· Featuring Shyirae , Kyden

An unscrupulous and callous couple throwing a Halloween party in their mansion are visited by two trick-or-treaters, the cat demoness Shyirae and mouse demon Kyden. In short order it becomes clear the partygoers are the treats.

Eat the Rich

Arilin Thorferra

It was only sheer luck—at least, so he thought at the time—that Tyler overheard the security guards trying to throw the trick-or-treaters off the mansion grounds.

The fox just happened to be walking past the entrance hall, returning from a brief tryst in one of the downstairs bedrooms. He’d caught a tipsy, lost-looking squirrel girl—someone one of the Astors had brought with them, he thought, high on God knew what and overwhelmed by all the opulence—for a few minutes of fun. She hadn’t been in any condition to put up a fight, and she wouldn’t remember it tomorrow morning anyway.

He heard the commotion before he saw it: his burly black-suited wolves yelling. “—last time, no fuckin’ candy!”

“What about an hors d’oeuvres tray, then?” a woman’s voice came, cheerfully.

He stepped into the hallway and stared. The three wolves should be the tallest people outside the door, but they weren’t: the woman who’d just spoken, a black cat in some kind of demon or angel costume, stood as tall as any of them, at least six and a half feet. And the tan-furred mouse she was with, in the same kind of getup, stood a half-foot taller than she did.

Also, she looked fucking hot. Model hot. Starlet hot. He felt his tail wag, and that wasn’t the only body part responding.

The wolves, though, were having none of it. Two took the mouse, the other took the woman, starting to shove them away. “You fuckin’—”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” He spread his hands, walking down the hallway. “Explain?”

All five of them turned around, wolves scowling, mouse and cat both beaming. Both of them held up plastic pumpkin pails. “Trick or treat!” they said in unison.

Shit. Seriously? He laughed, crossing his arms. “How did you two get up here? The driveway’s a mile long and has two gates you’d have to get through.”

“We flew,” the mouse said with a smile, making the huge feathered wings of his costume flutter.

“Aren’t you sassy.” All right, what was their deal? They couldn’t be the innocent rubes they were pretending to be. Strippers someone had arranged for the party? Maybe. Or whores, but they looked too…pretty for that. Perfect fur, perfect bodies, outfits that showed off as much of them as they could while staying barely legal. Hell, he was mostly straight and he’d bend the mouse over a bed almost as soon as the cat. “Okay, who sent you? Are you part of tonight’s entertainment?”

The cat smiled, showing off literally sparkling fangs. “We can be extremely entertaining, Mr. Kressly.”

“And we can be extremely entertained!” the mouse added, with an equally big smile.

Tyler narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t surprised they knew who he was; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been in the news lately. But that could mean they were protesters, here to make some insipid socialist condemnation of KTC Pharmaceuticals. That could be even more fun. He motioned at his guards. “Let them through, let them through. Right this way.” He made a grand, sweeping gesture toward the hallway.

They spoke in disquieting unison again. “Thank you!”

As they walked by, Tyler followed. Damn, they were big, but he found himself salivating watching both of them sway as they moved. The cat woman wore a dark blue one-piece dress falling just above her knees, but slit up one side to her thighs. The front was just two vertical strips of cloth fastened at the neck, barely hiding her breasts and leaving her back fully bare. The mouse guy wore even less, just a pair of fur-tight black shorts.

He furrowed his brow. How did the costumes work? The wings just blended right into their fur at the shoulder blades; the horns sank into their hair in perfectly natural fashion, both her cute little goat horns and his longer, curling ram horns.

A buzz started as the two walked into the crowd of guests, sandals clapping on the terrazzo floor. While a few true costumes besides theirs appeared in the mix, most of the four dozen or so dressed in the everyday wear of one-percenters. Gowns straight from haute couture houses, twelve hundred dollar jeans, watches that cost more than cars, necklaces that cost more than houses.

“We have surprise guests!” Tyler called. He waved grandly at his partner. Tiffany stood upstairs, on the curving balcony looking down at the great hall below. Who was she talking with? Oh, Graham and his floozy of the day, a raccoon woman shooting daggers at both her date and Tiffany. The old weasel managed to surround himself every waking hour with young beauties like the raccoon, but had been trying to get into the vixen’s panties for years. Forbidden fruit and all that. “Tiff, stop leading Graham on and offer these two…treats.”

The vixen swept down the staircase in her green silk wrap dress, clapping once at the tuxedoed staff and pointing. The two “demons” hadn’t reached the center of the room before servants mobbed them, proffering silver trays bearing tiny exotic bites of food, or crystal glasses next to a bottle of champagne.

“Now.” Tyler touched Tiffany’s arm as she approached. “Since you seem to know me, you must know—”

“Tiffany Watson,” the mouse finished. “Charmed, we’re sure.” He picked up one of the champagne glasses, smiling down. The cat picked up a glass of her own.

Tiffany swallowed, looking uncharacteristically at a loss as she stared up nearly a foot and a half into his eyes. “Yes, no doubt. Surprise guests from…?”

“Somehow these two walked right up to the front door, claiming to be trick-or-treaters.” Tyler grabbed the bottle of champagne off the tray.

“And you just invited them in.” The vixen’s expression shifted from discomfort to haughty disdain. “They look like exotic dancers.”

“Why, thank you!” The cat beamed. “You look like you’d be lovely without your clothes, too.”

Most of the guests burst out laughing, some clapping. Tiffany’s ears set back. “Who are you?” she growled.

“I’m Shyirae.” The cat woman bowed slightly.

“And I’m Kyden.” The mouse bowed as well.

“Well, Shyirae and Kyden. Welcome to our party!” Tyler poured the champagne sloppily over their glasses. “Have some Armand de Brignac.”

The two spoke in their eerie unison again. “Thank you.” They clinked their glasses together and took simultaneous sips.

Tyler dropped the bottle back onto the tray carelessly, throwing it off balance. The serving girl managed to barely catch it with other hand, some of the champagne spilling over the bottle onto the floor. “Be careful,” he snapped at her. “That shit’s a thousand dollars a liter.”

Flushed, the cheetah hurried away, mumbling, “Yes, sir.”

“Mmm. It tastes like it’s at least worth a twentieth of that,” Shyirae said.

“Not a tenth?” Kyden said.

“Definitely not a tenth.”

Tyler’s ears skewed. Were they making fun of him? He clapped once. “All right, enough mystery. Did someone hire you? Are you strippers? Singers? Activists?” He waved around at the room. “We’re all waiting for you to reveal your mysteries.”

Some of the guests laughed; others had started to move away, looking less comfortable. Spoilsports.

“We can strip,” Kyden said, swerving his hips. Several of the women gathered around whooped.

“And we can sing!” Shyirae added.

“But, no. We’re not activists. We are here to hold you accountable, though.”

Then, together: “We’re demons.” They unfurled their wings. Some of the crowd clapped, although others stepped back hurriedly, murmuring.

“Amazing costumes, truly.” Tyler golf-clapped. “Big-budget movie level.”

“‘Accountable.’” Tiffany almost spat. “I am so goddamn tired of reading that in insipid opinion—”

“Oh, it’s not just you,” Shyirae said, tone reassuring. “I mean, you are terrible, with scamming investors out of—what was it?—one point three eight billion dollars, although it’s the twenty thousand people misdiagnosed by your worthless devices that truly caught our attention.”

“It’s only seven thousand,” one guest called, to laughter from other guests and a death glare from Tiffany.

“Oh, no, the other thirteen thousand just haven’t been found yet,” Kyden corrected. “The company’s going to be shuttered within eight months, but this is going to play out over the next sixteen years. But dear Shy’s right. And Tyler caused thousands of deaths by cutting off medicine—”

“It’s not cut off!” the fox snarled. “It’s just market price!”

Shyirae tilted her head, wings ruffling. “You raised the price of a drug you have a monopoly on by five thousand percent. You read the reports on what that would do in the developing world and went ahead and did it anyway. By the way, those reports were best case.” She shook her head. “The reality is much worse.”

“Most of the people in this room aren’t quite as bad, of course, but they all have their own—what’s the modern colloquialism?—rap sheets. Shuttering healthy national chains for short-term profit, putting tens of thousands out of work. Lending scams that left hundreds of thousands with no homes and huge debts. Raiding pensions. Hollowing out city centers. It goes on and on.” The guests’ murmurs had turned into angry mutters.

Oh, for—Tyler had expected they’d turn out to social justice warriors, but he hadn’t planned to let them get a word in. Everyone in the room was smarter, more successful, more powerful than these insipid cosplayers. “And what do you plan to do about it?” he found himself shrieking. “Go on, bitch! Tell me!”

Shyirae finished the rest of her champagne, then folded her hands, glass between them. “We’re going to eat most of you. That’s why we didn’t have any of those cute little appetizers.”

“Although some of you might die more creatively,” Kyden added.

“Or gruesomely. Although that can be creative!”

Kyden nodded. “A carnivorous plant would be fun. Maybe a tentacled beast for Tiffany.”

“Nothing but the best.” Shyirae nodded. “A bottomless pit or two?”

“Splendid idea.” Kyden clapped his hands. “Oh, and some of the abused staff might do a few of you in if we give them the chance. Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Shyirae furrowed her brow. “What does that actually mean, dear?”

“Honestly, I’ve never understood it, either.” Kyden spread his hands. “What’s wrong with room temperature revenge?”

Tiffany’s ears had gone flat. “This isn’t amusing, Tyler. Make them leave.”

“You’ve had my champagne, and you’ve had your fun. Time to go, fuckers.” He nodded to the wolves.

They stepped up, grabbing both “demons”—one wolf behind Shyirae, two behind the huge Kyden—and started to march them away. Or at least, tried to. Both of the interlopers remained stock still. The wolves pushed harder, looking flustered.

“All three of you are quite loyal to Tiff and Ty, aren’t you?” Kyden said. “You know how awful they both are. Don’t you want to reconsider?”

“Shuddup, asshole. You’ll haveta go through us to get to them!” The wolf who spoke gave Kyden a slug, right across the jaw—then screamed, holding his hand as if he’d just shattered his fingers.

The mouse rubbed his jaw, looking bemused. “As you wish.”

“We did offer,” Shyirae said, tone apologetic.

All three of the wolves burst into brief, eye-searing flame, like magnesium flashes. For a moment afterward, wolf-shaped gray sculptures stood in their place, expressions less pained than comically surprised, then collapsed into piles of ash.

Tyler stared dumbly. No. No. That didn’t—they couldn’t really be—

As the screams started, Kyden’s delighted voice rose above the din. “Time for a good old haunted house!” He snapped his fingers.

All the lights went out. Then all the electric chandeliers returned as dim, flickering flames, long shadows dancing crazily over the crowd. And everything had…changed. The terrazzo had become rough stone, the marble staircase had become rotting wood. Hallways that had been there before weren’t; hallways that hadn’t been there before were. Unearthly growls came from both below and above. Liquid dripped and flowed…somewhere. And the two demons—demons, no air quotes—were nowhere to be seen.

All right. All right. If the house had gone mad, he had to get out of the house. A half-dozen guests had bolted for the front door, led by Graham the raccoon, moving far more sprightly than he had in years. He followed, slowing down as he saw the door had become a huge, wooden monstrosity with pull rings on it like a cartoon dungeon’s. Graham pulled desperately. “It’s stuck! Tyler—”

Another guest helped him tug, and the door came open. The little crowd rushed ahead, into—

“No!” Tyler shouted, but it was too late. What lay behind the door was a giant mouth. The ones who didn’t blindly rush into it were pushed ahead by those behind. Only the woman bringing up the rear stopped in time—almost. The mouth’s giant tongue flicked out, tumbling her onto the black lips, and the mouth closed, sucking the woman in all the way.

“Mmm. Mmmm.” The muzzle lifted away, just enough for Tyler to see a black-furred neck, to see the multiple swallows that it took the monster—Shyirae, he realized—eat the guests whole and alive. “I’m still hungry, Tyler,” her voice came, sing-song.

He screamed, turning around. Back of the house. Back. Where was the—

A tan-furred hand slammed down in front of him, cutting him off from more of his guests. He backpedaled hurriedly. Somehow the hall he’d been heading for wasn’t a hall anymore, it was Kyden, the stone walls of the dungeon—how was his second-best mansion suddenly a fucking dungeon?—warping around the giant demon in a hard-to-stare-at way. The mouse opened his jaws, huge square teeth glistening like guillotine blades. Tyler watched, horrified, as two partners in Tiffany’s medical device company and one minor sports celebrity turned around, screaming—then screamed more as something dragged them back into the demon’s mouth. Tyler felt it, too, a pull as if the mouse’s throat were a vacuum cleaner. He tried to hang on, but there was nothing to hang on to, and he lost his footing—

Kyden closed his lips, the suction cut off, and Tyler fell to the floor. The giant blew him a kiss, then rippled away like a heat mirage, leaving behind a normally proportioned, un-warped hallway. Albeit one that didn’t belong in the mansion. Screams—screams of people whose voices he recognized—echoed down it.

“This cannot fucking be happening.” He got to his feet, sticking to the wall this time, inching back toward what had been the great room. Maybe he could make it to the servants’ wing. The demons were goddamn bleeding hearts. Maybe nothing batshit would be happening there.

Someone to his left abruptly screamed. He turned to see a pit that hadn’t been there before. The screams of whoever had just fallen in didn’t stop. And didn’t stop.

He swallowed, fighting back the instinct to make a mad dash across the room. God knows what would happen. He slid along the wall faster, though, ignoring what he could hear in other rooms. Shyirae’s laughter. Kyden’s mocking voice echoing “Wrong turn!” And swallowing noises. So many swallowing noises.

Dammit, the exit hallway was right there. Why wasn’t he getting any closer? He walked faster, then finally broke into a run. It didn’t help. It was as if the room had stretched, gotten larger. He stumbled over a crack in the floor. Were the stones getting bigger, too?

Fucking God, was he getting smaller?

“Tyler!” someone screamed to his left. He whirled. A lioness—what was her name? Annabelle something, heiress to something. “What the hell is happening?”

“There’s some kind of—kind of—”

The floor around her shattered. She screamed again, losing her footing as she found herself standing—then sitting hard on her rump—in the center of a giant blue flower, shimmering petals, each yards long, all around her, just off the floor. It smelled sweet, seductive, pistils glistening with honey-like liquid.

Her tail lashed, and she slowly, unsteadily got to her feet. “It’s… beautiful.” She touched the pistils, then her eyes widened as they wrapped around her arms. All the petals rose, smoothly closing around her, enveloping her.

“Tyler!” she screamed again, now muffled. He stared dumbly at her struggling form, outlined by the silken petals.

“A rose by any other name would need to eat,” Kyden’s voice sounded in his ear.

He screamed again and ran for his life, scrabbling over the stones that shouldn’t be there, sliding through puddles he didn’t want to think about, resolutely ignoring the diminishing number of screams from the diminishing number of survivors.

And the floor changed. Yes! Back to terrazzo, back to normal lighting! Had he made it out of the madhouse? Why didn’t anything look recognizable? Oh God, were those giant—

“Tyyyyyyler,” Shyirae’s voice sang overhead.

He screamed, breaking into a run again, but a hand closed around him. Everything went dark.

“What now?” a voice came. He didn’t recognize it. Oh God.

“Hang on,” Shyirae’s voice replied. “Did you find Tiff, dear?”

“She’s over there. I promised her a tentacled beast, remember?”

“Ah, yes.”

Tyler squirmed, pushing himself up out of the fist, then gasped. He wasn’t in the demoness’s fist—he was held by the squirrel girl he’d fucked earlier this evening. “Hey! Hey!” he screamed at her.

Her massive, liquid brown eyes focused on him. Shyirae’s towering form came into view, standing next to her. They were in the staff wing, weren’t they? The squirrel wasn’t giant. The demons weren’t giant. He was…tiny.

“Let me go! Now!”

She bit her lip, looking between him and Shyirae. Then she focused on him again. “Do you even know my name, sir?”

His ears folded back.

A vixen’s scream pierced the silence.

“Oh, my God.” He squirmed more. “Tiff! What are you doing to her, you monsters?”

“Nothing,” Shyirae said.

“It’s that monster that’s doing things to her,” Kyden clarified, glancing to the side. “Oh, my, that has to hurt.”

The squirrel followed his gaze. Tyler couldn’t see whatever she was looking at, though. “Is it doing what I think it’s doing with that tentacle…oh, my, yes, it is.” She blanched. “Is Miss Watson going to, uh, survive that?”

“No,” both Kyden and Shyirae said simultaneously.

“Oh.” She grimaced, focused her pretty gaze on Tyler again, looking uncertain. “This is a test for me, isn’t it? I have to let him go to get into paradise?”

Tyler smiled up hopefully. “Yes! Yes!”

Shyirae laughed, leaning down and kissing the squirrel’s cheek. “This is a—special case. Your afterlife won’t change whether you let him go or twist his stupid little head off.”

The squirrel looked uncertain. Okay. Okay. Even tiny, he could still muster some of that famous charisma and—

“He’s in no condition to fight.” Kyden fixed his gaze on the fox. “And he won’t remember it tomorrow morning anyway.”

Tyler’s ears folded back. “I didn’t—” Didn’t say that out loud.

The squirrel trembled, taking a deep breath. “Is there any of that champagne left?”

“Why, we can find some.” Shyirae stepped out of Tyler’s view, then returned a few moments later with three glasses of champagne. Kyden came into view, too, and she handed one to the mouse demon, then one to the squirrel girl.

“What—what—argh!” Tyler spluttered as the squirrel dropped him into her champagne glass. “You can’t do this!”

“To eating the rich,” Kyden said.

All three “giants” clinked their glasses, and raised them to their lips.

Tyler stared at the squirrel mouth ahead of him, the one he’d kissed just an hour ago, forced his tongue into. Now her tongue was bigger than his whole body, and he slid forward onto it, carried in a river of thousand-dollar champagne. “No!” he screamed. “You know I can give you anything, miss—miss—whatever your name—”

She closed her mouth. Everything went dark, champagne and saliva soaking into his fur and once-immaculate clothes.

“Stop!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “For the love of God, don’t you know who I am?”

His ears popped as he got pulled forward in a slick rush, breath crushed out of him as he slid down her throat. The pressure was relieved a few seconds later as he splashed into her stomach.

“I’m not food!” he screamed again. “I’m not food! I’m not dying as fucking squirrel food!” But he knew that was a lie. That was exactly how he was dying. What a ridiculous, humiliating epitaph. As the acid built up, the muscles churned, he kept screaming, finally crying and begging until he blacked out from the pain and lack of oxygen.

Then he came to, gasping. Someone else’s screams rang in his ears. Tiffany’s.

They stopped, staring at each other, panting. “You look—look—” she got out.

He looked at himself, still breathing hard, then at her. They both looked—translucent.

“Ghostly,” Kyden said, leaning in. Both foxes shrieked. The mouse—and the cat—were still giant, but their heads were at his eye level.

“Where—” He looked around wildly. He and Tiff floated in the air over the ruins of their mansion.

“Right here,” Shyirae said. “We’re all right here. And, yes, you’re ghosts. Souls, to be more specific. I won’t ask about your death, Tiffany, but Tyler should know the squirrel loved his flavor.”

“She was such a cute predator.” Kyden grinned. “I might leave her with the power to shrink unpleasant employers.”

“Why, that would be positively dreadful of you, Kyden,” Shyirae replied, her tone saying exactly the opposite.

“Where’s everyone else?” Tiffany gasped.

“Your staff is all gone, and your guests were all delicious,” Shyirae said. “Sadly, none of them qualify for paradise, and most of them will spend…more than a little time with unpleasant tasks until they’re reincarnated to try to live better next lives.”

“Like we tried with you on your last three visits there,” Kyden added.

“What?” Both Tiffany and Tyler gasped the word out together.

“Oh, you should be able to remember now. That’s the whole point of reincarnation, you know.” Shyirae sighed. “If you do badly in the mortal lands, your problems are…addressed, and you’re given another chance. You won’t remember your past life or your remedial tasks, but they should matter.”

“I was—I was—I was a goddamn king,” Tyler said, wonderingly. “And Tiff was a queen!”

The vixen’s ears skewed, then her eyes widened. “I remember the palace. The parties.”

“The deliberately starving your own people to quell a rebellion?” Kyden prompted.

Tiffany’s ears skewed and she looked away.

“Then in another life, you two were a dictator and his mistress who did the same thing to conserve ‘strategic reserves.’” Shyirae made air quotes with her fingers.

“And in another life, serial poisoners who worked independently, then found one another to create a cult that culminated in poisoning two thousand people, true believers and innocent bystanders alike.”

Shyirae spread her hands. “Each life, you two somehow found one another. It’d be romantic if each life you weren’t also horrible psychopaths.”

The two foxes looked at one another helplessly. Tiffany swallowed. “It’s—it’s—I guess it’s our nature. So hell is going to be…more…hellacious this time?”

Kyden shook his head. “You’re officially both lost causes now.”

“We’re not wasting more time with you.” Shyirae sounded almost apologetic.

Tyler felt a new panic starting to rise. He was a ghost. Couldn’t he fly, float, get away somehow? But he couldn’t move at all.

Both demons opened their mouths, bringing their heads toward the two ghosts—Tiffany toward Kyden, Tyler toward Shyirae.

“Oh God. No. No!” Tiffany squealed, pinwheeling her arms futilely.

Tyler joined in, promising anything—everything—if they’d let the two go. “I’l give everything to charity—I’ll become a monk—”

Shyirae’s mouth closed around him, and she swallowed. He thought he heard Tiffany’s matching scream, for just a moment. But the tight pressure of the throat around him became something else, intensifying unnaturally, and never stopped. Neither did his screams.

The two demons both licked their lips. “Good Halloween, dear?” Shyirae said.

“Excellent,” Kyden replied.

They leaned forward over the mansion’s remains and kissed under the pale light of the full moon, slowly fading into a cloud of smoke and brimstone.