Archive for January, 2018

The Art of Bathing

Posted: January 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Takinbubble-bath-day-ftrg a bath. It’s a simple luxury that most women love, and many take for granted. I know I used to.

That was before I moved into this house.

Now, it’s a rare treat to soak in a luxurious bubble bath with a good book, and even then the clock is always ticking and I usually don’t get past more than a paragraph or two before my time is up.

And before I can take my bath I must scrub.

The tub and floor must be scrubbed and sanitized before I even dare to take my shoes off.

I start at the door with a mop and bucket of scalding hot bleach water. I work my way into the room, scrubbing the smears of blood from the floor until the entire room smells like a public swimming pool, complete with the added aroma of urine. Once I reach the window I can open it to air out the room while I scrub the piss stains from around the base of the toilet. Last of all, I use the mop to clean the outside of the toilet before dumping the bucket into the bowl. Finally the room starts to smell clean.

After that, I turn my attention to the tub itself. It too must be bleached, but first I remove the heavy-duty shower chair and the festering green rubber germ factory that the old woman calls a bathmat. I have tried to tell her that she needs to replace the mat but she won’t listen. I repeat my scrubbing routine, using a clean rag that I have brought with me along with the rest of my bath supplies. I will throw the rag in the garbage afterward; the thought of having it share the washing machine with the rest of the laundry turns my stomach.

Scrub scrub scrub.

I clean the inside of the tub and all surrounding surfaces with a solution of more bleach than water. When I’m satisfied that it’s finally clean, I check my watch.

Fifteen minutes have already elapsed. I have another twenty minutes, thirty if I’m lucky.

Tick tick tock tick… the clock is always ticking.

As my bath fills I can finally unpack my bag of bath supplies; shampoo, conditioner, loofah, soap and razor… typical stuff that most women keep in their bathrooms. I can’t keep the stuff in this bathroom because it’s not mine. I have a bathroom downstairs but it only has a tiny shower stall. I hate showers; I’ve always loved my baths. The only bathroom in the house that has a bathtub belongs to the old woman. It’s filled with old-person stuff; bottles and bottles of prescription pills, vitamins, laxatives and antacids. My scented soaps, lavender bubble bath and pink loofah would have no place in here.

Finally my bath is ready; steamy and inviting with fluffy white mountains of lavender scented bubbles.

Mmmm!

It’s a tiny slice of heaven, even if it’s only for a short time. I ease myself into the water and dunk my head under. It’s all worth it; even if I have to spend the same amount of time scrubbing as I do bathing. It’s all I get, so I have to cherish it.

As I reach for my washcloth I notice something on the edge of the tub.

NO! Please, No! Please don’t let it be…!

On closer inspection my fears are confirmed. The small kinky grey hair could be none other than…

A PUBE!

I shudder with revulsion as I stand up and reach for a square of toilet paper so I can remove the offending hair, which undoubtedly came from the old woman.

The elderly lady with whom I must share this bathtub is the owner of the house, who hired me to cook, clean and generally help her as her health continues to fail.

I try to remember that she is a woman like me, that she was young once but my mind sometimes has trouble making the connection.

She is a human being, and her name is Mary.

Once, she was young and thin and happy.

Now, she is old, fat and dying.

Instead of the pretty dark-haired woman pictured in the old black and white photos on the mantle, I now see a mountain of overflowing diabetic flesh, weighing in at nearly four hundred pounds.

Her legs are surreal; prehistoric tree trunks with flaky, scaly bark and bulbous, swollen roots for feet. She doesn’t wear shoes unless she leaves the house because she can’t reach her feet to put them on. Her bloated ankles appear to be overflowing the feet, which are now completely numb due to advancing neuropathy. The soles of the feet are cracked open in several places and never heal because there is so little circulation at this point that the flesh is nearly dead. Small smears of blood on the floor follow her every step around the house.

She is an amputation waiting to happen and there is nothing I can do to change it.

A perpetual infection lurks beneath the surface; her doctor maintains futile hope that it will succumb to the endless barrage of powerful antibiotic pills he keeps prescribing.

But the doctor knows the truth.

Everyone knows.

Even Mary knows that it’s just a matter of time before first one foot, then the other will have to be removed to prevent the spread of gangrene. At this point it’s simply a matter of keeping the feet attached for as long as possible. If she loses her feet I will no longer be able to take care of her.

As anyone who has seen advanced Type 2 Diabetes in action knows, once the amputations start, it’s the beginning of the end. First the foot, then the lower leg, and then the thigh… Once they have removed all of the leg and part of the ass, there’s nothing left to amputate and death follows soon afterward.

The old woman must be aware of this – how can she not be? I think she’s either heavily in denial or she has simply decided to go out happy. There isn’t any other way to explain her artery-choking diet of deep-fried, pan-fried, chicken-fried, fried-fried foods. Not a scrap of healthy food passes her lips if she can help it. She averages a six-pack of ‘diet’ soda per day and never drinks water, except to swallow pills. (and sometimes not even then.) I use my grocery allowance to buy healthy foods: vegetables, whole grains, fish and chicken. Mary orders pizzas and other takeout foods. She also chooses her own ‘groceries’ and has them delivered: cookies, doughnuts, jujubes, chocolates and candies. She crams them into her mouth by the handful, followed by increasingly larger doses of insulin to combat the rush of sugar. Her body has developed such a tolerance to insulin that it barely has any effect, even at doses that would be fatal to an ordinary person. Mary is playing with fire and I am powerless to stop her.

I mentioned that I cook for her. I TRY to cook for her, but if the food isn’t fried or sugary she turns her nose up at it. I try to avoid cooking the foods she wants. Sometimes, I wait until she takes a nap, then prepare healthy, Diabetic-friendly meals. I disappear before she wakes up, leaving her to fend for herself for a while. She then must either fry something by herself or suffer through vegetables and brown rice. Sometimes it works, but not often.

Mary’s family doesn’t visit her anymore because they don’t want to be bothered with her. To them, she is a burden and an embarrassment. It’s really quite sad. She has nobody but me to rely on, and I’m failing her miserably due to her refusal to care about her own health.

The reason I must scrub and sanitize the bathroom before I use it is her feet. Those horrid, decaying, borderline gangrenous feet. Every day she soaks them in a foot bath that I prepare for her – a solution of Epsom salts, iodine and warm water – in hopes that the infection will recede and the cracks will stop spreading. It’s mostly a futile exercise at this point but it’s better than the alternative, which is to do nothing.

Yes, she should be in a hospital but she refuses to go and has made it very clear that she will fire me if I attempt to have her taken to the hospital. Losing this job might sound like a blessing in disguise but then what would happen to Mary? The hospital won’t keep her against her will, and who would take care of her?

Certainly not her relatives.

Those vultures are hanging back, waiting for her to die so they can swoop in, exterminate the vermin, (me – domestic help no longer needed) loot her possessions and sell her house. Not that I care if I’m thrown out of here after her death; it’s just repulsive, the way they think they’re entitled to anything of hers after they have shunned her and left her to die alone.

When her daily foot bath is finished, I carry the plastic tub of water to the bathroom, where I pour the toxic bacterial stew down the bathtub drain. The water is cloudy and I try not to look at it. I discard my surgical gloves, then change my clothes and wash my hands up past the elbows afterward, followed by a healthy dose of hand sanitizer.

I’m not a germophobe. What I am is well aware of the terrifying ‘super bugs’ that have been emerging in recent years; strains of once-familiar bacteria that have mutated into antibiotic-resistant and potentially deadly versions of their former selves.

I’ve seen the antibiotics Mary is taking. Powerful stuff. I can tell that her doctor is worried. God only knows what ball-busting bionic bacteria might be lurking on her skin, especially on the legs and feet where too little blood flows and the immune system and antibiotics simply can’t reach.

I’m no dummy – I know I’m bathing in the same tub where I dump that septic soup, but the alternative is to dump it in the kitchen sink, where I wash dishes and prepare food.

So I bleach. And I scrub.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me until today that I should have been dumping the foot bath down the toilet.

I raise my head out of the steaming bath. The bubbles are gone, which means my time is probably up. I check my clock.

Sure enough, time is up.

As with many elderly people, bladder weakness is an issue with Mary so the time I can safely occupy her bathroom is limited. If she happens to wake, she will make a beeline for the bathroom. If I hear her thundering down the hallway and I’m still in the tub, there will be trouble and I will have a mess to mop up on top of it.

I pull the plug and am about to stand up when I realize that I still have some conditioner in my hair. I lay back down in the water, rinsing my hair as the tub drains. I lay there for a moment longer, savoring the last bit of my sultry paradise before I have to get out and rejoin the real world.

I sit up when I notice that the water hasn’t gone down much at all. The bath is still full.

I jump out quickly and reach for my towel.

I get dressed, keeping an eye on the tub, wishing it would hurry up and drain. I don’t want to deal with a clog after getting all nice and clean and relaxed.

Once fully dressed, I can see that I must face the fact that the drain is definitely clogged. It was probably a ball of hair or something. Ick.

I grab the plunger and work it up and down a few times until finally the water begins to drain. Whatever was plugging it either worked its way down or came back up into the tub.

As the water grows shallower, I see an object floating in the bottom of the tub; most likely the thing responsible for clogging the drain… the thing that I have essentially, been bathing with ever since I pulled the plug.

As the remainder of the water disappears down the drain, I begin to gag, then rush to the toilet and spew my guts. When I finish puking, I am moving immediately, running for the bleach and wondering if there is enough hand sanitizer to cover my entire body.

 

I will gather up the nerve to remove the toe from the bathtub later.

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Keep Close my Yellow Dog

Posted: January 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

Reginald trembled.

“What’s wrong, Reg?” I asked.

“I’m not entirely sure…” he began, then vomited his recently-eaten dinner onto the floor. “Oh my… I’m terribly sorry,” he apologized. “I don’t know what came over me. Here, I’ll clean it up.” He started lapping the puke up off the floor.

“Gross! Reg – NO!” I cried, running to grab some paper towels.

roscoe cute

 

Reginald had a brilliant mind, and a witch couldn’t ask for a better familiar than the little yellow dog, who had once been a powerful wizard and lord of the manor in which we currently resided. But alas, his canine nature still took over sometimes.

 

After cleaning up what remained of Reggie’s mess, we turned our attention back to the issue at hand.

The angry woman upstairs hadn’t slowed one bit since her very unwelcome arrival. I could hear the sounds of her tantrum as she raged overhead, her footsteps thundering from room to room on the main floor of the house. Dishes rattled on the shelves as she slammed cupboard doors in her frenzied search for whatever it was she was looking for. The ceiling over my head muted her furious mutterings so that I could only hear snippets of what she was saying but the message was clear. She was displeased with every single thing she laid eyes on, especially me. My very presence in the house infuriated her. Each time she neared the stairwell that led downstairs to my quarters, where Reginald and I had been hiding since her arrival, something kindled her rage anew and set off another slamming, screaming tantrum.

The fact that she had arrived at all meant my banishing spell had been

ineffective. This puzzled Reggie, since banishing was one of his specialties and he had helped me cast the spell. He had been feeling ill since her arrival and I knew it had to be con

nected somehow. We were beginning to suspect that the spell might have been turned back on us. Her energy was apparently toxic to Reggie but didn’t seem to have any adverse effects on me. I noticed however, that my energy didn’t appear to be doing her much good. I wasn’t sure why, but something about me seemed to repel her, which suited me fine because it kept her at bay, upstairs and away from our

 

quarters. A temporary solution, but not ideal by any means.

If a banishing spell didn’t work on her, then what? A binding? Or…

Reginald glanced up at me from beneath the fringe of golden fluff that served as eyebrows, his chestnut eyes filled with the sadness that accompanies generations of wisdom. He shook his furry head slowly.

Damn that dog! He licked his nuts purely for entertainment and thoug

 

ht nothing of eating his own barf, yet he always seemed to know what I was thinking.

“Miranda, no,” he said. “First of all, you know the consequences of

 

manipulating the dark forces. And second, it won’t work. Hexes only work on mortal beings.”

“What are you saying, Reg?” I asked, even though I already knew what the little yellow dog was getting at. I just wanted to hear it from him.

“She’s not human.”

“Then what is she?” Reggie’s theory made sense. It explained why our fail-safe banishing spell had failed in this instance. The spell only worked on humans and, to a lesser degree, on animals.

“I’m nmff nmfff mrtnfffnff,” Reginald said.

“Would you please look at me when you’re talking to me?” I scolded.

 

“Sorry,” the dog said, pulling his nose from where it had been momentarily buried in his not-so-private parts. “At first,” he continued, licking his lips, “I suspected she might be a succubus because of her humanoid façade. But now I know that’s not the case. A lower entity like a succubus would not have any effect on my powers. We are dealing with something far worse. And yes, you are correct. She wants you dead.”

I rubbed my arms to quell the gooseflesh that had risen – a sure sign that my familiar was speaking the truth. There was no doubt she wanted me dead; I’d suspected that from the beginning but up until that moment I’d felt confident, cocky even, that I could handle the likes of her.

She was the estranged stepdaughter of Harold, my former master. Harold was a kindly old wizard who had employed my mother before me and her mother before her, as domestic servants and apprentices. It might seem strange to an outsider that I would choose a life of servitude in these modern times, but it was the tradition of my family and the wizard was kind and fair. He had taken me under his wing at an early age and mentored me in the magickal arts, having apparently seen the same potential in me that he had known in my mother and grandmother. Harold had been my guardian since I was ten years old, after my mother was killed in an auto accident. Harold owned the ancient mansion and its expansive grounds, which had been passed down through his family for generations since Reginald’s time. In keeping with tradition, Harold’s next of kin was to inherit his home and all of his possessions after his death.

Wherein lay the problem – Harold had no children related to him by blood and he had outlived all of his other relations, having died at the age of 125. He did, however, have two stepdaughters by his late wife Esmerelda, who, according to Harold, was a sweet and loving woman until after their wedding. As soon as the honeymoon was over, she made an instant transformation into an evil, screeching battleaxe just like the one who now raged overhead.

The stepdaughters, who had not visited Harold even once since their mother’s death, intended to walk in and take over executorship of the estate because they were ‘related’ to the old wizard by marriage. The moment he died, the man who had meant nothing to them suddenly became ‘dear old Dad’. They became the grieving ‘daughters’, sucking up condolences from Harold’s acquaintances like the bloodthirsty leeches that they were. Reginald and I were left to grieve for our beloved mentor in private.

The stepdaughters strongly objected to the terms of the simple Will Harold had left. He had made provisions for me and all of my descendants in his Will, stating that we would always have a home and place of employment in the manor for as long as it remained standing or our family line died out, whichever came first. Until that time, the house was not to be sold, rented or renovated. Erin, the screaming stepdaughter, could not evict me nor could she sell the house as long as I, or one of my offspring, (of which I had none) were alive. Which was why she wanted me dead.

For the first time since I had accidentally conjured a shit-demon from the sewers of Hell, I felt genuine fear. The wizard had taught me that fear would defeat me faster than even the most formidable of foes and had spent years conditioning me to be fearless. I had heeded his teachings carefully and in my bravado my power grew.

With Reginald as an ally there was no spell I could not cast, no charm I could not repel and no mistake I could not undo. He was an ancient soul and a very powerful wizard in his own right. I had no idea how old the little dog was, but Reggie had been with me for as long as I could remember. Formerly known as Lord Reginald, he was the original owner of the manor and of course, one of Harold’s ancestors. The estate had been passed down through the generations from one descendant to another but the bloodline ended with the old man. Harold’s first wife had died without bearing him any children. His second wife died soon after the wedding, leaving behind the two greedy stepdaughters who were now trying to lay claim to the estate. The real father of the two girls was a mysterious dark wizard from somewhere in Europe, where the older sister currently resided.

Now Erin had returned, claiming to be the one chosen as executor of her “father’s” estate. She had commandeered the entire upper section of the house, leaving Reg and I banished to our downstairs quarters. She was livid about something. I could hear bits and pieces of her mutterings as she stormed around and slammed doors, apparently still searching for something. She ranted about being “attacked” and something about “the chosen one” and “absolute power”.

I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I had a feeling that if she found what she was looking for it would mean trouble for Reggie and me. All I knew for certain was that she was dangerous and we would have to be on guard at all times. I had already suggested to him the possibility of us leaving but he refused. This had been his home since he had staked his claim on the land and built the home back in 1672. No psychotic demon bitch was going to drive him out of it.

The problem was, how did we get rid of her?

 

* * *

 

The second stepdaughter, Maria, arrived the following week. She appeared to be the polar opposite of her sister –articulate and soft-spoken with a British accent that made her sound cultured and snobbish. She seemed quite reasonable but it was all just a façade, which I saw through immediately. Her invitation to come upstairs and join her for tea appeared to be a friendly gesture but I was immediately on guard. I wasn’t stupid. She didn’t want my friendship any more than I wanted her and her screeching shrew of a sister in my home.

I wasn’t about to eat or drink anything offered by those two vipers, so I concocted a little invisibility potion with Reggie’s help. I dropped my teaspoon on the floor and politely asked Maria for another one. While she was gone I dripped the potion over my tea and scone, making it appear as if I had consumed them.

When she noticed my empty teacup and plate, she offered more but I declined, then the interrogation began. I suspected the refreshments she had tried to trick me into consuming probably contained a potion or spell designed to act as truth serum.

She was a master manipulator but I played along with her little game, curious as to what information she was trying to extract from me. She asked me about myself and about my family – did I have any siblings, cousins, uncles or aunts? I guardedly explained that I was an only child and the last of my family since my mother’s death.

“And what about my father?” she inquired. “Did dear Harold ever mention any cousins or nephews I might not have known about?”

Her referral to Harold as her ‘father’ pissed me off because she was no relation to him whatsoever. I knew Reg was listening quietly from the staircase.

“No,” I replied coolly, “Your STEP father did not mention any other relatives other than those you would already know about. Can I ask why you would want to know?” I wanted to slap the fake smile off of her duplicitous face.

“No reason, dahling,” she crooned. “I just want to ensure that all parties get their share of any inheritance they may be entitled to.”

“If I understand correctly,” I said, “Harold’s Will was quite clear and simple. I don’t see what you would find confusing about it.”

She reached over and patted my hand in a condescending manner that made me want to conjure another shit-demon just for her. “No need to fret, my dear. It’s just a lot of complicated legal jargon that I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

What the hell did she think I was, the village idiot?

“I’m sure I understand just fine,” I replied.

“Sure you do, dahling. Sure you do,” she purred. “There is, however, one wee issue that may need to be addressed, and that is the quality of care my father was receiving prior to his death. Erin and I have reason to believe that there was a certain level of neglect that may have contributed to his untimely demise. You understand, of course, that we will need to have our attorney look into this.”

“What exactly are you implying?” I snapped. “That I caused his death due to neglect? First of all, the man was 125 years old, which is admirable even considering the fact that he was a wizard. Secondly, how the hell do either of you think you can know anything about what went on here, since neither one of you bothered to visit him even once? I’m SURE the level of care he was receiving was TOP priority for both of you!”

I couldn’t stand being in her presence a moment longer. I stood to leave.

“Thank you for the lovely cup of tea,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm, “but I really must get back to work. I have a million things to do.”

“Yes, yes,” she sighed, “I’m sure you are quite the busy little lass.” She waved her hand at me as if swatting away a fly. “Off you go, then.”

I fumed as I made my way back downstairs. How dare she dismiss me like a common household servant in my own home? Frankly, I preferred the screaming banshee to this one. At least the banshee spoke her mind. I furiously swept my fingernails across the stone wall of the stairwell, sending a spray of blue and green sparks in my wake. It wasn’t good to lose control of my anger this way. The last time someone had pissed me off that much, my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend had grown a curly tail like a pig.

I closed the door to my room and threw myself on the bed. Reg hopped up and curled up beside me.

“I hate that sneaky, underhanded skank!” I raged. “Who does she think she is, treating me like I’m something stuck to the bottom of her shoe?”

Reg leaned over and licked my cheek, then sighed and rested his nose on his paws. “I know, milady. I know. We will get through this somehow. There has to be a way. Harold never would have left us without an avenue of escape. We just need to find it. He was a crafty one, you know. He wouldn’t have left the solution in plain sight for just anyone to find.”

I reached over and scratched between his ears. “You’re so wise, Reggie. If you weren’t a dog, I’d marry you.”

“I could accuse you of species discrimination, you know,” he teased.

I laughed and hugged the little dog. “You always know how to make me laugh. Thanks!” I kissed his wet nose, then wiped my mouth. “Ew! I keep forgetting where that that nose has been!”

“A dog’s mouth is supposed to be the cleanest thing there is,” he replied, feigning indignation.

“Yeah, you keep believing that, fur-face,” I laughed.

With my best friend curled in my arms, we both fell asleep.

 

* * *

 

“Miranda!” The voice was a mere whisper. Then it came again, louder this time. ‘Miranda!”

I sat up, rubbing my eyes sleepily although I had a feeling I was still asleep. In an instant I was on my feet, but I didn’t remember actually standing up.

“Miranda!” The voice was more commanding, and seemed to be coming from the other side of my bedroom door. I crept to the door, looking over my shoulder for Reggie, who was still curled up on the bed asleep. That was strange, because the dog’s sensitive ears surely would have picked up any sound sooner than my human ones.

I opened the door, noting the absence of the usual grating creak of the metal hinge. I was enveloped in silence; even my footsteps were silent.

Now what?

“Miranda!” Right beside me this time.

I whirled to face the speaker and came face to face with none other than Harold, the elderly wizard.

“Harold!” I whispered, falling into his arms purely from reflex.

The old man’s embrace was surprisingly solid, but he felt cold to the touch.

“Miranda, dear, dear girl,” he said softly, holding me in his icy arms.

“I’ve missed you so much, Harold!” I wiped tears from my cheeks, hating myself for crying. He’d always taught me to be strong and here I was letting him down during what might be my last opportunity to see him.

“There, now,” he soothed. “You needn’t fret, my child. All is not lost. I made plans well in advance to ensure that no one can harm you.”

“But now that you’re gone, everything is different! Those two women are evil! They don’t care what you wanted, or what your Will says. They intend to take everything and force me and Reg out into the street!”

“I would never allow that to happen. I’m surprised at you, Miranda. Haven’t you any faith in me at all? Everything you need is right here. Everything will be all right, I promise. But,” he hesitated, waving a finger in front of my face, “in order for things to work out, you will have to make a decision, and it may not be an easy one for you to make.”

“Just tell me what I need to do, and I will do it!” I said, “I don’t care what it is! I will do it!”

Harold smiled, his bright blue eyes twinkling as much in death as they had in life. “Ah, you may say that now, but you don’t yet know what will be asked of you. You are a strong girl; I raised you that way, as your dear departed mother desired. Your strength may become your downfall. Think carefully on this decision.”

“I will do whatever is required of me. I will do anything for you, Harold!” I insisted.

“We shall see…” he laughed brightly. “We shall see…” His apparition was beginning to fade. I could see through him now, to the stone wall beyond, where he was reaching for a sharp rectangular stone. His hand passed through the stone as I watched, then he stepped through the wall and vanished.

I sat up in bed, a sob still caught in my throat. My cheeks were wet with real tears I had shed during the dream. Reg lifted his head, instantly alert.

“What’s the matter, Miranda? A bad dream?”

“Yes… well, no, not exactly,” I replied. “Upsetting, yes. Reg, I saw Harold!”

The dog’s ears pricked up and he cocked his shaggy head, giving me his undivided attention. “Really? Did he say anything to you?”

“Yes! In fact, I think he was trying to show me something. He said I would have a difficult decision to make.” I bounced out of bed and dashed to the door without bothering to put on a robe or slippers. The coldness of the stone floor went unnoticed beneath my feet as I flung the door open and made my way to the spot where I had last seen Harold in my dream. Reg followed at my heels.

“He was right here,” I said, “and there was a stone… there! This one!” I touched the sharp rectangular stone and discovered it felt loose. I wiggled it and then pulled. It slid out, revealing a hidden space in the wall. Inside the space was a plain brown envelope. I pulled out the envelope. It was sealed with a glob of wax bearing the wizard’s insignia. Harold had always been kind of old-school with that sort of thing: his wax seal; his insistence that I spell the word magic with a ‘k’ on the end, like the old-world Pagans did…

Reg stood on his hind legs and sniffed at the envelope. “It’s definitely from Harold,” he confirmed. “No one but him has touched it.”

I replaced the stone and we scampered back to the privacy of our bedroom to open it.

Inside was a letter written in Harold’s handwriting, along with two additional sheets of blank paper.

What the hell?

I read the letter aloud to Reggie:

“Dearest Miranda,

If you are reading this, then it means I am no longer in the land of the living. I’m guessing that my two wretched stepdaughters have arrived and are trying to lay claim to that which is not theirs.

They are powerful entities, make no mistake. Regular magick will not work on them, as I’m guessing you’ve already discovered.

Their father, Vernon, is a formidable demon descended from Lucifer himself and it is from him that they get their powers. Erin, as you know her, is actually one of several incarnations of Eris, the Goddess of Chaos. Maria, the manipulator, was once an irresistible siren who lured many a sailor to his death back in the old days. Neither of them is to be trusted, but Maria is especially treacherous because she is very skilled at gaining the trust of her victims before destroying them. Because I know exactly who and what these two women are, I possess the ability to render them powerless.

Miranda, dearest child. I love you like my own and it is to you alone that I will pass this knowledge. These evil witches can and will be stopped and it is up to you to do it.

But first, my child, I must let you in on a secret.

The Last Will and Testament that Erin and Maria have is a fake. The real one is here, in this envelope. My attorney also has a copy but like this one, it will not become visible until the charm I have placed on it is removed. You are the only one with the power to remove the charm and enact the real Will.

In order to do that, I will first need a promise from you, and the decision will not be an easy one.

My stepdaughters believe that there is no legitimate heir to my estate but I tell you now, that is not the case. I have a son from my first marriage. My second wife Esmerelda despised him and sought to eliminate him from the moment she married me to ensure that her daughters would inherit my estate when I died.

At her request, I sent my son away to boarding school, never to return. I told my wife that he had contracted pneumonia while at school and died. It was a lie, but she believed it. In order to protect my only son and my family’s lineage, I lied about his death and sacrificed a lifetime of fatherhood to a wonderful child. I regret every day that I couldn’t be his father, but you must understand that I did it out of love. It was the only way I knew of to protect him from the evil that had infiltrated my family.

Now, it is time for my son to step forward and claim his birthright, but in order to ensure that he is safe from the clutches of another evil harridan such as the one I married, I have already chosen a bride for him. She is kind and pure of heart, and at his side, they will carry on my family name with pride.

Miranda, you are betrothed to my son. But I will not force you to marry him against your will. I will not infringe on your free will, for as you know, that is not how positive magick works. YOU must make the decision.

I ask you now, are you willing to accept your betrothal and marry a man you have never met? If your answer is yes, my two wretched stepdaughters will never bother you again. If you choose not to, I will not love you any less and will respect your decision. But I will be powerless to protect you from them.

If you agree, simply sign the bottom of this page… in your own blood, of course. Then, you must burn this piece of paper.”

 

* * *

 

I looked at Reggie, who gazed back at me with those soulful brown eyes I had grown to love so much.

“What should I do, Reg?” I asked, though I already knew what the answer would be.

“As Harold said, Miranda, it is your decision and yours alone,” the dog said.

“There is no other way,” I said, reaching for my Athame, the ceremonial dagger I kept on my altar. I sliced my index finger, allowing the blood to flow onto the bottom of the page, then used the same finger to write a rudimentary signature. I held the paper over a candle flame. It burned about halfway, then vanished in a shower of sparks, leaving not a single trace of ash.

“So now what?” I wondered aloud.

“Miranda, look!” Reg whispered.

The two blank pages were no longer blank. I picked up the first and read the words, Last Will and Testament at the top.

“It’s the Will!” I gasped. “The real one!”

“What’s this?” Reg asked, nuzzling the second page with his nose. “It looks like a spell!”

“It does indeed! I bet this is the spell needed to banish those two!” I looked at Reg with a sly smile. “What do you say, puppy-dog? It can’t be any worse than a shit-demon!”

“With those two shit-demons upstairs, I say let’s do it!” Reg grinned as only a dog can, his long tongue lolling out the side of his furry mouth.

 

* * *

 

We read the spell carefully to ensure we didn’t make any mistakes. We painstakingly gathered the ingredients, set up the right number and color of candles and cast the circle as precisely as I ever had.

Into the cauldron went various herbs and a few rather obscure ingredients, a splash of water from the pond and three hairs each from me and Reg. Together we chanted the strange incantation then closed our eyes and waited for the outcome.

There was a flash of heat and the smell of sulfur but we kept our eyes tightly closed in accordance with the instructions of the spell as unknown forces swirled around us.

Finally all was silent.

“Miranda?” Reg whispered. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. Is it over?”

“I think so,” he said, “but I feel kind of strange. My collar is too tight.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed. “Are you ok, Reg?” I opened my eyes, slowly at first, then gaped in awe at the sight before me.

My little yellow dog was gone. Where Reg had been sat a young man with blond hair. He was naked except for a red leather collar around his neck – the same collar Reg had worn.

“Reg?” I asked.

“It would appear so,” he said. “Would you pass me a blanket? It’s a bit chilly without my fur.”

I grabbed a blanket from the bed and threw it over his shoulders so he could cover himself, then removed the collar from his neck.

“You are Harold’s son? All this time, and you never told me?”

“I didn’t know, Miranda. It seems my father erased my memory of who I was in this lifetime, for my own protection. It’s all coming back to me now. I am the original Lord Reginald but I was also reincarnated as Harold’s son. Turning me into a dog and shielding my memory was the only way he could keep me close by while still protecting me. And of course, he placed me in your very capable hands, frozen in time so that I would return to my human form the exact same age as my betrothed when the spell was broken.”

He smiled, melting my heart from the inside out. His eyes were the same gentle brown ones I had fallen in love with when they were fringed with shaggy yellow fur. Now, they were set in a chiseled, handsome face befitting of the nobility that he was.

“I’ve agreed to marry you!” I exclaimed, suddenly remembering my vow.

“Yes, I hope you’re still ok with that,” Reg said. “I don’t think Father wrote a divorce clause into the spell.”

My heart thudded and my face flushed like a schoolgirl meeting her crush for the first time. “Of course I’ll marry you, Reg. Didn’t I say that once?”

He smiled, all pearly white teeth, with no tongue lolling out of his mouth this time and pulled me into a loving embrace.

“You have no idea how much I have longed to hold you just like this,” he whispered in my ear.

 

* * *

 

Our wedding was a simple but elegant garden ceremony with just a few close friends to witness. We were joined on a pretty little stone footbridge that arched over the fish pond in the estate’s expansive garden. It was a beautiful June day; birds chirped, frogs croaked and flowers bloomed everywhere. Sparkly orange and white fish slid through the water below the bridge as we said our vows.

After the ceremony, Reginald scooped me up into his muscular arms and carried me over the threshold into OUR manor, to begin our new life together.

As we made our way to the bedchamber I joked to my new husband, “I guess I will never have to see you with your nose buried between your legs anymore!”

He chuckled, a mischievous glint in his chestnut eyes, “I believe that is now your department, milady!”

“Once a dog, always a dog!” I laughed, giving him a playful kiss on the nose. “I wonder what ever happened to those horrid step-bitches?” I mused.

“Who cares?” Reg replied. “Father said the spell would take care of them and they would never bother us again.”

“Good point,” I smiled and gave him another kiss, this one deep and sensual.

 

* * *

 

A Great Blue Heron stood below the bridge where a wedding ceremony had taken place a few hours earlier. She picked her way slowly through the water lilies, arching her graceful neck to get a better view of the water below. This pond was one of her favorite fishing spots, for the frogs were abundant and the humans always kept it well stocked with Koi.

A large golden body flashed past her feet, frantically diving under the rocky ledge that had been built to shelter the fish. The heron was patient; sooner or later the fish would forget she was there and emerge once again.

 

* * *

 

“Move it, you selfish bitch!” Erin screamed at her sister, her words nothing more than bubbles.

“I was here first, dahling. Find your own refuge,” Maria bubbled. “Frankly, it’s your fault we are here to begin with. If you had gotten that brat under control right from the start…”

“When our father finds out about this…!” Erin began.

“What? What exactly will he do? He’s the one who sent you away to begin with because he couldn’t stand you, you hateful wench! As far as I’m concerned, you deserve to be bird-bait!”

Up above, the shadow of the heron loomed, waiting…

#ShortStorySunday

Copyright © 2013 Mandy White

Published in Dysfictional 2 by Mandy White and WPaD’s Dragons and Dreams

~*~

 

Ernest sat up in bed. “ You hear that?”

Louise looked up from her book. “What’s that, dear?”

“There it is again! It’s the basement door. It’s those damn zombies.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing. Just the wind.”

“Wind my ass!” Ernest muttered, glancing at the shotgun leaning against the wall in the corner of the bedroom. These days he kept both barrels loaded, just in case. “It’s zombies, I tell ya! I thought I told you to get rid of those fucking laundry pods.”

 

The door rattled again. Ernest had installed sturdy new locks, but they would never give up as long as what they desired lay on the other side of the door.

“Dammit, Louise! This is your fault!”

Louise peered at him over the rims of her glasses. “Seriously, Ern? And what do you expect me to do with them? Just throw them away? I paid good money for those, and I can’t buy them anymore. I’m not going to throw away perfectly good products! Besides, they get the laundry so clean and bright!”

“Clean and bright isn’t worth risking our lives.”

Louise gave him one of those looks reserved for naive children and simpletons. “Isn’t it? Stain-free clothes are worth a little risk. Don’t be a coward, Ernest.”

Ernest opened his mouth to argue, then closed

pods

it. He knew when he was licked.

“Ok, fine, use them up then. How many are left?”

“I bought the Mega Pack from Costco. I got in on the sale just before they pulled them from the shelves. It was one of the last ones, and I was lucky to get it. People are so rude. Fighting, clawing, just to save a few dollars.”

“Isn’t that the same thing you were doing?” Ernest pointed out.

Louise shrugged. “Well, I got them, so I’ll be damned if I’m just going to throw them away.” She sighed. “I’m sure going to miss those things. They get the laundry so clean and bright.”

* * *

What had started as a stupid YouTube stunt turned into a disaster of epidemic proportions. The idiots who ate Tide laundry pods experienced unfortunate side effects from the chemicals contained in the detergent. Brain function slowed. These individuals, clearly short on brains to begin with, became shambling, babbling shells of their former selves. (one still might argue that it was an improvement) The other, more disturbing effect was the hunger. The Pod People craved the colorful packets of toxin and would go to any lengths to obtain them. They possessed an uncanny ability to sniff them out. Stores stopped selling the detergent after the first few weeks of the epidemic to stop the looting. Citizens were ordered to turn their Tide Pods over to authorities. Anyone found with the pods in their possession would not be eligible for police protection in the event of zombie attack. Attacks were the biggest concern, because bites were the way the plague was spread. And Pod People were bitey little fuckers. They were faster than they looked, in spite of their shuffling gait, and inordinately tenacious when focused on something they wanted – that something being Tide Pods, of course. A bite from one of the Pod People would transfer the toxins that flowed through their veins. Victims of bites began to crave laundry pods, overcome with an irresistible urge to eat them. If not apprehended and incarcerated, they wouldn’t rest until they found and ate some of the detergent. After the brain damage set in, they transformed from desperate junkies into shuffling, mumbling zombies. Pod junkies were more dangerous than zombies because they were intelligent and looked like regular people, aside from their desperate behavior. They were also contagious; a bite or scratch from a pod junkie was all it took to spread the addiction.

 

And now someone was trying to open the basement door, attracted by the scent of those godfucked laundry pods Louise was so bloody insistent on keeping. Ernest hoped it was just a zombie and not a junkie. Pod junkies were crafty enough to find a way past a locked door. Zombies just bumped against the door like a trapped Roomba until something else caught their attention. Either way, Ernest knew he was in for another sleepless night. He checked his guns to reassure himself they were loaded, and prayed the locks would hold.

* * *

The next night Ernest awoke sitting in his recliner, where he’d dozed off while watching TV. He heard a sound in the laundry room downstairs. He raced to the bedroom to grab his shotgun. The locks hadn’t held after all. One of the bastards had gotten in and from the sound of it, was in the laundry room chowing down on Tide Pods.

A fucking pod junkie.

Ernest cussed silently and crept toward the sound, shotgun at the ready. The hunched figure in the laundry room had its back to Ernest. He raised the gun and clicked the safety off. The junkie stopped munching and turned to face him, streaks of blue and orange running down its chin.

“Clean and bright!” Louise giggled. “Yummy! And they make everything clean and bright!”

Louise wiped an arm across her mouth and Ernest saw the deep red scratches on the underside of her arm. The scuffle at Costco had yielded more than just a bargain on detergent.

“Join me, Ern. It’s Heaven! Heaven, I tell you!”

“Stay back, Louise. Don’t make me – ”

Louise lunged at Ernest and he squeezed the trigger.

#ShortStorySunday

 

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

 

Battle of the Bean

It was the end of the world as we knew it, and nobody felt fine. Remember that song by R.E.M.? It’s been stuck inside my head since this whole thing began.
Anarchy reigned; society was in chaos. People rioted in the streets. Yadda-yadda apocalypse…
All because of one little thing. A tiny thing really. Not quite miniscule, perhaps the size of a pea, but a tiny thing nonetheless.
The all-powerful coffee bean.
We were warned of the impending extinction of our precious bean, but like so many warnings before it, we chose to ignore it until forced to confront the ugly truth.
It began early in the century, when farmers in Colombia noticed a troublesome blight affecting the Arabica plants. The blight, known as ‘coffee rust’, was a type of fungus that spread rapidly, despite all efforts to eradicate it.
Some blamed pollution, others blamed global warming, but regardless of who or what was to blame, Arabica crops in Latin America were wiped out by 2017, and from there it spread to crops in Africa.
Still, the public pooh-poohed. As long as Starbucks kept pouring eight-dollar lattes, there was no cause for alarm. The problem was far away from their sheltered yuppie environment. Cultivation was the farmers’ problem, not theirs. Even when the Arabica crops were gone and the price of that particular variety skyrocketed, people simply switched blends.
It wasn’t until every coffee plant on the planet was dead that we were willing to acknowledge that we had a problem. The problem escalated to catastrophic levels when the governments took control of the world’s remaining supply of coffee. Coffee disappeared from supermarket shelves. Starbucks went out of business. Coffee shops with boarded-up windows littered the urban landscape.
At more than ten times the price per kilo, coffee replaced cocaine as Colombia’s most lucrative illegal export. Coffee cartels waged war on each other in hopes of controlling the world’s dwindling supplies of the precious brown bean. Penalties for smuggling coffee ranged from several years to life in prison or even death by firing squad, depending on which country one was arrested in, but that didn’t stop an intrepid few from trying their luck.
Street value of an ounce of ground coffee climbed higher than that of gold. Users traded automatic weapons, priceless family heirlooms and even the deeds to their homes for a cup of espresso, just to get one more fix of that aromatic black nectar.
We tried consuming tea, colas and caffeine pills, but it didn’t take us long to learn that caffeine wasn’t what gave coffee its addictive nature. It turned out there was another ingredient we had overlooked. A mystery ingredient that latched onto the brain much like cocaine did. Suffice it to say, lack of this ingredient made some people very unhappy indeed. Scientists analyzed it, tried to isolate it and tried to synthesize it but to no avail.
The increase in violent crimes due to coffee withdrawal led to the legalization of marijuana. Pounds of Purple Kush, Amsterdam Indica and BC Big Bud now occupied the shelf space that had once displayed pounds of French Roast, Breakfast Blend and Decaf. A society of anxious, stressed-out bean-hounds became laid-back and complacent, sleepily smiling as they crammed their mouths full of snacks.
Of course, there were still the hardcore addicts, for whom nothing else but the bitter ambrosia would do. White-collar professionals became organized crime bosses, dealing the world’s most valuable substance to street addicts, some of them former colleagues. When the coffee finally ran out, one country accused the next of hoarding it, even though nobody had any coffee anymore.
With everyone at each other’s throats, the UN dissolved. Their final meeting ended in a massive brawl; a Battle Royal between nearly 200 delegates that resolved nothing. The situation deteriorated to the point of war, with everyone pointing warheads at everyone else.
With a bunch of coffee-starved world leaders holding their jittery fingers over the red button, I did what any sensible man would and went to ground.
I found the bomb shelter in my neighbor’s back yard after investigating the sound of a gunshot. I found him at his kitchen table, where he had been trying to snort lines of instant coffee before giving up and swallowing the barrel of his .357. Poor bastard – everyone knows there’s no real coffee in that instant stuff, but looks like he died trying.
I found a shovel and thought I’d do the neighborly thing and give him a decent burial but damn, the ground was hard! I tried a few different spots but kept hitting rocks, then at one point I hit something metal. Curious, I dug it up, and damned if I didn’t find a bomb shelter! Probably built during World War II and long forgotten under layers of landscaping. My neighbor probably bought the house without even knowing it existed.
So, when the threat of nuclear war became imminent, I packed some supplies and retreated into the shelter with plans to stay put for a few weeks or months until the coast was clear. I brought food, plenty of water, books to read, flashlights and batteries, but I needn’t have bothered to pack so much because when I got down there I discovered the shelves well-stocked. Sure, eighty-year-old canned goods might not be ideal, but they were better than nothing if it came down to it. I scanned my flashlight over the shelves and lo and behold! What did I see? Coffee! Cans and cans of magnificent, marvelous coffee!
I had packed a butane camp stove and a few cases of fuel, so I was all set to prepare hot meals. Now hot coffee would accompany those meals! This dark, dusty hole in the ground had suddenly become paradise.

I’m writing this down, partly to keep myself busy so I don’t think about coffee. I also thought it would be a good idea to record what became of our world just in case nobody else is alive to do it.
As close as I can figure, it’s been about six months since I felt the first of the bombs hit. My food supply is dwindling, even the really old stuff. If I have to eat another can of cold lima beans I’m going to scream. Who the hell puts lima beans in a bomb shelter? I guess I could leave the shelter, but as long as I have coffee in my possession I run the risk of getting robbed, maybe even killed for it. Lord only knows what’s happening up on the surface.
I’m down to my last can of coffee, but I’ve been putting off opening it because once it’s gone, then I truly will be out of coffee. After that I will leave the shelter and see what awaits me up above.
I’ll wait one more day to open it. I can go without coffee for just one more day. I’ve been saving one last can of butane to make it nice and hot. Cold food I can handle, but cold water won’t brew coffee.

See? One day wasn’t so tough. Why not make it two? If I have a cup of coffee every two days, it will last twice as long. If I wait one more day before opening the last can, that’s one more day before I run out for good.

I made it a whole week. Wow. That’s one more week before I run out. As long as I have that can of coffee, I’m the richest man on earth. I might also be the only man on earth, but… mere details.

Two weeks, and that damn can of coffee sits there unopened, mocking me, daring me to open it. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Nice try, coffee can. I’m smarter than you. After all, you’re just a stupid can of coffee. I’m over you. I don’t love you anymore. I could quit you cold turkey if I wanted to.
Aw, fuck it. Since I know I can quit anytime I want, I might as well drink it and enjoy the last coffee on earth.
I’m doing it. This is it. I’m opening the can.
Tomorrow.

I’ve been out of food for weeks now, and starvation is weakening me more each day. The can of coffee still sits unopened, though. I have decided to save it until the very end. If the last thing I do before I leave this world is drink the last cup of coffee in that can, I will die a happy man. I’ll have to do it soon, though. I’m on my last two gallons of bottled water.
Maybe it’s time I left the shelter. There is probably clean water on the surface. Hell, I don’t even care if it’s contaminated, just as long as it will make a decent cuppa Joe. But… what if it’s total chaos up there? I’d be killed for my can of coffee for sure. I guess I could leave it in the shelter. Nobody knows it’s here. But what if I was followed on the way back, or worse, what if someone found this place – and my coffee – while I was away? Without my coffee, I have nothing. No, the only way it will be safe is if I stay and guard it.
When I finish the water I have open, I will open the last jug of water along with the can of coffee and brew a nice steaming cup of Heaven. When the coffee is gone, I will leave the shelter. If the world is destroyed, I’ll use the revolver I took from my neighbor’s hand and exit in likewise fashion.

NO! NO!!!! I went to open the last water jug and found it empty! DRY! All this time I thought it was full but I didn’t actually pick it up and shake it. The jug must have had a leak at the bottom because the water is long gone. No. No. No. I can’t live without water, because without water I can’t make coffee. A world without coffee is not one I want to face.
Goodbye world, whatever’s left of you.
* * *
The steel door groaned open. Two faces peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids to shield their eyes from the dust that rose.
“What is this?”
“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”
They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.
“Look there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”
“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”
“What’s that object beside it?”
A webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal can.
“Is it some kind of weapon?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”
Sniff. Sniff.
“What is that?”
“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”
“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

#ShortStorySunday

Copyright© 2014 Mandy White
(Previously Published in Goin’ Extinct by WPaD and Dysfictional 2 by Mandy White)