Till Death Do Us Part
Bill felt uneasy as he walked up the steps to Lucas and Adelaide's house. They had decorated for Halloween, and a skeleton grinned at him as it flopped in a violent wind, dancing to the dissonant symphony of myriad wind chimes. Strings of novelty lights bobbed about, casting shadows like playful spirits. A black cat swirled about his feet, trilling and mewing, as he fumbled for the right key.
He pushed the door open and walked inside. The house hummed with the comforting waterfall of an aquarium pump. He hadn't been there since last Christmas, that fated day that resulted in the near death of his daughter, and the imprisonment of his deranged wife, Elise. He almost said no, but after all Lucas and Adelaide had done for him, he felt obligated to house sit while they visited Lucas's father on his deathbed.
The cat stood at the threshold. "Hey, Morpheus, are you coming inside?" The cat looked up at him and meowed, but made no effort to join him. "Well fuck you, then." He shut the door in the cat's face. He locked both the knob and the dead bolt, and then he flipped the light switch. The foyer lit up but for a moment before the bulb popped off.
Fiery eyes peered from the blackness above. Elise loomed like a banshee at the top of the stairs.
Bill gasped. "How'd you get here? You're supposed to be in jail!"
Elise stared through him in silence.
"Answer me!" As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he exhaled with a sigh of relief. Adelaide had used the old mannequin that Bill had gotten dumpster diving for a Halloween decoration, and its eyes were reflecting moonlight from the window.
He felt drawn to it, as if it awaited his return home with a tender kiss for him, like the loving bride his wife could never be. He climbed the stairs and stood before it. He gazed into its orange eyes and remembered the day Elise had created it.
It was Christmas Eve.
EEENK EEENK EEENK! The alarm clock had violated Bill's sweat dreams with 7 am.
"Get up!" Elise had said, shaking him, the flab of fat on her arm jiggling like Jell-O. "Turn that damn thing off!"
A few months earlier, Elise had been fired from Corners, a chain bookstore. Now they lived in the guest bedroom at Lucas and Adelaide's house, and Bill felt their welcome wearing thin. He felt depressed and didn't want to get out of bed, but he did anyway.
He drove to work in a 1978 Toyota Tercel. As he reached the machine's top speed of fifty miles per hour, he prayed the band stickers would hold the rusty body together. He arrived five minutes late, and a woman wearing too much perfume told him he was skating on thin ice. He was an assistant manager at Zaftig Apparel, a woman's clothing store selling yesterday's hot fashions in plus sizes at bargain prices. He had no problem telling old fatties how fantastic they looked, and thus he made a small fortune for someone he didn't know.
After Bill left for work, Elise went back to sleep and didn't wake again until noon. She read a book until dusk and then went downstairs to take a shower and dye her blond roots black and red to match the rest of her hair.
"Hey, Elise," Lucas said, "do you think you could help me with the dishes? Christmas is tomorrow, and the house is a mess."
"I just did the dishes last night."
"I washed the bowl and spoon I used, the rest is Bill's. Get him to wash them." She went into the living room and flipped on the TV.
Lucas wondered why he kept helping his ungrateful friends. He still hadn't finished the dishes when his wife, Adelaide, arrived home from work.
"There is no hell like working retail during Christmas," Adelaide said and fell like Goliath onto the couch. She kicked her shoes off with her feet.
Lucas leaned down and kissed her cheek. "I fixed you some chicken, if you're hungry."
Lucas went to the kitchen to get Adelaide some food.
"How are you today, Elise?" Adelaide said.
Elise rolled her eyes. "Bored. I wish Bill would take me somewhere. I'm sick of being in this house."
"Maybe you should learn to drive, Elise, you know? Then you could get a job."
"If we didn't live out in bum fuck, I could get a job I could walk to."
Bill looked exhausted as he walked in with his two-year-old daughter, Ava, on his back. She had been staying with his mother since they lost their apartment.
"Did today suck or what?" Adelaide said.
“Yeah. We were so busy,” Bill agreed.
Lucas brought Adelaide the plate of chicken and a glass of milk. She set up so she could eat, and he sat down on the couch beside her.
"Are you looking forward to Santa Claus coming tomorrow, Ava?" Lucas asked.
Ava's eyes widened and her face lit up with delight. She bounced with excitement. "Santa! Santa bwings toys!" she exclaimed.
"Awww, that's so cute!" Adelaide said. A horrible screeching noise like nails on a chalkboard came from the window. "Somebody let the cat in."
Lucas went to the front door and let Morpheus inside.
Morpheus raced him to the couch, nearly tripping him, and jumped up beside Adelaide. He begged for chicken, and, failing that, he rubbed his head against her.
"Stop being a nuisance," Lucas said. He picked up the cat and sat down with him.
"Sweetheart," Bill said, "would you get me a candy cane off the tree?"
"God, Bill, you're so lazy," Elise said. "It's just across the room. Get up and get it yourself."
Bill puffed his cheeks out like a frog about to croak.
Lucas looked at Bill as if to say, where's your balls, man?
Bill made a poof noise with his lips as the air escaped them. "I'm sick of you treating me this way," he said, his voice almost a whisper. "I bust my ass for this family, and all you do is belittle me and ridicule me. You insult the music I write, and you won't even get a fucking job."
Elise contorted her face into a ridiculous gesture of affliction. She crossed her arms and whined, "You don't love me."
"Elise, just look at yourself, not only are you a lazy bitch, you're fat," he said.
"Take it back!" she yelled. She pulled back her fist, and punched him hard in the stomach. He crumpled over. She hit him again in the face and head, pounding on him like a raving lunatic, until Lucas and Adelaide pulled her off him.
"You're a fucking psycho!" Bill said as his tears streaked through the blood on his face. "In front of Ava!"
"I hate you!" Elise screamed and ran upstairs. She slammed the door shut behind her and locked it.
She put on The Electric Hellfire Club's Satan's Little Helpers and cranked the volume. She ran her fingers through the mannequin's luxurious blond hair. Bill had salvaged it to use as a stage prop if he ever got his act together enough to play live. When he first brought it home, he had gushed over the piece of trash as if it was his new bride. Elise pulled a plastic tub of art supplies from the closet. She took a pair of scissors and chopped off its locks down to its plastic scalp. Then she whacked off her own hair and glued it to the head. It matted down against the scalp in some places, and frizzed and tangled in others. Her own hair, now short, jagged, and uneven, made her look insane. Then, she gouged out its eyes with a utility knife and glued tiger's eye stones in their places. She painted its face up as she painted her own. She cut a slit in its mouth, and inserted Halloween vampire fangs inside. She clipped her own black fingernails and toenails and glued them in place on the mannequin's body.
She took off her clothes, a stereotypical goth dress and a poorly made corset bought from the chain store at the mall. She lit incense and black candles on her altar to Satan, and then she returned her attention to the life size doll lying on the floor before her. With the utility knife, she carved a Tetragrammaton into its chest. Then, she cut the palm of her hand. She muttered an incantation as she squeezed her hand and dripped blood into the doll's mouth.
"In the name of Satan, I give you life," she said, and, then, she leaned over her creation and put her mouth over its mouth, smearing her own lips with blood as she exhaled her breath into it. "In the name of Satan, I command you to rise!"
The door shook as someone tried to enter. "Elise, I'm sorry! Come on, open up!" Bill said.
Elise rose from the floor, walked over to the door, and flung it open. She stood naked before Bill. She licked her bloody mouth as if to seduce him. Her nipples, large and splotchy, stood erect. Her blond pubic hair betrayed the dye job of her now butchered hair. Her pale skin looked to have never seen the sun. She had always been fat, but she had gained so much weight while pregnant, if he wanted to fuck her now, he'd have to fold the flabs of fat until he smelled shit and then fold back one, or maybe he could just dip her in flour and aim for the wet spot.
"My God! What have you done?" he said with his mouth hanging agape.
"I made something for you," she said. "You can use it on stage when you're a big rock-and-roll star." She laughed at him.
"Cut it out! For Ava's sake, let's try to get along while she's here. Adelaide said she'd watch Ava, let's go out for a beer and talk."
"Fuck you, Bill!"
"Whatever. I'm going out." He stomped down the stairs and out the front door. He didn't come back until he smelled like cheap perfume and sex.
The memory left him feeling jittery and alone. Damn, that thing is creepy, Bill thought, looking at the mannequin. He wished he didn’t have to turn his back on the thing to go back downstairs. As he descended, he felt as if someone, or something, watched him.
He grabbed a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup from the candy dish by the front door. Lucas and Adelaide never had trick-or-treaters there anyway. He stuffed the candy into his mouth, walked to the kitchen, and put a kettle of water on to boil.
His heart sank when he saw the photograph of his daughter hanging in a magnetic frame on the refrigerator. He remembered the day of her accident in vivid detail.
It was Christmas day. A light snow fell. Numerous beautifully wrapped packages were piled beneath the twinkling tree. The air had smelled delicious as Adelaide and her sister, Molly, had whizzed about the kitchen whipping up mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, and pumpkin pies. Their mother, Leena, had cooked the ham at her house and then brought it over.
Lucas had built a fire while Leena played Christmas carols on the piano. Ava had sung along, "Away in a mangor no cwib foor a bed, da wittle word Jesus way down his tweet head."
Elise had awoken early and poured herself a glass of wine. After the third glass, she started drinking straight from the bottle. Then she took a shower. She played Tori Amos at full volume, belting out the lyrics in an inharmonious duet, draining the merriment from all who heard her as surely as she emptied the hot water heater.
Bill got up late enough to miss the musical stylings of his melodramatic wife. He had prayed in vain Elise wouldn't make a scene.
"How could you!" she spat at him as soon as he came down the stairs. Her eyes were bloodshot with tears. "And with a stripper! My husband fucked a stripper!" She ran outside, her wine bottle still clutched in her hand.
Lucas followed her outside, calling her name.
She ran from him, around the house, screaming at the top of her lungs, "I'll kill him!"
He finally caught up to her, and took hold of her by the shoulders as if to shake some sense into her. He looked into her eyes. "Elise, you have got to calm down, or someone is going to call the cops."
Her flippancy infuriated him. "Fuck me? What the fuck have I done but be nice to you? You can just find yourself another place to live!"
She jerked away from him and ran back inside the house through the back door. She darted through the crowded kitchen and into the living room. She charged at Bill. She swung her bottle of wine at him, spilling wine all over the gifts.
"Shit!" he said and ducked just in time.
"You son of a bitch!" She threw him across the coffee table. "I hate you! I hate you!" she screamed.
"Uh-oh! Daddy's got a boo boo," Ava said and ran to her father.
"Get away from him!" She flung Ava off her father.
Ava flew back. She tripped over the hearth and fell into the fire. She shrieked, sounding like a squealing pig, as her hair caught ablaze and her flesh melted. Bill ran to her and pulled her out, but she already looked like a cheap wiener cooked on an open flame.
Morpheus scratched frantically at the window.
"Call 911," someone yelled.
Bill stroked his daughter's good cheek. "Please angel, don't die," he said. "I'm lost without the sanctuary I find in your eyes. Each breath I take without you is a thousand years in hell." He lost himself in her good eye, so big and beautiful. There were no sufficient words to describe what he felt. He felt as if his own image had been burned, as if his own soul sizzled with guilt.
Elise felt the same jealousy towards Ava she'd felt towards the stripper. She burst into tears. "Why don't you love me?" she cried.
As the memory washed over Bill, a tear ran down his face as he looked at the photograph. Even with half her face charred off, Ava had smiled for the camera. She didn't yet understand the extent of her injuries. Being blind in one eye seemed bad enough, but the disfigurement would haunt her for life. Just yesterday, Bill had taken her out to eat at McDonalds. As they were leaving, he'd overheard a teenage boy say, "Thank god vomit face is leaving. I don't think I could look at that while I eat." His group of friends had cackled at the comment. Bill wanted to walk over and punch him, but he pretended he didn't hear them instead.
He went into the living room, plopped down on the sofa, and flipped on the news.
The wind flapped the news lady's coat about violently, but her plastic hair stayed perfect. "Three women escaped from High County Women's Correctional Facility today, killing six guards and starting a riot that is yet to be brought under control. One of the women, Betty Dooglebee, was shot dead by one of the police. As most of you will remember, she was the infamous registered nurse serving a life sentence for running into a homeless man while high on marijuana and ecstasy. She then drove home with the man, Toby Fletcher, still hanging from her windshield. She let him bleed to death in her garage, and then she and two accomplices dumped his body in Goose Creek Park. Isabella Donna, a convicted pedophile, has been recaptured and is being questioned at this time. One, as of yet unidentified prisoner, did escape. High County Police advise all to lock their doors and windows and not answer the door for strangers.
The hair rose on the back of Bill's neck. He felt as if someone trampled across his grave. That unease he had felt as he arrived, he had smelled the faint scent of Manic Panic hair dye. Only Elise would make sure she had hair dye in jail, he thought, and she's here now, hiding.
He muted the television, then went to the kitchen and took a butcher knife from the block. He held the knife up high like Laurie Strode as he tiptoed through the house. He checked the back door. Locked. He checked the bathroom. Nothing. He checked the coat closet. Nothing. He checked Lucas and Adelaide's bedroom. Nothing. She would hide in our old room, he thought.
As he crept up the stairs, the scent of Manic Panic seemed to grow stronger. At the top, the mannequin eyeballed him like a vigilant sentinel, and he half expected it to call out a warning to Elise. As he snuck to the door of his old room, the floorboard in front of the door squeaked. Shit! he thought. He stood motionless for a moment and listened for her movement, but he heard nothing. He threw open the door, certain she would lunge for him, but she didn't. He checked everywhere, but no monster lurked in the closet or under the bed.
He had to walk past the creepy mannequin again to check the library, but found it empty. Satisfied that Elise wasn't hiding in the shadows, he breathed a sigh of relief. As he returned to the stairwell, he again felt as if he were being watched, as if he were not alone, but he foolishly wrote it off to an overactive imagination and made a fatal mistake; he turned his back to the mannequin and began to descend.
As he took his first step, the mannequin took its own.
He stopped. Was that a footstep behind me? he thought. He spun around to look. The mannequin seemed a bit closer than it should be, but his mind wouldn't accept what his eyes could see. He dismissed the internal warning, and continued his descent, each step he took towards the bottom mirrored by the golem.
At the bottom of the stairs, he went straight to the front door to check the locks again. The golem used the opportunity to slip into the shadows of the master bedroom.
The silence of the house weighed heavily upon Bill, and when the teakettle whistled, he nearly jumped from his skin. He made himself a cup of Chamomile, sat down on the sofa, and used the remote to unmute the news.
"This just in," the news lady said, "the third escapee from the High County Women's Correctional Facility has been caught at the Greyhound bus depot. She has been identified as Kay Myrium Young, the woman who three years ago to this day woke her children in the middle of the night, drove them to Wal-Mart and made them pick out the baseball bat that she then used to beat them to death."
Morpheus scratched frantically at the window.
Bill went to the front door to let the cat inside. He didn't notice that the locks on the door had been unlocked. He flung the door open. "Come on, Morpheus, it's cold outside," he said.
He turned white as a ghost. The thing on the doorstep could not be. His mind cried out in terror, but his voice betrayed him.
The golem had slipped out the front door, mimicked the cat to lure him out, and now stood before him. Elise's hate bore through the golem's glowing eyes.
Bill tried to run, but his legs turned to jelly. Petrified, he couldn’t move. Hot piss soaked his pants.
The golem lunged at him, sank its fangs into his neck, and ripped out a scream.
As Bill lay dying, his thoughts turned to Ava, who was now more than just a grotesquery; she was also alone. Her precious vomit face faded from his mind as the golem emptied his veins. He should have left Elise the first time she hit him. Now, he was hers, forever.