I’m going to disappoint you. But you know that already. If I don’t, you’ll keep me around and alive. And where will that leave us? Like an old married couple. Like a husband and wife.
I know why you’re here. You’ve heard the rumors. You want to see for yourself, take a short dip in the glory hole. Pardon my obscene, anachronistic cliché. I’m a bit of an obscene anachronism myself. You’ve peeped night after night, and now you’re inside. Tell me, baby, is it everything you dreamed? All you desired? You think you like it, but get to know me better. You won’t.
No one ever likes it as much as they want it.
I built this empire on making promises, not keeping them. Glamour is a veil. The bride loses power when she lifts the mask. Mystery keeps customers coming back. It’s the same in politics as in burlesque: a girl’s got to save something for the last act. Trust me, underneath this chemise, I’m no different than all the monsters who’ve ruled the world. Under every suit lurks an identical shadow.
I promise I won’t fight. You might as well untie these silly knots. My muscle tone is surgically sculpted for visual effect, not strength. The camera adores my implants. Feel how soft and pliant they are. See, doesn’t that feel nice?
Ah, that’s better. I’d rather get in on the fun than be a spectator at my own rape. You knew that, didn’t you, when you dragged me here. You ripped the silk curtains, snarled at the roses, and kicked over the vanity. What a brute! No alarm sounded; no guard stood sentry as you seized me. Your High Priestess was like a call girl waiting on a buck. And now you ask: Where is the power? Where is the glory?
I ask of you, my child: Where is the kingdom? In this country, this building, this room? Is it a fortress keeping us apart? A selective membrane of history binding us together? If the kingdom of heaven dwells not within you or me, it dwells not at all. In times like this and for creatures like us, there is only the kingdom of hell.
Don’t look like that, baby. A girl can have a laugh, especially when she’s facing the end. That pistol is such a bad prop. Exactly what the audience expects. Shall we give them a twist? Put it down. Give me a sporting chance.
The audience? But of course there’s an audience. There’s always an audience!
The office of High Priestess demands a non-stop global performance. We strive for a climax every six to eight hours to saturate international time zones. My circadian rhythms are chemically amped. It’s such a high. Makes a girl ravenous, though. It’s a miracle I can maintain my figure.
Congratulations, baby. Privacy is a relic of the past. Every centimeter of the Pink House is wired for surveillance and simulcast. It’s been a slow news day. You’re the new star! The audience is jaded, impatient with the dance of veils and hungry for the dance of death. I can bring twenty thugs rushing in to break your body down into donation-quality organs by batting an eyelash. I can roast you like a fatted calf. Once the audience gets hungry, they aren’t too picky about the dish.
But I’m not like that, baby. I forgive you. I forgive everything. That’s what goddesses do.
Come close. Now I can see you. I want you. Ignore the chant of the crowd, the mewling of one thousand hungry young. I told you there was an audience. Stop teasing. I want you. Who cares if the sound is closer? It is merely a sound. It is the rhythm of a slathering mob, infantile and insatiable. Their cries pound apart the soft walls of reason. Their screams suckle upon their own echo, opening void upon void. You hear yourself in that sound, for it is sworn of ceaseless agony, sick with desire.
Enter me, yes, like that. Unleash your rage for all I’ve promised, yes, don’t stop. Wallow among the horde, in my kingdom, consumed. You’re the brute, the star, the baby I’m taking back. You’ll want me forever, but you’ll never have me. I’m nothing, the shadow in every suit, the sacrament that swallows the host. You dwell in me forever. I am ageless, mindless, and desired by all. There is no end to desire in the kingdom of heaven.
Joanna Koch’s short fiction has been published in Dark Fuse, Hello Horror, and the anthology Game Fiction, Volume One. This story’s companion piece appears in the anthology Trump: Utopia/Dystopia. An MA Contemplative Psychotherapy graduate of Naropa University, Joanna works near Detroit as an advocate for women’s rights.
OCTOBER 31, 2018 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #12 / FEAR