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“Is that mask necessary?”
“Don’t you have lung problems, … sensei?” She pauses before the ‘sensei’ title. Maybe she finds something amusing in the idea of Jack Hobbs being anybody’s teacher. “I assumed that you would want me to wear it for as long as possible ...”
“Did you understand the instructions about your clothing? Don’t you even remember the damn advertisement?” He wheezes, pulls his own mask down and presses down on the inhaler.
The only response he gets is a titter and a bow. Even with the padded mask covering everything below the bridge of that slim nose, he can tell she’s beautiful. Long black hair flowing down to the small of her back that you could trail your fingers through, a paleness to her face, arms, and legs that would offset against the candlelight. And those eyes! Dark pools weighted in the essence of her mystery.
Does he feel a hint of life in what dangles between his legs?
“If you are modeling for this portrait, you’ll need to show that pretty face.”
She removes her sandals, steps up from the maple flooring onto the raised tatami. She’s graceful, like a performing geisha, each step taken with confidence. Comfortable in her flesh, her bones. She swishes a strand of hair off her shoulder before bending over to check one of the tatami mat’s corners. “Do you change these regularly?”
She’s one of this new breed who gets the boys to play fetch for them before upgrading to the bigger beasts. I’ll paint her haughty and proud, the type who eventually catches some poor sap’s dick in a vice and squeezes it until he has no fight left. Someone would pay well for such a piece, would place it snugly in their man-cave, and sit there lusting over it in the evenings. Then crawl to bed with their tail between their legs to their ‘no-sex please and thank you spouse’, all shrunken, miserable, and guilt-ridden. A Sumi brush snaps in his hand. He gawps, half-stupidly, as it drops from his grasp. He wasn’t aware he’d even picked it up.
“Hobbsu-san? Daijobu desu ka? Are you okay?”
“I was thinking about the portrait!” he blusters. “A mask might suit you.” Maybe like that Mad Max film or some of those anime models, he ponders. But cosplay models do that nonsense already for photo shoots. Buyers came to him for something different.
Well-known expatriate artist Jack Hobbs was found dead in his studio this morning. Hobbs was once a consistent contributor to the Tokyo art scene. Since his arrival from the United States in the late 1990s, he was known for his portraits of fashionable young women.
“You’ll need to supply medical certificates. PCR tests must be taken a day before each sitting. If you come back positive, no matter how close to the portrait’s completion, you get nothing for your time. Understood?” He wags a finger, as if she’s an over-indulged university student he’s chiding over some missing homework. Another bow. A hum of self-amusement. “Who taught you your Japanese, Hobbsu-san? It sounds so … unique.”
Hobbs reaches for his camera, ignoring her barb about his language level. He snaps a dozen shots of her in different poses on the tatami. “Lie down. Lean your head back. Sit up. Cross your legs. Kneel. Put your hands behind your back. Not that way!” Occasionally he reaches out for an ankle or wrist, but each time she budges away, correcting the position herself. You don’t want me to touch you? Let’s see how that plays out.
He dismisses her with a final reminder to be on time next week. He isn’t one for waiting hunched behind the wheel of a car outside train stations. Stewing over his wasted time until she feels like gracing him with her presence.
He stretches the polaroids out across a flat canvas. Many of the poses offer potential, some even reminders of past subjects: this one of Mitsuko and her wide, unblinking eyes; this of Keiko and her slender white neck; this of Asuza and – back then - her unusually fulsome cleavage. Yet when he tries to stretch his imagination beyond the photos, he finds only the typical vague cliches. It’s like one of those old card packs that kids would play with, thumbing over the images only to discover that some killjoy has removed cards at random throughout the set. His thoughts come disjointed, vague; his mind’s eye refuses to conjure the fluidity of movement he tries to attribute to her.
He lets out a ‘pshaw’ of resentment and waves a dismissive hand towards the now empty tatami space. He has to plan. That, he can do without her presence or her mocking tongue.
A keen appreciator of Japanese portraiture dating back to the Edo period, Hobbs mined many of the old Japanese masters for inspiration, a practice that saw critics waspishly accuse him of being little more than a magpie engaged in clumsy misappropriation.
It was Jack Hobbs’ wish to paint rather than merely photograph that set him apart from the talentless clods pointing and clicking. His trick lay in courtship, his portraiture finding depths within his subjects that they weren’t even sure they possessed themselves. That enough girls rolled into bed with him once the work was done was not something to provoke condemnation. “You know what you are getting yourselves into,” he always insisted. He may have coaxed them into his studio like he might a wary Nara doe, but they quickly saw what they could get from him. Immortality on canvas. And who wouldn’t be seduced by an offer like that?
“But how to paint you,” he murmurs, thinking of his previous works which took inspiration from Hokusai to Koide to Shima Seien. This young woman is unusual. Confident, jokey, possessing so much self-assurance as she strolled around his studio. It’s like she’s been here before. Like she somehow knows me. Maybe somebody’s been gossiping about old Jack Hobbs.
There’s little he can do about that.
He picks up a polaroid of her lying on her back, that slender neck exposed, those breasts ripe for his touch. Yes, this is close to the right pose. He picks a canvas from the wall and pins the picture to the top left corner. He’ll do some sketches, get the outlines as close to actuality as he can. Next week, he’ll insist she remove the mask.
The week passes in a flurry of curves and loops, considerations of tertiary and quaternary colors, thoughts of angle and perspective. A giddiness enters his movements. There’s no more dallying in restaurants or propping up snack bars to ogle the working girls. His meals become store-bought lunch boxes which he tosses half-eaten to the corner of his work space and which soon stink of congealed fried chicken and soy sauce drippings. He sleeps on a hastily unrolled, heavily-stained futon. He ventures out briefly, when the almost full-moon glints through the maple and cherry blossom trees. The 7-11 staff don’t even ask if he wants a plastic bag or chopsticks; they stuff them in along with the lunch boxes, beer cans, and Lucky Strikes. Fellow customers queue at different tills.
Nonetheless, until recent years, his work found favor back in his native homeland, in France, and in his adopted Japan. Recent health problems had limited his output; however, there was persistent talk of a comeback for the still energetic American.
He often sits in the small garden at the back of the studio after dark, listening to the crickets chirping, the occasional warbler or bamboo partridge - one, two, three; one, two, three. Soon the azaleas will bloom, taking sustenance from the soil he’s enriched over the years. Beauty begetting beauty, as one might say.
On the day before she returns, he doesn’t even eat. He works, often brushing cigarette ash from the sketches. He’s liberated. No need to wash, to interact with others. He sketches, experimenting with shades, with poses and concepts. More than once he thinks of Shunga like Hokusai’s Fisherman’s Wife. He drinks. He thinks of Beckett and Krapp’s Last Tape. I wouldn’t give it up. Not any of it. Not for the fire that’s in me now. The present mingles with memory. They will all come together in this, the summation of his life’s work. He prepares to paint.
He’s at the JR station early, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. She’s on time. He once again communicates his displeasure at her choice of attire. “You come for a portrait sitting and then dress like you’re dropping some books off at the library or going for an English lesson.” He almost runs down a local as he drives out of the parking lot, the woman grimacing when she sees who’s behind the wheel.
The girl hums J-pop standards as he carps on during the short drive home, she’s paying more attention to the fashion chain stores and coffee shops they drive past.
“You must disrobe,” Hobbs barks as soon as they enter. She titters. “Really, Sensei? Did you learn your Japanese from watching Samurai dramas?” She reaches down and picks up one of his sketches, then another, then another.
“Are you here to model or to clean up?”
“So many different faces, Sensei. All these girls?”
“I’ve been more prolific than anyone could have realized.” He watches her step out of her sandals. She sets different sketches along the wall space, propping them up when she can. Yes. I’m responsible for all of them. But there was another type of fire in him then. And his inner desires were always adept at overcoming any qualms.
Act as you would like to have lived, he thinks. He’s sure he read that in some book back in his twenties, a way of living that the self-help goonies turned into their tawdry ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra. And where did that get us?
He stands over a book at his writing desk, going through the ritual that prepares him to paint, reading past reviews of his work, then congratulating himself over his success in negotiating the lauditory descriptions in third person.
“Sensei? Are you ready?” Her voice was mesmerizing.
“Yes. As ready as I’ll ever be.” He turns from his writing desk, lets the cotton yukata fall to the floor, with only an abstract thought to how his shrunken, dangling ball sac must look.
Her eyes shine above the mask, drawing him toward her. Is that an invitation? he wonders.
He walks toward his canvas, hand poised to pick up his brush. She has disrobed as instructed. Her skin looks almost translucent in the raking light.
Only the mask hides her full beauty. He wants it removed. He must remove it.
He grunts his way onto the tatami. The cast of their shadows, his crouched, hers towering over him, reminds him of something.
“Am I beautiful, Sensei?”
“You are ravishing.”
“Then you’ll do anything for me.” She reaches behind either ear and removes her mask. The flaps of skin droop away from either cheek. He notes the rotting of her teeth, the way her tongue twists, flaps, slides against those blackened teeth as she speaks, clicking against the hard and soft upper palates at the roof of her mouth. “Do you still think I am pretty?”
He nods, transfixed. She hands him a blade and motions to where she wants the cuts. He slices one off and then the other, the pain roiling outwards from his crotch, and yet what use has he truly had for them these past few years. He places them and the knife reverentially at her feet, then he lies down, closes his eyes, and waits. The first incision across the right of his mouth isn’t as painful as expected. She’s methodical with the knife, gliding the blade through the mucosa of his saggy cheek like she’s a sculptress.
Of course she is beautiful, he thinks. She is Mariko, Meiko, Risa, Azusa. Mitsuko, Keiko, and the others. The dribble past his ear will turn to plops of flesh and tissue marking this section of tatami. Images of his past canvases flicker through his mind, interspersed with the applause of admirers all eager to talk to Jack Hobbs about his techniques, his inspirations, his drives. She will bring them to me again.
By the time she has started on the left side of his face, his heart has given out. She hacks out his tongue, steps naked into his back garden, her toes kneading into the soil. She digs at a patch of grass with her blood-slicked hands, thrilling at the way the dirt wedges beneath her nails, and places the appendage and two testes on a small mound of the earth. It will be enough of a prompt to persuade the police to start digging, to finally do their jobs. She dresses, reattaches her mask, and takes a final, satisfied glance at her handiwork, both on the tatami and in Jack’s back garden, before leaving.
Hobbs settled some years ago in the town of Mishima, close to the base of Mount Fuji, where he kept a small studio. He leaves no immediate family.
The excavations mean the azaleas won’t bloom behind Jack Hobbs’ studio this year. The weathered barricade tape warning people to stay out will survive the driving June rains, will flutter gently in the occasional summer breeze, will endure through the cloying August humidity. People will rush past, shaking their heads, trading scandalized whispers about all those poor girls. They always knew there was something wrong about him. But nobody could have imagined that!
It was an unusual way to kill oneself. An even grislier way to confess - gelding himself and leaving them along with his tongue in the garden.
In years to come, neighborhood bullies will dare the younger kids to run up to the dilapidated house, to knock on the front door, they’ll tease about how the knock can summon its occupant spirit away from his next canvas, from where he’s wondering over the best curves and lines, the most suitable tones and hues.
“Go on, I dare you to do it!”
“What are you, a chicken?!”
“You can’t believe in ghosts at your age!”
“Old Jack Hobbs! Old Jack Hobbs!”
Some of those bolder ones will even climb the fence around back to snap off a piece of tree branch at one of the knuckles as evidence of their bravery. They’ll show it to their friends, boast of how they were unafraid, and then toss that trophy away, not daring to bring such a thing home. Who knows what keeping such a thing might invite into their bedrooms?
Who knows what may have grown from that poisoned soil?
Or what still lurks and dreams within those disintegrating walls?
L.P. Ring is the author of four Seoul-based crime novels and a neo-noir thriller which are all available on Amazon and other platforms. He's had work published with lifestyle magazines in Japan and South Korea and crime fiction published with the UK-based Close To The Bone. He currently lives in Japan with his wife and a cat who’s always around at mealtimes.
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
“Come on, it’s this way,” my friend Kichiro said, leading me away from the bar he always took dates, (was this a date? She wasn't sure.)We wandered away from the crowds of Gion, towards Miyagawacho, which the guidebooks described as a “must-see” geisha neighborhood. The dark cobblestone streets grew narrower, and each wooden machiya building we passed started to blur together.
“If we’re lucky, we’ll see some tonight,” he whispered excitedly, like a fanboy. “A geisha with her maiko.”
“Err, what’s the difference?” I asked. I had been to a museum earlier that had many beautiful kimonos, but all the new information was just swimming around in my head.
“Seriously? There’s a ton of differences,” he said, then trailed off before he dove into an explanation. He loved acting like a tour guide for English teachers in his area.
Suddenly, on the path ahead a pair of women seemingly appeared out of the inky darkness, one older and one younger, carefully dressed in traditional Japanese finery.
Could that be them? I wondered.
The older one, dressed more simply than the other, looked on proudly at the younger maiko, dressed more regally and covering her face with her sleeves. Slowly, the maiko lowered her floor-length sleeves, which revealed her face. As she lowered her sleeves further, her jaw followed along with it, wider and wider, until it was inhumanely lower. Finally, it unhinged with a sickening CRACK. Her older companion nodded approvingly.
Every instinct in my body told me to run, but I stared ahead, like I was hypnotized, as the younger one slid towards me. Her green silken furisode extended until it was impossibly long behind her, trailing behind her body like a train trails a wedding dress. Before I knew it, she was right in front of me. The silken scales of her form coiled against mine, her body much colder than I anticipated, but her eyes, her eyes were warm. She peered deeply into my face, her brown eyes became all I could see.
a sea of brown,
I was falling down into them.
She held me but I was falling further inside myself. Squeezing me closer, it was uncomfortably so but not unbearable. She’s put some kind of spell over me, I thought, dreamily. I don’t mind. This wasn’t so bad.
Tighter and tighter she squeezed, deeper and deeper into her eyes I fell, until I heard a loud SNAP! from my neck.
I hit the wet ground with a dull thud, which I heard but could not feel. Why couldn’t I feel it? Her eyes, now a beady black, finally left mine as she moved towards my sneaker-clad feet. The warmth I felt dissipated, and felt completely numb inside. I couldn’t feel what she was doing, but she moved my body little by little. Like she was struggling to get into a sleeping bag, for what seemed like an eternity My eyes began to glaze, but the geisha and Kichiro were just standing there, watching. This was the evening’s entertainment. Finally, her unhinged jaw passed over my head, and I could see no more.
The last sound I heard was my friend Kichiro chuckling as he said, “Geisha prefer to eat their prey in pieces, while maiko just swallow it whole.”
At least neither of them like to play with their food, I thought sardonically, wishing I could say it aloud as my last words.
E.F. Crabtree is an artist and writer based in Buffalo, NY, but used to work in Japan. She co-founded Kyoto Cryptids, a literature and arts magazine about Kyoto, Japan, with her friends. The magazine, along with more of her work, can be found at: https://kyotocryptids.gumroad.com/
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
Every day, police stop motorists and explain their infraction before writing out a ticket. Sound familiar? Yes. But in my case, it didn’t happen that way.
You see, I’m deaf, and I have problems communicating with certain police officers who stop me now and then.
One day, I drove up a ramp and glanced at the traffic light. It was off so I went through it without stopping.
A police car caught up with me and flashed its sirens, so I pulled over at the nearest shoulder.
A woman officer got out of the car, then came up to my driver’s window. She looked young, probably in her late twenties. She had a lean, athletic body and long blonde hair that peaked out from under her helmet. She wore dark sunglasses and spoke to me, but her lips moved too fast for me to lip-read. I pointed my fingers at my ears and shook my head.
She understood. I gestured to her I gotta get my purse. She nodded. I fished out my license, car registration, and insurance.
She examined them and issued me a ticket without saying a word. I raised my hand. She waited again. I got my smartphone out and typed, “What have I done to get this ticket?” She replied, “You ran through the ramp light.”
I protested, typing, “But the light wasn’t on!”
Reading my reply, the officer’s face looked hard. Unmoved. Cold. She typed back, “Well, you have go to traffic school for this.” I could see her mouth moving - she seemed to be snorting as if she wasn’t impressed with me. Now, I understood. I’ve met some hearing people who disliked me due to my deafness, but I put them out of my mind and got on with my everyday life.
She got in her car and drove away.
I was furious, shocked at her lack of sensitivity. Too bad I didn’t get to tell her about my family curse.
You see, I’m a third-generation Japanese American, and my mother’s family came from a long line of samurais. Back in Japan, my uncle told me about one certain ancestor who had worked as a samurai during the Shogun days. He wasn’t happy with all the blood and violence, so he studied the black arts. One night, an enemy clan invaded his family castle and slayed his brother, sister-in-law, and their children. His loyal servants managed to smuggle his former wife and children out of the place. That was how our branch of the clan survived.
My uncle cast a spell upon his enemy. He warned, “If anyone dares to hurt or insult my family, this enchantment shall kill or injure him or her, but if anyone saves or blesses those of my flesh and blood, he or she shall receive generous blessings.”
The curse worked! Since that time, anyone who hurt or insulted my relatives ended up badly injured or dead. Those who helped or treated us well often received great fortunes or long lives.
This ancient spell followed me now. During my teen years, a certain girl bullied me terribly. Shortly after that, she became paralyzed from her waist down in a terrible car accident. Her parents took her out of my school for good.
Years later, I was a university undergraduate majoring in history. I saw a young girl I knew from biology class at a nightclub. She came from a super-wealthy family and she looked down at me for my middle-class upbringing, calling me a low-class loser. She even did it there at the club. I saw her leave with a young man who gave me the willies. The next day, the police found her dead, raped and stabbed to death with a hunting knife. But a side effect of the spell was that it brought guilty people to justice. The police arrested the creep in no time at all, thanks to several witnesses at the nightclub.
My best childhood friend found out about my ancient family spell when she gave me a gold brooch. The next day, her parents won several million dollars in the lottery. Some of my close friends treated me to lunch or dinner whenever they needed good luck with their university finals.
Although I was angry about having to go to traffic school, I also had concerns about the lady officer who had given me the ticket for no good reason. I knew my old family curse would harm her very badly, sooner or later.
I had a brother-in-law named Simon who was a homicide inspector at a local police station; we met at my sister’s wedding and got along so well, he learned American Sign Language. One day, he invited me and my boyfriend, Kerry, to a big party at the station. I was a paraeducator, living paycheck to paycheck and had a side job baking desserts for parties. Simon asked me to bring in a large chocolate bundt cake with vanilla frosting and a couple dozen frosted sugar cookies.
Simon helped us carry the cake container and two large boxes of cookies into the party. Plenty of people, either in uniforms or evening clothes, milled about, chatting and drinking. Kerry had excellent lipreading and speaking skills, so he went along with Simon to converse with others while I went to help prepare meals and desserts in the snack room. All went fine until I went into the party carrying a tray of handmade submarine sandwiches to the buffet table. That’s when I spotted the blonde officer who had given me the ticket. After I left the buffet table, I went straight to Simon and explained what happened with that officer. He raised his eyebrows in concern; he had seen weird things due to our ancestral spell. He said, “Looks like Officer Katie is going to be in big trouble sooner or later. I better go warn her.”
I watched him, but she laughed and looked over at me with disdain. She muttered something to him and went to chat with others. Apparently, she still didn’t take me very seriously, but I was still anxious about her safety, so I went toward her. She noticed me and walked away to talk with a tall officer. I tried again. She walked away again, but I finally, cornered Officer Katie and typed, “I’m concerned for your safety. All I need is your apology for your rudeness so you’ll live.” She read my message, coughed several times, then dropped my phone to the ground. Her smirk showed me she had done it on purpose.
I kneeled to pick it up. It was cracked. I looked up at her; she looked pleased.
I sighed and went back to Simon. He shook his head.
“That wasn’t nice of her,” he said. “But don’t worry, she’ll get what she deserves sooner or later. We both tried our best to warn her, but she didn’t believe us, even called us a couple of weirdos. It’s her choice so we best let her go.” I remembered feeling so frustrated and helpless that evening.
Sure enough, two weeks later, I picked up my newspaper and saw a big headline, “Police Officer Dies in Burning Police Car.”
A blonde female police officer was patrolling a neighborhood about two miles from where I live. She stopped a gray sedan for a traffic violation. The car pulled over. A man got out of the car and faced the officer.
It was fifteen minutes past midnight. The street was empty except for parked cars, a few bright streetlights and dark houses.
Officer Katie was going to cite the guy for something and write a ticket. But she didn’t know that the creep was a serial killer, preying on women, and he had a particular taste for blondes.
I turned on the television for the morning news, which had gained access to a house security camera. Over breakfast, I watched the killer grab the officer’s wrists. She had tried some self-defense tactics, but the killer had a third-degree black belt in karate, so he easily knocked her unconscious. He dragged her to his car, out of sight of the camera. This made my stomach lurch. I almost vomited my breakfast back on my plate.
I believed Officer Katie had just become the latest victim of my ancient family spell.
The camera showed the killer taking the body to her police cruiser and putting her inside before driving it away.
According to the news, the killer had driven for an hour and stopped at a 24-hour gas station where he purchased a gasoline container from a cashier before taking the police cruiser to a nearby park.
There, he pulled the body outside and put her on the ground near the cruiser. He poured the gasoline all over the car and the dead officer both before using his lighter to set them afire. But the park was surrounded by three apartment buildings. I believed our family spell blinded him from seeing them. The bright flame attracted the attention of people watching late-night movies, and several people ran out to the burning cruiser.
The killer tried to run away but tripped over the exposed roots of a huge tree, breaking his arm. Adding to his bad luck, several men walking home from a party several blocks away pounced on him and pinned him to the ground.
The murderer was finished, I thought. I felt bad for the dead officer and her family; I texted Simon, and he typed back, “Yeah. They already informed me last night. We already filed several charges against this creep, including first-degree murder. He’s going to have a trial, and he’ll look at either a life sentence without parole or the death penalty.”
I felt so bad for the officer and her family that I sent a large wreath of white carnations to her memorial service.
If only Officer Katie had apologized to me, none of this would have happened.
Although the late police officer was unpleasant to me, she didn’t deserve to die in such a horrible, painful way. I believe we should treat others with respect, even those with unique characteristics. It’s the right thing to do, the right way to behave.
But even if you disagree. Who knows about their family background? There may be one or two curses somewhere.
Deaf since birth, Anne Hansell is a third-generation Japanese-American and distant relative to Mitsunari Ishida, who lost the Battle of Sekigahara to Tokugawa. During a visit to Japan, her Japanese family encouraged her to learn about her samurai heritage by reading Japanese history books, where she learned that some people believe a samurai’s curse could be very powerful. This prompted her to write “The Burning Police Car.” She is now living with her husband, a New England gentleman, in Southern California.
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
The car sputtered to a stop, steam rising out of its hood like a geyser. It looked like nothing so much as a huge beast panting from a great exertion. It also seemed to be a little sad.
There is, dear reader, a type of way of looking at things as if they are human. It is called anthropormorphication. A big word for an obvious, a reasonable, in fact the only way we can possibly empathise with other creatures.
Yes, you say, but a car is not a creature.
Ah, I answer, but how do you know?
When does a pile of bones and blood and brain matter become a human creature? And when might a bunch of metal and gas and gears become a car creature?
Let us together examine the life, or should we say the day after day, of a particular vehicle and see if we can if-not unravel, at least glimpse the possibility of when, in-this little fantasy at least, a car just might come to inhabit a life- aware that it is alive, and also aware that it may not always be so, for we humans are not the only ones to glimpse great piles of twisted metal in salvage yards.
In so knowing it is alive now, but it’s days are finite, the aware creature of whatever ilk, chooses to take and examine each day as the treasure it is, and pull what joy it can from it.
This car was a rover P3 (60).
These were special cars in the car manufacturing industry because they had what was called a short run. Their manufacturers made their parts and rolled them out of their factories painted and bright and shiny and new for one year only, before replacing them with the Rover 73. The Rover Company then began to become entangled with corporate partners, internal politics, and take-overs which led to the end of the independent Rover Company forever. So the Rover 60 was a special car from the beginning and soon became a rare car indeed, like a hector’s dolphin or a totara tree.
A few, just a few, of these rare metal beasts were kept in garages and driven only on Sundays to go to church, and were washed and waxed and oiled and greased to a glossy perfection.
So it was for the hero of our story, a little rover who belonged to a family called Smith.
Mrs Smith was a raven-haired beauty addicted to the antics of the Royal Family and the movie magazines popular in the early 1950’s. She always looked like a movie star herself, her hair in a marcel wave, her dress of some feminine colour with petticoats underneath and little gloves with a matching hat. She would never let Mr Smith see her without being properly turned out, and as she read her magazines as gospels, she took their advice and rose ten minutes earlier than her husband to put on her make-up and do her hair. Once Mr Smith caught his wife with no make-up and thought she was ill, so pale and wan was she.
They had two children, a boy and a girl, which was just as it should be, and they were named Winston and Juliette. They were dark-haired like their mother and just as attractive and well-behaved as it was possible to be.
Mr Smith himself was a successful business man, an Irishman with flaming red hair and a wild streak running through him. Sometimes it would escape like a lightning flash in his brain and he would see things or hear things that he knew full well couldn’t be right. Mr Smith kept this from his beautiful English wife— aren’t there always little secrets we keep to ourselves?
When Mr Smith bought the Rover all shiny and new from the car dealership, he was as proud as punch to drive into his little English Village. He loved how the people turned in the street to look or gawp or point or even sometimes to blow a low whistle.
The car, being very young did not notice at all, its whole car-ish self being taken up with pistons and levers and gas gurgling around its brand new body and oil in its great engine and being told to stop and go and turn this way and that with barely a moment to think how it could do these things.
Mr Smith drove his beautiful new car to his home and parked it. The car was happy to have a moment to gather itself and have a little rest in the driveway.
The family gathered around and admired the car from all angles. The children put their hands on it and Mrs Smith shooed them away. She brought out her little lace-edged handkerchief to wipe the smudges off.
“It’s lovely darling,” she said and gave her husband a peck on the cheek with her beautiful red lipstick mouth. “Now pop it away, and come in for dinner.”
His wife spoke to him exactly as she spoke to their children when they had a brand new toy or had found a pretty stone by the river.
Mr Smith nodded, not taking his eyes off his new friend, he wiped his cheek where the wet kiss had landed and touched the car. A little red lipstick like blood smeared onto the shiny cream door. Mr Smith saw a short flash of light behind his eyes and felt a little shiver course through the car, a little tingle. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, everything was as it had been. He wiped off the smear of lipstick with his sleeve, and with a sharp intake of breath walked around to the front of the car to crank it into life so he could drive it into its little house, a brand-new garage with green folding doors.
The little Rover pottered in and fell into a welcome sleep. It would cogitate on all that had happened some other time, later, next time it was cranked up. For, already, the little car had the glimmer of a thought, and a glimmer of a feeling, but it didn’t recognise them for what they were. It only felt slightly grateful to be asleep. He didn’t know, (how could he, baby as he was?) that half our lives are spent sleeping … and dreaming…that awareness of life continues on in the electrical impulses of our brains. We are still alive when we sleep - is a machine? Today our computers and our phones are plugged in and feeding, clearly still ‘doing’ but a vehicle back in the day? Was being turned off like sleeping or like dying or somewhere in between, like being in a coma?
I really don’t know dear reader, I can only suggest that we follow this story a little longer and see what we shall see.
So the days passed in a comfortable sameness, the children grew bigger and the parents grew older and they hardly noticed at all. They followed their comfortable routines and added in the car like any new member of a family, and soon it felt as if it had always been so.
The children went to school, Mr Smith went to work and Mrs Smith went to her coffee klatches and volunteered at the school library, but now every Wednesday Mr Smith drove around the block to keep the car ‘ticking over’ and every Sunday the whole family piled in to go for a drive. They went somewhere different each Sunday and sometimes they had ice cream.
Everything appeared to be the same, except the car grew more and more beautiful—more shiny, more gleaming, and it’s horn sounded more throaty and fulsome, its engine more powerful and its tyres just flew over the road.
Why might this be?
Well, every night after their evening meal, Mr Smith went out into the garage and pottered about with his car. He blackened its tyres, he polished its metal skin, he dusted the dashboard, and washed its windows, and as he did so, he muttered and murmured and let go of the thoughts in his head.
He found to his great relief, that he didn’t have to pretend at all.
With Mrs Smith, he tried to be strong and manly and in charge of every detail; for his children, he tried to be strong and fatherly, able to right every wrong. There was no doubt he was these things, but he was something else, too. Something that left little thoughts and feelings skittering about in his head with nowhere to go. There were thoughts of uncertainty and feelings of woe, there were frustrations and fears and a few secret tears, and these he shared with the car as he polished the rover’s doors.
And so he came to look at his car as his friend and his ally when he felt beset. At times he would whisper about how they would make a great escape, they’d get on a ship and sail away, perhaps they’d get to the Promised Land.
The where of that place changed for Mr Smith, according to the day, the angle he wore his hat, or what he read in the paper.
Sometimes it was Ireland and home, sometimes across the Atlantic to America (Boston of course) once to the faraway Commonwealth country, New Zealand.
Now Mr Smith was, as we know, an Irishman, his name was Liam. His heart was as big as a paddock and his mind as sharp as a needle, but what he didn’t know, (for he was an orphan adopted by a lovely English couple from the Church.)
What he didn’t know, what his wife didn’t know, what his son didn’t know, and what his daughter only imagined, was that he was a child of the old ways.
What did that even mean in a little English Village with cottages as old as the hills and rolling green meadows with sheep on them? What did that even mean to Mrs Smith at the hairdressers getting her hair set for the week and thumbing through movie magazines and reading about Doris Day? What did that even mean to Mr Smiths son changing into his rugby gear in the school gym locker room? What did that even mean to Mr Smiths daughter?
Well… here we are...... this is how we know the story ; Mr Smiths daughter sat in her room, pen poised, head cocked, listening to…words. The words would come and fill her mind until they just had to burst out and be captured by her pen. They emerged, wriggling around as though to get free and she would have to stab them with her pen and write them down where they were meant to be.
The words told her, before the little car even knew, that the mutterings and murmurings of a great heart and a sharp mind had stirred a little spirit in the car, and answering feelings blossomed on the metal skin, in the foghorn, in the pistons and the gears and the levers.
They told her there was a strength to Mr Smith that he did not need to feign, a strength of spirit and a strange inherent knowledge from the old ways that people thought of as magic.
We can pass our hand under a motion sensor solar light and it shines— magic.
We can talk to people face to face on a screen half a world away—magic.
Mr Smith was a conduit for a life force, he could rouse a deeply dormant spirit, and through that greatest magic of all, through love, he woke a mind, although a metal one fuelled by gas, a heart that pumped the gas around the body and felt things like love and kindness, and a little soul that awoke with hope.
But all of this went on in silence and in secret, and nobody at the time (except Mr Smith’s daughter, who thought it was just a story she had captured) not even Mr Smith or his beloved car, had any idea of it.
On Friday nights, it was the village custom for the men to gather in the local pub for a couple of hours where they could gab and gossip and grumble and guffaw (An awful lot like a coffee klatsch with beer.)
Now, much time had passed, but the family’s routines remained basically the same.
Mr Smith, a little grey around the temples was attending his Friday village beer klatsch, his wife was preparing dinner, reading a magazine, and helping herself to a sip of cooking sherry she kept in the top cupboard, his son was getting ready to go out on a date, and his daughter was curled up on her bed reading a book. The sherry glass slipped out of Mrs Smith’s hand as she dozed, the son was changing his clothes for the second time, and the daughter was biting her nails at a scary bit in the book.
The fire leaped from the onions frying on the stove, up the wall, and was suddenly everywhere. Mrs Smith dozed on, the son’s head snapped up at the noise, and the daughter’s eyes grew round with fear.
The rover, on the other hand, knew just what to do, it started itself up, it cranked itself to life, it pulled its clutch in one and then another half, shifting through its gears it smashed the green folding doors of the garage and sped out onto the street doing wheelies around the corners in its haste and stopped outside the pub ‘The Pickled Pig’ where it blared its horn as loudly as it could.
The men in the pub could not believe what they saw out the windows. Mr Smith’s car, in all it’s shining glory, growling and rumbling and blaring with no driver at all! It caused much confusion and consternation, but Mr Smith could hear, quite clearly, in the hooting of the horn, “Fire, family, danger.”
He ran for the door, beer all over the floor and threw himself into the car, he was only halfway in when the car took off. Mr Smith, hanging by the backseat door yelled back at the pub, “Fire brigade! My family.”
Most of the men were too flummoxed to act, but the publican, with no beer in his veins at all, went to the telephone and did what he should.
Mr Smith and Rover arrived at the house. The fire brigade was already there, had pulled his family from the burning building, and were too busy to notice that he disembarked from the back seat of his car.
His family was fine. He ran to them, sitting together with blankets over their shoulders as the firefighters manhandled the great water hose to douse the flames.
Tears ran down his cheeks with relief and he felt a great wash of gratitude and love for his car. The little rover nearly exploded with the force of the emotion, but instead he blossomed into the truly awakened magical car that he was meant to be.
But great events sometimes cause great change, and though the villagers helped care for the Smith’s as they recovered from their ordeal, they no longer felt comfortable having a beer, or a coffee, or a date, or loaning a good book, to any of them, and they took a wide berth around the Smith’s shiny car. They had no explanation for what they had seen, so they chose to ignore it, claiming Mr Smith had driven to the pub and left his car running and wasn’t that awfully lucky in the circumstances and did you think Mr Smith somehow knew?
The unexplained, the unbelievable, make people suspicious, and they peered at Mr Smith from under their hats and spoke tersely to him and only when spoken to.
And so it is with dreams and destinies, sometimes they take a strange route to fruition.
Mr Smith and his family emigrated to New Zealand soon after, they went as far away as they could possibly go…and of course they took their car.
But, as with all things, there comes change and an ending. The family loved their time in New Zealand. The children became ‘Dollar Scholars’ and went from counting pounds and pence to dollars and cents, their TV went to colour and they watched men land on the moon.
The son, Winston, moved to Australia and played rugby. The daughter, Juliette, went to Canada, where she wrote every day of magical machines to the delight of Canadian children.
Mr Smith, now old and grey, died polishing his car, and Mrs Smith in her grief, followed soon after. The children came home and sold all their old things, including the living car, a family secret that had long ago been accepted as a family fable by all but Mr Smith.
It was an old Rover, and as Mr Smith had polished it’s ageing doors that day and whispered to it that he loved it, it had shed tears of oil on the garage floor, the air had gone out it’s tyres and it’s beautiful paint had begun to peel.
“Find someone,” Mr Smith had whispered as his heart skittered, ‘find someone who sees your magic.” And his heart had stopped and the rover longed to follow.
He was bought and sold, and then bought and sold again, what an ignominious fate for an old family retainer. Bought and sold yet again he was then left alone for a long time. His spirit had dwindled and rarely sparkled on his dull dashboard.
Suddenly there was much activity, and he was sold and bought, let us hope for the last time, and this time shipped away to another island.
Rover was uncertain of his new fate. He waited as a man walked around him, a Chinese man, which Rover found strange, having spent so long alone and unaware of the changes in the country, then the man placed his hand on the bonnet and Rover felt it, he felt a familiar tremor, a delicate thread. It was faint as though the man was only just aware of the latent magic in his veins, but Rover knew the hand was the hand of an artist, and artists are all connected to that strain of something different, that different way of seeing, of hearing the barely audible words, the lightening flash behind the eyes, that indefinable mellifluous melody of magic.
Rover relaxed and knew he had done as Mr Smith had asked of him. Here he had found someone ( or they him) who would one day truly see him.
Rover started his engine in delight. The man was surprised and stepped back. Rover coughed back into silence….
They had time.
Melissa Miles was born in the US, but resides in NZ. She has had many professional iterations, acting, teaching, film-making, but she is now focusing on her writing, and caring for her aging menagerie.
Hear this story read on the Kaidankai podcast here.
Dora Beasley sat in the reclining chair across from her psychiatrist in a small office. “Yes, I have homicidal ideation. Doesn’t everyone from time to time? Isn’t it normal?”
Dr. Blankenship typed something into his computer. “How often do you have these thoughts?”
“Whenever someone wrongs me.”
“Do you have a plan to hurt anyone in particular?”
Dora shook her head. “I told you before, I’m not going to act on them. I could never hurt a fly let alone a human being. It’s just, I’m so depressed. The medicine you gave me doesn’t help at all.”
“It takes two months for the meds I prescribed to show their full benefits.” Dr. Blankenship didn’t even bother to look up from the screen. “When you have these thoughts, do you have a specific method in mind as to how you would kill someone?”
“No, I’m just angry. I don’t think about actually carrying it out,” Dora lied.
“Do you mind going to the hospital for me? I think you may need inpatient care.”
Dora sat up in her seat and leaned forward. “Are you asking me or telling me?”
“I’m asking. I think you would benefit from a stay at the hospital.”
“I don’t have a plan to hurt anyone. I just get mad that’s all. My father’s a lawyer. If you commit me, I’ll sue you for false imprisonment. I haven’t threatened anybody. I’ll lose my job if I go to the hospital.”
The psychiatrist grimaced at the mention of a lawsuit. “My clinic has a crisis call center. If you feel you are going hurt yourself or others, can you call right away?”
“Of course, I will,” Dora said.
“Great, we’re going to change your antidepressants. I think this may be the reason for the homicidal thoughts.”
Dora laughed. “Antidepressants can cause homicidal thoughts?”
“Yes, and suicidal. I’ll need you to check in with me more often, twice a month. The medicine you’re on can cause these types of ideations. Kiesha will give you your next appointment date at the front desk.”
Dora left Blankenship’s behavioral health clinic with a smile on her face. Finally, she had let someone else in on her little secret: She wanted to assist assholes in their journeys to the afterlife.
Monday came around. Dora received a rebuke from her department manager, Stanley Wood: Be late for work three more times and she would be fired.
It wasn’t her fault. Dora had grown up in the countryside, a little town called Eastcliff, Georgia. The city traffic ebbed and flowed like an unpredictable tide. One workday, it would move along steadily, the next a crash would have traffic halted for an hour. Being from a small town, navigating city traffic proved to be a new challenge for her. Dora’s department manager had been more than fair, seeing her tardiness had occurred during her ninety-day probation.
If only she could use the carpool lane.
While stuck in traffic, Dora had seen the ease with which commuters in the carpool lane navigated the congestion. She asked coworkers would they like to carpool with her. They all declined. Dora knew it was because she wasn’t exactly the social type, not as popular at the office as Faye. Determined not to be fired, Dora googled an Uber service. Surely there were others she could ride with, strangers even. She found just the thing she was looking for.
An Uber would stop by her apartment each morning, carrying two other riders. Dora arrived at work fifteen minutes early each day, paying a dollar each mile. She was happy with the service until one day she received an email from an unknown user. Normally, while using her work email, she would delete such junk messages which somehow did not find the spam folder. But the subject made her pause: Spending too much carpooling on Uber? Just pay a one-time fee and never worry about driving in the slow lane again.
The drive to work was twenty-five miles from her apartment, costing Dora fifty dollars a day. She made plenty, but the two hundred and fifty dollars she spent a week just to carpool with Uber added up yearly. The email said only a one-time payment of ninety-nine dollars was needed. A rider would be sent out to commute with the customer. The math was simple and convincing. Think of the money she would save, cash she could use for upscale purses and dresses.
Of course, the email seemed too good to be true. Scams ran rampant on the Internet, but Dora paid for the service. The site seemed to be legit, and she could always report the charges as fraudulent to her credit card company if she had been bamboozled.
That Saturday a knock came at her door. Nobody stood on the other side when she opened it, though. Instead, a package, much taller than her, sat outside her apartment. Her name was on the label; the return address said Carpooler LLC but did not offer a physical location such as a street name or PO Box.
Dora pulled the package inside. Although the box stood at nearly seven feet it weighed essentially nothing. She went to work opening it and cussed in dismay. The package contained a male mannequin, a generic one at that. The tan mannequin didn’t even have any hair much less a face. It was simply six feet of plastic, molded into a humanoid figure. Ninety-nine dollars. She cussed again; your first hunch is always right. She had been scammed.
There was no way to send the package back as it did not contain a return shipping address. And she probably couldn’t report it as fraud to her credit card company as she actually did receive a product after purchase. She sighed. Might as well use the damn thing.
When Monday rolled around, Dora drove her Nissan to work with her “passenger” beside her. She had fitted the mannequin with cheap clothing she had bought from Goodwill. A hat pulled down over its head hid the fact it lacked a face. When she arrived at work, she hid the mannequin as best she could by pushing it down forward in its seat.
A year went by, and then another. Dora always arrived at work forty minutes early, using the extra time to get started on the day. Her department manager was impressed with her dedication, beginning her shift thirty minutes early. Dora promptly received a promotion. She grew so fond of her carpooling friend she gave him a name: Brian.
Her friends from Eastcliff were jealous of the money Dora was pulling down. Her social media accounts always showed her wearing the most exquisite dresses complete with handbags made by Prada and Gucci.
Dora’s country friends wanted to see the city and her newfound success. She bought a car with her raise in salary, a brand-new Dodge Charger Hellcat just to take her friends out on the town when they said they were going to visit.
It was a Saturday night when the doorbell to her swanky studio apartment rang (she ditched her old shabby apartment once she had received the promotion).
Her four best friends burst into the living room when Dora opened the door. They hugged her one-by-one kissing her on the cheek.
Amber wrapped her arms around Dora, squeezing her like a python. “It’s so good to see you, girl.”
Next Jamie came in for a hug. “Your place looks amazing! Can you show us around?”
“Damn, girl,” Kendall said, walking around the living room. “This some nice digs.”
Tracy was the last through the door. She was wearing a white leather skirt that barely contained her ass and a strapless white tube top that was so tiny her breasts flirted with popping out altogether. She held a purse complete with a little chihuahua popping his head out of the top. Poor little bitch, Dora thought, and she wasn’t thinking about Tracy.
Whereas the other girls looked great that night, Tracy was stunning, gorgeous. Tracy had been the most popular chick in high school. With the body and face of a supermodel, all the guys gushed over her. Even after all these years, her beauty was still breathtaking.
“Wow, Dora, you have such an amazing place!” Tracy’s acting skills were worthy of a Razzie. “Is this coffee table made of pine?” She rubbed her slim fingers across its top.
Seeing her friends for the first time in years caused a smile to grace Dora’s face. It completely vanished when Tracy walked through the door and opened her trap.
“Yes, it’s pine,” Dora said.
“But pine is so cheap. Surely you could have afforded something more luxurious with the money you are making.” Tracy’s eyes fell on the TV. “A thirty-two inch? How quaint. Cody bought me an eighty inch with his Christmas bonus last year.”
The room fell silent; the girls waiting for Dora to rebuke the alpha female.
“I don’t watch TV too much or lay about in the living room, so I saved my money decorating in here. I’d rather wear my success.”
Tracy chuckled. “Oh, and that’s what you’re wearing for our girls’ night out? Sweatpants and a t-shirt? You look like it’s laundry day, honey.”
“Actually, no,” Dora replied. “You gals got here early. Let me get my things and we’ll go.”
Dora left the living room and went to her bedroom. She reappeared minutes later, draped in an all-black Prada sheath dress, complete with black Prada pumps, and a Prada handbag to boot.
“My goodness, Dora,” Jamie said. “Your outfit is worth more than my car.”
“You look amazing!” Kendall echoed.
“It definitely beats my outfit,” Amber said.
“Aren’t you a little overdressed?” Tracy asked.
Such a thick quiet enveloped the room one could hear a mosquito buzz.
Dora feigned indifference to her friend’s remark. “Are you ever really too overdressed when you look this stylish?” She struck several poses as if she was on a fashion runway.
Tracy flashed one of her trademark fake grins. “That dress is too dark for you, girlfriend. A guy couldn’t see you six feet away in the night.”
A gasp slipped from Amber’s mouth. The other ladies said not a word. They all looked to Tracy, whose gaze was fixed upon Dora like a female lion sizing up a rival.
Dora was the only African American of the bunch. Durnig high school that detail had weighed on her mind like a black anvil atop of snow. Did they really like her? Amber? Kendall? Jamie? Tracy? Four white chicks who lived in the affluent neighborhood of Eastcliff? Or was she some screwed-up pet? A little plaything like the gremlin chihuahua in Tracy’s knockoff purse?
“Oh, girl” Dora gave a flip of her wrist. “I wanted to wear white like you, but it’s past Labor Day. Now let’s be going.”
Kendall and the rest snickered as Tracy crossed her arms.
Dora continued, “The evening is young, but we are not. My, God, it’s been so long girls! But the Fabulous Five is back together, and we can take the years away with a few drinks. I’m buying!”
The ladies all squealed as Dora led them out of the apartment. They freaked out even more when she showed the girls her brand-new car: a pink Dodge Charger Hellcat.
Kendall ran her hand over the hood. “Sweet ride, Dora.”
Tracy was the first to look inside. “Ew!”
Dora sighed. Couldn’t Tracy just be happy for her? She had always been the alpha female, leading the group about. The life of the party. The one that always got the hot guy. Dora knew she should have gotten the paint and seats in red instead of the tacky pink. Tracy was going to point out any flaw she could find.
“What, you don’t like my car?” Dora asked.
“No, I love it, but what’s this grotesque thing in the passenger's seat?” Tracy asked.
“Oh, that’s …” Dora stopped short of saying the mannequin’s name. You didn’t need to give Tracy any ammunition. “A mannequin I use for carpooling.”
All the girls chuckled; Dora lowered her head.
“Dora Beasley breaking the law. Look at you!” Amber exclaimed.
All the girls laughed again, and then Tracy started flapping her lips. “You don’t have friends at work you can carpool with? Maybe a man even?”
Dora shook her head.
Tracy placed her hands on her hips. “In fact, how many guys have you dated since moving here?”
Dora suppressed a sigh, lowering her gaze to the pavement. “None.”
“You better not still be a virgin. At your age, it’s so bizarre.”
Dora knew what she wanted in a man: good manners, great sense of humor, charming, and warming. As a young black woman, she didn’t care too much for the thugs that threw themselves at her. She desired a good man above all else. Unfortunately, those men were few to none in Atlanta. But Dora would not settle for less when it came to a life partner. She’d rather be single than living life in a bad relationship, rather wait for the right partner to lose her virginity to.
“Of course, I’m not a virgin,” Dora said.
Tracy crossed her arms again. “That wasn’t too convincing. We’re getting you laid tonight. But first thing first, this dummy has got to go.” Tracy pulled the mannequin from the passenger side and let it fall to the ground with a thud.
Dora was going to roll with it and let Brian remain there on the pavement until their night was over, but Jamie stepped in. “Tracy, don’t just throw people’s property on the ground like that.”
“That’s where it deserves to be. Dora needs to get out of her shell and make some friends. Instead of riding around with a dummy.”
The only dummy here is you, Dora thought. She didn’t dare say that.
“She has friends. She has us,” Kendall interjected. “Besides, her landlord doesn’t want her leaving such things in the parking lot. Maybe you should take it into the apartment for her, Tracy.”
Tracy made a moue. There was no way in hell she was lugging around Dora’s garbage.
“That’s alright. I’ll get it.” Dora rounded the car and picked up Brian carefully; she had paid a hundred dollars for him after all. Once she pulled the dummy into the living room and sat him in the lazy boy, Dora spoke, “Sorry, Brian. Tracy can be a bitch sometimes. You’ll be back in your rightful spot when that trick leaves.”
Why doesn’t she just leave now?
Because Tracy has been my friend since tenth grade.
She seems like a frenemy
You said it. But she was the only one who showed me kindness and actually wanted to be seen with me in high school. Because of her, I made even more friends. Kendall, Jamie, and Amber came along.
I’m your only true friend. I don’t treat you like dirt.
I know, Brian, but they’re the girls, you know?
The car horn honked. It could only be Tracy.
“I’ll see you when I get home, Brian.” Dora left the apartment and hopped into the driver's seat. “Where to girls?”
“Neon Lane,” Tracy said. Of course, she would be the one to pick the venue for the outing. “I’ve been there once. From what I hear, it’s always vibing. Picked up of a couple of guys there.”
“A couple of guys?” Amber asked. “How many times have you been there?”
Tracy smiled. “I said once.”
All the girls chuckled except for Dora. Jamie said, “Don’t tell me you had a threesome?”
“You know it,” Tracy replied. “One white and one black. I think their names were Chad and Tyrone, but that was years ago. I don’t remember their names, but I can’t forget their bods and what they did to me.”
Dora sighed as the next thirty minutes consisted of Tracy divulging in gratuitous detail her escapades with the opposite sex. Dora wondered if her “friend” did so to make fun conversation on girls’ night out, or to surreptitiously bully her for being a virgin. One never knew with a “frenemy.”
Finally, they pulled into the parking lot of a club, bustling with patrons. A lavender sign on the building’s façade flaunted the name of the establishment: Neon Lane.
“Man, the scene is lit tonight,” Kendall said from the backseat.
Nervousness doused Dora like a cold shower as she looked at the throng of people in the parking lot. The lot barely had any empty parking spaces. Men (boys really) stood about smoking blunts, their hands on their crotches, managing their bad boy impression while women ( girls really) gallivanted about with their breasts smashed together in their tops and their asses hanging out of their skirts. Damn, Tracy was the only one dressed for the occasion.
I’ll kill that frenemy. Dora’s heart raced; her grip on the steering wheel tightened. This was a bad idea, like the first time she went to a high school party with Tracy—it was the last time she went to a high school party.
Everyone eyed the pink Hellcat as it eased through the parking lot. Crap, all eyes were on her. But isn’t this what Dora wanted? To impress her friends and the world with her newfound success? As the Hellcat crawled through lanes of cars, Dora realized she was no different than the thugs leaning against their vehicles with their hands on their junk—she was managing an impression—and she was not used to such.
“Over there!” Tracy pointed. “There’s a spot.”
Dora pulled her Hellcat in between a Mustang and a Chrysler 300. They all exited the vehicle, giddiness overflowing throughout them. Tracy left the gremlin of a dog in the car. Dora cursed in her mind--that oversized rat better not take a dump on the carpet.
Dora and the Fabolous Five marched through the lot to the long line at the door, all eyes on their hips as they ambled by in their best Saturday attire. From there, it took waiting over thirty minutes until the bouncer let them enter the club. Every so often, a quick breeze would chill their bones causing them to curse and shiver. The night just began and already Dora hated it.
Finally, they set foot in the club. The fragrance of body sweat mixed with cheap cologne and perfume wafted through the air. It mingled with the fetid scent of alcohol and cigarette smoke. Dora wrinkled her nose in disgust.
Amber, Kendall, Jamie, and Tracy sauntered through the club like it was their playground, a familiar watering hole that the lionesses frequented often, so much that they were indifferent to the other predators at the pond. Men stared at them with hungry eyes as they walked by; women stared at them with judging eyes. Dora felt out of her element as she tagged along through the club. Why did she think to invite her friends to a girls’ night out? She thought they’d go to a bar out of the way, get drunk and see a movie, then order crappy food at a Huddle House afterward.
They finally made it to the bar. Dora was the last to sit down. Rap music thumped a rhythmic beat on the speakers, music so loud Dora could not make out what her friends were saying.
“You said you are buying, didn’t you, honey?!” Tracy said over the noise called music.
“You know it. Get what you want!”
The girls all ordered cocktails, each one costing nearly ten dollars each. The price shocked Dora beyond belief. A few drinks into the night, Amber grabbed Kendall’s arm and pulled her on the dance floor. Soon Jamie followed while Tracy and Dora watched from the bar.
“Why don’t you get out on the dance floor with them?” Tracy asked.
“I’m not much of a dancer.”
“You can’t come to the club and not dance. What’s wrong with you?”
Dora shrugged. “I just came for the atmosphere.”
“Well, buy me another drink, honey, and we’ll talk.”
When Dora turned to the bartender Tracy pulled out a small container from her purse and poured a brown liquid into Dora’s glass of Brandy. The bartender sat another cocktail on the counter for Tracy, a Moscow Mule. It was her third of the night.
“You know the real reason why I wanted to come here?” Tracy asked.
Dora shook her head.
“It’s the best spot in town for a chick to get laid. In fact, I see two prospects across the way.” Tracy gestured with her head.
Dora turned her gaze across the bar to two guys sitting opposite of them. Both were ungodly handsome, GQ, wearing stylish tailored dress shirts. Tracy waved to the two beckoning them to join Dora and her.
“Don’t tell them to come over here!” Dora exclaimed.
Tracy stared at the eye candy walking their way. “Too late, honey.”
Both men stood over five-eleven, one had brown hair, sporting a faux hawk, while the blond-headed guy wore a quaff haircut.
“Do you mind if we sit with you?” the blond asked.
“Of course not. That’s why I called you over,” Tracy said. The blond sat by Tracy while the brown faux hawk took his stool beside Dora. Dora’s heart pitter-pattered in her chest. She had to steady her breathing to keep from hyperventilating. “My name is Tracy. This is my friend Dora.”
“I’m Lucas,” the blond said. “My friend, here, is Cody.”
Tracy smiled. “It’s nice to meet you two.”
Cody stared into Dora’s eyes with a confident gaze. “The pleasure is all ours.”
Dora smiled and took a quick gulp of her drink, trying to show she was cool. She struggled to suppress coughing and nearly made a moue in disgust. The Brandy tasted awful all of sudden.
“Let us order you ladies a drink,” Lucas said.
Tracy shook her head while playing with her hair. “We had enough to drink. We were thinking or maybe getting a VIP room in the back.”
Lucas raised a brow. “Oh, and what do you have in mind?”
“I was thinking of getting my virgin friend here laid tonight.”
Tracy! Dora shouted in her mind.
“Is that so?” Cody stroked his chin stubble. “I think it’s admirable to be an adult virgin in this day and age.”
“I think it’s cute,” Lucas said.
Drunken laughter erupted from Tracy’s mouth while she elbowed Dora. “You hear that, Dora? He thinks it’s cute.”
“How old are you?” Cody asked.
Dora took a sip of Brandy. It tasted even more terrible. She struggled not to grimace as she swallowed. “Now, you know it’s rude to ask a lady her age.”
“Oh, please, Dora,” Tracy said. “Don’t be so old-fashion. You look good for twenty-nine.”
Cody leaned backward, surprised. “It takes a lot of discipline to be a virgin at twenty-nine.”
A pleasant smile drew across Lucas’ lips. “Since you’ve waited so long, maybe you should stay a virgin until you’re married.”
Tracy gave a dismissive flip of her hand. “Nonsense. Dora came here with one goal, and that’s to get laid. It can be your buddy over there or another guy. You see, Dora and I are part of the Fabulous Five. We can have any man in this bar, but we have chosen you two. So what’s it’s going to be? You going to take us in the back and drill us or what?”
Both of Lucas’ eyebrows rose in surprise at Tracy’s aggressiveness. He never met a woman this easy in all his twenty-two years. He leaned forward and gave Cody a nod. “Let’s get a VIP room in the back.”
Tracy took Lucas’ hand and led him through the club. Cody and Dora followed along, her heart somersaulting in her chest. This couldn’t be happening. Being an incel, she always wanted to have sex, but until recently Dora had always been invisible to men. No, she wasn’t saving herself for marriage, so when Cody took her hand into his, interlocking fingers, Dora did not object. She just hoped he didn’t care about clammy palms. For the first time since they’ve known each other, Dora genuinely appreciated Tracy’s friendship.
They arrived at the back of the club, a section containing four rooms. Signs on the door stated if the rooms were occupied or not. Each door contained a debit scanner.
“Me and Lucas are going to wait right here,” Tracy said. “We’ll use the room right after you two are done, that way we don’t have to pay twice.”
“Damn, you’re a bad chick aren’t you?” Lucas asked.
Tracy planted her lips on his. “The baddest.”
Dora slid her debit card through the scanner. An audible click signaled the door unlocked. Tracy told Dora and Cody to have fun. Dora loved the smile on Tracy’s face. The grin was full of elation. Dora was going to make love for the first time courtesy of her best friend in the world.
Club music whispered through the cracks in the door. The VIP room smelled much more pleasant than the bar, like fresh citrus actually. Or was that Cody’s cologne? The room was lit with blacklight and only contained a single leather couch. Dora had never clubbed at Neon Lane before, but during the ride there, Tracy explained the VIP room was nothing more than a sex lounge, costing a hundred dollars per use.
Cody leaned in and kissed her, his tongue searching the inside of her mouth. Dora’s first kiss tasted of alcohol and cigarettes, but she didn’t mind. They sat on the couch making out for what seemed like an eternity. Then Cody pulled his shirt over his head and helped her out of her dress. He let Dora’s dress fall to the floor in an expensive puddle. At that moment, she didn’t give a damn. Cody pulled his pants down; he was already erect. His hand rested on her head, guiding it down towards his penis.
Dora never performed oral sex on a man before. She only hoped she was doing a good job. Cody’s moans suggested she was doing something right, though. Out of nowhere, nausea seeped through Dora’s stomach. Was it the alcohol she drank earlier? No. She wasn’t drunk, she didn’t even have a slight buzz. The nausea bubbled up her throat.
She blew chunks all over Cody’s junk.
He jumped from the couch, yelling and cursing. “You stupid drunk bitch.”
Dora vomited again on the floor. Her stomach heaved. She regurgitated until her stomach had nothing left to empty.
Cody picked up Dora’s Prada dress and cleaned himself, tossing it back to the floor when he was done. He cursed Dora, calling her every derogatory word in the dictionary. He threw on his clothes and left the room infuriated.
Tracy entered with a feigned gasp. “What happened, honey?”
Dora stood to her feet, sobbing. “I don’t know. I feel very sick all of sudden.”
She vomited again, the Brandy burning her throat on its way back up.
A sly grin slid across Tracy’s face. “Oh my word. Did he use your Prada to clean up your throw-up?”
Tears fell down Dora’s face. This was the most humiliating moment of her life. “I just want to go home.”
Lucas peeked into room; his face twisted in revulsion. “Drunk sluts.” He shook his head and made his way back to the front of the club.
“Let me go get the girls,” Tracy said. “We’ll get you some clothes.”
“I don’t want them to see me like this.”
But it was too late. Tracy was already on her way to alert the rest of the gang. Dora lowered her head in shame while she stared at her stomach’s contents on the floor. The worst day of her life.
Dora walked in the door and collapsed on the couch. Her friends went to the nearest clothing store and bought her a shirt and jeans, using her own money of course. She flung her Prada purse on the floor, the bag with her vomit-stained sheath dress followed. Dora covered her face with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks.
How did it go? You look upset. Brians voice rang in her head.
Awful, Brian. Just awful. She thought
I vomited on a guy’s junk while giving him oral sex.
That bitch Tracy slipped something into your drink.
You’re just trying to cheer me up. I had too much Brandy, that’s all.
Dora shook her head. She was losing her damn mind, talking to a mannequin.
Dora decided she needed to get something on her stomach. She went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, finding a T-bone steak. The raw steak was completely brown instead of red. She opened the pack, the stench of the spoiled meat hitting her nostrils. Who gave a shit the steak was past its expiration date? After pan-frying it, she tossed the steak on a plate and sawed through it with a knife.
How Dora wished the steak was Tracy’s neck, wished she had the courage to do what she always contemplated. She cut through the meat, the knife scratching against the plate, imagining it was her friend’s throat, fantasizing about the knife scraping bone. A smile crossed her face. She did have the resolve to go through with it. All she needed was a bottle of liquid courage. Just another shot of Brandy or two or six. She didn’t give a damn if she puked her lower intestines up her throat. As long as Tracy got what she had coming.
Tracy finally made it back home to Eastcliff. It was a long drive and an unpleasant one as well. Rain fell hard; although her windshield wipers slid back and forth furiously, Tracy could barely make out the road in front of her. White beams from headlights mingled with the rain on the windshield blinding her as other cars passed. Tracy hated driving in the rain, but she absolutely loathed Dora’s newfound success even more. Tracy had it all in high school: looks, popularity, social capital, and here was Roseanne Bar sitting on top of the world, her fat ass smothering the north pole.
Tracy snickered to herself. Roseanne, that’s what she used to call Dora in high school, which was constructive criticism of course. Back in the day, Dora had a body like Eggman Robotnik from the stupid video game she liked to play. What was it? Son? Son something. A woodland critter who could run faster than sound. A teenage girl playing video games. What a loser. Tracy took it upon herself to get Dora out of her box. She only joked that Dora had a body like Roseanne because she wanted her to lose weight so she could gain some confidence about herself. A lot of fat women didn’t know how truly attractive they could be if they dropped a few pounds. Tracy wanted the best for her friend.
Back in high school, Tracy would try and persuade Dora to lose weight through active encouragement. Once, when Tracy’s parents went out of town on vacation, she threw a party at her place. Tracy drank her ass off (she had seduced the forty-year-old neighbor next door when she was fifteen simply so she could extort him into doing her bidding; Charles bought alcohol for the party, a whole keg, and several bottles of liquor). While she was tore up on Tequila, Tracy brought her best friend in the living room
Tracy stumbled around, her arm wrapped around Dora’s massive waist. “Cut the beat.”
Rap music blasted through the room. Everyone kept dancing and grinding on each other.
“I said cut the music!” Tracy shouted.
The DJ ended the track in the middle of the chorus; he had to be courteous to the host of the party after all. The partygoers groaned. They were feeling the music. That was mainly due to the fact they had never consumed so much alcohol before.
“Are you all enjoying my party?” Tracy asked with a drunken, crooked grin.
“Hell yeah!” Jerome Webb shouted. The school’s star quarterback was quite enjoying himself after he led his team to victory over Red Bay with four touchdown passes. He took another swig of his Budweiser. “This is the best party ever!”
Everyone shared Jerome’s sentiment with whoops and hollers.
“Hell yeah it is!” Tracy raised her shot glass to her lips and swallowed the Tequila like a pro.
The party guests cheered her on. “Go Tracy,” one shouted out.
Tracy wobbled on her feet, struggling to keep her bearing. “I got a special friend here. Her name is Dora Beasley.”
At the mention of the name, the crowd reacted in mixed cheers and jeers.
Dora’s eyes fell to the floor.
“Oh come on, guys,” Tracy said. “Dora is my best friend in the world. And this party is in her honor.”
Again, the drunken teens didn’t know whether to celebrate or mock the obese loser standing beside the school’s most popular chick.
“You all know I’m going to the University of Georgia next year.”
“Hell yeah,” someone said. “Go Tracy!”
Tracy belched loudly and chuckled with drunken mirth. “Let me finish. I’ve decided I’m going to be a biology major, and I have the first animal I would like to study right here in this room.”
Behind Tracy stood a white erase board about half the size of one a teacher used in the classroom, draped in a bedsheet. Tracy ripped the silk cover away. The board contained the poster of a humpback whale with a headshot of Dora photoshopped in place of the whale’s head. “I will be studying the American Land Whale!”
The drunken teens burst into raucous laughter. Dora turned, her eyes falling on the poster. She tore from the room, tears streaming down her face.
Yes, her methods were a bit harsh, but they produced results. Dora dropped two hundred pounds after graduation. And now Dora sat on a rung much higher than Tracy on the success ladder.
And the bitch didn’t even thank her for it.
Tracy’s hand tightened around the steering wheel, shaking in anger. Dora had never thanked her for being her friend in high school. After everything she had done for her.
Memories glided through Tracy’s mind as rain pelted the windshield, as the wipers slid back and forth, a montage of her shoving an index finger down her own throat, vomiting the school lunch up in the bathroom. At five feet five and a hundred and ten pounds, Tracy had been a fat fuck her entire life. Dieting and vomiting was not even enough to keep her from being plus-sized. She befriended Dora to help a fellow classmate with weight issues, not because she wanted a land whale around to remind people she herself was fat. It wasn’t because having Dora around showed others how beautiful and fit Tracy was by comparison. Of course it wasn’t.
Now Tracy’s teeth ground against each other, more tightly than her hands wrapped around the steering wheel. Dora was an ungrateful bitch. That’s why she slipped ipecac into Dora’s drink at the bar. And the results were marvelous. That unappreciative bitch vomited on the guy she was to lose her virginity to.
As hatred consumed Tracy’s thoughts, the headlights of her car fell upon something standing in the middle of the road—a human being.
Tracy cussed and cut the steering wheel hard and slammed on the breaks. Her car hit a puddle, spewing it in the air. The Honda Civic hydroplaned across the road. It crashed into a guard rail, skidding against the steel with a metallic screech. The airbag deployed, punching Tracy in the face. Her head snapped backwards.
She groaned, disoriented. The rain still fell hard. The windshield wipers were still going, although a crack snaked its way across the glass. She cussed. What in the word had happen?
The door flung open. Thank God someone came to help. Before she could react, a hard hand wrapped around Tracy’s hair, pulling her head back. Something sharp bit into her throat, ripping through her flesh like a steak knife through a tender cut of beef. First, her body noted the unbearable pain, then shock and panic flooded her.
Tracy’s head fell forward as a geyser of blood spurted onto her new, white dress. She had bought it for Dora’s girls night out. To show she could afford swanky outfits as well. In truth, paying for the dress had emptied her entire savings.
“That’s why you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day,” a soft voice whispered in her ear. “It might get stained.”
Damn, Dora had drunk too much. Even after regurgitating her entire stomach at the club, she still managed to knock down six shots of Brandy. The next day, while nursing her hangover, Dora’s phone rang. She groaned and grabbed the phone off the coffee table. It was Amber.
What could she want? She’s never called me before, not even once after graduation.
Amber’s voice was high-pitched and slid through the phone in a rapid burst. “Dora, Tracy’s dead!”
“Yeah, last night. She died. We don’t who could do such a thing.”
“Slow down, Amber. What happened?”
“Tracy crashed on thirty-eight. You know that bad curve?”
“So, she died in a wreck?”
“No, someone slit her throat after she crashed.”
A smile spread across Dora’s lips as she remembered ripping through the steak with her knife. Serve the bitch right. It was a long time coming. She nearly chuckled when she said, “My, God. Who could do such a thing?”
“We don’t know,” Amber sobbed. “She was so young, so full of life.”
So full of shit also. The shit was bloodletted through her neck. “She was the best friend I ever had.”
“Yeah.” Amber blew her nose. “The police are going to hold her body for a while for forensics. I’ll call and tell you when I hear anything about the funereal.”
“This is so sudden, Amber. How’s the rest of the girls holding up?”
“Jamie and Kendall are devastated. It’s just … who would do such a thing?”
As far as Dora was concerned, the world was done a favor. “I have no idea. They’re so many sick people in this world.” She thought of the conversations she had with her psychiatrists.
“You sound so calm about this. Aren’t you upset?”
Dora’s smile widened. “I’m in shock, Amber. I need a minute to be alone and process this. I think I may have a break down.”
“I understand,” Amber sniffled. “I love you, girl.”
“I love you, too.”
Dora ended the call. She collapsed on the couch in a fit of laughter. Tracy was dead, and Dora freaking loved it.
The funereal was lovely. Mourners packed the church from wall to wall; hell, some stood by the walls since the pews were full. Dora knew her own death would never draw a crowd so large, not even half its size.
The preacher spoke pleasant platitudes, scripture as the pious called them. Ironic, really. Tracy had never lived a life of righteousness and honesty and decency, and yet here were good people shedding tears over the pastor’s words as if Tracy had been some innocent lamb. Death doesn’t make one a saint; it doesn’t erase the evil one had done, the pain they had inflicted on those surviving them. And yet people behaved in such a way at a funeral as to suggest deeds somehow became cosmically omitted when the deceased was returned to the earth. Maybe they should have never risen from the earth to begin with.
The girls all wanted to do something special to mourn Tracy after the funeral ended. They all asked Dora could they ride with her in her sumptuous Hellcat, maybe grab a bite to eat and drinks at the local bar; it’s what Tracy would have wanted, for them to party in her honor. Dora declined, explaining she had to go to work the next day, leaving her friends silently fuming. Truth be told, Dora wanted to be alone that night, not to grieve but to celebrate her friend’s homegoing … to toast her murder.
It proved to be a special night. Dora consumed enough alcohol to put down a sorority. She turned on pop music and danced around the apartment with Brian, embracing him tightly as they waltzed around the living room.
Oh, Brian, how my life has been since you came in it.
How has it been, my love?
Like a dream I wish to have every night.
And so, let’s have it every night.
They swung and swung around, dancing the night away, Dora smiling the widest she ever had. She didn’t care if she was crazy. Waltzing and whispering sweet things to her mannequin lover.
Dora awoke the next morning when the alarm clock went off. She groaned and rolled over off the bed. Damn, she shouldn’t have stayed up all night drinking, no matter the wondrous occasion. She cussed again after glancing at the clock once more. She didn’t even have time to take a shower.
Dora quickly threw on a pants suit. She looked back at Brian, laying on the bed, the toy she placed on his pelvis still fully erect … and still vibrating. Damn, how wasted did she get?
Sorry, Brian, I forgot to turn you off.
That’s fine. I like being on.
Dora’s hand wrapped around the still throbbing toy. I have to turn you off to save your battery for when I get home. Thank you for last night.
No need for thanks. I’m just doing a mann’s job. I’m looking forward to the drive to work.
Me, too, honey.
Dora dragged Brian out the front door and placed him in the passenger’s seat. Even though she used the carpool lane, she still was thirty minutes late to work. She hustled into the building lobby, entering the elevator.
An overwhelming flowery smell hit Dora’s nostrils: Faye Burton’s perfume. Faye was what Dora called an Indifferbot. She looked like the stereotypical hot blonde chick, a Jessica Rabbit with golden hair. Lacking individuality and personality, Faye was a fembot through and through, but due to her beauty, her male coworkers let her skirt the rules (most likely due to her skirt). Dora was pretty sure Faye had maxed out her points months ago, but Stanley wouldn’t fire her. They were indifferent to Faye’s lack of work ethic simply because the twenty-three-year-old woman looked like an Instagram model. (Indifferbot).
Faye smiled widely when Dora entered the elevator. “Dora Beasley, late for work? You see something new every day.”
Yeah, you’re late for work every day, so why you’re talking, trick? “I went to my best friend’s funeral yesterday.”
“Really? Sorry to hear that. You’re hell of a worker to not take the rest of the week off for your friend’s death. That’s what I would have done.”
When you look like a movie star around the office you can do that with the sleezy male leadership here. “Yeah, my friend’s gone but the world is still spinning which means my bills still need to be paid.”
“Is there a favor I can ask you?” Faye said.
“Can I ride with you to and from work for a few weeks while my car is in the shop? The transmission went out. It should be ready by the twenty-eight of this month.”
“Of course, just text me your address. I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”
“You’re awesome, Dora.”
The elevator dinged and they both got off on their floor. The rest of the day consisted of Dora nursing her hangover while finishing paperwork. Faye never talked to her again, not at the water cooler, or in the breakroom. Some habits died hard. Kill them with kindness they say. If you’re too kind, the only one who will die is you. Dora would not make that mistake. She wasn’t the one who deserved death.
The day came to an end. Faye followed Dora back to her car after making sure no one would see them together. A baffled look crossed her face when she opened the passenger door. “What’s this?”
“Oh …” Dora couldn’t tell a coworker her secret to getting to work early every day; everyone at the office would know she was committing a crime on her daily commute. “That’s Brian. He’s a CPR training dummy.”
“What is he doing in your front seat?” The look on Faye’s face turned into disgust. That, you’re weird face, Dora had seen many times growing up.
“One of my friends is in nursing school. She left Brian here in the car. He’s a CPR dummy. I was going to drop the mannequin off at her place after work.”
Faye giggled. “Brian. That’s a cute name for such an ugly thing. College students …”
“Yeah, college students.” Dora faked a chuckle.
“Well, Brian, has to move. I’m riding shotgun.” Faye pulled the mannequin from the front seat and sat him in the back.
Dora drove Faye home, a forty-five-minute drive that felt like an eternity. Indifferbot proved to be the correct term. Faye got away with anything at work due to indifference driven purely by her male coworker’s sex drives, and here, as Dora drove Faye home out of courtesy which would be ignored in the future, the bitch could not talk about anything but herself. You’d think she’d reciprocate Dora’s considerate nature, and at least listen to her when she tried to speak.
Finally, after what seemed like forty years, Faye told Dora to pull into the driveway of a Tudor-style home. The house featured a façade that looked to belong in old England. It was two stories with a chimney covered in ivy vines. The damn thing had to cost over a million dollars. Dora gripped the steering wheel tightly, gnashing her teeth. This was Faye’s home? THIS?!
Faye saw the look on Dora’s face and said with a sly grin, “So what do you think about my new house?”
Dora cleared her throat, trying to hide any disdain, any jealousy. “It’s beautiful.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“How could you afford such a house being single?” Dora asked.
“With my salary of course.”
“Just what do you make?” Dora asked.
“You know it’s against company policy to ask a coworker what her salary is,” Faye replied. “I appreciate the ride. Can you pick me up tomorrow?”
Faye left the car and ambled up her driveway. Dora didn’t bother watching Faye enter the home. She reversed back into the street, put her Hellcat in drive, and punched it home, all the while thinking of how the Indifferbot owned a multimillion-dollar home while she was stuck with a studio apartment … even though she was ranked higher on the corporate ladder than Faye.
Dinner time came. Another cheap steak was on the menu. Dora softened the steak up with a tenderizing hammer. She slammed it down into the meat. I work twice as hard as that bitch and yet she makes twice as more. And for what? For sleeping with the bosses! Yes, that has to be it.
She banged the hammer down again against the steak, imaging the beef was Faye’s skull. How wonderful it would be to hear bone crack against that hammer. She brought it down again and again and again, the dishes on the counter rattling with each strike. That bitch has to die.
Jake Aubrey loved his wife’s looks but didn’t like her lack of enthusiasm for sex. Sure, she had no problem spending his money, but when it came to spending quality time in the bed, she always had a headache, or was tired from work, or was on her period. That wasn’t a problem, though, because prostitutes always put out.
“No cuddling,” Faye said. “You may sleep in the guest room. Leave the three hundred on the dresser on your way out.”
Jake’s heart dropped. He thought Faye actually liked him. She was so sensual in bed, for a prostitute anyway. At that moment, Jake realized he not only craved sex, but deep intimacy as well. Maybe his marriage was on its final leg. He left bed with a sagging heart and tossed the money on the dresser on his way out.
Faye took a shower after Jake left the room. You couldn’t be too safe with a part-time job such as hers. She prided herself on being the cleanest call girl in the city: no kissing on the lips, no oral sex, no condomless penetration, and a ten-minute shower afterward to boot.
It was the oldest profession in the world because it paid well and there was always someone willing to buy the product. Faye laughed to herself as she lathered antibacterial soap across her breasts. Men like Jake couldn’t see their wives didn’t want to put out because their husbands simply were horrible at lovemaking. You show a woman you love her in bed and make her reach climax over and over, and she’ll want you every night … Men … so blind to their own mediocrity.
After the shower, Faye threw on her nightgown and locked the three hundred dollars Jake left on the dresser in the safe under her bed. One man a night, three hundred bucks each. Being a sexy twenty-three-year-old beats any diploma.
She lay in bed in her nightgown after rolling a nice blunt of gas weed, listening to music. The high hit her quick. Yeah, it was gas, alright. The musical notes of Chopin’s wonderful Nocturns washed over her. She closed her eyes savoring the beauty of melody. Damn, her life was good.
Something hard smashed into her skull.
Faye would have cried out in pain, but the blunt force knocked her into a hazy stupor. Her eyes opened. The silhouette of a human stood over her in the darkness. Streetlight gleamed through the window, shining on the tenderizing hammer the intruder held. Faye could not tell if the figure was male or female. But then a horrible thought streaked through her shattered mind. Jake. It was Jake.
The tenderizing hammer struck against Faye’s skull again. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. Then another blow came and another until darkness consumed her consciousness.
Dora pulled to the curb outside of Faye’s luxurious home. Police cars filled the driveway. Yellow tape wrapped around the home, blocking all the exits. Dora exited her Hellcat and walked up the driveway. Two policemen stood at a squad car, its turret lights spinning about and about.
“What happened here?” she asked the officers.
“This is a murder scene,” one replied. “We need you to get back in your vehicle and leave.”
“My God, is Faye alright?”
The officer lowered his head. “She’s dead, an apparent homicide. A suspect has been apprehended.”
Dora’s heart jumped in delight upon the words. “My Lord. I can’t believe someone would do such a thing.”
“It happens more often than you think in this city,” the officer said. “We need you to return to your car and vacate the premises.”
Dora didn’t argue. She sauntered back to her Hellcat with a grin on her face. The sun shone brightly. A gust of wind played with her hair, bringing with it the scent of the city. Such a lovely day.
Dora cranked up and left the murder scene. After a few blocks, she pulled over to the curb and retrieved the mannequin from the trunk of her car. Placing him gently in the front seat, Dora whispered, “Sorry, Brian for the inconvenience. Making you ride in the trunk like that. It’s just some people wouldn’t understand our relationship. Don’t worry, though. That Indefferbot Faye has been taken care of. You won’t have to ride in the trunk ever again.
Thank you, sweetheart. I hated it back there.
Dora hugged the mannequin. I know, honey. I’m so sorry. It won’t ever happen again.
Even though she went miles out of her own way to pick up a deceased woman, Dora made it to work with ten minutes to spare. Her Hellcat scooted right along in the carpool lane. The day turned out to be the best eight hours at the office Dora had ever experienced. Word of Faye’s murder filled every cubicle, occupied every conversation at the water cooler. Dora feigned sorrow; she couldn’t let people know she celebrated the thot’s demise. But once Dora got home, Brian and she danced around the apartment all night long until they went to bed, her riding his vibrating penis, orgasms washing over her until she fell by Brian’s side, falling into blissful sleep. Brian was the best antidepressant one could buy.
The next day, Stanley, the department manager, entered Dora’s cubicle. A lanky man, incredibly thin in his dress shirt, with rainbow suspenders entered after him. He stood a little over six-two and wore thick glasses.
“Dora this is Maurice Clinton. He’s a new hire here. He’ll be working alongside you in your cubicle.”
Dora feigned a smile. Being extremely introverted, she preferred to work alone, but her workspace was a two-person cubicle. She dreaded the day when another person would be assigned the computer adjacent to her. “It’s nice to meet you, Maurice.”
Maurice extended his hand. It swallowed hers. “Likewise.”
“Dora is one of our best workers,” Stanley said. “You’ll be in good hands with her.”
The compliment made Dora smile. Yes, she was a good worker. She had earned all of her accolades, unlike the Indifferbot Faye. When Dora received praise from upper management, it was authentic; it was due to hard work and conscientiousness, not based on how many penises she had blown at the office.
“I’ll leave you two to it,” Stanley said. He left the cubicle.
Months went by. Dora enjoyed working with Maurice. The prospect of having another coworker sitting adjacent to her worried Dora at first, but Maurice turned out to be as introverted as she. He rarely spoke but when he did, he said things of substance. During the slow mundane downtime, he and Dora chatted about everything from science to politics to video games. Maurice was ecstatic to meet a woman that appreciated video games as much as he did. He invited her to play Call of Duty with him on Xbox Live and was impressed when she outperformed him.
And that’s how their relationship started, friendship born from common interests. Soon Maurice was taking Dora out to see Marvel movies, eat at her favorite restaurants, visiting interesting museums around the country.
And then one night, he popped the question. He asked Dora to marry him in the privacy of her own living room, Brian being the only witness. The mannequin had always unnerved him, not because Dora used it so she could drive in the carpool lane, but something else entirely. Maurice couldn’t put his finger on it, but the mannequin creeped him the hell out for some reason. She said yes when he proposed, and they made love for the first time in her bedroom. Maurice spent the rest of the weekend with her, with his fiancé, bestowing presents on her, everything from Gucci purses to new video games. Dora told him never to buy her anything again. She had his love and that was enough. They would be wedded someday and rear children; she told him to spoil them instead. Dora never thought she would ever find peace and happiness. She did so when Maurice came into her life.
Maurice entered his apartment and had himself a beer. His life was amazing. He made good money, had good friends, and met the woman of his dreams. He had been a nerd all of his life and thought he would never find a woman he had so much in common with. Not only was Dora sexy, but she had personality as well. Not only did she laugh at his lame jokes, but she listened when he spoke about politics, science, philosophy, and provided her own opinion on the subjects that keenly interested him.
She was his soulmate; popping the question to her was a no-brainer.
Maurice made himself a ham sandwich, drank a beer, and decided to go to bed. A woman who excelled between the sheets was the best sleep aid. Damn, if it wasn’t enough that Dora was an intellectual, she was a freak in the bedroom as well. He thought it odd. She claimed to be a virgin, saying she never had slept with a “human.” That’s how she put it. But Dora knew how to please a man while engaging in the horizontal tango. Shit, he couldn’t talk. He had never slept with a woman himself. They had lost their virginities together to each other, in their earlier thirties to boot … He absolutely loved her with all his being.
That night, peaceful visions visited Maurice, dreams of Dora and him getting married, rearing children, and living a life of bliss.
In the middle of the night, nature called, the beer running straight through his bladder. Maurice used the bathroom and decided to raid the icebox for another sandwich. The home was darker than the countryside at midnight. Maurice kept the lights off in the rooms not in use to preserve energy and keep the bill down. As Maurice entered the dark living room he stopped in his tracks. An odd vibe suffused throughout his body, a feeling that he was not alone in the home. Being a nerd, Maurice knew the presence he felt in the air could most likely be due to low-frequency noise inaudible to humans, such as the hum the air conditioner emitted. But the AC was not on.
That’s when he saw something.
He could vaguely make out the outline of a human. “Dora?” he asked.
When he flipped the light switch, Maurice’s heart lunged into his throat. Brian, Dora’s carpooling buddy, was sitting on the couch. Laughter erupted from Maurice’s lungs. Damn, he had never been pranked so good in his entire life.
“Dora, where the hell are you?” He chuckled. “You got me good.”
No reply came. Then a thought streaked through Maurice’s mind: Dora doesn’t have a key to my apartment. How did she get in?
“Okay, Dora, you can come out now,” he said.
Again, no reply.
She’s not here, a shrill voice said. Only the words were not spoken. They slid through Maurice’s mind, mingling with his own thoughts.
Maurice spun around, looking for the intruder. “Who said that?”
Why, me, Brian, of course.
Maurice turned back around, his sight falling on the mannequin. The dummy’s head twisted, its neck turning until its blank face met Maurice’s. No mouth, no nose, no eyes. The dummy was an abstract version of mannequin.
The supposedly inanimate object rose from the couch. It stared at Maurice with invisible eyes as it strode forward. In its right hand, the dummy held a butcher’s knife so large the blade was practically a machete. “You made a big mistake, Maurice.”
Maurice had seen enough horror movies in his time. This was the part where the main character engaged in dialogue with the monster haunting his house, asking what it wanted, being paralyzed where he stood with overwhelming fear.
But this was no movie.
Maurice sprinted for the front door. Somehow, even with its stiff legs, the mannequin was faster. It dashed across the room, blocking the exit. Maurice couldn’t even be sure if he saw the damn thing move or not. One minute it stood by the couch, the next it was impeding his escape route. The dummy held its blade tightly in its plastic fingers and swung it at Maurice’s neck. He somehow managed to dodge, the blade scraping his Adam’s apple.
Blood dribbled down Maurice’s neck as he fled. The kitchen gave way to a backyard patio. He could escape the monster through the patio’s double French doors. Maurice ran into the kitchen and thrust the patio’s doors open. On the other side stood Brian, the dummy’s butcher’s knife ready to rip flesh. Maurice slammed the double French doors and sprinted for his bedroom, quickly locking himself in. He grabbed the pillow on the bed and tossed it aside, revealing a handgun. The cold chrome pistol shook in his hands as he pointed it towards the bedroom’s door. The door’s knob turned and stopped. Then it shook furiously, back and forth as the demon outside jiggled it.
Maurice’s breaths filled and emptied his lungs in a fast unsteady rhythm. The powerful adrenaline rush, initiated by his fight or flight response, made his legs gelatin. He kept the sights trained on the door … it rattled with a bang … then another … and another, as the intruder threw its weight against the wood.
This had to be a nightmare. Wake up, wake up.
Then a shiny point slid between the door jamb, the tip of a butcher’s knife. It pried the locking mechanism back. The door swung open, slowly creaking to a stop. Maurice fired his handgun. Deafening gunshots filled the room. He pulled the trigger again and again, until the pistol clicked, signaling it had spent its ammunition.
When the smoke cleared, nothing stood in the doorway.
Sorry, Maurice, but you made a mistake I won’t forgive.
The voice seemed to emanate from everywhere at once. From the ceiling, from the walls, from the Chester drawer. Maurice spun around the room, aiming his pistol at thin air.
“What do you want from me?”
I want you to die, the air said.
Maurice reloaded his pistol and fired in all directions as he fled for the window. He dropped the gun, slid the window open, and launched his body through it, falling into the thorn bush below. He had bought the thorny shrub to deter burglars from trying to enter the home through the windows, now he felt the bite from their spikes as he fled for his life.
Pinpricks of blood dotted his limbs, where the shrubs had punctured. But yet the pain did not register. His Kia Soul was parked across the street, only a few yards away. Maurice dashed to it and jumped into the driver’s seat. He cussed in terror when he realized the key fob was still on his nightstand.
Maurice slowly turned his head, horror consuming his mind. Beside him, in the passenger’s seat, sat Brian … the mannequin’s featureless face staring at him.
In his terrified stupor, Maurice managed to speak in a cracked voice. “What do you want?”
I want Dora, came the reply.
Maurice gazed into the blank face of the dummy. “You can have her. Just let me go.”
You didn’t let me finish, a piercing voice sounded in Maurice’s mind. I have no complaints about you sleeping with my woman … I like to watch … But no one takes my seat. I ride shotgun. Always.
The mannequin sunk its knife into Maurice’s side. He let out a blood-curdling scream as the blade found his flesh over and over. The car shook back and forth violently as the dummy struck. Maurice tried to block the blows, but they came too fast. The knife tore into him over a dozen times until terror gave way to placid acceptance. This was it. He was dying. And there was nothing he could do to stop it. His arms went limp to his sides as the knife plunged into him twenty more times.
The news hit Dora like a ton of cinder blocks falling from space. Maurice had been murdered. Stabbed to death over a hundred times in his own car. Who would do such a thing?
The wake was awful, the funeral even more horrid. To stare at the man who was the first to show you true love in a casket, your fiancé. Dora had handled what life threw at her with considerable grace, but the death of Maurice proved too much. She didn’t know how she would survive this turn of events. Only Dr. Blankenship could offer assistance that could put such a bizarre life in perspective.
“I think I’m a jinx,” she told the psychiatrist.
As always, Dr. Blankenship’s attention was directed at his computer screen, his fingers working the keyboard. “Why do you say that?”
Dora thought deeply about the people in her life who had died a horrendous death by homicide: Tracy, Faye, her love Maurice. “Everyone I think of too strongly dies.”
“Everyone dies in this world,” the psychiatrist said. “I’m going to die, you’re going to die. All the people that have ever walked the earth are dead, and the ones walking it now will die. Do you agree?”
Dora leaned back in the chair, contemplating the question. “Yes, I do.”
“All the people who died before you were born, was it your fault?”
Dora shook her head. “No.”
“All the people who will die after you’ve left this earth, will you be responsible for their deaths?”
Dora smiled. She didn’t think of it like that. “No.”
“Bad things happen …” Dr. Blankenship stopped typing on his computer and turned to look Dora dead in her eyes. “You didn’t hurt any of the people who died did you?”
Dora was appalled by the question. “Of course not. I would never harm anyone.”
The psychiatrist smiled. “The medicine you’re on now seems to be helping with the depression. But because of all that has happened in your personal life, I want you to meet with my social worker twice a month now.”
“Twice a month?”
“Yes, for grief counseling. I know Maurice meant a lot to you. I think it’ll be beneficial for you to talk to Darlene twice a month.”
“That’s not necessary.” I can’t miss work that much, Dora thought. “I have a good friend who’ll help me through everything.”
“Really, that’s great!” Dr. Blankenship sounded elated. “What’s your friend’s name?”
Dora smiled big and wide. “Brian.”
Tyler Marable studies creative writing at Google University. He enjoys good food, good beer, and good people. He is an African American and aims to write fiction with protagonists that are POC, but also aims to write fiction that appeals to all races and ethnic groups. He writes in many different genres, but this is the first horror story of his to be published. His fiction has appeared in The Scarlet Leaf Review, Fabula Argentea, and Bewildering Stories.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.