The music in this little dive of a bar was thumping in the background, a pop song that had been a hit a few months ago, but Nattie was more of a country type of girl. She preferred some twang in her music, though no one back at the paper knew that.
She was in this seedy little joint for one reason and one reason only, and that reason was going to put her ahead in the game, because she needed all of the help she could get to rise up from the fluff pieces she had been relegated to. Journalism was an ugly business, especially for a woman.
Nattie accepted the invitation passed to her from across the table. She hunched over a little to hide some of her face, because she felt like accepting this invitation was akin to making a drug deal. It was a clandestine affair she wanted absolutely no one else to know about.
She opened up the Manila envelope passed to her and gently slid the gilded paper inside it into partial view. It was indeed the real deal, so she tucked it back down into the envelope and nodded her head once in acceptance.
She slid her own white business envelope across the table to her source.
“Here you go,” she said quietly.
The young lady in front of her opened the white envelope and stared at its contents.
The colored lights above shone blue, yellow, red, and green circles around the dark wood of their small round table. It was not much in the way of discernable vision, but it was enough light to clearly see the green stack of hundreds peeking out from the envelope.
“That’s five-thousand, just like we agreed,” said Nattie. “It’s all there.”
“I know,” said the young woman. “It’s just…part of me actually wants to go. I know I said I didn’t, but—”
“It’s fine,” nodded Nattie in reassurance. “You want to know what happened to Gracie.”
“I do,” frowned the young woman. “She just disappeared, just vanished off the face of the Earth, and nobody cares…not the police, not the other dancers…nobody. It’s infuriating.”
“I know,” replied Nattie. “Trust me when I say that…I’m going to find out everything there is to know about this guy. I’ll find out where your friend went.”
“She didn’t have any family, you know,” said the young woman. “But she was my friend, and…after I got an invitation, too…I have to know. I have to.”
“And you will, Sheila,” said Nattie. “You have my word, and I always keep my word.”
“Good,” said the young woman, Sheila. “I need some closure. I feel like I can’t move on with my life until I get it.”
“It’s 1983, honey,” smiled Nattie. “There are more opportunities for us girls than there ever were in the past, and you’re only twenty-four. The world has its problems right now, sure, but you’ve got the time to figure it out…You should take that money and invest it in your future. Stripping for a living isn’t a living.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” frowned Sheila. “You have a good career.”
“I have a tough career,” replied Nattie. “Being a reporter and a woman at the same time means I have to fight every step of the way to make it anywhere in this business. You have to be ruthless for what I do, and you don’t need be me…So why do I do this?…I love it, for one thing, but you? You need something good and easy to settle into, something that isn’t…this.”
The young lady bowed her head as if in silent thought. She looked up a moment later and frowned.
“I don’t know…” replied Sheila.
“Hey, it’s okay,” said Nattie. “My boss greenlit this little venture, and he even paid that five grand in your hand out of his own bank account. No one anywhere knows much about Helmuth Wolf outside of his business ventures and his press-happy soirées, and our paper wants to be the first to investigate the one party of the year where he has no spying eyes.”
“I appreciate the money,” said Sheila. “It’s just that…why would he pick me? How does he even know who I am? I’m no one special.”
“You’re an attractive young stripper,” frowned Sheila. “He’s a rich German businessman that invites attractive young women from all over the world to attend his parties. He obviously heard about you from somewhere…and my guess is that somewhere…or someone, rather…was Gracie.”
“Yeah, maybe,” frowned Sheila. “But I’ve read some things about his parties.”
“So have I,” nodded Nattie. “That’s my job.”
“Then you already know,” said Sheila. “They’re for famous people, usually women, true, but…there’s already a lot of press about them.”
“Which makes this one different,” replied Nattie. “From my sources, including you, this particular party always falls sometime in March, and no one seems to know what goes on in it or who the guests are that Mr. Wolf invites to it…I want to be the first, the first person to know that isn’t from that inner circle.”
“You’ll keep your promise, though, right?” asked Sheila.
“You have my word as a serious journalist,” nodded Nattie. “Now…do you have that background information I need?”
“I do,” frowned Sheila, “but how are you going to pass for me?”
“I’m only thirty, honey,” said Nattie with a sly grin. “We’re both slender and about the same build, and I’m not exactly ugly…I can pass for you…I just need your background info.”
“Yeah,” said Sheila. “I wrote everything down like you asked. It’s in that Manila with the invitation.”
Nattie pulled forth the sheet of information, a page of formerly blank questions she had handed the young woman a week ago. She had waited on pins and needles that entire week, wondering if Sheila was going to take her up on her offer or not. In the end, she was glad the young woman had decided to do just that.
“Sheila Canary,” she said quietly, but then the irony of that name struck her, and she laughed out loud.
“What?” asked Sheila. “What’s so funny?”
“‘Canary’ is another word for ‘snitch,’” chuckled Nattie. “That’s what I feel like right now.”
“That’s not even my real name,” frowned Sheila.
“What?” asked Nattie. “What’s your real name, then?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Sheila. “I grew up in a number of different orphanages, and my real parents’ information got lost in a fire. All I know is that my parents were immigrants from Poland, but they died shortly after they arrived here, right after I was born.”
“So how did you get the name ‘Canary’?” asked Nattie.
“I guess someone didn’t like the name ‘Smith’ down at the courthouse,” shrugged Sheila.
“Uh, huh…” replied Nattie. “Well, that actually makes things easier for me. You have no background to investigate, at least, not a complicated one for me to pass off…Wait…So you really have no family, then?”
“No,” frowned Sheila. “I did have a friend, though.”
Nattie mentally kicked herself for being so insensitive.
“Oh…well…” she stalled out. “I…I’ll definitely find out about Gracie. I can promise you that much. If I can’t come through on that, then…I’ll…I’ll come up with some more money. I’ll even take it out of my own bank account, just like my boss did with his. I can give you a thousand dollars, I think, if I can’t come through.”
“Money is always nice,” nodded Sheila, “but I’d still like to know what happened to Gracie. It’s really nice that you’d do that for me…but…it’s just that…I know the real reason you want to attend this party is for the paper, but…but I still need closure…Please, don’t forget about me.”
“I won’t,” nodded Nattie in return. “I won’t…and trust me…I’m going to find out what happened to her.”
“I hope so,” replied the young woman.
Nattie boarded the private jet and found her seat at the back. She had followed other attractive young women onto this plane, but actually getting to this plane had been a hassle in itself.
Nattie had taken Sheila’s place, obviously, and that place had included an all-expenses-paid trip from the States to London, then from London to Rome, and then a minibus drive from Rome to this private airport.
She had handed over her invitation and fake ID, including a fake passport, to an agent of Mr. Wolf’s at the airport in New York City. The tall, stoic, pale-skinned, somber man dressed all in black—black suit, black shoes, black cap, black shades—he had taken the identification articles, no questions asked. He’d handed her the travel information and necessary passes to get her places, and her journey had begun.
But now she was here on this plane, and now she was eager to do her job.
Nattie sat down next to a young blonde woman with distinct blue eyes. She settled in next to this young woman as the plane left the landing strip.
They were up in the air after that, flying to where, Nattie was not entirely sure, though she had heard that their destination was an island resort somewhere. However, there was little to do while traveling this way, so she decided to pass the time with some more investigative journalism, and the young blonde woman next to her was the perfect source for that info.
“Hi,” nodded Nattie. “Do you speak English? Because that’s the only language I know.”
“I’d hope so,” smiled the young lady, but her words were thick with a British accent. “It’s the only language I know, too.”
“Well, then,” smiled Nattie. “I’m Na…uhhh…Sheila. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Jacqueline,” nodded the young lady. “Jackie, for short.”
“Well met,” grinned Nattie. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
The young woman smiled in return, excitement etched all over her pretty face.
“Oh, right!” replied Jackie. “I about flipped when I got the invite to Mr. Wolf’s soirée. None of the girls I work with would believe it. They were so jealous…Shoot, I’ve been drooling over pictures of his soirées for months now. I can’t wait.”
“I know it,” said Nattie. “It’s going to be something special; I can tell.”
Nattie had not taken the time to talk to any of the other guests when she had been riding with them on the minibus. She had been busy getting her story straight in her own head, and everyone else had been too excited or too lost in their own business to notice her at the back of the bus. That was why it was imperative to make a friend now while she still had the chance. She was going to need at least one witness other than herself.
“So tell me about yourself, Jackie,” said Nattie. “What’s your story? Where do you hail from?”
“Liverpool,” said the young blonde. “Mom died when I was little, so I barely remember her. Got out on my own as soon as my old man died. He was a drunk and a beater, but I still took care of him. Then he died. Found him lying in his own vomit one day.”
“Oh…” said Nattie in awkward reply.
“I guess that means I was forced out on my own, but I was only eighteen then,” continued Jackie. “Now I’m a more experienced twenty-three, not a green shoot anymore, and I’ve got good solid work doing…uhhh…services…”
“Services?” asked Nattie.
The young woman turned a distinct shade of red before continuing on.
“I work in the…uhhh…service industry,” said Jackie.
Nattie had a fairly good idea about what “services” Jacqueline performed, but she wisely kept any curiosity about that to herself. Still, a thought occurred to her, and it was not a pleasant one. She had to ask about it; it was part of being a dedicated journalist.
“Wait…” she said as she thought more about the women she was traveling with. “Are you saying you have no family?”
“I guess, not that I care,” shrugged Jackie. “I had an aunt somewhere, but I lost track of her a long time ago. She treated me like trash when I was little, so off with that old witch. No, it’s just me and my flatmates. I live with a couple of other girls that work with me, but we don’t exactly get along…I made sure to rub it in their faces when I got the invite. You should have heard the names they called me.”
The young blonde laughed, and Nattie gave a nervous laugh in return.
Jackie sensed something was off, so she pressed Nattie about it, though Nattie’s worries were not something she wanted to lay on a stranger. At least, not yet.
“What?” asked Jackie. “What is it?”
Something was strange about this particular party in March, and Nattie knew this, but she had to stay in character. She had to pretend to be Sheila in order for this ruse to work, so she had to embrace that role, though she was now having second thoughts about the whole thing.
Still, the selection of young women here…
“Oh…it’s nothing,” said Nattie. “It’s just…I don’t have any family, either.”
“Oh, right?” asked Jackie. “Us loners have to stick together, you know? What is it that you do, then?”
Nattie’s fake background was shining through, but she had come too far to give into embarrassment, especially from a background that wasn’t even hers.
“I…uhhh…I’m an exotic dancer,” said Nattie.
“Oh, really?” asked Jackie. “That’s a step up from my ‘job.’ That’s what I should be doing, but breaking out of my ‘business’ is a little more difficult than just saying, ‘I quit.’ Once you have that money coming in, it’s not so easy to quit. I have to pay my share of the rent, the food, utilities, all that. Plus, I like clothes and music…the clubs…”
Nattie honestly had no idea what to say about that.
“That’s…awful, Jackie,” she frowned. “You don’t have to do that to make money.”
“Oh, I know,” shrugged Jackie. “Once I get back, though, I’m going to look into dancing like you. Maybe you can show me some moves, eh?”
“Uhhh…sure,” replied Nattie in yet more awkwardness.
“You’ve got a more mature look about you than the other girls here,” nodded Jackie. “I think it’s the hair. Maybe it’s because you’re a brunette, or maybe it’s the curls…I don’t know. I should probably just change my hair back to brown like yours, get it nice and curly, but it’s better to be blonde in my business. It’s blonde with straight hair for the men I pick up.”
This conversation was going nowhere, and Nattie needed some important questions answered. She still had a story to uncover.
“Right,” said Nattie. “This is interesting and all, but I’m still a little nervous about this whole thing…It’s just…well…I was wondering…”
“Yeah?” asked Jackie.
“What do you know about this guy?” asked Nattie. “About this Helmuth Wolf?”
“Oh, he’s a randy old lecher,” nodded Jackie. “That’s what I heard. He’s like that one you’ve got in the States, you know? That one that pushes the girly magazines? Only Mr. Wolf has his own island. That’s where we’re headed, you know. He’s got a resort somewhere, and that’s why we’re on this plane. We’re not going to his estate in Germany.”
Nattie already knew about the island resort, though its location was a well-guarded secret. His other soirées were held at his estate in Germany, but this celebration in March?…This was hush, hush. Hence, why she was investigating it. But in truth, it was the other information about Helmuth Wolf that disturbed her, not his island resort.
“So that’s why he chose us?” she asked. “That’s why we were invited? I think we’ve been called to his soirée to be his…uhhh…‘playthings.’ Don’t you find that disturbing?”
“How so?” asked Jackie. “He’s a little over fifty, I think. He’s not really that old…If it gets me fine dining and beach sun, then I’m all for it. I can charge the old man’s battery.”
“Uh, huh,” replied Nattie, but she did not like the sound of any of this.
The younger woman nudged her in the left shoulder and gave her a confident grin.
“Don’t worry,” chuckled Jackie. “I’ve had far worse.”
But Nattie had most definitely not. This trip was turning out to be…problematic.
“I’m not sure I want to do this anymore…” she said under her breath, but Jackie heard her.
“Don’t worry about that,” grinned the young woman. “I’ll cover that for you. You could always dance for him, which is probably why he picked you anyway.”
“That’s…noble of you,” said Nattie, but the thought of that disturbed her even more.
“If we don’t get our own rooms, we should room together,” nodded Jackie. “I’ve heard from some of the others that we’ll be staying more than one night. At least one extra. I guess that gives the old man time to go through us all.”
“Riiiiight…” said Nattie in audible hesitation.
“It’ll be fine,” smiled Jackie. “It’s not that bad. You’ll change your mind once we get there. Once you get a look at everything and wear the clothes and eat the food and drink the wine…you’ll settle right in. You’ll see.”
But Nattie seriously doubted that. It occurred to her in a series of red flags that she had gotten in way over her head, because there was no way off this island except by plane, so if she were found out…It was not a pleasant thought.
But the other thought was equally unpleasant. She could easily keep up the ruse, but that meant…something she was not willing to do, and she had the feeling that if she didn’t do it…Yeah…There was still no way off the island.
There was also the matter of Gracie. According to Sheila, the young woman had never been heard from again, and that was disturbing in its own right. This was another question that was brewing at the back of her mind, and she needed some clues, something to help her solve that particular mystery.
“So…do you know what happens after the party’s over?” asked Nattie. “What happens once our time at the resort is done?”
“Don’t spoil it for yourself!” grinned Jackie. “Relax, Sheila!…I heard that we get a nice lumpsum of cash and get dropped off wherever we want to go…and I’ll tell you what…I’m headed to the States. I want to see Hollywood.”
“Oh…” replied Nattie. “That does sound…nice. Do you know how much money we get?”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Jackie as she nudged Nattie in the ribs. “I guarantee it’s more than either one of us make in a year. I’m definitely starting a new life with it, and even if it’s not much, even if I can’t rub two pounds together, I can still rub this trip in my flatmates’ faces.”
The young blonde giggled in excitement, but Nattie felt an anxiety lay down upon her own shoulders like a frozen shroud, an omen of sorts, and she did not like it one bit.
Still, you had to be ruthless in this business to get anywhere, doubly so if you were a woman, so she would stick to her guns, grin and bear it, bite that bullet, and act out any other clichéd phrase she could think of to give herself enough courage to get this story.
Nattie sat down next to Jacqueline at the long dining table in the dining hall, at the end of the table, opposite of their host, who had not arrived as of yet.
There were only twelve women, including her, that had been invited here, but the grandness of this place could have supported so many more.
Nattie wondered why Mr. Wolf had not thrown any of his media-driven, paparazzi-swarmed social events here, here on this little island out in the middle of nowhere. The mansion resort they were in was huge, a compound practically, three floors plus a basement level, a whole empty mansion ready to be filled with guests. It was baffling.
She had to admit that the day had gone by rather quickly after their landing, and all of them were tired from severe jetlag. It had taken three days and nights of travel to get here, with some overnight stays at various hotels and whatnot, but there hadn’t even been any time for sightseeing. Nattie felt exhausted from it all.
Still, they had been shown to their rooms upon arrival, but the staff here was…odd.
The men and women that worked here were all dressed in black, all with pale skin and black shades over their eyes, as if they could not get enough sun or were simply allergic to it. Even the maids, each dressed in the classic French maid outfit, wore black shades over their eyes. Jackie had likened them all to vampires, and she’d even made a few jokes about it, but deep down, Nattie wondered if that’s exactly what they were.
They had landed around five in the evening, but they had been given little time to get to their rooms on the second and third floors, put on their evening wear, and be ushered down here to the dining hall. It all felt very rushed and very odd at the same time.
Nevertheless, the opulence of the resort was telling. Nattie’s new dress was a sparkling-yellow, slim-cut, form-fitting thing that showed off her figure quite nicely. It was a gift from Mr. Wolf, and every guest had received one, each dress a different color, that expensive gift waiting in their rooms upon arrival.
Nattie’s room was on the third floor, and as luck would have it, her room was right next to Jackie’s, so that was good. She had a familiar face close by while she was here.
Of course, now they were all seated and ready for dinner. It had been three days since Nattie had eaten a decent meal, so she hoped this one would be spectacular.
The other women chatted amongst themselves in anticipation of their meal, so Nattie took that time to look over to her new source for info.
The young blonde was visibly shaking in her seat with excitement, her hourglass figure bedecked by a sparkling white dress in the manner and style of all of the rest of them, a slim, tulip-shaped dress that showed off her womanly figure.
“I can’t believe I’m here!” breathed Jackie. “Isn’t this exciting! You can’t tell me this isn’t exciting!”
Nattie did find it exciting, but not for the same reasons.
“Jackie, I…” she began, but she was cut short upon the arrival of their host.
Mr. Wolf entered the dining hall from the west entrance, and his sudden appearance stunted anything Nattie was going to say to her soirée friend.
The man was much younger than rumors had seemed to indicate. Helmuth Wolf looked to be in his mid-thirties, not over fifty as Nattie had been told.
He was tall and imposing, with a stiff expression upon his handsome face, dark eyes upon him, with neatly-short-cut black hair and a stern poise to his thin lips. He held an aura about him that suggested power, something more than wealth, and Nattie took that into consideration, because she was going to have to siphon some information from him later on about Gracie, though she doubted he would remember her. Even so, she had made a promise to Sheila that she would dig up that information, and she intended to keep that promise, ruthless as this business was.
“Good evening, my lovelies,” smiled Mr. Wolf, his voice thick with a German accent.
Even his smile was unnerving, a row of slimline, perfectly-shaped, perfectly-white teeth, but Nattie figured this unnerving quality she felt over his teeth was actually due to the vibe of creep that radiated from the rich anyway.
The young ladies at the table giggled as their host sat down, the man joining them at the table for their evening meal.
Mr. Wolf picked up a white, handstitched table napkin, unfolded it, and placed it over his lap.
“Tonight is a very special night for me,” he said in a dark and easy tone. “Therefore, I have invited all of you lovely young ladies to come and celebrate it with me.”
There were more giggles at the table, but those mild flutterings ended with gasps of surprise as the servants brought in the meal for the night. Those pale and shade-wearing butlers and maids brought in several carts’ worth of platters, and those meals were set before the guests without further ado.
“Thank you,” said Nattie to the maid that had set her platter before her, but she was ignored.
The maid, a sandy-blonde woman of about Nattie’s age, stiffly set down the food and walked off, no expression upon her attractive face, and Nattie could not read the woman’s eyes, as those shades perched upon the woman’s hawkish nose were too dark to make out even a shape of the dual orbs.
Nattie turned her attention upon the meal set before her, and it was a platter of finely-cut filets of beef, veal, lobster, squid, and cuts of shark, all surrounded by slices of tropical fruits she did not recognize. The platter itself was actual silver, as was all of the silverware. Mr. Wolf had money, and he was not afraid to show it.
“You must excuse my servants,” said Mr. Wolf as he addressed everyone. “I have them wear these dark glasses when I have guests here. Some of them are quite lovely, quite handsome, and I do not wish them to outshine myself or my guests. You must understand…I want this night to be the most special it can be for all of you.”
He held up a steel steak knife and let it gleam in the light for a second. It was not silver; Nattie could tell the difference between the metals, and she noted this eccentricity. He did not use his own silver, only what he preferred, so he was, at the very least, trying to impress them all, but this did not sit well with her. Her suspicions of what he really wanted out of her and the rest of these young women were quickly becoming a reality, and she did not like the idea of this reality one bit.
A tall, pale butler standing in-between Nattie and Jackie popped a cork from a wine bottle, and he filled their crystal glasses full to the brim with red wine. Male servants around the table duplicated this action for the rest of the guests, including for the host, Mr. Wolf, himself.
“A toast!” said Mr. Wolf as he raised his own glass high.
Nattie raised her glass along with everyone else as the young women at the table giggled and breathed out in excitement.
“If your first days were filled with sadness,” he said with a wide smile, “may your last days be filled with happiness!…Now, everyone drink!”
He drank deeply of his wine, so Nattie took small sips from hers. She did not want to get plastered before finding out anything truly interesting about this place. She still had a story to uncover.
She looked over to Jackie with wide eyes as the young blonde downed her glass as if it were nothing.
The young woman set down her glass and gave Nattie a distinct “What?” look.
But Nattie’s attention was pulled back toward their host.
“First, I must go over the rules for your stay here,” said Mr. Wolf. “It is unfortunate to say this, but I must have no arguing or—Heaven forbid—any fighting amongst yourselves. This is a happy time for me, a celebration once per year, and I want good feelings from everyone, good vibrations, as the Americans would say.”
The ladies at the table giggled and laughed, but Nattie was busy memorizing the man’s affects, his mannerisms, and normally she could tell someone’s personality just by reading them for a couple of minutes, but for some strange reason, she could not penetrate Mr. Wolf’s stoic aura. He was truly a mystery, and this confounded her.
“The second rule is to have fun,” said Mr. Wolf. “I want all of you…each and every one of you special young ladies…to enjoy yourselves while you are here. Tonight, you will all go to bed after our evening meal—and I am sure you are all so very tired from your long journey here—and tomorrow, you will relax and enjoy yourselves in preparation for the true celebration.”
Nattie wondered what this “true celebration” really was, but she didn’t have time to wonder for long.
“This time of year is the Spring Equinox,” he explained. “The Spring Equinox is always in March, but that was on the 20th. I could have held this event then, but I always wait for a few days for everything to be just right. You see, tomorrow is the 28th, and we shall all be graced by the light of the full moon, because that is a magical time for me. It represents renewal mixed with desire and mystery, the perfect time for those desires to arise and, more importantly, to be fulfilled.”
Jackie shot Nattie a wide grin along with an eyebrow wiggle, but Nattie did not like where this “celebration” was going. She had no desire to be a part of any of this eccentric millionaire’s “desires,” but in the end, she would think of something. There was always a distraction she could pull off if worse came to worst.
“Tomorrow night shall be the game,” grinned Mr. Wolf. “All of you shall attend this special little game I have created for this once-a-year, magical celebration, and we shall all have a grand and glorious time…Another toast!”
The same pale, shade-wearing male servant…or butler…or whatever he was called…appeared next to Nattie as if out of thin air. He refilled her glass with red wine and then refilled Jackie’s, and once again, other male servants refilled the other guests’ glasses as well.
Helmuth Wolf raised his glass high once more and then gave his toast.
“May the chains be broken!” he said with strange excitement. “May the endless river, Expectation, run dry, and may the moon be swallowed like this wine!”
He drank deeply of his glass again, and everyone else followed suit.
Nattie did not know what to make of that toast, though she suspected there was some hidden meaning behind it.
“Now, let us eat!” continued their host. “Eat, eat, my lovelies! I have spared no expense for you! My little piggies must eat for their big bad wolf! Let us fatten you up!”
The young women at the table laughed in response to Mr. Wolf’s off-color humor, but Nattie did not find the joke particularly funny.
Nattie sat down in a small wooden chair in Jackie’s room as she recounted the day’s events.
She had gone to bed early the night before in her small but decorative quarters, passing out after a long and weary journey here. The meal from the night before had firmly knocked her out simply by filling her stomach, so there were no complaints there.
Upon waking in the morning, she had attended breakfast in the dining hall, that breakfast constituting the German ideal of such, lots of sausage and pastries, but it was delicious, and that was all that mattered.
The day had gone by quickly, a tour of the beach and some fun in the sun, including swimming and laying out for a tan.
Nattie had taken this time to question some of the other girls, but what she had learned only further confirmed what she had already suspected of Helmuth Wolf’s intentions, and she did not like the implications behind those suspicions.
The other young women, regardless of where they were from, all had a couple of things in common…All of them were into the seedier side of womanly work, stripping and prostitution, a sordid proof of what Mr. Wolf had in mind for them.
But none of these girls had close family, no one to miss them if they suddenly vanished. Nattie did not like this second fact; it felt sinister and left a bad taste in her mouth, and this kept her keen reporter’s instincts on high alert.
Aside from that, she had been told the same thing from all of the other girls when it came to ending the party. Each of them would be given a sum of cash, and each of them would be taken to where they wished to go once they left the island.
And then there were the servants. Try as she might, Nattie could not get so much as a twitch of speech from any of them, not one squeak, not so much as a nod in her direction. They were like lifeless dolls, and though she’d had the urge to rip the shades from one of them, a maid that had come in and turned down her sheets in the morning, Nattie had wisely decided not to do that. She did not want to earn Mr. Wolf’s ire.
They’d all had lunch around noon, and once the sun had started setting, they’d all had dinner. Now it was back to their rooms to prepare for Mr. Wolf’s “game,” though no one seemed to know what that was going to be.
Nattie had exited her room and visited Jackie’s next door. It was almost time for this “game,” and she was nervous about the whole thing, so being with someone she sort of knew was better than nothing.
Her deepest fear was that Mr. Wolf was going to expect something more, much more, than just her company, and she was not willing to give that. That was not something to just be handed over like a bus token.
Maybe it was written on her face, but Jackie could somehow sense all of her doubts.
“Don’t be such a sour grape,” grinned Jackie. “It’s going to be fun, and you’re going to have fun.”
“I don’t know, Jackie…” frowned Nattie.
“He’s one man,” snorted the young blonde. “He can’t handle all of us in one night. We leave the island in the morning anyway. He can have…ummm…maybe three of us at the most. You’re safe, luv. I told you I’d take your place. I’m used to this kind of thing.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” grimaced Nattie. “I really think you should find another line of work.”
But Jackie waved her off.
“You dance naked for a living, and you’re lecturing me?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that,” said Nattie. “I…I just think you deserve better.”
“We all deserve better,” snorted Jackie. “That’s why we’re here…Look, I don’t mind making the guy happy for one night if it gets me out of my flat. The way I see it, I’ve already had the time of my life, so he’s done me a good turn. I don’t mind doing him a favor, luv. He’s already done one for me…Besides…he’s a looker. Much more of a striker than I thought he’d be. Bit cheesy with the lines, but still.”
In the end, you had to be ruthless to make it as an investigative journalist, and Nattie had not forgotten this little fact, so it made sense from a business point of view to let Jackie take the fall for her…but Nattie still had a conscience, regardless of whether that little angel on her shoulder was getting smaller due to the passage of time in the field she had chosen as her career.
“I…” hesitated Nattie, but her conscience finally gave in. “O…Okay. If that’s what you really want…”
“Oh, yeah,” grinned Jackie. “Don’t worry about me, luv. Let’s just play this game and have fun with it. We leave tomorrow anyway…Right now?…let’s see what we’ll be wearing.”
The young blonde picked up a large, black, sealed dress bag, her name scrawled across a pinned paper tag at the top of it. It had been laid across her bed while they were out.
Nattie had her own black bag spread across her lap, though it felt far heavier than a dress should have weighed. She had found the thing on her bed upon returning to her room after dinner, but she’d simply picked it up and gone straight to Jackie’s room.
“Have you looked at yours yet?” asked Jackie.
“No,” replied Nattie with a shake of her head.
“Feels heavy,” grinned the blonde as she raised both eyebrows in visible humor.
Jackie unzipped the bag and peeled open its flaps. She removed the outfit from within, and it was not anything either one of them had been expecting.
“Oh, right?” asked the young blonde. “Now, this is some kinky swag. The old man’s a perv…”
In her hands was a white bunny outfit, a heavily-furred thing with a closed bunny hat that showed off the face in a tight circle. There were pink circles on the paws and big bunny feet on the pants’ ends, though the interiors of the foot pockets were made for Jackie’s foot size. She turned the outfit around to reveal a long metal zipper on the back, the only means of getting in or out of the thing.
“Oh, this is hilarious!” laughed the young blonde. “Oy, look. It even has a little button flap between the legs for doing unmentionables…Oh, this is the funniest!…I’m not telling the girls about this one, though. They’d never let me hear the end of it.”
Nattie cringed at the sight of the outfit. Of all the evening wear she had expected, she had never even thought of anything like this.
“Open yours, then,” nodded Jackie. “If I’ve got to hop around like a white hare, I want to see what yours is, then.”
Nattie reluctantly unzipped her own black bag. She pulled out the outfit and stood up with it, giving herself room for inspection.
Her outfit was all yellow, a bird costume, the soft, yellow-orange beak above the open face hole, and it had wings for the sleeves with feathers over the finger gloves. The legs were yellow-orange like a bird’s legs, and there were large bird feet for shoes, the interior pockets made specifically for her foot size, just like Jackie’s costume.
Jackie gave a loud and obnoxious laugh upon viewing Nattie’s own outfit.
“This old man is really into the bizarre stuff,” she chuckled. “I can’t wait to see what he expects of us. This is hilarious…Dirty, dirty old man. How funny.”
Nattie did not find it particularly funny, but she did not get the chance to say anything about it. A wall comm crackled to life right above her head, a large round speaker of some sort mounted high above the chair she had just been sitting in. Nattie had noticed one of these speakers in her room, but she had not known what it was for until just now.
“Attention!” came Helmuth Wolf’s heavily-accented voice. “Attention, my lovelies!”
Both Nattie and Jackie stared up at the wall com as Mr. Wolf’s instructions came crackling down over them.
“It is time for the game, my little ones!” he said in audible excitement. “You must now get into your costumes! That means no clothing other than your costume. No undergarments, jewelry, or otherwise. This is part of the rules. Remember, if you break the rules, you leave here without a prize. However, if you are a good little forest creature, then you will receive your reward. Remember, only good little animals receive their treats!”
Jackie had called Wolf’s lines “cheesy,” but Nattie felt them to be more along the lines of lewd and insulting, but she didn’t get any time to actually comment upon them.
“I will give you ten minutes to get ready,” continued their host, “and then I will explain the rules of the game…There is a zipper in the back of your costume, so you will have to have someone help zip you up…Now, remember…you have ten minutes…Now, get dressed, my little lovelies!”
Nattie cringed yet again at these instructions. This game was going to be awkward at best.
“I’ll get changed in the bathroom,” she frowned.
“Oh, pish, luv,” grinned Jackie. “It’s not that bad. I told you I’d cover for you.”
Nattie shook her head and took her outfit into Jackie’s small bathroom. She stripped out of her clothes but left on her undergarments. It did not matter whether she won any “prize” or not. She was not here for that anyway.
Unfortunately, she was in for a rude awakening. After putting on the heavy outfit, she discovered it was simply too hot inside to leave on any clothes at all. The costume had deliberately been made with a heat-trapping material to make her sweat.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” she hissed to herself.
She reluctantly took off everything and slid into the outfit, pulling it up around her.
“Of all the perverted, insane, stupid things—!” she began, but she was interrupted by Jackie’s knocking upon the bathroom door.
“Oy!” came the young blonde’s voice. “Are you ready? I need you to zip me up!”
“Coming!” said Nattie.
She swore under her breath as she opened the door for her new friend.
They took the next minute to zip each other up, but Nattie was not happy in the slightest. For one thing, wearing the costume was like walking around in a furnace.
“Oh, this thing is hot,” breathed Jackie. “Whew! I hope this game doesn’t go on forever, or at least, I hope they turn up the cold air or something, because I am burning up in here!”
“No kidding,” breathed out Nattie. “I feel like a brisket.”
Jackie laughed and was going to say something, but their host’s obnoxious voice rained down on them once more, showering them with a crackle of accompanying static from the wall com above their heads.
“Attention!” came Helmuth Wolf’s voice. “Attention, my little forest creatures!”
“Oh, God…” breathed out Nattie.
“It is time for the game!” said Wolf in yet more audible excitement. “I hope you are ready, because I am coming for you!…The rules are very simple, my little ones…You may run and hide in any of the rooms on the second and third floors. My staff is down below right now so that we can play unhindered by their presence.”
Nattie took in a deep breath and slowly released it. The outfit she was suffocating in was not unbearable, but it was still a nuisance.
“Now, you are all my little forest creatures,” explained their host, “and I…I am the Big Bad Wolf! You have to run and hide, because if I catch you, I am going to eat you up!”
“Oh, my God…” said Nattie as she shook her head.
“It’s fine…” said Jackie in response. “It’ll be fine.”
“I will give you twenty minutes to hide!” said Mr. Wolf. “You get twenty minutes, and then I am coming for you!…Remember, if I catch you, I am going to do very, very bad things to you!…Your twenty minutes starts…now!”
“This is stupid,” grimaced Nattie. “I don’t want him touching me.”
“It’s okay,” said Jackie nervously. “Don’t freak out…I said I’d cover for you…”
“Look, I’m dying in this thing,” said Nattie. “I don’t even know why I put it on. He hasn’t turned on the air, so let’s at least open a window or something…”
She walked over to the one window in the room, that window covered by a blind of dark-brown curtains, those curtains drawn tightly shut above Jackie’s spacious guest bed.
Nattie flung open the curtains, but she blinked in rife confusion at the white wall behind it.
“What the…?” she said uncertainly.
“Oh, that’s weird…” said Jackie. “I guess they forgot to put a window in here.”
“Come on,” said Nattie unhappily.
She left Jackie’s room, the young blonde following closely behind her.
The other young women on their floor, four of them, came out of their rooms, and they were dressed in their ridiculous costumes as well.
One young lady named Audrey was dressed as a chipmunk, though she was the only one of the four whose name Nattie could remember off the top of her head. The other three ladies were dressed as a grey squirrel, a mouse, and a duck, and all four of them together had to be burning up in those costumes, just like they were.
But Nattie was not concerned with them at the moment. She had a suspicion about something; one of her reporter’s red flags was raised high, and she wanted to check it out.
“I said, come on,” she said firmly to Jackie.
“What are you on about?” asked the young blonde in slight irritation.
Nattie entered her own room and marched straight toward the window above her bed. It, too, was covered by thick brown curtains, and unfortunately, she had not thought to check those curtains during the short amount of time she had actually been in her room.
She ripped open the curtains, only to discover a yellow wall where a window should have been.
“Oh…no…” she said as a spike of fear pierced her chest.
“It…It’s just…I don’t know…” stammered Jackie. “So the rooms have no windows. There were windows on the outside of the building…”
“I know…” said Nattie in audible nervousness. “But why would you build fake windows on the outside of a building?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Jackie. “I guess he doesn’t like windows…Come on, Sheila. Let’s just play the game. We’re supposed to be hiding.”
Nattie did not like any of this. Something was very wrong; she could feel it deep down in her bones.
“You don’t get it!” she replied in a slight panic. “Something isn’t right about any of this!”
It was getting to the point where she was too hot inside her costume to even think straight. Even so, it would take a cool head and some calm rationalization to figure things out, so the first thing to do was very simple. She needed to get physically cooler.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said in a calmer voice. “I’m too hot, and this stupid costume is suffocating me. I need this outfit off.”
“We haven’t even started yet…” said Jackie, but Nattie cut her short.
“I’m not playing!” hissed Nattie. “Just help me get this thing off!”
“All right, all right,” sighed Jackie. “You’re going to get kicked out, though…”
The young blonde walked up behind Nattie and tugged on her zipper once, twice, and then a third time, but Nattie could tell that no progress was being made on that front.
“What the…?” asked Jackie, confusion rife within her voice. “It’s stuck.”
“What!” exclaimed Nattie. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
She had the sudden thought that maybe Jackie was playing her, playing her for a fool so that she would be stuck in this stupid outfit until the game was finished.
“Turn around,” ordered Nattie. “Let me test yours.”
“What?” asked Jackie. “Okay, but I don’t see how this helps anything. We’ve only got twenty minutes to hide, and we’ve already lost five.”
She offered her back to Nattie, and Nattie gratefully tugged upon the young woman’s zipper, or at least, attempted to. Nattie grunted as she tried to pull hard on the zipper, but the metal key would not slide back down.
“What in the…!” she cried out in exasperation. “What is going on with this thi…”
A cold fear sank deep down into her soul as she inspected the metal key of the zipper. She realized with terrible anxiety that the device was designed to lock in place after it was zipped up, all but ensuring that the deranged costume would not come off.
“Oh, my God…” she breathed out, and this time her fear was audible within her shaky voice.
“What?” asked Jackie. “What is it?”
“It’s…It’s locked…” said Nattie in chilly realization.
“It’s what?” asked Jackie.
“The…The…The zippers are designed to lock in place when zipped all the way up!” stammered Nattie. “These outfits, these costumes…They have to be cut off in order for us to get out of them!”
“Well, that’s cheeky,” said Jackie. “I guess that’s why we have the sailor’s hatch down below. Allows us to use the loo, and it allows him to stick his—”
“I get that!” cried Nattie.
Her shout startled the young woman, and Jackie immediately turned to face her.
“Hey!” exclaimed Jackie as she turned around. “Calm down!”
But Nattie was anything but calm.
“I have to get out of here!” she screeched.
Jackie grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her a couple of times.
“Snap out of it!” ordered the young woman. “You’re hysterical!”
Nattie tried to calm herself, but it was proving difficult. She took in a couple of deep breaths, but the suit she was mired in was so hot that breathing in it was also proving difficult.
“Oy!” said Jackie firmly. “Let’s just calm ourselves, eh? If you’re freaking out like this, then we’ll just head down to the first floor and find one of the staff members. They must know where there are some scissors or something. They have to cut us out of these costumes eventually.”
“Okay, okay,” nodded Nattie. “Yeah…”
“We’ve got about twelve minutes left,” said Jackie. “We’ll just hide on the second floor and then switch floors if he starts on that one. I bet none of the other girls thought of that anyway. They’re probably all just hiding under their beds or something stupid like that. You’ve at least given me a working game plan, so your little freak-out wasn’t for nothing.”
“Game plan?” asked Nattie. “What game plan? He just said he was going to find us and do bad things to us. There wasn’t any game plan. It’s not like we win a prize if we’re the last ones to get…you know…ravished…”
“I’m competitive, okay?” said Jackie. “If I’m last, he’ll definitely remember me…Now, come on. Straighten yourself, and let’s go.”
Nattie nodded in agreement. They were at least on the same page about going to the first floor.
They exited Nattie’s room and headed toward the stairs. As large as this building was, there were no elevators for quick access to different floors.
Nattie hustled as quickly as she could down the stairs while plodding along in oversized feet, but even if she could have run, she would have probably passed out from the heat generating inside her suit. She could feel rivulets of sweat running down her bare skin, and she was not happy about it.
“I’m starting to see what you’re saying about getting out of this costume,” huffed Jackie. “At this rate, I’ll pass out in the middle of any alone time with Mr. Wolf. That would be embarrassing. Never done that before.”
The crackle of an intercom buzzed over them as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Time is almost up, my lovelies!” came the voice of their host. “I’m coming for you very soon! If you haven’t found a good hiding place, then you’ll be eaten up first!”
“Oh, great,” muttered Jackie. “Well, at least we’re on the second floor. Hopefully, he’ll hit the third first.”
Unfortunately, the stairs they had just taken only spanned between the second and third floors, and the stairs to the first floor were down the hall, so Nattie was not exactly concerned with Jackie’s unhappiness over missing out on hiding somewhere. Story or not, she needed out of this stupid costume she was in, or she was going to go insane.
“Let’s just hurry up and find a staff member,” replied Nattie.
They quickly reached the end of the second-floor hall and rounded the corner that led to the stairs. Unfortunately, they were not going any farther than that.
Three tall and imposing male servants in black suits were blocking the exit to the stairs. All three of them stood with their arms crossed, their backs to the stairs, and the three of them together were like a wall of black decorated by pale skin and shades.
“You, there!” called out Nattie. “We need to…I need to get out of this costume! It’s too hot!”
They walked up to the trio of servants, but the stoic group did not so much as twitch a facial muscle in recognition of Nattie’s request, or for that matter, Nattie herself.
“Oy!” said Jackie in a firm voice. “Did you hear what she said? She needs out of her costume!”
The three servants said nothing and did nothing but stare down the hall, their arms crossed, their profiles rigid like set stone.
“Hey, now!” said Jackie. “I’m talking to you!”
She reached up and whipped off the shades from the center servant, knocking them off his face with one clean sweep of her white-furred paw. The servant in question immediately gripped her right wrist with his own right hand, and Jackie cried out in pain as she was flung to the floor as easily as a child would throw a toy.
Nattie wanted to be enraged; she wanted to demand just what in the nine hells they were doing, but a swift and sudden fear overrode any bravery she might have had hidden away inside her.
The servant without the shades, the one that had just tossed Jackie aside like a used tissue?…this man had no eyes.
The man in the middle had no eyes, but it was more than that. He had no eye sockets, just brown mud or clay in place of where his eyes should have been, a smearing over of greyish-brown that held the tinge of peach around it.
Nattie reacted to this new revelation in the only way she could.
“Get up, get up, get up!” she screeched out as she pulled Jackie to her feet.
The young blonde woman let out her own screech, this one because of pain, but she did not argue with Nattie this time.
Nattie pulled Jackie back down the hall as an intercom blazed out yet another warning from their host.
“Time is up, my little forest creatures!” called out Mr. Wolf. “It has not been twenty minutes, but the moon is high, so the Big Bad Wolf is coming for you!”
Nattie pulled Jackie along by her left wrist as the young woman held her right wrist close to the chest area of her bunny suit.
“I think he broke my wrist!” huffed the young blonde. “It hurts!”
“We have to get out of here!” cried Nattie. “Didn’t you see his eyes!”
“Yeah,” grunted Jackie. “Yeah…It’s freaky…No eyes…Oh, I think I’m going to pass out…We need to get out of here…Oh…Oh, my wrist hurts!”
“We need to get back into our regular clothes,” said Nattie quickly. “We can’t do much dressed in these stupid outfits…Come on! There might be something in one of our rooms we can use to cut open these costumes.”
“What’s going on around here?” asked Jackie. “Why didn’t he have any eyes?…You know, he was strong…He crushed my wrist just by squeezing it…What a donkey…”
“Stay with me, Jackie,” commanded Nattie. “You’re in shock. I need you with me right now. I can’t do this alone.”
“Oh, right,” nodded Jackie. “I think I need to lay down…”
They traveled back up the stairs to the third-floor hallway.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but none of this is right,” said Nattie. “Those servants were…I don’t know what they were, but I have a terrible feeling that all of the staff is like that.”
“They’re prol…bably vampires,” said Jackie in a slurred voice.
“I’m laying you down in your room,” said Nattie. “And no, they weren’t vampires. That guy didn’t look like a vampire to me.”
She had to help Jackie along via her left arm around Jackie’s waist, but it was slow going.
“I’m going to pass out, luv,” breathed the young blonde. “It’s the pain and the heat…I can’t take it.”
“We’re almost there,” said Nattie. “I’ll lay you down and go get help. I promise.”
“No, you won’t,” said Jackie quietly. “There’s nowhere…to go….”
She slumped over into unconsciousness, and Nattie had to catch her.
The young woman was heavy as deadweight, but Nattie dragged her down the hall anyway. Nattie pulled her along by hefting her up by the shoulders, feathered hands under Jackie’s pits, though Jackie was thoroughly unconscious. The young woman’s big bunny feet dragged along the floor in a comical manner that would have been funny under any other context.
Even so, the accursed costume Nattie was trapped within was causing her to sweat like mad, and it was so hot that she was surprised she had not passed out, herself.
“Stupid party and this stupid outfit with its stupid design…” muttered Nattie as she dragged Jackie back into her own room.
Nattie strained and struggled to get Jackie up on her own bed, and by the time she was done settling in the unconscious blonde, Nattie was so hot, she felt like throwing up.
But there was some small Godsend along the way, because she heard the kickstart and whirr of the air-conditioning come on a few seconds later.
“Oh, thank God,” she breathed out as she stood next to the floor vent to receive some of its cool air.
Still, she had to get out of here. She could find help once she’d escaped the island.
Nattie had to pull herself away from the cool air via a mental struggle of epic proportions.
“I’ll find a way out,” she sputtered. “I’ll find a way out, and then I’ll go get help. Yeah…That’s what I’ll do.”
She exited Jackie’s room and made her way back down the hall to the stairs. She needed to figure out how to get past those inhuman servants, though she had no idea how she was going to do that.
“Maybe I’ll just rush them,” she muttered to herself. “I’ll just squeeze through them somehow.”
Nattie made it to the bottom of the stairs and started down the hall. She made it about halfway down the hall before her progress was stopped in the worst possible way.
There came a shrill scream from behind a room door on her immediate left. There was a loud animal growl after that, like from something big, really big, and then the real horror began, something she had never thought to imagine, something that had never even been on her list of possible things to happen.
A raven-haired young woman that Nattie did not know the name of, this young, twenty-something-year-old dressed in the costume of a skunk, appeared suddenly as her bloodied face and right arm burst through the white wood of the door on Nattie’s left. The upper portion of this poor young lady showed through a large hole in the door, as if she had suddenly and brutally been thrust through the unforgiving wood.
The young woman reached out with one bloody right hand toward Nattie, her mouth open in both terror and pain, her teeth bloody, her lips coated with some of that precious internal fluid. The young lady squeezed her eyes shut in a grimace as she screamed, and then she disappeared from the hole in the door, yanked backwards by some powerful, unknown force.
Nattie’s mind shut off as she took several steps backwards in unthinking reaction, and it was a good thing she had.
The door shattered apart in splinters of white-painted wood as a massive beast burst through it. A great black wolf the size of a grizzly burst out of the room and crossed the hall with such speed that it was nothing more than an ebon blur. It shattered the opposite door, plowing through it, splintering it apart with such raw power that Nattie was shaken right down to her core.
Another loud and shrill scream filled the air, but this time, it was accompanied by a sinister, growling laugh.
Another young woman, this young lady dressed as a racoon, her name Carmen as Nattie recalled, was picked up and bodily carried out by one massive, clawed hand, and the great black wolf that carried her was more like a man now, walking on two thick, muscular legs, those legs bent backwards like the canine of its namesake.
This new victim was slammed against the opposite wall to crack the plaster behind her. The creature carrying her then grabbed her hooded head with both massive paw-hands and twisted. Carmen’s head spun all the way around on her shoulders with a loud cracking sound, and then this terrible creature pulled up as it growled out a coarse laugh, tearing the young woman’s backwards head clean off her costumed shoulders.
Blood sprayed everywhere from the neck stump of the now deceased Carmen, coating the white walls of the hall with a poignant shade of crimson, her thoroughly lifeless body slumping to the short brown carpet beneath them.
The scene was so horrifying, so terrifying, that if Nattie had needed to heed the call of nature, she would have soiled herself right then, but thankfully, this was not the case. Nevertheless, she was rooted in place by sheer, unmitigated terror, unable to move at all.
The huge black wolf on two legs turned toward her and gave another growling laugh.
“You’ll have to hide better than that!” it said in a deep, growling voice, a voice laden with a thick German accent. “Heads up, my little canary!”
It tossed the head of poor Carmen at Nattie, and she caught the young woman’s head without thinking. It then turned and smashed down another door, looking for more prey, prey, for the moment, other than Nattie.
Nattie stared down at the lifeless eyes of the young woman that had just been brutally decapitated. Carmen’s eyes were rolled up in the whites, her lips slightly parted, her detached head still shrouded in a racoon-shaped hood.
There was another scream as the terrible creature dragged forth yet another victim from her room. This young lady was dressed as a doe, and she was dragged out onto the brown carpet of the hall by her left ankle.
The huge man-wolf had changed in form yet again, and it looked like a “he” and not so much an “it,” looking even more like a man than before, a large, naked, and muscular man covered in black fur, his fearsome countenance accented by pointed ears and sharp fangs.
This horrendous wolf-man turned over his new victim, planted one big, furry foot in the small of her back, and pulled up on both of her arms. This young lady shrieked out a blood-choked squeal as Nattie heard her spine snap in several places. The creature then folded his victim over like a napkin, folding her in a sadistic, twisted torture to where her bottom was touching the back of her doe-hooded head, her legs splayed out in front and above her like some broken Christmas tree ornament, the hoof-shoe-toes of her feet pointing upwards toward the ceiling lights above.
“Now, you can wear your Hintern as a hat!” laughed the monster.
Nattie watched as the light died in this young woman’s dark eyes. It was that dying of the light, that final extinguishing of life, that broke Nattie from her shock-induced trance.
She dropped Carmen’s head and ran back toward the stairs.
“Fly, little canary!” laughed the creature. “I will come and find you soon! I can smell your scent, you know!”
Nattie did indeed practically fly up the stairs, and with her mind in a not-so-paralyzed place, she began to piece everything together, though she did not want to.
“I didn’t know they were real, and they shouldn’t be real, but they are real, and they shouldn’t be,” she babbled. “That’s why we can’t get out of the costumes. We were never meant to take them off, and that’s why it’s so hot inside them, so that we sweat, so he can smell us, and then he can come and kill us.”
She rushed to Jackie’s room, opened the door, and quickly shut it.
Nattie was still not quite with it, but it was all coming together now, coming together in one horrendous pulling to center mass, and the picture that puzzle was making was…unpleasant.
“There are no windows. It only looks like there are windows, but there are no real windows,” she continued to babble. “That’s what he does. He gets girls from around the world who have no family. No one will miss them. No one will ever even notice they’re gone. They’re lured out here, and then they’re trapped.”
“Oy, luv,” came Jackie’s voice from behind her. “What are you on about?”
Nattie turned and gave her new friend a crazed, wild-eyed stare.
Jackie was sitting up on her bed, her pretty face a mask of puzzled concern.
“Werewolves are real,” blathered Nattie matter-of-factly. “That’s what he does. He gets the girls to come out here, and then he slaughters them. There’s no game. There’s no game at all. It’s just a slaughter. The only game is the one he’s playing.”
Jackie gave her a supremely confused look and then winced as the pain in her broken right wrist caught up with her.
“What in the he—Ow!” she cried. “Oh…My wrist still hurts…What are you going on about? You’re sounding all crackpot.”
“He ripped them apart,” nodded Nattie. “He slaughtered them while you were out. I went downstairs to the second floor, and the Big Bad Wolf got them. He killed the skunk, the raccoon, and the deer, and he’s killed the others by now, I know it. I held Carmen’s head in my hands, just her head. Her eyes were rolled up in the whites, all white, just a white stare, you know.”
“You’re nuttier than a fruitcake,” said Jackie. “I know that guy down there had something smeared over his eyes, and that scared me for a bit, but it’s the fact that he broke my wrist that makes me mad. I’ll have him fired, you know, so don’t worry about that…But you? You are not making any sense at all, luv. You need a tranquilizer or something.”
But there was no more time for Nattie to explain or for Jackie to argue.
There was a thunderous crash from the room next door, and then came the screaming, lots of screaming.
Nattie flinched and cowered at the screaming, but it was her new young blonde friend that bolted upright and rushed to the door like some kind of half-cocked hero.
“What in the blazes is going on out there!” asked Jackie.
There were more loud crashes, more screams, and the sadistic, growling laughter of the wolf-creature.
But Nattie blocked the door and would not let Jackie open it.
“No, you can’t open it. You can’t go out there. You can’t. He’ll get you, and then he’ll get me…” said Nattie in a desperate burble.
“Step off!” warned Jackie. “Somebody needs help!”
They struggled for a few seconds as the sounds of more chaos ensued, but Nattie gave in, letting herself be pushed aside by Jackie’s good hand, mainly because she was terrified out of her mind, not thinking straight, so she let the young, injured woman pass.
The young blonde flung open the door and stepped out onto the blue carpet of the third-floor hallway.
An arm that had once belonged to the chipmunk girl, Audrey, went flying past Jackie, and then the young blonde in the white rabbit outfit was sprayed all over with blood from the stump that used to hold Audrey’s right arm.
The creature, who Nattie knew to be Helmuth Wolf, was in his man-wolf form, the big form of the wolf on two legs, and he held up what was left of Audrey, just her body and head, because he had ripped off the chipmunk girl’s limbs and scattered them about the hallway.
The other three girls were in pieces here and there, bits of mouse and duck and squirrel staining the floors and walls, the shattered wood of several doors lying about, pools of blood collecting in the blue carpet below.
Jackie stood stock still, frozen in visible fear and horror. The young woman’s once spotless-white bunny outfit was sprayed all over with the blood of poor Audrey, and Jackie did not move from this literal standing bloodbath; she only shook in place.
Helmuth Wolf held up the limbless body of the chipmunk, Audrey, and waved her in Jackie’s face.
The young, limbless Audrey’s mouth opened as if she were trying to speak, but nothing but blood spilled from her lips, and the stumps on her body still continued to spurt blood, though that life’s-liquid spurting was slowing down simply due to the lack of it.
“It’s game time, little rabbit!” laughed Wolf. “Goal!”
He punted Audrey’s limbless body, booting it with one massive, right foot-paw. Her torso was kicked down the hallway to go rolling along the bloody carpet as if it were trash to be discarded, the stumps where her limbs used to be still spraying blood this way and that.
At this point, Nattie knew she was going die. She was going to be torn apart and probably eaten by this monster, but her callous mantra, her ruthless reporter’s creed, would not allow her to just give up and expire. The little angel on her shoulder died as she came to a quick and dirty conclusion, and that conclusion was to expunge her conscience completely, because she wanted to live, and she would do so at any cost.
Jackie cried out as Nattie pushed her forward from behind, pushing the young blonde straight into the arms of the beast. Jackie screamed in terror and pain as the huge black man-wolf bit into her right shoulder, and then her spraying blood joined the stains covering the once-pristine white walls.
Nattie did not bother to look behind herself as she ran for the stairs. She practically dove down those stairs in a mad, scrambling rush, struggling just to keep from stumbling in her oversized bird feet. She bolted down the second-floor hallway as quickly as she could, weaving around the bodies and gore laid here and there, and she did not slow down until she turned the corner to the first-floor stairs, coming to a screeching halt because of the blockade before her.
She had forgotten about the servants.
The three tall, pale men were still there, still standing as one stoic, eye-shaded wall to block her escape.
Nattie was all panic now. She was going to die, going to be ripped apart while dressed in this stupid canary outfit, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“No…No, no…No…” she babbled as she turned around to run back down the hall.
But that way was blocked as well.
Helmuth Wolf rounded the stairs at the other end of the hall, only this time, it was as his actual wolf form, a great black beast that came plodding forward on four massive paws. The great wolf stood on two legs and walked forward as a man-wolf, and then that man-wolf morphed into the sasquatch-build of the naked, furry wolf-man.
“No, No…No, no, no…” burbled Nattie.
“There’s nowhere to run, my little canary,” growled Wolf. “You can’t go that way, Fräulein.”
Nattie turned to look at the three men blocking her escape.
All three of them took off their shades at the same time, all three in perfect unison of motion, and all three of them revealed that they lacked any eyes, just some greyish-brown mud smeared over in a flat plane where their ocular orbs should have been.
“No, no…No…No…” babbled Nattie.
She turned to see the terrifying wolf-man that was Helmuth walk up to her in an easy, confident manner, the dark manner in which a predator toys with its prey.
“People never can guess my age,” he said in a humorous tone. “I am much older than I appear to be, my little canary. I’ve learned many things over my long life, including how to acquire loyal servants.”
She turned back toward the three strange, inhuman men, turned again toward Helmuth, turned back toward the line of servants, and then turned back again toward her twisted host, but Nattie was thoroughly trapped, and she knew it.
“No, please…” she whined, but she was ignored.
“You see, my servants are loyal because I made them that way,” explained Wolf. “If I have learned anything from mein Führer’s enemies, the greatest of that knowledge was the construction of the golem…Alas, it was the Jews’ only real weapon against me. They caused me quite a bit of trouble with these constructs when I was in the SS…Did you know, Fräulein, that golems can be constructed using the Beast’s own power? They do not need the God of the Jews to be granted a mockery of life. I learned this through much trial and error.”
The naked, furry beast-man that was Helmuth Wolf walked up to Nattie and stood before her, staring down into her terrified face. He placed his large, furry, clawed left hand upon her right shoulder, the weight of it heavy upon her, its mere touch causing her to shake and shiver in place.
“But enough of this,” he smiled, that smile a ring of sharp fangs. “I can feel your heart beating, little bird…You are shaking so. Such a frightened little bird…I think, therefore, it is time for my little canary to sing her final song.”
But Nattie was still not willing to just up and die. She had come this far in a field that was ruthless, doubly so if you were a woman, and she was not ready to just lay down and die without struggling to the very end.
“W…Wait!” she sputtered out. “I…I’m not who you think I am!”
“Oh?” asked Helmuth with an amused grin. “And who might you be, Fräulein?”
“I’m actually a reporter!” spouted Nattie. “M…My name is Natalie Schreiber, and I took Sheila Canary’s place in order to get the real story about what happens at these parties in March every year!”
“Is that so?” asked Helmuth.
“Y…Yes!” stammered Nattie. “Don’t you see! You can’t kill me!”
“And why not?” asked Helmuth. “I have more than enough power and connections to dispose of you, reporter or no.”
This was not working, but Nattie would not give in. She could not give in. She had to think of something else that would get his attention, something, anything that would keep him from killing her.
A thought came to her, an unpleasant one, and it was a last resort, but anything was better than being torn apart like the others.
“B…But I can help you!” blurted out Nattie. “Don’t you want someone else like you in your life? Doesn’t every alpha wolf need a…a mate or…or a female by their side? M…My family is German, too! I wouldn’t be polluting your bloodline or anything! Isn’t Schreiber a good German name?”
“It means ‘scrivener,’” said Helmuth matter-of-factly. “It is also a Jewish name; a fact I am sure you are well aware of…Still…I care nothing for the old hatred with the Jews…That life is behind me…Hmm…Schreiber, eh?…The scrivener…A fitting surname for a reporter…Hmmm…My alpha female, yes? Alas, it has been some time since I have enjoyed the company of others, especially real company from a woman…Hmmm…I find this idea…interesting…But being my alpha? I wonder if you even understand what that means?”
He laid his other massive hand upon her left shoulder, gently spun her around, and bent her over at the waist.
Nattie did not like where this was going, so she continued to reason with him, basically beg for a position by his side, one that didn’t involve whatever it was he was about to do, and she figured what he was about to do was what she had not wanted him to do in the first place, long before the killing had started.
“N…No, wait!” she pleaded. “Can’t we get to know each other first? I…I mean, I have other uses than just that! I…I can also help you on the outside!”
“You misunderstand me, Fräulein,” growled Helmuth. “That is not what I am going to do to you. In spite of how I act here, I am not so crude and crass as one of your American suitors, and I do not like being insulted.”
“Wait, wait!” cried Nattie. “I really can help you! I really do want to be at your side! Please, just listen! Please!”
She felt one of his razor-sharp claws tear open the hot fabric that covered her back. She cried out in pain as that singular claw dug into the bare skin of her back, carving into it, marking out a slow line of excruciating torture, as if he were etching a picture into her, her soft skin the ready, blank slate.
“Keep talking, Fräulein,” warned Helmuth. “If I stop carving, your time has run out. Convince me, little canary.”
“I can make you—Ah! Ah!—look more mundane—Ah!—” grimaced Nattie. “I…I can make you look popular, or…or—Ah!—or anything you want to look like for the press—Ah! Oh! Ah! Sfffft!—I can be whatever you need me to be! You can make me like you!—Oh! Ow!—I’ll be your…your alpha female! I can be a wolf, too!—Agh!—I…I can…can show the guests around the manor here—Oh, my God, that hurts!—Make them feel more comfortable than this soulless staff ever could—Ah! AH!—I’ll do whatever you want!—AGGH!—PLEASE!…I’ll be whatever you need!”
He stopped carving into her bare back, straightened her up, and turned her back around to stare down into her desperate eyes.
“You do have a certain…hunger…about you,” he said in an amused tone. “You even sacrificed your friend to save yourself…Poor, poor little Jacqueline, my white rabbit. In the end, she tasted much like her costume’s namesake…You threw her to me just to save yourself…Well, then…That is a high mark on your resume, little canary…Let us continue with this interview, shall we?…Let me see…You do know that you will be eating others, yes? Mercilessly slaughtering the poor, helpless little forest creatures that come into my lair?”
“Yes, yes!” pleaded Nattie. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! I…I can do that!”
“You will be servicing He who Dwells in the Marshes, little canary,” said Helmuth in a smug tone. “You will be an agent of Fenrir, Swallower of Odin and the Hand of Tyr, and Garm, Swallower of the Moon. Your soul will be damned in the eyes of your God…This is your last chance. If you die now, your soul may be spared. I’ll even make your death quick. I will snap your neck, and you will drift off into sleep as your brain shuts down. Your soul may still be spared.”
But Nattie had already killed her conscience. She had already killed an innocent person, shoved poor Jackie into the maw of this beast, so she figured she was damned anyway. She wanted to live, and that’s all there was to that.
“I can serve your beast gods!” cried Nattie. “I…I can do that! Please, make me like you! You can do that, right? Make me into a wolf?…I just want to be by your side!”
“Hmmm…” replied Helmuth. “Very well, Fräulein. I have carved in the Mark of the Beast upon your back. You are marked by the Hounds of Ragnarök, so there is only one step left to take.”
He pulled up her right hand, pulling it up to his fanged mouth, and he bit down upon it, biting through yellow feathers until fangs penetrated skin, but he did not bite hard, not to where bones crunched and splintered.
Nattie cried out in pain and shock as she dropped to her knees. She held her right wrist with her left hand, because the throbbing and burning in her bitten right hand was nearly unbearable, far worse, even, than the pain of the etched skin on her back.
This new pain spiderwebbed through her hand, down her wrist, and through her right arm. Nattie whined and squeezed her eyes tightly shut as that pain spread all throughout her body.
“The curse only works if you bear the mark,” said Helmuth. “It binds you to Fenrir and Garm, enslaves you with the hunger, the rage, and the lust, but you have to want it…You have to agree to it…The movies? They never get anything right…But enough of this…Now we shall see what kind of an ‘alpha female’ you will make, Miss Schreiber.”
Nattie had nothing else to say. The pain coursing through her kept her from saying anything more. She gritted her teeth as they lengthened into fangs, squeezing her eyes shut from the torturous wrack of pain that was currently rearranging her bone structure. She opened her eyes after a few seconds, but all she could do was stare in wild-eyed shock as sharp brown claws tore through the finger fabric of her costume’s right glove, replacing her own finely-manicured nails with something far more bestial.
Sheila walked into the back alley to meet with her reporter friend. There was no one else here in-between these two buildings, just a dumpster with its accompanying trash, but that was okay. She was only meeting Nattie.
She had not seen Nattie for almost three weeks now, and truth be told, she had not expected the investigative journalist to come back at all, but here she was, Nattie in the flesh, waiting to meet her in this dark back alley.
The reporter was clothed in a tan overcoat, the hem of a burgundy dress barely visible, something a little too warm for this time of year, at least by Sheila’s tastes.
Sheila walked up to the reporter and gave her a worried smile.
“You came back,” she said. “Did you get into the party with that invitation? Did you find out about Gracie?”
“I did,” nodded Nattie. “I did on both counts.”
“Oh,” said Sheila in reply.
In truth, she did not know what to say. Honestly, she had not expected Nattie to find out anything about Gracie.
“So, what happened to her?” asked Sheila.
“I spoke at length with Mr. Wolf,” said Nattie. “He showed me exactly what happened to your friend.”
“Showed you?” asked Sheila in confusion. “What do you mean ‘showed you’? What happened to Gracie?”
“He requested that I show you as well,” said Nattie. “Do you want me to show you?”
“Do you have pictures or something?” asked Sheila. “Do you have photographs? Please, I need to know what happened!”
“I’ll show you,” stated Nattie, “but I don’t think you’ll like it.”
Now Sheila was getting frustrated. She didn’t like being strung along like this, and the way Nattie was talking, it sounded like Sheila would never hear from Gracie again…No one would.
“Just tell me!” she said in audible anguish. “I need to know!…Is she dead? Did she die?…Show me if you have to, but just do it!”
The reporter smiled, but her teeth became a row of sharp fangs, and then she grew in size, splitting right out of her burgundy dress and tan overcoat, her skin erupting with a veritable forest of thick brown fur.
Sheila was held in place as two large, paw-like hands firmly gripped both of her arms. She did not even have time to scream as a maw of glistening white fangs dripping with saliva came down toward her vulnerable, exposed neck.
Bad House Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott