What happens when every mother's nightmare becomes every woman's dream?
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Kaspar - known to some as the Elephant Boy - has a face even his mother couldn't love. Alone in the world and forced to live a twilight existence, he decides to end it all. By a strange twist of fate, his attempted suicide drops him quite literally at the feet of Dr Friedrich Hoffman, a disgraced plastic surgeon. Using an experimental and illegal technique, Dr Hoffman gives Kaspar a new face and transforms him into a sex god.
Kaspar finally has women swooning at his feet for all the right reasons. But will his new-found attractiveness bring him the love he's been looking for?
A gentle thunderstorm provided a Son et Lumiere backdrop for the first night of our revels. Before retiring to the Black Chamber, I stood on the roof as still as the gargoyles, as impervious to the elements as they.
When the sky crackled, I had a fleeting view of Nature in turmoil and a small flotilla of pleasure craft dancing on a playful sea. In the ballroom beneath my feet, Sonic Sam played an eclectic, often perverse, selection of tunes. Night on the Bare Mountain (so appropriate for this setting I thought) was followed by a slice of techno, was followed by rap was followed by Ravel's Bolero.
Scrambling down the ivy-clad wall, I paused on a window ledge and peered into the Yellow Chamber where the Contessa was taking her pleasure from six men. She was proficient at dealing with several penises at once and seemed in no hurry to satisfy anyone but herself.
I leapt across to the next ledge. Here I had a view of a room - not one of the designated chambers - full of writhing bodies that readily brought to mind a pit full of snakes. Amongst superbly crafted torsos, flabby bellies wobbled. Young fingers teased old cocks; old tongues licked young flesh. It was a phantasmagoria of the beautiful and the ugly. It was sex at its most democratic.
Nobody saw me open the window and creep in. The wind blew rain into the room. I closed the window, stepped around naked bodies and into the hallway. I hurried up the stairs and through the operating theatre.
Asuma, clad in her black kimono, stood beside the open door of the Black Chamber.
We bowed to one another.
'It is nearly midnight, Kaspar-san,' she pointed out.
In the Black Chamber, we closed the door. It could only be opened from the inside so we were effectively incommunicado as far as the revelers were concerned.
Every television was on, filling the room with an eerie flickering. Shadows flitted over the floor like the shades of the damned. The volume on the televisions was set to mute. We wanted Babylon not Babel.
With Asuma's help, I got out of my wet clothes and under a shower. She lovingly covered me in soap. Her fingertips played with my nerve endings, teasing out every particle of erotic potential in my body. She did to me what Monet did with oils, what Keats did with words and Jimi Hendrix did with his guitar. Feeling the dragon within me stirring from its slumber, I used what I had learned in Asuma’s cabin to control it.
The dragon filled my solar plexus with fire. In my nervous system, seldom-used relays flipped. I held back and held back. Let the pressure build, let the pleasure mount. I pictured a circuit running through my groin, up my torso, around the top of my head and down my spine. By controlling my breathing, I marshaled the energy Asuma was teasing from me into the circuit. The dragon chased its tail; its potency grew. I was a capacitor, a cyclotron.
And then the dragon roared and I exploded. My spirit was hurled from my body. Up it soared. Up into the angry sky, into broiling clouds and whip-crack flashes of lightning. I was falling away from the Earth. Forever higher. Until there were no more clouds. Only stars. Only the black velvet mystery of a cosmos alive with possibilities.
I was tempted to lose myself in that void, to return to my nomadic ways in a desert far vaster than any on Earth. But I had things undone. It was not my time yet.
So I willed myself back.
I was lying in a foetal ball, my head in Asuma's lap. Never in my life had I felt so secure, so at one with the world. I was a kitten in front of a blazing fire.
Asuma stroked my hair. I all but purred.
'Your heart stopped,' she said. 'Just for a moment or two. I thought you might not be coming back.'
I kissed Asuma's silky thigh and realised I had discovered another kind of love, different to that which I felt for Marion Hoffman. I was reminded of Cantor's assertion that there are an infinite number of infinities. Love, I thought, might equate to infinity with each kind of love being an infinity unto itself.
How many women do I love? I wondered as I basked in the warmth of Asuma's body. Ashley Conway. Marion Hoffman. The thirteen Daughters of Isis. Annabel Wollstonecraft. Chelsea and Cleo. Asuma.
All of them merged in my mind into one composite woman and I had a name for her. Isis. I was in love with the Mother Goddess, with all the many facets of Womanhood.
Without bothering to dry ourselves or to dress, we returned to the Black Chamber and sprawled on the bed. The televisions that surrounded us were constellations in a technological sky. Midnight arrived a few seconds later.
Sonic Sam cut the music. As instructed, he played a recording of a bell tolling twelve times. The sound echoed through the corridors of Thunder Manor. On a myriad screens, I watched as my guests reacted to the chimes. The revelers in the ballroom froze. In the Blue, Purple, Green, Orange, White and Violet Chambers, there was a brief cessation of activity. Fornicators paused in mid-thrust. Lines of cocaine were afforded a momentary stay of execution. Whips were withheld, canes lowered.
Twelve chimes. A moment's silence. Then Sonic Sam played my rendition of Mack the Knife and movement returned to Thunder Manor.
Asuma and I watched the multi-faceted tableau unfold on the screens above us. We commented on the beauty of some of my guests and the ugliness of others. We named celebrities and expressed varying degrees of surprise at what they were up to.
I saw Chelsea and Cleo borrow a slave from the Contessa. They led him into a nearby bathroom which for the sake of decency had no cameras installed. In the Blue Room, Rodney allowed himself to be tied up by a woman twice his age.
Annabel, dressed like Marie Antoinette, flitted around the ball room waving a fan. Several men whispered something in her ear. She gave each of them a card.
The children’s TV presenter dripped hot wax onto a man’s balls.
The man was gagged and bound. A bottle protruded from his rear.
Some of what was on show was erotic; much of it was comic. Nobody seemed to mind the cameras. Quite a few performed for them.
This segment of society knew about keeping secrets. There were people here who could issue D notices, shut down newspapers, distort the truth and - if necessary - make people disappear. All my guests were secure in knowing that what happened on Thunder Island stayed on Thunder Island. And those who wanted to make extra sure kept their masks on.
'If an A-bomb was dropped on Thunder Island tonight,' I said to Asuma, 'they'd have to call a general election.'
'Sure,' said Asuma, taking my hand and laying it on her breast.
'And just think how many parishes would be without a priest, how many schools would be advertising for a new head teacher and how many newspapers would have to find a new editor to lead the fight against moral decadence.'
And I realised then what the masque was all about.
It was my so-called betters dropping their pretensions and rutting like beasts in the field. I looked at all those fine ladies and gentlemen (and lords and reverends and highnesses) - the cream of British society - cheating on their wives and husbands, popping pills, snorting cocaine and doing in private those things they tut-tutted about in public, and I thought how sweet it would be if the Red Death visited them for real.
I wished a pox upon the lot of them.