By Ellie Dauber
Two men, on the run from the law, seek escape with one who has arranged such escapes. Only to find that there are escapes and there are escapes.
Here's one of my older stories, while Chris and I do the final work on the next part of the Eeie Saloon saga.
By Ellie Dauber
There was a knock at the door.
Madame Souzcha was busy stirring something in a small brass pot over a burner on the table. It oozed around her hardwood spoon, colors flowing together. Now dusty gray, now dove's blood red, now a bilious yellow. She heard the knock, but her stirring barely slowed. "Enter, if you will," she called. "Enter, if you dare ."
Two men strode through the door. Strode with the arrogance of the young and the wealthy. Both were dressed in well-tailored suits that looked like they had cost more than most people in that part of town made in a month. One was tall, sandy haired, clutching a brief case to his chest with long, thin fingers. The other was short and prematurely balding, his suit cut to hide his extra weight. He also carried a brief case, though holding his tightly by the handle.
"You are Souzcha," the taller one said. It was more a statement than a question.
"Madame Souzcha to such as you, young man." Madame stopped her stirring. A tiny bit of the something spilled over the top of the pot. When it hit the tabletop, there was a sudden smell of burning wood. She didn't seem to notice or to care.
"Madame Souzcha," the shorter one said. "We are two who have heard of your power and come to seek your help in our time of need."
"I know who you are; scoundrels, the both of you. Stealers of young men's dreams and old women's last hopes. Money you have taken from others, money that weighs you down even as you clutch it within those cases."
"I won't deny that we have money with us," the tall one said. "But it was all taken, that is to say, earned , in a manner allowed by the law in this state. It is money that we are entitled to."
"Bah," said Madam. "Entitled to! Why? Because you are young? Because you are smart? Because such as you are more entitled to have money than those poor souls who you took it from?"
"Yes!" said the shorter one. "Yes to all of those reasons. Some people just deserve to have money. However they get it." The man paused. "But who are you to question us? We have heard that there are any number of things that you have done for cash."
"And not all of them legal," added the other.
"What I have done, I have done for my own reasons. Reasons that I do not need to explain to such as you." Madame slapped the spoon down hard on the table. "You are in my home, now, Mr. Whitley and Mr. van Zandt. You come seeking my help. If you want any chance that I will help you, then you will treat me with the respect that I am due."
Whitley, the tall one, spoke first. "You are right, of course, Madame Souzcha. And my associate and I do both apologize."
"It's just that, well, we've been under a lot of pressure." This was van Zandt speaking now. "Ever since that one idiot shot himself in the bank and left the note blaming us; why there have been so many, many people asking questions."
"Questions that you two would prefer not to have to answer, I am sure."
"Yes, and we were told that you could arrange this. That we not be around to answer those questions, I mean."
"Oh, I can. I can, indeed."
Van Zandt was suddenly cautious. "But we'll be all right. You aren't going to kill us or anything like that. Just fix matters so that the police won't be looking for us."
"That I cannot do," said Madame Souzcha. "The authorities have read the note. They have investigated your schemes. They will continue to be searching for H. James Whitley and Charles van Zandt III." She paused for effect. "But you two will no longer be those men."
"Impossible!" Whitley said. "What are you a make-up artist? Or is there a plastic surgeon hiding in here somewhere?"
"I am neither," said Madame. "I am a practitioner of an ancient art based on the Principle of the Wheel of Life. Reincarnation, you might call it, but without the discomfort of having to die. When a person passes from his current life, Something -- G-d, Fate, call it what you will -- looks at that life and determines the form that the next life will take. I have found the means of causing one to undergo that process in this life."
"Reincarnation without death. Unbelievable."
"Ah, my doubting van Zandt, unbelievable -- but true. I administer a potion which puts your mind and body into the proper state. Your life is judged, and the new life created."
"And with no memory of our past, so she gets the money we worked for."
"Forget it!" Both men turned to go.
"No," Madame Souzcha said. "Because you have not died, your soul is linked to your current body. That body changes to match the new life. Your mind changes, as well, to match. But the memories of your current life remain. You will be adults, knowing who you were, what has happened to you, and why. Yet, you will also have the skills of the new life."
"I'm still not certain about this idea, Charlie," Whitley said.
"Yes," said Madame Souzcha, "but what choice do you have? The authorities have broadcast your descriptions across the city. It is very late, but some person must have seen you come to this neighborhood. It is only a matter of time before Whitley and van Zandt are caught. If they still exist to be caught."
"I think you're right, Madame Souzcha." Whitley's tone was more sincere now. It was his smooth voice, the voice he used on new clients or potential lovers. "When do we start?"
"As soon as you remove all of your clothing."
"It is necessary. The changes to your bodies will be abrupt, and anything you were wearing would be badly damaged. I have some control over the process, but no one can know what their shape in that next life may be."
"I don't know," van Zandt hesitate, sensing a possible trap.
"There is but this one room in my home," Madame Souzcha said gesturing about with her arm. "Lock the door if you wish. I am an old woman, far too weak to overpower you. And with no way to safely get rid of your bodies should I choose to kill you."
The two men looked at Madame Souzcha. She was perhaps five foot tall, half a foot shorter than van Zandt. Her face was thin, her voice old and frail sounding. What could be seen of her fingers from the sleeves of her long blue-green robe -- van Zandt thought it looked more like an old bath robe than any sort of witch's gown -- looked almost unnaturally bony. The two men shrugged and began undressing. Van Zandt tossed his clothes onto the bed. Whitley folded his carefully and draped them over a chair next to the table. Both men kept their brief cases besides them.
Madam Souzcha picked up a tong and used it to lift the pot off of the burner. She poured an equal portion into two old jelly glasses resting near the center of the table. The something bubbled for a moment in each glass, before it settled down, turning a slight purplish color as it did. Madame put the pot on a wooden trivet and handed each man a glass. "Drink," she said, "drink to your new lives."
The two men looked carefully at the glasses in their hands. Whitley smelled his. He was surprised to find a rather sweet odor, something like freshly cut hay. Van Zandt thought his had more of the smell of bad meat. As if on cue, though, both men held their noses and drank.
"Now what," asked van Zandt. The answer was not long in coming. Both men suddenly stiffened, their mouths opening, their eyes going blank, oblivious to the world.
"You see nothing; you hear nothing except my voice. My will is all." Madame Souzcha walked over to the two frozen men, stopping in front of Whitley. "Tell me, who are you to cheat so many people of their life savings?"
Whitley began to sweat, as if he was somehow trying not to answer but knew that he could not stop himself from doing so. "I -- I am H. James Whitley, Harvard class of ‘02, cum laude . If people are stupid enough to let me talk them into giving me their money, then they deserve to be used. I'm smarter than them, and I deserve that money. Screw them !"
Madame Souzcha spat on the floor at the answer. She turned and asked the same of van Zandt.
"My family's old money. We came over in 1647 and got rich early. Kept it a long time. Some people, some classes of people, just deserve to be rich. We have a right to take money from those who don't know what money means or how to use it. I say screw them , too!"
Madame Souzcha stepped back and looked at the two men. Their bodies seemed to be swelling, turning coarse and a pale, sandy color. They gradually lost all detail as if becoming mounds of earth. Graves. "As you spoke," she said, "so shall you be judged. Yours was a crime of male arrogance. Let such feelings fade, and with those feelings, the maleness that called it forth. You shall enter your new lives as women. Yet one emotion will remain. In your past lives you were so eager to screw others figuratively. That drive shall remain, but in a stronger and more literal meaning."
Madame pointed at Whitley. "You who were H. James Whitley prided yourself on your great mind. That mind is of the past. Your intellect is far more limited, the mind of a child, given to pouts and fits of emotion, easily persuaded to do as others tell you, with an aggression now turned yielding and submissive."
Now she turned to van Zandt. "Class and family that meant so much to you are now gone. You who were of the upper classes are now of the lower, a dark child of the streets. You are wiser in some ways than your friend, but your speech and your manner shall forever mark you as socially inferior. Aggression in you also is lost, changed to the need to yield to the desires of others."
Pieces now seemed to flake off the two mounds that had been Whitley and van Zandt. Slowly two figures were revealed; two women in their early twenties. A pale, long limbed blonde with hair far down her back stood where Whitley had stood, and a Black woman with corn-rowed hair was now in van Zandt's place. Both were quite lovely with well-formed breasts, somewhat large for their sizes, narrow waists, and wide hips. Their features were beautiful, although neither woman's face gave the slightest hint of the man she had been. Their bodies were smooth and lacking in any hair, except for that on their heads and the inverted triangles that guarded their new genitals.
Madame Souzcha shook the blonde by the shoulders. The woman trembled, closing her eyes to shut out her new reality. "Who are you?" Madame Souzcha answered. "I command you to speak your new truth to me."
"I -- I'm Candy Price", she said, and then she giggled. "But I used to be Jimmy Whitley. I want to be mad at you for doing this to me, but it all seems kind of silly. I -- oh, I don't know. Can I get dressed? I'm cold."
"Dress," said Madame pointing to Whitley's clothing on the bed.
"But those are guy's clothes. I'm a girl , silly." She put a hand on her hip and bent one knee, clearly and quite unconsciously to better exhibit her new charms.
"They are of your life, old or new. Touch them and see."
Candy carefully picked up Whitley's boxer shorts between two dainty fingers. As she did, the shorts transformed into a pair of lacy blue panties. "Ooh, cool!" she said stepping into them, pulling them up around her waist. The transformation continued with each item. An undershirt became a matching bra. Two socks stuck together and changed into panty hose. The shirt and slacks were transformed into a miniskirt and semi-transparent silk blouse. The tie became a silk scarf, and the suit jacket turned into a sleeveless fake fur halter top. Candy put the clothes on without difficulty, as if she had always worn such things, and without regard for anything else happening in the room. She stepped into Whitley's loafers which immediately changed into a pair of leather pumps with a three inch heel.
As Candy dressed, Madame walked over to the transformed van Zandt and shook her. "Speak, I command you. Tell me of your new place in this world."
The figure blinked and shook her head for a moment, not believing the thoughts in her mind. "I was some ol' White guy name of van Zandt, but I be Jasmin Moore, now. Why you do this to me, you ol' honky bitch witch?"
Madame Souzcha slapped Jasmin's face. The Black woman's anger flowed out of her. She trembled and seemed ready to cry. "Dress yourself!" Madame ordered.
Jasmin sniffled and walked over to van Zandt's clothes. As with Candy, each item changed as she touched it. In a few moments the new woman was dressed in five inch heels, her legs in patterned stockings held in place by a black and red garter belt. Beneath a micro mini-skirt she wore a matching thong panty. The dress was cut low to show her pillowy breasts pushed up and out by a lacy black and red bra that could also be partly seen.
Madame opened a drawer and pulled out two small purses, handing one to each woman. "In here are the details of your new lives, cosmetics, and a few dollars." Candy opened her purse, took out a lipstick and began applying it. Jasmin counted the twelve dollars in her purse, frowned, and also began doing putting on make-up. Both acted as if they had years of experience as women.
Madame waited until they had finished before continuing. "You will never be able to come back to this room or to bother me in any way. Nor can you talk about what happened to you to anyone but yourselves. You will always remember who you were, but the impulses of your new bodies will overwhelm any chance of your behaving as the men you once were. So far as the world knows, Whitley and van Zandt have disappeared."
"Candy and Jasmin, you are new in this town, and you have a chance at good, useful lives, if you choose to try. If you choose not to try, if you give in to the sensual impulses of your new bodies as quickly as you gave in to the evil impulses of your old lives, well, there are many places in this town with those who would welcome lovely, willing young girls such as yourselves.
"Both women stood quietly as Madame's warning sank in. Neither would admit it, even to themselves, but both had sensed a sort of hunger in their bodies. It was a feeling that each vaguely recognized as sexual, like, yet at the same time very different from the arousal that they had known as men. It was stronger now, taking its strength from the drive to acquire money that they no longer had. Neither realized it, but that displaced drive was a special part of the transformation intended by Madame Souzcha to torment them long after they left her that night.
Candy suddenly had a serious thought, a bit of her former self struggling to survive in its new form. "But the money?" She asked abruptly, almost as surprised at her words as Madame Souzcha was. "Are you going to keep it?" Madame could see that what was left of Whitley was fighting for control, and she move quickly to crush it.
"Why," Madame asked. "It isn't your money, is it, Candy?"
Candy shook her head. The question had been important a moment before, but now it seemed meaningless. Money wasn't something to be grasped for at all costs. It was just something you spent to have fun. Deep within her, the remnants of H. James Whitley screamed in a blind frustration that came out of Candy as an innocent giggle.
"I will return the money in a way that makes it seem as if Whitley and van Zandt are dead. For in truth, those two men hardly still exist."
"Yo," said Jasmin, "I still gots one question. You could'a done a lot a diff'rent things to us. Even killed us if ya wanted. This -- these bodies -- and what you done to our minds, they's the worse. Why you done dat to us?"
Madame smiled for a moment. "Why? For the simplest of reasons. I've been working my magic for years helping people escape what they deserved. And generally, I don't make any sort of judgement. Very few wind up as badly as you two did -- although your new fates were chosen at my direction, of course."
She smiled again, showing teeth; teeth that were filed down to points in some cases. "But you two are special cases because of that idiot' as you put it, the one who gave you away when he shot himself. He made all the difference. You see, he was my grandson ."
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