. Your return. I could write of it for future generations."
The maw seemed to curve into a smile as her appendages lifted him from the ground.
"There will be no future generations."
The thing's voice changed then, seeming to emanate directly from its huge central cavity, as it fed on Orry Eisen, feet first. His shrieking only seemed to excite it, and it bellowed, with a guttural belch between chews, a foreign verse he himself had once yelled:
"TEKE LI-LI! CTHULHU R'LYEH WGAH' NAGL FHTAGN NO MORE!! NAGL FHTAGN NO MORE!"
Orry was still alive even when only his head protruded from the Thing's mass. Just before he faded out, he managed the sanest thought he could muster.
"I knew I wasn't cute enough."
About the Author
Peter Zizzo is primarily a Songwriter and Record Producer in NYC (Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne), but also loves thinking up awful scenarios and writing about them. He's working on his second screenplay and hopefully more popcorn fiction.