Thursday, December 14, 2017

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 Bill fumbled for the right key. 
He pushed the door open and walked inside to the foyer.  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 ex-wife never was.  He climbed the stairs and stood before it.  He gazed into its orange eyes and remembered the day that Elise had created it.

* * * * *
It was Christmas Eve.
EEENK EEENK EEENK!  The alarm clock had violated Bill's sweet 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!"
Several months earlier, Elise had been fired from Corners, a chain bookstore, where she had worked as a cashier.  Unable to pay the rent, they now 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.  Just one more day of shopping left, and the mall promised to be a madhouse of last minute gift grabbing filled with stressed out customers and frazzled employees.  Bumper to bumper traffic and nowhere to park, Bill arrived five minutes late, and the manager, a very tall woman who wore too much perfume, told him he was skating on thin ice.  He was an assistant manager at Zaftig Apparel, a chain clothing store selling yesterday's hot fashions to plus size women 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.  After she finished showering, putting on her make-up and getting dressed, she walked into the kitchen to get a soda.
"Hey, Elise," Lucas asked, "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, plopped down on the loveseat, 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 she 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."
"Thanks, doll," she replied.  Lucas went to the kitchen to get Adelaide some food.  Adelaide turned to Elise and asked, “How are you today, Elise?" 
Elise rolled her eyes.  "Bored.  I wish Bill would take me somewhere.  I'm sick of being in this house."
"Didn’t Lucas offer to teach you how to drive?  Maybe you should learn how, Elise, you know?  Then you could get a job," Adelaide replied.
Elise retorted, "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 and Elise’s two-year-old daughter, Ava, on his back.  She had been staying with his mother since they had lost their apartment.  He sat the little girl down on the carpet.
Elise ignored her daughter.  She had never wanted to be mother.  However, she had gotten pregnant by accident, and Bill was thrilled by the news.  He had threatened to divorce her a few days before she had found out, and the baby changed all that.  The pregnancy was hard, and Elise had gained more weight than most.  After the baby came, Elise hated the way she looked.  She had tried to lose the weight back off, but postpartum depression kept her hands in the cookie jar.  Now, she resented her daughter.  She tried to love her daughter, but there was no bond there.  She thought Ava smelled funny, and she hated changing diapers.  She was glad Bill’s mom had agreed to take care of Ava.
"Did today suck or what?"  Adelaide sighed.
“Yeah.  We were so busy,” Bill agreed.  He sat down on the loveseat next to his wife.
Lucas brought Adelaide the plate of chicken and a glass of milk.  She sat upright 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 as her face lit up with delight.  She bounced with excitement.  "Santa!  Santa bwings toys!" she exclaimed.
"Awww, that's so cute!"  Adelaide said as she tore into the chicken.  A horrible screeching noise like nails on a chalkboard came from the window, the cat’s version of knocking at the door.  "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 in his lap.  He scratched him under his chin, engendering a purr and kneading paws.
"Sweetheart," Bill requested in his pretty please voice, "would you get me a candy cane off the tree?"
"God, Bill, you're so lazy," Elise told him.  "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 murmured, 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 berated, his voice still but a mumble.
"Take it back!" she yelled. Her heartache poured from her in waves like water, and those around her could feel it crashing in to them.  Such sorrow, such desiderium!  Right now, even though she could feel that her marriage was over, even though she already mourned the deprivation of her relationship and the loss of her onetime best friend, she couldn’t believe it.  She couldn’t let it go.  She was haunted by the end of her marriage, even while it yet lingered.
She resented him.  Her emotions overwhelmed her.  She pulled back her fist and punched Bill hard in the stomach.  He crumpled over.  She hit him again in his face and head, pounding on him like a raving lunatic, until Lucas and Adelaide pulled her off him.
Ava cried.
"You're a fucking psycho!"  Bill yelled 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 were 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 in the exact same way that she did her own makeup.  She cut a slit in its mouth.  She wrote something on a piece of paper and slipped it inside.  Then she inserted Halloween vampire fangs inside its mouth and glued them in place.  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 Pentagrammaton into its chest.  Then, she cut the palm of her hand.  She muttered an incantation, invoking Yehowashah (YHVShH), the intrinsic Spirit within corporeal matter that symbolically enthrones the letter Shin upon the final Heh, opening an artery for the transferal of the spiritual power into manifestation on Earth.  
She squeezed her hand and dripped blood into the doll's mouth, and she called out to her god, "In the name of Satan, I give you life!"  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 vivify!"  She didn’t really expect it to come to life.  She was mostly just expressing herself through art, giving her rage a place to live, but she was a Satanist and occultist, and as she spoke it, she really did wish that it would come to life and do her will against Bill.  Her intent was pure and strong; her command was filled with fervor.
The door shook as someone tried to enter.  "Elise, I'm sorry!  Come on, open up!"  Bill pleaded.
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!" she snarled at him.  As much as she wanted to go out, she was too upset and angry with him to do so.
"Whatever,” he dismissed her, “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 Bill feeling jittery and alone.  Damn, that thing is creepy, he 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, so why bother saving it?  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. 
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.  Bill’s mom would be arriving soon with the eggnog.
Elise awoke and poured herself a glass of wine.  Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot, and it was obvious that she had been crying all night.
“Elise, are you okay?” Adelaide asked her.
“I’m fine,” she lied.   Then she went to take a shower.  She played Tori Amos at full volume, belting out the lyrics in an inharmonious duet, crooning her pain and anguish into her singing, draining the merriment from all who heard her as surely as she emptied the hot water heater.
When she got out of the shower, she poured herself another glass of wine.  After the third glass, she started drinking straight from the bottle. 
Lucas 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."  Numerous beautifully wrapped packages were piled beneath the twinkling tree. 
Bill got up late enough to miss the musical stylings of his melodramatic wife.  He had prayed in vain that Elise wouldn't make a scene.
"How could you!" Elise spat at him as soon as he came down the stairs.  Her eyes were little slits filled with daggers.  "And with a stripper!  My husband fucked a stripper!"  She pointed at him as she said this, announcing it to the entire household, as if Adelaide and Lucas hadn’t heard them fighting about it when he came home.  She retreated, darting outside, her wine bottle still clutched in her hand.
A light snow fell, and the world was already dusted in white, as all color faded away.  The grey clouds hung low, mirroring Elise’s crashing world.
Lucas followed her outside, calling her name, “Elise!  Elise, just stop!” 
She ran from him, around the house, screaming at the top of her lungs, "I'll kill him!  I’m going to fucking kill him!”
Lucas finally caught up to her, and he took ahold 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.  I’m sorry Bill hurt you, but you need..."
"Fuck you!  Leave me alone!"" she yelled.  Her face was beet red.  Her red eyes bugged out from their sockets and looked wild.
Elise’s flippancy infuriated Lucas.  "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.
Lucas shook his head in disbelief as he chased after her.  Suddenly, she turned.  She charged at Bill.  She swung her bottle of wine at him, spilling wine all over the Christmas gifts.
Bill’s eyes widened with fear.  "Shit!" He cried out and ducked just in time.
She wasn’t angry; she was destroyed.  He had hurt her.  On purpose.  He had betrayed her for the sole purpose of torturing her.  It was his way of ending things, and it was cruel.  He was done with her, and now she couldn’t deny it.  She felt worthless, used, like a piece of trash, and she had to show him how it felt.  She screamed, "You son of a bitch!"  Like a professional wrestler, she threw him across the coffee table, sending remote controls, magazines, and drinks flying.  "I hate you!  I hate you!"
Bill landed on the floor with a hard thunk.  Blood trickled from a cut on his forehead.
"Uh-oh!  Daddy's got a boo-boo," Ava called out as she ran to her father.
"Get away from him!" Elise hollered.  In a blind rage, she flung Ava off her father.  Her adrenaline was high, her mind drunk, and she used much more force than she had intended.
Ava flew back.  She tripped over the hearth and fell into the fire.  The toddler shrieked, sounding like a squealing pig, as her hair caught ablaze and her flesh melted.  Bill ran to her, pulled her out, and smothered the flames with a throw rug, but she already looked like a cheap wiener cooked on an open flame.
Morpheus scratched frantically at the window, with those chalkboard nails scraping on the glass.
"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, tears trickled down his face.
Bill had once loved Elise.  He remembered how beautiful and funny she was when they first started dating, how they seemed to click and be right together, complimentary parts to a whole.  She used to be thoughtful and kind.  Bill thought back to that one birthday.  It was right after they had moved in with Lucas and Adelaide.  Lucas and Adelaide had gone out on an overnight trip.  Elise had no money, but she wanted to do something nice for Bill.  So she wrapped herself up in wrapping paper and put a bow in her hair.  She snuck outside while Bill was in the kitchen and she scratched on the window, so he would think it was the cat.  He opened the door to find Elise standing there, her self was his gift.  She held a cupcake in her hand, complete with a lit candle.  She sang “Happy Birthday” to him as she walked across the threshold.  He unwrapped her right there in the foyer, and they made love on the floor.
But then she changed; she got weird, withdrawn, mean.  In retrospect, Bill could see that she had developed severe depression, but at the time, he was blind to it.  He was overwhelmed with his own bullshit and couldn’t empathize with her.  Struggling with postpartum depression was bad enough, but being fired had shattered her confidence and sent her over the edge.  She had become miserable, struggling with the rejection and failure, and she had developed crippling anxiety.  Bill had failed to understand her growing madness.  Instead, he had judged her.  He had neglected to help her.  Now he could see that.  It was all his fault.  He had let her spiral when he should’ve caught her.  In sickness and in health.  He had promised her.
He mumbled to himself, “I love the memory of you, of who you once were.  I still love the ghost of you.  But you’re lost in darkness now, and I can’t recognize you anymore.”  
 He looked at the photograph of Ava.  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 McDonald's.  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. 
Bill 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 in a confrontation with a police officer shortly after the escape.  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 with certitude.
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 movement, but he heard nothing.  He threw open the door, convinced that 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 he found it empty, too.  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 he made a fatal mistake; he turned his back to the mannequin and began to descend the stairs. 
As he took his first step, the mannequin took its own. 
He stopped.  Was that a footstep behind me?  he thought.  His heartbeat quickened.  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, with 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; that screeching sound of his nails raking across the window pierced Bill’s ears.  “Hang on, Buddy, I’m coming!” Bill said.
He went to the front door to let the cat inside.  He didn't notice that the locks on the door had been undone.  He flung the door open.  "Come on, Morpheus; it's cold outside," he beckoned.
All the color drained from Bill’s face, leaving him pale as a ghost.  The thing on the doorstep could not be.  His mind cried out in terror, but his voice betrayed him.  He stood there in silence, mouth agape as if screaming, breathless and paralyzed.
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.  They both fell to the ground, with the mannequin atop him, feasting on his blood.  He fought against the mannequin, tried to push it off, but it had supernatural strength.  As he struggled against it, he could feel its unholy power.  Its jaws were locked upon his jugular.
Eyes closed and darting rapidly as if dreaming, Elise lay on her cot in her prison cell.  She blamed Bill for her predicament, blamed him for everything. 
After months of feeling trapped in a cage and helpless, her dark lord had finally answered her prayers.  One day, while out in the prison yard, she had spotted a devil’s thorn-apple growing against the outside of the fence.  She watched it bloom and waited all summer for the seedpods to appear.  Then, had reached her hands through the fence and snatched them.  She had used them to mix herself up a potion.
Elise still had one friend on the outside who took her calls, a mutual friend, and she knew that Bill was going to be house-sitting for Lucas and Adelaide on Devil’s Night.  This friend had mentioned that they were using a creepy mannequin for a Halloween decoration.  Elise remembered that she had bespelled the thing, imbued it with her own life force, and she knew just what to do.    
Now, her plan in play, Elise watched through the eyes of her golem as Bill bled out.  Vengeance was finally hers!
As Bill lay dying, his thoughts turned to Ava, who was now more than just a grotesquery; she was also orphaned.  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.
As the golem released its unholy bite, that slip of paper fell out of its mouth.  It read, “Let our hurts be equal.  As he hurts me, so too shall he be hurt.”  Elise lost control of the mannequin.  All she could do was stare at Bill’s corpse through those tiger eye stones. 
Elise, in her seething, blind quest for revenge, she had forgotten what she had written on that slip of paper.  “Let our hurts be equal.”  She had forgotten that the magick flowed both ways.
Elise had thought that she would feel vindicated, but all she felt was alone.  Less than human.  Animated and fake, like a mannequin.  The taste of Bill’s blood hung thick in her throat; the coppery smell of death filled her nostrils.  She didn’t want to be there anymore. 
Elise attempted to wake up.  She tried to open her eyes, but she couldn’t.  She couldn’t move, not even her pinkie.  She couldn’t scream.  Her consciousness was stuck inside the damned golem!
Elise’s mind fought to leave the hellish reality that she had made for herself, struggling against the plastic confines of her new prison.  Meanwhile, back in the penitentiary, Elise’s body overdosed on tropane alkaloids and died.

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