It wasn’t long after Terri turned 18 that the visions and dreams began.
In the first dream she ever had of the woman she would soon come to think of as “the Crimson Queen,” Terri was lost in the woods. Somehow, underneath the deepening azure of the afternoon sky and sinking, winter white sun, amongst the spiderwebbing shadows woven across the forest floor by the bare trees, she’d gotten turned around and confused, and discovered that her footprints had been lost in the snowfall. A wolf with golden eyes appeared, stepping out of the underbrush without making a sound. And it was like a fairytale—before Terri had enough time to be afraid, the wolf transformed into a woman.
The woman’s skin was the same shade as the diamond-dust sheet of snow covering the frozen, sleeping earth. Other than that, everything about her glowed with warmth—she wore a red dress and a red cloak, her irises were molten gold, her hair was a blazing autumnal red, and her nails and her lips were painted the color of roses or blood. Her red lips moved, forming the words, “You’re cold, aren’t you?”
Her breath didn’t come out in a puff of mist, like Terri’s did. And she didn’t have a shadow—the snow sparkled all around her feet. Was she an angel? She didn’t have wings… But angels could appear in any form they needed to, Terri remembered– that was what she’d been taught.
In any case, she *was* cold, very cold, and scared, though not so much now that she wasn’t alone anymore. She nodded.
The woman’s nails didn’t look that sharp, but when she dragged the tip of one across her own wrist, the skin opened easily, without seeming to hurt her, and her blood welled up into view like a poppy pushing up out of the snow. “This will warm you. Come and take a little of it.” She held out her hand.
While she approached the woman, the familiar words rang in Terri’s mind: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is my blood… Do this in remembrance of me.” Being offered blood by an angel couldn’t be very different from that.
The blood was thick and sweet, almost like honey, but not sticky. It slid down smoothly, and she could actually feel it settling inside her stomach. It was warm, just like the angel had said. She drank until she felt full. Then, the woman turned into an owl, and flew away.
In the morning, upon waking, Terri found that every detail was so vivid in her mind, it almost felt more like a memory than a dream.
Before long, she decided that the woman must not be an angel after all—in her dreams, she saw the woman living in a half-crumbling stone palace, in a place where it was Autumn all the time. She had servants, and she ruled a village filled with immortal people whose faces she could never remember when she woke up. They moved about like ghosts, able to walk through walls when they wanted to, and they slept in coffins. They all dressed in black, gold, orange, brown, and red, and the women wore little purple carnations or red roses in their hair. She started to think of the villagers as “the Autumn People,” even though the only face she could remember when she woke up was that of their Queen, in the red cloak.
After awhile, she realized that she only had dreams like these once a month—when she was bleeding. She didn’t tell anybody about them. Something vague was stirred in her each time she dreamed of the Crimson Queen– something that, sheltered as her family and church and school had kept her, she was only starting to understand.
Terri had one semester of high school left when her parents told her they were separating. They never actually got divorced, but they might as well have. There had been no warning, and there was no explanation from either of them. It was her mother who wanted to leave, and she and Terri moved to one of the older sections of Lake Arrington, Louisiana, while her father remained in the house out in the bayou at the edge of town that had been home to all three of them since Terri’s birth.
She spent more time at her friend Cleo’s house than she did at her mother’s after the move. Cleo, also a Senior and newly-18, went to public school. She could read whatever she wanted, and wear whatever she wanted, and she wore black every day, with lots of silver chains and pentagrams and beads and buckles, and lace gloves and studded belts and leather boots. She was Wiccan, and claimed she was part of a coven, though Terri never met anyone from it. It was from Cleo that Terri learned that Wiccans were not demon-worshippers, like she’d been taught.
Still, Cleo scared her a little bit—and it was precisely *because* she scared her a little bit that Terri liked her so much. She was wild. She was everything Terri had never been allowed to be. The language she used when talking about her religion was beautiful, even though it was also somehow frightening—”Drawing Down the Moon,” “Spiral Dance,” “Lord and Lady,” “Book of Shadows,” etc. She had made an altar to her favorite goddess, Hecate, on a shelf in her room, unbeknownst to her dad, who never entered her room. Not only did she wear lipstick, she wore *black* lipstick. She listened to underground bands, she went to candlelight vigils protesting the war, and some nights, she snuck a bottle or two of her dad’s beer out of the house and drank it in the cemetery over on Foust Avenue. Her parents had divorced when she’d been only nine, and she’d been living with her dad for the past three years (as long as Terri had known her), so she could understand what Terri was going through.
Terri’s dreams of the Crimson Queen persisted, and became even more detailed. They began to shift around in time, as opposed to being set in what she’d always assumed to be the present (if time existed at all in whatever place the Crimson Queen and the Autumn People lived).
She saw the Crimson Queen’s past one night—she had once been mortal, and a woman of rank, in some great, Biblical-era city. Her husband had often been away for weeks at a time, and she had taken lover after lover to bed– male servants and men of royal blood alike– and spent nights mingling intimately with the women of her husband’s harem, all without his knowledge. He had only learned of her ways when he had returned to the palace unexpectedly one day, and discovered her in one of the gardens, attempting to couple with a horse. She had been displayed as a disgrace before her own people, branded and denounced as a harlot, before being stoned as adulteresses of her time had been.
Unrepentant—proud, even, of her crimes– she had died draped in scarlet veils, as per her last request. Soon after, under a waxing moon, she had risen from the unconsecrated ground she’d been consigned to, transformed and strengthened, and beyond the reach of death. She had been led away from the mortal realm by the Autumn People, who were all sinners like her, and welcomed as their leader.
Ever since then, she had continued with a life similar to the one she’d known before, only to a greater extreme, and with no one around to punish or deny her. Men and women both indulged her desires. She also copulated with beasts, sometimes taking on the form of an animal herself to do so, but usually remaining in her human form when she was mounted. If she wanted a sleek white tiger to mate with her, one would be brought to her bedchamber. If she wanted to copulate with a peacock in one of her vast gardens, or a lion on the floor of her throne room, she had only to give the command to one of the servants, and they would lead the collared, tame yet majestic creature in at the end of a golden chain. Every time Terri had her period, she would witness the Crimson Queen’s sins in dream after dream. She watched, immobile and voiceless like a ghost gazing out through a two-way mirror, and unwillingly, wildly aroused, as the Queen mated with a wolf, an eagle, a horse, a gazelle, or a leopard, or even screamed in ecstasy while she lay sprawled and writhing on her bed with a serpent flicking its tongue across her nipples, and trailing and slipping its licks down in between the open lips of her sex.
Terri would wake up in the middle of those nights, the pounding of pleasure and release between her legs just beginning to soften and fade, and a gush of blood from deep inside her sliding out to drench her pad. She hadn’t been touching herself, so it couldn’t be wrong, could it?
Who was this woman that she was so insatiable, so *filthy,* that she was compelled to lie with beasts? And why did Terri have to watch? What did she have to do with this whore? She couldn’t believe she had once thought the Crimson Queen to be an angel.
One night, in the cemetery with Cleo, she told her about the dreams—sort of. She left out the parts about the animals, as she was afraid even Cleo might think that sounded a little crazy. She did, however, admit to the physical effects the dreams had on her.
“Whoo, so the good little Catholic schoolgirl’s grown up! Terri’s having sex dreams!” Cleo teased.
“Come on, this is embarrassing enough to talk about. It’s not like I can tell anyone else. I thought you’d understand.”
“I do understand,” Cleo told her, now sounding apologetic. “It’s normal, seriously, everybody has those. Who says only guys can have wet dreams, right?”
“But… the part about this woman… being with other… women…”
Cleo shrugged. “Do you think you might be gay, or bi, and this is how your subconscious is trying to tell you?”
“No,” she said, and didn’t like the lack of conviction her own voice carried.
“Have you ever fucked?”
Though that word always jarred her, she was able to reply “No,” more quickly and easily this time.
“Been groped? Made out? Been on a *date?*”
“Shit, what did those nuns at that private school do to you?! No wonder you’re so pent-up you’re creaming in your sleep—it’s the only time your inhibitions are down! That’s why you’re having these dreams—think about it, she’s this slut who wears lipstick and dresses in red all the time, and she can have anybody she wants, chick, dude, whoever. She’s *you,* don’t you see? Your sexuality has been so repressed, you can’t even dream about doing this stuff yourself, your brain has to project it all onto this made-up character. You need to get laid. I’m not kidding. It’ll make you feel so much better, and the dreams will probably stop then, too—that is, if you *want* them to,” she teased. “In all seriousness, do you like guys?”
“Then I know one I want to fix you up with. You up for that?”
“Well… okay, why not?” Her stomach clenched and fluttered at the thought, and not unpleasantly. Cleo’s explanation for her dreams made a kind of sense.
“I wish you’d come to me with this sooner,” Cleo said, draping an arm around Terri and taking another swig from the mostly-empty bottle. “But don’t worry. We’re going to get your cherry popped before Prom Night.”
Cleo introduced her to Johnny that weekend. He went to Lake Arrington High with Cleo, and had a reputation that extended even to the school Terri went to. He had been put in a mental hospital for three days because of a poem he had written about suicide, and it was said that he had jumped off the railing of the second-story walkway of Lake Arrington High’s English Building and landed on his feet, like a cat, and walked away amid the applause of the handful of students who’d happened to see it. He went to the same underground rock club Cleo liked to hang out at, he hid cigarette burns and neatly-spaced cuts under his long sleeves, and he wasn’t Wiccan, but he claimed he had once been part of a vampire cult.
He was just the sort of guy Terri’s family would *never* approve of.
He scared her at first, more than Cleo ever had, but she hung out with him anyway, always in the presence of Cleo, and she quickly learned that he wasn’t as intimidating as the stories she’d heard had made him out to be. He wrote her darkly beautiful poems, and called her his girlfriend, but never tried to kiss her or even hold her hand. With the exception of the vaguely sexy poetry, whatever they had between them was a lot closer to friendship than a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of thing. Though he was her own age, she began to suspect he might be a virgin too.
In the meantime, Terri’s father, a man who’d never tasted a drop of alcohol in his life to the best of her knowledge, had taken up drinking after her mother had left him. He’d taken to calling her mother at night, drunk and crying for her to come back to him. She’d threatened to call the police, but never followed through. The only thing that had stopped the calls had been her telling him that she would stop lending her car to Terri so she could visit him, reminding him that she hadn’t even wanted him and Terri to stay in contact after the move in the first place, she had only been lending her the car because Terri wanted to see him.
He started sending Terri letters, with letters to her mother along with them inside the envelopes. Her mother wouldn’t read them. Terri hardly recognized her father anymore. When it got too hard to see him in the state he was in every week, she stopped going out to the house in the bayou.
He showed up at her mother’s place one afternoon while her mother was out, and Terri let him in. He told her he was so sorry, that she ever had to see him like this, but that she had to talk to her mother for him and get her to understand how much he loved her, and that he couldn’t go on living without her. When her mother got home and found him there, she screamed threats of restraining orders and trespassing charges, and proceeded to get into an argument with Terri after he left.
Days later, her father, having long ceased to care about it, lost his job. He drove back to the house in the bayou and shot himself the same day. He was found in the bedroom, with no note, dressed in the suit he’d been married in, holding an album full of wedding photos.
After the funeral, she stayed up all night, and called Johnny the next day. It was a Sunday morning, and it was the first time her mother went to church without her. Her mother hadn’t said anything about it, probably feeling that Terri’s grief was enough to excuse her from going to the service this once. Terri left her mother a note saying she’d gone to see Cleo, Johnny picked her up, and she asked him to take her somewhere away from Lake Arrington for just a few hours.
It was the first time she’d ever been alone with him, or with any guy. It would have felt wrong to her under ordinary circumstances, and it felt even more wrong to her now—there was something about the death of a loved one that made partaking in any pleasure, no matter what kind, suddenly seem selfish and crude. But her grief was such that she didn’t care—it was to the point that the pain seemed to free her of responsibility for whatever she was about to do.
Johnny parked near a nature trail outside the Lake Arrington City Limits. A ways down the trail was a wooden covered bridge that had seen better, busier days more than a century previously. The inside walls were lined on each side with a row of dusty, broken, rusted gas lanterns. She could imagine the flickering golden light the passage must have been filled with when it had still been in use by travelers on horseback, or in carriages.
There was nobody around, but they both still felt an odd, instinctive need to hide, and so they stood together in a corner beside one of the bridge’s two entryways, off to the side where nobody approaching would see them and they’d be able to hear anyone walking up the path before they were discovered.
Her nipples hardened against the lacy cups of her bra while he tentatively slid his tongue inside her mouth. She was passive, mostly, while he held her against the rough, cool wall of the bridge, and felt underneath her shirt, eventually lifting it up over her head and willingly-raised arms and unclipping her bra. The river swirled and sang underneath the old-but-sturdy bridge, and the sunlight shone yellow through the knotholes and the cracks between the wooden slats. He sucked and pinched her perked, blushing nipples, and the wetness of her sex soaked through her panties to her jeans. It was Spring, and she remembered Cleo’s talk of the Wiccan rituals celebrating the union of the Virgin and the Youth that she said took place under “the Hare Moon”—meaning, during May. She pictured hares—symbols of fertility, Cleo had said—and other animals out in the surrounding woods, mating, and this made her think of the Crimson Queen, spreading her legs for a white tiger with a jewel-encrusted collar around its neck… No…
“No,” she whispered.
Johnny had dropped his pants and boxers, and started to guide her hand toward his erection. Now, he let go of her wrist. “You don’t want to?”
“No. I mean, no, I do. *Yes,* I want to,” she babbled, pulling herself back into reality. “It’s just, do you have… Did you bring… protection?”
She would rather suffer the shame of going to confession and admitting she’d had sex, and used a condom, than have to tell her mother she was pregnant. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought to have him stop at a drugstore so they could get condoms. Now he’d probably just drive her home, and she might never see him again, maybe he’d be fed up with her after waiting this long and getting this close only to have to stop—maybe she’d get a reputation now as a “cocktease,” as Cleo might say, or worse…
“Um, yeah. Shit, I’m sorry.”
He bent down and dug into one of the many pockets in his baggy pants, which were still crumpled around his ankles and brought out his wallet, from which he withdrew a square foil package. His hands were shaking, just like hers, and that endeared her to him in a way nothing else quite had. She tilted her lips up in invitation to his, and he clasped her to him, kissing her, his shaft pressing hard into the groove of her sex through the fabric of her jeans and her panties. Though she blushed so brightly she could feel the heat of it, she moaned, and pressed back, and the throb between her thighs made her desperate for him to get both barriers out of the way.
She didn’t have to wait long. As soon as he unzipped her jeans and started pulling them down over her hips, she kicked off the sandals she’d so hastily slipped on that morning on her way out of the house, and helped him get her jeans off all the way. Now, if anyone surprised the two of them, there was almost no chance she’d be able to get dressed again before they were seen, but she didn’t care anymore. Johnny got her out of her panties, and then he couldn’t wait any longer—while she arranged her clothes as a makeshift “blanket” underneath her on the floor of the bridge, he tore the condom package open, fumbled the end of the latex sheath onto himself, and then rolled it the rest of the way down until it reached the patch of coarse hair that his shaft jutted out from. He kept his hand on it until he was halfway inside her, and then braced himself over her with both hands and drove himself in the rest of the way with a sharp lunge of his hips. He must have taken her pained cry for one of pleasure, and began to thrust.
“Wait, wait, not that deep,” gasped Terri.
He drew himself all the way out and slowly glided back into her sex, about halfway, and it felt easier then. “How’s that feel?”
“Feels… feels good.”
“A little more?”
Terri nodded, and he pushed in a little further, hesitantly. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “Just not all the way in, that’s all.”
Johnny nodded, and nudged in deeper, and then started to thrust again, more slowly this time. Too slowly for the tension that was just on the verge of breaking. She twined her arms underneath his and around him, feeling the tautness in his frame through his shirt.
The chains that hung from his neck swung against her breasts, and the cold steel further tightened the flesh at their tips, until he sank down to his elbows and her breasts were crushed against his flat chest. The resulting breathlessness didn’t hurt, it just added to her sense of unreality. She hoped his chains would leave imprints on her skin. She wished those imprints would stay there forever, underneath her clothes, so that every time she undressed, she would see that she’d been marked by him, branded as exactly what she was becoming: a whore.
Her sex was slackening and deepening in response to being filled and stroked, she could feel it. She was becoming the scarlet woman from her dream, just like Cleo had said. She reached down and clasped his hips with her sweat-slicked palms, answering his thrusts with her own and trying to get him to thrust faster without her having to ask him to. He understood, raising his hips a little higher each time he drew back now, and increasing the pace and the force of each time he slid inward.
The vision stormed her senses: in an instant, she wasn’t on the spread heap of her own clothes on the bridge’s cool wooden floor anymore, she was bound naked to an altar of sun-warmed stone in one of the Crimson Queen’s palace gardens, and instead of Johnny covering her, the Queen was standing between her forced-open legs, touching the polished wooden tip of a long, thin, phallic wand to the bud of flesh there. She trailed it down between the wantonly puckered lips, slowly, to the opening of her sodden sex. Terri smelled rose oil, and realized it had been rubbed into her stiffly-beaded nipples. The scents of wood smoke, decaying leaves, and musky, feminine sex tainted every breath she drew. The garden all around them was heavy with ripe fruit, teeming with wildlife, blazing with marigolds, briar roses, poppies, and yellow star thistle, a thin mist permeated the air, and everything dripped with evil. The Queen trailed her honey eyes down Terri’s nakedness, and she wanted to close her legs, close her body, but she couldn’t move. She felt the pressure of the wand’s smoothly-rounded tip become harder, and her body yielded to it. Something about the Crimson Queen’s painted lips seemed vulval, plumped and wetly gleaming and slightly parted as they were. She slid the wand into Terri until the tip was somewhere near the mouth of her womb. The slender rod began to grow warm, and expand within her as the Queen leaned down, and the moment the Queen pressed her lips to the very pulse of her femininity, the warm phallus started to throb in time with it, *hard*…
And then she was back on the covered bridge, in the middle of her climax, at the very height of it, her clothes wrinkled and spread out under her back, pinned by Johnny’s rigid weight, his shaft working and twitching in the tight confines of the condom, his seed filling the tip, and she realized the wails she heard were her own, raking through the humid, clinging air.