It's not that I'm ugly. People don't turn around and gag when they see me. The problem is that they don't smile either. And if there's one thing every woman learns far too young it's that everything is about looks. Only it isn't.
I tried clubbing, house parties, online dating—hell, even book clubs. We exchanged glances, introductions, nice words—but no matter what I tried, it never went further than that. Men always seemed to run away from me. I thought it was my looks—make up, push up, perfect pants and a shirt or dress with a cleavage so deep that I thought my nipples might jump out—and yet, nothing.
I was online, searching for operations to fix all the flaws in my face and body. There was an ad on top of one of these websites, blinking fast in red and orange with large black text:
"Be attractive. No operations. No effort. Guaranteed effect."
I usually avoid clicking on ads, particularly those that promise too much—but that one. That one I couldn't resist.
The website looked old, like one you would see in the 90s. There was a short text advertising the product—a special perfume—and then a "try it for free" button.
Two days later, a Saturday morning, the mail arrived. I walked up the long driveway—one of the pleasures of living outside the city and at the same time a bother because it stopped me from meeting the few single neighbors. There was just one letter, slightly thicker in the middle. Inside was a small green packet that looked somewhat similar to the ketchup packs fast food places give with their fries. I tried to rip it open, but the plastic was stiff. I pulled harder—and suddenly the whole thing ripped open and splurted all over me.
I've never been more disappointed. I was expecting flowers or fruits, or maybe even musk. I would even have accepted camomile or cinnamon. Instead the perfume smelled like nothing.
In the morning I didn't leave the house, but around noon I went to buy groceries for the day. There was a couple walking in front of me, one of those women with high heels and a tight shirt and next to her a man with fine leather shoes, jeans and a shirt. He was holding her tightly and I was already thinking how I could possibly pass—when he just stopped. He just stopped, turned around and stared at me. His girl was shouting at him, but this man, with his mouth wide open, stared at me.
I tried to walk past them, but his eyes followed me and, while she was shouting at him and then me, he finally put his hand in his pocket, pulled out a business card and ran the few steps after me. "Call me!" he said. "Anytime! Or stay right here!"
The woman was furious and I quickly left while she started hitting his arm. He didn't even look at her. His eyes followed me until I was around the corner and even then I could still hear the woman shouting at him to stop.
Timothy Lang, that's what the business card said. I had never had a man so obsessed about me. I let his name melt on my tongue while I made my way to the supermarket.
The other men didn't react as extremely as him—but they did react. I was in that supermarket for less than thirty minutes but I left with five business cards, three numbers in my phone and two dinner dates.
I called one of the numbers in the evening. He confidently said "This is Jack." but when I said who I was he seemed to melt away. We arranged a date for the next week and just before I hung up he was suddenly begging.
"Hey," he said. "Please, please, please, really come!"
"Of course," I said.
"Oh, wow," Jack said. "Thank you."
I think he wanted to say more but I ended the call, threw the phone on the sofa and four minutes later I had paid $140 for 200ml of perfume.
"Our perfume is special," said the website. "Something you get nowhere else. It's not any kind of flavor. It's the flavor of love, the secret of beauty and the weapon that brings even the greatest men to their knees: Pure pheromones."
When the bottle arrived I was, of course, more careful. I rubbed one small drop on my wrists and a second around my neck.
Jack was the first one I met. He was dressed in a suit that must have cost a fortune. He brought flowers. Even his hair was freshly cut.
I slowly walked towards the table and first, when I entered the restaurant, he seemed to be confused, even disappointed, but once I was only a few steps away his frown turned into a grin.
"My god, you look stunning."
At first he seemed a bit needy, but he was the perfect gentleman and just knew how to make me laugh. He smiled and made me feel more beautiful and wanted than I had ever felt.
It was only during desert, when he placed his left hand on my right, that I noticed thin line of slightly whiter skin on his ring finger.
"Are you married?"
He looked at me and smiled.
"Yes," he said. "But I'll divorce her for you."
I never saw Jack again, but I did meet other men and he kept calling me for more than a week.
If you had asked me a month earlier what I would do if a great guy suddenly showed interest in me I would have blushed and told you that that wouldn't happen. Afterwards I would have said that I would hold onto him and do everything to keep him in my life.
But with that perfume, the heavy black bottle with "K23" printed on the front, everything was different. I didn't want to find someone. I wanted to be desired. I wanted to be wanted. I wanted to be stared at and be seen dating one or two or three guys at a time.
Two months. I nearly had dates every night. Sometimes, when I felt excited, I used more than just one or two drops—five or ten instead. I enjoyed watching them; the mindless things I made them do. The hours I made them wait. Everything for the thrill of being desired and to test more and more how far they would go to conquer me.
I made them buy food and clothes and trips. I went to quit my job but my boss, with desire in his big eyes, begged me to stay and gave me six month paid leave instead.
Every day I stayed out into the early mornings and enjoyed the ecstasy of a new man. Rarely I was home and, if ever, those were loud, wild nights.
There was a pink envelope in the mail, not the first and not the last. But it slipped from my hand and I had to step on the grass to pick it up. That time, for the first time in weeks, I looked at my flowers, the ones I had once planted as the only real pleasure in my life. They were flat on the ground; destroyed and ripped apart.
The grass too, in long rings that led around the house, was just mud.
That night, for the first time in weeks, I didn't go out. I didn't call anyone. I didn't bring a man home.
That night, for the first time, I heard the moans.
That night, for the first time, I glimpsed through the curtain and saw the dozen or so men standing outside.
With the trees around my house it was too dark to see their faces. But some of them looked frail and thin, others bigger. And they all looked pale and exhausted.
I watched from upstairs as the figures walked around the house. They went and pressed their faces against the windows. They tried to open the doors. They tried to scale the walls but each time fell back on the ground and struggled like tortoises to get back on their feet. And when they did—they went right back to the windows.
Some of them wore clothes—suits and jeans alike. Others didn't wear anything at all.
No matter if with or without clothes—they all seemed constantly aroused. They all constantly pleasured themselves. I watched as they, every thirty minutes, usually while pressing their faces against the windows, seemed to reach a climax. And just a moment later they were sneaking around the house again, one passing the other and both staring at the windows and doors and looking for a way to scale the walls.
I was terrified and yet too scared to call the police. I didn't want them to ask how it all happened. I didn't want to tell them that I could maybe be at fault.
The first one left at 4:22 am. A bird began to sing. The man, one of the stronger ones, suddenly stepped away from the window. He looked around for a moment and then he ran off.
They all left, one after the other, before 5 am.
Around noon, when I was sure that they were all gone, I grabbed the black bottle and placed it in a plastic bag and that bag in another bag and that bag in another and then I wrapped it in blankets and placed it at the bottom of my wardrobe.
I locked all the shutters and the doors twice and then I wedged the doors shut with chairs.
Every one of those texts that I got during the day made me jump from my chair.
I kept the lights off. I was downstairs, at first, but I was too terrified and moved upstairs instead.
By 11 pm the first one was back. The moans soon began.
There were thirteen in all, most came from the front but some also must have come through the fields at the back.
I thought it would be safer with the shutters locked, but it was worse instead.
They knocked and hit against the shutters. One of them kicked against the door, but not with much force.
That night, after countless moans and knocks, they left again at 4:30 am.
The next night, when they came shortly after 11 pm, they seemed different. They seemed more energetic. More aggressive.
There were two of them that never went far from the door. They kicked and banged against it while another shook the shutter of my living room window and the others mostly tried to scale the wall. Some of the stronger ones got further, nearly up to my bedroom, but again and again they fell.
They all left in the morning, nearly like a group, as if following an invisible command. One after the other, within around ten minutes, suddenly stopped, raised his head, pulled his pants up, turned around and ran.
I stayed home with my phone off. I ate instant noodles and tried to find the site again—to find where I bought the K23. But all I got was an error message. 404. Not found.
The search engines still had it in their cache. The images were gone, but the text was still there. There was a new line at the top. One that hadn't been there when I had ordered.
"There have been some incidents," the large red letters said. "The effects can vary from man to man. Use it sparingly!"
Below that, in smaller font, was another line:
"You can't wash it off, but the effect will fade."
That night they were back. They came a bit later, but when the first one came he ran straight against the wall. He didn't try to climb it, he just ran against it, as if he wanted to break through the stone. The second one looked for the door and punched it. The third one attacked the second.
Within fifteen minutes there were eleven men in front of my house, some fighting, the others slamming against the house or clinging to the stones and slowly crawling up the wall until they slipped or another man pulled on their legs.
I had my phone ready, ready to call the police in case they got too close. They never did though, something always stopped them short from reaching my bedroom window.
They all left around 3 am. Some stumbled off, the last one, who had been beaten to a pulp by two of the others, woke up and crawled away by 3:30 am. I heard an ambulance drive by just a few minutes later.
There was an article in the newspaper. A man had been found down my street around 4 am. The article said he had been badly beaten but survived. The article also said he didn't remember the attack.
The next day I sat upstairs, barricaded into my room and staring out of the window.
The first one came around midnight, the second half an hour later and the third at 2 am, when the first one had already left. They mostly walked around the house, silently and slowly, more like cats than like man. A few times they tried to climb and a few times they pleasured themselves. By 3 am they were all gone again.
The next day there was just one man. He walked around the house twice, then he left.
I never touched that bottle again. At some point I moved it from the wardrobe to the bathroom cabinet. When the men didn't return my calls I thought about using the K23 again, but just to touch the bottle made me shiver.
Every morning I looked at it and then closed the cabinet door again. At some point I even stopped thinking about it.
Nichole had moved out to the city a few years earlier and left me to keep our parents' house on my own. She only wanted to stay over for the weekend, to first see a few old friends and attend a wedding the next day.
When she arrived she went straight for the shower and then, without even bothering with a towel, hushed to her room.
I stopped Nichole just before she left the house.
"Hey," I said. "Please cover yourself when you leave the bathroom."
"Why? Are there any men here that I should know about."
"No," I said. "Not really."
"Thought so," she said. "Your perfume is pretty old."
"Definitely," she said. "It has lost all its smell."
She was out of the door before I understood what she meant. I called out to her to come back, but she didn't. By the time I had my shoes on she was already in the taxi.
The police told me she was attacked outside the bar, not far from the supermarket. They couldn't explain the attack. They said the man even was with his wife, but the moment she stepped out of the taxi he ran and pushed her down on the floor and bit her neck.
They told me he ripped pieces of flesh from her neck and then, before a passing bachelorette party could pull him off her, he also bit a piece of flesh out of her arm.
They said that there were many men there, watching, but that none of them did a thing. They just watched. They even seemed to enjoy it.
The police arrested three of them for masturbating, right there, in the open, right after Nichole had been attacked.
I didn't realize it until later, until the trial was all over the papers and until this monster pleaded insanity. Only then, with his picture printed in black ink, did I recognize the man.
I still had his business card in my purse.