The Lorelei Signal
Written by Zary Fekete / Artwork by Marcia Borell
My face is so round. I hate it. No matter how I turn in the mirror I can’t see any sculpted lines. There is no definition to my chin. I have no cheekbones.
Mom always tells me, “Nour, all of the women in our family have bodies like you. It’s part of your heritage.” But ever since we moved to this stupid suburb the only girls I see around me are these cookie-cutter, blond, texting, fake air-kissing Barbies. I know why mom named me Nour. Nour means “Superfluous in all things.” Mom has no sense of subtlety.
Ugh, Sandra doesn’t have this problem. When she came into English class today David noticed her right away. The afternoon sunlight lit up her cheekbones perfectly and suddenly she was a radiant goddess dazzling us in front of the black board. How was David NOT to notice her? The other thing about Sandra is that she doesn’t wear a bra. Once Mr. Peterson asked the class for a declarative statement. Sandra said, “Bras are a tight strap of patriarchy which depress women’s sexuality and lower their place in society.” She earned some points with the boys that day. Irony?
Last year when Sandra found out I liked David she sent him some of her “top-shelf” selfies just because she could. That certainly got his attention.
When English class was finished I followed her up the hallway and watched her ponytail slide back and forth across her back…like a metronome. I was kind of hypnotized. It seemed like David was hypnotized, too. He walked up next to her and they started talking. I couldn’t really hear what they said, but I think he asked her to the Freshman Formal. He also stared at her chest a lot. I wish I had a chest. It’s the one part of my body that isn’t “superfluous”.
When I got home from school I had another one of those mystery emails in my inbox. I’ve been getting them for the past few days. I’ve seen other diet pill ads before, but something about this one seems different. The other companies all have names like BurnAway and Extreme Keto and Pure Air. This one is called HekaVulgare and the emails are all purple. The ad makes it sound so simple. “Magical measures…bury your old self…resurrect into the new.”
Something about removing water from the body, transforming the mind, and ancient Egyptian healing.
I sat down to do my homework, but I can’t concentrate. I keep thinking my body…and David…and Sandra. Ugh, I think I hate her.
I don’t care! I ordered some HekaVulgare. I used Mom’s card. She won’t check it before the order goes through and then I’ll have to make something up. Oh, well…I’ll have it by then. The order is coming all the way from Egypt, but it says it will arrive tomorrow. Weird.
In gym class today Sandra purposefully asked for gym shorts that were two sizes too small. I also heard her ask David if he would help her with her English homework. He said yes. She batted her eyelashes at him. But his eyes weren’t on her lashes, they were on her hips.
Sometimes I have such evil thoughts…
The HekaVulgare is here! It came in a cardboard box that looked…used…taped over three times with some kind awful gummy packaging tape. I had to cut it with scissors before I finally got it open. The inside of the box smelled like it was scented with some kind of perfume. It smelled dry. Kind of like sand.
The pill bottle is made out of purple glass. It looks expensive. The only other thing in the package was a list of ingredients and a small set of instructions. I don’t recognize any of these things…Intybus, Angustifolia, Foeniculum, Apricot Kernel.
The instructions say to only take one pill per day. I took one. The instructions also said, “Hark, manifest through thought the things desired. Cleanse yourself before your own eyes lest another cleanse you.” I’m not sure what that meant. Maybe I’m supposed to meditate?
I spent some time thinking about myself, my body. I also had some more thoughts about Sandra; I couldn’t help it.
I’m going to take a shower and then go to bed.
Wow! That was fast. When I woke up this morning I lay there for a couple of seconds wondering what was wrong. I usually avoid touching my tummy because I hate that jiggling, but I moved my hands down and I think it felt, well, firmer. I thought I was certainly imagining it. I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I could tell immediately…my face looked different. Usually it’s round and plump. But it was bright and smooth and…something else. It almost seemed like it was someone else in the mirror looking at me.
I felt courageous. I decided to wear a dress today instead of jeans. I only have two. I picked the yellow one.
In English class I sat in the front row, next to where Sandra usually sits. She and David came into the classroom. The moment David looked at me he stopped talking and just stared. Sandra stared too. She didn’t say anything, but when she sat down next to me I could feel her looking at me sideways. David sat behind us and halfway through class I felt something brush the back of my arm. I looked down. David was handing me a note!
I opened it and it said, “Gee, girly! Nice dress!!”
I looked back and him and…this feels so weird to say, but I kind of felt like I had a little bit of power coursing through me. I lowered my head when I looked at him and stared into his eyes. His mouth dropped open.
Oh, something must be working!
Something strange is definitely happening. Last night after I took the HekaVulgare I felt like my throat was burning a little bit when I swallowed the pill.
Then I had a strange dream. Sandra was in the dream, but she was small…almost like she was a little doll. I reached down in my dream and picked her up. Her body was twisting and writhing like she wanted to get away. I blew on her body, and it felt like a desert wind flew from my lips across her skin. There were strands of sand and a kind of incense smell that seemed to be coming from everywhere. A moment later the doll started to come apart in my hands…like dust.
In the morning when I looked at myself in the mirror I couldn’t believe it. My face is entirely mine but richly different. It was like I was seeing another woman. Even my eyes looked deeper. And it seemed like they were swirling with different colors.
It was delicious. I kept turning and turning my body and face and with each turn it was like I was seeing a voluptuous hourglass of olive skin and coursing sand and purple clouds twisting just before twilight.
In English class David passed me three notes!
I did some research on the internet on the ingredients in HekaVulgare. Most of them are natural herbs. But Apricot Kernel is sometimes used to make cyanide. Totally bizarre.
I also googled the instructions that came with the pills. They were taken from an ancient Egyptian text called The Wisdom of Ani. The text is supposed to provide fortune for those who quote from it and spite for one’s enemy.
Sandra wasn’t in school today. Maybe she was sick?
I woke up earlier than usual and went directly to the mirror. I took off all my clothes and just stood there. It was like I was a statue carved from some ancient marble yet still lithe and alive and virile. My skin seemed like it was flickering and pulsing like dappled sunlight. And something was moving almost imperceptibly beneath the surface of my skin…shifting lightly like blown sand.
My face was glowing. My eyes were shining with a kind of amber fire. My mouth was a full set of ruby lips with a pursed, luscious poise. My hair seemed like it was flowing with a kind of rippling, ceaselessly moving current of its own making.
I wore my other dress. The red one.
I didn’t go into English class today. Instead, when the buzzer rang for class to let out, I stood in the center of the hallway. When the students came out of their classes they turned to look at me as they passed…my body was parting a sea of onlooking and rapt gazes. David came up the hall toward me. When he saw me, he dropped his books. I walked toward him. He started to say something, but I held up my finger. He stood there, wide-eyed. I twisted my lips into a little smile and touched my finger against his lips. The saliva on his lips was wet beneath my finger…and then it dried under my touch.
It felt like power came out of my body.
I took two HekaVulgare pills last night. Whatever is happening with me can’t wait. It won’t wait. After I swallowed the pills it felt like my body started to shimmer. The floor beneath my feet seemed like it was shifting sand on a beach. I walked to the mirror. The girl looking back at me was me. She was also a dark princess with wind swirling around her like a mirage. I felt like I could hear voices chanting. I went to my bed and fell asleep.
I dreamt I was floating above a desert floor. The sand below me was covered with thousands of people who had come from distant lands to look up at me. They brought things with them to offer me…baskets of dried flowers and crushed leaves.
I had never seen those things before, but, somehow, I knew the names. Intybus and belladonna and myrrh. Jerusalem leaves and pyrena shells and thorny resin. They laid them at my throne as they bent down to worship me.
On the horizon there was a storm with flashing lightening, coming closer.
When I awoke in the morning I didn’t look in the mirror. I didn’t need to anymore.
My clothes in my closet were all gone. They had been replaced them with regal garments and beaded strands of pearls. I chose the transparent purple sari. When I walked out the front door of my house the people in my neighborhood were all lined up on each side of the street, waiting for me. As I walked down the street, the people bent and swayed and moaned softly.
Instead of going to school I went to the highest hill in the downtown city park. The rest of the town had already gathered there. As I waited I saw a column of people carrying a funeral pyre. Sandra’s desiccated body was on it. Her eyes looked crusted and white. It was then I realized cyanide had leaked from her eyes and dried there like salt. Several people were already carrying lit torches.
As I looked down on everyone I opened my mouth and a low call came from my lungs. Soon the town was writhing and holding their hands up towards me. The torches touched the pyre and Sandra’s body was in flames. I saw David in the midst of the crowd. I pointed at him and beckoned. He was drawn forward up the hill. When he reached me, I turned to the attendants on either side of me. Somehow my thoughts spoke to them. They removed David’s clothes from his body and wound a linen cloth around his hips. His eyes were on me the entire time. The attendants brought him to me. I took him into my arms and felt a great power surge within me, as though a billion voices were stored within my heart. I looked out at the crowd and, with a cry of great force, I pointed at the sun.
There was a crack like lightening. The sun’s brightness surged in the sky. In a flash the town below me dissolved into sand and there was nothing left but a magnificent desert. The heat was brilliantly intense and I could feel the sun’s rays penetrating my skin. I breathed in deeply and felt solar energy in the air liquify and fill my body.
I suddenly knew things, great things, dark things…ancient things. I understood who I was. I stood before the world, a cosmic Pharaohic queen. I contained within me all love…sapphic, achillean, eros. All people bowed before me.
I am Nour. I have become my name. I am superfluous in all things.
Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Zary has previously been published in Goats Milk Mag, Shady Grove Literary, Journal of Expressive Writing, Ginosko Literary Journal, SIC Journal, Reflex Fiction, Potato Soup Journal, Cholla Needles, Rabid Oak, Every Day Fiction, and WINK. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films.