THE WOMAN IN THE RED DRESS
by Julio X. Palomino
I was either at Bar Myx or not, but usually, yeah, I was there, drinking cocktails until my tongue felt as dry as sand. Before going, I’d picture the dancing hall and the rows of delinquents moving their asses like drunken chimpanzees, their expressions becoming a sea of clown faces easily recognizable as the ones you’d see in funny infomercials. I hated every last one of them as much as I hated myself.
The drinks were strong, and in turn, my eyes would have to adjust and readjust in order to see past the dresses of the drag queens and the old ladies with pounds of makeup caked on their wan faces. Whenever I’d take my seat at the end of the bar, nearest the two stripper poles with my drink of choice in hand, I’d stare at the faces of the dancers and realize how frozen and pallid their expressions seem to be.
“It’s easy if you know how to do it right, just right,” my grandpa used to say. All you need to do is act confident, stand up tall, and pretend that you have a million bucks, when the truth was that you spent your last five dollars at the door paying for the entrance fee.
I’d sip my drink and smile at every woman who walked past. It was more of a smirk but the fact of the matter was: I didn’t give a shit whether they smiled back or not, my mind would fill in the blanks and I’d simply…roll with it.
I’d grab my drink, waltz over to the woman in the loungearea and tell her how absolutely beautiful she was. I wouldn’t offer my hand, no, that was too old school; instead, I’d slip my arm around, sit down on the dirty moth-eaten sofa under the red lights, and smile, even wider this time. I’d picture my canines protruding out from my upper lip pretending that they were somehow attractive, but I knew they weren’t; they were intimidating.
This was usually the moment of truth. She’d either respond or grin apprehensively and return her attention to the dance floor…
“I’m Elizabeth,” she said with a cunning smile. “So you’re Thatcher…your name sounds familiar.”
I wasn’t prepared when I saw her extend her hand for a handshake. But quickly, I shook and smiled as widely as possible. “Well, unless you’re thinking of Margaret Thatcher, there’s a slight possibility that you may have seen me around here once or twice.”
This woman was truly beautiful. I could see that her ruby hair was real and not just illuminated red by the overhead lights. Her lips were painted cherry red, and her complexion was as white as milk.
“Maybe,” she began, and didn’t finish.
“Maybe, huh?” I said. “How about definitely?”
“Yeah,” she paused and smiled, “maybe, or…” she paused again, and the way that her left eye stared back at me while the other was hidden by her bangs made me yearn for her in the most degrading way. “Definitely.”
We entered a parking garage on California Street, and our voices echoed in the dark. Her crimson-red dress accentuated her long red hair so that it made it unbelievable for the rest of her flawless body to seem real, but she had to be natural by the way her round ass bounced and how well she walked in those red platforms.
Up ahead, by a staircase, was my silver Mercedes. I dug into my pockets for my keys. They came out jingling, and I held them in the air giggling like a child, shaking them at her, surprised to see a smile, despite my lack of maturity.
We ended up making out like teenagers in my littered car. We pushed the seats back as far as they’d go, and she pounced on me savagely. She bared her teeth, and that was when I noticed her canines protruding out from her upper lips; they were a lot like mine.
I bit her lip and sucked them, tasting the lipstick, her sweet spit, and her perfume. She smelled like cinnamon. Her hands were already playing with my belt. We were having sex and as the car rocked back and forward, I saw her body for the first time. It was utter perfection, every curve, and as her breasts tumbled out, they gleamed under the lights. No blemishes, and no signs of aging, and I wondered.
She stuck her tongue into my mouth. I felt a tickle at the back of my throat. I disregarded it and continued thrusting up, down, up, and down. Making sure that every time I went up, I did so with force, and she loved it.
Something happened. I felt faint, with a quick wave of nausea. I rolled my eyes subconsciously, the whites exposed, and dryly, I swallowed. I swallowed something sour.
I felt like I was passing out because the dizziness overwhelmed me. I tried to push her off of me, but my hands simply waved through the air. I opened my eyes to find myself alone in the car.
The next day, my brother called me from the airport to let me know that our grandmother was in the hospital. He was in a hurry and hung up before I could ask what happened, so I needed to go see for myself.
When I got to the hospital room, nobody was there but my grandmother. “Hi Grandma,” I greeted her.
Her eyes were slivers, but I could tell that she was fighting unconsciousness. My grandmother was always a fighter, even at age seventy-five. Miraculously, she lifted a shaky hand at me, which she shook in the air like a limp fish.
“How’re you feeling?” I sat down on a chair nearest the bed and placed a hand on her damp arm, she was sweating; suffering from a fever. Her head looked swollen, like she had been struck by a baseball bat. Her eyes were swollen too, almost shut, and it made it seem like she was falling asleep.
She was moaning, but I understood her, “I…okay.”
I knew that this was going to be the last time I could talk to her. The way that her face looked, shriveled up and drained from life, made the certainty of it painfully obvious.
She was moaning again, but this time I had to get closer. I leaned in to listen to her. “I…dream…of you.”
“You did, Grandma? What did you dream about?”
Her lips looked like a dried plums, and her stringy white hair had fallen across her face. Through the tendrils, I could see she had an almost shocked expression as she thought hard to remember. Then she coughed to clear her throat, and moaned loudly, “Stay away! Away from me! Everyone!”
In her last moments, my grandma, who I loved more than anyone I ever knew, pushed me with her delicate wrinkly fingers. The forcefulness of them made me jump back. I landed on the ground on my ass and looked up at her. She was staring down at me with fear, and what looked like conviction. Whatever it is she thought I did was enough to put an end to her suffering. She was gone.
Who had she wanted to stay away from her? Everyone, or just me personally? Or did she mean I should stay away from her and from everyone else? Either way, my heart ached, because those would never have been the final words I hoped to hear.
My brother was out in the lobby, and he was crying hysterically. Emotionally, he was always worse in situations like these. I wanted to run away, but I knew that I couldn’t, that bastard. He was a lot taller than I was, and seeing him crouched over with his big face in his gargantuan hands made me feel angry.
Well, our grandma, who took care of us most of our lives, just practically told me to fuck off. How do you think I feel? I wanted to say this out loud, but instead I said, “She’s gone.”
He raised his face from his hands, shaking his head with disappointment. “I don’t believe you. I’ll go see for myself.”
Well, you could probably guess what happened next. As soon as my brother entered the room to find our grandma lying dead, he screamed uncontrollably in the high-pitched girly scream the kids back in the day use to make fun of. He screamedso loudly his voice cracked; it was the sound of a dying cat or screeching tires.
I had enough. I left the hospital. When I got back to my car, I sat with my forehead pressed against the steering wheel. I lit a cigarette.
I spoke out loud. “Stay away? Why the fuck would my grandmother say that to me?” Whenever I was pissed off, I’d think of all the things that did, and merge them all together for the hell of it. I figure since I am already mad, why not get…madder?
“I want you Thatcher, I want to be inside forever, and I won’t disappear this time.”
I jumped in my seat, dropping the cigarette on my lap. Had I imagined her voice just now? I grabbed the cigarette, and when I put it back in my mouth I tasted her lipstick. The same red lipstick that was on Elizabeth was on the butt of my cigarette. It was utterly impossible, but I looked at the smoldering cigarette like it was a talisman.
I am going crazy. I lowered the window and tossed the cigarette out carelessly. “Okay…what the hell?” I asked myself.
My voiced echoed. I was on the underground level of a parking garage and so far I hadn’t heard a single car drive past. I had to be alone, despite feeling that I wasn’t.
I heard moans from the car parked on my right. I looked in that direction slowly, and saw a couple fucking in the passenger seat in the same fashion that Elizabeth and I had. Except the man did not move at all, and the woman on top was a shadow. The shadows fucked, and I watched like an exhibitionist. My mouth hung open, frozen.
The shadow doing all the fucking suddenly stopped. The head was moving, tilting its head backward, and then I saw a tongue protruding from its mouth. As quickly as the tongue had appeared, it was then swallowed, gone in the blink of an eye. My back was up against the door in my car, and my arms shook spastically from fear.
I am not seeing this.
The head tilted excruciatingly back until finally, I heard a loud CRACK, audible enough that it sent shivers down my spine. Then the head turned and showed itself to me. In the car, the face of Elizabeth stared at me in a frozen smile, backwards so that it was turned upside-down with her chin pointed at the roof of the car. The person underneath her was convulsing, near death, and in a silent explosion, out came a fountain of blood that drenched the windshields and the rest of the interior. Some of the blood cascaded through the cracks of the passenger side door in small rivulets. The passenger-side window dripped with blood and when it cleared, slightly, the thing smiled while it licked the blood off the window.
I started the car and peeled out there, and didn’t look back. Screeching to the street, I yanked out my cell phone.
“Phil, this is Thatcher. Yeah, hey,” I paused. “I need to tell you something…” How could I possibly explain it to him? Hey, bro, by the way, there is a demon after me. “Yeah, I’m here… I just; well, it’s hard to explain, all right? I need you to stay at your hotel. I’m coming over, no excuses!”
He was crying again. “Phil! Dammit! I need you to wait for me and keep your phone charged. I’m heading over there. I need to tell you something, and you won’t believe me, but you have to—”
I heard a thud, and what sounded like a hesitant shriek. I waited and checked the screen of my cell phone. The call was still on. I heard my brother scream moments later, in the background. My brother’s screaming stopped as sudden as it began, what came next was surely worse. I waited with awful anticipation.
I tapped the “speaker” button of my phone. There was another distant thud with the sounds of shuffling feet. What horrors could be lurking at the other end of the phone call?
I drove way past the speed limit on the highway, and swerved through the lanes of traffic whenever I was faced with any. I had to get to my brother before she could. Or was I too late?
I was forced to stop during traffic, and so I reached for my cell phone again. I dialed for the police and did so with shaky fingers.
“Nine one-one emergency.”
“Um, yeah, there is a woman and I saw her…uh, kill someone, I think she is on the way to my brother’s hotel room, please hurry.”
“What is the address of the hotel, sir?”
Everett, it’s in Everett. “It’s a Best Western in Everett just off of I-5.”
“What’s the room number and the full name of your brother, sir?”
“Room fifty-two. Um, last name is Adams, first name, Phillip.”
“Can you identify the woman in question?”
“No, but she is wearing a red dress.”
Apparently a laceration was made from ear-to-ear exposing the jugular and the hollow meat inside my brother’s throat. By the time I had got to his hotel the police was surrounding the area. I was asked questions and told that I would be taken in for questioning. My heart was racing. What would I tell them?
The truth, you idiot.
There was yellow tape surrounding the outer perimeter of the hotel; they had made a barrier across the front doors. I had memories at this hotel; vague ones about the taming of innocent and not so innocent women.
“Sir, please follow me. You’ll be riding with us back to the station for questioning.”
I nodded at the female police officer with the broad shoulders. Her partner was a bulking black man with a thick moustache, I had spoken to him earlier, and he had been the more consoling one. Everything so far played out. The creature was not a part of my imagination, nobody could have done what they had to my brother unless they were real, and I knew that whatever the woman in the red dress was, she had it in for me.
I was escorted to the back of a police cruiser where I placed my hands solemnly on my lap. I looked out on my left at the hotel and thought, I wonder how they’re going to wash all of the blood from the walls, and the bathroom, and the television? I wonder how it’ll be like knowing someone was murdered, would a guest be told what had happened, or would it just be customary to forget the whole thing and not even bother? The hotel wouldn’t tell anybody. I’m sure of it.
In the ambulance, all I saw was the mountainous lumps under the black body bag my brother was in…his big feet that I remember so vividly as the ones that would crush mine underneath their weight. As kids we’d play a game where we’d chase each other, sometimes he would trip over his own feet, he the much taller one, would chase me across the lawn in front of our childhood apartment building. My grandparents would sit and watch, drinks in cup-holders held upright by a pole poking into the grass. In their sunhats, they’d sit and smile jovially. I remembered my brother with a smile implanted on his melon face, and his tattered white shirt stained with dirt and marinara sauce.
“Tell us if you recognize any of them.”
The female officer was sitting at the corner of the darkened room with a notepad on her lap. This all seemed so oddly like a CSI episode. The lights turned on in the room inside the glass.
Sweat drizzled down my forehead into my eyes, for a brief moment I thought that my vision would get blurry. I wiped at my eyes vigorously and stared.
A woman wearing all black was first. Her hair was a fountain of wisps and in the middle was big bald spot parting the two sides. She strutted to the end of the room lazily, looking incredibly bored, as if she had done this before millions of times.
After her was a tattooed woman around the age of twenty, but by the look on her face, she was undergoing a severe case of withdrawal. Probably heroin or meth. Dark patches were sprinkled all over her exposed arms like polka dots, and even three of them on her left cheek.
The rectangular window exposing these suspects—or whatever they called them—almost felt like a portal between two worlds. The world I was in was the crazy one; the other, well, that one was filled with honesty, at least they knew damned well who and what they were. After all, I must have been crazy to see what I had seen.
Finally, the third person to come out from the doorway in the other room wasn’t wearing a red dress. To be fair, I don’t think they’d ever let her wear it in this place.
“Is that her, Mister Thatcher?”
“Please, just Thatcher, and no, that can’t be her. She has red hair—”
“Maybe she was a brunette?” The female officer interrupted.
I shook my head.
Another woman stepped out from the doorway. Under the bright fluorescent lights, I could see that it was her. Except, she looked different. Her hair had gone down a few shades of red and her face was melting with makeup. I had expected her to be smiling knowing that I was here, but she wasn’t. When she turned to face us (the mirror in her view) she looked almost sad and utterly guilty of the crimes committed. Could this really be her?
“That’s all of them, sir. Thatcher, can you recognize any of them? I’m sure it ain’t any of the first three, as you’ve indicated.”
“I recognize one of them. The one at the end, there.” I stepped closer, and slid over to where she was standing. I was looking straight into her eyes.
She was tall, just like Elizabeth, and she was wearing what looked like the tattered remains of a red dress. Her legs were covered in a thin layer of dirt. Her hands though, they were caked in the stuff. I wasn’t sure what had happened to this woman, but something had definitely overtaken her in the past twenty four hours or more. The horror of my uncertainty plagued me then, turning my skepticism to complete utter blindness. I opened and closed my eyes to make sure that I was seeing clearly, but even through the haze, I could tell that it was her.
Inches away from my right ear, the deputy said, “Is that her, sir?”
“Give me a second, please.”
The woman holding the square with the number four on it turned her gaze onto me. She peered into me with the dark eyes I knew so well. It has to be her.
Her lips were moving as she stared. The image of the long tongue with the split end—like a snake’s—flashed before my eyes. The way it curled upwards in the air to land on top of the head of the corpse in the car, and how it then licked the windows clean of blood. Slurping. Slithering. Sucking. Sour.
What had it done to me? A rancid taste made my eyes water. It was at the back of my throat. I coughed and swallowed dryly, but nothing changed.
She was shouting. The others inside looked at her questioningly. They were stepping away from with their backs up against the wall on the left. Some of them were leaning against each other.
“That’s her. Send the other people back, now!” I yelled.
Over the intercom they gave the instructions. Immediately afterwards, the previous suspects scurried away like frightened dogs and escaped through the doorway. Once the door was shut, there came a thunderous knocking on the window. Then came the sound of her voice, overhead, in a strange mantra:
“Z’j-m’h kh’m Z’jm’h kh’r Z’j-m’h kh rmnu.
Kh’m w’nh nyg hsyh fha’gnu er’ngi drg-nza knu ky cry-str’h n’knu.
Ou-o nje’y fha’gnu qurs-ti zyu-dhron’k po’j nu Cth’n.
The deputy shouted, “What the hell is she saying? Come on, you dumb fucks. Take her away!”
Other voices became background noise. Unimportant. I was staring directly at her. Into her eyes.
I watched her pallid face, the dark eyes with the shadows underneath them, and looked at the sharpness of her canines. They weren’t regular teeth; they were longer and sharper than everyone else’s. There was blood at the end, dripping. She was biting her lower lip, tearing the tissue into shreds. Biting… crunching… swallowing the torn flesh.
I looked at my hands with new wondrous eyes. I was chosen. I knew from the way she looked at me. Clearly then, I could remember what occurred the night I was seduced. The blood dripping from those sexy fangs reminded me of the beautiful experience. I am not of the kindred spirit, I am a foul one.
I felt my incisors grow into points.
In my head I chanted the words I suddenly knew so well. The words of the old ones. I chanted along with my hands up against the glass, aligned with hers. I turned around with new eyes, and new power.
“The Daemons are, the Daemons were, and the Daemons shall be again.
They came, and we are here: they sleep, and we watch for them.
They shall sleep, and we shall die, but we shall return through them.
We are their dreams, and they shall awaken. Hail to the ancient dreams.”
Julio X. Palomino was born in Miami, Florida, from Cuban and Guatemalan parents. At age eight he moved to the state of Washington, where he began writing by the age of twelve. He graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor's Degree in English. He is currently working on a novel titled Deception Pass.