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(1)

        "So what's the price?" said Jeff, still not even half-believing any of this.
        "Price?" said Frederick Utter, with puzzled dignity.
        "Yeah," said Jeff. "You want -- what? My immortal soul?"
        "The gift," said Frederick, "is also for the giver."
        Melvin giggled unpleasantly and tugged at Jeff's elbow, urging him away. So, both liquored up, they left the premises of Utter, Spek and Glottis -- morticians, grief counselors, buriers of the dead -- and were soon careening through the night in Melvin's Caddy.
        
(2)

        
        By the time Jeff Tulp and Melvin Doot reached the place amongst the trees, it was three in the morning. A clouded sky. Fall thunder. The ground hummed as they walked across it. Hints of bruised purple and malevolent red contaminated the beams from their flashlights. The ground where the body was buried was loose, easy to dig in. The body was bones, twisted ligaments, rags of clothing, an unclean smell.
        "Read this," said Melvin, thrusting a piece of paper into Jeff's hands.
        The flashlight focused. Jeff read, hoarsely. Liberated into action, the words curled briefly into visible shape. Hooked glyphs fell, barbed and purple, through the sweating air.
        The earth writhed, moulding itself. Eyesockets flared blue. Jeff bent down to watch. Abruptly, gaunt arms of shredded bone grabbed him,

[BRIEF LIBRARY-ACCEPTABLE SEX SCENE DELETED FOR INTERNET USE]



        
(3)

        
        By the time Jeff pulled himself from the grave and stood upright, she was fully-formed. Smooth flesh suntanned, Californian healthy. Bee-stung lips red and juicy. Hair blonde. Fingers terminating in curved talons.
        "Melvin?" she said, uncertainly.
        "Don't talk to me, bitch," said Melvin. "You're his now."
        Leaning close, he spat in her face. Then, with studied pleasure, began rubbing his saliva across her features.
        "Don't," said Jeff, softly.
        Melvin ignored him. And Jeff's elbow, hooking into his jaw, knocked him backwards.
        "Come one," said Jeff, touching his succubus lightly to urge her out of the trance which had taken her. "Come on."
        And, hand-in-hand, they walked through the autumn night to Melvin's car, leaving Melvin himself unconscious on the ground by the abandoned grave.
        
        
(4)

        There was an old blanket in the trunk. Wrapped in the blanket, she sat in the passenger seat, trying to make sense of the confusion of lights as they drove into the city. A name. She needed one. The only name she could remember was Melvin's. His hands on her throat. Crushing the life out of her, strangling her.
        "I need a name," she said.
        "You look fine just as you are," said the man ... Jeff. Fumbling as he tried to construct a joke. Somehow, she knew he had never been good with jokes.
        "Without a name ...."
        She could not complete the thought. Her mind was made of smoke, rain, windshield wipers. Her only certainties were orgasmic.
        "Okay, then," said Jeff, in concession, as if she had just won a lengthy argument. "We'll call you, uh ... Ouija. Good name for a succubus -- right?"
        "What's a succubus?" she said, confused.
        
        
(5)

        In her dreams, she remembered the passing centuries. She woke to a deserted house. Jeff was gone. An unadorned note provided her with orders.
        "Clean the shopping. Do the house."
        He had been tired when he wrote that. Tired to the point where reality dislocates. She knew that by the glitches in the lettering, the ragged hung-over spacing. He would want a clean house, a clean woman, a meal on the table. He would want to pretend he was not exhausted. Well, she was good at helping people pretend.
        She cleaned and she cooked, the layout of this house establishing itself in her mind. Soap. The gleaming energies of electricity. Polish. Spray. Casserole dish. Water is still water. A potato is still a potato. A knife is still a knife.
        And this is a ... TV? Yes. Okay, a TV. She had seen TV before, yes. But just once. Back then, TV had been small and gray. Formal. Severe. English accents.
        Now TV was a yawping kaleidoscope. Pounding flames. Exploding horses. Missiles. Machineguns. Vultures tearing at the bodies of dead children. "Fifty per cent cheaper! Fifty per cent cheaper!" Chemicals flushed down toilets. White toilets. Red blood. Breasts. Beaches. Airliners falling through the sky.
        She watched, locating herself in time and space.
        Ouija. Ouija. The name didn't feel quite right. In fact, it didn't feel right at all. There was another name there, hovering in the nowhere of things not yet quite possible to recall. But she would remember it. Given time.
        Later, after lunch, she searched the house for cash money, and found it. Hidden, but not hidden well enough. She took it, and went shopping.
        
        
(6)

        
        "It was my money," said Jeff.
        "I was naked," she said.
        "That's how you were made," he said.
        "I had to wear your clothes to go out in."
        "Yeah, yeah," he said. "You want money, earn your own. Now take your clothes off."
        "How about dinner first?" said Ouija.
        The man wavered. Okay, he could compel her. If he really had to. But the fact was, he was hungry as hell, and what was in the pot was starting to smell really good. Plus, it had been a long hard day, and his energy levels were low.
        "First dinner," said Ouija, all sensible practicality, "then we'll play games. You'll perform much better on a full stomach."
        And he did, too. Better than he could have imagined. Then the darkness claimed him, and he collapsed into stuporous, meaningless dreams about Hawaiian holidays and home run records.
        
(7)

        
        He performed. He pumped himself into her. His hippopotamus need reduced her to a breathing corpse, a life-support system for the greased hole which received him.
        And, afterwards, Ouija sat alone in the darkness, awake. Lost. Who am I? What am I? And what am I going to become?
        
(8)

        Morning. Coffee. Aromas rising. She could sense, beyond the city, the leaves turning. Fall. The leaves turning. Nostalgia. Recollection. Memory. There was so much she could almost remember -- but not quite. What was the pathway to memory?
        A phrase echoed: you want money, earn your own. And she wanted, yes, her own money, own life, own identity. Money equals identity. Right? Right. Autonomous adults have their own money.
        She wanted identity. Autonomy. Memory.
        But which part of her wanted that?
        Maybe the part which was ancient smoke. That part was death and blood and lust and treachery. Anointing itself with blood in the temple precincts. Pouring molten gold into the gaping mouth of her defeated enemy. Carefully skinning the chained body which writhed and jerked beneath the bite of the controlling knife.
        Or maybe the other part. The part which belonged to the abandoned flesh she had claimed. The part which had once had a name of its own, if only she could remember it.
        "I choose," she said, defiantly.
        It was an act of free will. She would choose, this time, not to kill the man. Not to kill him, castrate him, dig out his eyes, feed his liver to pigs. She felt that choice was possible. Perhaps.
        
        
(9)

        
        "You like to talk."
        The phrase leapt out at her from he ads. Talk? Yes, she could talk. She could certainly do that. And, in this brave new world, it seemed there was money to be made simply by talking.
        By mid-morning, Ouija had found her way to the call center.
        "And you were ....?"
        "Jane," she said. The name came spontaneously, without need for thought. "Jane Pet." Yes, that sounded right. More: it was right. Something else? Try this: "Jane Alison Pet."
        "Please to meet you, Jane. I'm Zenith."
        There was a big room, filled with machines which hummed with tame lightning. They were weaving machines, but they wove with words rather than threads. Computers. The heart of the answering service, the enabling technology which made its functions possible, was a powerful computer made by the Startel Corporation.
        Ouija sat down at the keyboard, eyes closed. Lightly, she rested her gloved talons on the keys. All around, women were busy at their tasks. The focused concentration of twenty minds made it easy for her to access the dancing repertoire of skills. By the time her fingers moved, she knew. The telephone calls were piped to your ears by the headphones, and the computer threw the relevant data to the screen, and you talked and you typed, and that was it.
        "There's some routine paperwork, of course ...."
        Routine? This was routine? This interrogation by paper? Who are you? Where were you born? Where did you work last? And before that? And before that? And who can vouch for you? And what is your number?
        Number ....?
        Yes.
        Yes, it seemed you needed a number. The number was a kind of name which lived inside machines. In this strange world into which she had been reborn, everyone had a number as well as a name, and the number was more important than the name. Without the number to propitiate the machines, you were doomed. Without the number, you did not exist. You might as well have been made of smoke. Furthermore, while you could make your own name, or change it at will, the number was sacred and unchanging. It was imposed upon you by the Lords of the Earth. And, since the Great Ones had not yet taken the logical, obvious step of branding these numbers onto people's foreheads, it was easy for you to lose or mislay your own number.
        Lose or mislay.
        The tactics of deceit and deception came naturally to Ouija. Stall for time.
        "Can I take this stuff away? My own papers ...."
        "Of course."
        And then she was out on the street, and it was not yet lunchtime, and it would all be so easy if only she could find her number. But how?
        "Taxi!"

(10)

        
        The taxi driver waited while she went into the trees. Let him think whatever he wanted to think. Oblivion is bliss. And knowledge is terror. But she had to know, and she had to know now.
        But it would hurt.
        "I choose," she whispered fiercely.
        She had chosen. She would not unchoose.
        The broken earth was still there. They had not filled in the hole. The place was focus sufficient. She pressed her forehead to a tree and endured his rage, the bursting force, the fingers, the collapse of her windpipe, her death. She was weeping when she returned to the taxi. Weeping and stumbling. But now she knew.
        "You okay, lady?"
        "Drive."
        "Where we going?"
        "Drive."
        "Anywhere in particular?"
        "Just drive, okay?"
        He drove. Later, she gave him the address. The letterbox announced it as the residence of Melvin Doot. At the back of the house, a window broke easily. Inside: the smell of insect repellent. And the faintest hint of sweat. And a dead thing. A mouse. The mouse lay broken on the kitchen tiles, slammed by the victorious steel of the death machine. Its eyes were wide open: staring black beads.
        In the bedroom, her own eyes stared at her from the mirror. In memory the mirror was broken, but this mirror was intact. Memory was deceptive. Or perhaps it was merely that the mirror had been replaced. She stood in silence, eyes closed, listening to her memories. It was difficult to remember. To remember meant enduring what she had learnt at the burial site. But she had to know.
        Where? Ah! Yes! Overhead.
        The internally connected garage yielded a stepladder. She hauled it into the bedroom, climbed to the ceiling and pushed aside the loose acoustic tile. And reached into the darkness. A package wrapped in plastic fitted itself to her hand. She had hidden it there in the last days, the days in which Melvin had crossed over some boundary into a domineering possessiveness hard to distinguish from insanity.
        She spilt it all out on the bed. Papers. Pictures. Photographs. Letters. Her swiftly sorting fingers soon discovered the most important fact. Jane. She really was Jane. Jane Alison Pet. The passport said so. The passport was a number embedded in a small codex which came complete with a distinctly unflattering picture. There had been passports before, but not like this. This one could be read by machines.
        "This is it," said Jane, trying to memorize the number.
        Then she realized that, no, the number on the passport was not the one she wanted. The passport number was hers, yes, and she had been chained to that number by a machine, but it was not that all-important number which she needed and wanted. A credit card: another number. And what's this? A bank card. A thing with two numbers. The overt and the covert. Yes, for the bank card there was a second number -- at last, a number she had been permitted to invent all by herself! She knew it and a machine knew it, and she could use it to elicit money from the machine.
        Finally, Jane found the magic number she needed for her job, the number by means of which the Lords of the Earth tracked her and controlled her, taxed her and governed her. Strange, that something so important could be so easily mislaid, so easily lost. Tattoo it on your wrist? No, for some reason that was -- well, inappropriate. But why? For the life of her, she could not remember. But it was, suddenly, enormously important that she should remember.
        "Damn it to hell and damnation!" said Jane in frustration.
        She just could not remember. There was something she urgently needed to know, something about the wrist and the tattoo, it was part of a previous life, but it was sliding, was going, was gone. Yet, just before it vanished entirely, she had a glimpse of that previous life. Crowds of people standing in a ring, pinch-faced and shuffling. A sense of the unutterable.
        Then it was gone.
        Suddenly, she started to cry. It was intolerable that she should not be able to remember the dead, that she should not be able to properly grieve for them.
        A long while later, she started to pull herself together. Critically, she studied the passport photograph. It was brunette. But she was blonde. However, examining her hair in the mirror, she realized her hair was brown at the roots. So she really was brunette. And the planes of the face? There was a resemblance, but it was far from exact. She stared hard at the photograph, fixing the contours in her memory. A couple of nights' sleep would do the rest.
        All packed? Ready to go? Yes.
        So she wrote on the mirror with red lipstick YOU MURDERING BASTARD and she unplugged the freezer and unplugged the fridge. Then she threw TV and the stereo and the computer into the bath and she turned on the faucets and left them running. Then she turned on the stove and put the bottle of soy sauce on the element which would shortly heat to a cherry red. And then she exited whistling, or trying to whistle, though actually she was crying, there was no helping it, she almost broke down entirely and collapsed in the street.

(11)

        
        Amongst the papers which Ouija had inherited from Jane Alison Pet was a resume. A history of her life and works. It simplified things enormously. The call center was short-staffed; they put her to work that very afternoon.
        As she sat at the keyboard, the life of the city flowed beneath her fingertips. The computer threw data to the screen, and she read the answer phrase and then pressed a button on the keyboard to connect her to the incoming call, and she answered. "Burke and Hare, Funeral Directors, how may we help you?" And her fingers flew across the keys, and, depending on the needs of the moment, she recorded data for later retrieval, or pressed a button which sent data to a telephone pager, or, on occasion, patched through a call to a voice mail system, or even (on occasion) to a living human being.
        She was Burke and Hare, she was Crippen and Associates, she was Doctor Delaware's phone, she was Ruritanian Enterprises, she was Hong Kong Opportunities, she was the Homecall Vet. "No, I'm afraid I don't have his schedule. May I have your number -- I'll ask him to call you." "He's in a conference at the moment, could I ask him to call you?" "All our consultants are on calls at the moment, could I have your details please?" "Hold the line, please, I'll put you through to his office."
        Each connection linked her, however briefly, to a human mind. By the time her shift ended, she had more or less completed building up a picture of the society into which she had been resurrected.
        She got home late to find Jeff waiting. Jeff, evidently, was going to be a problem. He had asked for a succubus -- he had told her as much -- and a succubus was what he had been given, and he was not going to like it when things changed.
        "And where the hell have you been?" said Jeff.
        "Working."
        "Working?"
        "Yes. I got a job."
        "What -- flipping hamburgers?"
        "Something like that. Is there a problem?"
        "Yes. Melvin was here. He said you were at his place, he said you're Jane."
        "Jane?" said Jane. "I'm Ouija. But, if you want to call me Jane, don't hesitate. Anyway, who's this Jane?"
        "Melvin's ... partner," said Jeff. "His girlfriend."
        "So what's that to do with me?" said Jane.
        "She went missing," said Jeff. "Nine months ago. Now ... he says you're her."
        "But that's not rational," said Jane. "If I looked like her, you'd have noticed it."
        "He's threatening to kill you," said Jeff.
        Saying the words as if he found them hard to believe. Clearly, he did not yet entirely believe in the reality of his darling Ouija. He was still half-persuaded that she was an ongoing hallucination. And, unless he truly believed she was real, he would not defend her.
        And she would need defending. Oh yes. Unless she could do the defending herself.

(12)

        
        Twisting in nightmare, Ouija-Jane dreamt. She was a mouse, caught in a trap by her skipping tail. Melvin stood over her. She begged for her life. But Melvin merely smiled, then flipped over the trap. She was underneath the trap's wooden base. And Melvin stepped on her. Put his foot on the wooden base and then leaned forward.
        Her breath was a whistle of panic then a wheeze of agony and then it was a scream, she was screaming, she was awake, screaming, and Jeff was holding her, "Shh shh shh," for the first time he was holding her in a way which was not totally sexual, and she was so desperately needy that it was too much to endure, her own knowledge of her own vulnerability was too much, and she wept, shuddering with grief as he held her and comforted her.
        
(13)

        
        The man was not enough. You cannot put your faith in men. She needed something more. Something firmer. If she had been reborn as Smith or Costello or McKay then she would have been in trouble. But, fortunately, in the entire phone book there were only 17 people who had the surname "Pet".
        On the seventh call, she got lucky.
        "Is that you? Jane...? Jane -- is that you?"
        "Yes."
        "Jane! I've been so worried!"
        "I'm sorry," said Jane."
        Then she lost her nerve and hung up.
        And wept.
        
(14)

        
        That night, when Jeff tried to clamber aboard, it was too much to handle. That hearty sporting-event enthusiasm, a celebration of testosterone which took no account of the spiderweb fragilities of her mood. At first, she endured. But then she froze up on him. Her membranes going dry, her flesh becoming numb, unwieldy. Her living flesh imitating rigor mortis.
        "The hell wrong with you?" he said.
        Yes, woman. What's going on here? I'm just fulfilling my design function, okay? Genetics. Biology. We were made for this. Or hadn't you noticed? What the hell are you -- a space alien or something?
        "So?" said Jeff, demanding an explanation.
        But, if you really need an explanation, I can't give it you. No woman could. Sex was not designed to be intelligent, but I am. The cognitive processes get involved in this. Perception, cognition, anticipation, apprehension. You might try reassuring me, that's what I really need, but how to explain? You're impatient, you don't really want an explanation, you want an excuse.
        "Hey," said Jeff, starting to get angry, voice rising to a shout. "I'm asking you! I'm communicating, right? I'm trying to do the sensitive New Age thing here. So talk! What's the problem? Tell me!"
        An interrogation. Bright lights. A bloodstain on the yellow wall. Tell me. The blood sluicing to the drain in the corner. Answer the question. The sirens rising, wailing, as death descended on the city. Where are they hiding? The heart of thunder. Beaten. Beaten to a sack of broken bones, and left alone in a pool of her own blood and vomit.
        Caught in a sudden welling uprush of disorganized memories, Ouija-Jane found it hard to answer. When she did, her voice was pale. Pale, plastic. A mannequin's voice. Not so much explaining as complaining.
        "You're so -- so obsessed," she said.
        "Obsessed?"
        "It frightens me."
        And it did. That pumping force. That insectile need. That animal appetite. It threatened to disconnect her from her more tentative memories: the delicate memories of girlhood, childhood and daughterhood which were almost in her possession. Lose the chance of those, and all she would be left with would be the inevitable ride towards the night on which she would surely murder him.
        Ungraciously, Jeff released her.
        Okay. It was a start.
        
(15)

        
        The next evening, Jeff was late coming home from work. So he wasn't there when Melvin rang for the first time, or when Melvin rang for the third. He wasn't there when Melvin came knocking at the front door, either.
        Finally, just after midnight, Jeff made it through the front door, stinking drunk and reeking of cigarette smoke. On his shirt was a mysterious blue smudge of something perfumed. Some cheaply exotic lipstick?
        "Where have you been?" said Jane, furiously.
        "Been?" said Jeff, grinning lopsidedly. "Take a wild guess."
        In response, Jane slapped him. Her open hand exploding against his cheek.
        "What," said Jeff, in unfocused bewilderment. "What did you do that for?"
        "Because I was worried!" said Jane. Almost shouting it. Almost screaming it. "I was worried sick! You -- you -- you just disappeared! And Melvin was here, he was here, Jeff! Why was he here?"
        "Melvin?" said Jeff, smiling a weak smile of brain-damaged ineptitude. "Don't worry about Melvin. He's my buddy. My friend."
        As best she could, Jane tried to sober him up. She was feeding Jeff his third cup of coffee when the phone rang yet again. Jeff insisted on answering. It was Melvin.
        Jane listened in. Jeff was too drunk to notice when she picked up the phone in the bedroom and Melvin was too angry. Melvin was speaking really, really quickly, in a rage of sober fury.
        " -- and he told me she would be dead, I could kill her, I'd never be caught."
        "So you killed her," said Jeff flatly.
        "Yes."
        "And what did he charge you?"
        "Nothing. Said it was free."
        "So, hey!" said Jeff. "Truth in advertising! She's dead, the bitch is dead, cost you nothing. You got away with it, got away with murder."
        "But she's back! And it's all your fault."
        "Hey," said Jeff. "You came to me. It was your idea, not mine."
        "Okay," said Melvin, conceding the point sullenly. "That was part of the deal, too. I had to find someone who wanted the body."
        "Okay," said Jeff, "so you found one."
        "But you're not getting the point, are you?" said Melvin. "She's still alive! I need the bitch dead."
        "Don't go calling her a bitch," said Jeff. "You my buddy, Melvin, but don't, don't go calling her a bitch."
        "You used that exact word yourself, Jeff."
        "Me?" said Jeff. "She's my woman, okay? I call her something, I call her that. I call her what I want. You, she's not your woman, you got that? Don't call her a bitch."
        "But she is a bitch," said Melvin.
        "Hey, hold it right there," said Jeff. "You don't like your old girlfriend, that's your business. But now, my friend, now she's mine. That's my business."
        "You mean you won't ....?"
        "What kind of question is that?"
        "Jeff, let me level with you. I want her dead. You do it. Or else."
        "Are you nuts?" said Jeff, starting to sound at least half sober for the first time that night. "I'm not a, a -- you know. I'm in real estate, for God's sake. What do you think I am, your friendly local hitman or something?"
        "I'll tell you what you are," said Melvin. "You're up to this right to your neck."
        "This?" said Jeff.
        "Our ... our little cash business."
        A long pause, then. Jeff was breathing heavily, laboring to think. Drunk or not, he managed it. Managed to think of the danger of Melvin maybe taping all this.
        "I don't know what you're talking about," said Jeff.
        Then he hung up.

(16)

        
        And Jane knew that she was almost home. Her Jeff was almost hers. Almost, but not quite. His primitive male training had kicked in. The habit of possession had asserted itself: she was his, not Melvin's. That wasn't a lot to work with, but it was as much as many women had.

(17)

        When Jane came back from work, she smelt Melvin's traces in the house. Smelt his shadow. Smelt his instep, armpit, smegma, sperm. He had been here. Doing what? Trying to destroy us. But how? She sniffed for explosives, but smelt nothing. Well, never mind. She would find it, whatever it was.
        And she did.
        The plastic packet was in one of the drawers built into the single bed in the spare bedroom. It had split and spilt. And so, after flushing the powder down the toilet and wiping out the drawer, Jane got on the phone and summoned a van which took away the bed. A gift to charity.
        The very next evening, when Jeff and Jane were dining, the door burst apart, the battering ram smashed through, and the men in body armor stormed the house. Jeff and Jane were forced face-down on the carpet, guns to their heads. Even though they were clean, it was two in the morning before Jeff's lawyer finally got rid of the cops.
        "You'll sue, of course," said lawyer Azimuth, surveying the smashed and looted wreckage of what had been their home. "Don't worry, you'll win big. You'll look back on this as a big financial coup."
        Financial coup or not, they felt pretty miserable, spending their night in a motel.
        "Melvin set you up," said Jane.
        Jeff was silent.
        "He set you up," she said.
        But Jeff was in no state to answer. He was in shock. His games with Melvin -- free money in return for the loan of a door key -- had suddenly become shockingly real.

(18)

        
        That night, Jane slept uneasily, dreaming. In her dreams, the billion-pathway possibilities of her childhood narrowed and simplified to become just one. Singer, dancer, doctor, saint -- the world of chance spindled and collapsed, reducing itself to the one irrevocably reality she inhabited. The other people she could have been -- the potential billions -- sighed their last, and expired.
        Just before waking, she dreamt one final dream. She dreamt of a gong the size of the moon, the brazen notes of which rang through a world as red as blood. On waking to the bleary morning, she had the disconcerting notion -- hard to shake -- that the dream was a memory of a real place. But she put the thought aside. Life was too serious for her to waste time entertaining hallucinations.
        Fortunately, it was Saturday, and they were neither of them scheduled to work. While Jeff sat slumped in front of the TV, watching someone else's disaster on CNN, Jane pored over her precious photographs, which she had carried away with her to this place of safety.
        "What're you doing?" said Jeff at last.
        "Thinking back," said Jane, allowing him to view a contact sheet of snapshots of two very young children, herself and her brother.
        In the final frame, her father loomed up behind the two children. It was a shock to see his craggy, battered face inserting itself between the two children. And, taking the measure of that shock, she realized -- she knew -- he must have done something to her. Something terrible. She said as much to Jeff.
        "That's nonsense," said Jeff.
        "What would you know about it?" said Jane.
        "Everything!" said Jeff. "This -- this memory business, memories, real memories, recovered memories -- you can't have them."
        "I what?" said Jane, astonished.
        "You're a succubus!" said Jeff. "You never were. A child, I mean. You came from, from -- wherever your kind of thing comes from."
        Succubus, succubus. The red gong, the booming place. For a moment, Jane actually saw herself as a succubus: a demonic sex toy, empty of anything but wet and whimpering lust. She seemed to remember shimmering fragments of impossibility, of being bought and sold, of being forced and used. Down on her knees in the perfumed shadows, down on her knees and panting.
        Then, furious at the way his daydreaming fantasies had contaminated her, perverting her very memory, she felt her anger swelling, flowering. In her rage, she wanted to smack him right across the face. But she restrained herself. This was too important to let it degenerate into cheap melodrama -- a woman slapping a man's face.
        "Jeff," said Jane, doing her best to channel her fury into reasoned argument, "I am sick and tired of hearing this succubus nonsense. It's a sick adolescent joke, it's gone too far, it's demeaning, it's poisoning our relationship."
        "But you are!" said Jeff, in something like desperation.
        And that was when Jane finally did lose control. She slapped him. Hard. He looked at her in disbelief.
        "Jeff," said Jane, "you're sick. You really are sick. I've tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, to indulge your -- your sick sex games. But you really are one sick puppy. I think you need therapy."
        Then she stalked out of the motel, slamming the door behind her.

(19)

        "Let me see your hands," said Jeff, catching up with her on the sidewalk.
        "My what?!"
        "Your hands," said Jeff.
        "Why?" said Jane. "You read some book? A woman's hands and a hundred perverted things you can do with them?"
        Her scorn was terrifying, demoralizing.
        "Jane ... please."
        And she held them out for display.
        Hands. A woman's hands. Terminating in fingernails. There are no talons, no claws. You -- what? Hallucinated something?
        A brunette, neatly coiffed, trim, poised, very angry. No relation to the voluptuous blonde succubus of his imagination, the wet and panting thing he had grappled with, or thought he had. She was Jane, his Jane, formerly Melvin's Jane, and Melvin was pissed at them.
        "Finished?" said Jane.
        Then, without answering, she pulled her hands away and stalked off, vanishing into the anonymity of the city.
        
(20)

        By nightfall, Jane had still not returned. Jeff had no idea how to handle the situation. Put in a missing persons report? Oh, sure! "We dug up this dead body, we brought it to life, it became my succubus, my demonic sex slave." Nobody was going to believe that one. He had trouble believing it himself. And maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe you actually needed to believe in these things to keep their forms fixed in their classical, traditional molds. That was the problem with getting something for free: you got no owner's manual and there was no 800 number you could ring for friendly advice.
        Morning. No Jane. Well, the hell with it. The repairs to the house had been accomplished -- in particular, a brand new door -- so Jeff abandoned the motel and moved back home. That evening, someone banged on the door, demanding to be let it. It proved to be Jane, who did not have the keys to the new door.
        "So you're back," said Jeff, standing in the doorway.
        "Yes," said Jane.
        "And you want to come in, do you?"
        "Jeff, don't give me a hard time, or I'm turning round and going right back where I came from."
        "From hell?" said Jeff, trying for an admission.
        "God!" said Jane, in exasperated anger. "You just won't let up, will you? I've been with my mother -- "
        "Your mother!?"
        " -- and she thinks I should leave you. I'm starting to agree. This is your last chance, Jeff."
        "But you don't have a mother."
        "Jeff! Are you listening to me? Are you hearing a single word I'm saying?"
        And Jeff, realizing that Jane's rising voice could be heard over a very wide area, invited her inside. Once they were safely private, he confronted her. He tried to be reasonable.
        "Jane ... you know where you came from. What's this story about your mother?"
        "Are you trying to say I don't have one?" said Jane, more furious than ever. "Are you still on that filthy succubus kick? Look, you can call her!"
        And she thrust a cell phone at him.
        But Jeff did not make the call. If Jane really did have a mother, then that meant that his own sanity was in question. If Jane was a real woman, born of a woman's womb, then Jeff Tulp had somehow hallucinated a deal with the devil -- all the gratification you can handle, with no payment required -- and the resurrection of a corpse.
        "My mother," said Jane, "is Edith Pet. She lives -- "
        "Okay, okay," said Jeff. "I believe you, I believe you!"
        That night, they slept in separate beds. At least, Jane slept in a bed -- the double bed in the master bedroom. Jeff was relegated to the spare bedroom, where he slept on an inflatable camping mattress, a relic of his days with Marcia, who was a healthy hearty Sierra Club hiking type.

(21)

        
        The next day, Jane was all tight-lipped efficiency. She evidently had not forgiven him. And, if Jeff's experience with Marcia was anything to go by, when a woman got in a mood like this she was perfectly capable of maintaining it for weeks on end.
        "And where are you going now?" said Jeff, seeing that Jane was about to leave.
        "I'm going to work."
        "But you don't usually go so early in the day."
        "Different shift," said Jane, minimally communicative.
        "So, okay," said Jeff, "where do you work?"
        "That's unreal!" she said, exploding without warning into shouting anger. "We're living together, you don't even know where I work! You don't know, you don't care, you don't have any interest at all. I'm just a -- a -- an inflatable doll or something!"
        Their confrontations were escalating, as if building toward some inevitable crisis. And Jeff, unaccountably, endured a shocking image of Jane sitting astride him, slashing his throat, gouging his eyes, drinking his thrashing blood.
        "She will kill you. Unless you kill her first."
        The thought spoke itself in his mind. Red-rimmed. Bleeding.
        
(22)

        
        And Jane, on her way to work, heard a similar thought speaking itself in her head.
        "He will kill you. Soon. Unless you get in first."
        And she knew just how easily she could kill him if she chose.
        
(23)

        
        "Heard the police came calling," said Melvin.
        "Yeah," said Jeff.
        "That's why I phoned," said Melvin, voice distant, faintly distorted. A bad line or a bugged line? "Thought we should talk."
        "About what?" said Jeff.
        "You know," said Melvin.
        "I don't have a clue what you're talking about," said Jeff, wary of possible tape recorders, bugs, police work, blackmail.
        "Well, okay," said Melvin. "If that's the way you want to play it. But I think we should talk."
        "Okay," said Jeff, neutrally.
        "So," said Melvin. "Uh ... three this afternoon? Could you be home then?"
        "My place? That's where you want to meet?"
        "Got a better idea?"
        Jeff thought about it. Meet at a bar someplace? No -- he liked the idea of meeting Melvin on his home ground. He would feel stronger on his home ground.
        "Home is fine," said Jeff.
        "Can you guarantee it?" said Melvin, a peculiar insistence in his voice.
        "Guarantee?" said Jeff, not understanding.
        "Three o'clock. That you'll be there, at three. This is important to me, Jeff."
        "Sure," said Jeff. "Trust me. I'll be there."
        "And ... Jane," said Melvin. "Can you have Jane there, too?"
        "Sure," said Jeff, even though this was impossible. "No problem. She'll be there, I guarantee it."
        Then he rang off. Melvin was under strain? Good. Your fault, Melvin. The police, the battering ram. You messed up, Melvin. Or double-crossed me. So, hey, let's have a little talk, okay? First business. Then Jane.
        On the other hand -- why wait until three o'clock? He could clarify the question of Jane right now. We dug up a body, right? It was buried in the ground, in the woods. Right? Yeah. I think so. I guess.
        Checking the actual gravesite was impossible, because Jeff had only the bleariest of memories of its location. But. But there was always Frederick Utter. Yeah. That made sense. Ring up the corpse man. Hey, Mr Utter, my man! That little item you sold me recently, was that the genuine article, or one of these cheap-fake fabrications?

(24)

        
        "Okay," said Jeff, picking up the phone book. "First things first."
        He would ring Fred Utter. Ask him: Fred, just what the hell is going on? Okay, here's the number. Dial.
        "Utter, Spek and Glottis, funeral directors. How may we help you?"
        It was a woman. And her voice was weirdly familiar. Too familiar.
        "Hello ... caller? Are you there?"
        "Jane?"
        As if in response, the line was disconnected. Leaving Jeff alone with the hammer of his heart. Frederick Utter! Mr Utter had, it seemed, an ongoing interest in Jeff's personal affairs. Mr Utter had Jane. And that, logically, explained Jane's erratic behavior. Fred Utter was briefing her, was giving her instructions. Was teaching her to play head games, screwing up the sanity of her lord and master. A vision flashed in Jeff's head: himself with a gun. Shooting Fred Utter. Shooting him dead. Fred flopping sideways, a red fish falling, collapsing into one of his own coffins.
        In quick decision, Jeff pressed the redial button.
        This time, a different woman answered, a woman with a deeper voice, much closer to gravel than to sunlight. He rang off, then dialed again, only to get yet another female. Something was screwy here. Think back. The funeral parlor. Had there been a receptionist? Perhaps. But now the place seemed to have a whole harem to answer the phone.
        Dial again. Okay.
        "Utter, Spek and Glottis -- "
        Yet another woman! Either he was totally nuts or something really bizarre was going on.
        "Are you a machine?" he said.
        "No, sir. I'm a real live human being, my name is Gloriana, how may we help you?"
        "I'd like to speak to, uh, uh ...."
        "Is this in connection with a bereavement, sir?"
        "Yes."
        "Then please hold the line, sir, one of our directors will be with you shortly."
        Very shortly indeed, Mr Frederick Utter came on the line, and that was when Jeff lost it.
        "What have you been doing to Jane?" he yelled. "Where the hell is she?"
        "There is no Jane here, caller," said Mr Utter, with a magnificently courteous and measured imperturbability which enraged Jeff even further.
        "She answered the phone!"
        "You have reached the premises of Utter, Spek and Glottis," said Frederick Utter, still irreproachably controlled. "There is no Jane in our employ."
        "Ouija, then," said Jeff.
        "I am not familiar with that name, sir. May I know who is calling?"
        But Jeff saw no point in declaring himself over the phone. This was the kind of thing which demanded a face-to-face confrontation. They had Jane at the premises, they had been doing things to her, subverting her nature, teaching her to deviate from her rightful role, brainwashing her, indoctrinating her in revolution. So go. But, first --
        Jeff tried the number one last time. And Jane answered.
        "Jane!" said Jeff. "This is Jeff! That's you, isn't it?"
        "Yes," conceded Jane.
        "Then what the hell are you doing there?"
        "Answering the phone," said Jane pertly.
        "Don't talk to me like that!" yelled Jeff. "I want to know! How did he get hold of you? What has he been doing to you?"
        "Jeff," said Jane, very cool, "there's something you don't understand."
        "Oh, I understand all too well!" said Jeff. "I'm going to come there, I'm going to drag you home, I'm going to -- "
        "Jeff -- just one moment, I can explain."
        "Explain! I'm coming right over, you can explain to me then."
        "Jeff! No! Jeff -- listen to me!"
        But Jeff knew that to listen to the woman would be a mistake. She would bleed away his anger with her rational arguments, and right now he wanted to be angry. So he slammed down the phone on her. And when it rang, moments later, Jeff was already on the way out of the front door.
        
(25)

        
        Jeff drove to the premises of Utter, Spek and Glottis. Inside, no sign of Jane. However, Mr Frederick Utter was there, though he did not seem to recognize Jeff. Perhaps that was just a ploy. Well, let's find out.
        "Mr Utter?" said Jeff. "A word with you, sir."
        And Frederick Utter, all courtesy, showed him to a private room. As soon as they were alone Jeff let rip.
        "You are the devil," said Jeff. "Satan. You animated a corpse. Ouija, that was her name. A succubus. A sex toy, a demon in human form, built for the gratification of lust. We dug up the body, you called up the lightning. Down, I mean. Called it down."
        Mr Utter just looked at him. Expressionlessly. When he spoke, he spoke quietly, but there was, nevertheless, an immense weight of dignified patriarchal authority in his voice.
        "I really think," said Mr Utter, "that you are seriously in need of psychiatric assistance. I also think it is time you were leaving."
        But his dignity, his authority, his sane and reasoned statement, made no impression on Jeff.
        "You've got Jane!" yelled Jeff. "Where is she? What have you been doing to her?"
        "There is no Jane here, sir," said Frederick Utter, maintaining his poise and equanimity.
        And he continued to maintain his poise, right up to the point where Jeff grabbed hold of him. But someone must have called the cops, who came through the door just as Jeff slammed Frederick Utter up against the wall.

(26)

        
        Fortunately, Jeff's one phone call got through to Azimuth, who came down and bailed him out. Then they went to collect Jeff's car, which he had left parked near the premises of Utter, Spek and Glottis. But the car was missing.
        "Oh, great!" said Jeff.
        He phoned the cops and reported the car stolen. It was then that he remembered his meeting with Melvin Doot, scheduled for 3 pm. Too late now. He had definitely missed the meeting.
        "Tough," said Azimuth. "But home is definitely where you belong. I'll take you home."
        "No need," said Jeff. "I'll get a taxi."
        "Hey," said Azimuth, "I'm not just your lawyer, I'm your friend."
        "Are you saying you don't trust me to be a good boy?"
        "Jeff. As a favor. Let me drive you home."
        "Okay," said Jeff.
        During the drive to the house, Jeff brooded about the possibility of getting a gun and having another confrontation with Frederick Utter. When they came to the house, though, he soon had other things to think about. The house was sealed off with crime scene tape, and a body was being loaded into an ambulance. As Jeff gaped, Azimuth drove on by.
        Once they reached the security of Azimuth's office, Azimuth got on the phone and sorted it all out. There had been a drive-by shooting at Jeff's place at about three o'clock. A man doing a door-to-door survey had been shot dead on the doorstep. At Jeff's urging, Azimuth made a couple of discrete phone calls which quickly established the fact that Melvin Doot had a perfect alibi: he had been addressing a sales conference at the time.
        "But he asked you to be there at three," said Azimuth.
        "Yes," said Jeff.
        "You got any way to prove that?"
        "No."
        "So it comes down to your word against his."
        "You're saying that he tried to have me ... what's the word? Rubbed out?"
        "Is that a rhetorical question or are you just being a bit slow today?"
        "Rhetorical, I guess," said Jeff.
        "Want to tell me what all this is about?"
        "Maybe tomorrow," said Jeff, who did not want to get into any of that, no, not at all.
        It was Melvin who had introduced Jeff to the joys of a white powder which, these days, was as ubiquitous as sodium bicarbonate, though not as cheap. And it was Melvin who had persuaded Jeff that allowing his house to be used as a storage depot was an easy way to make a little money. No risk, no pain. Like magic, really: free money. In retrospect, the whole thing had been a big mistake. And Jeff did not want anyone to know. Not even his lawyer.
        After all, it was over. Jeff had ended his business arrangement with Melvin just before Melvin had given him Jane. Jane had been, in Melvin's words, "a parting present".
        If Melvin really gave you Jane.
        If you didn't just hallucinate the whole thing.
        
(27)

        
        An interview with the police. Azimuth helped. Good alibi: "I was under arrest at the time." Yeah, watertight.
        "So where were you at seven this evening?"
        "Seven?" said Jeff, caught off guard.
        "My client was with me at that time," said Azimuth, smoothly. "I have been continuously in my client's presence since he was released from custody."
        Just as well. Because it was at seven that the screams had been heard coming from Melvin's place, prompting a neighbor to call the police. Melvin's remains were now in the morgue, and they were not a pretty sight.
        "What was you relationship to Melvin Doot?"
        "We were drinking buddies," said Jeff. "We've been over this. We were drinking buddies, and that's it."
        
(28)

        
        Blood. Jane's lips smelt of blood. Or did they? Hey, wake up, Jeff. You got to be imagining this -- right? You don't even know what blood smells like. She's tired, she's been working too hard, not eating enough, her body is metabolizing stuff, producing -- what's the words? Ketones. I think. That's what you're smelling. Ketones -- right?
        "Is this all over?" said Jane.
        "What?" said Jeff.
        "This succubus stuff," said Jane.
        "Yeah," said Jeff. "Yeah, it's over. I'm sorry. We won't play that game any more."
        "No," said Jane. "We won't."
        Jeff dreamt that night of a succubus. When he woke, the memory of his dreams floated, vague and half-defined, in the back room of his mind. A succubus. A female demon, wet and vaginal. A night-visitor, vanishing at dawn. The ultimate convenience, conjured by desire then evaporated by its passing.
        And what he had instead was this -- well, this -- how to say it? This person. Asleep, and breathing smoothly, a faint smile of sweet contentment on her dreaming face.
        And is that good or bad? Well --
        "I can live with it," said Jeff, tenderly touching her cheek, touching her with real tenderness for the very first time. "I won't say it's ideal, but I can live with it."
        Maybe, at long last, he was really starting to grow up.

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