“Can you really help me get rid of my fat?” Jenna asked, watching the black, worm-like thing floating in the jar. She leaned over the kitchen island and tapped a pink, manicured fingernail against the jar’s glass, but the creature didn’t move.
She’d read about it in a fashion magazine. The title of the article was Incredible Invertebrate Helps Stars Shed Pounds Fast. The magazine said the thing comes from a small country in Africa and lives inside the intestines of hippos and large rodents. Jenna searched online and found the name of a man in New York who sold the creature. She paid a thousand dollars not including shipping, but she figured that was cheaper than going in for another liposuction procedure.
Her husband would murder her if she spent money on another procedure. Erik had been irritated by the Restylane injections and the breast implants, but he was livid about the liposuction he called “totally unnecessary.”
“I’ve got a brilliant idea for the next time you want to lose this excess weight you’re always imagining,” he’d said when she came home from the clinic in bandages. “Why don’t you go for a walk.”
Because you never go with me. Jenna wished she could say the words out loud, or ask Erik why he had to spend every Saturday night at the film studio, or mention that he hadn’t done much more than hug her in nearly four months. But she stayed silent and stared out the living room window of their Bel Air home. She always became calm when she saw the hillside mansions with their turquoise swimming pools and fuchsia gardens. She reminded herself of what her sister had said at her wedding:
“You were a 35-year-old wannabe actress who could barely pay rent. Now that you’re with The Director you’re all set.”
“All set,” Jenna repeated to herself as she unscrewed the lid of the jar. Her hand froze when she saw the legs on the thing. She stared at the tiny, hook-like appendages until she was certain they weren’t moving.
She glanced at the flashcard-sized instruction sheet that lay near the jar.
Can Consume with Soft Food or Beverage
DO NOT CUT OR CHEW
She slid her bowl of lemon meringue pudding next to the jar and used a spoon to transport the thing between the two containers. She stirred it into the pudding until its dark, metallic skin was coated with sugary yellow. When she lifted the spoon, the creature dangled over either side of the utensil, and she noticed those sharp-looking legs protruding from the layer of pudding. She closed her eyes and parted her lips. As the spoon entered her mouth, she repeated in her head, Swallow whole. Swallow whole. Swallow-
The thing moved. Its legs attached to the roof of Jenna’s mouth.
She was about to scream when she remembered that Erik was sleeping on the sofa in his screening room.
With a swift movement of her tongue, Jenna pried the creature off her skin and swallowed it. Whole.
A minute later, she sat on a stool and pressed an ice cube against her bleeding tongue. She glanced down at a newspaper that lay open on the kitchen island. A headline read, DOGWALKER FOUND MUTILATED IN BRENTWOOD.
Jenna closed the newspaper and stared sleepily out the window. Across the ravine, a gardener watered a red bougainvillea vine that climbed one wall of a Spanish-style mansion. A dove cooed.
Jenna looked at the digital clock on the microwave. 2:01 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. Erik would wake soon.
“She acts like she’s never seen me before,” Stephanie said. She folded her arms over the front of her new Vivienne Westwood dress and glared at Jenna, who stood in the kitchen, slightly hunched over the counter. “She just gave me this bizarre blank look when she came into the house and then she made a bee-line to the kitchen.”
Teena shook her head and said, “Maybe she knows about you and Erik.”
“She will once Erik’s movie comes out. He promised me he’d ask for a divorce the day after Sack of Rome premieres.”
“I’d feel sorry for her if she didn’t look so damn good.”
“She’s definitely skinny,” Stephanie said, “and her hair’s kind of big and wild in that Catherine Deneuve sort of way. What do you think about what I did with my hair? I tried to book an appointment with Eli, but he had to close the salon early because the police found a body in the parking lot.”
Teena scowled briefly in disgust. Then she smiled at Stephanie and said, “Your hair’s way lovelier than Jenna’s.” She eyed the unruly guest again and said, “Who goes into the kitchen at a Botox party?”
“All I know is she’s getting out of mine. If I leave her in there she’ll probably try to poison me.”
Jenna suddenly turned toward her as if she’d heard her. Jenna clutched one of the porkchops Stephanie had deposited in the trash bin that morning. Her mouth was smeared with grease from the meat. Her upper lip curled in a snarl.
“Excuse me,” Stephanie said loudly enough for the other ladies to hear. She crossed the dining room toward Jenna and said, “Who told you you could-?”
Jenna sprang on her before she finished the question.
The surgeon who was scheduled to administer the party injections stepped into a hallway occupied by the few remaining guests. As the hysterical rich women gave their high-pitched takes on the attack, they kept glancing fearfully at the closed door to the dining room.
“You say she bit her?” the surgeon asked one of the women.
“No,” Teena said, her cheeks covered in snaking lines of blue mascara. “It’s worse than that.”
The surgeon opened the door a crack and saw a splash of blood trickling down the cream-colored dining room wall. He noticed a woman’s leg protruding from beneath the banquet table, a high-heeled shoe still on the foot. Just above the shoe’s silver ankle strap was a red wound the size of a mouth. The doctor was about to open the door further, but he froze when he heard the sound of chewing.
On the front page of the Friday edition of The Los Angeles Times:
‘HUNGER FEVER’ CONSUMES CITY
Thousands Dead, CDC Urges Quarantine
BIO: David Massengill’s addicted to sugar. His short stories and works of flash fiction have appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Word Riot, 3 A.M. Magazine, Yellow Mama, Tainted Tea, and The New Flesh,among literary magazines. Read more of his work at www.davidmassengillfiction.com.