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Posts Tagged ‘bisexuality’

Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.  –  William Shakespeare, As You Like It (III,ii)

The two of them lay as still as a statue in bed, their white limbs entwined so extensively that they seemed to have been carved by a master from a single block of marble.  Nearby lay one of their cats, equally still, another statue placed as an accent beside the larger subject.  Even had their position not advertised their last activity before sleep, the various objects on the nightstand and the cast-aside clothes on the floor would have; not that they would’ve been ashamed of that, even if they had been aware of my presence.  The only motion in the room beside my own was that of the ceiling fan above them, and that was only barely perceptible.

I had to stand for what seemed a long while to me, staring at it in order to be sure it was moving at all.  Observing it was no more the point of my trespass into the room than voyeuristically spying on my housemates was; it’s just that I have not yet had this power long enough to have become jaded with it.  Things like the sight of two beautiful women frozen in embrace, or a fan’s blades moving so slowly that to a casual glance they seem motionless, are still so strange and fascinating to me that I can’t help but stop and take them in.  I also find myself tiptoeing in such situations, despite the fact that it’s completely unnecessary; any sound I made would be so momentary and so highly-pitched it would be a wonder if they heard it at all.

clock closeupCrossing the room took a few seconds to my perception, but how much time was it really?  I can’t be exactly sure, except that I can fit several minutes of activity between two ticks of a clock.  Where the power came from, or where it will lead me, I have no idea; all I know is that a short course of meditation allows me to access this accelerated state, and that I have no trouble maintaining it for as long as I like.  There do seem to be some limits on the power; for example, it’s very difficult to move large objects while I exist between tick and tock.  And that’s why I was passing through the lovers’ room this morning:  I knew their window would be open against the late springtime heat, and their door would be ajar from one or the other of them visiting the bathroom during the night.

Kitty #2 was on the windowsill, glassy eyes fixed on an equally-motionless bird suspended in midair nearby.  She presented no obstacle; I simply slipped past her onto the fire escape and then made my way spider-like down the wall.  There was no other way to get to the ground; I had discovered the hard way that gravity worked no more quickly on me than it did on the bird or any other object, so if I tried to jump down I would simply hang there in space until I decided to move back into normal time.  But the roughness of the brick wall was enough for me to pull myself down with, and I could go up as easily as down for the same reason.

The street below was already busy even at this hour, but that made little difference to me; the cars were as motionless as everything else, so I could move in any direction I liked, right down the middle of the street if I wanted to, without regard for traffic.  My destination was miles away, but I had no choice other than walking it; pedaling a bicycle, as I had discovered earlier, is utterly exhausting when accelerated.  No matter; I’m a strong walker, and to achieve today’s goal I would’ve been willing to walk clear across the city if need be.  Furthermore, I’ve done this every day for several weeks now, except for the days when the rain created a curtain of suspended droplets that’s almost as hard to move through as if I were walking underwater.  I know the route well, and have already discovered several shortcuts unavailable to those who can be seen by others.

Over a high brick wall lay my final destination; it was no harder to climb than the wall outside my own place, despite the spikes on top.  And then down into the courtyard, and into my hiding place in the shed.  I took the time to make myself comfortable, knowing I might have a relatively long wait in real time; my quarry did not visit here every morning, but when he did he always left around the same time.  And less than an hour ago, the remote camera I concealed here earlier this week had already alerted me to his presence.  There’s no way I could have possibly made it here in time moving at normal speed, and no way I could’ve entered the walled garden without attracting attention even if I did; but for one with my talents, both were child’s play.

camera lensComing back into normal time, I set up the digital camera to record the Great Man’s departure from his mistress’ home; it seemed like forever before he left, though it was probably no more than twenty minutes at the outside.  I started recording as soon as I heard the door open, and the champion of Family Values and sworn enemy of whores obligingly made my mission a success by giving his lady friend a passionate kiss on the threshold.  My excitement made it difficult to achieve the meditative state necessary to going back into accelerated time, but I managed it soon enough; I then returned the way I had come, over the wall and across the miles and into the alley behind my own home, scaling the wall in blatant disregard for the feeble efforts of gravity to pull me back down to the pavement.  The cat must have lost interest in the goings-on outside at some point in the last half-hour, because she was no longer on the sill; the lovers, however, were still exactly where I had left them, though one had thrown a proprietary hand over the other’s nipple as if to conceal it from the unconsciously-sensed intruder in the room.

Kissing their still, silent faces was the one deviation I allowed myself from strict propriety before slipping out, unseen and unheard; I then returned to my room, returned to normal time and connected the cable so my computer could download the footage while I returned to bed.  It was still absurdly early for us, and I was tired from both the exertion and the excitement; but more importantly, I wanted my brain to be well-rested when I sat down to draft the blackmail letter.

 

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I have friend who dated an escort, and he said she liked to pay for things; she always grabbed the check at dinner, and also bought him gifts.  Later I read a Reddit post which described the same thing, and a Google search then found other, similar results.  Is there a reason for this?  One commenter said that it was because she wanted the relationship to feel different from work.

woman getting moneyI’ve never had that impulse myself; in fact, quite the opposite (and I know a lot of girls who feel as I do).  I’ve only had the one non-commercial relationship with a man since I started full-time sex work, but even in the dilettante days of my youth I felt the same way:  I’m already bringing something of economic value to the table, and it’s up to him to match it with financial support.  I’m only talking about the economic dimension of the relationship; I see the emotional and social dimensions as totally reciprocal by necessity.  But frankly speaking, if I were to pay a man’s way I’d feel as though I were paying for his love rather than for sex, and though that may be perfectly OK in some women’s minds it certainly isn’t in mine.  Now, it’s completely different in my lesbian relationships; with another woman I feel as though we’re both bringing sex and love to the table, and the question of “Who pays?” has less to do with the mating dance and more to do with the pragmatic question of who can afford it.

That’s not to say, however, that my way of looking at it (in either heterosexual or homosexual contexts) is “correct” or even typical; everyone has to do what works for her, even if it’s unconventional or would be seen by many others as “wrong”.  And if being the paying partner works for some of my sisters, who am I to judge them?  Perhaps they like the novelty (“she wanted the relationship to feel different from work”) and/or perhaps they get a sense of independence or even control by paying.  Or perhaps they simply view it pragmatically, as I do when I’m dating a woman.  And be sure to watch the comment thread below, because if any of my sex worker readers have other reasons she may tell them there.  If it were me, I’d worry that a guy I was paying for all the time might only be there because I was doing that, or that he was developing a sense of entitlement to it, or that he secretly resented it or felt emasculated.  However, I’m the Princess of Paranoia and often overthink such things; none of them might be true, and even if one were it might not matter to the lady in question as much as it would to me.  The most important thing is that both partners feel comfortable with an arrangement, whether it’s “normal” or not; it’s only when one or both of them isn’t (or allows outsiders to convince him or her that he or she isn’t) that problems arise.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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I think that one of the most important purposes of my guest columnist feature is to provide a look at experiences I’m not qualified to speak about personally, so when I received this letter I immediately asked its author if I could publish it.  She very graciously consented, and I hope y’all will find it as fascinating as I do.

Dear Maggie,

I’m a middle aged lesbian-leaning bisexual academic who identifies as a feminist.  Your blog came to my attention a few years ago via Twitter, and your daily digest of police state violence against sex workers is an essential part of my political reading.  While you have a wide array of discussions on your blog and in the comment threads, I have noticed one voice missing:  That of The Jane.  Or at least, This Jane.

I am a woman who has paid for sex and I liked it.  If I were a rich woman, I would unabashedly procure sexual services from providers of various genders.  If I were powerful enough, I would be honest and unashamed by such too.

After graduate school in a small southern town, I took a corporate job in a major city.U-Haul  Young, devoted to my work and at that time, well-paid, I would make it a point a few nights a week to attempt to meet women in all the conventional ways including lesbian bars and political events.  What was to follow was a series of disappointments; not because I was not meeting women, I was.  What I wasn’t meeting were lesbians who could just enjoy sex without it being attached to a potential relationship.  We all know the old joke about what a lesbian brings on a second date:  A U-Haul.

Lesbian bars were dreadful.  Full of puritans.  Every attractive butch was in a 12-step program, often full of judgment when I ordered a second drink since God forbid one want to unwind.  If we made it far enough through the evening, I would get propositioned.  No, not of the “Let’s fuck” variety but invitations to play house.  If they were willing to just go back to my place and fuck, I would get lectures about smoking pot beforehand lest it interfere with my enjoyment or more importantly, my ability to consent.  “Consent culture” has been around for a long time; it’s less to do with avoiding accusations of rape, than it is to appease the insecure who think that my enjoyment of recreational drugs, sex toys, kink or any variety of base pleasures somehow implies that they might be sexually inadequate.  Further, there is this notion that one’s sexuality must be “healthy,” even spiritual; I never did figure out what the latter meant, but the former was a return to the days when women kept each other in check by making sure that one stayed virtuous (in other words, not promiscuous).  It’s not that there weren’t any women who did just want to fuck.  The bi-curious women appeared on my TV screen and in popular magazines, but in real life they generally consisted of women whose interest flagged when they reeled in which ever male they were using me as bait to hook, or those who believed that female sexuality consisted of a few slow French kisses, then our bodies would magically meld as we flew over lush fields of green as unicorn fairies.  In other words, they had no idea where the hell to put their tongues.

Then one night, I was with a group of male and female friends when we entered a local strip club as part of a birthday party, and I found a bright and vivid display of women, in every shape and color, who made themselves erotic visions.  I was transfixed watching their stage performances, and after a few shots I worked up my courage to approach them with dollar bills to get a closer look.  The bold eye contact the dancers made helped me to not merely sympathize but to have genuine empathy for men who are intimidated to speak to beautiful women.

Everything about stripping is ultimately more about what is on the dancer’s body than what is removed.  The sky-high heels create the muscularity that emphasizes and aligns the curve of her buttocks, through the smooth upper thighs curving back into the calf; they promote a straight posture and confident gait that turns breasts into beacons of life.  The thongs draw attention not only to the natural peach shape of the female rear, but affirm the wearer’s many hours of fitness and discipline.  Creamy, moisturized skin, long playful eye lashes, full lips brought to a shine and topped off by a crown of hair that tumbles and falls in waves…waves of free spirited sexual freedom.

When I could regain my powers of speech, I tipped one of the dancers and asked her to join us at our table.  Other members of my group were already getting dances; I wanted one too, but not just to titillate the men around me (not that I would have noticed).  Once the dance began, I was entranced by the way she slowly dragged her manicured fingertips down my exposed arms, her body gliding up and down mine as if she were as light as air, and her hands ever-so-discreetly making their way for a moment or two to the sides of my breasts – I was aware of nothing but her.  Our group enjoyed the club until late, then we left.  That in some ways was the best part; I had the high of experiencing female sexuality without having to cultivate an emotional connection that I was neither ready for nor could make room for in my life.

Writing about that was the fun part, but now it gets thorny:  Many years later and some relationships later, I discovered heterosexuality.  It affirmed both my feminism and my lesbianism; the dynamics of heterosexual romances are simply incompatible with the way I live my life.  My work requires me to spend long hours in solitude thinking, researching and writing.  I am married to my ideas, and so am simply unsuitable as a mate in any sort of conventional heterosexual relationship.  Ultimately, I realized I longed for only one aspect of them:  being fucked with a penis.  With age, my needs for privacy had grown; hence, affairs with colleagues were out of the question.  People love to gossip, especially about themselves.  Male friends to whom I felt close enough to ask for sex,  grew attached no matter how clear I made it that I was not able of reciprocating the same sort of love they felt.  Lacking feminine tact or any ability for small talk, the bar scene for straights proved even less inviting than the one for lesbians, and for whatever reason I could never convince myself I felt any chemistry with strangers under those circumstances.

Several months after the end of a long relationship, people who knew me less well were prone to ask if I had started seeing anyone yet (as if there were a social norm about remaining single too long).  Or worse, my lack of interest in dating seemed to indicate to armchair psychologists that I was not “healed” or over my last mate.  In reality, though, I was relieved to be single again, as it allowed me to focus on artistic projects which I had abandoned; I had been so busy maintaining a relationship out of obligation that I had lost sight of my own intellectual ambitions.

Cowboys 4 AngelsIn due time however, I craved the sexual touch of another person.  A few times a month I would get a massage at a nearby Thai parlor which (as far as I knew) was not in the business of providing sexual services; most of the masseuses were petite older women who had studied their craft, and I always left feeling as though my body had been put back in order.  Nothing more, nothing less.  At one visit however, the masseur was a young man I took as gay.  The massage was excellent, but he worked my entire body (including the groin area) in such a way that when I returned home, I did something I rarely needed to do after a massage:  masturbate.  Basking in the relaxation of my own bed alone, it occurred to me, why didn’t such a service exist as an outcall.  I must be horribly dumb after an orgasm, because there is a world full of male prostitutes – albeit one that caters nearly entirely to gay men.  After a quick internet search, however, I found one company that made a ham-fisted point of reminding anyone on the site that it was strictly a “Straight Elite Male Companions For Women” operation.

I made the call.

Two hours and a six hundred dollar charge to my credit card later, “Anthony” appeared.  He was wholesome looking in a countrified way:  lean, slightly muscular and sans tattoos and piercings (which was refreshing having been over exposed to such in the LGBT scene).  I was nervous, but he made me feel very at ease; he knew what to do and when do it.  And when it was over, I gave him a cash tip and spent a very relaxing evening in bed reading.  I had experienced sexual release without any of the complications, drudgery or expense of being in a romantic pairing.

Would I hire an escort again?  Certainly.  The only thing that keeps me from doing so are the rates, but what escorts do is worth the price.  With a professional, I am spared tedious discussions about sexual histories:  I want to fuck, not be probed by a nurse practitioner.  The boundaries, both mine and the sex worker’s, are clearly drawn.  I am not burdening others by dragging around a fuck partner whose name everyone is expected to remember or who needs a special term.  (Referring to someone as girl/boy friend at my age seems ludicrous and “lover” implies I’m a 65 year old gay man — I might be someday but will save my gender issues for another guest column if you so allow.)  Sex workers understand discretion so I am allowed my privacy, something the “friends with benefits/selfie” era lacks, with or without the NSA.  Finally, I do not have pretend to be seeking “romance”  when all I am interested in is sex.

Yours in freedom,

Mara

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Now here you go again
You say you want your freedom
Well, who am I to keep you down.
  –  Stevie Nicks, “Dreams”

This was not an easy essay to write, which is why I put it off for as long as I did.  But the events of the last few months made the writing of it an absolute necessity; there’s been a lot of gossip, and a lot of speculation, and I’m sure many of you have suspected something like this for some time now.  I don’t know how to say this in any way but plainly, so here goes:  My husband and I are getting a divorce.

Every Rose Has Its ThornsNow, this isn’t as sudden a development as you might think; a wise and perceptive person might have seen the signs as early as 2007, within a year of my retiring from sex work.  Maybe my retirement changed some of the subtle alchemy of my appeal; maybe it was just the Coolidge Effect.  Or maybe it’s just that, though I’m an easy person to love, I’m damned hard to live with.  I have a tendency to be moody, paranoid and set in my ways; I’m also emotionally intense, incredibly stubborn and often unreasonable, and I tend to get my way all the time without directly demanding it.  He had fallen in love with a glamorous, mysterious enchantress, and perhaps once the bloom was off the rose he began to realize what a damned thorny plant he was holding in his lacerated hand.  And once the money troubles started again the following year (due to the economic crash), I reckon he felt enough was enough; he asked me for a divorce in October of 2008.

To say that I did not take it well would be putting it mildly; “psycho” would probably be closer to an honest appraisal.  The only thing I have to say in my defense is, consider how you would feel if you were a woman who had made her living by being attractive to men, and the one man you had broken your own rules for suddenly rejected you.  I felt as though I had been kicked in the teeth, and reacted accordingly.  He did not expect such an extreme reaction on my part (because men, bless your little hearts, never do understand women even after spending years with one), and backed down from the request; once again I had got my way.  We spent a stormy two years until he asked for divorce again just a few months after I started this blog; that time we went to marriage counseling, and for about a year and a half it really looked like things were improving (my interview with him was near the beginning of this stretch of reconciliation).

But by the end of 2012 the relationship started to unravel again, this time in slow motion.  We didn’t argue at all; in fact we were generally quite friendly on the phone, and he always enthusiastically supported my work.  But he had maintained a second residence (for work) since the summer of 2010, and began to spend much more time there than he did at home.  He was here for only two separate one-week periods in 2013, one in April and the other in July; he made excuses about why he couldn’t come home for Christmas that year, and the only time I spent with him in the whole of last year was a single night when I toured through San Diego.  So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when he asked for a divorce again about a month after I got home from the tour, and this time I agreed.  He insisted on giving me terms more generous than any I had a right to expect; he wasn’t even in a rush, and suggested we do the actual paperwork sometime in the next year (we’ve since agreed to do it this coming July).

Needless to say, I did a lot of deep thinking about what was happening; I was upset and relieved at the same time, and what finally helped me to accept it was the realization that, though I still love him, it was his friendship I would miss the most, and that by being a big girl about it and sincerely wishing him only happiness, that perhaps I wouldn’t actually have to lose it after all.  That’s what it looks like is happening; he’s happier and friendlier on the phone than he’s been in at least two years, and I no longer feel the sullen resentment toward him I’ve felt for seven years.  As soon as I let go of a failed marriage, I found my favorite client again, and who knows?  The stage of our relationship yet to come might actually be the best one for both of us.  Since I fully expect to mention him from time to time, I’ll call him “Matt” from here on out; I obviously can’t call him “my husband” any more, and since I now have two exes I asked him which pseudonym he wanted me to use.

Maggie & Jae 2-19-15After the end of my first marriage, I fended off would-be lovers with the fierceness of Athena until I found myself; this time, the act of letting go was itself an act of self-actualization, and Athena ceded the field to Aphrodite.  My trip to Seattle was, as I’ve already said, powerful and transformative; I knew it was the beginning of a new book of my life, and I knew that it was right and good to be open to whatever it brought with it.  And one of those things, much to my surprise, was love.  I’ve mentioned Jae, a sex worker and activist from Seattle, quite a lot since November; what I haven’t mentioned is that we are much more than friends.  We are, in fact, lovers, and a large part of the reason I’ve come to Seattle is to live with her; in a few years, after my business here is done, she’ll be moving out to the country with me.  And in the meantime, she’ll be traveling with me on some of my trips, so many of y’all will get a chance to meet her.  Yes, we got serious very quickly, but that’s not at all unusual in lesbian relationships (What does a lesbian bring on the second date?  A U-haul trailer.)  Don’t be surprised, dear readers; it’s not like I’ve made a secret of my bisexuality, and if one excludes commercial encounters I’ve actually been with more women than men.

I can’t say that’s all there is to tell right now, because it wouldn’t be true; it is, however, all I want to tell right now and all that I think I should tell right now.  I apologize if the narrative has been a bit less well-organized than usual; it was, as I said above, rather difficult to write.  I’m sure many of you will want to express your sympathy for the divorce, and of course I appreciate that.  But as I said above, this was a long time coming, and Matt and I are both relieved that we can stop inadvertently hurting each other.  In short, three people are happier today than they were in October, and in the big scheme of things that’s something to be thankful for.

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This is the last part of the loose trilogy which started with “Serpentine” in December and continued with “Left Behind” last month.  As I explained in the latter preface, they are not connected by characters, events or setting, but by shared motifs.  Some of those motifs are closer to the surface in this offering, while others are hidden much more deeply; one of those is the erotic undertone, which most of you probably wouldn’t even have noticed had I not said something.  If the meaning of the title is unfamiliar, you may wish to consult the first paragraph of “Veneralia“; it may also help you to locate that erotic undertone I mentioned. 

Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory
February 12th, 1895

For almost thirty-five years you have been wonderfully patient with me, dear sister; you have respected my wish not to talk about the events of that fateful trip of my youth in which my first husband met his maker.  For all that time I have allowed both you and the authorities to believe that hostile Indians were to blame, and that the nervous shock was so great I was unable to discuss the details.  Now, I don’t give a damn if the law continues to abide in ignorance about it, but a decent respect for my own kin and for the kindness you showed me after my return, going far beyond what I had any right to expect from you, demands that I take this opportunity to break my silence at last and tell you the truth about what happened, why it happened and why I have never said anything about it.  I leave it to your discretion as to how much (if any) you wish to share with Richard and Janice; perhaps it would be better for you to invent something instead.  You always were the imaginative one; I could never come up with tales like you could, which is why I never even tried to make up some fib to cover up the truth.  I ask you to remember that when reading this; I tell it exactly as it happened, and you well know that I could never have dreamed anything like this up.  As to my children…well, Richard is a good, simple man like his father was, and would certainly conclude that his mother was mad and had run off into the hinterlands in some kind of fit.  But Janice is my daughter for sure, and may eventually need to know (as you will see).

CihuacoatlI don’t recall the exact date when we left Shreveport, but it was sometime in the spring of 1860; I want to say April, but it’s so warm down in Louisiana it may have actually been earlier.  We sailed up the Red River until we reached the western part of what was then called the Indian Territory, and is now known as Oklahoma; after we disembarked we were taken by a guide back into the hills.  As you may recall, George was in search of evidence to support his theories about the spread of myth-motifs, and he had received reports that the Indians who had inhabited this area prior to the mass relocations of the thirties had worshipped a goddess similar to the Aztec Cihuacoatl (that means “Snake Woman”).  For two years he had sent letters back and forth to academics, naturalists, explorers, military officers, government officials and anyone else he thought might have some information on the area, and by the autumn of ’59 he had enough to convince his dean to grant him a sabbatical for field research.  The amount of money Miskatonic granted him, however, was not enough to both pay for the trip and hire an assistant; he therefore hit upon the practical solution of marrying a Mount Holyoke graduate who had planned to become a missionary to the Indians anyway, and not bothering to tell her that his mission to the Southwest was to study the heathens rather than converting them.  Don’t think too badly of him, dear sister; though it is true he married a young and naïve girl to gain an unpaid servant and secretary, it is equally true that I married a middle-aged professor to gain financial support and social status.  Does that shock you?  It shouldn’t; after all, in those days even pursuing an education was a rather unconventional choice for a woman.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the time we spent following fruitless leads, interviewing old Indians with the help of translators, investigating sites that were said to have been sacred to now-extinct tribes, and otherwise chasing wild geese.  George grew increasingly desperate (and increasingly irritable) as summer turned to autumn without our having discovered even enough to base an article on.  He began to follow ever-weaker clues to ever-more-distant destinations, and as the money ran low he eschewed the use of guides entirely; it is therefore unsurprising that late in October we found ourselves quite lost in a desolate region that showed no signs of recent habitation by either white men or red, taking shelter from a torrential downpour in a low cave which we had discovered only that very morning.  After we had been there several hours and eaten the last of the provisions we had brought from the nearest trading post several days earlier, George began to fret terribly; had there been room enough I’m sure he would have paced, but in the circumstances he lacked even that meager outlet for his nervous energy.  But as he became ever more agitated, I became correspondingly calmer; somehow I knew we would be all right, because we were being watched over by an angel.  Finally I told George as much, and…well, I can’t repeat the things he shouted at me.  Stung by his mistreatment I retreated more deeply into the cave, where I discovered a heretofore-unnoticed bend that, after a short tunnel that had to be traversed on hands and knees, opened up into a large, high-ceilinged cavern dimly illuminated through some fissure above by what little daylight there was.  And in that space I saw the unmistakable signs of intelligent habitation.

Returning to the front I called my husband, and though he at first ignored my entreaties his curiosity eventually got the better of him.  When he entered the room he visibly brightened a little, then became more excited about the artifacts I had found, which he said resembled none he had seen yet that year.  He also remarked that everything seemed extremely worn, as though it had been used regularly for a very, very long time.  And while he investigated further, handling object after object, I became aware of the distinct feeling of being watched.  George did not seem to notice, and dismissed my impressions until we both heard the soft scraping sound of something heavy being dragged across the bare stone floor.  We then whirled together, and were confronted with the occupant of this hidden abode.

She was a being who had seemingly come forth out of the realm of legend; from the waist up she was a beautiful, ageless woman with a huge mane of thick, somewhat stiff hair, but below the waist she was a gigantic serpent whose skin bore a complex pattern.  I’m sure you think this apparition must have been utterly horrifying, but I assure you she was quite the opposite; in fact, she was absolutely the most magnificent creature I have ever seen, and I felt as safe in her presence as I would have in our mother’s arms.  Do not be afraid, she seemed to say to me, though her mouth never moved; my kind are friends and benefactors to humanity, and have long watched over you.  I know that you and your mate are lost, and I will draw you a map so that you may find your way back to human places tomorrow morning.

But as I listened, I slowly became aware of another sound, that of George’s raised voice.  And I suddenly realized he was pointing a shotgun at our hostess; he probably would have already fired had I not been so close to her.  “For God’s sake, Tillie, step back!” he shouted; “This monster has mesmerized you, like a snake fascinates a bird!”

“What nonsense, George!” I said matter-of-factly; “Don’t you know who this is?  It’s the very goddess you have been looking for all these months!  This is Cihuacoatl, the Snake Woman, and she and her kind have watched over humanity since we were driven out of Eden!”

“Listen to yourself!” he screamed in near-terror; “Is this any way for a seminary graduate to talk?  It’s a devil who has bewitched your mind!”

“A devil?”  I asked, confused.  “She is as beautiful as an angel!”

“Why do you keep calling this monster ‘she’?  Tillie, please come away before it strikes!”

But it was too late.  George had turned his attention to me, and away from the Lady; I have never seen any living thing move so quickly.  In an instant she was upon him; the gun was hurled against the far wall, and in only a few more seconds he was surrounded by her coils.  He struggled for a while, then grew still, and as he expired in her embrace she wept  –  not soft crocodile tears, but great racking sobs of true anguish.  By contrast, I merely stood mutely and watched him die, nor did I feel any but the smallest twinge when she released his lifeless form to collapse on the floor.  I am truly sorry, my daughter.

“I don’t understand why he reacted so; it was as though he couldn’t see or hear you as I do.”

nagainaHe couldn’t.  Her exquisite shoulders slumped, and she sighed audibly.  It has ever been so.  Though we have guided and protected your race since before you had the power of speech, a certain fraction of your people are deaf to the means by which we communicate…and they invariably react to the sight of us with terror.  We talked long into the night, as though the corpse of my husband was not lying in the next room; she explained that hers was an ancient race from a day when the Earth was warmer and wetter; they were extremely long-lived but neither numerous nor fertile, and had long ago adopted humanity as their heirs.  They appeared in the myths of many countries as the nagas of India, the dragons of China, the feathered serpent of Mexico, and other benevolent creatures; but because of those who were blind to their beauty they also inspired legends of fearsome creatures like the lamia of European legend and the serpent of Genesis.  Perhaps you may agree that she was a demon, and that she made me one by association; perhaps you feel as though she could have stopped George without killing him.  But you have neither seen her nor heard her voice, and George was ready and able to murder an ancient, benevolent creature, perhaps the last of her kind, for no reason other than his own animal fear; had she released him, he would have organized a monster hunt within hours.

The next day I followed her directions and returned to the trading post alone; my serenity and lack of concern were interpreted as symptoms of shock, and the traders were so ready to believe that George had been killed by hostile Comanches that I didn’t even have to make up a lie.  I was still quiet and contemplative when I returned to Massachusetts, and everyone (including you) made the same assumption as the traders had.  Eventually I remarried and had children, so everyone assumed I had “recovered”.  But I was never the same; for all these years and across half a continent I have never been out of contact with My Lady, and many a time I have sat in my house in the still of night, hearing her whisper to me across many hundreds of miles.  She has given me advice, comfort and solace as needed, and because of her I have never felt alone.  But now my husband is dead and my children are grown, and I am no longer needed here; and the Great Mother is old and in sore need of my company and assistance, though she will yet survive me by centuries.  So I must go to her, to faithfully serve her as she has served our whole race.  And know this, dear sister:  though you and others may think me mad, I have never been saner or happier.

With All My Love,
I Remain Very Truly Yours,

Tillie

.
(With grateful acknowledgement to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt).

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There is neither heaven nor earth
only snow, falling incessantly.
 –  Hashin

You may be wondering why I’m featuring this lovely picture of a beautiful witch on this particular day.  Well, since this is Christmas Eve in Russia, you might think of her as the Frost Maiden, granddaughter to Ded Moroz (the Slavic Santa Claus).  And since today is also Epiphany,  when children in many Catholic countries receive their presents, you might think of her as Befana, the witch who performs that function in Italy.  Befana is traditionally depicted as an old lady, but since Italy is Italy sexy Befana images are now quite common there; besides, if I were an immortal witch with magical powers you can bet I wouldn’t go around looking like a hag.  Befana is a Christianized version of the minor Roman goddess Strenia, who was herself associated with the Greek witch-goddess Hecate.  So as you can see, a sexy witch image is totally appropriate for this first day of the carnival season…and besides, it’s my blog and I’ll use just about any excuse I can think of to post a picture of a beautiful fantasy chick.

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Every December, I present a different kind of story; they’re usually light, and some contain puzzles.  This one certainly isn’t light, but it’s…well, you’ll see.  It also contains a number of in-jokes and veiled references, and partakes of the ancient holiday custom of reversal:  it treats as serious a topic I spend considerable time ridiculing.  This really isn’t as odd as it may at first appear; one of the defining characteristics of myths and legends is that they are interesting (which is why people tell and retell them).  A dull myth would soon fade, and the human mind has a congenital preference for fascinating nonsense over dull fact…which, of course, explains the persistence of urban legends and moral panics no matter how often and thoroughly their elements are debunked.  And as generations of science fiction and fantasy writers have discovered, this makes stuff like Atlantis, ancient astronauts, the hollow Earth, etc wonderful subjects for stories, even if the author doesn’t actually believe a word of them.  Keep that in mind when you read this tale, which is intentionally ambiguous:  is what appears to be going on herein what is actually going on?  Does our protagonist have a highly overactive imagination?    Or is her antagonist just enjoying a cruel joke at her expense?

buildingThe doorman glowered at her as though he were the personification of the grim building itself, which had been the tallest one in town for over 30 years but was now humbled by the titans which had recently grown up around it.  Jane imagined it must be indignant at this development, and that its frowning façade was silently telling her, “Go away, you have no business here.”  But if she was going to make it as a reporter, she could let neither unfriendly employees nor gloomy old buildings stop her…and besides, her coat was really much too thin for this weather, and it had begun to snow; she went up to the door and tried to ignore the unpleasant expression on its keeper’s face.

Once within, she walked directly to the desk and announced that she was there to see Miss Morelli.  “Do you have an appointment?” asked the attendant, in a tone of voice that seemed to add “I know you don’t.”

“No, but please tell her Miss Louis from the Archdiocese is here to ask for her support in providing Christmas dinners for the poor.”  It was a terrible lie, but Margo Morelli was known to be even more generous with Catholic charities than her late father had been; Jane hoped it would be enough.

The attendant sighed, “You don’t have to talk to Miss Morelli herself about that; just see her personal assistant, Miss Angelo.  Go on up to the eleventh floor,” he said, gesturing toward the elevator with the phone receiver, “and I’ll let her know you’re on the way.”

“God bless you!” said Jane, feeling even more ashamed about her deception.  “Still,” she thought, “a girl has to eat, and jobs are scarce these days.  I’ll just have to go to confession this weekend.”  She involuntarily started at the ornate décor of the elevator doors, which seemed somehow menacing to her.  But she only paused for a moment; it was too late to turn back now, and there was only one more obstacle between her and the interview she wanted.  As she expected, the public elevator did not even go to the twelfth floor, so even if she had somehow been able to bribe the operator he could not have granted her request.  Correction:  she actually was going to the twelfth floor, though the number said eleven; the building was numbered in the European style, so that the first floor was the one above ground level.  But the Italians consider thirteen a lucky number, don’t they?  So it made sense that the boss’s office should be on that floor even if the number said twelve.

Miss Angelo turned out to be a tiny lady in late middle age with the hawk-like demeanor of a strict nun, and Jane felt her heart sink; there was no way she could even lie convincingly to this woman, much less prevail upon her to shirk her duty and let Jane through.  So there was only one choice:  the naked truth.  “Miss Angelo, I feel terribly about having to tell a fib to get in here, but I’m desperate to talk to Miss Morelli.  You see, I haven’t got a job or any family in town, and my rent is long overdue, but I’m a good writer so I just know I can get a job as a reporter if I can get a scoop.  Ever since Miss Morelli’s father passed on she’s been unwilling to talk to any reporters, but I thought maybe because she and I are both women trying to make it in businesses dominated by men, that she’d have pity on me.”  Jane’s tears were real; she was desperate, and lacked even the money to wire her family out West for help.

Miss Angelo regarded her with a penetrating but not-unkind gaze for agonizingly-long moments, then directed her back into the waiting room with, “I’ll see what I can do.”  Jane’s heart was pounding, but the fact that she hadn’t been instantly thrown out on her ear gave her some hope; she obediently returned to the anteroom and tried to calm herself.  It was no use; she got more and more nervous, and when Miss Angelo suddenly appeared in the doorway Jane almost screamed.  “Miss Morelli will see you.  Come this way, and mind your manners.”

She led Jane down a hall to what seemed the back of the building, where they entered an elevator that did indeed go all the way to twelve.  But when the doors opened on the floor above, Jane was taken aback by what met her eyes.  She had expected a well-lit outer office with a secretary who would usher her into the inner sanctum, but instead she found herself in a sort of vestibule opening to a large, luxuriously-appointed space only dimly lit by lamps, as one might illuminate a bedroom.  She heard the doors close behind her, and Miss Angelo was gone; Jane was apparently all alone.  Nervously, she crept forward into the vast office; the huge mahogany desk was topped with some kind of green, patterned stone, the walls behind the desk were lined with books, and the tall windows showed her that the snow flurry had become a storm.  Though it was only mid-afternoon the gloom outside did little to alleviate the shadow within; most of the light was coming from another room to her right, and she gasped as she realized that there was a woman standing in that doorway watching her.  She was breathtakingly beautiful, and the light streaming past her seemed to envelop her in a kind of aura which intensified the effect.  But at the same time Jane was terrified, not just by her reputation but by something less definable.

whiskey“Good afternoon, Miss Louis; I’m Margo Morelli.  May I get you a drink?”

“A…a drink?” she asked stupidly.  Jane’s parents were teetotalers, and even after leaving home she had been too timid to risk breaking the law, even if anyone had invited her to a party (which nobody had anyway).

The older woman smiled warmly.  “Yes.  It’s even legal again now, you know.”

“Um…yes,” stammered Jane.  “Actually, that’s what I came to talk to you about.”

“Oh?” she asked, then “What will you have?”

“Uh, whatever you’re having is fine.”  Jane couldn’t tell Bourbon from Bordeaux or brandy from beer, so it hardly mattered.  She accepted the much-too-large drink, and took a sip; its taste was strange and unpleasant to her, and she couldn’t hide the face she made when she swallowed it.  Her hostess pretended not to notice, and seated herself on the other side of the desk.

“So what can I do for you?”

“Well,” Jane said, “with the passage of the 21st Amendment last week, Prohibition is over; that means it’s legal to sell liquor again, which means your organization won’t be making any money from, ah, irregular imports any more…”

“Well put, and exactly correct.”  If Miss Morelli was annoyed with the topic, she didn’t show it.

“…so even though you have plenty of other business interests, both…ummm…regular and irregular, you stand to lose a lot of income.  You don’t strike me as the kind of woman who will take that lying down.”

“Again, exactly correct.”  Still no sign of anger, but she wasn’t helping either; Jane’s vision had now fully adjusted to the dim lighting, and she could clearly see those deep black eyes fixed upon her in a way she did not like at all.  She took another long sip, and despite the awful taste she had to admit it did seem to calm her nerves somewhat.

“So…what do you plan to do about it?”

Miss Morelli leaned back slightly in her chair and laughed, a genuine laugh in which Jane nonetheless thought she detected considerable menace.  “You are a charmingly naïve little bird, do you realize that?  It’s why I agreed to see you.  That, and the fact that both Miss Angelo and the downstairs attendant told me you were quite fetching.  They were not wrong.”

Jane felt herself blush furiously, and hoped the light was too dim for it to show.  She took a gulp.  “I…that is…um…”

“Listen, little bird.  Surely you didn’t think I’d be fool enough to go on the record answering such a ridiculous question?  Until someone invents a recording device small enough to fit in a purse, nothing I tell you would be admissible in federal court; however, my father taught me never to stir up hornets’ nests without reason.  It’s why our family has run this city since you were in pigtails.  Had you been a professional reporter instead of a little girl playing at it, you’d never have been let through the front door.”

Jane was so totally mortified she couldn’t speak, but the lovely contralto continued.  “Still, it amuses me to humor you, so I’ll answer your question.  Yes, I’m already planning to expand another of my ‘irregular’ businesses, as you so charmingly put it.  Would you like me to tell you which one?”  Perhaps it was because of the bird metaphor, but she now had the distinct mental image of her hostess as a beautiful serpent, holding her fascinated as it moved in for the kill.  Her head was gently spinning from the unfamiliar effect of the liquor, and she felt unable to speak, let alone flee.  “Have you ever heard of white slavery?”

“Oh, no,” Jane said weakly.  “You wouldn’t!”

“Does anyone know where you are right now?”

As if she had no control over it, her own mouth betrayed her.  “No.”  Her equally-traitorous body refused to move as the other woman slid across the green stone desktop and began to stroke her hair, and to her total horror something deep inside her responded to the caress.  Finally, she was able to regain enough self-control to drain the tumbler and ask, “What if I refused to go quietly?  Would you pull a gun on me, or call one of your thugs to manhandle me?”

“Nothing so crude, I assure you.”  The voice was gentle now, almost reassuring, as she took the empty glass from Jane’s trembling fingers.

“What, then?” the girl asked, fighting a wave of drowsiness that was slowly engulfing her.

“I’d simply drug your drink.”

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