Charles Perrault, originally published 1697; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story was adapted specially for Classics in the Rain with the wonderful Danie Dreadful. Enjoy Bluebeard in its full glory with this fantastic narration!
There was once a man who had fine houses, a great treasure, embroidered furniture, and gold-plated coaches, but this man was unlucky enough to have a blue beard; it made him so frightfully ugly that all the women ran away from him.
One of his neighbors – a highborn lady – had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He wanted to marry one of them and let her choose which it would be. Neither of the women would have him; they sent him back and forth from one to the other, unable to bear the thought of marrying a man with a blue beard. Adding to their aversion was the fact that he had already been married to several wives, and nobody knew what happened to them.
To win their affection, Bluebeard took them, their mother, and a few friends from the neighborhood to one of his country houses where they stayed for a whole week.
The time was filled with parties, hunting, fishing, dancing, and feasting. Nobody went to bed; they all spent the night celebrating and joking with each other. Everything went according to plan, and the youngest daughter began to think the man’s beard was not so blue after all, and that he was a very nice gentleman.
They were married as soon as they returned home. About a month later, Bluebeard needed to travel to the country for at least six weeks due to very important business matters. Not wanting his wife to be lonely, he suggested she take some friends to the country house and enjoy herself.
“Here are the keys to the two big rooms where my best furniture is stored. These keys are to the good silver, which are not for everyday use, and this one opens the safe containing my gold; these are for the jewelry cases, and this is the master key to all the apartments… Now – as for this little one here – it is the key to the ground floor closet at the end of the great hall. Open them all; go into each and every one of them – except for that closet. I forbid it. If you do open it – I will be greatly angered and resentful.” He said.
She promised to obey his exact wishes. Then, he hugged her, got into his coach, and left on his journey.
Her friends and neighbors did not wait to be invited; they were impatient to see the rich furniture, but they were too frightened of her husband’s blue beard to visit while he was there. They ran through all the rooms, and each was finer than the last.
Finally, they visited the two great rooms with the most expensive furniture. They could not sufficiently admire all the beautiful paintings, beds, couches, cabinets, tables, and full-length mirrors; some were framed with glass, others with silver, and they were the most magnificent they had ever seen.
In the meantime, the wife did not waste her time looking at all these fine things because she was impatient to open the closet on the ground floor. Her curiosity was so strong, she descended the black staircase with no thought to how rude it was to leave her guests, and – in her hurry – she nearly fell and broke her neck.
She paused at the closet door, thinking about her husband’s command and considering what the consequences might be if she disobeyed, but the temptation was too strong to resist. Trembling, she opened it with the little key, but it was too dark to see anything clearly. After a few minutes, her eyes began to adjust; the bodies of several dead women were laid against the walls, and the floor was covered with dried blood. These were all the previous wives of Bluebeard; he married and murdered them one after another. She thought she would die of fright, and the key fell from her hand.
She retrieved the key, locked the door, and went upstairs to recover in her room, but she was simply too frightened. Noticing the key was stained with blood, she tried to wipe it off, but it would not come out; she even tried to wash it with soap and sand, but that did not work either. The blood remained because it was a magical key, and she could never get it clean; when the blood was gone from one side, it reappeared on the other.
Bluebeard returned from his journey that same evening; he received letters on the road stating the business matters had ended well. His wife did all she could to convince him she was happy about his speedy return.
The next morning, he asked for the keys; her hand trembled so badly that he easily guessed what happened.
“Why is the key to my closet missing?” He asked.
“I must have left it on the table upstairs.” She said.
“Bring it to me at once.” Bluebeard demanded.
After several back and forths between them, she was forced to bring him the key. Bluebeard carefully examined it before asking, “Why is there blood on it?”
“I do not know!” The poor woman cried, paler than death.
“You do not know!” Exclaimed Bluebeard. “I know exactly what happened! You went into the closet, did you not? Very well, madam; you will go back and take your place among the ladies you saw there.”
At this, she threw herself at her husband’s feet and sincerely begged his forgiveness – vowing to never disobey again. She was so beautiful she could have melted a rock, but Bluebeard’s heart was harder than any rock!
“You must die at once, madam,” he said.
“If I must die, give me time to say my prayers.” She answered, her eyes bathed in tears.
“I will give you seven minutes, but not one second more.” Bluebeard replied.
When she was alone, she called to her sister, “Sister Anne, I beg you, go to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are coming. They promised they would be here today; if you see them, give them a sign to hurry.”
Anne went to the top of the tower, and the poor wife cried out from time to time, “Anne, do you see anyone coming?”
“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Her sister replied.
Meanwhile Bluebeard held a great sword in his hand and called to his wife as loudly as he could, “Come down now, or I will come get you.”
“One moment longer, please,” his wife said; then, very softly, she cried out, “Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?”
“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Anne answered.
“Come down quickly, or I will come get you.” Bluebeard cried.
“I am coming,” his wife answered; then she cried, “Sister Anne, you do not see anyone coming?”
“I see a great cloud of dust approaching.” Anne replied.
“Are they my brothers?”
“No, my dear sister, it is a flock of sheep.”
“Are you coming down?” Shouted Bluebeard.
“One moment longer,” his wife said; then she cried, “Sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?”
“I see two horsemen, but they are still far away.” She said.
“Thank God,” the poor wife replied joyfully. “It is my brothers; I will give them a sign to hurry.”
Then, Bluebeard yelled so loud, it shook the whole house. The frightened wife came down in tears, her hair in disarray, and threw herself at his feet.
“This means nothing; you must die!” Bluebeard said. Taking hold of her hair with one hand and lifting the sword in the other, he prepared to remove her head. The poor lady turned to him, and – with pleading eyes – asked for one final minute to compose herself.
“No, explain yourself to God,” he said, ready to strike.
At that moment, there was such a loud knocking at the gate that Bluebeard stopped suddenly. The gate was opened, and two horsemen entered. Drawing their swords, they ran directly to Bluebeard, and he knew they were his wife’s brothers; one was a soldier, and the other was a musketeer. He immediately ran to save himself, but the brothers captured him before he was off the porch. They ran their swords through his body and left him on the ground. The poor wife was almost as dead as her husband; she didn’t even have enough strength to stand and welcome her saviors.
Bluebeard had no heirs so his wife inherited everything. She used part of it to marry Anne to a young gentleman who loved her, and another part was used to buy captaincy commissions for her brothers. The rest she used to marry a very worthy gentleman who made her forget the bad time she had with Bluebeard.
A short rant before we begin. I was born in 1988, therefore, I’m quite fond of the number 88. Today, I learned that number is apparently a nazi thing? Fml, are you serious?! Screw that, it’s mine!
Time for another tale of terror from the time we rented the spliced together hoard house outside town. If you haven’t read Rain Showers, I suggest you go there first. You can’t appreciate the horror of this atmosphere without it. This will take place during our second month, before we lost water, but after we lost the dryer. You also need to remember Amy is Hubby’s sister and had a Xanax problem.
* I want to include a reminder. This story is almost a decade old, and Amy has not had a drug abuse problem in several years. We get along famously these days and I’m happy to consider her a sister. She has no memory of these events, but she’s a great sport about laughing at them. *
One day, I will get around to how Amy dumped Rob, but that drama can wait. Today, we’re going to talk about after they separated, when Amy’s electricity was cut off. Whether she forgot to pay the bill or used the money for drugs is irrelevant. The important part is that no one would take her in. We were the only family still speaking to her at that time, and we genuinely needed help making the house livable.
With great hesitation, we said she could stay the week if she helped out. To be fair, she did help a bit. As these things tend to, it started off well. She had food stamps and filled the house with groceries. Was it food we ate? Eh, not really, but we thought, well, at least she’s feeding herself. That will save some money.
Wrong! Let me tell you now, most of the groceries spoiled. Hubby worked during the day, I worked from home answering a phone. Every day, when I drove into town for whatever errands, Amy tagged along. Every day, without fail, she asked, “Can we stop at Fast Food? I haven’t eaten today.”
Of course, she only works the months around Christmas so she didn’t have money. She never volunteered the information, instead waiting until it was time to pay. I wouldn’t offer on principle, meaning we had to play out the same long, awkward silence until she asked for money. The worse part was how she counted the wasted groceries as “paying us back.”
Anyway, the point is, she offered us drugs to help cope with the pain. Our favorite pill has always been Adderall, but it’s extremely difficult for us to acquire. They were a rare treat. Imagine our glee when Amy announced, “You like those? I have a whole bottle. My friend has a prescription, but she hates them.”
“Amy, if you have a purse full of Adderall I need you to get it right now.” I said with the eyes of a starving wolf.
We tried to keep our hopes in check, it was Amy after all. Even as she removed the large bottle from her purse I thought it was too good to be true. Then she opened it, placing it on the table before us, and we stared at a mountain of pure white powder. That’s when I called bullshit.
“No, it really is, I swear! She just takes it out of the capsules so she can rip people off, but this is real stuff!” Amy insisted, spreading generous lines of the drug.
Hubby and I were dubious but had to admit it was a common practice. “You’ve done some already?” I asked.
“Yea, it’s fine, watch.” Amy snorted the first line, and when she didn’t have a seizure, we tried it.
It was Adderall! Can you believe it? We sure as hell couldn’t! I know, I know, ‘but what about your title’ right? Hold your britches, I’m getting there.
We had two extremely productive days thanks to the miracle powder. Everything went so well, we didn’t even mind Amy’s Xanax fits like when she asked the same question thirty times or talked through new episodes of Doctor Who. Everything was aces until we left her home alone for twenty minutes.
Hubby and I drove to the gas station and back, no big deal… or so we thought. Upon our return, we decided it was time for a pick-me-up. I retrieved our powder from its hiding place – it’s relevant to know it was hidden well on one of our many bookshelves. It wasn’t left out in a place for anyone to happen upon. I poured a nice healthy pile, and as I began to separate it into lines, I realized huh, why does it look so funny.
“Hey, come look at this… is. Is this salt?!” I asked Hubby in the opposite of an indoor voice.
(This is one of those times I’m going to reduce the cursing by 90%. It was so bad.)
“Because it is fraking salt! That bitch!” Hubby stormed off to find Amy while a monkey named Jonesy ruthlessly clawed my back for that Adderall.
I spent more hours than I want to admit separating the tiny specs with a flashlight and tweezers. I fully understood how pathetic it was, but I had to try. The worst part was, she didn’t have to do it. We weren’t being greedy, trust me she was like a blood-hound. Every time we pulled it out – no matter where we hid – she was there. She wouldn’t ask for it, no. She talked about how tired she was until Hubby offered.
That was fine. It was a huge bottle, and she didn’t get anything in return she wasn’t already getting. I didn’t understand why she felt the need to ruin the entire bottle to cover the fact she used more. My rage was also divided by the fact she thought salt was something to use for that purpose. I didn’t trust myself to speak when Hubby brought her to the kitchen.
I bit my tongue long as I could, but then she started talking. “I just came to see what happened, is there really salt in the Adderall?”
I glared at her, hoping to induce an aneurysm.
“Because Phoebe and that guy came over while you were gone. They just walked in the back door… and they were standing over there by that shelf when I walked in… they left after I told them you weren’t here.” After an incredibly long silence she continued, “So… I mean. I don’t know them, but could they like…”
Let’s entertain her story while we’re here. The notion of Phoebe and her boyfriend coming was ludicrous. She only walked over if they were fighting. When she did walk over, it was via the rock path to the front door, not the mud hole to the back. They didn’t know the drugs existed nor that I decided to hide something on that shelf for the first time ever.
“Do you understand what I would have done to you if I snorted salt?” There it went. The dam broke and all bets were off.
“I really didn’t…” Amy started.
“Please don’t. I’m begging you. If you’re going to do the deny, deny, deny thing, save it for later. Just get away from me for now, I don’t have it in me to pretend to believe you.” I couldn’t look at her, instead I looked at my tiny white specs and begged Jonsey to let me think.
Amy walked away but didn’t stop talking. She continued professing her innocence as she walked to the living room. My memory gets a little fuzzy here, but somehow I came to stand in the doorway, throat sore, staring at her, Hubby standing next to me.
“How about we go for a drive? It’s not like she can do more damage. I’ll help you sort what’s left when we get back.” He offered.
I suppose I agreed because we were no more than a few minutes away when I realized I left my purse behind. “Shit, we have to go back. I have cash in there.” I said angrily.
“Where did you leave it?” He asked.
“In our bedroom, under my nightstand.” I admitted, knowing what he would think.
“Okay, well it’s not like you left it in the open. She won’t go looking for it, she probably assumes you have it with you.” He tried to be reassuring.
“No, I already don’t like this. We gotta go back.” Money aside, I still had (have) only-child syndrome. I couldn’t accept she wouldn’t want to steal my prized possessions.
We turned around, gone for less than ten minutes when we returned. I almost let myself hope when she was sitting on the couch, exactly as we left her, but I knew I couldn’t breath easy until I saw the cash. I went straight to the purse and opened my wallet. It was empty. Can you guess who Amy blamed? Yes! It was Phoebe again! Wouldn’t you know we just missed those rascals!
I was done folks. I washed my hands of it. “You know what Amy? Forty bucks is a small price to pay to get rid of you. You’re going home first thing in the morning, best of luck with your electricity.” I walked away before I said anything truly harsh.
Hubby talked to her for a few minutes, but I had a monkey to feed. We resumed powder picking and saved more than expected, but it was a pittance of the whole.
The next morning I was gifted with Amy’s reasoning for destroying our white gold. She returned our money and a hefty pile of Adderall powder after waking. Apparently she wasn’t happy just doing the drugs, she wanted to sell some when she realized how much people like it. She was too ashamed to ask for it and thought salt would be the best way to hide her actions. She included, “I don’t remember any of it, but this was in my bag so I guess that’s what happened.” To help maintain a distance from true blame.
We took our possessions back and reassured her she was forgiven. “No hard feelings” as it were. Unfortunately she misunderstood forgiveness as “you can keep staying here”, but we were over our limit. You can only have so many angry, mentally disturbed people living under one roof before someone dies. Hell, we were already stretching that number before she came.
So yea, we dropped her off at her apartment. It was really dark in there, she didn’t have windows, but no one else would agree to take her. I really do feel terrible about how bad she sounds in this, but we all pull an Amy at some point in our lives. Whether you were drunk, high, or just plain nuts, you have at least one story where you star as the asshole. We all do, and we should all be the terrific sports about it she is.
Thanks for reading! I wanted to translate a non-horror classic next, but I seem unable to help myself. I want to have a variety of genres to select from, but I keep getting distracted, I’m sorry. The Yellow Wallpaper is coming soon because I’ve always wanted to read it but never had time. I’m going to try to take a few days off in order to clean a guest room out, but we’ll see how it goes.
Stay safe out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.
Poetry Disclaimer: The below poetry is horrible. Do not read it if you are serious about poetry. It is for amusement purposes only. For full poetry details see Sex, Drugs, & Robbery.
“Everyday Take Away”
28 hour days, Time trickles, slowly fading away. Lost, confused, in a daze, Spinning, twirling, in a haze.
Eyes are the windows to the soul, But mine is no longer whole. Rotten, decayed, black as night, Broken, defeated, screaming in fright.
Love is a useless word, Spoken but never heard. No give and all take, A world engulfed in hate. Whatever was meant to be, Is long lost to eternity.
I hope this final installment of the JustNoMil duology finds you well. The week is flying by, so with your permission I would like to dive right in today. We’re going to start with the first Valentines Crook and I were able to spend together. We were two years into the relationship, but he was on a rig for the first one. The second year, he returned from a two week hitch February 13th. Normally I don’t buy into Valentine’s Day unless it precedes the word ‘massacre,’ but we were excited for this one.
Upon arriving, Crook was unable to keep his special plans secret any longer. The fact he planned anything while at work was impressive. “I was trying to surprise you, but it’s harder keeping the secret now that I’m home. I made reservations at Haunted Hotel.” His voice was filled with pride. Securing a reservation anywhere on Valentines was difficult, but he succeeded with one of the best.
If you read Calling All Ghosts, yes. That’s the place. He knew I’m not big on romance, but wanted to show the effort. Hoping (correctly) a spooky theme would make the holiday more enjoyable, he called in a favor to reserve the best haunt-themed food in town.
As if her spidey-sense detected our happiness, Effie called intent to ruin it. “Hey Sweetie, I just wanted to make sure you got home safe.” Her sobs sounded more genuine than usual. I suppose practice makes perfect.
“Yea, I’m fine. What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Crook shifted into worriedson mode seamlessly.
I assumed she was trying to force him to feed her animals, but that was only a secondary reason for calling. “Oh… I’m fine… you don’t want to hear me cry about my pitiful life. I’m just so depressed about Valentines Day. I’d rather kill myself than spend another one alone…”
You could tell she was desperate by how quickly she brought out the big guns. With Crook’s blindness to the manipulation tactics I memorized in a month, Effie successfully invited herself to our dinner in under 5 minutes. Was I so angry I nearly blacked out? Obviously. Did I make a scene? No. I knew he would get defensive if I tried to explain what Effie was doing. Instead, I took deep breaths. Reminding myself, you hate this crap anyway. It’s only for dinner, just a couple hours. The rest of the day is ours. We’re going to watch anime, smoke weed, and eat Chinese takeout because that’s what gives life meaning.
That mantra got me through the night and next morning. At noon, my happy place was burned to the ground when Effie arrived, unannounced. I stared at her through the window, willing her to disappear, but eventually I was forced to open the door. I motioned for her to have a seat, explaining Crook was still catching up on his sleep.
Effie was having none of that. She walked straight down the hallway, into our bedroom, and shrieked “Wake up Sweetie! Mommy is heeeeeeeere!”
I remained on the living room floor, struggling to breath as a panic attack consumed me. I became deaf to all but my own thoughts. She went in our room. There’s someone in our room, what’s wrong with you? Get in there and killit!She’s going to sit on your bed! Move!
Faintly, distant noises began filtering through the static. I heard sounds that were either dresser drawers or blunt force trauma. Realizing the moans of pain were coming from myself, I assumed it was the former.
Eventually, I see them exit the bedroom, arm-in-arm. Crook disheveled and confused; Effie grinning ear to ear, still talking. “I’m so excited we’re spending the day together. This is the best Valentines ever!”
I physically bit my tongue, terrified to speak. I could already feel the angry tears forming. I knew if I tried to talk, only unintelligible squalls would emerge. The one thing preventing a full meltdown was my invisibility. Effie was only interested in feeding her delusion, and I didn’t fit into her script. I tuned her out, pouring all my focus into tv for the next several hours.
We were 20 minutes away from leaving for dinner when another knock sounded at the door. I opened it to be greeted by a dozen red roses; Crook’s last surprise. Before I could react, Effie pushed past me, squealing like Miss Piggy, and took my flowers.
Smelling the roses, she met my gaze. I’m not sure what emotion she mistook fury for, but I still get angry thinking about how she said “Oh Crook, you shouldn’t have! But it’s not fair to buy me all these beautiful roses!” Looking at me as if I were a homeless person begging for spare change, she gave me the card and one rose. “Here, don’t feel left out.”
(This always bothered me, think about it. Since she handed me the card… she knew, right? Deep down on a subconscious level she can never admit to… she had to know, right? I think she knew.)
I looked to Crook, (still naive enough to think he might correct her) but he stared at his feet, tail tucked between his legs. I threw the card (open for all to read) on the table next to Effie, and finished preparing for dinner.
Seated at the only 3-top in the restaurant, Effie ordered for all of us. When I told the waiter to change my order, she glared at me as if slapped. I held my tongue as she requested a vase for her roses, but I finally understood why she insisted on bringing them. It wasn’t enough to claim them, she needed other people to see; they made it feel real. When I didn’t react to her prompts clearly fishing for a compliment, she became sullen.
From that point forward, she complained about the food and service nonstop. The only complaint I had toward dinner was Effie’s company, but I digress. It was the longest dinner of my life, and we still weren’t free of her. Having refused to drive herself “to a date” we were stuck with her until she sobered enough to drive herself home. After the first pot of coffee, I thought she was faking. It wasn’t the first time she tried to spend the night, but it was thankfully the last.
Thus ended the worst Valentines of my life. For the next and last story regarding Effie, I will discuss her arm/shoulder surgery. Do you know what’s worse than a paranoid, codependent hypochondriac? A hypochondriac who actually has something wrong. I don’t have kids, I’ve never cared for one under 7 in my life, but I would take on five toddlers before going near Effie again.
At this stage, we were years into our relationship, and I was savvy to all Effie’s tricks. When we learned she was genuinely in need, I had no problem visiting her in the hospital or caring for her animals. When she was able to finish recovery at home, I was a fantastic sport. I even walked her to the bathroom a few times (it’s not like I had to go in with her).
What I did have issues with, was how she treated us while we were helping. Each day we did our usual chores, and before leaving we asked, “Is there anything else you need? You’re sure? Because we’re about to go home.”
Every single day she said, “No, I’m fine thanks.” Without fail, 10 minutes after being home, she called Crook, begging him to return.
If I had to guess, I think she preferred him to visit without me (I sure did) knowing he would be easier to manipulate. Let me be clear, after the first week, she was fully functional for everything except lifting or certain movements with her arm. We knew she would use us as long as possible, but even if she didn’t have a walker, there was absolutely no reason she could not walk unattended.
With that understood, here’s what happened three weeks into her recovery. As with every other day, we performed our morning chores, asked if she needed anything else, and went home. We only had time to sit down with a fresh bowl before the phone rang.
“Can’t we just ignore her this once? Just until we finish smoking?” I begged.
“I’m sorry, I just need to make sure she hasn’t hurt herself. I’m not going back today, I’m sick of it too.” Crook answered the phone. It was one thing to lie to me, I could understand that, but it was infuriating when he lied to himself. Let me break their conversation down the easy way as we near our conclusion.
Effie: Hey Baby, can you bring Mama something to eat? I finally have an appetite and I’m craving my favorite pizza place.
Crook: But… they’re right across the street. The doctor said you should be trying to get out now. It might be good for you to go.
Effie: I don’t care what that quack said! He can’t feel my pain! I’ll never make it!
Crook: Okay, fine. If you aren’t ready to drive, just have it delivered.
Effie: Ugh, I can’t get out of my chair to make it to the door! Why are you arguing with me? I’m starving!
Crook: Fine! When did they say it would be ready?
Effie: I haven’t ordered it. Tell them to make sure all these very picky details are correct or you’ll send it back. I absolutely can’t eat it if it’s not right.
Crook: I’ll never get all that straight. Could you at least call the order in? Then I’ll just pick it up and bring it to you.
Effie: No, they don’t like me, they always do it wrong on purpose. See if they’ll get it right for you.
Crook: Fine, I’ll be there soon to get the money, then I’ll go grab your food.
Effie: You can’t even buy your mother one meal while I’m starving to death?!
Crook: Yea, sorry.
People, my blood boiled. I could almost see the bubbles under my skin as the heat simmered throughout my body. I stared at Crook in disbelief, speechless, wondering if his balls would ever drop.
When Crook delivered her food, it was indeed wrong. He insisted she asked forolives, Effie insists she said no olives. I don’t know who was correct, I didn’t hear it firsthand, but I have two equally plausible theories.
Crook subconsciously got it wrong on purpose, sick of Effie’s shit.
Effie didn’t have anything else to complain about, and olives were the first thing she thought to use.
As an adult possibly speaking to impressionable teens, I won’t say what I would have done to the food, but if you’re familiar with the movie Waiting, you have a pretty good idea. The important thing is, these stories are home where they belong. There’s still the matter of my notebooks, but as far as online publications go, I think these were the only ones. Now I can spend the week fully submerged in all the glorious horror of Halloween. I think I’ll go listen to some CreepyPastas while I decide what to write next. Maybe I should start taking requests.
Oh yea, can’t forget the sign-off. You all be safe out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.
Cat Update: #12 has shown me his dingleberries, he is now Heathcliff. He no longer hides under the truck when we go outside but will not receive our pets. There is territory trouble with Percy and Lily, but we’re making daily progress.
If anyone is a fan of the subreddit JustNoMil, this one goes out to you. For those unfamiliar, MIL is mother-in-law, and Reddit has a fantastic community where people discuss their personal experiences. I highly recommend it, they have some gems. Bestie, who has relatable in-laws, introduced me to it knowing Crook’s mother was prime writing material. I posted a four part story about her six years ago, but can’t get into my old account. I want to bring them home to the rest of my crazy.
My only-child syndrome has clearly evolved to a new level. I now see my stories as living things, each in need of my loving protection. Maybe it’s more god-complex or OCD, but either way this needs to be done. They were fairly short, but typed in the subreddit’s speak. Written correctly, they’re too long for one post, but I think I can get it done in two. Back then, I was apparently too embarrassed to admit certain details. That and other deviations will be corrected in this improved telling of my MIL series.
Crook’s mother reminds me of a ginger Aunt Effie from Mama’s Family, so that’s what we’ll call her. We had a traditional meeting, Crook introduced us after our third date. She was kind, seemed normal, asked the usual questions. Was she a little chatty from the wine? Sure she was, but it was Friday night; nothing to raise red flags. By night’s end, I believed we would have a fairly decent relationship. Let’s call it the foolishness of youth.
Effie owned a large, beautiful house (I dreamed of one day inheriting), 5 dogs, and 6 cats. Roughly five minutes from her home, she owned a barn with 4 horses. Like so many others, she too habitually mixed wine with Xanax. As we learned with Amy, that can be a dangerous combo.
The short time Crook still lived with Effie, I gave no thought to him caring for her animals. It made sense; she was older, single, and Crook was being a good son. The first red flag didn’t wave until we moved in together. We transported all our possessions into one home over the course of one very long, hard day. When we finally stopped, we spread a blanket on the floor, plugged in a tv, and laid back, exhausted. Within 10 minutes, Effie called.
“Hey Sweetie, you fed the horses today, right?”
“No, I told you I wouldn’t be able today… remember? We’ve been moving stuff all day, we literally just sat down for the first time.”
“You did not tell me! It’s already dark out, they must be starving! You gotta get over there!” Effie shrieked loudly enough for me to hear perfectly. I was not pleased but remained silent.
“Yes. I did. You’re only five minutes away. You could feed them and be home in less than 30 minutes. I’m over 30 minutes away, and I’d have to get gas. I’m sorry, but do you think you could please handle it?”
“Oh I really don’t feel good, not tonight. I’ll end up hurting myself trying to lift those heavy feed bags…” Effie whined.
It was a long, painful conversation to hear, but at the end, Crook lost. For what it’s worth, he didn’t ride horses, didn’t much care for them at all, but knew they wouldn’t eat if he didn’t acquiesce. Effie rode them a few times, but otherwise simply enjoyed the status of ownership. After returning home, Crook showed me texts he sent, informing her to make future arrangements for the horses. As it were, he could no longer make the drive on a routine basis. He did not receive a reply.
I’m sure most of you have guessed, but she called the next evening with the same question, “Have you fed the horses yet?” Each day they had the same argument with the same result.
I stopped being a good sport after the first day but stayed silent, too timid to rock the boat. That all changed when Effie upped the ante. She grew bold in her demands, adding the cats and dogs to her list.
“Are you serious? It’s bad enough I have to waste time and gas to care for the horses you have nothing to do with but won’t sell; now you want me to come to your house – while your there – so I can clean the litter, feed, and water 11 animals?!” Crook paced, furious. “Well, it’s too bad. I’ve already fed the horses, and I’m not getting back out tonight.”
It was a lie, he hadn’t fed the horses, but she would never know. Each day he still deluded himself into thinking it the last. Never once did he consider feeding them early, as if doing so could further encourage her behavior.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner, but my back started hurting. I can’t handle the animals tonight, I need your help.” Effie cried, complaining of new aches and pains with each excuse Crook gave. She had two litter boxes, neither of which had been cleaned since we moved.
For almost three weeks, this new pattern continued. It evolved into Crook going straight to her house after work, making him 2-3 hours late getting home each night. We began fighting, both our limits stretched to the breaking point. Finally, he agreed to put his foot down. He didn’t have the balls to say a forceful “No!” but compromised by felling Effie we would be out of town for a week.
“I’m sorry, but we’re going to be over two hours away. If you can’t take care of your animals, maybe you should think about finding new homes for them.” Crook spoke kindly, but it didn’t matter.
Effie responded with shock and rage. The tears were instant, her cries deafening. “I can pay your gas. You could just wake up a little earlier and…”
“No! Do you hear yourself, do you know how crazy that sounds?!” He came close to losing his temper but reigned it in. “Please Mom, can you please take care of your animals for a week? I can’t handle this anymore, I need a break.”
We all needed a break. Effie pulled every emotional manipulation in the book, but Crook held strong. After an hour of being called an “ungrateful son whose abandoning his single mother and fur siblings to rot” she finally ended the call with, “Fine, I’m going to call you everyday to let you know everything is done… so if you haven’t heard from me by 6pm, something’s wrong.” She likes to hang up before you can respond. It’s her last line of defense; making poorly veiled insinuations something terrible is about to befall her and it’s your fault.
After no contact all week, she called us the morning we were due to return. “I’m alive, even though you clearly don’t care. I could have been dead and you wouldn’t know since you didn’t check on me once! My back is killing me now, I can’t move anymore. Feeding the horses and bending over that litter is just too much, I need your help. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast yesterday because I can’t get out of my chair except to crawl to the bathroom.” She poured the guilt trips out like they were rehearsed, nary a breath taken.
Her act won her a visit from both of us. I don’t remember why, maybe we had to go somewhere before. Not only did we have to order, pay for, and deliver her food, the house reeked of litter left untouched for a week. I refused to participate in the chores on sheer principle. I almost ignored her when she called for me, but forced my feet to move anyway.
Seriously though, 6 cats, 2 litter boxes, 1 week, the smell. I know my fellow cat servants will all need a moment to shake it off, don’t worry, take your time. We’ll wait… * happy thoughts * … Okay, you good? Great.
She skipped the pleasantries and got straight to business, a trait I normally admire when it isn’t in lieu of delusional rants. “Can you believe he did that to me? Of all the ungrateful! I mean, the one time I need him. You have no idea how much I sacrificed for him! For him to just… Icould have died!”
I resisted the urge to point out she was always in need. It was made easier by the fact she didn’t give me an opportunity to speak. She ranted for two hours while Crook tended her animals and cleaned. When he finally finished it was close to 8:00 and my happy place didn’t provide enough protection to stay any longer. Only severe Southern Hospitality Code of Ethics training held my feet in place and mouth closed as Effie tried to prevent us from leaving.
“Oh Honey, please don’t go. I’m afraid of being here alone in this big, old house. What if something happens and I can’t get to a phone? Please, why don’t y’all stay the night?” She cooed like a witch with a poisoned apple.
After another brazen display of emotional manipulation, Crook agreed. With a sad look and ‘what can you do’ shrug, he said “Just tonight.”
I can’t even. “That’s fine if you want to stay.” I smiled wide, careful to keep my voice non-threatening. “But we have animals and things to do at our house too. I’m going home, let me know if you want me to pick you up tomorrow.” I was already walking to the door, desperate to put distance between myself and Effie.
Fearing (correctly) Crook wouldn’t stay if I didn’t, she threw her Hail Mary. “You two should just move here! It makes so much sense! It’s a big house, plenty of room for my future grandkids, and think of all the money you’d save!”
Nothing raises my hackles faster than the threat of extra roommates. It was too much for my rookie, adult brain to handle. “There’s no way that’s happening. If you need any tips on how to handle your household, all you have to do is ask, but I can’t stay here any later. Crook are you coming or staying?”
That was the moment she started hating me, but it was worth it. Crook came home, and the confrontation won us a week of no contact. It seems a week was her max tolerance for accumulating litter.
Now we’re jumping ahead to the first time I went to work with Crook. If there are new readers today, I quit my job to travel with him because I was too codependent to be home alone for a week. Yes, I acknowledge the crazy, but this isn’t the post for dissecting my inability to cope with separation anxiety.
In the time we are skipping, Effie proved herself capable of caring for her animals when forced. For 6+ months, Crook’s drill site was only an hour away, but 12 hour shifts on top of the drive left little room for sleeping or eating. When all was said and done, he cared for the animals his week off, and Effie fended for herself when he worked. Did they try to con me into carrying the torch while he worked? You bet. Did I ever agree? No. Principles and all that.
Keeping in mind Crook still cared for her animals half the time, he proposed Effie care for our two cats while we were away. I had doubts. “I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of their litter not being cleaned for a week. She’ll say she did, but she still won’t scoop her own… no way she’s going to clean ours. Plus Gambit throws a fit if we’re even a few hours late, he’ll lose his mind if it’s a week!” I was baffled he couldn’t understand the certainty I felt.
“She really is getting better. It’s only one box for two cats, just let me talk to her. I promise, if I’m not 100% certain she’ll do it, we can call your parents.” Considering that a victory, I secretly sent my parents a few preemptive texts preparing them for the situation.
Unwilling to trust his “certain” faith in Effie, I listened to their conversation. It started worse than I expected. “Hey Ma, you got a sec? I wanted to talk to you about going to Nice City next week. We would need to leave Saturday and wouldn’t be back until Monday night, but…”
“Oh! That sounds lovely, but who would we get to take care of the horses?” Effie began listing prospects.
“No, wait! Mom, no, not you, us. I need you to feed our cats while we’re gone. You would only need to come once a day, Sunday-Sunday.” Crook explained carefully.
“I know that… I was just teasing. Gosh, you live pretty far to make that drive everyday… What do I get?” She giggled, playfully.
Crook clamped a hand over my mouth as I tried to scream into the phone. “I know it’s far, I have to do it all the time. Remember? I was hoping we could make it an even trade, you know? I do all your animals when we’re home, you do ours when we’re away.”
The silence was thick with tension, but it was my turn to prevent Crook from speaking hastily. By that time, I mastered the art to her manipulations. At first, her silence was genuine. I could hear her brain whirling, deciding what to wish for as she weighed the deed with our need, but she long ago settled that matter. Now the silence was her power. She imagined us sweating, eagerly awaiting her answer. As seconds ticked by she saw us turning worried, anxious, desperate. What else might we freely offer in that moment?
Well, I wasn’t a rookie anymore. We remained silent until finally, after I had to restrain Crook twice more, she sighed deeply, ensuring it was audible to us. “I mean. I guess. You seem determined to hold anything you do for me over my head, so fine. After I struggle my way through all your daily chores at the barn, I’ll drive all the way to your house.” She added a few sniffles for good measure.
“Thank you, I really appreciate it! Please don’t forget the litter, it’s super important, Mom. K-thanks-bye!“ I was genuinely proud of Crook. I didn’t believe Effie would do litter, but I honestly thought she would handle the food and water. We added a second litter box to help delay the inevitable, but Crook would do no more. He was certain she would really do it this time.
Noon Saturday, we settled into our hotel, pleased with the pictures from our scenic drive. While unpacking, we see Effie has text us the same message. “I’m not feeling well today, I’m going to the ER. If you don’t hear from me in a few hours, something bad happened.”
Checking the time, we see the text was sent over two hours ago. Do you see the genius in this? We had to play her game. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t know if she fed our cats. She was very much willing to bail if it suited her dramatic scene.
Crook called, but got voicemail. It wouldn’t be as dramatic if she answered. She wanted him assuming the worst. He tried a text, “How are you feeling?”
Receiving no immediate response, we find a place for lunch. Assuming she would call when satisfied with suspense level, we had a lovely day shopping followed by a nice dinner. Upon returning to our hotel that evening, we had not heard from her. I feared for our cats’ well-being more than hers. The likelihood of that day being the one she wasn’t crying wolf was too minuscule for even my bad luck.
Crook begins to legitimately worry for Effie which angers me further. Her charade was terrible for many reasons, but making your son believe you might be dead was plain cruel. I did my best to reassure him but had to contact my parents. I should have called sooner, but all I could do was not waste more time.
They were understandably annoyed at the late hour, otherwise agreed without fuss. After arriving at our house, they confirmed food bowls were empty. In attempt to comfort Crook, I hypothesized Effie may have fed the cats but wanted us to wonder. Learning she truly had concocted this charade to avoid the task rather than mere attention seeking angered me most. Thankfully, my parents volunteered to assume the weekly duties, ensuring the remaining days went smoothly.
Once I knew our cats were safe and comfortable, my rage faded quickly. I realized we were truly free. For one entire week, I would have no work, cleaning, responsibilities, or contact with Effie to dread. I was so happy, I shot off one last text. “Just wanted to let you know you’re off the hook. My parents took care of the cats and will continue to do so the rest of the week.” I thought it would give me great pleasure to ignore anything she may later reply.
She didn’t wait 10 minutes before calling. I answered, putting it on speaker for Crook to hear his healthy mother. “How dare you be worried about cats when I’m dying! Neither of you care about me at all! I’m pulling onto your street right now, but I guess I’ll turn around. Thanks for making me waste a trip for nothing!”
Taking advantage of her need to inhale, I interjected “How are you driving? I thought you were in the hospital… you know, dying?”
She hung up and we had no further contact until returning home the following Sunday. Against my wishes, Crook answered. Once again she felt bad and needed help with the animals. Also against my wishes, he agreed to go when she turned on the water works.
Do you think she cleaned her own litter boxes while we were away? If you do, you’re wrong. Her cats were finally fed up, they mutinied. Piss and shit were everywhere. The walls, floors, shoes, beds, you name it – covered! Crook cleaned it all. None of the animals had food or water. I’m grateful to my parents. Had our cats been in such a position, I would probably still be in jail.
Alright! It feels good to have those condensed into one. I’ll get the final section out soon. Hopefully in time to resume my struggle in trying to get another Halloween story out before my excuse to write scary stuff is gone for a year. Thank you all, and remember, be careful out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.
A few things before I begin. Regarding my unintentional cat rescue situation, it happened. We’re back at 12. Friday, as I paced, writing, robe securely caped, I looked outside to see an orange cat eating on our porch. I racked my brain for the name of this cat, baffled I couldn’t remember. When I was finally able to face reality, I tried to approach, but no luck. This morning, it was hungry enough to accept food, but I didn’t get a glimpse of gender. Looks like a new game is afoot. Death to all who abandon their pets.
Regarding my name, I have realized ‘Dubbed’ is a poor alias, which led me to the thought, hey, pen name! Long story short, I wanted it to be fun, and what’s more fun for a writer than Page Turner? I know what you’re thinking, why not Paige? Right? It’s because Paige is a common first name, and Turner is a common last name. There’s probably a ton of them, and it makes me wonder how often people don’t believe it the first time they meet. I bet it’s annoying, plus Page is shorter and I’m lazy.
Lastly, as of late, I’ve drifted away from acknowledging my own toxic traits. Instead, other people have been the focal points of my stories, and tonight is no different. To make things squaresies, I’m going to admit something I’m deeply ashamed of but can’t stop. Deep breath. The way I embody the hillbilly cliche is… I eat my steaks rare… with ketchup. When you finish cringing, we can begin.
We’re talking about Giddy Up western store again. More precisely, my final few months employed there. We didn’t have time to discuss the credit system in our last chat, but any employee or ‘playmate’ could take anything without paying. Instead, we wrote a ticket, signed it, and put it in a basket with dozens more. It got out of hand fast, but there was nothing Don could do.
I’m sure you remember Don; older guy, ran his wife’s dead sister’s store into the ground? You see, Donnie boy thought he was being clever. Not only was it cheaper to pay his playmates in merchandise, he thought “they’re paying monthly” sounded believable. Unfortunately, he didn’t consider how it would look when his “charge accounts” became a stack totaling thousands but never actually received payments.
Even worse, he didn’t realize actual employees would want to utilize the same benefits. It’s Psychology 101, of course people want what others have. Our merchandise was marked up 1.65, it added together quickly. Remember, Jane and Sara are our managers, Liz and Phoebe (from Rain Showers) are other workers like myself. That should be all you need beforehand, now let’s get into how this mess played out.
We set the scene on a warm Monday morning when Don introduces his newest pet, Cindy. This one was truly a piece of work. She wore skirts with no underwear, and we saw her noonie often. Why one would feel a need to brag about deep throating skills, I’ll never understand, but I hear ecstasy is a heck of a drug to do regularly. Personally I’ve only tried it a handful of times, but much as I appreciate a good high, it just isn’t my thing. If you can use it responsibly, props.
Normally, his new girls waited a few weeks before taking free clothes, but Cindy was clearly special. “Hey Gurlz! What’s up!” Cindy arrived her second day, late and stoned on a pharmaceutical cocktail.
“Tell me this bitch ain’t come in here wearing pajamas.” Sara muttered.
Exasperated, I glanced up. “Yea, that’s exactly what it is.” I turned away, refusing to acknowledge it further.
“I can’t take another day of this.” Sara began texting Don. I didn’t get my hopes up, knowing even her voice would be ignored in favor of a playmate.
We sat quietly until Don’s reply. “You kidding me?” She cursed under her breath, glaring at the message.
“What?” I was afraid to know.
She turned to Cindy, “Mista Don said go pick an outfit. Shouldn’t be wearing pajamas to work. Act like you got some sense.” Sara shook her head. Adding, “Ugh, white people! Oh… no offense.”
“Nah, that’s fair.” I shrugged.
Cindy clapped gleefully, “Really? Yay! Thank you, I didn’t have any clean clothes this morning.” When she finished playing Fashion Montage, she was decked out in $389.99 (before tax) worth of merchandise.
“It was ballsy to include the ostrich boots.” Liz grumbled, angry Cindy was wearing the boots she wanted but couldn’t afford. “I mean, it’s bull! She’s been here two days! Does Don know she got boots?!”
“I text him when she was trying them on. He said start her a ticket.” Sara answered exasperatedly without looking up from the calculator.
“I don’t see why you all don’t just start a ticket. You guys hide all this stuff in the back until you can afford it, why? Take it home today, pay later. Not like he can tell you no. What’s he gonna do? Admit they are paying him, just not with cash?” I was being sarcastic. I didn’t even look up from whatever phone game held my attention back then.
“…Why don’t we do that, Sara?” Liz asked.
“… Because I hadn’t considered it. I mean… I am going to pay. I ain’t gonna be like all them. But it would be nice to get those new jeans before Friday… I’ll do it if y’all do.” Sara said
“Oh I already know what I’m getting.” Liz agreed. “What are you getting? You gotta find something too.”
“Ew, I don’t want none of this redneck junk.” I replied, enduring the slaps I knew were coming. My distaste for country-life still baffled them, but they enjoyed teasing me about it.
“Hey! If y’all are doing that, I got stuff I need for my sister’s birthday.” Jane shared my preference for Hot Topic, but came from the same hillbilly breed as the rest of us.
“See, even Jane is, you have to find something.” Liz pressed.
“Fine, fine. Actually, if we’re serious, Hubby could really use some new Red Wings…” Go big or go home, as they say.
“This store won’t make it another year the way he going. That new girl just showed up in pajamas on her second day. What happened? She’s going home in over $400 worth of clothes and a day’s pay! I’m serious.” Sara was already filling in her ticket.
Mob mentality is a strange thing. Before I knew it we each had our own tickets, though mine substantially lower. Try as I might, nothing appealed to me. When Don arrived, Sara and Jane casually asked if they too could “charge a few items.”
Don agreed after a slight hesitation, but weeks passed before he understood how far it went. At that point it was too late to complain. He couldn’t figure out how to tell some to pay up when so many with longer, higher debts never made payments. It was then he realized the store, and subsequently his entire lifestyle, could very well be coming to a tragic end.
“We have got to figure out a way to make more money.” He complained on a day when he and I were co-existing peacefully.
“Everything in your store only appeals to one demographic, why don’t you try buying some Pacsun and Hot Topic? Set it up in the clearance room, there’s plenty of space back there. Me and Jane could run it.” Again, it was sarcasm. I pitched the idea every few months since beginning work there, but never was it taken seriously.
“I don’t know, hell. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.” Don pondered.
“Really? Because I can bring some magazines for you to look at tomorrow…” Jane pounced like a cheetah. I silently cheered her on, stunned.
Hell, don’t we have a bunch of that stuff laying around? We got stacks of dealership magazines somewhere. More of it’s coming in the mail every day, we ought to.” Don grumbled, nodding his head in the general direction he wished us to search.
For once no one complained. We went about the task enthusiastically and were rewarded for our efforts. Whose familiar with BUDK? They sell all kinds of weapons. Swords, knives, blow darts, you name it. Full disclosure right away, I didn’t buy arsenals of battle ready weapons as you will immediately realize when I share the costs. The knives are real, but the swords would take great effort to cut.
“Ooo! Now this is what we need! I’ve never heard of the place, but look at all these weapons! Tasers, mace, samurai swords, they’re… they’re beautiful!” I threw the magazines on the table, saving them for later, and continued my search.
I hadn’t realized Don picked them up until he asked, “Y’all think we should get some mace and tasers? Lots of women might wanna carry one in there purse, look, there are pink ones!” Don held the magazine to Jane.
“Yea, I know I would.” Jane took the magazine, flipping through as Don and others watched over her shoulder. All seemed interested.
I stood back, afraid to break whatever magic spell was creating this miracle. They can’t be serious, I’m not that lucky. Even when Jane took the necessary information to contact the company, I expected nothing. The next day, when they asked my help choosing items for our first order, I threw myself into the task with vigor.
“This is just torture, look at all this stuff I can’t afford! I’ll go broke trying to buy everything we order.” I complained to the girls. Only Sara, Jane, and Phoebe were present. Don and his playmate were on their daily breakfast run.
“You looking at the wrong price. That’s what they want us to charge regular people, we pay the dealer price, look.” Sara pointed to a smaller number. Each item listed a recommended sale price in large, bold print, but underneath, much smaller, were our dealer prices.
“That can’t be. It says $16 for this $80 Ichigo’s Zangetsu… what’s the catch?” My brain couldn’t comprehend such a thing.
“How you think we suppose to make money? They dealer prices.” Sara rolled her eyes and I decided not to push my luck.
An hour later, our order was ready. We started small with mace, tasers, pocket knives, and Zangetsu. The wait seemed forever, but the ship time was only a few days. I was disappointed with its smaller size, but reminding myself of its low cost, a new addiction was born. Upon receiving my $60 at closing, I returned $20 to Don and took my new prize home.
The tasers sold well, and Don asked us to make a new order. Before I knew it, I added an Alien Vs. Predator battle axe with detachable knife for less than $20. I was highly impressed, but when it came time to pay, I couldn’t stop thinking about my measly $175 ticket piled amongst others who owed 10x my current total.
“We have rent due, can I charge this one?” I asked Don afterbeing paid.
He waved me off, knowing he couldn’t say no. Our fancy hunting knives sold like hotcakes, but the more money we made, the more dates Don arranged. None of us complained, we long ago accepted Giddy Up’s fate. The other girls charged boots and Cruel Girl jeans while I expanded my weapons collection.
For our next order, we found truck nuts in all colors and sizes. The ones that lit up were returned by angry customers who were pulled over for their flashing lights, otherwise they sold better than anything in the store. I found a lovely Kit Rae dagger; I’ve never seen the show, but again, pretty and cheap.
Around this time, Don angered Cindy by not having cash when she wanted it. For revenge, she shared their texts with us the next morning. Phoebe, Jane, Sara and I gathered to see the words in print as she read aloud. For your convenience, I will add punctuation and correct spelling, but know the real text was enough to give a Grammar Nazi an aneurysm. These are people who couldn’t distinguish between or/are, won’t/want basics.
Don: Can we meet tonight? I’m having a hard time with the store and family right now. It feels like everything is falling apart, I really need someone to talk to.
Cindy: Poor baby, usual place?
Don: Yea, thanks darlin’. I’m already here, I didn’t know where else to go.
Cindy: Okay, I’m with Baby Daddy, be there in an hour.
Don: Oh. Okay. Well, please hurry, I need somebody so bad right now.
Cindy: Do you have an extra $100 with you? We’re low on diapers and formula, I can tell Rick I’m going to the store or something.
Don: I didn’t bring money, I can’t get more cash without Kay seeing the bank statements. You know I’ll take care of you tomorrow, someone always pays cash. Maybe we can sneak those Montana Silversmith earrings ;).
Cindy:You don’t have ANY money?!
Don: I will tomorrow, you know I’ll make it up to you. We don’t have to do nothing, I just need someone to talk to. All this stuff going on makes me wish I was dead…
Cindy: I’m sorry, the baby has a fever. Rick wants me to stay while he goes shopping. Wanna hang out tomorrow? I can say you need me to work late.
Don: Wow, I see how it is. I actually thought you cared about me, but I guess you only care about my money. Maybe I should just kill myself.
Cindy: Don’t be like that, I got a sick baby. See you tomorrow.
Don: You’re nothing but a liar and con-artist! Just like all the others! Don’t even bother coming in tomorrow.
Cindy: Are you firing me for not coming to see you after hours when I have a sick baby?
We think that’s when Don understood the great power texts hold. He never responded to that message. The next morning, Cindy arrived early for the first time. “Anyway, I just thought you ladies would be interested. I’m afraid I may be coming down with a cold, does anyone mind if I take a sick day?” It was rhetorical, she was already gathering her possessions, knowing she would never return. She blackmailed Don with those texts for a long time, at least as long as the store was open. I doubt he could afford it after.
Don didn’t come to work that week, citing flu as the reason, but we knew better. None of us were brave enough to say anything directly, but the tension when he came around was at a new high. We all grew bolder with our charge tickets in the following weeks. Mine, still drastically lower, never topped $1,000, but some of the other girls came close to $5,000. I bought nunchucks, and tried to learn how to use them via YouTube. Several bruises later they were for display only. I bought a chain whip for no reason other than wanting to say I owned one. Same goes for the crossbow which was cheap and broke a few years ago.
Liz bought a blowgun first, but I got one on the next order, unable to tolerate someone owning a weapon I didn’t. Along with several styles of throwing knives, I found a nifty thing I can only think to call a pocket throwing star. Last but not least, I’m sad report I can’t find my weird chakram. I searched all over Google before I found a picture, but I believe it was labeled as a Soul Calibur rip-off. All of which is moot to me, I just thought it looked neat and it’s genuinely sharp. I have the scar to prove it. Remember the cousin I talked about in Breakfast of Champions? He stabbed me with it on accident. Well… technically it was on purpose, but not with malice… more like a test.
After officially beginning work for Hubby’s aunt (Slushy), I happily resigned. The store was open a few more months before it closed down, but the drama was far from over. Next time we discuss this time period, I’ll tell you about convincing Sara to hire a different cousin who just moved back into town. I was completely unaware she developed a drug addiction, I honestly do feel poorly about what it put the girls through.
Honorable mentions include Urahara’s Benihime, Naruto kunai, Kill Bill samurai swords, and a taser made to look like a Nokia brick-phone. My nephew, who I haven’t had a chance to tell you about, has inherited most of these. He’s 19 now and currently living in another state, but I’ve asked him to send pictures. I figure we have a 20/80 chance he’ll remember, but if he does, I’ll add them later. He is Hubby’s oldest sister’s son, and was 7 when we met. He is my mini-me, my prodigy, and I love the little stinker to hell and back, but holy cow did he have a shit childhood. That’s going to be a longer story I don’t want to write sober, but absolutely worth telling.
I know my last few posts were on the longer side so I wanted to keep this simple. Plus I ran out of internet again and waiting on Hubby’s hotspot makes publishing difficult. I haven’t decided the next topic yet, but I hope to have at least one more Halloween theme before the holiday is over. I appreciate all of you who take the time to indulge my Blogger fantasies, and remember, stay safe out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.
In a town kept alive by retirees and tourists looking for a cheap scare, we knew a place hidden from their money was bad news. Plebes are paraded around in horse drawn carriages through the dead of night. If there’s a storm, all the better. In the dim glow of our gas street-lamps, we tell them stories – grinning each time a passenger shakes with fright. As long as they stay on the safe, paved streets of downtown, they’ve nothing to fear. If they knew what was really out there, beyond those city limits, they would jump in their fancy cars and never look back.
It’s when you drive past the city limits things become less… rehearsed. What used to be cotton fields far as the eye could see were now dried-up wastelands, unusable to the living. Over the years, our ancestors built further and further away, desperate for distance, but unable to leave entirely. A forest grew around the 300 acre area known as the Deadlands, but not even an insect crossed Mother Nature’s well drawn line.
The Deadlands were born in the Civil War aftermath. Losing did nothing to sway the opinions of ignorant Southerners who believed slaves were their God-given rights. In a world where tractors were not yet invented, farming seemed daunting. Cotton, ironically prickly, is painful to harvest. Days turned to weeks, and the sight of freed slaves settling into new lives taunted the rednecks relentlessly. In their world, White Supremacy and religion were one in the same, it was fact, unquestioned.
Five families owned the majority of our state’s cotton supply. On their wealth, the town of Cotton Hills was founded, and on their heinous actions it was doomed. Where their property lines merged, each man donated 60 forested acres to the relocation of freed slaves. Thus the 300 acre plot of death was created.
The town formed a posse to deliver every black man, woman, and child. Guard towers were built, each connected by fences of barbed wire, and any who attempted escape were killed on sight. Eventually, some tried to carve out a life for their families. Primitive shelters were erected, men hunted, women homesteaded. They did okay at first, but as more people were thrown into what whispers already called the Deadlands, resources exhausted quickly. Friends who once worked side by side killed each other to feed their children.
After 20 years, the few who remained were so malnourished, so barbaric, they no longer appeared human. Few original guards remained, most being replaced with stronger sons. Sons with ambitions, and the desire to make their own names. One fateful night, while the old guards slept, their younger counterparts entered the Deadlands, intent to win their freedom with blood and fire. They set out to burn every acre, and kill any who crossed their path. Fifteen men entered, but only one returned, smoke and flame billowing in his wake. He was spotted as he crawled from the tree-line, one leg missing below the knee. The remaining guards gathered, waiting to see how far the man would make it.
When he was finally within ear-shot, David Grayson called to the man, who he now saw was the eldest son of the late Jake Abernathy. “What happened boy, tell us quickly.”
Abernathy moaned in pain but continued crawling until he was only a few feet away. Several men aimed their guns, ready to fire should he attempt to cross the boundary. With a knowing look of defeat, the wounded man dropped his elbows, and with his loudest cry yet, rolled to lie flat on his back. Coughing blood with each strained word, he managed to say, “We just… wanted out. To… to live normal lives… why… stay? We killed them… all. But the huts… there was crying… like a baby.” The old guards sat still and quiet through a longer coughing fit, too frightened to turn away, but all sharing the same thought. No way they could be having babies in there.
They jumped when Abernathy resumed talking. “So many… barely human… all dead. We were… leaving. All of us… they came from above… but what… killed us?”
For several minutes, the only sound to be heard over the crackling flames were the man’s wet, dying breaths. The old guards’ trance was soon broken by something large rustling through the flaming treetops. They ran, hid until morning, and left the Deadlands forever. Whether a cowardly excuse to leave or the good of humanity, the men returned to their families, warning all to stay away. None doubted their words.
Now, we future generations are warned as children, raised with proper fear and respect. Maybe we hate our ancestors for their crimes against humanity more than we fear a legend, but the result is the same. It’s not a place kids dare each other to go, no clubs enter for initiation, no ghost hunters investigate, no Christians pray for it. No one has tried to enter for over 100 years, but occasionally, something tries to escape. The evil merely resides within, sleeping – hungry, always waiting. Unfortunately for Todd and Linda, they knew none of this.
“I think this vacation is exactly what you need while you’re getting better. I checked this place out, and we couldn’t have found a quieter town. It has one of the lowest populations in the country and only old people and ghost hunters go there.” Linda sat in the passenger seat, reading from her phone as she and Todd entered the last stretch of a long drive.
“Yea, sounds great.” Todd knew Linda was trying to be supportive, but hated how she said getting better. He couldn’t stand being coddled; why couldn’t she just say addiction? Was that so hard? It wasn’t his fault he got hurt at work, he didn’t know what the pain pills were doing to him until it was too late. He went to rehab – horrible as that was – yet he was still consumed by the siren’s call every waking moment of his miserable existence. But that’s not the point. He learned to live with that – he can resist the urges now – but what he can’t live with, is Linda’s desire to talk about it incessantly.
“I don’t think we’ll do the ghost tours, there’s no reason to put you through unnecessary stress… but they have tons of hiking trails. It says one leads to abandoned train tracks with a real antique caboose! Now, doesn’t that sound quaint! Oh Honey, do you think we could do that one first?” Linda turned her phone to Todd, showing him the pictures.
After a short glance Todd turned back to the road, trying to force a smile lest Linda notice his annoyance. What 30 year old says‘quaint’anyway? “I’ll look when we get to the hotel, sounds great though.” Using all his willpower, he forced a smirk on his face, and Linda sat back, placated.
Shortly after 6pm they reached their Holiday Inn, exhausted from a twelve hour drive. “How about we order pizza and watch a movie tonight? I want you well rested for another early start!” Linda cooed, already googling the local pizza options.
Todd knew with sickening certainty the moment where he snapped on Linda would come, but he was beginning to worry he would enjoy it. “I think I’ll be fine regardless,” he replied through gritted teeth, then forced himself to add cheerfully, “but you read my mind, movie and pizza sound great.”
Linda’s hurt look faded as quickly as it appeared, leaving Todd to wonder if he’d really seen it in the first place. Most of Todd’s patience was born from guilt. He put Linda through hell with his mood swings and temper tantrums. He never hit her – and thanked the god he pretended to believe in for that mercy – but he had wanted to. At his worst, he wanted to grab her head, force her mouth shut, and keep it that way – but he didn’t. That’s what mattered. He still got the shakes when he thought of that all-consuming rage. In the end, it was the reason he agreed to rehab.
Logically, Todd knew he and Linda had a happy marriage. They never fought before the accident. The addiction was to blame; they were its victims – both trying to cope however they could – grasping at straws to find a way back to their old lives. His wife was only trying to help.
Keeping that thought firmly at the forefront of his mind – he sat and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Let’s see what we got.” Todd leaned over to view the options. “Oh, you want to get P’zones? We’ll find an old movie and pretend we’re back in college.”
When Linda met his gaze, her eyes gleamed. “That sounds like the best idea ever! A zillion times, yes! Please!”
Todd felt his first genuine smile in longer than he could remember. Linda’s silly use of her old catch phrase – once used to accept his proposal, and now reserved only for him – made him feel, a zillion times, yes, like things might be okay. After a magical evening that truly had felt like old times, they slept soundly in each other’s arms.
The alarm rang at 7:00, and they pried themselves apart to prepare for the day ahead. Both walking on eggshells to preserve the previous night’s magic, they spoke in soothing tones through breakfast. As they exited the elevator in full hiking gear at 8:30, they bumped into an older gentleman who resembled Yosemite Sam.
His name-tag identified him as Richard Davenport, Manager. “Ah, G’morning folks.” He greeted them – also sounding like Sam “I say, lovely weather for a hike! Which trail have you chosen? Might I suggest Buffalo Bill’s Bluff? You begin just east of the river, but it takes you to a clearing on the bluff that makes a beautiful picnic spot.” Mr. Davenport waved a chubby hand over his head, as if painting the scene.
“That sounds lovely!” Linda replied. “Let’s do that one tomorrow, Hun! Can we?” Without waiting for his answer she faced Mr. Davenport once more. “But today, we’re going on this one. With the train caboose.” Linda held out her phone, the trail’s website loaded to her favorite pictures. She watched the manager’s face turn from bright pink to deathly pale.
“You okay, sir?” Todd asked, concerned how quickly the man drained of color. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. We didn’t end up in one of those haunted hotels did we?”
“Ha. No, my goodness, no. I chose a Holiday Inn to separate myself from that part of the town.” Mr. Davenport stammered, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to mop the sweat from his brow. “No, you’ll find no ghosts here, folks. But that trail is a different story, people get lost, it’s not safe. Please, choose anywhere else. They’re a dime a dozen here, all safe, public property maintained by the city. All except that one.” He pointed to Linda’s phone, pictures still displayed. “It’s privately owned by a family that moved here last year. They set that train to attract tourists, but they don’t know what they’re doing!”
“Really? But it doesn’t say anything about being haunted on the…” Linda began pressing buttons on her phone, ready to enter a full blown debate, but Todd cut her off.
“It’s okay Hun, we can check into it some other time. We better get going or we won’t have time for breakfast.” Having already eaten, he hoped she took the hint to play along. She did.
Once safely in the parking lot where they couldn’t be overheard, Todd explained. “That’s how these small towns operate – by sticking together. They probably hate the idea of outsiders horning in on their local legends. Look around, these people don’t have much else. I haven’t even seen a Walmart since we crossed the state line.”
Linda noticeably relaxed. “You really think so? I didn’t want to admit it, but he kinda creeped me out.”
“I promise. Think of it this way. In a town known for hauntings, don’t you think these people would plaster their website with ghost stories if it was part of their gimmick? But they didn’t, did they? In fact, that old man didn’t say anything about ghosts until I made it clear we weren’t here for that.” Todd, seeing Linda’s perk restored, was pleased with himself.
“Hey! You’re right! They don’t, and he didn’t!” For only a second did Linda allow herself to think but what if it’s not a gimmick. Then, imagining the photos she would later post on Facebook banished the thoughts completely. “Wow, we’re never telling anyone I almost fell for a redneck ghost story.” The young couple shared a laugh as they passed a sign informing them they were “now leaving the city limits.”
As they drove, the GPS indicated a left off the highway. The road they followed turned from a black top, to gravel, to dirt in the span of 20 miles. “Wow, we must really be out in the sticks now.” Todd noted, driving slower to appreciate the scenery around them. “We don’t have anything like this in the city, I don’t think I’ve seen so many trees in my life – not in one stretch.”
“I know, it’s so beautiful! I think I could live here.” Linda said, rolling her window down to breathe the fresh air. “You smell that, Hun? That’s clean air!”
The road ended in a large clearing with a parking sign in the center. Beyond that loomed a small, wooden shack with “WELCOME” painted above a glass window. To the right, a brightly colored post marked the trail entrance, and a matching post to the left marked the exit. After gathering their equipment, the couple headed to the shack first.
“Huh, it looks empty.” Todd announced, face pressed to the glass as he peered inside.
“I’m sure it is… there’s no other cars here and look – they have a donation box. Do we have any cash?” Linda asked, knowing they didn’t but feeling guilty.
“Uhh, not in the last 5 years.” Todd laughed, shaking his head. “Oh well, I’m glad we have the place to ourselves. Does the website say how long the trail is?”
“It’s supposed to be four hours. No tricky terrain, just watch for snakes. Hey, we might have time for the bluff today after all.” Linda answered excitedly, skipping toward the entrance.
“Wait for me!” Todd called, running to catch up.
In the first hour, they walked without a break. Linda took pictures by the dozen, but having no signal for Facebook, resigned to save that pleasure for later. Todd walked slowly, enjoying the scenery and not thinking about pills for a change. As he felt his throat going dry, he noticed a fallen tree that looked perfect for a quick rest.
“Hey Lin, you wanna stop for a water break? This looks like a good place to sit for a minute.” Todd was already digging through his pack.
“Sure, I could go for a power bar.” Linda settled next to Todd, laying her head on his shoulder as he drank deeply. “I love it here, we should go to places like this more often. Just listen to all those birds, it’s like nature’s music.”
“Definitely! I guess being raised in a city, I never gave this stuff much thought, but yea. I dig this, we should make hiking our new thing. I wouldn’t want—” Todd’s words were cut off as they heard a shrill cry to their right.
“What the hell was that?! Was that a person?!” Linda’s nails dug into his arm, her eyes frantically searching for the scream’s source.
“No. No, it wasn’t a person.” Todd cleared his throat and tried to sound less terrified. “I think it was a deer. The doe are supposed to sound like humans or something. Danny told me that after one of his hunting trips. Whatever it was, I think it’s finished now. Come on, let’s go see that train.”
They hiked another hour before coming to the caboose, strange cry nearly forgotten. “I should have known they’d put it in the middle – those crafty devils – that’s one way to make sure people do the whole trail!” Linda took pictures from every angle. The selfies took 15 minutes followed by another 20 posing her husband every way she could think. “Ok, that should do! I cannot wait to go through these!”
“You sure you got enough? You only took a few hundred.” Todd teased, slightly flinching at his wife’s playful punches. The woman wore rings, if she caught you just right, those puppies could sting.
“You’re just a mean, ole bully.” Linda joked in a mocking child’s voice, but their flirting came to an abrupt end with the sound of a large animal barreling through the trees.
Both stood frozen, holding each other tightly as the sound drew closer, louder. The trees, thick around them, blocked their view. Mentally tracking its location by sound alone, they flinched when the animal should have burst through the clearing, but nothing came. The noise stopped as suddenly as it began; only silence followed.
“I’m starting to think Mr. Davenport wasn’t so crazy after all.” Linda whined, voice thick with fear.
“No, that’s silly; there’s no such thing. He got in our heads is all.” Despite the hammering of his own heart, Todd tried to seem brave. At least one of them needed to keep a cool head. “Everything is fine, I promise. Look, we’re at the halfway point. We’ll walk to the exit without any more breaks, and this will all make a great story for Facebook, okay?”
“I say yes, a zillion times, hell, fuckingyes!” Quickly, they once again donned their packs, and continued forward.
Only minutes after resuming the trail, trees grew denser than ever. The path appeared to shrink, becoming darker, twisting and turning to restrict their lines of sight. The couple clasped hands, neither willing to admit the feeling of being watched, but they felt it intensely. They progressed from a steady pace to almost jogging without noticing until Linda fell to the ground, screaming.
Todd, unsure if her high-pitched wails resulted from agony or terror, kneeled next to her. “What was it? Are you okay? Talk to me, please! What happened?!”
Linda sat up, pulled her legs to her chest, and scanned the ground around her. “Where’d it go? What was it? Did you see? Did you see? Something grabbed my ankle. Where’d it go!?”
Her words struck new fear into his heart. Something… grabbed? “Hold on, grabbed you? Like a hand? You’re sure you didn’t just trip, I mean we were moving pretty fast?”
“Yes! A hand grabbed me!” She quickly shot her hand out and grasped Todd’s ankle in a vice-like grip. “See! Do you think you could mistake this feeling?”
“I believe you, I was just… hoping… that’s all. Do you need a second? We shouldn’t have let ourselves get so worked up, we need to be more careful.” Todd stood, offering his arm to Linda.
Taking hold, she pulled herself up, but collapsed once more upon standing. “I think it’s broken, I… I can’t walk on it. Why is this happening to us.” She sobbed, dropping her face into her hands.
“It’s going to be fine, here, let’s take a look.” Linda winced as he removed her shoe, but it had to be done. “It’s dark under these trees, can you shine your light? The shadows are playing tricks with my eyes.” He stared, unable to accept what he was seeing, but when the flashlight illuminated the purple bruise on his wife’s ankle, he gasped in shock.”
Terrified, Linda sat forward and instantly regretted it. Wrapped around her now swollen ankle was a perfect handprint. Well… perfect if your fingers were skinny as knife blades and your thumb was twice as long. She inhaled deeply, preparing for another scream, but Todd clamped one hand over her mouth, and the other over the light. “Eeem! Mmm! Grmm!” She hummed, staring daggers into her husband.
“Shhh! Please! I know, but if something is out here, maybe we shouldn’t draw more attention with loud noises.” He whispered close to her ear, relieved to remove his hand when he felt her struggles cease.
Carefully, Linda turned the light off, and returned the otherwise useless phone to her pocket. “What are we gonna do?” Her voice was barely audible.
“We’re going to get back to our car, drive to our hotel, lock ourselves in, and order take out. Because I am starving. You’re going to lean on me, and we’ll hop out of here if we have to, but we are getting out.”
Linda collected herself, dried her tears, and prepared to stand. After a dozen attempts, they conceded it was a poor plan. “I’m sorry, I just can’t! What are we going to do?”
Still catching his breath, Todd was lost deep in thought. He knew he couldn’t carry Linda the rest of the way, he would never lift more than 100 pounds again thanks to his accident and that idiot forklift operator. That only left one other option. Not brave enough to suggest it, he stalled. “I left my phone in the car, let me see yours.”
Linda glared again, hurt and impatient. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that?! There’s no service out here!”
“We have to try something, we can’t just sit here and hope someone comes along to help. I’ll climb a tree, maybe I can text 911 or something.” She didn’t budge. Todd took a deep breath, “Look… it’s either that or I have to leave you here while I go for help. Neither of us want that, can I please see your phone?” Todd held his hand out, waiting.
Tears filled Linda’s eyes anew as she handed him the phone. “Please, not that, I can’t be here alone, anything but that.”
Todd shook his head in agreement, and began searching for a signal. Linda dragged herself to the center of the path, propping her pack up as a back rest, staying alert for any movement in the dark forest. When Todd returned, it wasn’t with good news. “Ok, there’s no signal right here, but I know if I can get out from under all these trees I can at least get a text out. I saw a tall one I could climb easily just before we got to the train…”
Linda stopped him there. “No way, that’s back where that noise was! It’s too dangerous! And too far away, what if something happens?”
“Hun, we don’t have a choice, it’s this or walk ahead with no idea how far I’ll have to go. At least this way we know where I’m going.” He tried to sound confident, hoping to ease her worry.
Linda didn’t like it, but knew it was their only option. “Promise you’ll be careful and come back fast.”
“I promise, and I love you.” Todd kissed her forehead, loaded his gear, and walked away. As he reached the curve that would hide Linda from his sight forever, he stopped for one final wave goodbye.
Todd jogged at a steady pace and returned to the train clearing in good time. Stopping at the tree-line to catch his breath, he felt his stomach lurch. Something seemed different, but what. Making his way across the clearing slowly, cautiously, he scanned the area for any sign of movement. It wasn’t until he passed the caboose, the spot with the little step ladder Linda made him pose on, that he understood what was wrong. His heart leapt into his throat, almost choking him as he remembered how the sun had glinted off the caboose, into his eyes. There was no sun.
It was gloomy under the thick treetops where forest closed over the path, but this was wide, open skies. It was dark, nighttime without stars. If they were storm clouds, they were the blackest he’s ever seen. His mind raced, a storm like that would be on the news everywhere, and Linda checked the forecast at least 50x the night before. It should be a clear, sunny day. But, it can’t be dark already…
“No, it can’t be, we’ve only been here a few hours, this should be the brightest part of the day.” Todd muttered to himself, digging through his pockets. He dropped the phone between the tracks twice without managing to see the time, but even as he stared, mouth agape, at the brightly lit phone, he couldn’t believe it. The screen was technicolor and shattered.
Todd’s stomach lurched again and he thought about pills for the first time that day. So overwhelming was the craving, he momentarily forgot Linda. It wasn’t until the phone rang, that he realized the full extent of this new dilemma. He repeatedly swiped his finger across the bottom, hoping the phone’s other functions remained intact, but screamed in anguish when the ringing stopped. He sat on the ground, rocking, muttering. “What have I done, how long have I been gone? I’d do anything for a few pills. What will I say? How do I explain.”
A loud, piercing scream penetrated his skull. Phone forgotten, Todd leapt to his feet. “Linda?! Linda!” He screamed her name, not knowing if she could hear him, just wanting to stop his thoughts.
It was another deer, it wasn’t her. Is what he was trying to think.
It was her, and you know it. For that matter, you knew the first wasn’t a deer either, but you can’t ignore it this time. Don’t panic, after all, she’s going to scream every time a cricket chirps. Especially now that it’s dark… oh no. It’s dark! If I had pills, I’d crush some up right now and snort one big line. How long have I been gone? What must she think?! How can I explain this… or her phone? Is what he knew.
Moving fast as he dared in the dark and soaked in cold sweat, Todd focused every ounce of his willpower on returning to his wife. The longer he walked, the more anxious he became, and his junky monkey clawed his back furiously. He called to Linda, expecting to see her around each new curve. Only when he reached a clearing with blackened remnants of tall wooden structures did he stop to assess his location. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he visualized every step when leaving the train area.
“Was there more than one path? I didn’t walk toward the entrance, but I didn’t see Linda either. I’ve never seen this clearing, or I would have remembered these… What are these? Burned down deer stands? I want some pills so bad. Well if people hunted here, maybe a cabin with a phone is nearby. Maybe Linda fell asleep… I coulda passed right by her if she did.”
It felt strange hearing his voice break the silence, as if he were in a library, offending other patrons. “Stop being stupid, there’s no one out here. You’re alone in Hicksville USA. You need to man up right now, find a phone, and get your woman to safety. Linda is out there, in a strange place, alone in the dark, depending on you. This is not the time to bitch out, son. Forget the damn pills!” Todd’s inner voice became that of his father’s. A few slaps to the face helped him regain the illusion of control.
With his second wind coursing through him, Todd steeled himself, marching forward as if he could see farther than five feet ahead. He passed the ruined guard towers he mistook for deer stands and hair stood on the back of his neck. Continuing beyond the line of burned and rotted tree stumps from which an Abernathy once emerged, legless and dying, he began to shiver from a sudden temperature drop. Afraid to acknowledge the feeling of being watched had returned – stronger than ever – he desperately called for Linda until his legs shook and throat ached.
“Oh man, what am I doing? I’d sell my soul for a few pills. There’s nothing out here, everything’s dead, there’s not even grass.” He whimpered, teeth chattering as much with fear as cold.
Todd tried desperately not to think of ghosts. If there’s one thing all haunted stories universally agree upon, it’s that chills inevitably precede every encounter. “Nope, screw this. I’m going back the way I came, no way I’m finding a phone out here. There had to be another path; that hotel guy said people got lost here… I was so scared I ran off without the phone. Yea, I ran down the wrong path, hell, the paths are probably marked, this is for beginners! That’s it! I just have to get to the train, and then I’ll find Linda in no time.”
So relieved was he at the prospect of turning back – all fear of Linda’s anger evaporated. He would spend the rest of his life making it up to her. The moment he turned around, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, momentarily allowing Todd to see his surroundings clearly. His knees almost gave out, but somehow, he managed to stay up right.
Due to their long feet and snout-like mouths, he wanted to believe a pack of rabid coyotes were blocking his retreat – but he couldn’t reconcilethat hope while thinking, ‘they’re bald… standing on two legs… and, were those… wings? Or were they extra long arms bent wrong at the elbow? They’re thin as these dead trees, what the hell are they?’ At the moment it didn’t matter; neither did the rain that now soaked him to the bone. What mattered, was running.
He could only go forward. Running as he hadn’t since high school track, he couldn’t get their image out of his mind. ‘Those eyes, they were red. If I looked back now, I would still see their eyes, glowing in the dark. I wish I could die high. Oh Lin, I’m so sorry.’ Another bolt of lightning lit the sky, and Todd saw a small hut only fifteen feet ahead. Ignoring the stitch in his side, he ran with renewed vigor. ‘Please be unlocked, please be unlocked, I don’t want to die.’ Lunging the last few feet, he collided with the door and scrambled for the knob. Tears of joy spilled over when it turned easily under his grip.
He threw himself inside, risking a short glance into the darkness before slamming the door shut. “Holy…” he pressed his back to the door, slid to the ground, and dug his feet in for leverage as the impact of several creatures threatened to break in. He almost lost his hold when the lights came on and the old man spoke.
“Here, move aside.” A deep, rattled voice of a lifetime smoker instructed while placing a thick, wooden beam across the door. “Don’t worry, that‘ll hold ‘em. Come sit and have some coffee, keep a lonely old man company won’t cha?”
Todd stared, stammering but unable to speak. The tall, old man shook his bald head as if disappointed, but not surprised. He poured two cups of coffee, and placed them at the table, waiting patiently. When no more creatures tried to break in, Todd found his voice. “What are they? My wife is out there – on the trail. I have to get to her.” He rose on trembling legs, body aching for the warm coffee despite everything else.
“On the trail you say? Ahh, she’ll be fine for now. It’s you who wandered away. Took a wrong turn at that train is my guess.” The old man let a hint of disappointment out when he said Linda would be okay, but Todd was too rattled to notice.
“How do you know that, who are you? Is this your trail, Mister?” Anger raced through him at the prospect.
“Oh my heavens, no! I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive. No, I have nothing to do with it, but it’s brought me some visitors since it opened, so I can’t complain.” The old man mused, clearly enjoying himself.
“Then who are you? What the hell are those things out there?” Todd tried to keep his voice even, but couldn’t.
“I’m nobody anymore, I just stay in my cabin. Sleeping mostly, waiting. It’s them you gotta worry about.” The old man pointed his cane toward the door, indicating the creatures outside. “They’re hungry, it seems you’ve riled them up; they are Vetti. They’re normally solitary creatures – extremely rare – but special circumstances culminated to create this horde.”
“You’re crazy!” Todd interjected.
Making no effort to hide his amusement, the old man smiled wide, exposing his yellow, rotted teeth. “My dear boy! If I’m crazy, you’re absolutely mad! Those Vetti were humans once you know. Are you familiar with Harpies at all? No? Shame. You see, when humans suffer terrible anguish, when they’re tortured for years, and there’s no end in sight, most develop a seething hatred; an overwhelming desire for revenge, for inflicting their pain upon others. In the most extreme cases, after they die, their souls reek of that hatred and pain, it’s like catnip to the Harpies… and when they come for it… well, you get the point.
“No, I don’t, what happened here? You’re not making sense!” Todd rose to his feet quickly, getting a head rush and feeling dizzy. His hand pressed to his forehead as he fell to his seat. “I don’t feel so good. Please old man, speak plainly, I’m begging you.”
“I’d love to sit around shooting the shit, I really would, but it looks like that coffee is kicking in. I’m afraid we’re out of time.”
The last thing Todd saw was the old man rising from his chair, eyes glowing red. With a snap of his fingers, the brightly lit room returned to darkness. He unlocked the door, opening it wide, “Come brothers, it is time!” He announced, arms held high in victory. “Tell me, which of you will take this vessel and venture forth?”
From the darkness, one Vetti came to stand before the others, snout pointed high, wings stretched open, strutting. The two entered the cabin alone. Several bloody hours and ear-splitting screams later, Todd emerged from the cabin, eyes glowing red. The other Vetti, not yet possessing their own vocal cords to communicate with, were still able to speak to their brother telepathically. What will you do first? They eagerly inquired.
Hubby and I lived in our first apartment for 18 hellish months. By that time, I had a work bestie, Phoebe. I suggest imagining her as Phoebe from Friends, but if she drank heavily and popped pills. She was my age but dating a 45 year old creeper. It wasn’t a fling, last I heard they were still together. Phoebe stayed with Mike through several beatings and trips to rehab, but that all came later. At the time we’re discussing, they were 6 months into their relationship and living together.
Mike owned a double-wide 45 minutes outside of town. There was one gas station 15 minutes away, otherwise they were alone with a few scattered neighbors. His home sat between his grandmother’s and aunt’s, but Aunt (Dee) moved in with the granny when her husband died. He committed suicide five years prior after being fired, and his affairs were made public knowledge. He drove to a secluded area to shoot himself, but Dee never went into their house again. I can’t blame her there, but personally I wouldn’t have left my diary behind for anyone to find.
During a particularly bad rant to Phoebe, she told me about Dee’s situation. Apparently the 4 bed, 3 bath house needed cosmetic repairs, and was available for rent to anyone capable. Due to the work required, rent (water included) was only $300. Life in the country is cheaper in general, but to give you an idea of living costs in my hometown, the rent for our tiny crap-hole was considered cheap at $550.
Hubby and I were ecstatic, it was exactly the kind of work he does. We followed Phoebe and Mike there that evening. The money saved on rent would be more than enough to justify the extra gas cost. “Is… Is that a house or a trailer?” I asked Hubby as we pulled into the driveway.
“That would be a trailer with extra rooms built on each end.” He explained, slightly unsure. After a full walk around, he corrected, “It’s actually two trailers with two additions, none of which match.”
“They don’t expect you to do anything on the outside. There’s no leaks; structure, electrical, and plumbing are solid, but the rooms need to be cleaned and painted. They had pets inside, so they want to rip out the carpet and install linoleum, but that’s the worst of it” Mike reassured as he struggled to open the front door. If his assessment had been accurate, everything would have worked out fine.
“Are the utilities already on?” I asked, too entranced at the prospect of living far from Rob and Amy to be suspicious.
“No not yet, but she already started the process, they should be on by the end of the week.” Mike answered and lead us through the house.
The stench of carpet repeatedly soaked in urine and left to dry assaulted our senses upon entry. The woman was clearly a hoarder, it quickly became apparent why the extensions were done haphazardly. They built where they could when they needed more space. The living room, kitchen, one bedroom, and bath were free of clutter stacks, but the remaining rooms were so full you couldn’t enter. Look, I know this has more red flags than a date who casually mentions living with his mother, but that’s why I wrote Breakfast of Champions first. If you haven’t read it, you can’t follow the thought process through this decision.
Sure, the place looked and smelled bad, but at the time, I was working from home and Hubby did these kinds of repairs for a living. We figured we could be cozy in a week and clean the spare rooms at our leisure. The living room and kitchen alone were bigger than our entire apartment. Honestly, we already had our eyes on a few things. There were all sorts of buried treasures, including a loaded gun hidden in a curio cabinet, but that’s for another day.
We moved the following weekend when utilities were restored. The house was so filthy we asked friends and family for help, but we only got Amy. My parents came, but stressed me out so badly we let them leave. Amy was excited to come, she was fighting with Rob and packed for the weekend. It was better than no help at all, we were grateful.
After checking each appliance and faucet, we learned the fridge was broken, the kitchen had the only functioning sink, the washer didn’t spin, most outlets didn’t work, nor did the guest shower, and a dead rat floated in the toilet. Every second I suffered from Amy’s Xanax delusions were justified when she reached in, grabbed the rat’s tail, and dropped it into a trash bag. “Huh, that was gross.” She shrugged it off as if she were discussing inconvenient weather.
Mike delivered a new fridge, otherwise nothing else was repaired for the 6 months we stayed there. Hubby wears 4-5 outfits daily, we can’t go long without washing clothes. Desperate, I tried to clean them without spin cycle assistance. I rung out each item before throwing it into the dryer, but the best way to describe the resulting pain in my hands is wet-burn. Plus, drying heavily soaked clothing broke the dryer inside two weeks.
We learn fast, it didn’t take long to understand our landlady had no intentions of making the home livable. We delivered our first rent payment in person, believing we would make fast introductions, hand them money, and retreat. Standard procedure. Not for these ladies. Dee and her mother were lonely, chatty women. They insisted we come in to “set a spell.” Thats hillbilly for “we want you to sit and listen to us talk a few hours.”
Scared and nervous we entered the witch’s lair, and again, were immediately assaulted by the pungent oder of urine, but fresh this time. Imagine you’re in a movie theater wearing flip-flops. You know what it feels and sounds like walking on those floors? That’s exactly what their carpet was like. Yes, I said carpet. Let that sink in a moment. If I was going to be trapped anyway, I wanted the conversation to be beneficial. I gave her a list of our major issues, most importantly the plumbing.
“I think we need to address these items before we begin cosmetics. The house isn’t livable.” I wanted to be polite, we wanted this to work.
“Oh my, I don’t know what could have happened, everything worked perfectly when I lived there.” Dee reviewed my list. “But there’s no reason to wait, my son is a plumber and I’m sure he can find a washer real quick.”
It was hard to resist pointing out the last time she entered the home was seven years go, but I managed. “That sounds great, but we can’t wash clothes until then. If he can get it quickly, it shouldn’t hurt to wait. We (Hubby) go through clothes too fast to dirty more with house work. My parents live outside the opposite end of town, it’s almost an hour from here. That’s too far to take clothes every other day.” I made a conscious effort to maintain a smile.
“Ah, I see! Well that’s no problem at all. You can was clothes here while we wait on the new one.” Dee beamed proudly.
I would have worn each pair of underwear for a week before I did laundry in that house. They would smell worse leaving than going. As it is, we burned the clothes we wore inside this first day. I’m not joking. I would like to take a moment to apologize for the sins we committed against the environment, but I was raised in a place that doesn’t believe in science. I didn’t know better, I am truly sorry. They were old clothes anyway, so when the smell clung to us we threw them in the burn pile.
By Sunday afternoon, we filled five 42 gallon trash bags but had no clue what to do with them. We hadn’t made a dent in our closet, where we were surprised to find clothes piled floor to ceiling. No hangers or baskets, nothing folded, just clothes thrown in until it was full. “But wait! Can’t you donate the clothes to charity?” You ask. That was also my initial response. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent we found the rat queen’s nest.
The smell was our first warning sign, but tolerable by our new, lowered standards. Armed with rubber gloves and face masks, we initiated contact with the pile. Rat feces fell from each item we picked up. Some things were chewed and matted together, some were stiff as a board. When the first live rat fled from the pile, we changed tactics. Newly armed with shovels and rakes, we scooped clothes into heavy duty trash bags. Hopefully you now understand why I would be averse to have them in my car, especially for multiple trips. Burning them honestly seemed like our only choice.
When Amy left Monday, we considered our living spaces almost as good as it would get. We obviously couldn’t waste money fixing the house, but we ripped out the carpets for our health and sanity. Once the living room and bedroom were clear, we saw there were very few places not permanently piss-stained. The thought of walking on it everyday was unsettling to say the least. Are you familiar with the felt paper used underneath shingles?
Far from glamorous, but we had tons of the stuff and it put something clean under our feet. After the first two months, we adjusted to our new routines. We learned to brush our teeth in the kitchen, took five minute showers, and never left the safety of our living areas. It was around this time, the complaints about plumbing got serious. We accepted we would never have faucets or the other bathrooms functioning, but Hubby found a leak under our good bathroom. That scared us. If it stopped working, we were beyond screwed. I do not ‘pop squats’ no ma’am.
Every day for weeks I sent messages to Dee and Phoebe, “We have a leak, I’m really worried about it.” I understood they weren’t capable of concern for our general well-being, so I decided to appeal to their needs adding, “I’m mainly concerned because of your water bill. I’ve seen leaks cost several hundred to the water company alone.” That one always earned me a response, but not one I wanted.
“Oh goodness me! My son is a plumber, I can ask him to fix it. Can you maybe just fill up a couple buckets to flush and wash with, then you can cut the water off?” Dee suggested this as if it weren’t the same son who was supposed to provide a new washer. I was skeptical.
We tried it for a few days, but the shutoff valve was ridiculously hard to access, and when days turned to weeks we were beyond our limits with Dee. Each time I spoke to her she behaved as if it were the first time. At the end of the first week she let slip, “My son is a plumber, I can call him to come fix it!”
“You said that last week, have you still not called anyone?!” My calm facade fell momentarily, but I struggled to regain it in her awkward silence.
Finally, she said “I did. I did… but he was busy, maybe he forgot. I’ll call again right now.” It was the first time she ended a conversation voluntarily.
As I’m sure you can all guess, this continued until they received a $400 water bill. Dee called crying, sucking snot back every few words. “What… what happened?!” I thought… but you said you could keep the water off. You… you said… you didn’t mind!”
I never cared for her poor me act to begin with and now she pushed me far past caring about etiquette. “Never once did I say we didn’t mind, I said it was doable for a few days! That was over two weeks ago!”
“I… I’ll call my son… he’s… a plumber.” Dee hung up, but she didn’t call her son, she called Mike.
A few minutes later, Mike knocked on our door, a sheepish Phoebe standing behind him. I knew what was coming. “Ah, let me guess, you heard about the water.”
“Yea, look. We really need to work something out. You have to see it’s unfair to tell her about a major leak and decide to turn the water back on when she can’t get it done the next day.” Mike tried to hand me the water bill, but too many things pushed my rage past the limit of control. I’ll leave out my curses, they’re unbecoming.
He was use to commanding fear and respect from Phoebe and the two old biddies he cared for, he forgot you can’t treat other people that way. I was already in defense mode before he tried to bow up in my front door to push that cray on me. I ignored his outstretched hand completely, and looked past him to Phoebe. “Do I need to show him the texts and calls from the last several weeks or do you want to explain it to him? Because the way we’ve been living it’s not going to be pretty if I have to relive a play-by-play.”
Phoebe tugged his shirt sleeve, “She really has. Non-stop. I told you.”
The look on Mike’s face said it all. Dee called him crying her pity story, he wanted her to leave him alone, so he believed her hogwash without an ounce of thought. Caveman then decided he would bully his way through like he did with everything else. It was only a few weeks until the water was shut off completely. Dee claimed she couldn’t afford a plumber or water bills. She invited us to use her facilities, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know that wasn’t a valid option. Instead we drove to mooch water from family.
Life wasn’t too terrible. It was genuinely better than dealing with Rob and Amy until Hubby had a wreck. We were less than a week into living without water when a car came into his lane. I’m thankful he wasn’t seriously injured, but our only car was totaled. I don’t want to go on a tangent about the wreck, but it took almost 3 months to receive our insurance money, and we were too young for a rental. Once a week, my parents drove us for groceries, otherwise we were stranded. It was kind of fun at first. Hubby couldn’t take jobs, and winter was an incredibly slow time of year for a porch building company. I took a few short phone calls a day, but the rest of our time was spent popping Adderall, smoking weed, and watching tv.
We could cook and brush our teeth with store bought water, that was never a problem when we had so many larger challenges to face. Washing clothes had us stumped, but we worked out a routine of washing at Phoebe’s every Friday while they bar hopped. We grew to look forward to those nights. We were able to have a real shower and toilet. Some of you may be wondering why we didn’t visit regularly, but we just aren’t those people. Maybe if it were only Phoebe, but we hated Mike and I have a super weird thing about potty etiquette.
The first two days without water, we became desperate enough to use each toilet regardless of flush capabilities. Unfortunately, that put us over the max waste limit one can tolerate in their home, and we were forced to find alternatives. Hubby peed outside freely, but to my great despair, I too was forced to pop the squats. Alas, this did nothing to help with pooping. How campers and hunters use bushes I’ll never understand, but Hubby tried walking into the woods on Day 3. He returned covered in poison ivy and red-bug bites. So, what do do?
Well, it turns out, if you take a 40qt pot, and hook a few Walmart bag handles over the pot handles, you’re off to a good start. No matter what, don’t forget to hook those handles. Learn from our mistake, you don’t want to clean your own. Then you need four 4×4 cut offs taller than your pot, 6 inches is ideal. This requires a flat, even surface, and it helps if your willing to put a few screws in the floor. We were. Again, not something you want to learn the hard way. Once you have your base, you need to two more (preferably decking size) boards to lay across the top. Now you have a redneck toilet. It doesn’t flush, and you have to change the bag after each use, but it kept us pooping indoors.
The sad part is, once that’s resolved you have to figure out what to do with the bags. Obviously we couldn’t burn them as we had other trash, no one picked up garbage this far out of town, we were baffled. Then we noticed the shed in our backyard. We were use to ignoring it after our first look, when we moved in we saw it was full of garbage and smelled of mold. “You think that would work?” I asked Hubby as we shared a knowing glance.
“I think it’ll have to, let’s check it out.” He carefully approached the shed with a shovel, using the spade to swing the broken door ajar. It couldn’t latch, but it closed far enough to get the job done. The shed appeared to be Dee’s first hoarding victim. We honestly believed if (big if) anyone ever discovered our shame, it would be years away with no reason to suspect it wasn’t Dee herself. Hoarders save all sorts of weird stuff after-all.
Pooping quickly became the worst part of each day, but when the shed could hold no more, we were forced to hike into the woods. We found a deep gully to throw our bags into, but ignoring the fact we had to add a lengthy walk to our waste disposal routine, it felt deeply wrong. It’s the one routine I couldn’t adjust to. As the weeks progressed, with no end in sight, we sank deeper into depression. While we only had to suffer the poo routine in the morning, other challenges faced us through each day.
We may have showered every Friday, but we couldn’t go more than a day without feeling gross. Bird baths with store water were a waste of time and resources, but it’s what we did most often. The first time it rained was on Day 5. “It’s raining hard enough to shower outside, do you want to try?” Hubby suggested, already collecting soap and shampoo.
“Yea, I think I do.” I was excited at the idea. I enjoyed playing in the rain, and this gave me a valid reason.
We don’t have snow here, our winters rarely have truly cold days, but apparently standing in the rain will make all the difference. As soon as we stepped into the open, rain hit us hard and cold, it felt like someone knocked the air out of me. Hubby was able to last almost five minutes for a complete scrub down, but I only managed to wash my hair. We felt better than we had in days regardless. We showered every time it rained for the entire 8 weeks.
The first time rent was due after losing water, I refused to pay. Dee was furious, but I wouldn’t budge. “No! We’ve been living without water for over three weeks, and no, we are not comfortable using yours. Even if we were that wouldn’t make this ok.” I was no longer trying to be polite. Those days were long gone.
“But I need rent money to pay for the water. You can’t have water until you pay rent!” She demanded as if she cut the water off as leverage.
“If I thought there was any truth to that at all, I would pay it just because that’s how desperate we are, but I know full well that’s not where the money will go. You had our money and several weeks before the first water bill, but you did nothing.” I was shaking with fury.
When Dee resorted to calling us con-artists and refused to discuss water further, I hung up mid rant. A few minutes later she realized I was no longer on the phone and tried to call back. I ignored the calls, well out of patience for the day. The biggest surprise of all came the following day. With no forewarning, a man resembling a dirty, redneck Santa knocked on our door.
He introduced himself as Dee’s son-in-law, and was not a plumber but explained, “She won’t leave me alone about it. I done told her over and over this place needs to be tore down, but she just don’t wanna hear it. I came by today just to shut her up. You all need to get outta here ASAP, she ain’t got no money, and if she did she’d just spend it on stupid shit from the tv.”
I thanked the man for his honesty and blocked Dee’s numbers. We already planned to run for it when the insurance money came, but I decided there was no point to suffer through any further contact with her. There was no fear of her coming in person, she wouldn’t even pull into the driveway. After having her blocked several days, she sent Mike in her stead.
Lucky for him, he arrived with a vastly different attitude. He apologized profusely, told us to continue ignoring Dee, and reminded us we could use their facilities anytime. It was all very amicable in their regard, but I’m sure he used a different act when reporting back to Dee. I didn’t care in the least as long as we had no contact with her. When the insurance money finally came through, we bought an Avenger and moved to a nice 2 bed 2 bath apartment in town. It was a wonderful, glorious home.
A few weeks after the move, Phoebe informed me Dee hired a lawyer and intended to sue us. She and Mike were present during the lawyer’s visit, and the conversation was phenomenal.
“Not only did they refuse to pay rent, they stole from me! I want all my rent money, my stuff, and then something for all the emotional distress they put me through. They lived there for 6 months!” Dee ranted at the lawyer.
“Well we can probably get the rent money, but pending what they did with the stolen items… what all did they take? Do you have a copy of your renters contract?” The lawyer asked, pausing to look up from his notes.
“We didn’t do no contract, but they robbed me blind! I’ll have to make you a list, we gotta get in there and look, but my beautiful glass cabinet is gone!”
“You didn’t have any contract? That’s going to make recovering rent very difficult if not impossible. What other big items were taken? Did any of you see them take it? What’s our proof?” The lawyer put his notes away, already suspicious of his “easy paycheck” Dee described over the phone.
“I told you, I gotta get in there and see, I don’t know what else yet! Of course they didn’t take it when we was looking! They ain’t gonna admit to it, they saying they never took nothing! Liars! Liars and thieves!”
With a deep sigh, the lawyer asked, “Well why wouldn’t they pay rent? Did they give a reason? They just didn’t have it, or what?”
“They said they wasn’t gonna pay till I fixed the water, but that’s bullshit! They wasn’t supposed to be using it!” Now fully exasperated, the lawyer asked, “Wait. Are you saying that house doesn’t have water?!”
“Course it did. They had water till they ran up a $400 bill and got it turned off.” Dee snapped.
Mike, tired of the conversation, sped things over the finish line. “Look, they paid rent on time every month until the water was cut off. Aunt Dee did the water in her own name, it was suppose to be included in the rent.”
Dee looked at Mike with black hatred, but the lawyer spoke first. “I think I’ve heard enough. Ma’am , if they decide sue you, give me a call. Otherwise you need to thank your lucky stars and leave those folks alone.
And that friends, was how Dee left our lives for good. You have to be very careful when house shopping. Whether it’s to rent or own, always do your homework. I’m glad I finally got to write this one. We didn’t have time to cover all the good stories from living there, but the water incident was easily the most difficult. Next up, I’ve decided to make my 50th post the Halloween Special! I hope to post it in the next few days, until then stay safe and suspicious. Remember, the paranoid ones survive horror movies longest.
I’ve decided to tell you about my first apartment with Hubby. It’s necessary information if I want to tell you the living without water situation. As promised, I don’t write romance gush, nor do we have time if I want to cover the best drama from our first apartment. The point to this post is to accurately convey how desperate we were to move away from that place. By the time we are finished here, that will be abundantly clear, but first I must ask your indulgence as I lead you there properly.
To begin this story, let’s go over how Hubby and I met. I have one cousin on Mom’s side, Rob, who is 7 years older. Our grandmother watched us as children, and Rob hated my annoying ass. Rightfully so, I was terrible. As we grew, Rob moved away to live his life as a waiter. The fancy kind, he worked at places celebrities ate, Britney Spears among others. Years passed, I grew, broke up with Crook, and landed back at my parent’s house, Rob’s taunts largely forgotten.
Dad came home one evening, and handed me a scrap of paper with a phone number. “What’s this suppose to be?” Dad still believed I wanted to socialize. You have to stay on your toes with that one.
“I ran into Rob at the gas station. He moved back and wanted to see you… but he looked kinda rough. I didn’t want to give him your number so I got his. You can talk to him if you want, but be careful, he sounded drunk.” Dad warned, hoping I didn’t want to call. Interesting change of pace.
Unfortunately, my memories were deleted so long ago, I forgot they were missing (how’s that for a mind-fuck). Any inkling I did have was chalked to, of course he was mean, do you remember how annoying we were? The fact he never physically hurt us says he’s practically a saint. “Really?! He asked for me? Wants to see me? Wants me to call?”
Dad’s shoulders slumped in my excitement. “Well, yea, but maybe you should start off with a few conversations before you go meeting up with him. We don’t know wh… where are you going?” He called after me as I ran to my room.
“Don’t worry, I got it. Thanks!” Silly Dad, Rob knows how to handle drugs. Rob is my super cool big cousin, I bet he’ll smoke with me. I can’t wait to show him how grown I am.
I took several deep breaths, rehearsed a few opening pleasantries, and dialed his number. He answered almost immediately. “Hey Big Cousin! Dad just gave me your number, you’re back home?” Damnit, you’re blowing this. Calm down, be cool.
“Sup, Lil Cuz? Glad you called, we need to meet up. Start hanging out and shit.” Rob said casually, proving he was still the modern Fonzie I believed him to be.
“Yea! Totally! Where you staying? Whatcha doing tonight?” Stupid! Don’t say tonight, could you be more needy?! I couldn’t help myself. I assumed Rob would have his own place. Possibly one with a spare room. Any room not in my parent’s house would be a welcome upgrade.
“I’m staying with MawMaw (except he uses her first name, so cool) for now, it’s better than living with Dad. I’m about to get an apartment though. My fiancé is pregnant and we want to get a place ready for the baby.” He said these things without a hint of shame, but my hopes were stomped further into the ground with each sentence.
MawMaw?! No, not her! I can’t go over there! Pregnant? Even if he had a mansion I can’t live with a baby! Pregnant woman is probably just as bad. Don’t hate me too much for the thought. The only thing I knew of pregnant women was tv portrayed them as extremely emotional. They were either angry, sad, hungry, or a combination of the three. “Oh, that’s neat.” I couldn’t think of anything more to say, I turned on auto pilot and went to my happy place.
“Yea, I want you to meet Amy. What you got planned for tonight? We could come over, her and MawMaw hate each other so she won’t come here.” The casual manner in which he informed me of one red flag after another made me nervous.
“Um, I was just going to Cody’s house, you could come there.” Most of you probably haven’t read How I Met My Mother, but we don’t have time for a recap. An aunt raised me for a few years, and her oldest son, who I just decided to call Cody, is a year younger. We were always close, and he was living alone in the house we grew up in. If it weren’t next to his father’s parents, I would have lived there too. Ok? Moving on.
“Cool, text me the address, we’ll see you later.” The call ended. I snapped out of auto pilot and got to work on Cody.
Thankful I retained enough sense not invite a stranger to our house, I called Cody. As always, he was game for anything perceived as a chance to show off. One day I do intend to talk about Cody at length, he has a tragic story, but without his background you may be tempted to judge him unfairly. For that reason, I will not include the multitude of annoying behaviors he exhibited this night. Don’t worry, nothing he did registers on his Cray Scale, you aren’t missing anything important.
Rob and Amy arrived an hour after myself, and as promised, he looked a little rough. Maybe if I hadn’t been in prove Dad wrong mode, I could have accepted it sooner, but Rob became his father. He was a full-blown alcoholic, probably still is; we haven’t spoken in a few years. He introduced us to Amy, and we all shared a fairly pleasant evening. I theorized winning Amy’s approval would ensure continued contact with Rob. I’ll leave it to you guys to classify results of said theory. It’s laughable how largely she impacted my future. Before I say things to make you hate Amy, know that she has been off Xanax several years, and I love her very much.
“So you were Crook’s girlfriend? That’s crazy, yea I know him. He went to our school, he was in Jessie’s (older sister) grade. You know, you should meet my little brother. You two have so much in common it’s kind of creepy.” Amy warmed to me quickly. I thought she wanted to befriend her fiancé’s cousin, and I’m sure that was a factor at first, but she wasn’t lying. Amy is Hubby’s sister, we indeed have much in common.
Hubby and I met the next night. We sat in his apartment with Amy and Rob, silently, both too shy to speak.
“Alright y’all, this is ridiculous, we tried to let you do it yourselves, but it’s been over an hour.” Amy stood, arms flailing in her annoyance. A quick glance at Hubby revealed he too, was mortified. I felt slight relief from terror induced chest pains as I watched another potential relationship go up in smoke. Then Amy continued, exasperated this time, “So. Whose read Harry Potter.” And with a deep sigh, she returned to her seat.
The spell was broken as Hubby and I both began our detailed analysis of the series. Our motto became ‘you had me at Harry’ and the rest is history. Now, let me tell you about Hubby’s apartment. I made you two maps this time!
As you see, there is only one bedroom and it must be crossed to reach the bathroom or kitchen. This made the fact Hubby had a roommate with a live-in girlfriend very uncomfortable. That situation in itself is a very long, complicated ordeal, but two months into our relationship, the roommate stole rent and fled the state. While it created a difficult hurdle, it was well worth having the place to ourselves. Since it does not relate to why we had to move, we will save my ex brother-in-law’s story for later. Remember, it’s the South. We’re all related.
Now we finally arrive to the good stuff. Oh where to start with Rob and Amy? Let’s pick up after the baby is born and taken by an aunt, some may find Cousin-Nephew’s situation upsetting, and that isn’t where your focus should be. From this point forward, understand the wall between apartments is paper-thin. Only poor, desperate people live there, and most (like Amy) were without jobs or transportation. Hubby and I shared my car, and Rob lost his shortly after I moved in. Please enjoy the following examples of what life is like when you live next to a cousin and sister addicted to Xanax, pain pills, and alcohol.
Each morning I worked, I woke at 8 to be at Giddy Up by 9. I learned to dress quickly and quietly, grinch-walk to my car, and never ever look around. I stopped showering before work, but sometimes even these precautions weren’t enough. Descending the steps outside, I hear Amy’s door open. She calls my name, but I keep running. I hear her footsteps cross the porch, chasing me. I reverse onto the street, sweating, staring straight ahead. Please make it, please make it, I don’t have time. Then she is standing in the center of the road, blocking any chance of passing.
“Hey! I was screaming your name the whole way down! How did you not hear me?” The way she continued pulling on the locked door told me her Breakfast of Champions was kicking in nicely. I unlocked the door on her 5th try, anger burning through me.
“I don’t have time for this Amy, I’m going to be late for work.” I said through gritted teeth, knowing it was pointless.
“Yea you do, I just want McDonald’s. You don’t have to be there until 9, and it’s only going to take 4 to get there, and…” I went to my happy place as she continued to account for each minute leading to 8:56 when I would arrive 4 minutes early.
I was already at the first stop sign, anxious to get her out of my car. I knew it was pointless to communicate when she was this far gone, but that day she insisted on asking questions instead of her usual scattered chatter. “Thank you for taking me. I’m so hungry, but Rob ate all my groceries last night. Do you want a breakfast biscuit or something? I have enough.” She offered, showing me a handful of ones, most likely Rob’s tips from the night before.
“No, I’m fine, thanks.” I tried to be polite, all I wanted was to get her out of my car.
“Oh. Ok. I can’t believe Rob ate all those groceries last night. You know, I get $500 in food stamps every month and we just spent over $200 a few nights ago. Hey! Thanks for taking me, I’m so hungry. Do you want something? I can get you like, a breakfast biscuit or something!” She excitedly showed me the ones again.
“Nah, I’m really good. We get breakfast at work.” I answered, then decided to add “I get there early so I have time to eat.”
She didn’t catch my sarcasm. “Rob was so hungry last night! After work, a busboy smoked some really good weed with him. It gave him the munchies so bad, he ate all our groceries, it was insane. But now I woke up starving and there’s nothing to eat. Thank you so much for taking me. Oh! Hey, do you want something? I got plenty of money!” Once again she held the ones out like an offering.
I doubt you want to read the other repeats anymore than I want to type them, but there were at least 3 more. When we pulled into the parking lot, there were 7 cars in front of us. The ride was so terrible, I counted them several times. I took her money next time she held it out, placing it on the dashboard clearly in her view. I hoped it would help her retain our discussion, but it didn’t. In the end, she ordered two drinks and six sausage biscuits. “I can eat two at once, but I want something to heat up later since Rob has a double shift and you work til 6:00.” She reasoned as if she weren’t simultaneously informing me I was her dinner plan.
I didn’t feel the need to respond to her statement, but I think she was fishing for confirmation I would be home on time. After her longest stretch of silence, she tried again as she swallowed her first bite of food. “Oh my god, this is so good, I needed this so bad, you have no idea.” I had a pretty good idea considering how long she talked. “Thank you so much for taking me, I was really scared I was gonna miss you when you didn’t hear me on the balcony. They’re so good. You want a biscuit? ” She asked, one hand under her chin to catch the falling food as she talked.
“I’m seriously good dude, I just want to get to work.” I was having a hard time controlling my anger at that point. If I turned up the music, she screamed over it. If I tried to talk, she cut me off before I finished a sentence. If I ignored her, she repeated herself louder with each attempt. I was only one stop sign away from home when I snapped.
“I can’t believe I ate a whole biscuit before we got home, I…” I was in another world, focused on surviving the last few minutes when I felt her hand on my shoulder. “Did you hear me? I said thank you for taking me you’re such a life saver. Hey! Do you want a biscuit?”
We were right there, but the word vomit spewed forth so suddenly there was no stopping it. “Fine, yea I’ll take a damn biscuit, Amy.” I held my hand out with every intention of throwing it to the backseat in spite, but it never came.
When I looked at Amy, her jaw was dropped, eyes wide in shock or terror, maybe disgust. She looked from the food to me, back to the food, speechless. I mean mugged her right back until she finally spoke. “Oh. Well. It’s just that I asked you before I ordered and you said no… I ordered a specific number, why wouldn’t you say you wanted one then?”
Guys, snap doesn’t come close to describing what I did. As she finished speaking, I was giving the gas pedal an extra push to get us across the finish line. We flew into the driveway, I slammed on the breaks throwing Amy forward, and put it in park dramatically. Before she could move, I was screaming, “are you joking. The hell is wrong with you? I don’t want your damn biscuit! I told you no! No, no, no, no, no, no. All the way there after you chased me down! All the way home while you rambled on, I said no! I said no over and over and finally I said yes hoping it would shut you up! I don’t care you don’t wanna give me a biscuit, I care you apparently remember asking the other times! So why the hell would you keep asking?!” I started choking on my words at the end, regaining enough control to close my mouth.
“Wow, I was trying to be polite, it’s called manners, maybe you should try it sometime.” The anger I felt throbbed in my chest. Amy looked at me as if I were a worm and got out. She forgot our altercation before they finished eating and it was never mentioned again.
After work, I visited with a friend to avoid going home. I didn’t feel like immediately taking Amy for more food, but if I waited for Rob leave work, he would bring her leftovers. Another infuriating habit she developed was to snub me if I didn’t do as she wished the second she wished it. She enjoyed walking into our apartment without knocking to ask Hubby, “can you drive me to the store for this sob story reason?” while refusing to acknowledge my presence. Somehow she thought it acceptable to have her brother chauffeur her in my car.
Rob and Amy fought daily and sought refuge in our apartment when they separated. It’s hard to say which one was harder to deal with, but Rob was violent so I’ll say he was worse. When they fought in earnest, they could be heard through the wall. Pending our mood, sometimes we were nosy enough to listen. Our favorite fight happened on a rainy, fall afternoon. Hubby and I were enjoying a day off when we heard the familiar sound of objects hitting the wall. Having just smoked, we muted the tv, curious.
“Why are you such a bitch! I’m so sick of it! You did it on purpose I know you did!” Rob was screaming, glass shattered against the wall, making us jump in surprise.
“I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking, I swear it wasn’t on purpose.” Amy cried. I could picture her retreating into the bedroom as she became harder to hear.
“No! Don’t you dare use that excuse again! You say that every damn time, I’m done! Do you hear me?” Rob yelled louder, the objects he threw sounded larger, and we were dying to know what she could have done. Our guess was taking some of his pills, but we were wrong.
“No, I swear, I’m sorry, but they really are accidents. It’s really hard to remember I can’t fart.” It may be the most pathetic sentence I ever heard. Hubby and I stared at each other frozen, dumbfounded, wondering if she could be joking, but deep down knowing she wasn’t.
Rob’s voice cracked saying, “shut up! You ruin all my shit” and fell silent when he heard the walls roaring with laughter.
We rolled on the ground, tears spilling from our eyes as we heard Rob’s curses walk out his door and down the steps. He walked away, drunk and embarrassed while Amy joined in our laughter. She explained Rob was allowed to fart anywhere, it’s ok for men, but women should go to the bathroom. “What’s up with that? Is it something you grew up with?” She asked me.
“No! I don’t know where he got that bowl of crazy, could be one of Uncle’s loose screws.” I shrugged, trying to control my giggles. Rob sounded like she cheated on him, but no, she farted.
I know this is getting long, I’m sorry, let’s do one more then we can call it a day. It took a while, but I finally taught Hubby to keep the door locked. He had an occasional lapse, but after this night, he never forgot again. We lived together almost a year when we woke to someone trying to break down our door. It was 2:30AM, and we had no guns. We relaxed when the sounds of an attempted break in turned to banging on our living room wall. It was Rob or Amy seeking another mediation.
“They muse be really messed up to go this far. We are not engaging with this bullshit. They’re not going to learn they can get our attention with this kind of behavior.” I angrily informed Hubby. He shoved his head under a pillow, waiting for the end. I watched as our phones began to ring in concert with hard knocks against our bedroom wall.
I didn’t disturb Hubby until his mom began calling. We knew better than to answer, but we did read her texts as we sat quietly in the darkness, pretending to sleep. Apparently the cops were outside. This time, when Rob burned Amy with his cigarette, she wasn’t in the mood to put up with it. She ran to the bathroom, and Rob chased her. With her eyes closed, she grabbed the blow dryer cord and swung. The dryer caught him in in the jaw, cutting his cheek, so he called the police on her.
These officers responded to their fights almost weekly, and while they didn’t care for Amy’s refusal to press charges time and again, they weren’t eager to do Rob any favors either. Amy decided she could make us write witness statements claiming Rob hurt himself, but in the end the cops were out of patience. They offered a choice between both being arrested, or shutting up. They shut up.
The next morning, the fight promptly resumed when they heard us return from breakfast. They followed into our apartment, yelling their stories, angry with us for not getting involved. I ate silently, refusing to acknowledge either until Rob knocked my burger from my hand. “Hey! You better listen up Lil Cuz, that shit don’t fly with me.” I watched my burger fall to the floor, ruined as he rambled his nonsense. The room fell silent, whether actual or rage induced, I’ll never know.
All my rage from the last year finally boiled over. I fell into a magical zone of awareness where time slowed, all fear gone; I was confident, unstoppable, and pissed off. I stared at Rob’s finger, pointing at me, shaking, and grabbed it with my left hand. I snapped it sideways with an audible pop as I punched his still moving lips with my right. Rob’s head snapped sideways, a drop of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth, and his finger yanked from my grasp. I felt a new surge of rage as his eyes, full of hatred, came back to meet my gaze. I punched him again, this time in that wide, accusing eye. It was black the next day.
To Hubby’s credit, he moved quickest in the after-shock. He got between us as Rob prepared to overpower me, which I’m sure he would have done quickly given the chance. “You need to go now, you went too far.” Hubby told him. Amy came to stand next to me as we waited to see how Rob would respond.
“You tripping bro, that bitch just assaulted me! You’re about to go to jail, bitch! You under…” Rob’s spit was showering us, I couldn’t take another second. I wasn’t cut out for handling that level of crazy, I can barely control my own crazy on a good day, and this bastard wanted to play? Oh I played.
I screamed. In the middle of his little threat, I wailed like a murder victim. When I saw his mouth stay shut, I spoke. Everyone uncovered their ears as I said, “you won’t do shit, you have a record, and the cops hate you. Me and Hubby have never been in trouble, so tell me, do you think they’re going to believe the three of us, or you? I mean when I call to say we heard you beating Amy through the wall so I hit you? Look, my knuckle is bleeding, it’s obvious I did it. Do you think they’ll laugh when they hear your little cousin beat you up?” I spit my words like venom, almost hoping he called my bluff, but Amy broke the silence first.
“If you don’t leave now, I’ll let her hit me next and we’re all gonna tell her story. I bet it plays nicely when my face has the bruises to match.” I thought it was genius, but after another pause, Rob left. He cursed us the whole way down the street, but didn’t come back until the next day. As always, he was sober and sorry, but I was no longer disillusioned. It would be another six months before we got out, but this was the worst we dealt with while living there. Rob and Amy eventually moved into a better apartment, but their breakup story is another long ordeal that will need it’s own post. I suppose it’s comforting to know I won’t run out of material anytime soon.
Thank you all for re-living this experience with me. Each time someone enjoys a story it makes every crazy moment I endured worth while. Blogging has been fun and therapeutic, but I wouldn’t have made it this far without all you, dear readers. I change hobbies as often as normal people change clothes, the fact I’m over the two month mark with no sign of getting bored is truly astounding. I’m now fully nested and have every intention of staying that way. I purchased my domain, I read that’s a step bloggers take when deciding to get serious. I have no idea how to use it, but that’s why Bestie married a computer engineer. I’m sure he’ll get around to helping. Probably. Maybe I can look into a ‘coming soon’ thing until then.