's 2016 Horror Write-off:

The Last Collection

Submitted by J.D. Stroud

Searlait Bachimont.

It perhaps means nothing to you, but that would be because you never moved in the same circles as I did, wouldn't it?

If you had, that name... you would feel it in your skin. Every time you said it, you would feel it between your skin and shirt. It was a name to conjure by.

I won't say that the fashion scene- that community of artists and seamsters, journalists and social flora- was stagnating before her arrival. It was plenty lively, to give credit to the ones that were already there before her. In fact, we thought it was thriving. It wasn't until Mademoiselle Bachimont that we realized it was only half as alive as it could have been.

She did not materialize personally at first, rather, her echo preceded her. A wealthy woman by the name of Luci was seen in an absolutely breathtaking ensemble, and it was clearly couture, yet she would not reveal the source. Gleefully, she replied to all inquiries that the dress had been "thrown together, as a favor, by a friend."

In this way, Searlait wore her mystery like a particularly alluring coat. It drew anyone eager for attention and novelty (which is everyone). She insinuated herself into the society of the elite without ever setting foot in any of their ballrooms or vestibules or galleries. She circumvented the orthodox in everything she did. Needless to say, the big fashion houses were decidedly perturbed.

Her career continued in this manner for over two years, an eternity in that fairyland where time flows with enchanted celerity. Only after she had become like an old familiar spirit, the smell of the cigar smoke in a dead relative's study, did she choose to manifest bodily in the public eye.

She herself always dressed humbly, but she was not deliberately tasteless. She seemed simply to feel that fashion was something that applied to other people and not to herself. Her hair was stramineous and unkempt, her dress second-hand or worse. She didn't accessorize. As for her actual person, hardly considered as a thing apart by that crowd, it was no more assuming than the rest, except for a certain weirdness she had that almost passed for glamor. Her skin was never very good, and her eyes were pale to the point of colorlessness. Those eyes were huge, and the way they goggled from her small head (she was petite all over) put one in mind of an inbred lapdog. Then again, their milky tint, which almost gave one the impression of cataracts, had the power to sometimes turn them into twin moon-rocks lodged above her snub nose. She did not pluck her eyebrows as far as I know, but they were so thin and silky, little more than wisps of dandelion fluff above those gaping orbs, that they were very nearly invisible. 

As to whether or not Searlait Bachimont was her real name, I have considerable doubts. She claimed to come from a pre-huguenot line of the old nobility, and that her most direct ancestors were a pair of alchemists that had been executed during the Affair of the Poisons. Most of us took this as the sort of self-invention that was almost mandatory if one wished to be noticed. I sometimes wonder.

She was a terrible genius, a complete monster, and we loved her all the more for it. She could do anything, and she did everything. Men's wear, women's wear, children's, outdoor, evening, it was all her bailiwick. And she would transform whatever she turned her hand to, breathing life back into dead styles as easily as she fabricated whole new ones as if from thin air. Her shows were always small and private, and she only sold her work to her closest acquaintances. Naturally, this made people very eager to befriend her, despite her idiosyncrasies.

What of those? I was getting to that. She was incredibly superstitious. She avoided mirrors and held her breath when she passed a cemetery. She never wore green on Monday, nor blue on Saturday, and she always clapped her hands over her mouth, as if in real fear, when she sneezed. She seemed to really think her soul might slip out into the aether. She loved rabbits but detested cats, and dogs she was essentially indifferent to with the exception of that Russian breed known as the Borzoi, two of which she kept in her apartments and regularly fawned over.

I never met any of her relatives. In fact, there was no one in the whole city who was able to claim to know her prior to her enigmatic debut. It was assumed she had come from one of the provinces. After she died (oh, of course. For some time now) I did a little digging into her past for reasons which shall soon become apparent. She truly seemed to come from nowhere, except for a pair of aunts she sometimes referenced in her diaries. Allegedly they lived in a château near Tréhorenteuc, but when I went to visit I found the place abandoned, except for a number of odd mushrooms and an overgrown garden.

She passed away from a respiratory complaint. Congenital, if I'm not mistaken. She did not seem especially surprised. I was with her at the time. An accident really. I had come to wish her well only to find that her condition had deteriorated rapidly. She beckoned me over to her, and I of course had no choice but to oblige.

Really, she seemed already deader than any corpse I had ever seen, and her owlish face looked through mine rather than upon it. But still she took my large hand in her tiny one, almost a doll's hand, and whispered in a voice of rapture. "Julien, do whatever you want with this old rag, and all the rest of it too. I think its high time I tried a change of wardrobe." And with that she slipped away, and ceased to suck in those dragging breaths that had been her constant preoccupation throughout her decline.

What she meant by "this old rag" I can only assume to be her own body. As for "the rest of it," I was soon to learn.

We had never been especially close. There were at least ten or twelve others I would have thought more intimate with her than myself. Yet she left everything to me. All the sketchbooks and notepads, the atelier, the apartment (at least until the lease was up). Yes, even the two Borzois. Yes! The very same ones that met you coming in. Sweet? I wouldn't know; Bertha looks after them. Their names are Eos and Astraeus, I think.

I dare say more than a few people were put out with me when news of my surprise inheritance got out (mainly by my own hand, I confess.) And yet when all was said and done, it didn't amount to much. Most of the sketches were things she had already made, although a few seemed not to be of garments at all. What they were I couldn't say, aimless doodles I assumed at the time. Baroque animals with too many face and too many wings. Her diaries I found to be of some interest. They revealed her to be just as peculiar in private as she seemed to be in society. How interesting I would ultimately find them... well, we'll come to that. Some of the entries were encrypted, written in characters so improbable I took them to be a language of Searlait's own invention.

It was a well known fact that before her death Searlait had not produced anything new for over a year, a decided departure from her usual manic pace. People still wore their old Bachimont gowns and jackets with gloating pride, but nothing can remain fresh forever in an atmosphere like that. Little by little, her work began to disappear from the galas and seminars.

Some took these to be a symptom of her failing health. They said she simply did not have the energy to work anymore. Others, myself among them, felt differently. There were whispers of a secret body of work, a new line that was to be her magnum opus, the final culmination of her ethereal and uncanny talents. The rumors said that she had been corresponding with persons unknown, had even flown out to visit certain islands where certain indigenous peoples still lived relatively unmolested by the rest of the world. Since she had never been known to do anything that was not in some way connected with her art, this was assumed to be more than tourism. 

But I found no evidence of this. I was more than a little disappointed, but not so much that I was able to lose interest in her affairs. There was some evidence in the unobscured letters and diary notes that she had been seeking something, although as to what she was deeply vague. This was enough to give me hope.

I enlisted the help of my good friend Madame Blanchard, by far my oldest acquaintance. You knew her once correct? The old hag was an inveterate gossip and a narcissistic liar to boot. God I miss her.

With her insatiable curiosity and keen nose for secrets to aid me, Blanchard and I began making progress I'd have never been able to accomplish on my own. 

"Julien, dear, come have a look at this" I remember her saying one day as I rifled through a desk I had already rummaged dozens of times. She held a book in her hand, a musty old tome on ancient history. I stuck out my tongue in distaste, as I recall.

"Now, now, don't make that face," tittered Blanchard. "But come and see what I've found."

She had been going through the books in search of marginalia, a truly inspired feat of nosiness completely beyond my own abilities. What she discovered surpassed either of our wildest expectations.

The book was one of those turn of the century anthropological treatises having to do with dusty old crypts and vanished societies. But Bachimont had confined herself to a single chapter, concerning, what else, religious attire.

What she'd written herself was sadly sparse, but what she had circled and underlined shed a great deal of light on her train of thought. In the distant archipelago of Sabaled (a place I had never heard of, but which was apparently known by other names, in other times) an albino people of very peculiar physiognomy live. Because of their extreme defects, which in the priestly caste were exaggerated due to incest in ways seldom seen elsewhere, they had been forced to devise extremely innovative materials and designs for their various rituals and activities. Clothing became such a central fixture in their lives that they even had a cult centered around a deity whose sole domain was textile and craft. The page opposite to the one on which we found all this information graciously possessed an illustration. Oh, just some crude grotesque. I thought it looked a bit like one of those tiki things the Polynesians have. Blanchard said she thought it looked more like a bug of some kind.

"Bal-Sabal, the Weaver," read the caption. This had been both underlined and highlighted. Well, it was a start.

As the book contained no illustrations of what this priestly garb might actually look like, we both assumed that Searlait had gone abroad to see the real thing for herself. And perhaps to gather the materials she needed to make her own version for high society. Blanchard was practically salivating. As her third husband had recently passed and she had nothing else to occupy her, she threw herself even more into the project than I had. This suited me just fine.

A few weeks passed, and I learned from Blanchard that information concerning the Sabaledese natives was frustratingly scarce. The most she had found were references in other works. My own task was to continue looking for the produce of Searlait's final eccentric escapade. This was what lead me to that desolate house in the country. I admit, I was reduced to knocking on the walls of the apartment, looking for secret passages.

Blanchard and I met over drinks, to discuss what little progress we'd made.

"I haven't slept a wink, not even a moment," Blanchard said in typical melodramatic fashion. To me she looked as well-rested as ever. "Apparently they're very close to dying out you know, these island savages. They may be on their last generation."

"Then Searlait got to them just in time," I opined with my characteristic drollness. "If only the little cow had lived long enough for her researches to bear fruit."

Blanchard smiled a coy smile. "She may have my dear, she just may have. I think I've found something in one of the diaries. You see this symbol-" she drew it on a napkin for my edification. I did recognize it. It was four crooked lines criss-crossing over a black dot. I had seen it in the coded diary entries.

"It keeps popping up, not just in her writing but in the scholarly works too. Its sacred to that loathsome-looking demon, this 'Bal-Sabal'. It was used to mark out places sacred to its cult."

"What's your point?"

Blanchard fanned herself a bit with her menu sheet. "Have a little imagination! You know how fixated on this sort of thing the poor girl was. I would bet my second-husband's entire factory, that if we search the apartment and find that symbol, we shall also find a real clue to the whereabouts of all these missing works."

I was less enthused than Blanchard, but I agreed that it was worth scouring the place just once more, on the off-chance that she was right.

She turned out to be more correct than either of us had dared to hope. At the back of Searlait's bedroom closet, so lightly scribbled in faint pencil that it was completely understandable that I had missed it in my previous searches, was the symbol. A moment's pressure was sufficient for the closet to give up its secrets. A trap-door, wide enough to admit one grown man if he were to crawl on hands and knees, that seemed to open onto a much wider passage. We were shocked.

"How can this be here?!" gasped Madame Blanchard. "There's simply no way! The building..."

Of course, there was nothing for it but to investigate. We went in, first myself and then her. The passage wound deeper, disclosing cavernous dimensions that were indeed totally nonsensical when compared to the outward plan of the building. Oh yes, I was very excited.

"This is a very clever trick," said I. "And to hide an astounding assortment of garments behind a closet of all places... that's certainly Searlait's style."

We probed deeper into the tunnel, cautiously at first, but growing increasingly bold and impatient as the walls expanded around us. No one could have entered that place for months, yet there was neither dust nor cobweb in sight. Finally, the passage emptied out onto a lager chamber, at least as big as the apartment we had just left behind. The chamber was carved out of a sort of black rock unfamiliar to me. There was ample light thanks to some candles that miraculously still burned in their niches. Hm? Don't be silly! Of course I realized there was something uncanny afoot. I just cared more about the clothes at the time.

So then, the clothes. Such clothes! I don't know where she found the mannequins. They were very crude, that much is certain. They seemed to be wrought from the same black stone as the cavern itself, like strange stalagmites that had spontaneously assumed roughly humanoid shapes. But we couldn't care less, neither Blanchard nor myself. For the clothes, the clothes were beyond all comprehension.

How can I describe them? The fabric must indeed have been that exotic material referenced by the book, for it was unrecognizable to me. It was like gossamer, thick in places and fine in others, seeming to assume whatever level of opacity the illumination shining on it called for at that very instant. The color was difficult to place. At times there seemed not to be one at all, but like a prism that was sensitive to something other than light, the hues would suddenly flare to life, shifting over the whole in kaleidoscopic arrangements.

The cut and stitching were exquisite as well, Searlait's best work, without a doubt. She had clearly poured the last of her fading energies into this collection. This would cement her as the legend we all already knew her to be. I felt a little bad for those islanders. Once word spread of the incredible arts and dyes, the inimitable stuffs they were hiding on that little rock in the middle of the ocean, the whole place would be stripped bare so fast it would make their pale little heads spin.

They were long billowing gowns and hooded coats for the most part, with here and there other garments that seemed slightly plainer than the others, but still infused by that almost metamorphic quality. Blanchard demanded I turn around so that she could change.

I laughed out loud, and inside I felt it a shame that the first breathing figure the elegant styles would grace would be an ugly old woman (bless her, wherever she is). But I acquiesced nonetheless. After all, she had worked as hard as I, perhaps harder, and it had been her suggestion which had at last lead to the discovery.

At last she signaled that she was once again decent. Imagine my surprise when I turned around to find she had vanished. I don't mean literally, but it was as if the old Madame Blanchard had disappeared, to be replaced by another person entirely. I was flabbergasted. The clothes seemed to transfigure her in ways no garment, no matter how unearthly, should have. To say she pulled them off would be an understatement. She looked... younger, as if the otherworldly lambency of the dress were suffusing her entire being, transforming her into a vision of loveliness to rival the most ravishing models in the entire city. 

We resolved to return to the chamber as soon as possible, but Blanchard insisted on leaving so that she could see herself in a mirror. I suppose my stunned reaction had aroused her vanity more than a little.

We found one, and for quite a while she just stared at herself in silence. When she finally spoke, her voice was hushed, overawed by what she saw before her.

"I don't even recognize myself," she said, turning this way and that. She was helpless to pull her gaze away. I was having trouble as well. "It really does suit you," I said inadequately. It more than suited her, it revivified her. Before, she had looked every minute of her 65 years. Now, I would have been fooled if you'd told me she was in her early thirties.

"I must wear it out. This one will be mine. I'm going to wear it to Marie's dinner tonight." It was a statement. Her tone brooked no contradiction.

"Are you sure that's wise?" I hated to suppress the fruits of our labor, but someone had to have a little sense. "You don't at least want to wait for a big unveiling? A little fanfare? This will rock the fashion world to its core."

"I will rock the entire world to its core," she said, and even her voice seemed to have changed. She had taken on a queenly aspect, like a prismatic moon refracting the colors of some splendid, occulted star.. Who was I to gainsay her? I saw no harm in it, at the time.

As one could expect, Madame Blanchard's presence that night caused quite the sensation. We had parted several hours earlier, and I had arrived before her at Marie's little gala. I played the part of the herald, talking up our discovery and whipping everyone's curiosity into a fine frenzy. My powers of description, however, were entirely unequal to the task of preparing the assembled guests for the hallucinatory being that came into our midsts as the clock struck one, especially since Madame's transformation had been far from complete when last I laid eyes on her. The longer she wore the gown, it seemed, the more of its glamour settled upon her. She now resembled her former self about as much as the imago resembles the homely caterpillar.

How can I possibly sketch it with words? The light of the chandelier seemed to dim and shiver before the advent of that semi-divine presence. The dress and she were hardly distinguishable, the one flowed into the other almost seamlessly, such that it seemed that the diaphanous cloth fumed from her like a material mist. Her skin had taken on a pellucid tint, her hair (formerly dull and gray) was as white as snow. Her eyes evinced the same peculiar radiance as the dress. It almost seemed she had absorbed its properties into her person, and now played with the light just as that sublime fabric did.

The dress itself had changed too. It seemed to cleave to her, to accentuate her form-no longer that of an old woman, but rather of some underworld nymph-and compliment her newfound princeliness. Its fractal weave was impossible to look at for long without succumbing to a sort of narcotic hypnosis. Somehow, Searlait, or some daemonic collaborator, had managed to stitch into its design a whelming influence, abetted no doubt by the psychotropic silks and bright, umbral tinctures concocted on that dark isle.

The whole party was speechless. Youthful socialites, artist's darlings and the artists themselves, swarmed around her without daring to draw closer than a meter or so. Blanchard scanned the room, and her gaze at last settled on me. With a cruel, impetuous smile, far chillier than her former pathetic meanness, she glided forward to where I sat with the hostess.

"Well, Julien," she said suavely, and with a certain poisonous note in her voice, "what do you think of me now? Does the dress not suit me?"

I could not meet her crystalline gaze, but had to turn away, somewhat abashed. I muttered something affirmative. She settled on a nearby cushion, alighting as gently as a dragonfly. She exulted in my speechlessness, in the silence of us all, her false friends. I noticed her smell, she even smelled different, a subtle perfume of spice which I could not quite place.

"I can tell what you're thinking," she purred. "You are envious of my beauty. You all thought I was a hideous old widow, ridiculous and used up. Well, now what do you think of me? Now that you see me as I truly am? Am I not a picture? Don't you want me?"

There was no response to this, what could I have said? Marie tried to object to this harsh (although quite valid) judgement, but a single glance from Madame refuted the words before she could utter them.

I did have something to say though. I simply could not find the power to say it. The force of the dress's mesmerism prevented me. What? What was it? Why, a warning. Say what you will about me. I know I'm terrible. But I like my friends. I prefer that they stay sane and intact. And I am possessed of a very refined perspicacity. Even then, blinded by that awful will, I knew that something more than unnatural was taking place. The exotic garment was dangerous. It was not only augmenting Madame Blanchard's aura, it was engulfing it, binding it with subtle threads, invisible threads, to something just out of sight. 

But hindsight is 20/20, my friend. No one was more in thrall to the fatal design than Blanchard herself. Any counsel I could have given would have surely fallen on deaf ears. She took one more gloating tour of the hall before vanishing back into the night, evaporating from our midst like the phantom of an opiate dream. I perceived two things as she left, both of which gave me only more reason worry about her ultimate fate. The first was that the gown was visibly growing upon her. I would have missed it had I not been so intent on watching her leave. But I could not deny my senses: the dress's train was lengthening, its collar flaring upward and outward in gossamer laceries, its watery folds contracting; complimenting her physique, yes, but also further binding her in its enveloping grip.

The second was her shadow. It was still hers, albeit somewhat vague and nebulous, but there was something else as well. Another shadow, looming above her own. It swam in space with agile, scuttling movements. From its face, or its front, two long appendages seemed to caress the shadow of Madame Blanchard with ceaseless industry. They worked and worked, almost faster than my eye could trace. They seemed to be weaving.

I excused myself abruptly, I dare say no one minded my absence, and hastened toward the deserted apartments of Searlait Bachimont. I am not a passionate character, but my feelings at that moment were quite discomposed. I was desperate, desperate to uncover some further arcane secret that might yet rescue all of us from the malignant destiny that had wreathed our whole company.

As soon as I entered the sitting room, I could sense that something was changed. The apartment had been hitherto nothing more than itself; a suite of rooms formerly occupied by a bizarre savant. Now it was inhabited, tenanted by the unclean and unseeable. It was as if opening that cavernous burrow had somehow allowed something access to the rooms. I felt watched by an indifferent intellect, or rather, by an indifferent appetite.It seemed to skulk in every corner, and brooded in particular over Searlait's desk, where her journals were stored.

With twanging nerves I now pored over those books once again. No longer did I regard it as the fond remnant of a departed acquaintance. I now saw it for what it truly was, a wizard's grimoire, the holy book of an abominable sect with only one Parisian adherent. It had crossed my mind that perhaps Mademoiselle Bachimont was also a victim of this ancient cunning, that in her innocent quest for novelty she had become the unwitting puppet of its waxen worshippers. But I was not naive enough to entertain this supposition long. Searlait was no dupe. She was far too canny, too wicked. Yes, wicked. I know I sound hypocritical, but believe me when I tell you that as I read and at last fully apprehended the diabolical record she had left behind, I realized finally that she had been more truly degenerate than all the rest of us combined. We were mere sybarites, slaves to politics and pleasure. She was something else, something noxious. What I had thought was mere strangeness in her diluted gaze and porcelain features was really the stamp of evil.

Yes, something told me, still tells me, that Searlait's relationship with the creeping shadow was rather more that of the conspirator than the pawn. She had known what she was doing, known the baleful powers she had invoked in completing her final collection. And she had known I would sniff the accursed works out. It shames me to say it, but I was a fool.

The code was my only hope. I worked furiously through the night to unlock its secrets. Using the notes that Blanchard had compiled I was able, with excruciating slowness, to tease vague information from the diaries, word by word. I learned next to nothing (I am no scholar) but I learned enough. 

I scared an innocent coach-driver half to death, and nearly destroyed his hapless beast, in my anxiety to call upon Madame Blanchard. When I at last arrived on her doorstep, I did not even bother to knock. The door was unlocked, and I hurled myself inside, calling out at the top of my lungs. 

"Madame! Madame! You must remove the dress! You must remove the dress at once! Your very soul is at stake! Madame!"

At first, I thought she was not home. I was too late, and she had already gone back out, or perhaps had never returned here in the first place. But then she descended.

Not only the dimensions of the dress, but those of its wearer had transformed in ways I could not have imagined had I not witnessed it myself.

The dress had grown more flowing and voluminous, almost fat. The collar now closed over Blanchard's head, hood-wise, like an ivory canopy. The sleeves now trailed so long that they concealed her hands entirely, and with dawning terror I saw that they had even fused loosely together near her knees. The fabric molted around her in a cascading pool, so many meters wide that it should have been impossible for her to walk without falling over. Every pit and contour of her form could be seen quite clearly, so asphyxiating was the the gown's embrace. She reminded me of nothing so much as a mummy swathed in its funereal linens from head to toe.

As for Blanchard herself, it was not so much that she had been covered over by the cloth as that she had been integrated with it. When first I saw her face I thought the fabric had closed and tightened over it like a deathly caul. Her nose was an alabaster mound, her eyes mere recesses. I could see the faint impression of her mouth through the insidious woven silks, opened as if in a wide gasp or shriek.

But as I moved closer, I saw that I was mistaken. Horribly mistaken. The cloth had not covered her face-it had become her face. Her skin had been transmuted into fabric, and the fabric had grown over her mouth and nostrils by virtue of whatever internal chemistry caused the dress itself to blossom ever outward.

The most hideous, the most unbearable thing of all, was that she was still alive. Alive, and somehow capable of muffled, whispering speech.

"Julien," she said flatly. If her expression was one of horror, her tone was as cool as could be. "Why have you intruded upon me in my home? I do not recall inviting you."

I would have stammered, but there was no time. I can be quite collected myself when the situation calls for it.

"Madame, we have but moments. You must remove the dress at once-even if you must tear it from yourself in bloody strips. It is no mere garment. Too late have I learned the true nature of these aborigines and their Weaver god. Bal-Sabal means Queen of Spiders, and her holy raiment is worn only by maidens destined to become her sacrifices. The longer you cover yourself in that monstrous material, the more you become bound to the demon. She feeds like a spider as well, only at a horrifically retarded rate. Invisible, she injects her juice drop by drop, eroding the very essence of the sacrifice and drawing it out in slow, vampiric sips. You must escape!"

Out of breath, I waited for the panicked attempt to disrobe, but it never came. Blanchard laughed at me.

"Despicable," she wheezed. "Your attempts to scare me into divesting myself of my rightful glory are despicable. Do you think I have not glimpsed the Mistress myself? Did you think me an idiot? But you are wrong Julien, laughably wrong. She is no vampire. She is an angel, a muse. She is the patron of Beauty. She strives only to bring all creation into her divine pattern. I am the work of her loom, as are you, as are we all. It is her right to select the fittest fabric for her artistry. Ah, I shall become more beautiful than you could ever comprehend." Though soft and drained, her voice was full of ecstasy. I still thought to rip her from the enveloping gossamers then and there, until I noticed the shadow.

It was unbelievably black, black as the emptiness between one star and another. It was no longer engaged in the rapid spinning I had seen it at before. Now it simply sat behind her, bloated, gargantuan. Its legs were entirely still. Only the massive center seemed to be alive, and it was alive with a slow, rhythmic motion. It was undulating, pulsating, almost in three dimensions rather than two. It was drinking. And it had been drinking for quite some time. 

I hope to never again experience the panic of that moment, the moment when, for just the briefest span of seconds, a form seemed to materialize from that void shadow.

It resembled a spider only so much as a seraph resembles a bird. It had eight legs, yes, but the rest was far too alien to collect in a single glimpse. I shall describe for you what I can. The hind-part was swollen like a drum, clearly to capacity. It may have been black, but then again it may have been translucent and brimming with ink black liquid. It had spinnerets issuing from the usual place, only there must have been over a dozen, and the ends of the things were strangely articulated. They bore a demonic resemblance... to human hands. Pair after pair of hands, working to spin and spin, spin that ink and bile into chromatic silks irresistible to foolish mortals, working to pull the delicate threads from innumerable hidden glands. But at that moment they were still, hanging limp as if dead.

The fore-part was worse- I recollect furred appendages, long and lank. There was something mouth-like and slavering. And a face. Yes, a human face. It was grinning at me, and regarding me with inhuman satisfaction and delight. And it bore an incredible resemblance to the gawking visage of Searlait Bachimont.

Well, that is as much as there is to tell. I don't like discussing the aftermath. I fled for my life of course, and didn't dare emerge from my own home for days. The details reached me despite my efforts to escape them, and I am willing to share them with you in brief.

Madame Blanchard disappeared. Yes, the dress as well. No trace of her was found, not even a shred of cloth. I doubt there is even a ghost left to haunt her empty house.

I returned, much against my better judgement, to Bachimont's apartment. All of the journals had vanished, anything in which that foreign writing had been recorded. The mark of Bal-Sabal was gone as well, from the wall at the back of the closet. And there was no trapdoor there at all.

I have moved on, for the most part. Just one thing irks me. Blanchard took only the one dress. There were at least ten other such garments. I wonder, sometimes, what became of them. Where are they now? They would be easy enough to identify, I expect. They were far too gorgeous, even dormant, to ever mistakenly be worn by one who knew of their true nature.

Its the others that worry me. The duller ones. Still exquisite, but more mundane than the jackets and dresses. They would be harder to discern, even for one such as me.

Well, that's enough darkness for one evening, wouldn't you say? How does a little vigorous shooting in the morning sound? To cleanse our palates of this ghastly affair. Worried? No. Its been over three years. I believe I am well clear of entangling myself in that witch's affairs ever again.

My scarf? Yes it is rather fine, thank you. Oh, just some old thing I found lying about. I don't recall where.