By Andrew Nellis [Email]

Ellie's stomach rumbled alarmingly.

"You really ought to eat more," said Ditmar reproachfully. "Why don't we hit Mickey D's on the way home?"

Ellie shoved her math text into her backpack and shut the door on her locker with something like relief. Friday at last. This was her last year in high school, and she was working hard to snag a scholarship to a decent college next year. She snapped the lock on and gave her stomach a thoughtful pat.

"Yeah, okay. I could go for a burger," said Ellie. Her friend's face immediately lit up. If it had to do with food, Ditmar was interested. It showed, of course. Right now, it made for a certain voluptuous stoutness that attracted boys, but Ellie knew that in another ten years her friend's pudginess would turn to rolls of flab that were anything but attractive.

The two girls hefted their backpacks and shouldered their way through the Brownian motion of the milling students thronging the halls. There was a kind of exuberance that Ellie found infectious, and she began thinking about how she would spend her weekend.

The two girls walked in companionable silence for a while. Ditmar, as if reading her friend's mind, shot her a sideways glance. "You got anything planned for tomorrow?"

"Not really," said Ellie, knowing that she really ought to spend the day studying. Midterms for the final semester were coming up soon.

"My folks filled the pool this week. Why don't you come by and we can give it the inaugural swim. We'll have the place to ourselves. Mom and Pop are visiting some uncle or other. We could skinny-dip," said Ditmar, giggling.

"Uh, okay, sounds good to me," said Ellie. In fact, she was dreading the prospect. She enjoyed swimming, but the thought of revealing her body to anyone made her want to curl up under a rock. She was, as Ditmar enjoyed pointing out, all skin and sharp, angular bones. She could hardly bear to look at herself undressed in the mirror. She thought she looked like a gawky ostrich. It didn't help that, although she and Ditmar were in the same grade, Ellie was two years younger and less developed. Ellie had skipped a couple of grades along the way.

In the restaurant, Ditmar looked enviously at the food piled in front of her friend. "If I ate that way they'd have to carry me to school in a forklift," she groused, sucking noisily on her diet soda.

Ellie stuffed a second Big Mac in her mouth and chewed gustily. "Dunno what it is, I just can't gain any weight. And you know how much I eat."

Ditmar chewed grimly on her McSalad and kept her black thoughts to herself.

Rather than take the bus home from school as she usually did, Ellie decided to enjoy the warm spring afternoon by walking, so her mother was already back from work before she arrived. "Elektra, don't eat anything before dinner," her mother called out. Ellie grimaced.

"Mo-THER," she said, unable to keep the whine out of her voice. "I wish you wouldn't call me that. Everyone at school calls me 'Ellie.'"

"I don't know why," said her mother, entering the kitchen with her and closing the fridge door Ellie had opened. "Elektra's a beautiful name. And I told you, no snacks. I've ordered pizza, dinner's on its way."

"What about Dad?"

"Your father's stuck at the book store. He's getting a shipment in tonight. He told me not to wait dinner on him."

The pizza was good, and Ellie polished off a whole large herself, minus the two slices her mother ate. Angela, her mother, was an accounts executive at a chartered bank and, despite claims of non-sexist policies, had to make sure she looked good in a skirt if she expected to rise any higher. She knew that she had risen as high as she had - she had started out as a teller - only because of her fashion-model looks and trim ankles. Professional success meant giving up that extra slice or two of pizza.

"Oh, Ditmar wants me to come over tomorrow to study," said Ellie around a mouthful of pizza. "I'll probably spend the night. That okay?"

Her mother thought for a moment. "Ditmar, that's the chubby one with the red hair?"

Ellie nodded.

"And her parents are going to be there?"

If Ellie's mother heard the tiny pause, she didn't say anything. "Oh yes," said Ellie. "They said it would be okay."

"Well, that's fine then. I don't see any reason why not. You two make sure you get some studying done and don't spend all day goofing off. You have mid-terms coming."

Ellie sighed. "Yes, mother," she said in a long-suffering tone of voice that the parents of every teen-aged child knew all too well. Ellie made a mental note to hide her swimsuit at the bottom of her book bag tomorrow.

That night, just before she went to bed, Ellie heard her father come home. A few minutes later he came into her room.

"Got a keeper," he said, waving a large, heavy book.

Greg, her father, was a thin, wiry man with manic energy. When he remembered not to slouch, he was tall, over six feet, with long, spidery fingers. He owned a specialty book store known in scholarly circles, and if he had ever worn anything other than ratty tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, Ellie didn't know about it. His forehead was highly domed, looking even more so due to his thinning patch of hair that receded a little farther back every morning. Most striking were his eyes that blazed a fierce blue, the eyes of a fanatic.

A smile broke out on Ellie's face. Ever since she was little, her father had kept aside certain books, very special ones, from the ones he acquired through estate sales. First editions, special prints, limited runs by private publishers; all of them rarities. He had made it a point to bestow them on his only child, as if she were Salome, and he delivering John's head on a platter. She now had a collection several hundred strong that many an antiquarian would have gladly sold his soul to own.

"What is it?" she said eagerly, taking it reverently from his hands.

"It's an abridged Golden Bough, printed with original woodcuts, from a tiny outfit in Massachussets. There's only six known to exist, and all six are accounted for. Three are in the Vatican libraries, one each at Miskatonic and Oxford, and the Crowley estate is supposed to have another. It's supposed to have a section on Sumerian myth that was expurgated from the original." He gave her a penetrating look that she couldn't decipher.

"Wow, thanks," she enthused, placing it carefully in her book case between a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit and Culte des Ghoules. She turned and hugged him. "I love you daddy."

"I know you do," he said, strangely cold. Her face was pressed against his chest, and so she never saw the bleak look in his eyes. "I know you do."

Ellie was gone the next morning before her parents woke up. For the sake of appearances, she took a few books with her in her backpack, but a towel and her bathing suit were rolled up underneath them. She didn't plan on doing much studying.

As Ellie had suspected, Ditmar was up. On Saturday mornings, Ditmar made a ritual of eating several bowls of sugary, multi-hued cereal and watching cartoons on the wide-screen console in her living room.

"C'mon in," said Ditmar cheerily. "You're just in time for the Care Bears. Help yourself to a bowl of Sugar-Frosted Chocolate Bombs."

By noon when the cartoons ended, Ellie was feeling antsy. She didn't like sitting in front of the television for so long. "Nice and sunny out. The pool deck is probably bright and warm," she hinted to Ditmar, who looked like she was perfectly willing to spend the rest of the day staring at the screen, which was currently showing a commercial for a particularly foul- tasting brew of beer.

Ellie went to the bathroom to change into her swimsuit while Ditmar pulled the cover off the pool. Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, Ellie cringed as she took off her clothes. Naked like this, she couldn't help but notice the jutting shoulder blades, the bony knees, the skin molded around each rib. She was thankful Ditmar hadn't suggested a skinny-dip again.

After slipping into her very modest swimsuit - the better to cover her hideousness, she thought - she tied back her mousy blonde hair. Ditmar, whose hair was a fiery red, claimed to envy her for her natural blondeness. Ellie found that hard to believe. To Ellie's mind, her hair was a kind of dull non-colour, and certainly it had the unfortunate tendancy to frizz at the ends in damp weather. Ellie inspected her face in the mirror and wrinkled her nose at what she saw. Freckles, freckles, freckles. She was glad she hadn't been afflicted with acne like most of the other kids in her class, but she was ashamed of the ample scattering of brown dots that covered her face in a wide band.

Resolutely, Ellie left the bathroom and marched out to the deck behind the house like a prisoner on the way to the scaffold. She groaned inwardly.

Ditmar was happily paddling away in the water, quite as naked as the day she was born. Her large breasts floated and bobbed, and when she rolled over, Ellie could see the triangular red thatch of hair that covered her pubis. Ditmar waved.

"The water's nice and warm," called Ditmar. "C'mon, take off your suit. No one'll see."

That much was true. Ditmar's house sat on a five-acre lot, surrounded by trees. Even if a neighbour had happened to pass by, the backyard was screened by enormous square hedges, and the pool deck itself was walled in by high pine fencing.

"I'm fine like this," said Ellie miserably, slipping into the pool. She felt awkward, but it beat having to reveal any more of herself. It was bad enough in gym when she had to shower with the other girls and earned herself the nickname of "xylophone" for her protruding ribs.

"Prude," said Ditmar. She slapped water at Ellie, drenching her hair and making her squeal. Soon both girls were laughing and engaging in the kind of horseplay common to teenagers in a pool, nudity and lack of nudity forgotten.

When they had exhausted themselves, they pulled themselves out and spread beach towels on the hot wooden deck. The sun blazed down with welcome heat, and they sprawled themselves out to banish the pale, fish-belly white skin of winter.

Ellie still felt disquieted, and couldn't get comfortable. Her stomach growled complainingly. "I think I'm gonna go get something to munch on," she said after a while. Ditmar remained silent, eyes closed, her breasts rising and falling with slow regularity.

"Ditmar?" said Ellie. "You want something to eat?"

Silence. Ditmar was asleep.

Ellie sat up, and that's when it hit her. Her face went chalk-white. Oh no, she thought. Not now. Not here. She struggled to hold onto her thoughts, but they slipped like faerie dust through her fingers. It wasn't time, she wailed in her mind, I still have days to go! None of it made the slightest difference. Her aching stomach clenched like a fist, and she doubled over as if someone had punched her. The Hunger had come upon her.

With the last of her will, she looked wildly around for something, anything. A squirrel. A crow. Even a frog might do it. The deck was pristine and spotless. Spotless, said an icy and rational part of her mind that had floated to the surface of her thoughts, except for Ditmar.

She had never handled anything that large before, and the challenge of it excited her. Her eyes smouldered and narrowed to mere slits. A cunning smile crept across her face. Yes, she knew what to do.

Ellie leaned languidly over to the slumbering form beside her. With a delicate hand, she lifted Ditmar's left foot by the heel and ran her tongue across the tips of her toes. Protein complexes, reported her taste buds. High-order genetic material. Food.

Her lips encompassed Ditmar's toes, and then stretched fantastically to envelop her whole foot. Ellie lifted Ditmar's other foot to her mouth, and worked the toes, wiggling them back and forth, inside. Ellie's jaw unhinged itself and a second later, both feet were inside her mouth. Ditmar slept on.

Pushing her head forward, Ellie forced Ditmar's toes down the back of her rapidly swelling throat. Her lips crept forward past the ankles, up to Ditmar's well-padded calves. There had been no challenge up to this point. Powerful muscles worked in cooperation and Ellie swallowed. Ditmar's feet disappeared down her throat, and Ditmar was dragged across the deck as her legs disappeared past Ellie's lips to the knees. It was then that the ringing alarm bells in Ditmar's subconscious succeeded in getting her attention.

Ditmar was aware of a strange warmth on her legs, not unpleasant, but constricting. She felt as if her feet were embedded in a tub of warm gelatin. As sleep drained out of her, she felt a rippling sensation along her legs and the warmth crept up to the base of her buttocks. She opened her eyes.

Ellie, though her mouth was stretched grotesquely and her abdomen was distended out with the shape of feet and lower legs clearly outlined in it, was easily recognizable. The look in her eyes was not. They were cold, very cold, and glittered. She was on her hands and knees, and her lips girdled the tops of Ditmar's thighs.

"Ellie? Ellie, wh- what's happening?" said Ditmar, no panic in her voice yet, just amazement and shock. She felt dream-like, insubstantial. She could not bring herself to believe what her senses told her.

The food was awake, thought Ellie. Good, it was more fun that way. Slipping her hands under Ditmar's bare buttocks, Ellie lifted and with great effort rose to her knees. All but Ditmar's head and shoulders were off the ground now. Swallowing powerfully, her friend's fleshy buttocks were sucked into her mouth with a slurping sound. Ellie was suddenly aware of Ditmar's furred cleft against her tongue, of her own nipples hardening. Now she wondered why she had waited so long to do this.

"Ellie," said Ditmar in a voice almost a whisper, hoarse with terror. "Stop it. What are you doing? This is -" Her reeling mind refused to come up with an adjective even vaguely descriptive of what she felt. "What's happening? Ellie!"

There was panic in Ditmar's voice now. Her legs were enveloped in something soft but unyielding. She tried to flex her knees, but she was held by immense strength. "Help! Someone help! Oh no! Ellie, please, don't!"

Ellie paused briefly. She had never attempted anything this size before, and she could feel her abdomen stretching, stretching. There was no pain, but she had a sensation of fullness, as if she were a balloon being filled with water. Not feeling any pain, she regretfully ceased the explorations with her tongue and swallowed again - hard.

Ditmar's whole abdomen disappeared into her mouth. Ellie's nose was buried between Ditmar's breasts. Ditmar shrieked, shrill and incoherent. The scream of a rabbit in the jaws of a predator. She flailed at Ellie's face with her fists.

Ellie grabbed Ditmar's hands by the wrists. Stretching her lips even more - and now there were the first pangs of pain, of flesh stretched to the point of tearing - she shoved the hands into her mouth and worked them down alongside Ditmar's waist, until she felt the scrabbling fingers at the back of her throat.

Swallowing was harder now, had to be done in tiny increments. There was definitely pain in Ellie's abdomen now where Ditmar's legs kicked and thrashed helplessly against their constriction. Ellie heard a tearing sound and feared for a moment that she had been ripped open, but it was merely her swimsuit shredding under the pressure of her now enormous midsection.

Slowly, slowly, Ditmar's breasts and shoulder blades sank inside Ellie's mouth. Ditmar had screamed herself voiceless, and now made breathy noises while moving her lips in gibbering supplication, tears of terror streaming down her face. A pause while Ellie braced herself. She cupped her hands over Ditmar's large breasts to compress them as small as possible. A hard swallow and Ditmar's breasts slid halfway inside. Using her thumbs, Ellie wadded the tops of the breasts into her mouth like dough into a bread pan, using her teeth to keep the plump flesh from falling back out. With relief, Ellie felt her lips constrict somewhat as they slid smoothly over Ditmar's shoulders to form a ring around her throat.

Now only Ditmar's head remained outside Ellie's mouth. Ditmar's eyes were rolling in their sockets, her breathing rapid, almost panting. The pain in Ellie's abdomen was almost unbearable. She felt as if she might explode at any second. Unable to work her terrified prey any farther down her gullet, she placed her hands in the top of Ditmar's head - and pushed.

A painful, excruciating gulp and Ditmar's head was pulled inside Ellie's mouth. Ellie's last sight of her friend was Ditmar's huge, panic-stricken eyes, still imploring, sliding under her upper lip. Ellie's lips sphinctered back to their accustomed size and shape, only Ditmar's trademark red hair hanging now in profusion from her lower lip.

With a convulsion of rapid swallowing, a last herculean effort, Ditmar's head and shoulders plummeted down Ellie's throat with a wet plop and Ditmar's hair was sucked in and swallowed. She had done it. She had eaten a whole human being. Ellie's eyes blazed with triumph.

Now, however, Ellie lacked the strength to remain upright. The enormous weight she carried within her dragged her down to the ground. She lay on her back with her hands on her abdomen, delighting in the feel of the fetally curled Ditmar's squirming struggles. Within minutes the writhing inside her grew more feeble until finally it stopped altogether. Ellie crooned to herself contentedly as she stroked the hideously bloated flesh of her midsection.

The post-Hunger torpor descended like a lead weight. All traces of consciousness fled, and her muscles went slack. Blackness.

Wakefulness came slowly, a gentle floating from the black depths of oblivion into the faint light of consciousness. Ellie blinked eyes crusted from a long sleep at the splash of pink across the sky that heralded the dawn of a new day. Dew had settled on her during the night and she shivered violently in the pre-morning chill.

Ellie sat up, stretching stiff muscles. She rubbed her throat. Sore. Wearing a frown of puzzlement, she looked around her at the pool deck, not knowing where she was. Ellie thought back to the last thing she could remember. She had been visiting a friend. Watching television. A swim. And then. And then- what? A dream. A curiously erotic dream. She blushed at the memory. Ellie realized suddenly that she was wearing a swimsuit, or rather, the tattered remains of a swimsuit.

A moan was torn from her throat as she stared at the shredded midsection of her swimsuit. Ellie buried her face in her hands. It had not been a dream. What had she done? Why had she done it? She moaned again, curling herself protectively in a huddle against the cold and her torturous misery.

Somehow she staggered to her feet and reeled drunkenly from the pool deck to the house. The sheer prosaic normality of Ditmar's comfortable suburban home seemed to make the horror in Ellie's mind worse. Keeping herself upright by leaning against walls, she lurched her way into the bathroom and slapped the switch on. Ellie stared down at the porcelain sink. What would she see when she looked in the mirror, she wondered. What monster would be staring at her from her own eyes?

Stop being stupid, Ellie told herself. It had been a dream. She had walked out to the pool in her sleep, laid down, and had a disturbingly erotic dream. Ditmar was asleep in her bed, and would come down the stairs in a little while. How could it be any other way? Ellie looked up into the mirror and she gasped with astonishment.

She looked... wonderful. Her ribs had filled in. Her small orange-sized breasts had swollen to the size of grapefruit and sat pertly atop solid pectoral muscle. Her face had lost its gaunt look and even her hair seemed to glow with healthy radiance instead of hanging limply. She ran arms taut with new muscle across her rippled stomach and down her smoothly curving hips. With powerful fingers she kneeded the ample flesh of what had been pipestem thighs. And she knew it had been no dream.

Ellie dressed quickly in clothes that no longer fit right. She found that her bra constricted her to the point she had to leave it off, and stuffed it into her backpack along with her torn swimsuit. She left Ditmar's house quickly, taking the long route home. She needed to think.

Ellie's earliest memory of what she called the Hunger was of her sixth birthday party. All the children had gone home after the requisite games of pin-the-tail and blind man's bluff, and she was left alone in the family room with her gifts. She could no longer remember where her parents had been. Probably in the kitchen cleaning up. One of those presents had been a kitten, a gift from her mother.

The kitten had been fluffy and white and adorable with a little pink bow on its head. Ellie played with it on her lap while she tried to think of a good name for her. "Hello kitty," Ellie chanted in sing-song, "hello kitty."

Ellie craned her head down to kiss the kitten's adorable head, and something inside her had just... clicked. She had opened her mouth over the kitten's tiny head and swallowed. The kitten gave a very brief mew and then was drawn down Ellie's throat, with only the tail and hind claws kicking and writhing in the air beyond her lips. With a rapid series of swallows, the rest of the kitten was eaten. Ellie had felt the kitten squirming in her stomach briefly, and for some reason the sensation had conjured up a ticklish feeling in her thighs.

Ellie's parents had been startled when she began wailing. They ran into the family room, worried that she had hurt herself, and found her in tears. A quick examination convinced them she was not hurt, but when they asked her what was wrong, Ellie could only sob over and over again, "I ate kitty!"

A thorough search of the house did not reveal the kitten. Ellie's mother told her that the kitten would come out when it was hungry, but Ellie could not be consoled. Ellie's father had stared at her until Ellie wilted under his gaze. There was some complex emotion in his face that Ellie could not grasp, and it made her a little frightened.

That night while Ellie lay in bed, she listened to her parents arguing. They must have thought she was asleep, and it was, after all, quite late. Ellie, though, had been unable to sleep with the awareness of what she had done.

"What did the little bugger do with it, do you think?" asked her mother in a peevish voice. Ellie didn't know what a bugger was, but she didn't think it was something good. Tears trickled down her face. I am bad, she thought. I am a bad bugger.

"Keep your voice down," said her father. "You want her to hear you?"

"Your darling little daughter is asleep," replied her mother.

There was a significant pause. "In case you've forgotten, she's your daughter too. Remember?" said her father, in an angry voice that made Ellie scared.

"How can I forget," retorted Ellie's mother acidly. "You never let me."

"Good God, Angie, that's your fifth drink," her father said. "Don't you think you've had enough?"

"You worried I'll be too drunk to screw, Greg?" Ellie wondered why her mother's voice was so fuzzy, like she was talking baby-talk.

"I don't notice much difference when you're sober," her father had growled.

"Hey Greg," said her mother in an overloud and malicious voice. "I'm not the only cunt in the house. Nice tight one for you sleeping upstairs."

There was a crack of flesh hitting flesh and a thud like something heavy falling. Ellie's heart hammered in her chest.

"God," said her father, "I'm sorry Angie, God I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Her mother's sobbing voice floated up the stairs. "No, I'm sorry. I- I shouldn't drink so much. I-" and the tremulous voice broke up into incoherence. Ellie didn't remember anything after that, so she must have fallen asleep.

Over the proceeding years, the Hunger came at wide intervals sometimes as large as a year. A pet turtle and friend's guinea pig went the way of the kitten. Squirrels and pigeons learned to avoid her. Always it came when she was alone and when there was no chance of being observed. And always it was the same, a gnawing, burning need for living flesh, consumed whole, that drove all other considerations out of her mind.

The day Ellie had her first menstrual cycle at the age of thirteen, she experienced the most agonizing Hunger of her life. It was as if her own insides were being dissolved, consumed by her inner fires. She had thrown open the front door of her house in the middle of the night and fled out into the street in search of... prey. That was the first time the word had entered her mind.

A neighbour's dog was tied up in the backyard beside her own. Ellie, dressed only in her nightgown, skinned her knees and bruised the soles of her feet scaling the fence. Though she knew the dog, a german shepherd, was a watch dog and very dangerous, she was not in the least concerned. In fact, the dog had caught her scent and was straining at its chain, whimpering, trying desperately to get away. Before the dog could turn to fight, she had its muzzle in her mouth. It took her almost a half-hour to fully eat the dog and when she was done, a lethargy struck her so hard she could barely stand. If there had not been a latch on her side of the fence, she would not have made it home. As it was, it was a close call, collapsing into bed with a swollen abdomen just seconds before sleep fell on her.

The next morning when she had awoken with a foul taste in her mouth, Ellie had been inclined to ascribe the whole incident to a dream - until she noticed her dirty nightgown and bruised feet. The dog was never seen again and was assumed to have slipped its leash. The shock of seeing the trickle of blood between her legs was greater, in any case, than her surprise in having eaten something so large and her curiosity at how she could have digested something like that in the space of a single night.

From that point on, the Hunger had coincided with her monthly cycle. When her cycle was late, so was the Hunger. When her cycle was early -

This thought stopped Ellie on the street. She would not have gone swimming if she had been expecting her period. She had assumed it was at least another four days away. She had never been four days early. As if in response to her thoughts, she felt a warm trickle between her legs, and by habit began looking for a bathroom. In a 24 hour corner market she managed to beg the use of their employee bathroom, and slipped on a pad.

Ellie walked the rest of the way home in a daze. She let herself in the door quietly, since no one would be up, and crawled into bed. Guilt hammered at her. It had been her own negligence. Ellie had gambled on her regularity without realizing it - and it was Ditmar who lost. Tears of remorse leaked from her as she cried herself to sleep.

Wakefulness came with the welcome aromas of bacon and coffee. The sun was high outside Ellie's window. She had slept for hours. Slipping into her housecoat, Ellie padded down to the bathroom after making sure the upstairs hallway was empty. As she allowed herself to relax under the stinging spray of the shower, she put herself to work on her immediate problems.

Ellie was, as her father frequently pointed out, a practical girl. She knew that her two biggest problems would be her sudden change in appearance, and and Ditmar's - the word "death" floated through her mind, making her shiver, and she quickly discarded it - disappearance.

Lathering up her supple new breasts, she considered the problem of her appearance. For years, she had been using make-up and clothing to make herself look less gaunt. She was certain she could do the opposite. She knew, for instance, that she could use eyeshadow to deepen her sockets, and blush to sharpen the bones of her face. Most of her clothes were already quite baggy so as to hide her scrawniness, and it would serve equally well to hide her new curves. She would have to wear long sleeves and stay away from skirts for a while, though. And she doubted she could hide the change entirely from people who knew her well - like her parents. She sighed. It was not a perfect solution, but it was the best she could do.

Ditmar was a much more difficult problem because there was no way for her to know what would happen. Ditmar's parents would probably report her missing sometime today. Ellie's own parents knew that Ellie had been over there yesterday, so she couldn't very well claim not to have seen Ditmar. It could get sticky. Her best defence, she decided, would be to stick to the truth. Yes, she had been over. They had gone swimming. Ellie had gone to sleep. The next morning she had left without seeing her friend. There was nothing that could be produced to contradict that because it was, as far as it went, what actually happened.

Ellie turned off the water and stepped from the tub. She towelled herself off facing the mirror, admiring herself, instead of facing away as she usually did. She ran her fingers down the ridges of her stomach muscles. She could definitely get used to this, she thought. She caught herself preening and became disturbed. The thought which had been quietly burning in the back of her mind now blazed up with fiery intensity: Just what was she?

A whole host of words culled from myth and folklore presented themselves to her, words from the books that lined her bedroom wall. Vampire. Ghoul. Nosferatu. Ogre. Goblin. The last struck a chord with her as she recalled the story of Red Cap, the goblin whose great strength came from the cap he dipped in the blood of his victims.

But all those things were fictional. Amazing and horrifying as she seemed to be, Ellie felt there was a kind of obscene biological logic to the strange curse she possessed. She had known that snakes often ate their prey whole and living. Indeed, she had stared, fascinated, the first time she had seen a picture of one eating a rabbit. She had wondered if she looked like that when she... fed. But snakes took days and weeks to digest their food, and sometimes went for years without eating. It seemed to Ellie that she was not so much snakelike as - amoebic. She rolled the word around. Yes, that felt right. Amoebic. Engulfing prey and incorporating it into her own flesh. Images from science films flashed across her mind. Except that in her mind, the hapless microbe being engulfed was not a bacterium but a naked screaming girl with bright red hair. Ellie's eyes dropped from the mirror and she shuddered.

Ellie had avoided thinking about her moral obligations as long as possible. So long as she had confined her depredations to animals, she had rationalized that people ate meat all the time; whether the meat was alive or dead when it was eaten was of little importance to the animal. Now that she had- she shied away from posing brutally in her mind what she had done. Now that something bad had happened, she was forced to consider whether she should turn herself in to whatever authorities had an interest in such things.

That was one problem, of course. Ellie, for the life of her, could not think of any place or organization that existed for things like this. There were the police, of course. She wondered whether they'd even believe her if she baldly told them what she had done. There were probably government agencies that would be interested, but she was not going to spend the rest of her life as a lab specimen. She'd rather die first. And that, of course, was another option.

As Ellie experimented with make-up in the mirror, she came to the realization that she had already made up her mind. She knew that she would do whatever was necessary to remain free, and that she had no intention of taking her own life in a useless gesture. What good would it do Ditmar, she thought, to make a ruin of her own life? What had happened had been a big mistake, a tragedy. But now she would be careful, knowing what she was capable of, and she would live her life to the fullest in tribute to her friend. Besides, said a sly part of her, she really did look fabulous. If a tragedy had to happen, well, surely it was okay to see something good come of it. It wasn't a thought she was proud of, but there it was, and she was too much a pragmatist to spend time fretting about it.

There, thought Ellie as she surveyed her face in the mirror. Not too bad. The make-up wasn't perfect, but she thought that it might work. She felt a sense of relief for the first time since she had opened her eyes beside the pool that morning. She had a plan of action and everything was orderly in her mind.

Ellie padded back to her bedroom and put on a t-shirt. It was very tight on her, especially across the chest, which was what she wanted. Over that she put the bulkiest knitted sweater she owned, and slipped into a pair of loose jeans. It was now or never, she thought, and went downstairs.

Her parents were sitting in the dining room, eating an early lunch. As Ellie entered the room, her father glanced over at her, and then turned his head back in a rapid double-take. Ellie slid into her seat.

Ellie's mother looked up from her grapefruit and tilted her head to the side like a curious dog. "Elektra," she said, puzzlement in her voice, "did Ditmar do something to your hair?"

"She, uh, she showed me some neat tricks for putting on make-up," said Ellie, trying to sound nonchalant. "Makes me look bigger, I think."

"Unbelievable," said her mother, staring. "You would not believe the difference it makes. I'd almost think you were another person. Hard to believe Ditmar could do that. Really, Elektra, it's like magic. Maybe that head of hers isn't completely empty after all."

Ellie squirmed uncomfortably. Her father had not said a word or moved. His fork hovered where it had stopped with a bit of fried egg still impaled on it. He stared at Ellie with an intensity that made her fidget nervously.

"How on earth did she accomplish it?" asked Ellie's mother, buttering a slice of toast. "I mean, really, it doesn't seem possible. Does it, Greg?"

Ellie's father opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He closed it again. He continued to stare. At last he spoke, and when he did, he never removed his eyes from Ellie. "No," he said slowly, "I don't think it's that big a difference. You're just not used to seeing Ellie in this lighting. You know, kids her age, turn your head and they've sprouted another inch here, another inch there."

Ellie's mother considered. "You're probably right. Anyway, whatever you're doing, Elektra, keep it up. You're looking positively healthy these days. If you'd listened to me in the first place and come out with me to the health club, you wouldn't have looked so scrawny. Maybe if you take a little better care of yourself you'll be able to find a nice boy."

With some surprise, Ellie discovered she was hungry. She filled her plate twice with marmalade on toast and bacon. When she was finished, she excused herself to go to her room and study. She noticed that the food on her father's plate had congealed into a greasy mess. He had not touched it.

The first phone call came that evening at nine o'clock.

"No, Mrs. Gruenwald, I don't know where Ditmar is," said Ellie. "Yes, if she calls I'll let you know. Okay, I'll let you speak to my mom again."

The next three calls came at nine-thirty, twenty to ten, and a quarter to ten, each more frantic than the last. A few minutes before eleven o'clock, Ellie was sitting in her living room, talking to a police constable.

"No, officer. Ditmar hasn't called. I have no idea where she might be. No, she didn't say anything to me yesterday. That's right, I didn't see her this morning. Yes, if I knew anything I'd tell you. Yes, I know it's really important. No, I'm not worried about getting in trouble. I really, honestly don't know."

Despite the worries on her mind, Ellie had no trouble getting to sleep that night. She still felt exhausted, as if she had run a marathon race. Out in the darkened hallway, her father watched her sleep, his face impassive, his smooth forehead gleaming in the moonlight.

Over the course of the next week, Ellie started getting her life back into some semblance of a routine. Classes helped, even if the teachers did tend to stare at her out of the corner of their eyes, as if not quite trusting what their eyes told them. Most of the other students, never very close and not inclined to pay Ellie any great attention, failed to notice any change in her appearance at all. Ellie did, however, notice a lot more admiring glances from boys.

In gym, Ellie took to waiting for everyone else to leave before she showered, and wore her gym clothes under her regular clothes so she wouldn't have to strip. She got enough strange looks from the gym coach anyway, since she had to wear shorts and a t-shirt, and her new development could not be hidden.

Every now and then Ellie would feel the hole in her life where Ditmar had been. After school she would turn to say something clever, and remember that Ditmar was not beside her. She would catch herself making plans that involved Ditmar, or making note of something interesting that she wanted to tell Ditmar. By the end of the week, though, Ellie found that she was managing to adjust, and had even started talking to new people. Friday came, and with mid-terms only a week away, she planned to spend the weekend studying.

Ellie had just stepped away from her locker when two men approached. One she recognized as the principal, Mr. Mpongo. The other she didn't know, but he wore a suit and was very tall, taller even than the principal.

"Ellie," said Mr. Mpongo, "this is Detective DeVries. He's in charge of helping to find Ditmar. I'd like you to speak to him."

"I'll help however I can," said Ellie gravely.

"Good," said Mr. Mpongo, a sad smile creasing his dusky face. "You can use the meeting room to talk."

Detective DeVries watched Ellie closely as they walked to the meeting room behind the principal. He had said nothing, and Ellie was beginning to feel sweat beading on her palms. She wiped them unobtrusively on her pants, but when she looked up she realized the detective had seen her. He met her gaze equably, no emotion at all on his face.

"I'll leave you two to talk," said Mr. Mpongo, closing the door to the meeting room as he left. The detective had seated himself across the boardroom table from Ellie and allowed her to have a good look at him before he spoke. He was somewhere in middle age, but beyond that Ellie couldn't tell. His hair was silver at the temples, but his build was solid with no sign of softening at the middle. His face was scarred on both cheeks by old acne pocks, and would never have fit any classic mold for handsomeness, though he had a certain rough charm.

"You know that your friend Ditmar has been missing for nearly a week," said DeVries at last in a mellifluous tenor voice that surprised Ellie. She had been expecting at least a baritone. "We'd like to find her. Right now, our main concern is getting her back. Later on we'll worry about laying blame or fault."

Ellie nodded in eager agreement. "Oh yes, I know that. I wish there was something I could do to help. I told the police everything I know."

DeVries pulled out a notepad and began reading through it. "You told Constable Bryant that you left at dawn on Sunday morning and didn't see Ditmar. Is that right?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Where did you sleep?" he asked casually.

"In- in the spare room, where I always do."

"Funny," said DeVries, scratching behind his ear, "the bed wasn't slept in."

Ellie felt heat rise unwillingly to her cheeks. "I, uh, I made the bed before I left."

"And then folded the sheets and put them in the linen closet?"

"No, that is, I, uh-"

"The sheets weren't in the linen closet, Ellie. They were on the bed. Why aren't you certain of that?" said DeVries, lifting his eyebrows to peer at Ellie as if she was the most interesting thing he had ever seen.

Cold fury washed through Ellie's veins. She took a deep breath and calmed herself. She was smarter than this. "I don't know, sir. It's all been such a shock to me. I guess I don't remember exactly. I've been over there so many times, I tend to get it mixed up. I think I slept in the guest bed."

"But you're not sure," said DeVries, making a jot in his notebook. "What was Ditmar wearing the last time you saw her?"

"Uh, she wasn't wearing anything," said Ellie, continuing quickly when the detective raised his eyebrows again. "That is, we, or rather, she went skinny dipping in the pool."

"When did you two get out of the pool?" asked DeVries, making another jot in his notebook.

Ellie smiled inwardly. She saw this trap coming. "I got out of the pool about two o'clock, with Ditmar. We sunbathed for a while, then I went into the house. Ditmar didn't. I went upstairs to study because I knew all Ditmar would want to do is watch television when she came in. I fell asleep not too long after and woke up at dawn. Then I went home."

"Without seeing Ditmar again. When you got home, what did you do?"

"I- I don't see what this has to do with anything," said Ellie, in the most innocent tone she could conjure.

"Surely you have no objection to answering, do you?" asked DeVries in a tone that was almost a mockery of Ellie's own.

"I went to sleep," said Ellie.

"After almost twelve hours of sleep, you went to sleep again," said DeVries, making it a statement rather than a question. "You must have been very tired. Tell me, Ellie, do you know what things of Ditmar's are missing?"

"I have no idea," said Ellie, quite honestly.

"Nothing," said DeVries, with deceptive casualness. "Not a single thing. If Ditmar left the house, she left it barefoot in her birthday suit. You'd think something like that would attract a little attention from the neighbours. Ellie, I don't know what it is you're not telling me, but believe me when I say that I will find out, and if it is something that could help us to find Ditmar, you, young lady, will be in a great deal of trouble, juvenile or no juvenile."

"He did what!" shouted Ellie's father, letting the book in his lap fall unheeded to the floor.

Ellie paled. "Detective DeVries asked me a whole bunch of questions at school, and then drove me home. I told him everything I could, honest."

"Greg, calm down," said her mother, alarmed. "No harm done. He was just asking her a few questions. It's not like he was working her over or something. I'm sure there's a good explanation."

"I'll have his badge," growled her father. "Interrogating my daughter without her parents present - it's an outrage. I'm calling Ignatio."

Ignatio Hort was the family lawyer, a somber man Ellie had met only on a few occasions when he had dropped by the house to draw up a contract for her father's book store.

"Hold on, Greg, what's wrong?" asked her mother, astonished at the sudden fury in her husband's voice.

Ellie's father collapsed back into his chair with his head sagging, as if he were a puppet with its strings cut. He looked deflated and shrunken. "I guess you're right. I'm over-reacting. God, I'll be glad when all of this is over."

Both Ellie and her mother stared with wide-eyed surprise at the strange outburst of emotion. I had no idea, Ellie thought, that he had taken Ditmar's disappearance so hard. Not daring to speak, she crept out of the room and went upstairs to study.

That weekend, Ellie purchased two white mice from a pet store and a half dozen tennis balls. After taking the balls out, she put the mice in the tube along with some wood shavings and a handful of bird seed. She wasn't expecting her period for at least another two weeks even if she was early, but she was not going to take any chances. Though she normally hated to carry a purse, she started toting one regularly to keep the tube in so that it would be handy at all times. She knew she would require more than just the two tiny rodents, but it would slake her need for long enough to find something suitable.

Another week passed uneventfully, and Ellie threw herself gratefully into the tribulations of a normal adolescent existance. With her more attractive appearance came new confidence, which in turn inspired more admiration from her peers. Ellie was chumming now with the most popular girls in school, something she would not have imagined possible a month earlier, but such is high school; the great wheel of popularity turns with greater speed than anyone immersed within the culture realizes. She came to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, what had happened was all for the best. After all, she thought - though she had the good grace to feel guilty for doing so - it wasn't as if Ditmar had been very popular.

Friday after classes, Ellie joined her new circle of acquaintances behind the school, their usual haunt. She had more than two hours to spare, because tonight she was going to help with the semi-annual inventory in her father's book store. Ellie and her father would sit among the dusty stacks until the wee hours of the morning, clipboard in hand, then return home and spend the whole next day sleeping. The easy, silent comraderie, the smell of the old books, the creaking of the old, sagging wooden floor with every step; all these things were as familiar to her as a favorite teddy bear and just as valued. There was no sense in arriving before six o'clock when the store closed, and there really wasn't time enough to go home first, so Ellie planned to hang around the school for a while.

"So, I go, like, have you got this in, like, some colour other than, like, this yucky eggplant, and the clerk, she goes, like-" Ellie tuned Caitlin out and let her mind wander. As usual, Caitlin was regaling Ellie and the other two girls, Roweena and Susan, with gripping tales of her shopping adventures. It was the most popular clique in school and Ellie was the new inductee - on temporary try-out, of course. Frankly, they all bored the socks off of Ellie, but she was stubbornly determined to climb the social ladder.

Ellie did have to admit that Caitlin had good fashion sense. As did both Roweena and Susan, of course, but to a lesser degree. At the moment, Caitlin was wearing a chest-hugging cashmere sweater that fairly cried out its three digit cost, and a currently-trendy leather miniskirt. I could wear something like that, thought Ellie, I have the build for it now. She glanced at Caitlin's long, tanned legs and tiny feet carefully inserted into expensive leather sandals. Nice legs, she thought. Smooth and soft. Delicious.

The thought stopped Ellie cold. A thin thread of panic coiled through her mind. Her stomach convulsed and she felt the first stirrings of Hunger.

"Ellie? Ellie, what's wrong?" asked Roweena, the most perceptive of the three. "You look white as a sheet."

Caitlin frowned at the interruption of her story. "I, uh, I think I forgot something. I have to go b-back," stammered Ellie, sweat popping out on her brow as the Hunger began crowding out her thoughts.

"I'll go with you," said Roweena, probably glad for the excuse to avoid the rest of Caitlin's story.

"NO!" shouted Ellie, with raw emotion in her voice. The three other girls drew back in surprise. "I mean, um, no, I'll go alone. I- I, uh-"

Ellie turned on her heel and fled at a sprint for the back door of the school, clutching her purse to her chest.

"Well!" said Caitlin breathily as the mystified girls watched the rapidly departing Ellie. "We're not good enough for her," she sniffed. "I guess not everyone appreciates my good taste."

There were not many students left in the school. It being a Friday, most had cleared out with great speed. Still, what Ellie needed to do required complete privacy. Without slowing, Ellie slammed into the swinging door to the girls' washroom. It was empty. She let herself into a stall and sat down on the toilet, her purse on her lap. With trembling fingers, she drew out the tube of mice and opened the top. She clawed both mice out with a single hand and crammed them into her mouth along with a generous portion of cedar chips. A second later they were a lump traveling down her throat.

Ten seconds later, Ellie knew it was not enough. Not anywhere near enough. The Hunger had grown - monstrously.

The door to the bathroom opened, and a girl in gym shorts and a t-shirt entered. She was probably a member of the track and field squad, thought Ellie. Lots of tasty muscle.

Ellie waited in her stall while the girl used the stall next to her. When she was finished and emerged to wash her hands, Ellie left her own stall. The girl, whom Ellie did not know since she looked to be from one of the lower grades, glanced up at Ellie in the mirror as she washed her hands. Ellie grinned at her, showing a wide expanse of white teeth.

Just then the door opened again and a female janitor came in, pushing her cart before her. The grin vanished from Ellie's face and she paled as she realized what she had almost done. Ellie shouldered rudely past the woman and the cart, and ran from the bathroom at full tilt.

Ellie's thoughts were a jumbled kaleidoscope of burning Hunger and panic. With what was left of her reason, she wracked her mind, trying desperately to think of somewhere she might sate herself safely. Her blind flight took her past the science lab, and something made her pause. Of course! The animals!

Giving thanks that the door was not yet locked, Ellie strode into the room and straight for the cages along the back wall. At her entry, the animals began to squeak in alarm. One by one she opened the doors to the cages and pulled out squealing handfuls of fuzz. Gerbils, mice, and lab rats were first, eaten as fast as she could pop them into her mouth. Two guinea pigs followed with only slightly more effort. The rabbit required three swallows, and shrilled in a high-pitched scream that made Ellie's eyes dart nervously to the door to the classroom. Straining the water with her fingers, Ellie scooped the fish from their tank and slid them down her throat in rapid succession.

Altogether, she had eaten over fifteen pounds of animals and her abdomen bulged slightly, twitching as something within made a last desperate struggle. It was not enough. Ellie gave cry to a sob of frustration and turned to survey the room. She had eaten everything within it that moved. She ran to the door at the front of the room that led to the combined storage closet and office for the biology teacher, and turned the handle. Locked.

With inhuman strength, Ellie gripped the steel knob until indentations formed under her fingers and twisted. There was a crack as the lock gave way, and Ellie entered. Moving methodically from one end of the tiny room to the other, Ellie found and ate: an enormous tapeworm from a sheep's stomach floating in a jar of formaldehyde; a lateral section of a human brain encased in lucite; a half-dozen fist-sized pig foetuses from a bucket of preservative; two dozen dead, stiff frogs from a second bucket of preservative beside the first; and a scarab beetle that appeared to be a dried carapace, but was in fact a clever plastic copy.

None of it satisfied her. Her Hunger was now an unending howl in her head, a wind that scoured her mind clear of everything except the desire to feed. The front door of the classroom opened.

He was a junior, and Ellie recognized him vaguely. He was thin and gangly, with an Adam's apple that bobbed comically when he spoke. The glasses he wore made his eyes look twice their normal size, which did nothing to improve his bookish appearance. His name was Chet Graham, and he had just made the worst mistake of his short life.

Chet blinked self-consciously a few times at the girl in the science lab who stared at him like a bug under a microscope. "I, uh-" His voice, to his embarassment, cracked and he started again. "I forgot a book." He gestured lamely at a desk. His eyes went wide. "Holy geez! What happened to all the animals?"

"Come here," said Ellie in a monotone.

"What?" Chet blinked again. "You mean me?"

"Come here," repeated Ellie, her voice husky. She stalked towards him, her lips slightly parted.

Chet took a step backwards, not quite sure what was going on, but struggling with raging hormones. He gave a strangled "awk," as Ellie grabbed him by his greasy hair and mashed her face into his. With a great deal of shock he felt her part his lips with her tongue and begin boldly exploring. He had no idea how to handle this, but his body responded instinctively.

Snatching one of his wrists, Ellie forced his hand under her shirt. His fingers fumbled at her breast. "Yessssss," she hissed, running her tongue along the line of his lantern jaw. Taking the front of his shirt in her hands, Ellie pulled suddenly, tearing it from his back with great ripping noises.

"Hey!" said Chet, alarmed. Ellie dropped the shredded rags of his shirt, and pulled his glasses off, tossing them absently to the floor. "Hey!" said Chet again, lamely. He stood shivering, his narrow pigeon chest bared, squinting into the blur the world had become without his thick glasses. They were not, on the whole, last words Chet would have been happy with.

Once again Ellie crushed her mouth against his, but this time her lips did not stop. Unhinging her jaw, she dilated her lips and enveloped first his face, and then his whole head. Chet gave a muffled "mmph, mrph!" of surprise and then fell silent for lack of air. He began struggling at once, and his arms pinwheeled with panic. Ellie swallowed, and his head made an ovoid bulge in her throat. Her lips dilated again to encompass his bony shoulders.

Ellie's powerful fingers pinned Chet's arms to his side, and lifted him from the floor. With a series of rhythmic contractions, she slid him into her waiting mouth and down her freakishly stretched throat. By the time her lips reached his navel, his arms were securely pinioned within her mouth. It held him in an iron grip.

Taking a firm grasp, Ellie tore his cheap polyester pants from his thrashing hips, and dropped them on top of the remains of his shirt. With her thumbs and forefingers, she snapped apart the elastic waistband of his jockey shorts and added them to the growing pile of clothes on the floor. She toyed with his limp penis and testicles with probing fingers, but evidently her prey was either too terrified, too weak from asphyxiation, or both, to give her any enjoyment. Ellie took his testicles in her clenched fist and used them to lift him another few inches into her mouth. This had the effect of causing agony sufficient to produce additional frantic struggles within her that made Ellie's groin throb wetly with pleasure.

Now his penis dangled against her chin and Ellie's nose was nestled between the thin slats of his buttocks. Chet's legs pedalled weakly in the air, and Ellie knew she had to work faster if she wished her prey to remain conscious long enough to know the terror of being devoured alive. A strong gulp drew his buttocks and genitals into her mouth. She played her tongue over his member, and managed to provoke a small instinctive arousal, but it faded quickly.

Ellie was amazed at the ease with which she worked his legs into her. It was much easier this time than with Ditmar, and there was very little pain. Just a pleasant fullness and powerful erotic charge.

Only his sneaker-clad feet now remained to be ingested, and they quivered very, very slightly. Carefully, Ellie untied the laces and pulled off his shoes, then his argyle socks. His narrow, veiny feet waggled back and forth. Without effort, she swallowed again until only his ten pink little toes poked from her lips, and then they too were gone. Ellie smacked her lips delightedly, and was pleased to see that she was able to remain standing, even with that great weight within her. The round, lumpy ball of her abdomen protruded grotesquely above her pants, and forced her shirt up around her chest. The remaining struggles within her did not last long.

The post-Hunger lethargy was not so strong as the last time, and Ellie had plenty of time to gather up the torn clothing, shoes, and glasses from the floor before she staggered into the storage room/office. Since the lock didn't work, she pushed a heavy desk against the door, and curled up on the floor around her bloated stomach, pillowing her head with the bundle of clothes. Sated and happy, she fingered herself gently as she faded off to sleep.

It was pitch black when she awoke. She had a moment of disorientation and then a moment of panic when she discovered herself sprawled on a cold, hard floor. Then her memory returned.

"Oh no," she groaned, gripping her hair in clenched fists. "Oh no, oh no," she said, over and over again as the horror mounted. Ellie moaned piteously and sat up. She began rocking back and forth on her haunches. "Oh no, I did it again, what's HAPPENING TO ME!" The last came out in a shriek that bordered on hysteria.

She rocked in the darkness with her knuckles pressed into her eyes, crying tears of self-pity. After a while the rocking stopped and she wiped the snot from her nose with her sleeve. She spoke aloud to herself, the sound of her own voice serving to calm her. "Okay, there's nothing I can do about it now. I have to get home. God, what time is it? It can't be morning. Dark. Okay, Ellie, stand up. That's it. Now, where was the light switch?"

Ellie felt along the wall with her hand until it came to the switch, and flicked it. Fluorescent lights hummed into life, dispeling the darkness. Bracing herself and putting her back into it, Ellie pushed the desk which barred the door aside - and sent it whizzing across the floor until it fetched up with a slam against one wall.

Ellie gasped, and raised her hands to look at them. They seemed to be no different. She looked down at herself and, from what she could see, she looked the same as she had before. Curious, she walked over to a filing cabinet and lifted it. She nearly tossed it into the air, so unexpected was its lightness.

Amazement thrilled through her. This latest... accident had given her strength she had never even imagined. She felt powerful and solid. She wondered how much she weighed. She had to get home! She needed somewhere to think all of this through.

The clock in the classroom showed that it was after ten at night. Her parents would be frantic! She turned out the light in the little room and nearly walked out the classroom door before she realized that the school would be closed and locked, and that it must surely have some kind of alarm. After tossing the tattered clothing and her purse into a box - Ellie tried very hard not to look at the pathetic rags, as it sent a stab of guilt shooting through her each time - she cranked open a window and lowered herself into the empty schoolyard.

On her way home, Ellie distributed each of the various articles of clothing, the shoes, and the glasses in different trash bins, shoving them down to the bottom. When the box was empty, she slung her purse over her shoulder and crushed the box into the following trash bin.

It was after eleven when Ellie finally got home. All the lights were out, so she quietly let herself in and tiptoed across the hall to the stairs. She was about to climb them when some sense made the skin between her shoulder blades prickle. She stopped with one foot on the first riser and craned her head slowly, peering into the gloom.

"I missed you at the shop," said her father, making Ellie jump.

She placed a hand over her panting chest, and turned in the direction of his voice. She could just barely make out his form sitting slumped in an easy chair in the living room.

Ellie waited a moment so her voice wouldn't quaver when she spoke. "I know it sounds lame, but I fell asleep. Honest, I did. I came home as soon as I woke up. I'm really, really sorry."

Her father said nothing, and it gave her the creeps the way he just sat there in the dark, staring at her. "I promise I'll never do it again," she added.

She sensed more than saw the bitter smile that twisted his mouth. "Don't make promises you can't keep," he replied softly.

"Where's Mom," asked Ellie.

"Your mother's asleep. She doesn't know. We don't need to tell her. Go on up and get to bed. It's late."

Ellie lay in bed thinking. She was safe enough for the moment, she thought to herself. There was nothing to link her with whoever that kid had been. Not much of a loss to the world anyway, she thought. Little creep. She had noticed the way his eyes had darted to her chest when he first spotted her. She remembered the intense way his body had excited her, and couldn't understand it now. His smell, his taste, everything about him had inflamed her lust. She thought back with revulsion to the way she had touched him, had allowed him to touch her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe she was a natural part of the system. A predator preying on the weak, the stupid, the incapable. Wolves, she knew, kept the deer herds strong by winnowing out the old and the sick. She drifted off to sleep with that thought in her mind.

The next week were mid-terms, and Ellie kept herself busy. The disappearance of another student induced some idle chatter, but not a lot, since kids were always running away from home. The fact that they also usually returned home a short time later was lost, because people, especially young people, had short memories. Far more attention was paid the "break-in" in the science lab and the theft of what was referred to in the newspaper as "course materials." Witnesses were asked to come forward, but of course no one ever did. The animals were replaced and the incident was quickly forgotten.

Ellie discovered that though she appeared much the same as she had before - except that maybe her hair was more vibrant, her eyes had a little more sparkle - her weight had ballooned up to over two hundred pounds. She certainly didn't look it, but chairs legs now bent a little when she sat, and floors creaked heavily when she walked. She found that her fingernails were hard enough to puncture soda cans, and she dulled her mother's best sewing scissors trimming her bangs. She was at least as strong as a large, fully grown man, and contained within her petite frame it tended to be more intensely focused. Ellie found that her new strength did not displease her in the least, though she had to disguise it somewhat in gym class.

And that may have been why, only days after her last feeding, Ellie struck again.

This time she stalked her prey carefully. Wednesday night, she knew her prey would be alone - separated from the herd. She had given it careful thought, and made her plans well. After everyone was in bed, Ellie got up and got dressed. Rather than risk waking anyone, she dropped the fifteen feet from her window to the strip of grass beside the house with ease. She knew from having tried it the night before that she could shinny up the drain pipe and climb back in when she came back. After feeding.

The Hunger was not a sharp pain now, but a dull ache that throbbed in harmony with her libido. She was aware of a hollow within her needing to be filled, a hollow that stretched from the cleft between her legs to the pit of her hard, rippled stomach. Tirelessly, she jogged the distance to her goal, always avoiding the occasional rare pedestrian.

The house she arrived at was similar to its neighbours on the street, but she had checked it carefully the day before. She knew without having to verify it that the latch on the basement window was undone - because she had undone it herself while visiting. The narrow, ground-level window swung open, and Ellie eased herself inside. She stood in an opulently furnished rec room, complete with mini-kitchen and wet bar. To her left was the door to the storage area, and to her right were the stairs, carpeted in thick plush.

Ellie took the stairs slowly, being careful to place her weight on the edges so they wouldn't creak. Stalking came instinctively to her now. On the main floor she eased across the salon and crept up the flight of stairs to the second floor. It was here, she knew, she would find her prey.

It was almost too easy. The bedroom door was open, and a form lay still in the bed, entwined in sheets. A single white foot poked out from the tangle, the sight of which made saliva run in Ellie's mouth.

Ellie paused while she considered the best way to consume her prey. She frowned as she experienced a moment of hesitation. It was as if something inside her were screaming for her to stop, to turn around, that it was not too late. The scent of clean, soapy sweat drifted up to her from the form on the bed and Ellie smiled with great malevolence. It was time to feed.

Taking a corner of the white sheet in her hand, Ellie gave it a hard yank and it flew away, revealing the bed's occupant to be completely naked. Caitlin's eyes opened with surprise. "Wha-" she said, groggy with sleep.

By the dim light of the moon that peeked through the curtains, Caitlin looked up at Ellie's sinister grinning face and opened her mouth to scream. Ellie was faster, and leaped onto the bed, clamping a hand over Caitlin's mouth. "Not just yet," hissed Ellie. "Plenty of time for that later."

Ellie knew that Caitlin's parents were away for the night, so there was no chance of Caitlin raising the house, but there was a faint chance that a neighbour might hear and Ellie did not want to be interrupted. Caitlin laid absolutely still, her eyes bright with fear.

Idly, Ellie ran a finger across Caitlin's breast, playing with the nipple as a cat might toy with a mouse. "You are not to scream," said Ellie in a matter-of-fact voice, "or I will hurt you. Do you understand? Nod if you understand." Caitlin nodded.

Ellie removed her hand. In a flash of motion, Caitlin attempted to roll out of bed, taking a deep breath for a scream that would shatter windows for blocks around. Ellie's hand lashed out in a backhand so hard and so fast that it was barely a blur to Caitlin. It connected with a solid crack, and hit with enough force to knock the girl right out of the bed, stunned. Ellie picked her up, not at all gently, and tossed her back onto the bed.

"You useless creature," sneered Ellie. "Pathetic, worthless creature. You are a waste of good flesh."

Caitlin held a hand to the side of her rapidly-swelling face. "Ellie? Is that you? What's happening, Ellie?"

Ellie gave a snort of derision. "Stupid too," she added. She reached forward and Caitlin cringed back into the pillows. She allowed her fingers to trail lightly across Caitlin's lips, then down her chin to her throat. With her index finger, she traced a path between Caitlin's breasts, down her belly, and stopped just before the lightly furred area that marked the start of Caitlin's pubis. "But soft. And succulent."

Caitlin gasped at the intrusion as Ellie's finger dipped inside her, and began probing and exploring. Ellie tipped her head down to nibble delicately at Caitlin's right nipple, her unearthly senses magnifying her pleasure. Her tongue sorted out atomic weights and molarities, sifted through carbon chains, weighed the genetic potential of what it tasted. What she found was pleasing. Caitlin whimpered.

Sitting suddenly erect, Ellie glared at Caitlin. "Simpering, whimpering cow. You'll be no loss, I'm sure."

"What are you going to do," whispered Caitlin, getting ready to make another run for it. She didn't know what this thing was, but whatever it was, it wasn't Ellie. The cold look in its eyes was almost... inhuman. And yet, it was strangely compelling. It was as if some primal level of Caitlin's mind responded instinctively with animal lust. To her complete humiliation, Caitlin realized that she was trembling with desire, hot and wet under the continued probings of the Ellie-thing's slender finger. A wiser or more insightful person might have realized that the string of self- destructive instinct that lurks in every living creature, the mindless need to procreate its genes at any cost, was being plucked and stroked by a virtuoso performer.

"This time," said Ellie, "I'm going to do it right. And you, dear useless Caitlin, are going to be put to better use than you deserve. Be glad."

Ellie placed a single, feather-light kiss on Caitlin's lips, and then stood up and walked to the end of the bed. Ellie ran her tongue along the sole of Caitlin's foot, first one and then the other. So soft and pink, she thought, a marvel of biological engineering. Then, taking hold of her ankles, Ellie stuffed both feet into her mouth. They were so small that Ellie scarcely had to stretch her cheeks. Caitlin watched, transfixed with terror.

Ellie swallowed Caitlin up to the knee in one gulp with her unimaginably powerful throat muscles. Ellie was powerfully aroused by the feel of the tiny little toes wriggling down the back of her throat, by the faint taste of coconut oil that clung to the smooth, tanned legs. Caitlin's eyes went wide, and her jaw dropped disbelievingly.

"That's not possible!" cried Caitlin, beginning now to struggle. "Let go! This is too weird."

Gulping greedily, Ellie swallowed the soft flesh of the thighs, allowing her fingers to stroke and caress as she wished. When she reached Caitlin's damp cleft, she spent several minutes in languid exploration with her tongue. Caitlin moaned in ecstasy despite her best efforts not to. Too late she was learning how tightly lust and death were intertwined in her psyche. Sigmund Freud, to pick a name, would not have been surprised. Nor the Marquis de Sade.

When Ellie had satisfied her carnal urge, she swallowed again, working her lips over Caitlin's hips and up her abdomen. Her tongue rested in the divot that occupied the small of Caitlin's back. Creeping forward onto the bed on her hands and knees, Ellie allowed Caitlin's own weight to push her deeper down her throat. Her breasts, much smaller than Ditmar's, slid inside easily. Up until this point, Caitlin had remained mostly still in a kind of dreadful fascination. Now she began to struggle in earnest, for only her arms, head, and shoulders remained free. The rapid pounding of Caitlin's terror-fueled heart made a tremor in Ellie's mouth that Ellie found highly arousing.

Caitlin's best efforts, accompanied by grunting sobs, were sufficient only to slow by a marginal amount the process of ingestion. As the line of wet warmth that represented Ellie's lips slid over Caitlin's shoulders, Caitlin was forced to lift her chin higher and higher.

"This isn't happening," grunted Caitlin, unable to bring her arms down now. "It has to be a dream. It's a bad dream, just a dream. I'm too young to get eaten," she wailed. "I've never even been to Bloomingdales!" When she could raise her chin no higher, Caitlin took a deep breath and held it. Her head sank fully inside Ellie.

One long swallow left only Caitlin's hands sticking straight out from Ellie's jaws, which were now back nearly to their accustomed size. The fingers clutched futilely at the air, clenching and unclenching. Such delicate, beautiful hands, thought Ellie, stroking them with a finger. She savoured their taste and wriggles as she ate them.

The squirming in Ellie's stomach went on for a long time. After several minutes there was a low, muffled scream and the struggling tapered off to occasional twitches.

Ellie laid herself on the bed, still warm from Caitlin's body. It sagged alarmingly under the combined weight of Ellie and the huge, pink ball of flesh that was her abdomen. While she felt fatigue, Ellie realized that there was no crushing torpor that threatened to snuff out her consciousness. She allowed herself to float peacefully in and out of the shadow of sleep, no particular thoughts in her head. She was vaguely aware of powerful muscular contractions, of faint snapping and cracking sounds from her belly. After an hour or so, she permitted sleep to capture her completely.

When Ellie awoke, she knew that only a short period of time had passed because the moon had moved only slightly outside the window. Turning her head to glance at the LED numbers that floated in the darkness from Caitlin's night table, she saw she had been asleep for only an hour. A glance down at her body showed that she had finished digesting her latest meal. It had taken only a little more than two hours this time.

Using a garbage bag gleaned from a search of the kitchen to cart them, Ellie grabbed an armload of Caitlin's clothing along with several pairs of shoes and sandals. After carefully making the bed, Ellie let herself out the basement window and closed it behind her.

Ellie found, to her surprise, that the drainpipe was no longer strong enough to support her weight when she arrived home. It crumpled with alarming noise every time she tried to climb it. She noticed that her feet sank deeply into the turf. Ellie wondered how much she weighed now, and guessed that it must be somewhere close to three hundred pounds.

It was a risk, but Ellie couldn't think of any way around it. As quietly as she could, she unlocked the front door and let herself in. The wooden floor protested her weight, but she hoped that it was indistinguishable from the sound of the house settling. When she had climbed the stairs to her room, Ellie stripped and got under the covers. She smiled. It had all been quite satisfactory. The bag of clothes was discarded in a dumpster behind a convenience store. No one had seen her, and she began to believe that her careful preparations had been worthwhile. She fell asleep with the taste of coconut oil still lingering on her tongue.

Ellie's father waited a half hour to make sure Ellie had returned for good. He glanced at his sleeping wife, then rolled over and allowed his eyes, red with lack of sleep, to close at last.

Coming out the front doors after school on Thursday, Ellie spotted the unsmiling, craggy face of Detective DeVries leaning against the hood of a dark blue Crown Royal. She couldn't tell where he was looking because he wore mirrored sunglasses, but she broke stride and turned round the side of the school away from the parking lot. A glance over her shoulder a few seconds later told Ellie that she had been spotted. DeVries was hurrying around the corner after her, suit jacket flapping.

Briefly, Ellie considered breaking into a run, but decided that a run-in was inevitable, and that she may as well get it over with now. She stopped and allowed the detective to catch up with her.

"Are you looking for me, Detective DeVries?" asked Ellie in her best little- girl simper.

DeVries said nothing, looking cool and vaguely menacing with his eyes hidden behind twin mirrors that reflected Ellie's face back at her. After a pause of some seconds, during which Ellie had the uncomfortable sensation of being minutely scrutinized, DeVries spoke. "Where were you between nine p.m. last night and seven a.m. this morning?"

Ellie allowed her face to take on a puzzled expression. "Why, at home. I was studying last night. I don't think I left for school before seven-thirty this morning. What's this about, sir?"

"Your parents will vouch for you of course," said DeVries, making it a statement rather than a question. "No, don't bother answering. I'll be checking it out myself. Another one of your friends has disappeared. Seems your friends have awfully bad luck."


Ellie couldn't tell how she knew, but she felt DeVries staring at her with great intensity. "And how did you happen to know that?"

"She's the only friend I know who missed her mid-terms today. You're saying something's happened to her? That's terrible," said Ellie, looking stricken. "First Ditmar, then Caitlin. Say, you don't think it's related, do you?"

Ellie gave a squawk of surprise as DeVries grabbed her wrist and gripped it hard. "Don't play with me, Ellie. I'm not as stupid as you think I am. I know you know something, and you know that I know it. This isn't a game any more. I have two missing girls-" DeVries paused, then continued. "And possibly a boy. You're in over your head, Ellie."

Angry, Ellie couldn't resist jerking her hand away. DeVries looked surprised for a moment at the strength she exhibited, and Ellie kicked herself mentally for letting her temper make her act stupidly. "I don't know what you're talking about," said Ellie in an icy, neutral voice. "If you can't do your job don't come trying to get me mixed up in it. My dad says you can't talk to me like this. You want to see me again, you see my dad's lawyer."

Ellie had turned to leave, but DeVries put a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned angrilly to snap at him, but she was surprised by the look of strain and worry on his face. It was there only a second and then the look of calm indifference dropped like a curtain over his features again. DeVries ran his fingers through his short-cropped hair.

"Ellie, please. I know you're involved in something. I've been doing this job longer than you've been alive, and I know when a little girl is lying to me. No, listen. Please. I want to help you, Ellie. I have a child, a girl your age. I know how you must feel, terrified, no place to turn. Let me help you. Whatever it is, I can help you. You have to believe that. It's not just you, Ellie. There are other lives at stake here. I promise you, I'll do my level best to see you get treated fairly. Ellie, what do you know about those girls?"

For a moment, Ellie stood with a blank expression on her face. There was no outward sign of the struggle going on within her. The desire to tell DeVries about her curse, of her foul needs and lusts, was overwhelming. She thought that she would gladly trade her remaining freedom for the opportunity to unburden herself. But there was within her and part of her a burning ember of Hunger that froze her lips and made her dumb. She realized then that she would never again be wholly free from Hunger. It would blaze brighter and it would ebb low - as it was right now - but it would never go away entirely. The consuming perversity of her Hunger would never be far from her thoughts, and this knowledge of innocence lost made her give vent to a mental scream of anguish. None of this showed in her outward aspect beyond a slight tic of one cheek.

"I can't," whispered Ellie, and before DeVries could respond, she was off and running like a startled deer, her powerful legs pistoning beneath her. DeVries watched for a long time after Ellie had disappeared from sight before returning to his car.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, growled Ellie in her mind. You as much as admitted you knew something, she accused herself as she pounded down the sidewalk at fantastic speeds. Her anger drove her, and she revelled in the feeling of unbridled strength in her legs. Her hair streamed straight out behind her as she jagged to avoid surprised pedestrians. She realized with a sense of exultation that she was passing cars travelling on the road beside her. Fool, she thought, that she could have endangered all this. A few useless, meaningless little ciphers like Caitlin were a small price to pay for such power.

When Ellie finally slowed outside her house, it was with a feeling of euphoria. She wasn't even out of breath. Ellie took the front stairs at a bounce, and shoved her keys into the lock only to find that it was already unlocked. A slight frown creased her forehead. No one should be home yet. Had someone forgotten to lock up?

Ellie's father was slouched in the leather wingback chair in the living room, a mostly-empty bottle of scotch on the floor beside him. He was unshaven, and his eyes were bloodshot, either with booze or fatigue. A patina of oily sweat clung to the great dome of his forehead, and he wore a grubby t-shirt that was closer to grey than white. He stared at Ellie from red-rimmed eyes.

When Ellie saw him, her jaw dropped in surprise. She had never seen him like this. He looked terrible. His skin had a sickly greyish tinge, and he appeared to be about ten years older than she knew he was. He took a gulp from the tumbler in his hand.

"D-dad?" said Ellie, her euphoria vanished.

"DeVries was here," he said, pronouncing his words carefully. He prided himself on his diction. Languages were his specialty, Ellie knew, he being fluent in at least six and well-spoken in all of them. "Det- detec- de- Mister DeVries says another of your school chums has gone missing. It's a hard old world."

"I heard," said Ellie carefully. "What did Detective DeVries want?"

"He seems to think you might be involved," he replied, taking another long sip from his tumbler. "I told him it was foolishness, of course. It's foolishness. Right, Ellie?"

"You know it is," she said. "Dad, you look pretty rough. Have you been here all day? Why aren't you at the store?"

Ellie's father tipped up the tumbler and found it empty. He looked down at the bottle on the floor, but seemed to judge it unworth the effort. "Store is closed today. I didn't sleep very well last night. I kept thinking I heard someone moving around."

Ellie shot him a hard look, but her father was staring down at his empty tumbler. "Maybe you should get some sleep, daddy."

A tear trickled down his whiskery cheek. "Yes, I think that's what I'm wanting. A good, long sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream." His head sagged forward on his chest, and a thin line of saliva dribbled down the front of his shirt. A faint snore bubbled from his lips. He was asleep.

The tumbler rolled from his slack hand, but Ellie grabbed it before it could fall. She stroked his forehead gently and smiled. He was entitled, she thought, to a day off from being a father once in a while. Ellie rinsed his glass out and came back with a thick blanket which she laid atop her snoring father. She crept quietly up to her room and left her father to his dreams.

Dinner that night was a quiet affair, eaten at the kitchen table with just Ellie and her mother. Since finding her husband passed out in the chair, Ellie's mother had said nothing but strode around the house like an angry goddess, glaring at everything. Ellie excused herself as soon as was politely possible and retired to her room. After an hour of studying, she climbed into bed and reread her signed copy of Alice in Wonderland before turning in early.

That night Ellie dreamed. It was not unusual that she dreamed, and in fact she dreamed quite often and vividly. This time, however, there was a strange lucid quality despite the strangeness of the dream. It began with a white rabbit.

"You're late, you're late, for a very important mate," chanted the rabbit as it hopped at speed through the long grass of the field in which Ellie found herself.

Ellie caught a flash of tweed waistcoat through the grass and set off in pursuit. "Wait," she cried. "Wait, what are you talking about?"

But the rabbit continued to run and chant. "You're late, you're late, for a very important hate."

Ellie's breath was coming in heaving pants as she tried to keep up with the creature. Just as she was about to give up hope, she burst out from the grass into a clearing. Ellie gasped as she saw the rabbit clearly for the first time. It had long ears and wore a handsome tweed waistcoat, but its face was comprised of a single long, black tentacle that whipped sinuously from side to side like a blind maggot.

The rabbit-thing stood poised before a gaping wound in the earth. It turned from Ellie and leaped down the hole, chanting. "You're late, you're late, for a very important gate."

Ellie approached the hole tentatively. As she neared it, she became uncomfortably aware that it resembled an enormous set of vaginal lips, its interior pink and moist, and giving off an earthy scent. The edges of the hole quivered as she approached. Suddenly, there was a shove from behind and she went tumbling into the slit, her hands grasping for the edges but slipping on the slimy excretions that coated it. As she fell screaming into the blackness, her last sight at the circle of light above her was her father's leering face peering over the edge.

Ellie's eyes flew open and she panicked at the hands she felt upon her.

"Elektra!" shouted her mother, leaping back from Ellie's flailing arms. "Stop it, it's me!"

Ellie blinked a few times as her breathing slowed. "Mommy?"

"What the hell's the matter with you," said her mother furiously. "You were shouting to bring down the roof."

"I-" Ellie licked her dry lips. "I had a nightmare."

"Well stop it," grumbled her mother peevishly. "What language was that anyway?"

"What do you mean?" asked Ellie.

"You know, what you were shouting before. It sounded arabic. I knew your father shouldn't be giving you those books." Ellie's mother gestured at the bookcase. "It's not fit for a girl to be reading. Anyway, if you have another dream, just leave your light on. Don't go waking everyone up. You should see your father. He's white as a sheet. You terrified him."

Ellie's mother stormed off to bed, leaving Ellie to shiver in her cooling sweat. The dream had made no sense, and what little there was had scared her badly. So why, she wondered as she slipped her hand underneath her panties, did it make her so aroused? It was a long time before Ellie fell asleep again.

In the morning, Ellie woke up refreshed, her nightmare only a few shreds of imagery that lingered at the edge of her consciousness. While Ellie's mother put on her make-up, Ellie had breakfast with her father. He looked terrible but she had to admit that it was an improvement on the night before. They ate in an unacustomed silence until a thought occured to Ellie.

"Mom says I was shouting something last night," she said, slathering peanut butter on her sixth piece of toast. "She said it sounded arabic. Do you know what I was saying?"

Ellie's father looked up at her with haunted eyes. "It wasn't arabic," he whispered.

Waving her knife impatiently, Ellie cut him off. "Yeah, okay, but do you know what I was saying?"

He looked down at his bowl of untouched cereal and stirred it a bit with his spoon. "No, just nonsense. Didn't mean anything," he mumbled, and that was the end of it. Ellie could get no more out of him. Shrugging, she supposed it wasn't that important.

Friday afternoon came at last. Mid-terms were over, and the teachers, sensing the burn-out in their charges, had prescribed a minimal amount of homework for the weekend. Ellie left her books in her locker and filed out of the school with the rest of the crowd. She had half-expected to see DeVries waiting for her and she had steeled herself for it, but to her pleasurable surprise, he was not. She noticed Roweena and Susan standing together, but she didn't join them. They had been noticably cool towards her and, anyway, without Caitlin they weren't really the "in" crowd any more. Word had begun to circulate around the school of Caitlin's disappearance and rumours were rife. She had run away. She had run away with a biker. She had run away to Hollywood to become an actress. She had fallen prey to a stalker. She was pregnant and her parents had pulled her out of school. And those were the more credible theories.

All day Ellie had noticed a heightening of her senses, which she had come to associate with her Hunger. As she expected, the need to feed was growing within her. Probing it like a cavity in a tooth, Ellie judged that it was not likely to become much stronger for at least a day or so. She thought that it would be more pleasurable to let the need build for a while before she sated it. In any case, she would need to do some prowling for suitable prey this weekend. She couldn't afford to draw any more attention to herself than she already had, so taking one of her own herd was inadvisable. This time it would have to be a stranger.

Ellie felt a strange sense of twinning within herself as she considered the devouring of a human being. It was as if she was both observer and the observed, as if a remote part of herself were on the outside looking in. It was a decidedly odd feeling, and somewhat disturbing.

Ellie spent Friday night at her father's book store, helping to shelve and catalogue books. The mechanical tasks eased her mind and gave her a feeling of mundaneness that had been lacking. After the store closed, the two of them, father and daughter, chatted lazily on a wide number of subjects. It had been a long time since Ellie had felt this close, and she noted that the lines that had appeared lately on her father's face had smoothed out. He still wore a sad expression, but it was more bittersweet than anything else. Once again Ellie was awed by her father's vast knowledge of obscure authors and little-known books. And for his part, her father seemed genuinely glad to be able to share his knowledge. Late at night as the two walked slowly home after locking up the shop, Ellie promised herself that whatever else was to happen, she would always remember this night and the simple happiness she had known.

That night brought more disturbing dreams, though none she could remember the next morning. Certainly none had been as vivid as the one she had had the night before. She woke to a gloomy, overcast sky that promised rain in the offing. Her stomach rumbled with more than just a desire for toast, and she decided to spend the day hunting down suitable prey. The thought cheered her, and made her able to choke down five or six bowls of cereal smothered in brown sugar. Ellie looked at the sink, piled high with dirty dishes, and sighed. Then, giggling, she took her own bowl and spoon and, on impulse, swallowed them. It sure beat washing them, she thought.

Ellie left the house with no particular plan in mind. She would just wander as her feet took her, and allow her instincts to guide her. She had come to trust her predatorial instincts.

It was the laughing, she decided, that drew her. The squealing of childish laughter brought all her stalking instincts to the fore. A grim smile on her face, Ellie sat at a bus stop bench and watched a group of children playing in a vacant field beside a corner market. After a time, the children - there were eight of them - gathered in a group and conferred. Then all but one scattered to the winds. The one left behind put both hands over his eyes and began counting loudly by thousands. It became clear that they were playing hide-and-seek. Ellie leaned forward, straining her senses. This could be her opportunity.

Ellie's peripheral vision picked out motion behind the market, and she turned her head in time to see a small form clamber over the edge of the dumpster. She grinned ferally and, making sure no one was in sight, sprinted over on cat's feet. When she arrived, Ellie checked carefully in all directions to make sure she was unobserved. Quickly, she grabbed the edge and leaped inside.

"Hey, this is my hiding spot," complained the boy in the baseball cap. He looked to be no more than seven or eight, and had the grubby appearance endemic to boys of his age. He scowled at Ellie.

Ellie stood up amongst the garbage bags and the flattened cardboard boxes, her senses aflame with the reek of rotting garbage. Lifting the heavy lid of the dumpster with one hand, she unhooked the catch that held the lid open and then lowered it gently. It made a hollow booming sound as the dumpster was plunged into complete darkness.

"What are you doing," demanded the boy. "Lemme out, you jerk!"

Ellie moistened her lips and crept forward, feeling with her hands. The name Polyphemus passed through her mind, though she couldn't connect it with anything. The nearness of her prey, of its helplessness, of its growing fear made her panties dampen. She could hear him shuffling around, hear him breathing heavily, could smell his sweat over the stench of the garbage.

She remained still for a moment. There, a rustle over there. Her hand flashed out in the darkness and seized a handful of struggling clothing.

"Lemme go! Hey! Ow, you're hurting me! Lemme go!"

Ellie drew the prey to her, held implacably in her hands. Panting, she bunched his shirt into a fist and tore. His shirt came away with a ripping noise. She longed to feel his soft babyflesh with her tongue, to taste his innocence, to hear his screams as he was devoured. She opened her mouth and unhinged her jaw -- and froze.

NO, came the thought, with stunning impact. I will NOT. Her Hunger built to a fever pitch. It clamored and gibbered and shrieked within her. Fingers of insatiable lust and bottomless need wormed through her, seeking to undermine her. Sweat popped out across her body, drenching her clothes. Her resolve held. Barely. She would not eat this child, would not compound her sins this way; but neither could she release her terrified prey. The struggling forces within her vied and so close were they in strength that neither could persuade her body to act.

Ellie knew that more was at stake than the life of this child. She was in battle for the rights to her own soul. If she gave in to her driving Hunger now, she knew there could be no going back. She would belong to her Hunger, body and soul. She knew she must free this child, but oh, the longing to devour him and take her pleasure from his innocent little body was a spike driven through her! And worse, she knew that her Hunger would only grow stronger, and her will could only grow weaker. She had to win NOW - or she would lose.

With all the strength within her, Ellie stood up and pushed the lid of the dumpster violently open. It flew back and made an enormous metallic boom, as if someone had struck a giant gong. Forcing her jaws closed, Ellie leaned close to the boy in her grip. "Run, you little fucker. Run for your fucking life," she hissed into his chalk-white face. Then she threw him bodily in a great heave and sent him sailing past the edge of the dumpster.

Ellie's instincts shrieked at her to leap out, to grab him and drag him back. It wasn't too late! She heard him hit the ground, heard the air whoosh out of him. Her body trembled with the need to pursue fleeing game. Ellie forced herself to remain still until she heard him clamber to his feet and begin running, screaming like a banshee all the way.

Knowing that the boy's shouts would draw attention and, eventually, pursuit, Ellie allowed her instincts to seize her. All she desired now was escape. Without needing to grab the lip, Ellie leaped over the edge of the dumpster and was sprinting almost before she hit the ground. Like a hunted animal, she kept to cover and raced from concealment to concealment. Minutes after her initial sprint, the sound of an approaching siren lent new speed to her feet and she became a blur of furtive motion.

It was still mid-morning when Ellie arrived home. Between her frustrated need and her long sprint, Ellie was faint with exhaustion. She was barely able to take off her soiled and reeking clothes before collapsing into bed in a sleep too deep to be normal.

Because her parents had assumed she was out somewhere, it was Saturday evening before they discovered Ellie in her bed, awash in sweat and hot to the touch.

"My God, Angie" said Ellie's father, as he checked the thermometer. "This can't be right. It's right off the top. It's not possible."

Ellie's mother frowned and rung another facecloth's worth of water on Ellie's face, where it immediately began to steam. "Leave it to your daughter to find some weird tropical disease," she said bitterly. "She can't get the flu like everyone else. She has to be special."

Ellie's father ignored the comment and rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "I think we should get a doctor," he said at last.

"Oh of course," said her mother with deep sarcasm. "And how many doctors do you happen to know that make housecalls. On a Saturday night. For someone they don't know."

"We've got to do something," he said, brushing a strand of Ellie's hair from her face. She looked drawn and haggard, her eyes sunken deeply in their sockets.

"Take her to a hospital then," she replied, tossing the facecloth into the basin with a splash.

"No," he said forcefully. "No hospitals."

Ellie's mother threw up her hands in disgust. "Fine, do whatever the hell you want, Greg, but don't expect me to nursemaid her. I don't do windows and I sure as bloody hell don't do sick kids."

For Ellie, she registered the voices only as distant noises, completely unintelligible. Only her Hunger existed, a raging, burrowing beast that tore at her and devoured her from the inside. She felt as if she was on fire, burning in some pit of Hell that she knew waited for her at the end of her sins. If she would not let the Hunger feed, it would feed on her. She saw herself as a skeleton with skin stretched like parchment across her protruding bones, could see her very bones withering as they consumed themselves. Another wave of agony wracked her, and she gave voice to a groan.

While her mother went elsewhere to brood, Ellie's father sat beside Ellie, holding her hand. Every now and then he would damp down her face with water or stroke her golden hair which was quickly losing its shimmer. Within hours it became clear that Ellie was fighting a losing battle. Her flesh, which had so recently filled out, was beginning to sag. Her father, exhausted, left the room. He found his wife sitting up in bed, wearing her terrycloth bathrobe and eating carrot sticks while she watched a late movie on television.

"I need some sleep, Angie," he said, taking her hand. "Someone has to be with Ellie."

Her hand was limp in his and she continued to watch television. She tossed another carrot stick in her mouth and chewed furiously.

"Angie? Please?"

She vented an angry hiss. "Oh for Christ's sake, Greg, don't beg."

Snatching her hand back, Ellie's mother jerked herself upright and stomped down to Ellie's room. Glowering, she slouched in the chair beside the bed and made herself as comfortable as she could. After an hour or so, she became bored and wished she had brought something to read. Well, she wasn't going back in her room. Fuck him, she thought. What a way to spend a Saturday night.

Almost on cue, Ellie began to make rumbling-plumbing noises that her mother recognized only too well.

"Oh no, don't you dare," she said, leaping to her feet. She grabbed Ellie by the shoulders and shook her. "Don't you dare puke!"

Ellie turned her head to the side and, with a grunt, began spewing a nearly colourless viscous liquid from her mouth.

Her mother gave a sob of frustration and anger. "Son of a bitch," she muttered. Furiously, she pulled the sheet from Ellie, leaving her naked and shivering, and began mopping up the vomit. When she had soaked up most of it, she stomped over to the clothes hamper and tossed the sodden sheet in. She had closed the lid before the sheet began to smoulder fitfully.

With disgust, Ellie's mother noticed she had got a smear of puke across the back of her hand. She walked over to the water basin and was preparing to wash it off when she realized that her hand was tingling. A second later it began to hurt, and an instant after that the back of her hand began to give off a faint wisp of smoke.

"Christ!" she said in alarm, plunging her hand into the water and immediately relieving the sharp pain. Blisters started to form on the back of her hand almost at once.

As she examined her wounded hand and probed it gently with a finger, Ellie's mother looked in wonder at Ellie. She was no nurse, but she was bloody sure that no one had acid like that in their stomach. Well, reasonably sure. How could anyone live with that inside them?

Taking the damp facecloth, Ellie's mother thought she had better make sure none of that gunk had got onto Ellie's face. It didn't look like Ellie was hurting, but if the little bitch got half her face burnt off, Angela thought, she would never hear the end of it from Greg.

Even as she wiped around Ellie's mouth, the steam was rising from the facecloth. Ellie's mother began to wonder just how hot Ellie really was, and placed her hand against Ellie's cheek.

Ellie's head was spinning with dilerium as she hung, tormented, upon a cross of Hunger. Her world had shrunk until the Hunger within her was a huge star of fusing plasma. She knew that she would be consumed soon, but the knowledge brought her neither despair nor relief. It was an unimportant fact next to the monstrous Hunger that tore her apart, cell by cell.

A scent penetrated her suffering. Desperate neurons fired frantically, identifying the odour as animal sweat, laden with complex hormonal and pheromonal information. In short: food.

Pressure against her cheek. Ellie's ravaged nervous system routes through secondary and tertiary channels, struggling to obey the orders screaming from the higher-order ganglia. All resources are depleted for this, all remaining reserves emptied in a single final effort at survival. If this fails there will be insufficient energy left to break down food to a usable form. A half-second ticks by - an eternity to preternaturally sharpened reflexes - and then she acts!

Ellie's mother never even saw the lightning motion. One moment her hand was resting against Ellie's cheek, and the next her wrist extended from Ellie's mouth. Scowling, she pulled her hand, but it was firmly clamped between Ellie's teeth. With a growl of anger, she used her other, wounded hand to pull at her wrist. It was a mistake.

With a second vicious snap of Ellie's jaws, both of her mother's hands became imprisoned in Ellie's mouth. Unable to take seriously what happened, Ellie's mother tugged at her hands with more force than was prudent. It didn't help and her hands remained trapped.

Working muscles strengthened by desperation, Ellie swallowed, drawing her mother's arms in up to the elbow. The fingers clawing desperately in her throat excited her, and she swallowed again. This time her mother was forced down onto the bed with her, her arms swallowed up nearly to the shoulder. Now she had begun to panic.

"Greg!" her mother shouted. "GREG!"

The shout, loud enough to rattle the glass in their casings, had two effects. Ellie's father arrived at a run, his eyes wild with fear at what might have happened to Ellie. And Ellie's eyes snapped open as she became fully awake.

"Angie?" Ellie's father's voice was hoarse as he took in the tableau. His eyes went first to his wife and then to his daughter. He stood stock still in the doorway with an expression on his face that Ellie had seen before but could not identify.

"Greg, get me loose! I don't know what the hell this, this thing is, but it's not human. It puked something that just about burned my hand off. Look at it! Jesus, Greg, why are you standing there," said Ellie's mother, her voice frantic. "Do something!"

Ellie turned her head to the side to look at her father, dragging her mother across the bed doing so. He looked back at her. With her senses sharpened by the imminence of a feeding, she thought she could now understand his expression. Smiling around her mother's upper arms, she reached out and tore the bathrobe from her mother's back. The look, Ellie knew, was pure, unadulterated lust.

Ellie's mother screamed. "Greg! Stop her! What the hell are you doing?"

"I-" he began and stopped. He sagged against the doorway. "I'm sorry," he said. He looked at Ellie. "Do it."

Ellie's distorted lips grinned, and she forced her mother's head down with her hands. Her lips expanded to engulf the top of her mother's head and she began working her jaws down an inch at a time.

"Noooo!" shrieked her mother. "Greg! Please, I'll do anything! I'm sorry, I'll do anything you want, don't, don't, don't, ah God, please Elektra, I mean Ellie. Don't. Ahhh-" Her last babbled pleadings became muffled as her mouth slid past Ellie's lower jaw.

Ellie's father fell to his knees as his legs became too wobbly to stand. He kneeled in the doorway, gnawing at the knuckles of one hand. "Yes, I must, I must," he whispered.

Ellie could smell his sex from across the room, a thick musky odour. It made her weak with desire. Eagerly, she sat up and forced herself to swallow, a painful yet sensual torment to her weakened muscles. Her mother's breasts slapped her lightly on the chin, then disappeared inside her. She felt a nipple against her tongue and worked her tongue over and against it. As her mother's shoulder blades passed down her throat, Ellie reached down and cupped her mother's muscular buttocks in her palms, digging her fingers deep into the furred vaginal lips in the middle. With a heave, she lifted the writhing bottom half in the air, so that her own weight forced Ellie's mother deeper inside Ellie.

When the buttocks, pubis, and upper thighs had slid smoothly into Ellie's mouth, she paused and turned to look at her father. He remained kneeling, a massive erection obvious under his pants. Ellie took sensual delight in taunting him, running her fingers in delicate curves and circles on her mother's calves as Ellie swallowed her to the knees.

The frantic kicking stopped as Ellie's jaws worked down her mother's calves, stopping only at the ankles. Her mother's feet twitched and waved, the toes spreading and clenching in desperate struggle. With agonizing slowness, Ellie sucked the feet in, a fraction of an inch at a time, all the time matching smouldering gazes with her father. It took Ellie ten long minutes to bite and lick her way down to the toes, and by then they had long since stopped wiggling. Ellie used her fingers to push the toes into her mouth one at a time, and when she had swallowed the last, she licked her fingers lasciviously.

Ellie's grossly distended stomach contracted with great violence, making her grunt in pain. A symphony of snapping sounds and wet splashes from within were the last things Ellie heard as her tired body knocked her unconscious with its effort to digest its meal before it expired.

It was Sunday night before Ellie woke again, more than ten hours after she had fallen unconscious. A low rumble of thunder shook the the walls, and she could hear the rhythmic tattoo of rain against the counterpane. She was in her room, and it was dark. Her linen on her bed had been changed, and a thick woolen blanket was spread over top of her.

"Power's out," said her father from the chair beside the bed. A match flared briefly and a candle was lit. She could see that his eyes had sunken deep in his head with exhaustion, but they were lit with a fire that made the candle light seem to dance in them.

"She wasn't-" he began.

"-my real mother," finished Ellie. "I know. The, uh, taste was all wrong." Her face turned crimson as she felt her cheeks flush.

Her father looked away with an amused smile on his lips. "That was quite a show," he said encouragingly.

Ellie moaned in embarassment as she remembered her behaviour and pulled the blanket over her head.

"No, that's okay Ellie. I think we both know the feelings we have are not exactly... proper," he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of conciliation.

Hesitantly, Ellie lowered the blanket from her face. Then, daringly, lowered it to reveal her breasts, large and firm once more.

Her father chuckled. "That's okay, I had a good look while you were out. I might have copped a feel or two while I was at it." He winked at her.

Ellie grinned. "I feel strange," she said searchingly. "I don't know what it is, but I feel as if I'm... almost complete somehow. That's an odd thing to say, I know. I wasn't even aware that there was something I had to do, but now..." She let the thought trail off.

A fork of lightning illuminated her father's face and for a moment she thought it was showing sheer terror. By the candle light, his face looked calm and relaxed, and Ellie decided she must have imagined it. The thunder exploded with a crack of violence, making the windows rattle.

Her father was quiet for a time, and when he spoke his voice was hoarse. "Before you do... what you have to do, there are some things you'll have to know."

"Like who is my real mother," said Ellie somberly.

He nodded. "First, let me tell you that your real mother is the most beautiful creature I've ever known. She's everything any man has ever dreamed of or imagined. More. I think she's the only one to whom I have ever given my eternal love. And Ellie, I see her in you. Yes, I see her in you and I want her and I want you with a passion you can't imagine. Or maybe you can," he said thoughtfully. "You are, after all, your mother's daughter."

"Who is she," breathed Ellie.

He raised a hand. "Patience. You'll know soon enough. There are so many things I want to say and so... little time."

Ellie frowned. "But we have all the time in the world."

Her father smiled his sad smile again. "I only wish it was so. But I knew what I was doing, make no mistake. If I have been wicked, it has not been through ignorance, but through a deliberate embracing. No, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Ellie, have you ever wondered why your mother, er, Angela, and I only ever had you?"

Ellie shrugged. "I guess it never occured to me to wonder. Mom is, uh, was pretty busy, and you with the book store and all; I guess I just thought you guys didn't have the time."

"There was a time," he said, "when all we did have time for was trying to have a child. Angie and I were never happily married, and we hoped that a child would bring us together. I think for the most part we were right in that. But after a year of trying, we found out that Angie couldn't have one. Something wrong with the plumbing."

"So you went to my mother," said Ellie.

"Yes, but not at first. There were a whole string of tries with other women. Angie didn't care for it, but she wanted a baby. Lord knows why; she never did like children. Turns out my pistol's a few barrels short of a full load. My little guys don't swim right or something." He paused to make sure Ellie had caught the meaning. She had. "Well, in those days I was something of a scholar. In some of those books I read, you know, like the ones up on your shelf there, I read about a man who might be able to help me. Problem was, I had no way to find this man."

He stopped to order things in his mind, and glanced at his daughter's lovely display of cleavage. He wetted his lips and continued. "I knew a man who could tell me how to contact this other man. That man was Mr. Hort."

"Our lawyer," said Ellie, excitedly.

"Well, he wasn't our lawyer in those days. Mr. Hort has a... way with a deal. I made him an offer, and he made a counter-offer. Let me tell you, Mr. Hort isn't someone you play around with. I accepted his counter-offer. I'm not going to tell you what I had to do, nor will I ever tell a living soul. Suffice to say it was - unpleasant. It was my first step on a road that has led us here, to this room," he said gesturing at the four walls.

"Is this so bad?" asked Ellie, with wide-eyed innocence.

He smiled and took her hand. "Not really. I'm satisfied. I guess if you can say at the end of it all that you're satisfied, why, you're better off than ninety-nine percent of the rest of the world. The thing Mr. Hort wanted would have made what I wanted useless. Fortunately, he was willing to accept a, um, proxy is I guess the best word. I know I'm not making a lot of sense to you, Ellie, but give me a little slack. I promise I'll tie it all up later."

"Okay," she said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze that nearly broke his fingers.

"Mr. Hort got me in contact with Mr. Black," he said, and couldn't repress a shiver. "He's not a pleasant man. But I made my separate deal with him, again, by a proxy. And he introduced me to your mother."

Her father's eyes got a far-away look, as if he was peering through the years at something he yearned for. "I spent only one night with her," he continued. "But in that night I came to know what desire was. She taught me the ways of the world with her body. You were conceived, and when you were born, I took you back home with me. And here we are."

"And here we are," repeated Ellie. She placed his hand on her breast and grinned at him. "Why don't we show how happy we are being here," she said, with a sly smile.

Her father swallowed hard. "I've wanted this for a long, long time."

"Then stop talking, daddy, and show me how much you love me."

He snuffed the light with trembling fingers and, after pulling off his clothes, slid into the bed with her.

He took her gently at first, and then with greater force. A couple of hours later, when he had spent himself completely, he lay exhausted beside her, puffing and wheezing. Ellie was slightly flushed, but still energetic and ready to go. In fact, she felt some indefinable need, some hollow space that needed filling. She felt empty.

"Daddy?" she said. "Daddy, I feel strange."

He turned his head and she could see horror in his eyes. "Oh God," he said, "it's time, isn't it?"

"I- I think so," she said, rising from the bed with some instinct she could neither name nor resist. She moved to the end of the bed - and took a tentative nibble at his toes.

"Do what you have to," he said, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look. "I knew the very night I lay with your mother that it would come to this. I have no regrets. I have had my fill of life. The time has come for me to become a part of you, and through you, her."

Ellie drew one foot into her mouth and then the other. Her craving was strong, blocking out all other thoughts. She swallowed with facile ease and her father was pulled down the bed as his calves disappeared down his daughter's swollen throat.

"Listen to me, Ellie," he said, as his thighs sank inch by biting, sucking inch inside her mouth. "This is very important. There's a key in the flour canister in the kitchen. It will open the steel lockbox in my upper right-hand desk drawer in the study. Oh God, I can feel it. I can feel my feet in your stomach."

Ellie had reached the top of his thighs, and his testicles were crushed against her nose. Widening her mouth to accomodate his testicles, she slid her lower jaw over his buttocks. In a single bite she sucked in both his testicles and the growing tumescence of his penis.

Ellie's father swallowed convulsively, as if in sympathy with his ravenous daughter. "In the lockbox you'll find some money and an address. There's a name written on the back of the paper. Go to the address and tell them you want a ticket to the place named on the back. Don't worry if you can't pronounce it right. He'll know. He always does."

With her father's arms laying stiff at his flanks, Ellie had no difficulty chewing her way up his abdomen and forearms. She felt his stiff prick slide down the back of her throat and she grinned. If her mouth hadn't been full she might have giggled.

"Ellie, this is very important, you must remember this," he said, his voice now uneven and a little shrill. "He has already been paid. Give him as much money as he wants, but nothing else. I paid for you in advance, and there's no need for you to give anything else to that bastard."

Her father grunted as Ellie's monstrously strong throat muscles began to compress his chest and made breathing difficult. Only his shoulders and head remained outside his daughter and they were rapidly disappearing one bite at a time. Suddenly his eyes went wide.

"Ellie! Ah, it burns! I can feel it! No, I'm not ready. Please Ellie, no, stop it! Uhhhh, it hurts! It huuuurts! Please Ellie, please pleeeeeea-"

His cries were cut off in mid-shriek as she mouthed his whole head with a final gulp and swallowed him. His thrashings and writhings were much more violent than anything Ellie had yet experienced, and it brought her to a shuddering orgasm. Her abdominal muscles constricted suddenly, and there were a series of muffled screams along with the sound of bones splintering. Then there was silence.

"Pervert," she sneered, and gave a huge belch. She laid down on her bed which creaked alarmingly under her weight. It took only half an hour of intense digestion before the slight torpor she felt faded and her abdomen had collapsed back to its original size.

When finally she stood, she sensed a kind of completeness. No longer was she observer and observed. Both had merged, fused into a single bright point of consciousness. She knew without knowing how she knew that she had to see her mother. Her mother called to her like a beautiful, lilting lullaby.

The key was where her father said it would be, but with amusement, she simply dug her fingers into the steel casing and pulled. The lockbox, designed to withstand the impact of a high-calibre bullet, twisted and snapped like it was made of licorice.

Inside was a thick roll of hundred dollar bills, which she pocketed. There was a single piece of paper with an address on one side and a strange-looking word on the other. This she also pocketed. At the bottom was a manilla envelope and a blue-steel pistol. Ellie had never seen a gun before, so she picked it up and handled it gingerly before placing it back in the box.

The manilla envelope held an assortment of photographs. Ellie's eyes narrowed as she flipped through them - they were photos of her, at different ages, and she was naked in all of them. Most appeared to have been taken while she was asleep. She pondered a short while, then shrugged her shoulders. She didn't see that it made much difference. Anyway, she thought with some satisfaction, he had been a lousy lover. Ellie fed the photos one after another into the candle flame. She held them until they were just a few drops of molten plastic. Ellie was pleased to note that neither the flame nor the hot plastic hurt her in the least.

When she was done, Ellie dressed herself and packed a small valise with a few essentials. She paused briefly at the front door to look back, looking inside herself to see if she had any feelings of regret. She found none, and walked out into the rain.

The voice came from behind her as she strode away down the sidewalk. "Going on a trip, Ellie?"

Ellie spun around, her heart hammering. At first all she could see was the green raincape, but inside the hood she caught a glimpse of Detective DeVries' unbeautiful face.

Without responding, Ellie launched herself at DeVries. She would not - could not - be stopped now. DeVries, startled at the small form that came hurtling at him, reached out to grapple with her -- and was pounded aside by a force that packed the mass of a small refrigerator.

"Whoof!" DeVries grunted as he skidded across the pavement. He had felt at least one rib snap, and more were probably broken. DeVries knew that psychotics had access to unbelievable levels of strangth and endurance. He had to end this quickly. As Ellie turned to face the fallen detective, DeVries reached into his raincape and pulled out a massive looking automatic pistol. "Don't make me use this, Ellie," he said over the pounding of the rain. "Please." Ellie paused for only an instant before she launched herself at him again.

The gun bucked in his hand with a huge booming crack that echoed from the neighbouring houses. Anyone who might have heard it, of course, assumed it to be thunder.

Ellie stopped in mid-leap and looked down at herself, fearful of what she would find. To her surprise, there was a neat hole in her jacket and shirt, but her skin was untouched. Fumbling inside her shirt, she pulled out a crumpled ball of hot steel that sizzled in the rain. "Son... of... a... bitch..." breathed DeVries, goggle-eyed.

Before DeVries could recover, Ellie was astride him, her weight pinning him to the ground and making a hellish blowtorch of his broken ribs. He raised the gun again, and to his utter astonishment, Ellie stretched her mouth wide enough to encompass both his his hand and the gun.

DeVries fired the gun as quickly as he could pull the trigger. Each time, Ellie's head would jerk backwards, but she did not release his hand from her mouth. His fingers began to tingle, and then to burn. He screamed with the agony of it.

Ellie's eyes met his and they searched each other's souls for a second. Her mouth opened, and he snatched back his hand, now burned and blistered. The gun she fished out of her mouth and, while he watched, crumpled it into a ball of metal as if it were tin foil and not case-hardened steel. To finish it, she tossed the ball of metal into her mouth and swallowed it. DeVries watched it travel down her throat as a big lump.

"What the hell ARE you," said DeVries as he cradled his wounded hand.

Ellie stood up and lifted DeVries easily to his feet. She ran her fingers through her soaken hair, and looked down at the sidewalk. "I don't really know, Detective DeVries," she said. "I'm on my way to find out. If you're wondering about those kids, I ate them." She noticed the incredulous look on his face. "Remember the way I just ate that gun? Did you notice how easily I could have eaten your whole arm? I could have eaten all of you just as easily."

DeVries pondered this and decided that unless he had lost his mind, which was a distinct possibility at this point, she must be telling the truth.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't know," she replied. "I- I did the same thing to my parents. Yes, go ahead and look horrified. I deserve it. Detective DeVries, I have a favour to ask of you."

DeVries looked at her warily. He was tempted to try a judo take-down hold, but he remembered just how strong she was and decided on balance not to risk it. He had a family. "I can't do anything for you, Ellie. You're sick and you need help. You have to come with me. I promise I'll find someone that can help you."

She gave him a lopsided grin. "Don't make promises you can't keep. Sorry, just something someone told me recently. Look, you're not a bad man. I could have... fed. I decided not to. You deserve better than that. I have a trip I have to make. I have a feeling that whatever happens, the world is in no more danger from me. I have no choice. This is something I have to do. I don't get a say in it. If I have to, I'll-" The word stuck in Ellie's throat but she took a breath and got it out. "I'll kill anyone who gets in my way. Nothing the police can do could stop me. The army might be able to. Maybe. With a tank. But I'll do a lot of damage first."

DeVries was shaking his head. "You can stop this now. You don't have to do this. I can help."

Ellie smiled sadly. "No, I really don't have any choice. I don't know if I ever really did. What I want you to do is keep this quiet for a while. I know I'm asking a lot, but I want you to think of the innocents who'll get hurt, even if you do manage to stop me. I give you my word, if there's no interference, no one else will get hurt. I don't want to hurt anyone, sir. But I will if I have to."

DeVries put his unwounded hand on Ellie's shoulder. "I don't pretend to understand this, Ellie. You've killed people. Innocent people. Maybe you had no choice. I don't know. But when an animal kills a person, we have it destroyed. As long as you're free and alive, you're a danger to everyone around you."

Ellie opened her mouth to speak, but DeVries interrupted her. "That being said, I have a responsibility greater than upholding the law. I have to decide whether, in this case, adhering to the letter of the law would cause innocents to suffer. I'll be honest Ellie, if I thought I could, I'd kill you right now. But I just watched you eat a full clip of steel-jacketed rounds from a large calibre handgun and toss me around like I was a rag-doll. I don't think I could even slow you down."

DeVries looked up into the rainy sky and drew a deep breath. "You have twenty-four hours, Ellie. You've given me your word that no one else will get hurt. If you've lied to me, so help me, body of stone or no body of stone, I will find a way to destroy you. Are we clear?"

Ellie nodded, relieved that she would not have to destroy him. "Detective, I- I wonder if I could ask you a personal question."

DeVries looked dubious but nodded.

"You said you have a daughter my age. What's her name?"

DeVries thought for a long while, but couldn't find any reason not to tell her. "Llewelyn. She'll be sixteen in June."

Ellie smiled. "That's a beautiful name, detective." She stood on her tip- toes and stretched her neck forward. DeVries flinched but remained still. Ellie placed a chaste kiss on his ravaged cheek. "Be good to her, detective. And think of me once in a while when you look at her. I'm not really a bad girl."

And with that, Ellie turned on her heel and walked off into the rainy night, leaving DeVries to coddle his burnt hand and broken ribs, and ponder how he was going to keep all this under wraps for the next twenty-four hours.

It was the small hours of the morning when a thoroughly drenched Ellie arrived at the downtown address marked on the piece of paper she had folded in her pocket. It turned out to be a run-down travel agency, something with the decidedly mundane name of Black Travel. A fly-specked sign in the window indicated special rates for groups to some unlikely place called "The Plains of Leng."

Ellie had scarcely expected the door to be open, anticipating a long, wet wait until morning, but when she pulled, the door opened smoothly with a tinkle of little hanging bells.

Inside was no cleaner or less down-at-the-heel than the outside appearance gave one to expect. A single battered desk sat at the far end of the room, piled high with pamphlets to exotic locations and old styrofoam coffee cups. The room smelled as if it was in need of a good airing out.

Behind the desk sat a nondescript man in a tweed waistcoat that made Ellie think of something, but couldn't quite remember. He smiled at her, revealing a mouthful of very white teeth. He pulled a watch fob from his vest pocket and inspected it carefully. He made a 'tsk' sound with his teeth.

"You're late, you're late," he said, gesturing Ellie to a seat. Ellie had a vague feeling of deja vu.

"I didn't even know I was expected," said Ellie wryly.

"Oh yes, certainly you were. Hours ago. Dear heavens me, girl, yes. Please allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Mr. Black. It is as good a name as any. I knew your father, you know," he said, hooking his thumbs into his vest.

Ellie raised her eyebrows at the past tense he had used for her father. She hadn't known quite what to expect, but this was not it. "Mr. Black, I'm here to buy a ticket." She pulled the sodden but fortunately legible paper from her pocket. "I want to go to-" She pronounced the name on the paper, which was meaningless to her. She looked up expectantly at Mr. Black.

The grinning travel agent rolled his eyes to the ceiling and steepled his fingers before him. "Let's see, hmmm, yes, don't get much call for that, and it's not exactly the right season, you know. Hmmm, yes, I think maybe I might be able to help you." His grin cranked up a notch. "For a price."

Ellie pulled the wad of hundreds from her pocket. "How much?"

Mr. Black laughed, throwing back his head with apparent glee. "Oh my dear girl, you've such a sense of humour. Yes, your father was a comedian like you as I recall. Yes, you can put away that silly money. There are, hmmm, other prices we must discuss. Oh yes indeed."

Ellie, being a practical girl at heart, remembered her father's words. "I think there is a misunderstanding, Mr. Black," she said, feigning innocence. "I was told the price was paid in full. In advance."

The smile vanished from Mr. Black's face. "Are you calling me a liar, girl?" he said in a dangerous tone.

"Of course not," said Ellie soothingly. "Perhaps you better check your records, though, just in case. Go ahead, run along. I'll wait."

Mr. Black gave her a fishy stare, then broke out in a huge grin. "Why I seem to recall that very thing, now that you mention it. Yes indeed, I must, hmmm, apologize for not remembering sooner. Anyway," he said with a wink, "I don't run, I crawl."

This made no sense to Ellie, but she sensed that she was in the home stretch now. "So... you're going to give me the ticket?" Her heart pounded with excitement.

Mr. Black reached inside his vest and pulled out a rectangular chit of cardboard. "One train ticket," he announced, "as per the deal." He held it out, and Ellie reached for it. He snatched it away at the last second.

"Before we finish, I don't suppose you'd care for a little fuck, would you. Nice, hmmm, pair of tits on you." Mr. Black leered at her.

Despite the events of the past weeks, Ellie was shocked at the vulgarity and turned a shade of pink that made Mr. Black howl with laughter. This only increased Ellie's discomfort and made her cheeks flame crimson. She leaned across his desk and snatched the ticket from his outstretched hand. Mr. Black reached out and pinched her nipple, causing Ellie to leap back and turn an even deeper shade of red. The gales and howls of laughter followed Ellie out into the street as she fled the shop for the train station.

At that time of the morning, the station was almost deserted, save for a few homeless men trying to make themselves comfortable on the narrow plastic benches specifically designed to keep people from sleeping on them. Ellie looked at the ticket she held in her hand and groaned. It was completely blank. Mr. Black had cheated her. She paled at the thought of going back to that shop, and wondered if maybe something was cleverly hidden on the cardboard, like invisible ink. No amount of rubbing or examination, however, revealed it to be anything other than a blank white piece of cardboard.

Steeling her nerve, Ellie decided to risk using the ticket. The worst that could happen was she would make a fool of herself. At the ticket counter, a bored clerk paged through a copy of Hustler. He looked up as Ellie arrived, and stared at her breasts. "I, uh, have this ticket," she said, trying to catch his eye and failing. "When does the train, um, I mean, I don't see the name anywhere on the schedule."

The clerk looked away from her breasts long enough to glance at the ticket. "Platform six," he said nasally. He gestured vaguely in the direction of "over there." Ellie gritted her teeth and thought about how good he would feel as a large lump traveling her alimentary canal. She shook her head and walked away, remembering her promise to DeVries. She would keep it if she could.

Ellie had been standing on the platform for only ten minutes when a train arrived. There were few people on board, and none did more than glance at her. The conductor glanced briefly at her blank ticket, gave her a look of deep scrutiny, then passed on. The train pulled out and Ellie was left to herself.

The gentle swaying clack-clack of the rails had a soothing effect on Ellie, and she fell asleep at regular intervals. She didn't know when her stop was, but she knew that the conductor called out the names of the stops as they reached them. She would recognize the name when she heard it.

Ellie never knew just how long the trip took. She slipped in and out of sleep, the passengers appearing and disappearing each time she closed her eyes. Finally she opened her eyes and became aware of a noise. Or rather, the absence of a noise. The train had stopped. She looked out the window but could see nothing but darkness. After a few minutes, Ellie stood up to look for the conductor, and realized that her car was empty. Frowning, she went through the doors to the next car. Also empty.

Ellie went from one end of the train to the other, and could not find a single person, not even the conductor. At last she could think of nothing to do but step off of the train.

The train seemed to be in a tunnel of some kind. The lights from the windows of the train illuminated several branching tunnel mouths. Tentatively going a few steps down one of these tunnels, she was alarmed to hear the train begin moving. She had only taken a few steps in, but now she could not find her way back. "Wait!" she cried, running down the rough stone floor of the tunnel. "Wait, please!"

The clickity-clack of the train faded away, and Ellie was left in the pitch darkness of the tunnel, her heart in her throat. As her eyes adjusted, Ellie realized that it was not completely black after all. The rock itself seemed to give off a faint luminescence that gave her heightened sense of vision a grainy image of her surroundings. For lack of anything more productive to do, Ellie began walking.

Ellie noticed that no matter what branching she took, the tunnel always wound deeper through the stone. After a while, Ellie began to hear stealthy footsteps around her, and ghostly flappings, and the occasional clatter of stone against stone. Once, something winged and leathery and covered with something cool that was not fur collided with her, battering her head with its wings. Ellie grabbed it with both her hands and shoved it down her throat. It squealed piercingly until she had swallowed it, and it squirmed for a very long time.

The sounds increased as she walked. She had the feeling she was getting close to something. It began to dawn on her that this was probably her destination, and she began walking faster, unconcerned at the wet flopping sounds and low babbles from up ahead.

As Ellie neared her goal, her senses began reporting strange things to her. There was an earthy smell, like the wet spot from a motel bedsheet. Her ears picked out moans and grunts, like a thousand people all having wild, passionate sex. The air had taken on a charged quality that Ellie was hard put to describe.

When the tunnel opened suddenly into into a vast chamber, brightly lit by the red glow of lava rivers and jets of flame, Ellie had to close her eyes to keep from being blinded after her long trek through the darkness. She would have shut her ears if she was able, for the moans and shrieks and grunts of ecstasy were thunderous, shaking the floor with their noise.

Ellie opened her eyes and took a sudden, sharp intake of breath. What lay before her was a seascape from Hell. The whole floor of the cyclopean cavern was flooded with thick black ooze that bubbled and roiled in constant motion. As Ellie watched... things formed like pustules beneath the surface and rose to the top. Ellie saw phalanxes of hands and arms, hordes of legs and feet. Eyes, noses, ears aplenty formed and then popped like an over-ripe pimple, spattering little black gobbets everywhere. And lips. God, thought Ellie, it was horrible, lips both oral and vaginal appearing like a festering wound, only to seal itself seconds later.

And from the vast, quivering mass of boiling slime came ten thousand, a hundred thousand moans of sexual excitement. Flying things, and things that crawled, and things that walked, and horrible, aborted things that never should have lived were excreted from the slime, bursting from quivering, gelid vaginal lips, only to fall once more into the roiling blackness, torn apart by grasping fingers, or devoured by snapping mouths.

Standing before this gateway onto Hell, Ellie realized that the mouths nearest her were saying something, something almost coherent. She clapped her hands over her ears, but she could not block out the sound.

"daughter/fuck/sex/love/mother," the mouths gibbered as a thousand eyes formed and rolled in Ellie's direction. "mother/lust/daughter/fuck," said the mouths, smacking lasciviously.

"No!" screamed Ellie. It couldn't be! This - this thing - this vast pool of fecund dirtiness could not be her mother! A great mental shriek like a steam whistle gone berserk began building in her head, a howl of utter and complete horror that verged on insanity.

"screw/mother/cunt/daughter/love," burbled mouths wider than a truck tire with tongues like huge flexible logs. Ellie screamed again, high and piercing, plugging her ears against the endless entreaties of lust and desire from her mother. This horrible, gibbering mire was everything that was unclean and lustful, reeked of every sexual excess. "cunt/lick/suck/ daughter/daughter/daughter/daughter," ranted the bubbling voices.

A long, wet tongue snaked out from the pool near Ellie's feet and wrapped itself around the screaming girl. By the time Ellie noticed and tried to stagger back, it had her in its grip. Though Ellie was strong, she was no match for the tongue which insinuated itself beneath her clothing and began probing with monstrous, insatiable lust. It slithered over her breasts, leaving trails of glistening slime. It slipped beneath Ellie's waistband and forced itself inside her like a powerful snake, licking and stroking. Despite her revulsion, or perhaps because of it, Ellie found herself unable to resist the staggering arousal the tongue was causing. A second and third tongue joined the first, wrapping Ellie's body in thick, sensual coils.

"No, please," whispered Ellie. She had wanted to scream, but as one orgasm crashed upon another, she found she lacked the strength. The gripping tongues dragged the unresisting girl closer to the pool.

Ellie felt her balance tipping, saw the huge, slime-dripping vagina that gaped below her. A few tears she had not known she had left squeezed out from between Ellie's lashes as she made a last futile attempt to save herself. "Please, mommy, no..."

As Ellie tipped over, slipping into the cavernous vagina that quivered and sucked with terrible liquescent noises, she thought she heard a single word float up from the black depths into which she fell: "HUNGER."

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