t was three in the morning and I walked down Smaug Avenue. A woman passed me. Attractive, a tight red dress that wrapped smoothly around her body, a shy smile on her lips. She looked on the ground while she passed me.
It was instinct. Pure instinct. I turned and looked. From behind even better than from the front. With a guilty smile I looked forward again.
I don’t know why I looked a second time. A second time my head turned and my upper body followed.
She just stood there. The dress was still tightly wrapped around her backside. Her body was still turned towards the front. But her head was turned to me. She grinned but her mouth and teeth were too large for her face.
That night I ran. I don’t think she followed me. And I don’t think she needed to.
It might all have been some sort of paranoia. An optical illusion due to loud music and sleep deprivation.
But since then I see them everywhere.
I stand in line at the supermarket and glance around to look which counter will be free first. I turn to the right and then to the left. In the corner of my vision I see eyes staring at me. A grin. When I turn my head to look straight at him he looks normal. He stares past me somewhere into the distance.
I sit in the back of the cab. The driver with his thick accent stays silent. The city scene flies by to my right. Outside I see faces flying past. From one moment to the next I feel his stare. I can feel the breath from his wide grin. I quickly turn back towards him. All I see is that his head moves back to face towards the front, as if he had just looked out of the passenger side window.
I enter the elevator. Two young women are already inside the cabin. I try to remember whether the elevator had just stopped for me or whether it had been there all along with the women inside. They nod when I enter. Silently they look at each other, one clears her throat. I notice a short dress and perfect legs. I press the button and turn to stand facing the door. Just when the display switches from “4” to “5” I hear a deep inhale. Something feels cold. In the blurry and small reflection of the I can see something white in their faces. They move towards me. When I turn they both shake their heads as if they just had a serious disagreement.
They look like us. They look like humans.
If anything is abnormal about them then it is that they are especially attractive, but not all of them are.
There is something human about disliking ugliness. The consensus is that evolution taught us to prefer pretty people, just like we prefer good-smelling people. Those are proxies for health. Good genes. Good mating partners.
We are careful when we see people that we perceive as ugly. Ugly people are expelled from society. They don’t get a chance to take part in our wealth and our mating system. That’s why they are to be avoided. That’s why they are dangerous. They have nothing to lose.
Sometimes I notice a homeless person staring at me. A cripple with large scars in his face or maybe just one arm or leg. In the corner of my vision I see the large white teeth but when I look he is just another homeless with a thousand yard stare or a tired expression.
I think they only bother to look pretty if they are on the hunt. It must be costly or exhausting for them to look attractive. But attractive people are less feared.
I keep turning. All day, wherever I am, I scan the area like a turret. I notice the cute girl before she enters my office. I turn and of course there is no grin anymore. She asks for the way to some office that she would have no reason to search.
I am wondering if they have always been there. Maybe since that night I am a target. Maybe I am the object of some weird competition where they try to see who gets closest.
They are getting too close.
Two weeks ago it was the parcel boy. A young man, strong upper arms. He brings a parcel of wine that I don’t expect.
“Sign here,” he says.
“Shall I put it inside?”
I let him pass to place the cardboard box on my living room floor.
“Before you sign you should check whether anything is broken.”
He walks past me back to the door. I crouch down next to the box and inspect the corners.
A faint crunching sound. I turn around, just in time to notice him straight behind me. The grin fades quickly from his face.
I think they are not allowed to be seen. But they need to show their real face to eat.
I am sure that it’s in one way or the other about eating. Feeding, that’s what I should call it.
Too many friends over too many years. They told me about the out-of-their-league boys or girls and later men or women that they conquered.
They never notice it themselves. I suppose the euphoria and pride of good sex hides the exhaustion.
After the sex comes the sleep. You sleep. They don’t.
Thinking back to all the “you won’t believe it” stories, the next weeks always show the effect. It’s not just suspicious enough that those partners never reappear. No matter how often we go again to the same bar or club – the mysterious one night stand doesn’t return.
But their effect stays. My friends always called it something along the lines of ‘bad luck” but I it’s not luck. That night, while you were asleep, they took something. That’s why you feel tired all day. That’s why your business contract fails. That’s why you keep stumping your toe, why the boss screams only at you, why the ticket inspector comes only that one day when you forget to buy a ticket. Not to mention why you forgot to buy a ticket.
I don’t know how long my luck will last.
It seems that the world is more crowded now. A month ago there were never so many people in the bars and on the street. Even at work there seem to be more employees. ‘Summer interns,’ all young and attractive. The trap.
Right now they all keep coming to me.
I sit at my desk and work on the new manual. The door is only slightly ajar.
A reflection in the screen. A movement behind me. I quickly turn around. The grin falls into a smile. Long brown hair, a silver cross dangling from her neck.
“Why are you behind me?”
“The door was open.”
“It was ajar.”
“And even if it’s open, that’s no reason to sneak inside.”
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You just did.”
“Next time you knock.”
Two days later I catch her behind me again, this time with her face close to my neck.
She invited me out for drinks.
I looked up and down her body, bit my lip and declined.
“Oh, come on, I won’t bite.”
“Is it my age?”
“No, I’m just busy.”
The next day she looks three years older. Older but still attractive.
She is always around me. Constantly there. And she is only the worst of the many. The whole flock, every one of them stands at some point in my door or is already through it by the time I notice.
I know that all seems paranoid. I certainly believed myself to be just paranoid.
That’s why, when she asked again, I said yes.
After the third glass of wine she seems even more attractive. Irresistible. In my mind I’m already pulling the white dress off her shoulders.
Is it the wine? Or does she actually look different?
We tumble towards her apartment. I am laughing and happy. I have the feeling she is not as drunk as she pretends to be.
In the elevator I lean against the cabin wall. She bites her lip. Then she comes and presses her lips on mine.
Backwards we tumble to her apartment. The key turns, the door opens.
Half-consciously I admire how tidy everything is.
She leads me further to the bedroom, throws me on the bed and pulls my clothes off. I brush the white dress off her shoulders.
Forty minutes later we lie next to each other. She rolls her head onto my naked shoulder. A faint gray light falls through the curtain.
“Good night,” she says.
She kisses my cheek. I close my eyes.
While I slowly fade into the darkness I hear her breathing calmly and steadily. Her head feels warm on my shoulder but her feet are cold.
Just as I cross that border, that tickling line between conscious and unconscious, I notice the silence. “Wake up,” says the voice in my head.
Her breathing has stopped.
I feel her skin rubbing against mine. Her head moves on my chest.
In one bolt my brain is awake.
I open my eyes. I look down.
Her eyes are wide open and she looks at my chin.
Her head still moves upwards.
I raise my head slightly.
I see her the large white teeth.
Her mouth opens.
I scream and push her away.
Her body thumps backwards on the floor. In one smooth motion she jumps to her feet.
For a moment the dim light is reflected in large eyes. Her mouth stands wide open.
Her eyes and mouth shrinks.
“Hey!” she screams. “Are you crazy?”
I’m already pulling my pants back on.
She screams more things. At one point she tries to pull my arm.
I find my clothes and, half-dressed, make my way to the apartment door.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
I look towards the elevator. The door is already open. A young woman stands inside. She smiles at me.
I pull the door. Just before it shuts I see her grin again.
I take the stairs.