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By Kenneth Kohl
I met Lily in the strangest of ways. It was somehow fitting that my first interaction with her took place just three days before Halloween. She had always had some spooky sense about her, which is part of what led to my attraction.
I was visiting a haunted house with my then-girlfriend, Emily. It wasn’t just any haunted house, but one of the best (if not the best) in Ohio. Several of my close friends were actors there, so it made things even more fun for me. I made it my personal challenge to get them to break character, but it happened only a few times. It was a great opportunity for them, though, as I was willing to play along. I had given Emily advance warning, but it still gave her some screams.
Emily spent most of the time with her arms wrapped around me, but we had entered a tight corridor which forced us to walk through single file. She still grasped my hand with a ferocity you couldn’t imagine. Without warning, someone grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand out of hers. I felt someone pulling me back and thrusting me up against a wall. I could feel someone’s breathe close to my face.
“Hey, not cool. I shouldn’t leave Emily…”
Before I could finish my sentence, I felt her forcing her lips against mine. I couldn’t see her, but I knew that it was not my girlfriend. Emily was tall, about five-foot-ten, and whomever kissed me was much shorter. I felt embarrassed to admit it, but it was the best kiss I have had in my life, and it was from a stranger. She pulled away, and then came close to me again. This time I reciprocated. After a few seconds that seemed like forever she pulled away again, this time biting my lip in the process. Hard. It drew blood.
Then she left. Just like that. The best glimpse I got of her was from behind. Petite, as I had suspected, and wearing a short baby-doll dress. I noticed her flowery scent, also. She skipped away into the darkness and, in a sing-song little girl voice, said “Happy Halloween!”
Damn. I stood there for… well, I don’t even know how long. It was long enough, though, that I was unable to catch up with Emily until we were both at the house’s exit. She seemed perturbed, but upon seeing my bleeding lip, a concerned look crossed her face.
“Oh, baby. What happened?”
“Nothing,” I said, “Nothing. I mean, I don’t know. I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. That girl. That kiss. It was all I could think about for the rest of the night and the following day. I thought that it must have been a silly prank – maybe even someone that I knew – and it meant nothing. Still… I could not get it out of my head. It did mean something to me, and I had to know who it was. If it was someone that I knew – a friend – that might be awkward. But if it was a stranger? I needed to meet her. I mean, at the core of my being I knew that I needed to meet her.
A couple of days later, I mentioned the encounter to my friend Jacob. He was an actor at the house and said that he hadn’t heard anything about it. He asked around to see if anyone had been trying to play around with me, but no one admitted it. There were a couple of new girls in the cast, but neither fit my description – as vague as it was.
There was a cast party planned for Halloween night, after the house closed for the evening. Given my acquaintance with many of the actors, he said that it would be fine for me to attend as a guest. He suggested that I should, and perhaps my mystery woman would come forward. I accepted his invitation on the spot, not needing any time to mull it over. I had become a slave to my emotions.
The night of the party arrived. I begged off with Emily, saying that I was under the weather. I couldn’t very well take her to the party with me. That would sort of defeat the purpose. Everyone was coming to the party in character, and even most guests had decided to arrive in costume. I had decided to go as “guy who didn’t care,” and wore jeans and a button-down shirt. I wanted her to recognize me. If she was even going to be there, I told myself.
Well, it turned out that she was not there. At least not that I was able to see. No one there fit even the vaguest proportions of the girl. I couldn’t smell her perfume. I felt dejected, to say the least.
I stayed for hors d’oeuvres and a couple of drinks, then told Jacob and a few friends that I was going to head home. They begged me to stay a little longer, but I had seen what I had come to see. Or rather, did not see who I had come to see. I asked directions to the toilet room so that I could take care of business before I left. Jacob pointed me toward a dark hallway at the back of the banquet room and said that it was the last door down.
It’s difficult to describe how I felt, but anyone who has been in love and gotten hurt knows the feeling. The knot in your stomach. The tightness in your chest. After washing my hands, I headed back up the hall but, as I passed a set of double doors on the left, I heard a voice. A girl’s voice, singing a haunting melody. It was a voice I thought – I hoped – that I recognized. I backed up and pushed the doors open, stepping inside. A storage room, of some sort. It was quiet, aside from the singing, and dimly-lit. All dark with a few pools of light under the bare bulbs spaced around the room.
The singing stopped and I called out. “Hello?”
Then she – yes, I knew it was her – stepped into one of the pools of light. There was no doubt in my mind. Aside from the scent of lilies, she was as petite as I had remembered, and seemed to be wearing the same baby-doll dress. Only now, I could see that the beautiful girl I had imagined met all my expectations. Her skin was utterly white and as smooth as porcelain. Her eyes seemed overly large. She had the most amazing eyes. They reminded me of glittering emeralds. She had an upturned pixie nose, and a face framed by curls escaping from a head of fiery-red hair that she had pulled up into a bun. She was breathtaking.
She introduced herself as Lily. An apt name, for more than the fact that she smelled like the flower. Someday I would find it ironic that the Lily-of-the-Valley is, despite its beauty, decidedly poisonous.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the fate of my relationship with my girlfriend, Emily. I am ashamed now to say that, once Lily and I began seeing each other on a regular basis, I dropped Emily like so much dead weight. That was so untypical of me. At the time, though, I focused all my attention on Lily.
Lily and I became friends, and then lovers. I was smitten with her, even though I did not know whether she shared the same feelings for me. It was difficult to imagine that she did not, as we began to spend every waking moment together. Eventually, Lily ended up staying the night.
I woke before her the next morning and, once the blurriness cleared from my eyes, I glanced over at her. We had tossed the sheets aside and the sunshine filtering in through the curtains played on her naked back. Something confused me. I got out of bed and threw open the curtains, allowing the full morning sunlight into the room. To my horror, I saw that bruises covered Lily’s alabaster skin. There were the most appalling discolorations all around her lower back and belly, and even along the tops of her thighs. It had been dark, but I was quite sure that they were not there the previous evening.
I shook her awake, taking care not to cause her any pain. “Lily,” I whispered. Then louder. “Lily.”
She came awake with a start. Eyes open, she rolled over to face me. “Good morning,” she yawned, then blushed. She pulled the sheets up to cover her nakedness. “Oh, excuse me. I’m sorry, I…”
“Sorry for what?”
“I suppose that I was a little forward last night. It’s very unlike me, but for some reason… Well, I feel something special with you.”
I shared her feelings and wished that I could have taken the time to tell her, but I was too concerned with what I had seen. “Lily, your bruises. You’re covered with them. Did I do that? I’m so sorry.”
She pulled the sheets aside and examined herself. “Hmm. That’s odd. No, they don’t hurt. I can barely feel them. I’m sure that you didn’t cause them. I think that I just have delicate skin.”
Delicate skin? I didn’t think that explained it at all. Every time I tried to bring it back up, she deflected the issue and changed the conversation. After a while, I gave up, thinking that I was causing her embarrassment.
By the time I saw her again, the bruises had healed. I supposed that she recovered as quickly as she bruised. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps she just had a certain problem with that. Perhaps everyone bruised to some degree, and her pastel complexion made it more obvious. Still, it was disturbing. I tried to be careful, but I noticed it often as we spent more time together. Once, I pulled her toward me playfully, and purple blooms appeared on her arm in the shape of my fingers. The lightest touch seemed to cause her flesh to bruise, yet she did not complain a whit.
I tried to push aside my thoughts about her problem. Aside from that, she was the perfect woman. She was beautiful but acted as if she did not know it. She was controllable, yet capricious; an accomplished courtesan who acted like a virgin. As a lover, she was insatiable and astounded me with her intensity of interest when in bed.
And yet, after a time, our lovemaking would leave me with a certain distasteful feeling. She seemed cold inside – like cool, wet meat. Then there was the bruising. She always seemed renewed after a while, though, bruising gone, smelling of lilies, and as soft and warm as a lamb.
The closest I had come to finding out the truth had been during a conversation over beers with my friend, Jacob. I had explained to him that Lily was the girl that I had told him about. He looked at me in an odd way but continued our conversation in a light-hearted tone.
“So… Lily, huh?” He arched his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” I said. “I met her that night in the house, then again at the party. That was it for me. She’s had me wrapped around her finger ever since.”
Jacob stared into his beer, a smirk on his face, nodding. “Yep. She’s a quiet one, isn’t she?”
I laughed. “Ha. At first, yes; but since she came out of her shell, she’s the most passionate lover I’ve ever been with!”
“Wait. So, you…” Jacob set his beer on the bar.
He sat there, assessing me. His jaw hanging open for an awkward amount of time. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking but his change in attitude concerned me. Then a huge smile cracked his face and he burst into hysterical laughter.
“Oh, you!” he wagged his finger at me. “You had me going there for a second. Half the time I can’t tell if you’re being serious. Scary, man. Scary.”
I made a couple of jokes and then turned the conversation away from Lily. I suppose that I didn’t want to know any more. I thought that maybe he knew something about her that I didn’t, and that made me feel… jealous? Angry? I’m not sure what the feeling was, but I didn’t like it, and so never brought up the topic of Lily again.
The problem was that Lily was getting sicker and sicker as time went on. Along with the bruising, she began having… I suppose that “spells” is the best word for it. I would find her doubled over, clutching her belly and moaning in pain. She would always say that she’d be fine, though. Give it some time. And she was always fine, within a day or two, seeming like nothing ever happened. I would have thought that she was experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, or perhaps faking it for attention, but there was the smell. During these spells, her usual flowery scent was gone, replaced by something rotten. It was hard to be near her at times like those. I knew that it was those times she needed my support the most, but I felt too weak to handle it.
She seemed resigned to it, though, and so I couldn’t convince her to see a doctor. Well, as a matter of fact, she did say that she was seeing someone. I gathered that he wasn’t a medical doctor, per se, but more of a holistic healer.
Just as I was about to give up, at my wits end, the truth came out. The awful truth.
I had stopped to meet with Jacob and a few of his friends for drinks after work. I tried to avoid the subject of Lily, as usual, but somehow things always circled back around to her. Jacob and his friends seemed fascinated by her – by my relationship with her.
“So, uh…” Jacob turned to me, smiling, “How are things going between you and Lily?”
His friends snickered.
“Well, okay I suppose.”
He came in close to me. Close enough that I could smell the sour beer on his breath. “No, really,” he gave an exaggerated wink, “How are things going? Hmm? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.”
Everyone chuckled again.
The anger was growing in me. I could feel my face turning red. “Enough, man. Lily and I are fine, end of story.”
For some reason, Jacob and his friends thought that was hilarious and burst into laughter. I shook my head in frustration, downed the dregs of beer in my glass, and excused myself. I needed to use the men’s room, I said, but planned on sneaking out the door afterward. I no longer wanted to listen to this sort of talk.
I stood at the urinal shaking off the last drops when Jacob’s friend Jim walked into the men’s room. He took up a place at the urinal beside me. For a few seconds, he stared at the wall ahead of him while he relieved himself, and then began talking. I thought that he was just rambling on to himself, but soon realized that he was addressing me.
“So, you’ve been, um…” He hemmed, “You’ve been taking Lily home with you, is that right?”
My eyes narrowed. I was suspicious and cautiously entered the conversation. “Yeah. ‘Taking her home with me’ might not be the right way to say it, but yeah. She and I have been spending a lot of time together.”
“Ah yes, Lily is – unfortunately, I suppose – popular with the boys.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I yelled, maybe a bit too loud for a public restroom.
He kept talking as he zipped up and washed his hands. “Nothing. Please don’t misunderstand me. You and Lily have something special. I can tell, and if anyone can understand her, it’s me.”
“Just be careful. She always comes crawling back to me in the end and I hate to see her get hurt.”
When I arrived home that night, Lily was not there. I tried calling her but received no answer. I really wanted to talk to her. The conversation with Jim had piqued my interest, but at the same time, I was afraid to know what the hell he had been going on about.
Was Jim her lover? Did they have some type of “understanding?” Was he just a friend who knew about something going on? Something bad? Or did he know something about Lily’s illness? That might be the worst thing of all. First, that she would confide in him, and not me; and second, it made me wonder if it was that bad? A thousand thoughts raced through my head. It took two glasses of whiskey to get me to sleep that night. I finally passed out, phone in my hand, with Lily’s number on speed dial.
It was a harsh morning. I had had way too much to drink the previous night and, combined with my anxiety over Lily, I was nauseous. I downed a cup of coffee, took a shower, vomited, and took another shower. I wanted to crawl back into bed, but I needed to know.
Suffice to say that I became wary of what I said to Lily. I tried to coax information out of her – information about Jim – but I was trying not to be too obvious. Her answers were always cryptic.
I’m embarrassed to say that I started checking up on her. I’d follow her to see where she was going after she left my place. She spent so many hours working at the house, that I’d always picked her up there after her shift. Even in the off season, there was plenty of work to do around a haunted house attraction. New scary experiences had to be prepared for the coming year. Lily usually left before morning and I had never given thought to where she was going or how she got there.
What I did know, and was beginning to weave together, was the Jim also spent a lot of time at the house. He was sort of the master make-up artist for the house. His duties included developing some of their unique props and special effects. Everyone considered the attraction the “best damn horror house in Ohio,” and Jim played a large part.
My paranoia finally came to a climax. One night, after an evening of lovemaking, Lily slipped out of bed and dressed. I faked a deep sleep so that I wouldn’t interrupt her. She kissed me on the forehead and exited through the front door. No sooner than hearing the lock on the door snick into place, I was out of bed and at the window. I saw Lily, standing at the curb and talking on her phone. After a few moments had passed, a car pulled up and she got in. As they pulled away, they passed under a streetlamp which illuminated the driver’s face. I felt a cold lump in my stomach when I realized who he was. It was Jim.
I had three choices. I could pretend that nothing was wrong and continue seeing Lily as if I knew nothing. That would be the easiest and most pleasant choice if it weren’t for the horrible heartache I was feeling. I could just stop seeing her altogether. I’m sure that she would figure out the reason, and she would either be angry or indifferent. My third choice was to confront them. I knew that would gain me nothing but the scorn of Lily and most likely ostracism from Jacob and his actor friends. However, it seemed to be the most satisfying choice. I wanted… No, I needed to see the looks on their faces when I caught them in flagrante delicto.
After giving them a short head start, I jumped into my car and sped off. I caught them about two streets down and then dropped a few car lengths behind them. It had started drizzling. The light flaring through the raindrops made it difficult to see. Unless they suspected that someone was following, they would never notice.
We drove around for about ten minutes and finally ended up back at the haunted house. So, this is where they met! How tawdry. How sickening that Jim would stoop so low and refuse to take her back to his own apartment, or hers for that matter. I felt a twinge in my chest when I realized that I, in fact, didn’t even know where she lived. I saw them walk in. I waited in my car. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Should I have just given up and gone home? No. Thirty minutes had passed before I screwed up the courage to approach the rear door of the house.
I entered a shadowy hallway. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized that I was in the same hall as the storage room where I first met Lily. I noticed light coming from under the double doors, and the sound of a radio playing Metallica. Not exactly mood music for two lovers, I suppose, but I already knew that this was no normal relationship. I sidled up to the doors and put my ear to the crack. I could hear Jim’s voice, humming/singing along with the music, but heard nothing from Lily.
I knew that she was there, though. I could smell her perfume. The tell-tale scent of flowers, and stronger than ever.
My throat was dry, my eyes burned, and I realized that I hadn’t taken a breath in what seemed like ages. My lungs were burning. Finally, I burst through the doorway. I suppose that I wasn’t as intimidating as I had imagined myself to be. Jim acted as if he had not noticed me come in. He just looked up from his work, said “Hi,” and lowered his eyes to the table again.
Lily lay on a table, split open from breast to groin. Where one would expect to find blood and entrails, there was only a slush of thick, purple juices. There was something that seemed to resemble bones joined together with gristly wire and metal rods. Heaving and rippling bags of soaked cloth approximated the position of where her stomach and guts should have been.
Lily’s beautiful face was an eerie caricature of her normal self. Her mouth hung open, tongue lolling to one side, eyes staring at the ceiling. I thought that she was dead. Killed by this maniac. But half realized that she had never been alive. Or was she. It was so confusing. One of her eyes rolled my way and focused on me. I knew that she could see me, but she did not speak. I could swear that I saw some sort of embarrassment there in her distorted face.
“Please,” I gasped as my legs went out from under me, “Please explain.”
I had passed out. As I started to come around, I saw Jim leaning over me. He was kneeling next to me and splashing water on my face. He helped me sit up but encouraged me to remain on the floor. He also took up a position on the floor opposite, cross-legged and stared at me.
After a moment of silence passed between us, he said, “This isn’t what it looks like.”
I exploded. “Isn’t what it looks like?! What the hell does it look like?! What in holy hell is going on?”
“Well, you see… I created Lily as an attraction for the haunted house. I’d had good ideas before, but I could tell right from the start that she was going to be exceptional – and she was! A big hit, right from the beginning. I debuted her about three years ago, on Halloween evening. Unlike my human actors, you could do anything with her. Or to her. Nail her hand to a wall, pluck her eye out, cut off an arm or leg. I’m still impressed by how well my experiment turned out.
“Even when she didn’t undergo any vicious maiming in the name of art, she still became ‘ill’ every week or so. I could never figure out why, but each time that I revitalized her I added in a little extra. Something to make her more human. What you see today is the result of years of fine-tuning.”
I felt sick to my stomach. “S-s-so what is she then? A robot?”
“Oh, no no. Nothing so simple.”
“An automaton, a biological organism, something inanimate, something alive. At some point, I lost track. Maybe even,” and I could tell that he wasn’t joking around, “A little bit of magic. The point is moot now, because now she is sentient.”
“You tell me. What do you feel when you are with her? When you conversed with her? When you kissed her? When you were intimate with…”
“Stop it!” I screamed, “She… I mean it is an abomination! For the love of God, man, how can you keep this up. You should have destroyed her… it long ago. For the love of all things holy, please end it.”
Jim was silent for a moment. It looked like his eyes were tearing up, and he whispered, “No.”
I stood and walked out. I would end up going back to settle things later, but at the time my emotions were overloaded.
Fast forward to today. All of that is behind me now. After the fiasco that was my relationship with Lily, I couldn’t stand to face my friends anymore. I am married now, have a great job, a nice house, and have moved far away from Ohio. I have not spoken to Jacob or any of my other friends from back in those days. I stay away from Facebook or any other form of social media because I am afraid that someone will look me up. I don’t want to have “that conversation.”
I do keep in touch with Jim, though. After a time, he perfected his creation. The revitalizing treatments were no longer necessary. He went on to great success and works in Hollywood now. Has even has his own studio.
In fact, I just got off the phone with Jim a short while ago. I guess that is what brought all these memories flooding to the surface. We arranged a visit. My lovely wife and I will be flying to California next week. Jim has invited us to stay at his estate. We are going to need Jim’s unique abilities over the next several months. You see… Lily is pregnant.
This story was originally published in House of Bad Dreams, available on Amazon.
Edited by Steve Hovland
Kenneth Kohl has published several short stories and articles for literary magazines, e-zines, and podcasts as well as two full-length novels. Kenneth lives in Columbus, Ohio with his beautiful wife, two sons, and an energetic shepherd dog named Daisy. When he is not at his computer working on his next novel, he is probably hiking, biking, or traveling the world. Kenneth's anthologies and novels may be found on Amazon or most local bookstores.