Persephone

Originally appeared in Another Dimension Anthology (2016)

Content warning: Body Horror

“Try it. You’ll like it.”

Jeb holds out his hand. Instead of the usual baggie, he’s holding a little glass vial that fits in his palm. Inside are six ruby red seeds that glisten in the dim light of my room. 

I’m looking for something special. Better than coke (been there), weed (so done that), and acid (still having flashbacks). Jeb told me that he’d have something out of this world for me in time for my party. Mom and Dad are wintering in St. Kitt’s, and to celebrate I’m hosting the party of a fucking lifetime. I need some seriously strong and crazy shit if I want to be remembered. Stacy had glass-quality meth at her party, and I will not be outdone by that freckle-nosed bitch.  

“Pomegranate seeds?” I ask, looking at him. “You’re trying to sell me pomegranate seeds? Fuck you, man. Come back when you have something legit.”

” It’s not my fault you’re too lame to know about . It’s called Seed. This juice is so strong, you’ll trip for days. After you have one of these, you won’t want anything else.” 

I’m not sold yet, and Jeb can read me well enough to tell when I need convincing. We’re not friends: we just go to school together, hang out, fuck, and get high. His dad is some football player. New money, y’know? But he’s got access to the best shit. Usually, anyway. 

He opens the vial to let me have a closer look. 

I lean in and sniff. It smells like pomegranate, but oddly musty. My nose tingles, the tip going numb, and I swear that for a moment the shadows in the room twist towards me. I blink, and the shadows go back to where they should be.

The seeds don’t look like any I’m used to. Mom and I did that super food cleanse where all you eat and drink is pomegranates for three days. I know my pomegranate seeds, and these are huge–the size of my thumbnail, a blood red richer and darker than my nail polish.

“Have I ever steered you wrong?” Jeb asks, and I look up, arching a just-threaded eyebrow.

“Aside from the coke that turned out to be icing sugar?” 

“C’mon babe, I was fourteen.” 

I really doubt this ‘Seed’ is strong enough to do shit, but hell. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like you can OD on fruit.

Of course, I’ll destroy Jeb’s reputation if he tries to screw me on this. If he ruins my party, I’ll ruin him. Simple as that.  

“All right,” I say, making my decision. “Stay here. I’ll get the cash.” I hop off my bed, and pad down the hall to my parents’ room. They always leave ’emergency’ cash for me in case I need it, which is silly. Who uses cash anymore? Aside from dealers, I mean.

Crisp bills are tucked into Mom’s dresser, behind her ‘costume’ jewelry that is gaudy as shit. Hundreds, fifties and the odd twenty in case her baby girl needs a cab or food. I pull out a handful and count through the hundreds. One, two, four…

“Two hundred dollars a pop baby,” Jeb says. I hear him walking up behind me and he wraps his hands around my hips. I lean back into him, still feeling a little buzzed from the weed I smoked earlier.

“Can I get a discount?” I ask, shifting my hips from side to side. 

He smiles. I slip him three hundred instead of four.

***

“All right ladies!” 

I’m laughing and stumbling, the Grey Goose in my belly sloshing around as I get everyone’s attention. The party is fucking baller. The house is full of drunk and stoned hotties with not a single fugly among them… aside from Stacy. I had to invite her because her brother is a fucking fox. 

Unfortunately, he’s already fucking a chick in our guest room. My parent’s room is off limits for guests unless I invite them there. Since Stacy’s brother decided to be a slut, I’ve got to find someone else for the night. The night is young though, and he’s not the only fox here. “Oh, and Gents, too.” I’m giggling, and I run a hand through my hair. The diamond ring on my finger is borrowed from my mom’s closet and it tugs and snags. I giggle again as I untangle it. 

 “I have a party favour!” I wave for the DJ to turn down the music, and everyone looks over. My fingers trace over my collarbone and slip down between my breasts. People hoot and whistle, and Stacy rolls her eyes and mutters ‘slut’. That’s when I pull out the vial of Seed. That’s when the party goes silent. 

“That’s right, bitches,” I squeal, and hold the vial up high so everyone can see. The less cool gasp while the less fortunate ask how I got it, and then there’s the jealous freckled bitch who turns to Jeb.

“That has to be fake.” The look on her face is priceless as Jeb slips an arm around her and laughs.

“Hell no, baby— sold it to her myself. Hundred percent genuine Seed.”

“I’m feeling generous,” I say. There is no way I’m going to let Stacy steal my thunder. “So if you want to try it, the bidding starts now.” So what if I’m drunk and high–I sure as hell won’t be sharing these for free. Daddy didn’t raise a fool.

Jeb started the whispers once he left my place last night. By the time people started showing up for the party they knew all about Seed, about how unbelievable it is and how it’s the newest, strongest shit out there. Rumour is that it’s the most dangerous too, especially if you swallow the seed in the middle. Jeb’s a born marketer, hand to god.

One of the girls (who’s she again?) holds up two hundred in fifties. Someone else offers their Tiffany earrings. It goes up from there until a straight-up fox presses his omega watch into my hand. 

He’s way hot and definitely in his twenties. My fingers wrap around the watch as I take in those broad shoulders and the way he fills out his white shirt. Sweet momma mercy, his eyes make my stomach flip.

I’ve found my knight for the night.

“We have a winner!” 

I smile coyly up at him and tuck his watch into the front of my dress. I slip my hand into his and hold tight as I lead him to the bedroom.

“Have you ever tried it before? I haven’t yet. I can’t wait though, I hear it’s the best trip money can buy.”

I want him to shut me up.

“Ladies first,” his dark eyes melt me, and I smile. The room spins as I unstop the vial and shake out a single Seed. I place it between his lips and place the second between my teeth. I bite down into crisp flesh. 

He kisses me, but I’m already far away. The juice that floods my mouth is sour and sweet all at once, pinching my cheeks and leaving behind a flood of sweet fire trails down my throat to my belly. I swallow: juice, seed, and all, so I can kiss him back. He’s pressing me down to the bed, but I don’t feel the mattress. 

Instead, I feel cool water seep up around me. It starts at my hips and shoulders, creeping up around my waist before it engulfs me completely. I give into the sensation. Nothing I’ve ever tried has worked so fast before. 

Above me, my Knight pushes me down, down, down. His face hardens into a beautiful mask of bone. Spiraling horns twist up from his skull. His eyes are phosphorescent: red gold in a sea of soothing grey. My heart thuds against my ribs, and the sound reverberates through the thick atmosphere.

His touch is cold as he strips off my clothes. I help. My breath escapes my lips in silver puffs.  

My Knight whispers something in my ear before we plunge deeper into the Underworld. “You’re my Persephone.”

I throw back my head. My lips part as the thud of my heartbeat grows deafening. Breathless laughter slips from my lips as I answer him.

Yes.”

***

I wake up, the dull throb in my head echoing in my belly. Sunlight’s streaming in through the window, but it’s weak. I reach out for my Knight to start off round two, but find only silk sheets. I blink and grumble, crawling out of the empty bed and wrapping a sheet around myself before heading out to find him. 

On the way by the mirror, I notice a couple drops of red, and for a moment I freeze. Is it blood? I sniff the stain, and my nose tingles. Not blood, just juice from the Seed last night. 

I crack the door open, and peer around. Light hurts. The partiers have all crashed; some in the living room on couches, others on the floor. My Knight’s not there. 

Fuck. 

Whatever. 

His loss.

I pick my way over the sleeping bodies and head for the medicine cabinet in my bathroom. There’s a naked couple in my bed. It takes a moment to realise its Jeb and that bitch, Stacy. I don’t care…but I won’t fuck him ever again. Not after he put his dick in that.

My belly throbs, and I grab a bottle of codeine to dull the pain before I stumble back to the master bath.

I just want to soak until I don’t hurt anymore. Last night was fucking out of this world, but Christ, I can barely walk after whatever we did. He must have been seriously packing.

The tub is filling with hot water, and I knock back a couple of pills as I wait. I can’t help but smile, thinking back to one of the few things I remember.

His Persephone. It’s romantic right? I’m dressed up like a Greek goddess in my bedsheet, and I kinda remember that story from English class. This chick Persephone lives in the Underworld with her husband Hades during winter and in the real world in the summer on her own.

“It’s the perfect fuckin’ relationship,” I sigh, slip off my sheet and ease myself into the hot water. “Only have to deal with his shit half the year.” The water feels good, and it’s not long before the codeine kicks in, and I slip into a dream about my antlered man. His fingers are cool and his eyes burn. If I’m his Persephone, he’s my Hades.

By the time I wake up, the water is cold. Shivering, I get out and wrap one of the thick towels around me. Mom got them from Turkey or something. Expensive. Whatever. They’re warm, I’m cold and apparently still tripping.

I’m not sure how long I slept but now I’m a prune, and there’s something red on my stomach. I look down, thinking that he must have scratched me last night. I mean I’m pretty sure things got pretty wild. Only…it’s not scratches but tiny dots of hot, red skin.

“Goddamnit.” Talk about the worst hangover ever: the skin on my flat, tanned belly is now raised up in red bumps like razor burn. Bitch, please. I wax. The bumps itch like hell. I press the towel against it and my skin stings: sharp and hot. The soft towel feels like needles being shoved into my skin.

“Jesus…”

I stumble back out and find that the remaining partiers are all gone. All except Jeb, who’s still snoring on my bed in his boxers. He can stay; he might know who Hades is. 

I pop another codeine as I look through my personal pharmacy for hydrocortisone. Let’s see: Percocet, oxycodone, Gravol…there it is. I grab the little tube and limp back over to the bed where Jeb is sleeping. I’m doubled over like my grandma, but it’s the easiest way to walk without that horrible sharp stinging. The Master bedroom is too far right now, so I slump down onto my mattress. Lying back, I squeeze out some of the cream and slather it over my stomach. The ointment feels cool against my skin, and almost immediately the sting starts to fade. 

Was I was allergic to something that Jeb’s friend was wearing? I sit for a moment and as I try to remember if he’d been wearing cologne. I fall asleep.

I can feel that cold water seep up around me again. Hades waits with his spiraling horns that scrape the sky. This time as we fuck, I feel like something’s watching. Hazy and indistinct, I catch a chorus of faces out of the corner of my eye. As I look at them, they fade into fog. It’s unsettling, but my man in his bone mask doesn’t seem to notice…and I don’t ask him to stop. I don’t want him to.

This time I wake up sprawled over my own bed, and Jeb’s gone. Someone’s padded bra is hanging from my lamp, and my sheets smell like gross sex: sweat, cum, and designer perfume.

The stink makes me feel sick, and I decide I need another bath. I get up, leaving the sheets behind this time. I don’t want anything touching me that isn’t cold water or hydrocortisone. 

I squeeze out another handful of the miracle cream and look down. I scream.

Each bump has swollen up into a bee-sting with a white bull’s-eye. I touch one gingerly. The pain is so sharp and cuts so deep that I double over. It’s so bad I can’t breathe. Pins and needles race up my arms and legs, only to cascade back down in a rush that leaves me shaking and sweating.

When I can breathe again, I dab blobs of white cortisone onto each bump, careful to let only the cream touch my skin. It still stings, and by the time I’m done my eyes are swimming with tears. 

I haul myself down the hall to the master bedroom and tug the sheets from the bed once I get there. If this is an allergic reaction I don’t want to risk getting any more of that shit on me. Did he have an STI? God, I hope it’s just an allergic reaction. Please, please let it just be an allergy… I don’t remember a condom.  

The pillow-top mattress is soft against my bare back, and I lie flat. I want to curl up into a fetal position, but I can’t without risking another wave of pain. Gingerly, I lift up onto an elbow and look down at my stomach. 

It’s starting to spread.

Ugly red and purple veins branch out from the rash, creeping up my belly to the bottom of my breasts and down the insides of my thighs. I run the tip of my finger over one of the red veins on my ribs. It’s hot to the touch and I can feel something pulse under my finger. I pull it away, sure I’m going to puke.

I’m still tripping; it’s a bad trip but still just a trip. It’s all in my head. It has to be. Jeb had said the shit was strong.

I dry swallow another codeine. My mouth feels like it’s full of cotton, and the pill sticks to the back of my throat on the way down. In a haze of opiates and verging on sleep, I wonder if I have Herpes.

I’m not sure when I start to dream. I’m not even sure if I’m asleep. I’m lying on the bed one moment and the next I’m back in Hades’ arms. My belly is smooth and soft. The faces are back, and I can see them more clearly now–their hungry white eyes and gaping black mouths. This time my Knight is rough. This time it hurts.

***

It’s dark.

At first I think I’m still dreaming. But I’m not. I wish I were: even if he hurt, it was better than the agony I’m in right now. I taste metal in my mouth, but I don’t have enough saliva to spit. I want to curl up until the pain goes away, but my stomach is so swollen I don’t think I can.  

I’d give anything to be back under right now. 

Grey light trickles in through the window. I fumble for the lamp and when I finally turn it on, the room is not any brighter.

Everything is grey. Any warmth in this room has been sucked out while I was sleeping. The soft shadows have twisted into those horrible faces with their dark mouths that hang in silent howls. They’re terribly real and they’re slithering along the walls towards me. I don’t think I’m dreaming. I feel awake. There’s no way my stomach can hurt this much if I’m asleep.

 I reach for my phone. It’s not there. It’s not there.

I catch a glimpse of something in the mirror–a sunken chest, skeletal limbs that twist at strange angles, and an abdomen distended with malformed pregnancy.

I scream, but it clogs into a cough as something dislodges in the back of my throat. I double over, hacking up something onto the plush ivory carpet. What comes up is unreal: it literally cannot be real. 

Two perfect Seeds lay on the carpet, viscerally red when everything else has faded to grey.  

I whimper and crawl away from them. My arms give way under me, and I fall to the carpet, catching a glimpse of spindly legs and a bloated belly. The skin there is pithy and white. Those crimson veins have spread up to my armpits, down my legs and past the knee. I don’t realise I’m touching my neck until I find heated flesh there and follow it up to my cheek.

I want to cry, but no tears prickle my eyes. My lips are parched, sticking together where they touch. They split painfully as I let out a hoarse sob. 

Matchstick fingers creep over my belly, and I can feel nothing there now. The same touch earlier, (how long ago?) caused unbearable pain. A silver and crystal piercing that used to dangle from my belly button is now overgrown and embedded in the stringy white flesh.

Jeb sold me bad shit. He’s poisoned me. Instead of dying and leaving a beautiful corpse, my funeral will be closed-casket. I’m hideous. This isn’t a bad trip. I’m dying. I don’t want to die.

My fingers catch on the belly button ring, and before I realise what I’m doing, I’m pulling it up. It tugs for a moment at dead flesh before tearing free and pulling along a strip of skin that reveals bulbous red seeds, packed tight to bursting.

 Row upon row of Seeds are crammed tight into my stomach. In the grey light, they glow crimson. 

I pluck one out, and it bursts between my fingers, staining them red. The seed twitches and squirms as it dies on my fingers. Starbursts explode across my eyes and I struggle to stay conscious. When the world has stopped pitching and rolling, I can see again. I choke down a breath and claw deep into the Seeds in my stomach. I pant and swallow my agony as I rip a handful of red juice and white pith from my stomach. Strings of red globules slide from my fingers to the floor.

I scream and plunge my hand back in for the rest.

This time the starbursts win.

***

Voices. They’re far away and garbled. The air feels heavy on my chest, holding me down against the floor. Each breath is exhausting.

My eyes are crusted shut. I try to open them: my right opens, my left doesn’t.

The room has changed again: the lamp’s light is nearly gone and shadows have crept up to cover a desiccated claw that rests on the carpet by my face. It’s covered in red, nails painted crimson, and on one finger is a diamond ring.

The ring finger twitches, and I feel my face crease into a soundless sob.

“There she is.” 

My open eye looks up, only able to see the wall in front of me. A shadow looms there, soon joined by another. My gaze slips back to the claw that was my hand and the stain on the carpet.

It’s hard to focus. I want to slip back into sleep.

“Is she alive?” A familiar voice, I think. It sounds far away. 

I crack open my mouth, my lips glued together. My tongue slips out to moisten them, but it sticks. I try to ask for help but I can only let out a rattling groan.

“That’s fucked up,” says the familiar voice. Already I can feel the Faces creeping towards me. I moan because I can’t cry.

The shadows loom, and I feel footsteps through the floor. They stop just shy of me. Something heavy presses down on my shoulder and bones grind together. From far away I hear a snap, loud and dry. It takes me a moment to realise it was my collarbone.

“Jesus…”

“Looks like she tried to harvest them herself,” the voice I am not familiar with says, and he crouches down. 

He comes into focus. I feel dry lips split open as I try to pull my face into a smile. The red-stained claw twitches, and I reach up to caress his face.

The man is my Hades, wearing that skull mask with those beautiful spiraling horns that reach up to the sky. He will take me into his arms. He will bring me back to the Underworld where I’ll be whole again.

 He opens his mouth to speak. “Hand me the knife.” There is a dull slash of grey, and then the pain arrives in a brilliant red that steals any breath I had left. 

The shadows creep closer and closer until they swarm over me. I cannot see, cannot hear. They press me down, down, down while my Hades pulls out the squirming, twitching Seeds. 

I was wrong: the Underworld is not beautiful.

-x-