Desires Quite as Terrible
~ Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
The witches wanted something different.
The coven had grown weary of virgin blood, which tended to bring out the immature demons; the wishes they granted were shallow: smoother skin, a minor increase in riches, or increased sex appeal. The witches didn’t want more sex. The men who lived in the town one over from theirs were easy enough to snare without the demons’ help. The witches wanted to summon a more exciting demon, one who might grant the most satisfactory of wishes: to deepen their five senses. To make the witches taste, see, smell, hear, and feel the world in more than its usual dimensions. Those types of demons required older, wiser sacrifices.
They required the last blood of a menopausal woman.
Sadie frowned as she scoured the forum. She wasn’t usually one for forums. She could never figure out the secret languages people used within them: OP, DD, LOTR, SAHM. Reading forums made her feel like she was staring down at a test for which she didn’t study. But she needed to feel like she was part of something bigger, like she had a whole world of women willing to respond and reassure her that she would feel better, that the madness of menopause would one day pass.
First, there was the weight gain. She had always been a hefty woman. Her thighs were muscular, her hips were wide, and her belly was a soft pillow that her cat loved to lie on. With the start of menopause, she expanded even more, filling out her size XL underwear to the point of strain, the elastic giving out under the pressure. She didn’t mind the weight—she liked taking up more space, claiming more from the world than her young-girl body had claimed—but it tipped her off to the process of something changing.
Then, there were the night sweats. She woke as wet as though she had been swimming. Sometimes, the heat overtook her in the middle of her air-conditioned office where she filled out administrative forms for a university. It was boring work, not the sort of content that usually made one hot, but there Sadie was, mopping herself with tissue after tissue in her cubicle, feeling the world spin around her.
Then there were the mood changes, specifically the anger. She had been a peaceful person when she was younger and maybe more naïve, but now she found herself bristling at every messed-up drive-through order or back-handed compliment. Sadie found herself especially angry at the people who had wronged her, the new stage in her life re-igniting grudges she thought long-buried: her stepfather, her ex-husband, her ex-best friend. When she thought of the wrongs they had leveled against her, she found her body flaming with a desire for revenge. Violent revenge.
Some mornings, she woke having dreamed of bloodbaths. She imagined the way their skin would feel trapped under her hands, or parted by her knife, or shaking as she squeezed them between her quaking thighs. She shivered as her every sense fired in a cacophony of overstimulation.
Sadie searched the forums, but no one mentioned desires quite as terrible as hers.
The witches searched the forums, too. They searched with more than just their eyes; they searched with their intuition, feeling for women on the other sides of screens whose final bleed was imminent.
Sophie’s post was simple enough: How have other people dealt with foul moods? And has anyone felt a lot of anger?
The responses to her inquiry were dull, women discussing breakdowns toward management at restaurants or rants against their ungrateful children. Sophie’s words and her screen name in its throbbing blue font radiated power. Her final bleed would come soon. The witches could tell just by that.
The coven’s most technologically savvy member performed her magic, plugging the screenname into a search engine and scouring the results for a name, a number, and finally an address. The witches clapped silently for her success, but inside themselves, they felt like singing.
Sophie logged out of the forum and moved to her window. Watching the birds hop around on the ground outside had become one of the only soothing hobbies she claimed, but today the sky was dark with an impending storm. A black cat prowled along her backyard fence. Suddenly, the cat sprung down to the ground. It captured a little brown bird under its paw, and Sadie watched as the cat tore the feathers from the creature with its teeth.
She did not look away.
Something rustled the bushes. Another bird? She scooted closer to the window to get a closer glimpse. Deep in the bramble, she saw what seemed to be a limb flopping back and forth. It looked human, disconnected from a body. Her heart sped up, and the heat overtook her. Even dizzy, she stood and rushed through the back door to the bush and knelt to peer into the shadowy space. The hand grabbed her by the neck and pulled her under the dirt.
Sadie woke sprawled in the woods, surrounded by a circle of bones that smelled of rotting meat and burnt gristle. Deep into the recesses of the forest, eyes watched her, glowing shades of orange and yellow.
“Who are you?” she called out, coughing the dirt from her throat, but there came no reply save for an insistent hum that grew louder. Sadie tried to move, but she was stuck, restrained by some invisible force. She screamed out once, then again. The witches moved in closer, letting the forest’s sparse light trickle down onto their leering faces.
“She will do,” they said as Sadie’s uterus was wracked, at once, by cramps.
Unlike in her youth, these cramps didn’t sadden her; instead, they ignited the rage she’d grown to live inside.
The tallest witch stepped into the circle of bone, and at that moment, Sadie felt free.
She rolled with all the force she could muster, working through the fog that had of late settled inside her brain to find the will to move through whatever spell the witches had used to trap her. She wrenched free her hands and grabbed the thickest bone from the circle. The tall witch frowned. In one swooping motion, Sadie swept the bone across the ground below the witch’s feet. The witch tumbled down, onto Sadie. Sadie wrapped her feet around her waist. With the bone, Sadie beat the witch until they both were drenched with blood.
Sadie pushed the witch off like a bad lover and struggled to her feet, but the other witches were already retreating into the woods, frightened of the fire that now flamed in Sadie’s eyes. Sadie held the bloody bone aloft. As she caught her breath, rage still boiling in her belly, the demon came.
The demon was like nothing Sadie had ever seen before: a hulking mass of swinging tits, volcanic skin full of flaming fault lines, and teeth like the blunted blades of a saw. Sadie stood to face the demon; its heat pouring into Sadie was not unlike the heat she’d learned to bear.
“You called me?” the demon rasped as it crawled free from the bloody earth.
Sadie understood that it had been the witches’ will, not hers, that had summoned the demon—but she also understood grabbing opportunities that came her way.
“I did,” Sadie said.
“And you want what they all want?”
Sadie considered; she did not see her desires as too far off from what others likely asked for.
“Sure,” Sadie said. “Why not?”
The demon grinned with its metallic mouth, and with its cracked fingers, it brushed back the hair from Sadie’s face.
“Then you will have it,” the demon said. “You will sense the world in its truest form.”
Sadie searched the forums for clues that others may be like her, that she was not living in this state of heightened senses all alone. “Increased sense of taste,” she searched. “Hearing the humming of the earth,” she searched. “Seeing auras and shadows” then “skin so sensitive it makes me cry” then “can’t sleep,” then “hallucinations.”
But she was quite sure that the event in the woods had been real, just as felt quite sure that she had reached the end of her womb’s own road. She didn’t need it, the threat of birth, for, through the demon’s touch, she had birthed her own body anew: every sense a symphony.
The rage had found another target: as Sadie searched forums, she felt for power radiating off bright blue screen names and for posts that may not tell the truth. She searched for the witches who had meant to do her harm. She would hunt them down; after all, with her new senses, she stood a chance of finding them—and the wrongs they had done, unlike all the other wrongs from Sadie’s full, full life, could be righted by her hand.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is the author of the short story collection Where You Linger & Other Stories and the novella Glorious Fiends. Her Nebula-nominated fiction has appeared in over 90 publications such as LeVar Burton Reads and Popular Science, as well as in six languages. By night, she has been a finalist for the Nebula Award. By day, she works as a Narrative Designer writing romance games. She lives in Texas with her partner and a mysterious number of cats.