by Nene Adams


When Lily walked into a room, all conversation ceased.

Not because she was beautiful. Lily was the most famous model in the world. Her face was perfect, with a purity of line and angle that could make a camera swoon. Her cheekbones were sharp enough to shave ice. She stared out at the world with cold feline eyes from a dozen magazines every month. Lily looked like blackest sin wrapped in an angel's skin. With a shrug of her soft white shoulders, she could reduce both men and women to helpless reverence.

Not because she was cruel. Lily took lovers and tortured them, destroyed them, devoured them bite by exquisite little bite. There was nothing personal in these exercises, nothing spiteful. Lily took no apparent pleasure or disgust in her actions. She was never hateful; merely callous, supremely indifferent to an inhuman degree. She was a pallid vampire, bewitchingly lovely yet somehow also repulsive. Evil lingered in her presence, a suggestion of depraved appetites and vile hungers that were best left unnamed. Yet she was impossible to resist. Even as her victims abhorred her, they adored the cold colorless goddess. They trembled in fear and delight. They gave themselves up on the icy altar of her desire, and no one knew what took place behind the closed doors of Lily's mansion. Those poor slaves never spoke of the horrors they may have glimpsed. Some took their secrets to the grave; others, the madhouse.

Not because she was a mystery. There were no public records, no driver's license, no Social Security number, no birth certificate, no baby photos, no family or kin of any kind. Lily had, apparently, sprung full grown from the head of some anonymous god. She answered no questions about her past. She was an enigma, a puzzle, a challenge. Rumors circulated, each more fantastic than the last. The truth, however, remained elusive.

All conversation ceased because when Lily walked into a room, a numbing chill descended that left the other occupants paralyzed, mesmerized by the pale, slender, impossibly beautiful specter gliding into their midst. Speech dribbled to a halt. It became difficult to breathe, much less think or act. People paused and gaped, unable to escape. When Lily passed out again, it was like a spell had been lifted. Heads shook, hands were lifted to faces as though to brush away cobwebs. Everyone felt exhausted, dull, drained of energy and life. Parties broke up swiftly afterwards.

Regardless of her reputation - or perhaps because of it - she was showered with invitations from society matrons, eager to boast that they had played hostess to the incomparable Lily. She deigned to grace these events with her presence on occasion, but never gave notice. When she did appear, it was always when the party was at its height, when liquor had freed tongues and minds from self-restriction to the edge of hysteria.

It was at one such soiree, given by the Honorable Mrs. Theodore Jones-Haygarden, that the unthinkable happened.

The party was regarded as the success of the social season. All the corporate and political giants were in attendance; a sprinkling of media and fashion celebrities were there to liven the mix. Mrs. Jones-Haygarden was swollen with triumph. When frost-glittering Lily arrived, it was the final flourish to an evening that had covered the matron in glory. Like the rest, she was dumbfounded in Lily's presence, wrapped in a stupor that numbed every sense she possessed. It was both comforting and horrible, like being wrapped smotheringly tight in a swan-feather shawl.

An unknown woman pushed through the crowd. She was small and lean, dark and sullen, apparently unaffected. The woman took hold of Lily's arm and said, "Murdering bitch! You killed Caroline!"

Lily shrugged and smiled.

"Caroline Chamberlin! She never did anything but good and you killed her!" the woman sobbed. She held something tightly in her free hand. "You sucked her dry and spat her out like trash. I loved her and she might as well be dead!"

Lily's soft white shoulders moved again. Her feline eyes narrowed, then widened, and she let out a low laugh.

The woman controlled herself with an effort. "Two years," she said with dreadful intensity. "Two years it took to figure it out. But now you're going to pay. I know your true name... I know what you are!"

She opened her hand, revealing the object she was carrying. A small round mirror, thin as a soap bubble. She thrust it in front of Lily, capturing the inhumanly lovely, pallid and cold face in its surface for a brief second. Then the woman closed her hand, crushing the mirror in her palm. Bits of glass floated into the air.

Lily's mouth parted in a silent shriek.

Thin cracks began to appear on Lily's face, like the crazing of antique porcelain. Black lines zig-zagging across chin, cheekbones and brow, breaking that pale perfection apart. Lily stared, disbelief and terror in her feline eyes. She was frozen in place, a hand raised in supplication or command. It was too late for mercy, too late to work her wiles.

The cracks widened. With a tinkling crash, the pieces of Lily's shattered face suddenly slid to the floor in a cascade of white and red and black. They exploded into smaller fragments as they struck the hard marble. Stiff as a statue, Lily toppled over sideways and smashed apart with a ear-splitting din that was reminiscent of dropped china dishes.

There was silence, then the screaming began.

The small, dark, sullen woman was never seen again.

In her padded cell at the expensive private asylum, a woman who had once been Caroline Chamberlin, beloved and lost and now redeemed, sucked in a sobbing breath and began to cry.


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