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If the baron had seen her, he gave no sign. He bowed slightly andgesturedChilde to precede him. They went down the hall--no Dolores there--andwere back in the dining room. O'Faithair was playing wildly on the grand piano. Childe did not recognize the music. The others were sitting at the table or onsofas or standing by the piano. Glam and the two women had cleared off thetable and were carrying off the dishes from the sideboards. Mrs. Grasatchow was nowdrinkingfrom a bottle of champagne. Magda Holyani was sitting on an ironskeletal chair, her formal floor length skirt pulled up around her waist to exposeher perfectlegs to the garter belt. Dark-red hair stuck out from under thegarter belt. Ahalf-smoked marijuana cigarette was on the ashtray on the table byher side.

She was looking through an old-time stereoscope at a photograph. Childe pulled her skirt down because the sight of her pubic hairs botheredhim, and hesaid, "That's a curious amusement for you. Or is the picture...?"

She looked up, smiling, and said, "Here. Take a look yourself."

He placed the stereopticon against his eyes and adjusted theslide holdingthe picture until the details became clear and in three-dimensions. The photograph was innocent enough. It showed three men on a sail boatwith a mountain in the distant foreground. The photograph had been takenclose enoughso that the features of the men could be distinguished.

"One of them looks like me," he said.

"That's why I got this album out," she said. She paused, drew indeeply onthe marijuana, held the smoke in her lungs for a long time, and thenpuffed out. "That's Byron. The others are Shelley and Leigh Hunt."

"Oh, really," Childe said, still looking at the picture. "But Ithought...Iknow it...the camera wasn't invented yet."

"That's true," Magda said. "That's not a photograph."

He did not get a chance to ask her to explain, because twoenormous white arms went around him from behind and lifted him off his feet. Mrs. Grasatchow, shrieking with laughter, carried him to a sofa and dropped him on it. He started to get up. He was angry enough to hit her, and had his fist cocked, when she shoved him back down. She was not only very heavy; she had powerfulmuscles under the fat.

"Stay there, I want to talk to you and also do other things!" shesaid.

He shrugged. She sat down by him, and the sofa sank under her. She held his hand and leaned against him and continued the near-monologue she hadbeen maintaining at the table. She told him of the men who had lustedafter her and what she'd done to them. Childe was beginning to feel a littlepeculiar then. Things were not quite focused. He realized that he must be drugged.

A moment later, he was sure of it. He had seen the baron walk tothe doorwayand looked away for a second. When he looked back, he saw that thebaron was gone. A bat was flying off down the hallway.

The change had taken place so quickly that it was as if severalframes of film had been spliced in.

Or was it a change? There was nothing to have kept the baron fromslippingoff around the corner and releasing a bat. Or it was possible thatthere was, objectively, no bat, that he was seeing it because he had beendrugged andbecause of the suggestions that Igescu was a vampire.

Childe decided to say nothing about it. Nobody else seemed tohave noticed it. They were not in shape to have noticed anything except what theywere concentrating upon. O'Faithair was still playing madly. Bending Grassand Mrs. Pocyotl were facing each other, writhing and shuffling in a parody ofthe latest dance. The redhead beauty, Vivienne Mabcrough, was sitting on anothersofa with Rebecca Ngima, the beautiful Negress. Vivienne was drinking from agoblet in onehand while the other was slipped into the front of Ngima's dress. Ngima had herhand under Vivienne's dress. Pao, the Chinese, was on his back, hislegs bent tosupport Magda, who was standing on his feet and getting ready to do abackward flip. She had taken off her shoes and dress and was clad only in hergarterbelt, stockings, and net bra. She steadied herself and then, as Paoshoved upwards, soared up and over and landed on her feet. Childe thoughtthat her unshod feet would have broken with the impact, but she did not seemto be bothered. She laughed and ran forward and did a forward flip over Paoand landed in front of a sofa on which Igescu's great-grandmother sat. The oldwoman reached out a claw and ripped off Magda's bra. Magda laughed andpirouetted awayacross the floor.

The baron had sauntered over to behind the baroness and had leaned over to whisper something to her. She smiled and cackled shrilly.

And then Magda ended her crazy whirl on Childe's lap. His headwas pressedforward against her breasts. They smelled of a heady perfume andsweat and something indefinable.

Mrs. Grasatchow shoved Magda so vigorously that she fell offChilde's lapand onto the floor. She looked up dizzily for a moment, her legs widespread to

reveal the red-haired slit. "He's mine!" Mrs. Grasatchow shrilled. "Mine! You snake-bitch!" Magda got to her feet unsteadily. Her eyes uncrossed. She opened

her mouth and her tongue flickered in and out and she hissed. "Stay away!" Mrs. Grasatchow said in a deeper voice. Had shereally grunted?

Glam entered the room. He scowled at Magda. Evidently he did notlike to see her in the almost-nude and making a play for Childe. But the baronfroze him with a glare and motioned for him to leave the room.

"Stay away, huh?" Magda said. "You have no authority over me, pig-woman, noram I afraid of you!"

"Pigs eat snakes," Mrs. Grasatchow replied. She grunted--yes, shegruntedthis time--and put one flesh-festooned arm over his shoulders andbegan to unziphis fly with the other hand.

"You've eaten everything and everybody else, but you haven't, andyou aren'tgoing to, eat this snake," Magda said, spraying saliva.

Childe looked around and said, "Where are the cameras?"

"Everything's impromptu tonight," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "Oh, youlook so much like George."

Childe presumed that she meant George Gordon, Lord Byron, but hecould not be sure and he did not care to play her game, anyway.

He pushed her hand away just as she closed two fingers on hispenis, which, to his chagrin, was swelling. He felt nothing but repulsion for thefat woman, yet a part of him was responding. Or was it seeing Magda and alsosharing in thegeneral atmosphere of excitement? The drug, which he was sure he hadbeen given, was basically responsible, of course.

Magda sat down on his lap again and put her arms around his neck. Mrs. Grasatchow, snarling, raised her hand as if to strike Magda, but shelet it dropwhen the baroness called shrilly across the room. At that moment, apair oflarge doors swung open. Childe, catching the movement at the cornerof his eyes, turned his head. The baron was standing in the doorway. Behind himwas the billiard room or a billiard room. It looked much like the first one he had seen. The blond youths, Chornkin and Krautschner, were playing.

The baron advanced across the room and, when a few paces behindChilde, said, "The police don't know he's here."

Childe erupted. He came off the sofa, tossing Magda away and thenleapingover her and running toward the nearest door. He got to the hallwayand was jerked violently off his feet, swung around, and pressed close toGlam. The great arms made him powerless to do anything except kick. And Glammust have been wearing heavy boots under his pants legs. Certainly he acted asif he did not feel the kicks. Perhaps he didn't. Childe may have had littlestrength.

As if he were a small child, he was led into the room, Glamholding hishand. The baron said, "Good. Good for him and good for you. Yourestrained yourimpulse to kill him. Very commendable, Glam."

"My reward?" Glam said.

"You'll get it. A share. As for Magda, if she doesn't want you, and she saysshe doesn't, she can continue to tell you to go to hell. My authorityhas its limits. Besides, you aren't really one of us."

"You're lucky I haven't killed you, Glam!" Magda said.

"You have depraved taste, Glam," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "You'dfuck a snake if someone held its head, wouldn't you? I've offered you help..."

"That's enough of that," Igescu said. "You two can play dice or agame ofbilliards for him. But the winner saves a piece for me, understood?"

"Dice won't take so long," Magda said.

The baron nodded at Glam, who clamped a hand on Childe's shoulderfrom behind and steered him out of the room. Magda called, "See you soon, lover!"

Mrs. Grasatchow said, "In a pig's ass, you will!" and Magdalaughed andsaid, "He'll be in a pig's ass if you win!"

"Don't push me too far!" the fat woman shrilled.

Then Childe was being steered down the hall to its end and aroundthe corner and down two flights of stairs. The hall here was of large grayblocks of stone. The door before which they halted was of thick black wood with ironbosses forming the outline of an archaic and grinning face. Glam shifted hisgrip fromthe shoulder to the neck and squeezed. Childe thought the blood wouldbe pushedout of the top of his head. He went to his knees and leaned his headagainst thewall while his senses, and the pain in his neck, returned. Glamunlocked the door, dragged Childe into the room by one hand, and dropped the handwhen he came to the far wall. He completely undressed the feebly resistingChilde, lifted him up and snapped a metal collar shut around his neck. Glampicked upthe clothes and went out, locking the door behind him.

There was a single unshaded light in the center of the ceiling. The floor was covered with straw and a few blankets. The walls and ceilingswere painted alight red.

When his strength came back, Childe found that the metal collarwas attached by a four-foot-long lightweight chain to an eyebolt sunk into thestone of the wall. He looked around but could see nothing to indicate that camerasor eyeswere on him. The walls and ceiling seemed to be unbroken. However, it was possible that one or more of the stones was actually a one-waywindow.

There was a rattle at the door. A key clicked in the lock. Thedoor swungopen. Magda entered. She wore nothing--unless you could count the keyin her hand. She stood there smiling at him. Suddenly, she whirled. Shesaid, "Who isthat?" and he got a glimpse of her back, of the egg-shaped hips, asshe went swiftly into the hall.

There was a thump and a gasp. Then, silence.

Childe had no idea of what was happening, but he supposed thatGlam or Grasatchow had attacked Magda. He had not thought that they woulddare, sincethe baron had made it plain exactly how far they might go.

He waited. A sound as of a bare body being dragged along thestone floor came to him. Then, more silence. Then, a whispering. This sound wasnot that of a human voice but the friction of silk against silk.

He jerked with fright.

Dolores del Osorojo entered the doorway. With a swirl of skirts, she turned and closed the door. She faced him then and advanced slowly towardhim, herwhite arms held out to him. She was not transparent or semiopaque. She was as solid as young flesh could be. Her black hair and white face and redlips andwhite swelling bust were solid. And sweet.

Childe was too scared to respond to the arms around him and thebreasts and lips pressed close to him. He was cold, although her breath was hotand the tongue she slid back and forth over his tongue was hot. Warm salivaleaked from her mouth over his chin and down his chest. She was panting.

Childe tried to back away. The wall stopped him. She pressedagainst him, and he lacked the will, or the strength, to try to push her away. Hewas still trembling.

The woman muttered something in Spanish. He did not understandthe words, but her tone was intended to be soothing. She backed away and beganto undress swiftly. The dress slid off, and the three petticoats, and then theknee lengthunderwear and the long black stockings and corset. Dolores, in thenude, was amagnificent woman. The breasts were full and the nipples, almost aslarge as theends of his thumbs, pointed upwards slightly. The pubic hair wasthick and black and a line extended from it upward, like the smoke from a distantfire, to hernavel. The fluid beginning to soak her hair and run down her legshowed how deeply impatient she was.

Childe, seeing these, felt less afraid. She looked too much ofthe protoplasm, too little of the ectoplasm, for him to believe to thecore of his mind that she was truly a ghost.

He was far from being at ease, however. And when he tried hislittle Spanishto ask her if she could release him, he realized that she had nointention of letting him loose. Or else she was not able to do so.

He repeated his request that she get the key from Magda. Sheshook her head, indicating that she would not do so or she did not understand him. Perhaps--hehoped--she meant to release him but only after she had gotten whatshe wanted What she wanted, for some reason or other, was Childe.

Not that it was any mystery about what she wanted. The reason whyhe was her choice was the mystery. At present, he could do nothing to find out.

She kissed him again and again and finally she began to play withhis peniswhile she kissed him. He could not get an erection; the touch of herfingersturned his flesh cold as a dying man's, and he shrank from her. Hewas, literally, spooked.

Finally, she quit kissing him. She backed away again andinspected him withstabs of her black eyes and then frowned. But she approached again, speaking insoothing but incomprehensible Spanish, and got down on her knees inthe straw. She took his limp penis into her warm mouth. She began to suckslowly, while thetips of her fingers touched the insides of his thighs where the thighand bellymet. His flesh began to warm, and the penis, as if the blood, oncefrozen, hadsuddenly become fluid, began to fill out. The old familiar but neverboringsensations began to come back. He put his hands on her hair andpulled the highcomb out and let it flood loose around her shoulders. He moved his hips back andforth.

Suddenly, she had unmouthed his penis and was kissing him again, running hertongue around his mouth. Then she took his penis and, rising to hertoes, letherself down upon it. It slid up into her cunt; she moved back andforth a few times, and he came.

There are orgasms and there are orgasms.

This was so exquisite that he passed out, very briefly, duringthe ejaculations.

It was as if she had sparked within the chamber of her cunt, asif a centuryand a half of chastity were loosed along the shaft of his cock. Or asif she had generated a current that shot lightning down his nerves. So intensewas the sensation, he was not sure that he was not burned out--literally. Perhapssomething electrical had been discharged.

Childe was restricted to an upright position because of thechain. He told the woman, the ghost, or whatever she was, to get the key from Magda, but she paid him no attention except to look at him when he was talking. Hecould not understand why she did not get the key, since it was to her advantageto do so. And then it occurred to him that she was probably afraid that hewould take off and leave her. And she did not want that, because she had too much tounloose. Or so it seemed to him.

He was limited in his area of activity and angle of position, butDolores was ingenious. After she had sucked his penis into a full rigidityagain, drawing in on it with just the reverse action of blowing up a balloonbut with the direct effect of blowing and had licked off and swallowed thespermaticfluid and cleaned off his penis in the process, she released it. Shegot down onher hands and knees and turned away from him and then stood up on herhands, herlegs spread wide. She let herself fall frontward, toward him, and herfeet struck the wall on each side of him. After working her way forward onher hands a little, she was in the position she wanted. He thought at first ofrefusingher, but after considering that she might leave him locked up if hedid, hegrabbed her hips. His penis went past and under the anus and into theslit and she rocked back and forth.

Like Magda, she could squeeze upon his dong with the muscles ofthe vaginalsheath. He moved only a little, pulling her hips in to him with shortsavagejerks. Within a few seconds, she was shuddering and sobbing, apparently havingone orgasm on the heels of the next. Her cries were in Spanish. Heknew little of that, but he could catch, "Oh, holy fucking virgin mother Maria! Oh, fatherof the big cock! Fuck! Fuck! Shit! Shit! Oh, Christ, blessed Jesus, ah, sweetJesus, he's fucking me! Fuck me, blessed flesh! Sweet flesh, fuckme!"

At that time he did not think about her words; he was justreacting. But hewould remember and wonder. If she were the daughter of old Don delOsorojo, thesheltered daughter of the weird old grandee, she had a surprisingvocabulary. But then, during a century and a half of hanging around live people, she could be expected to pick up words she might not have heard before death. But whyhadn't she learned English in that time?

Now, he did not think of what she was saying. He was taking along timecoming, so long that he was able to turn her over, or around. Her arms were then braced below her, her feet against the wall, her cunt rammed againsthim, andshe pushed back and forth while he reached down and rubbed herbreasts and nipples with his hands. She had strong muscles; she could remain inthat human-arch position, her head hanging down, and rock back and forthand occasionally stab her ass forward with no support of his hands underher hips.

After what seemed a long time, he jetted. Dolores screamed withthe crescendo of climaxes. Then she let her feet slide down the wall while he helpedease her weight with his hands on her buttocks and then clamped herlegs betweenhis arms and let her slide on down. On the floor, she lay on herback, pantingand looking up while spermatic fluid fell drop by drop into her openmouth. Then she scooted a little to one side to let the drops fall on her breastsand rubbed the sticky stuff over them. The chlorox odor of the fluid and theodor of sweat were strong in the chamber.

When her breathing became normal, Dolores rose and gave him along tongueyspermaticky kiss. Her hand fondled his testicles.

He turned his head away and said, "No more, Dolores. Or whoeveror whatever you are."

His legs trembled. Fucking in bed was demanding enough, butfucking standingup took twice as much out of him. And it seemed to him that Doloreshad means for draining him of more than the normal quota of energy. For a fewseconds, shehad given him energy--he would swear that she had discharged acurrent down his penis--but then the orgasms had been so exquisite that they hadopened gates todrain the reservoir.

He had no objective reason for thinking so, but he felt that shehad robbed him of a certain amount of vital energy and strengthened andsolidified herself. Certainly, she had seemed flesh enough when he had felt her. But now, she seemed to have somehow become even more solid.

Dolores, seeing him shake so, said something, smiled, and heldher finger upas if to tell him to wait there. (What the hell else could he do?) And she left the room. In a few seconds, she was back with a bottle of red wineand a bigchunk of filet mignon. (Did she have secret access to the kitchen?) He said no to the wine but eagerly ate the meat. Although he had finished supperonly ahalf-hour ago, or so it seemed, he was very hungry.

Dolores tilted the bottle to her lips and drank. Almost, heexpected to seea dark column going down the throat and into the stomach, as if she were a transparent figure in a stomach-acid commercial. But he could seeonly theAdam's apple moving.

If he was hungry, she was thirsty. She kept the bottle to herlips until itwas half empty. She may have intended to fully empty it, but a noisecame through the door, which she had left ajar. Dolores jerked and droppedthe bottle. It fell on its side and spurted red wine on the straw.

She bent down and scooped up all her clothes, rolled them into abundle, which she placed under her right arm, and then kissed him swiftly, breathingwine and sperm. She ran to the wall on his right; her left handpushed along thejuncture of two gray blocks. With a groan and a squeak, a section ofwall, consisting of blocks six high and four wide, swung inward on the leftside. The interior was dark. Dolores turned and smiled and threw something thatglittered. He lunged for it, but the chain jerked him back, cutting off hisbreath, and theobject bounced off his fingertips and fell on the straw.

It was the key to the lock on the metal collar.

The darkness swallowed Dolores. The section, squeaking andgroaning again, swung shut.

A huge head with huge jowls, large purplish eyes, and a high- piledblue-black hairdo, came around the corner of the doorway. Mrs. Grasatchow.

From behind her came excited voices. The fat woman's eyeswidened. She pushed the door open and waddled across the straw to Childe. Heslowly drew backthe foot he had extended to try to move the key toward him.

Mrs. Grasatchow sniffed loudly and then screamed, "Jism!" Shegrunted like asow about to give birth. "Who's been here? Who? Tell me! Who?"

"Didn't you see her?" Childe said. "She went down the hall!" "Who?" "Dolores del Osorojo!" Mrs. Grasatchow's, skin was naturally pale and made even whiter

by her powder. But she managed to turn more white.

The baron, a long cigar in one hand, entered the room. He said, "I thoughtit would be Dolores. Only she..."

The fat woman whirled swiftly, as graceful as a rhinoceros, whichis hugebut can be very graceful in certain movements.

"You said...you pooh-poohed Dolores! You said she couldn't be anydanger tous!"

The baron looked shrewdly at Childe before answering. He puffedon his cigarand said, "It didn't seem likely that she would ever get enough plasmlongenough to harden it. But I was wrong."

"What did she do to Magda?" Mrs. Grasatchow said. The baron shrugged. "We'll have to ask Magda that when she comes

to. If she does."

The doorway was filled with the body of Glam. He carried Magda, still naked, in his arms. Her head lolled, her long blonde hair hung down, herarms and legswere limp.

Glam said, "What do I do with her?"

"Take her upstairs to her room. Put her to bed. Tell Vivienne tolook at her."

Glam's expression flickered from stone-mask to somethingunreadable and back to stone-mask. The baron said, "She's defenseless now, true. But if I were you, I wouldn't try anything."

Glam said nothing. He turned and carried the woman off. The twoblond youths, Chornkin and Krautschner, looked in, each from a side of thedoorway.

"Did you see Dolores?" the baron said.

They shook their heads. The baron glanced at the section of wallwhich had opened for Dolores. He opened his mouth as if he were going to tellthe youthswhere she had gone and to send them after her. But he closed hislips.

Childe thought that perhaps the baron preferred to keep certainsecrets. Didn't he trust the two? Or did he think it would be futile to chase after her? In any event, he must think that Childe had seen the exit.

"She has to be flesh enough to fuck," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "Lookat the redness of his cock and the jism."

"I can see," the baron said dryly. "Magda's key was gone. Childe, do youhave it?"

Childe shook his head. Igescu went to the two youths and theywhispered fora moment. Then the youths turned their backs to each other and wentoff down the hall, bent over, searching. The baron came back in and said, "Takeyour eyes offhis cock, and help me look for that key."

"Here it is!" Mrs. Grasatchow said.

She stooped, picked it up, and straightened, groaning. The barontook it and put it in his jacket pocket.

Childe tightened his lips. He had no chance now, unless Dolorescame back to help him. He doubted that she would. Although she bad thrown the keyto him, shehad not made sure he had had it, and she had had time to do so. Thegesture hadseemed to say that he could escape if he were agile enough and cleverenough. Perhaps, she was resentful of her long, long frustrating imprisonmentin incorporeality. She might have wanted him to suffer, too. After all, she had taken him, not because of affection or love but because she needed anobject torelieve herself on.

But she was partly on his side. That was his only hope, atpresent.

The baron left the room, and, in a few seconds, the two youthsentered. The boy had the key. He unlocked the collar, and he and the girl, eachholdingChilde by an arm, hustled him out of the room. They passed two doorsand entered the third, which was already open. This was a room the size of theone he had just left, but its walls were oak-paneled, the ceiling was paintedlight blue, and the floor was covered with a thick Persian rug profuse withswastikas inside circles. There were a number of collars hanging from chains attachedto bolts sunk into the wall, however. Childe was again held by a metal collar.

This room must have no secret entrances.

The baron looked at his wristwatch and said, "We have to dosomething abouther. She wasn't dangerous until she got enfleshed. But everything hasits disadvantage. Now she's dangerous, she's also vulnerable. We can dosomethingabout her, and we will. I'm going to call a conference."

Mrs. Grasatchow pouted. She said, "Now Magda's out of the way, I'd thought..."

"Half an hour. No more," Igescu said. "I'll send somebody down toescort you. You wouldn't want to be alone on the way up."

The fat woman started. It was as if a tidal wave were racingthrough herflesh.

"You mean I...I... have to worry? That I'm in danger?" She bellowed with laughter. "We all are," the baron said. "All of a sudden, our security is

gone. This," he stabbed a thumb at Childe, "has something to do with it but Idon't know what. He's a focus of some sort. Maybe Dolores has been waiting forsomeone like him all these years.

"Half an hour," he said. "I mean it. And don't use him up. Istill want a piece of him."

The baron left, closing the door behind him. Mrs. Grasatchowstarted to take her clothes off. Childe's legs began to shake again.

CHAPTER 14 | Image of the Beast | CHAPTER 16