Storybook | Game


He was sweating, a mixture of fear and outrage. His big hands wrung, longed to loosen the tight collar digging into his neck. He looked too big for the room, as if at any moment he might burst out of his confines and expand to an almighty size, crushing all who were trapped with him.

But he didn’t. Cassandra sat and watched him as he sat there on the soft leather sofa and pleaded.

“You must understand he is only a boy, he is our only son, my wife and I...” His hands flailed as if to sum up years of disappointment in a few vague gestures. He came from a culture where childbirth was important. Cassandra could only imagine the recriminations, the guilt his wife must have been placed under. Only one son. And he was a sickly boy; his body under her touch was light and soft, his sighs like a girl. A girl. And in truth sometimes under her touch he became a girl. But all men were like that.

A smile stirred at the thought. With practised ease Cassandra kept it from her face.

“He is... naive in the ways of the world,” his father spoke on, heedless of her thoughts, “he has shown so little interest in girls, now he is obsessed. Now we find he neglects his studies, throws away his position, throws away his allowance, squanders the inheritance his grandfather left him. And for what?”

He raised his eyes to hers, she saw the anger glimmering, the anger of a great herbivore perhaps, confronting a predator. The bull of the pack gearing himself up to make a stand over a wounded foal. Cassandra let herself feel his turmoil. If she’d felt guilt it would have eased at what she saw. There was shame in his son, and not for the first time. There was embarrassment for his family and its fine and honourable name, and there was lust. For her. At the same time he was warning her off his son he wanted her for himself. She could sense the tendrils of thought that moved across him. There was no magic; the poor lost fool was no more in command of his thoughts than a baby; they flitted across him, across his face, his broad shoulders, his large hands - so different to the soft slender hands of his son - clearer and far, far truer than the words he was speaking.

“And for what? My son tells me you are not even lovers. He worships you, adores you, has given you monies it took my family years, decades to earn, and he has given it all to you. He has given his life all to you, and for what? Not even a fuck-”

“I am no whore Mr al-Sabawi.” Cassandra’s eyes hardened so very slightly, and her voice lost none of its soft warmth, but the words seem to cut him like a whip. He crumpled.

“No, no you are not a whore. A houri perhaps, but no whore. In the old days they would have called you a courtesan, they would have writen operas about you, famous painters would have painted you.”

He leaned forward.

Pleading over, Cassandra thought, what now?

“You could have any man. Politicians, captains of industry. You are.. you are beyond beautiful, I feel bewitched by you merely sitting in your presence I can only begin to imagine what my poor lovestruck boy....”

“I will not lie to you my son and I.. we do not see eye to eye. We do not understand each other, he is a world of books and computers, where the boys dress like girls and the girls tattoo their skin and wear almost nothing. I do not pretend to understand this world, I do not fit into this world nor should I but it means that my son sees me as an alien. An enemy.”

“But I am not my son’s enemy. I am his ally and I will defend him if necessary.”

He locked eyes with her. For the first time she felt the strength of the old bull, the stubbornness. For the first time the thought flitted across her mind that she might be in danger, that even her charm, even her legendary power over men, might not suffice. She had defences; she could stun him and flee screaming rape - it would be his word against hers and in a room full of men she was confident it would be her voice heard. If the worst came to the worst he wouldn’t be the first middle aged businessman to have a heart attack in a hooker’s apartment, no matter how high class the hooker. She could defend herself, but only if she got the chance. She began weighing up the chances of reaching the door, calling for help, before those great ham fists started raining down on her. They weren’t as good as they could be.

“Mr al-Sabawi what do you want me to do?” she let genuine concern into her voice, let the old fool believe he’d gotten throught to her.

“Do you want me to stay away from your son? I do, he comes to me. Do you want me to lie to you? I will not lie to you. Do you want me to lie to your son? I will tell you now it will do no good; he has chosen the path he is on. This is not my doing Mr al-Sabawi, this is not my doing, your son has chosen his own path. He is a man, Mr al-Sabawi and men are allowed to choose their own lives. And, if it be their will, their dooms. I do not create this, I am not responsible for reality. I am merely aware of it. As are you. And as, deep in himself, is your son.”

“I want you to stay away from him.” The man’s face was set. He was lost, he knew it, memories tore across his face, self-recriminations mixed with the contempt he’d always had for his son. The one boy his defective old balls had managed to squeeze out and little better than a girl himself. The old man was corrupted by shame and all of it, all of it was self-pity.

She sat forward and reached out, brushing the back of his hand with her fingertips. As expected the lust burned up in him. He longed for her, longed to crush her into his arms, to possess her, consume her, to parade her in public so that everyone knew she was his, then to sacrifice himself to her, throw himself upon her, surrender everything he was to her, burn himself to ashes in his adoration of her.

“What is, is,” she said softly, “things are what they are. Your son’s path is your son’s path. And in reality I can do nothing to change it and nor, I believe, can you. However if you want me to step off it....” She lifted one of his great paws in her smooth soft hands and gazed into his eyes. “I will need your help.”

He clasped her hands in his, drinking up the touch of her skin. His eyes shone with gratitude and lust. He was hers, broken and surrendered to her. The old bull had given himself freely to the predator; all that remained now was the kill.

“You shall have it,” he said, “you shall have everything I can give you.”


Cassandra watched him leave, watched the top of his head emerge from the apartment building then set off to walk into the centre. He’d come alone, hadn’t driven. He’d come to confront her, threaten her with the beating his fathers and uncles would have offered women without a thought. And he had left possessed. Utterly hers. Tonight he would climb on top of his surprised wife and he would be thinking of her. And tomorrow....

She frowned. She felt troubled, disturbed. Not like her, not like her at all. She crossed the room, long graceful legs gliding under the demure silk dress she’d worn, and picked up the phone.

“Faroukh? Cassandra. Lunch?” She laughed. “Yes I’m buying, cheapskate. Usual place. One hour.”


She’d dressed down; slacks, a shapeless wrap, large sunglasses. The wife of a middling to upper manager in something financial. It didn’t altogether work, eyes still followed her, respectful but intrusive. Awarenesses and lusts touched her. She harvested a few, quietly, giving no clue, storing away their life force, leaving the luster dull and disappointed with his day, his life.

But what was new.

Faroukh was fashionably late. Having been friends with him for years Cassandra knew to be fashionably later. He was already seated when she arrived, he rose as she approached, keeping his eyes on the ass of a passing waiter. They air kissed.

“Long time no etc sweetie,” Faroukh finally turned his attention to her, “to what do I owe the pleasure.”

“Can’t a girl simply want to see an old friend?”

“Yes she can darling, yes she can,” Faroukh glanced at her shrewdly, “but that’s not the only reason you’re here right?” He leaned in to her, “what’s troubling my little petal hmmmm? Man trouble again?”

Cassandra laughed. The sound was rich musical infectious, it drew appreciative smiles from other tables. Cassandra winced a smile back, today of all days she would welcome no attention.

“When isn’t it? Faroukh when are men not trouble?”

It was Faroukh’s turn to laugh. No glances this time, just a man laughing.

“Oh sweetheart welcome to my world. I swear I spend more than half my whole life, all of it, dealing with this boy or that boy-”

“Faroukh darling you do rather bring that on yourself.”

“- well my point is that if men, if boys were easy then life would be..... actually if they were easy I would spend more than half my time on them. And under them.”

Cassandra felt herself relaxing. Damn she’d forgotten how good it felt to be around men who weren’t so damned bewitchable. Faroukh was predictable, but not...

Not controllable.

They ate in relative silence, and afterward, despite the early hour, shared a bottle of wine.

“This one got to me Faroukh,” Cassandra gazed about the emptying restaurant. “This one got under my skin.”


“I’m not sure. God they blame us for so much, their whole lives if we’d let them.”

“We are not to blame.”

“I know that. But they ruin themselves, overspend, get fired, start drinking. And it’s them; it’s always them. They’re the ones walking into the jeweller’s shop with money they can’t afford to spend and credit cards they can’t afford to pay back. They’re the ones sitting at my feet being all googly eyed-”

“googly eyed?”

“googly eyed! Until it’s too late to get the presentation in on time. Them them them! So why when the shit hits the fan do they always blame me?”

“Because you are the personification of death.”

“Whoah, I wouldn’t use that as a chat up line.”

Faroukh smiled slyly and topped up her glass. “Oh you’d be surprised. Now my little darling, what is, is yes? We do not create reality we merely live in it and our mission is to discover the truth of it and our place in it no matter what the cost?”

Cassandra raised her glass. “A is A!”

“A toast!” Faroukh clinked her glass with his and carried on. “A is A. Reality bites. Reality is fatal. Reality hurts. Yet we do not want it to hurt so we make believe a friendly, protective, kind reality. Is this reality? No! This is fantasy.”

“Your boys, your men, they want to believe that the universe is safe, that they can balls up and balls up and somehow there will always be some sort of safety net, always a great cosmic mother to bail them out, to stop the boo boo hurting. Well you know what? The boo boo hurts. Reality is pain and death and only by looking at it honestly and openly can we hope to survive it for the brief moment we do, and wrestle from it the few scraps of happiness we can. Your boys do not want to see this, so when you say to them that their actions - their actions - have cost them their careers, their inheritances, their lives - they look at you dumbly and say well why didn’t you save me? Why didn’t you save me? Why? Because that is not the truth of why you are here. That is not reality that is not rationality that is dumbass fantasy.”

He waved his glass as if conducting an invisible orchestra. “You know what you are? You are the desert. The desert does not wait until you are dying of thirst then pop out and go hah! only kidding here’s a fucking sprite. The desert does not wait for you to feel the despair of being utterly lost then put a roadsign down in front of you or a fucking motel. With air-con and bar. No! You get lost in the desert the desert fucking kills you and you die because that is reality. That is fucking reality.”

“You know that the word desert is one of the few words of Ancient Egyptian to make it into English? It’s true. The Ancient Egyptian word for desert was desert. Desher-et. Desher, red, -et, female. The scarlet woman, the desert. The natural consort of my own lord, Sekhmet.”

Cassandra raised her glass. “To the scarlet woman.”

“To the scarlet woman. Ok these guys got to you, any chance there’s danger? What family?”


“I know them. Construction, oil, little bit of antiquities peddling. Dirty hands but surprisingly little blood. You do like your middle easterns.”

“I have an affinity.”

“You do that. You want protection? I could rustle up a few guys.”

“I can look after myself. I just needed to clear my head.” Cassandra studied the mostly empty wine bottle. “And this has helped a lot.”

“Hey you could ask the Sisterhood.”

They both laughed.

“Ask a knitting circle of fantasists to lend me a bunch of prison dykes to protect me? I’ve more to fear from them than the men.”

“This is true; with bitch tattooed on one tit and slut on the other you wouldn’t be able to wear those little Dior tops you like so much.”

Cassandra swatted him playfully. “I am alone Faroukh, although I count some of the finest and bravest people in Darkness Falls amongst my friends...”

She nodded to him, he nodded back and brandished his wine glass.

She fell serious for a moment. “I am alone. I know that and it does not scare me. It is reality. And reality is all there is.”

“A is A!”

“A is A.”

“Seriously though, you think this al-Sabawi boy is going to do something crazy you shout yes? Or his dad.”

“I will. You’re a good friend Faroukh.”

“yeah, well us real types have got to stick together. You think that cute waiter has finished his shift yet?”

“Only one way to find out.”


She left Faroukh in the restaurant. He’d be alright. Faroukh was always alright. Clear visioned that was him, no compromise no bullshit.

It began again the moment she left the restaurant. The clamouring, the eyes, the wanting. Goddammit, couldn’t she have one day off. Haf of them wanted to destroy her, half of them wanted to worship her, most of them wanted to fuck her. And none of it was her. Their desires, their longing, their unhappinesses and bitternesses and thousand little failures of life it was all them. Why couldn’t they see it was all them.


He wolf whistled in a way that made her flesh crawl. Maybe there was too much spit in it, maybe he was letting his desperation show, she could reach, find, tell you his innermost secrets, but today was a bad day. Today she was not in a good mood.

She turned to face him. Yuppie type, expensive suit, cock-sure air of entitlement. Good, the wealth made what was coming plausible.

“Fine looking woman.” He drew out the i in fine into something ridiculous. Cassandra kept the amusement out of her voice.

“Fine looking man,” she purred.

She caught the flash of disbelief behind his eyes. Yes, she thought I am looking at you, and yes, I am freaking serious.

He glanced around himself but the people around went about their own business oblivious to his. No-one was there to see him pull a woman like her, no-one cared.

That was reality. Cassandra liked it.

“Follow.” She walked into an alleyway. Deserted and only ten feet in but the city passed by blind to the pair of them.

He was behind her, unable to believe his luck, unsure what to do. She smiled and slipped her fingers through his hair.

“Kiss me.” The first kiss was a stun, left him dazed and frozen. Barely aware but just enough to have an inkling of what what was coming. She sensed as much of him as she cared to; the rising terror at the thought of his probable death, the rising joy at the surrender and abandon of being prey to this terrible, terrible beauty, and the horror at his own joy. She left him in the reality of himself for a moment and then kissed.

The kiss drank deep, sucking out his life force, draining him dry, offering every part of him, every scrap on the terrible altar of her. Down, deeper, deeper, hungrily reaching, finding his very soul, the immortal shard of him, screaming, racing from her. In the books it would escape, in the books the immortal soul was inviolable, unreachable, protected by the deity du jour him/her/it self.

But this was not books, this was not tv this was not movies. This was reality and in reality what lives can be killed, what can be born can be devoured.

She fed.

The husk of his corpse fell to her feet and she stepped lightly from the alleyway. She hadn’t needed to feed but it felt good. She certainly hadn’t needed to administer the black kiss, but it was good to know she still had it. her confidence restored Cassandra returned home.

Storybook | Game