"The bodies grew slowly from nothing."
Excerpt from Glorious Fiends used with permission from Underland Press.
The ceremony was a simple one, requiring only the new moon and a drop of human blood upon the talismans. But Roxanne’s stomach growled. She would need energy to fulfill the ritual, simple or not. A week ago, she had brought a man’s body to the library and left it in the foyer. Well, she could eat her meal and take the blood she needed from the stout man’s body at the same time! She closed the great doors and bent down to the man. She touched his face.
“You have been good to me,” she said, “despite your sex.” She sunk her teeth into the only virgin skin left upon his neck and found that she had drained him dry.
Panic rose into Roxanne’s chest. She could not wait another month. She calculated the time it would take her to walk the tunnels into town. The moon’s first hour would be long passed before she returned. Roxanne slammed shut the door and frantically examined the hall with its spiderwebs in the corners. She paused. The spiderwebs were gone. They had been swept away. She searched the floor. She had seen footsteps there once or twice. She had ignored them, as she was wont to ignore things that would take too much effort to figure out. Now she realized with a start that footsteps led to feet, which led to people.
Roxanne walked the halls, her vision unimpeded by the dark. She looked for any sign of life. The halls snaked. They twisted and disappeared. She turned many times before she found what she was looking for: a single strand of hair dangling from the knob of a door. She opened the door.
On the other side, a white-haired woman dusted a bookshelf. The woman wore a black pencil skirt over a round bulb of an ass, glasses with twenty or so magnifying lenses jutting off the frames in all directions, and suspenders. She turned to face Roxanne, and Roxanne was surprised to see that she looked young—in the middle years of a human life—and that her lips were painted blue as the sky that Roxanne never got to see.
“Can I help you find something?” the woman asked.
“Are you not surprised to see me?” Roxanne advanced.
“If you think I am not apprised of everything that happens in my library, you are sorely mistaken.” The woman faced Roxanne. “I know all about you, Roxanne. I know that you intend to bring back your friends. I know that you drained a man in the hall and left me quite a mess to clean. I understand that you need blood. I have a feeling you’re going to try for mine.”
Roxanne grinned to reveal the threat of her sharpened incisors. “You must believe that you’re smart.”
The woman sighed. “I am the librarian of the Great Library of Evil. I understand evil.”
“Are you human?” Roxanne asked. “Will your blood bring back the monstrous dead?”
“More or less,” the librarian said.
For a moment, the air crackled. A trumpet blew, though no one in the history of the world understood who played it or any of the music that loomed in the background.
Roxanne pounced. A drum beat.
The librarian dodged. “I’m not without my own tricks.”
Roxanne pounced again. The librarian dove into a dark corner. She scurried through the shadows. Roxanne moved with enhanced speed. She jumped to join the dark. She reached out to grab the librarian’s arm. Her hand wrapped around something thin and hairy. She yanked her hand into the light; she held the limb of a giant spider. She grinned, intrigued by the nature of her new foe. The limb was trying to disappear, shrinking ever smaller with the shadowed spider body attached. Roxanne cackled as she yanked the spider-woman from hiding, startling her into a return to human form. The woman’s face appeared on the spider’s face, and Roxanne laughed to see that the little magnifying glasses were lenses for the librarian’s spider eyes. She was a clever broad! Too bad that Roxanne would not have more time to play.
As the spider’s neck morphed into the woman’s neck, Roxanne sunk her teeth into the smooth of the librarian’s skin.
The ritual was as simple as a ritual could be: Roxanne slurped blood from the librarian’s wound and spit it upon the stone head of Medusa, then the knife of Mx. Hyde. Roxanne drank the rest of the librarian’s blood as she waited for the resurrections of her best friends to complete.
The bodies grew slowly from nothing. Roxanne tapped her foot impatiently as she watched first the organs, then the veins, then bone, then muscle, then fat, then skin—as she watched the bodies of her friends form on the table right before her eyes. The gore was the most fascinating part, when the gooey bits melded together and the veins tried to pump, gurgling with new fluid. Toward the end of the process, Roxanne stood in wait beside the table, eager to pull Medusa and Mx. Hyde into her embrace. She watched the hair form upon their bodies. For Mx. Hyde, a mane of black in their half-and-half style: long and silky on the feminine side, and cropped in a shoulder-length bob on the masculine side. Dr. Hyde’s facial features adjusted themselves accordingly: the plump feminine lips met their thin lips in the middle; their high cheekbones contrasted their flatter gaunt. The prominent chin merged into the square side. The hair down their body grew in, light and thin, and also dark and heavy.
Medusa was no less intriguing, her brown hair sprouting from her head and the snakes pushing forth from the skin of her scalp, lying as still as she lay. Their sleek black skin. Their closed eye slits. She wanted to reach out, to touch one, but stopped herself, unsure if it would affect the resurrection process.
Medusa’s white dress entered the world like water poured and frozen where it touched the air, a soft nightgown of a dress with buttons down the middle and a high, frilled collar. Mx. Hyde’s clothes stitched themselves upon their body: their tailored suit with half a red bowtie at the collar, half a string of pearls, the shirt half-white, half-red. The ensemble was dapper in its strange duality. They were always a sharp dresser, whereas Medusa went out in whatever she always wore, unconcerned with the way others might see her, since they could never see her eye-to-eye without losing their humanity.
“My friends,” Roxanne said out loud, and as the words left her lips, the eyes of Medusa and Mx. Hyde fluttered open.
“Roxanne?” Mx. Hyde said, sitting up upon the table. “You did it!”
Roxanne embraced her friend. “I did it,” Roxanne whispered.
Paperback, 978-1630230661, 142 pages
September 13, 2022
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.