Archive for November, 2018

Blind Trust

Posted: November 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

This year, Gina’s gift to her husband would be extra special. It had been years in the planning; an interminable waitlist, clandestine phone calls, hasty arrangements with the help of her sister when the time finally came.

Keeping the secret from Stuart had been agonizing; usually, they told each other everything. Conveniently, he was away on business when Gina and Maxine boarded a taxi for the airport. She told him her sister was recovering from surgery and needed an extra set of hands around the house for a couple of weeks. It was a half-truth; she did stay with her sister in Boston, but it was Gina who was recovering from surgery.

Gina had spoken to Stuart on the phone several times while she was away, but hadn’t told him she was returning early. He wasn’t expecting her for another day. The surprise would be perfect. His birthday wasn’t for another week, but she would give him his gift as soon as he arrived home that evening.

The sunset faded from orange to purple as the taxi pulled up at the curb. Gina stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes after getting out of the car, savoring the view.

The first thing Gina did when they reached the house was remove Max’s harness. She wouldn’t be needing it anymore, but she had left it on for the flight so Max could fly as a guide dog and not as a pet. The German Shepherd gazed up at her, puzzlement in her amber eyes. Gina reached down to stroke her head.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. As of now, you’re retired from active duty. Let’s go inside and get some dinner, shall we?”

Gina brought her suitcase into the bedroom. Though previously accustomed to navigating in darkness, she now noticed the dimness of the room with the curtains drawn.

She clicked the switch on the lamp and gasped. She saw its beauty with her own eyes for the first time. In truth, she was seeing it through someone else’s eyes; those of a young man killed in a motorcycle accident, whose family had generously donated his organs.

The lamp was one of Stuart’s creations, handmade in his workshop. His art took many forms, mostly jewelry and small figurines carved from hardwoods – yew and walnut, he told her. He had a process for curing the wood that hardened it to almost a porcelain consistency, except much stronger. The lamp was one of his finest pieces.

He had made the lampshade as well, from soft calfskin leather, scraped thin in places to create an intricate design of tree branches, which would light up when the lamp was turned on.

Even though she couldn’t see it, for years she had felt the design with her fingers and formed a picture in her mind’s eye. The base of the lamp formed the trunk of the “tree”. dysfictional 3frontThe curve of the wood mimicked a tree trunk perfectly, right down to its graceful curve and non-uniformity of its shape. On the surface he had carved a heart with their initials inside. Tiny bumps covered the surface of the trunk, each painstakingly carved by her husband. It was a Haiku, written by him and inscribed in Braille for her:

 

Sun may fade from sight

Love for you burns ever bright

My eternal light

 

Now, for the first time, Gina saw the lamp in all of its glory, and it was exquisite. The glow of the lampshade projected the intricate tree branch design on the walls, giving the illusion that she was surrounded by forest. Gina caressed the shade, which she had felt hundreds of times, but now she could see what her fingers felt.

What unusual leather, she thought. It was unlike anything she remembered from the days before she lost her sight. She had expected it to be more of a tan color, but this was a pale cream shade with a pinkish hue. A muted floral design decorated the edge of the shade. The trunk looked different than she had expected as well. She had always envisioned it being the deep brown of walnut, but it too was a light cream color, almost white.

Stuart was a true artist. She wished he would give up his sales job and focus on his craft, but Stuart insisted that the things he made weren’t worth selling.

“I do this because I enjoy it, dear. Nobody wants to buy a bunch of homemade junk. Knowing that you like them is enough for me,” he had told her.

* * *

After feeding Max and making some dinner for herself, Gina contemplated calling Stuart to find out when he would be home, but resisted the urge. She didn’t want to ruin the surprise, but the anticipation was too much to bear. She paced nervously, stopping to stare at herself in the hallway mirror every time she passed. She had been born with blue eyes; now they were brown. She compared her reflection to the wedding photo of her and Stuart that hung on the wall next to the mirror. It was hard to tell the difference from the photo, but she found it unsettling nonetheless.

Gina turned on the TV but couldn’t find anything interesting to watch. What to do? She could take Max for a walk, but it was dark out. She chuckled. Too dark! Darkness had never been a problem before. Maybe she could take Max out into the yard at least. She hadn’t looked at her garden yet. She shoved her feet into her shoes and slipped into a light jacket. It was late spring, but a chill lingered in the air. She called Max and opened the sliding door to the backyard. Max stayed by her side at first, waiting to be harnessed. Once she understood that her mistress didn’t require her assistance, she bounded across the yard and busied herself sniffing all the nooks and crannies.

The tulips were in bloom near the shed Stuart used as a workshop. Their colors stood against the darkness, bathed in a glow from the window. That was odd. He must have left a light on.

Or perhaps it wasn’t odd at all. Gina knew nothing about the methods he used in creating his art. Maybe part of the wood-curing process required light of some sort. She didn’t know because she had never seen. She had never even been inside his workshop.

I shouldn’t. I should wait for him to show me. It didn’t feel right to snoop, as curious as she was. She would ask Stuart to give her the grand tour when he came home.

Maybe just a little peek. What harm could it do?

Gina tried the door. It was unlocked. She pushed it open a crack and peeked inside. A curtain hung in front of the door, obstructing her view of the inside of the shed. She pulled the curtain aside and entered her husband’s workshop.

Something tickled her hair and she jumped back, startled. Eerie shadows danced on the walls. A string swung next to her shoulder. She brushed it away and looked up. The string was connected to a chain, which was attached to a dangling light fixture. The swaying bulb was the sole source of light in the workshop.

The workbench was cluttered with tools and debris from partially finished projects. A bit of wood here, a scrap of leather there. A pale stick of wood was clamped in the vise, a work in progress judging by the half-worn sheets of sandpaper and fine layer of dust on the bench below. She caressed the graceful curve of the piece with her fingertips, wondering what it was going to be. It always amazed her; the way Stuart could create such elegant contours from an ordinary chunk of wood. She couldn’t wait to watch him work.

A large barrel sat in one darkened corner of the room. Curious, Gina lifted the lid to peer inside. A powerful odor assaulted her nostrils. The barrel was filled with some sort of dark liquid with a strong chemical smell. Things floated inside the liquid, but she couldn’t see what they were. She wasn’t about to poke around in that nasty stuff. Her toe bumped against the barrel, causing the liquid to slosh a bit. Something floated to the top. A recognizable shape, but no – it couldn’t be that – it had to be a trick of the light. Gina used the pull-cord to swing the light bulb in the direction of the barrel. Back and forth it swung. Light splashed over the barrel, then dark. The thing disappeared between the surface of the liquid. She kicked the barrel again and swung the light.

Light. Dark.

Light. Dark.

Light. The thing came into view again. The light swung, revealing the shapes of skeletal fingers.

Gina screamed.

The bulb swung another arc, illuminating the far corner of the room. A wooden crate came into view. It overflowed with sticks much like the one currently clamped in the vise. Now she saw that they weren’t sticks at all, but bones.

Human bones, she was certain. What else could they be?

She stumbled backward, scrambling for the door. She ran outside and tripped over Max, who had heard her scream and come to her rescue. She landed face down in the grass. Max whined and rushed to lick her face.

She heard vehicle approaching and headlights flashed across the driveway. Stuart was home. Gina ran to the house with Max close on her heels. She dashed inside and ran to retrieve the Max’s harness from her bag. With shaking hands, she slipped the harness on the dog and fastened it in place. She dove onto the couch and managed a few deep breaths to appear calm before the door opened and Stuart walked in.

“Hey, beautiful! You’re home. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Why didn’t you call? I could have picked you up at the airport.”

She took care to look past him rather than at him to maintain the illusion of blindness. But she did see. She didn’t miss the dark splotches of red on his grey t-shirt. He looked like he’d been in a fight.

And won.

“I wanted to surprise you. Besides, I know how busy you are. I didn’t want to bother you.”

“You’re never a bother, sweetness.” He leaned down to kiss her cheek.

She smiled and kissed him back, keeping her eyes downcast for fear he would see that they were different.

“I’m going to take a shower. Have you eaten yet? We could order pizza,” Stuart suggested.

“Yes. I mean, no, I haven’t eaten. Pizza would be fine. I’ll call while you’re in the shower. You want the usual?”

“Whatever you like, my love.”

Gina couldn’t fathom eating, but she knew she needed to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let him suspect anything was wrong.

* * *

A week passed. They celebrated Stuart’s birthday with dinner at a nice restaurant and she gave him a watch as a gift. She maintained her façade of blindness, kept Max harnessed and allowed the dog to guide her everywhere she went. Max knew something was different, but Gina’s secret was safe with her.

She wracked her brain to devise a way to escape her predicament. Leaving Stuart without an explanation didn’t seem like a viable option. She was afraid of him now. A homicidal monster lurked beneath his kind and loving exterior, and she had no idea what it would take to trigger his wrath and turn that monster on her. She needed to know more about what motivated him to do the things he did.

She waited patiently and watched his daily activities. Soon a pattern emerged. Monday through Thursday he was home for dinner, but on Fridays he worked late. Or so she had always thought.

One Friday night she looked out the window and noticed the light was on in the shed. Stuart was out there, and yet his van was not in the driveway. Gina slipped out the front door with Max in harness and walked around the block, where she discovered Stuart’s van parked in the alley behind their house. It seemed he was parking in the alley and sneaking in through the back gate. He didn’t want her to know he was home.

As she watched, a truck pulled up behind his van. A strange man got out and the two of them unloaded a large plastic-wrapped bundle and together they carried it through the back gate and to his shed.

A chill ran down Gina’s spine. She didn’t have to think very hard to guess what was inside that bundle.

Who was the man? Stuart had an accomplice? She tried to get a look at the license number, but it was too dark.

What was she to do? Call the police? With what evidence?

She didn’t even know what kind of truck it was. She couldn’t tell a Ford from a Dodge because she had never seen different types of vehicles up until now.

Gina realized she had a long way to go in acclimating herself in the sighted world before she could be a reliable witness to anything.

Gina spent the following week studying everything she could to fill her brain with visual information – books, websites, and just going for walks with Max and taking in the sights in her neighborhood. She had sworn her sister to secrecy about her sight restoration. The neighbors still believed she was blind, and it was easy to fool them as long as she wore her dark glasses. She could carry on conversations while studying the minute details of a person’s face, clothing, and immediate surroundings and no one was the wiser.

She spent hours in the attic, searching through old boxes, some of which had been there prior to their marriage. The house had been in Stuart’s family for generations. She found old photos of his parents and grandparents and marveled at the resemblance he bore to them. Another box held photo albums from a more recent era, from Stuart’s childhood through to adulthood. She pulled a white album from the bottom of the box and gasped when she saw the photo on the first page. It was a wedding photo, of Stuart and another woman. He hadn’t told her he’d been married before. Why?

Then again, it wasn’t the only thing he hadn’t been honest about.

She flipped through the pages, studying the woman’s face. His previous wife was in other albums as well; vacation photos, mostly. There they were standing in front of the Grand Canyon, and here on a beach in Mexico. His ex-wife had a nice figure for a bikini, curvy but not quite plump, and had a lovely floral tattoo down the length of her thigh – some sort of delicate vine with little pink flowers on it. What kind of flower was that? She was sure she had seen it before, recently. It had to be recently, since she had only had her sight for a few weeks.

* * *

One afternoon Gina gathered the courage to take another look in the shed. She let Max run loose in the yard. Stuart wasn’t due home for hours.

The sludge barrel was empty. It smelled foul and strong. No hands or feet to be found. The same crate of bones sat in the corner. In the daylight they somehow didn’t look as ominous. What should she do? Take some of the bones to the police? That would probably be the best way to proceed. She crouched beside the crate and reached toward it.

“I see I’m not the only one with a secret,” Stuart said behind her.

Gina screamed and leaped to her feet. She stumbled backward, tripping over more bones.

“How long, Gina?”

“I – don’t – know what you mean,” she stammered.

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why would you hide it from me? Jesus, Gina, you can see!” Tears shimmered in his eyes. “It’s a miracle, and the biggest event of your life – of our lives – I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t share it with me.”

“I’m sorry. I meant to tell you. I wanted to surprise you, I just – I didn’t know when to tell you, and then I found… I found…” Gina looked down at the scattering of bones at her feet.

“I guess I owe you an explanation. I should have told you. But it was easier to let you think I was crafting with wood. People find bones a bit creepy, even when they’re just animal bones.”

Animal bones?”

“Of course! Gee whiz, Gina, what the hell did you think they were?”

“But I came in one night, and I saw… in that barrel… it looked like…” Gina looked down at her hand and spread out her fingers, then looked back up at Stuart.

“A hand? Is that what you thought it was?” He laughed. “I think I understand now. Sweetie, have you ever seen a human skeleton? Or an animal one for that matter?”

“Well, no, I guess not,” Gina admitted.

Stuart put his arm over her shoulders. “Come with me, darling, and I will show you. I think we can clear up this whole misunderstanding.”

As they walked back toward the house, Stuart hugged her close and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I can’t believe you can see! I want you to tell me all about it!”

Gina’s heart warmed with renewed love for her husband. He had already forgiven her lie and suspicion. She beyond embarrassed that she could have suspected he was a murderer.

Back at the house, Stuart sat Gina in front of the computer and showed her pictures of bones on the internet.

“You see? This is a human hand, without the flesh. Does that look like what you saw?”

“Yes, actually, it does.”

“Now look at this. This is a bear paw. Do you see the resemblance? Once the flesh is removed, the toes actually have a finger-like appearance. Could this have been what you saw?”

Gina hung her head. “Yes. The lighting was poor, and I only saw it for a few seconds. It could just as easily have been this that I saw.”

“Just for comparison, this is a fox, this is a wolf, and this – this is the fin of a whale. All mammals share the same characteristics in their skeletal structure.”

“Who was that man I saw you with? I saw you and another man carrying a bundle into the shed.”

“That was Lars. He’s one of the hunters I work with. He brings me carcasses after he’s stripped them of meat, so that I can clean the bones and make things from them. That was a bundle of moose bones we were carrying. I almost have enough for a matching pair of rocking chairs. I wanted to try my hand at building something larger.”

“That sounds amazing.” Gina hung her head, her shoulders shaking with sobs.

“Hey,” Stuart said, taking her in his arms, “Don’t do that. What’s the matter?”

Gina sniffled. “Being blind most of my life, I’ve always had these pictures in my mind of what I thought things looked like, but now that I can see, everything is so different! I feel like I’m in an alien world, and I don’t know what to trust anymore.”

“Shh,” he said. He held her against him, stroking her hair. “It’s ok. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. Just tell me what you need so I can be there for you.”

“I have everything I need. I have you.”

She felt ashamed for thinking he could be capable of anything so unspeakable. Her husband had an odd hobby, granted, but his art was beautiful and she couldn’t have been more proud of him.

She decided not to mention the old photo albums and wedding photos she had seen. Whether or not he had been married before was none of her business unless he chose to tell her. It was a conversation for another time.

* * *

Later that night, after a romantic candlelit dinner, Stuart led her upstairs, where they made love by the dim glow of the handcrafted lamp. Along the edge of the lampshade a faded design was visible

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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 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.”
* * *weirder tales poster
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. Over time, brain damage set in, transforming them from desperate junkies into shuffling, mumbling zombies. Pod junkies were more dangerous than full-fledged zombies because they still retained some of their (albeit limited) intelligence and still looked like regular people, aside from their desperate, pod-craving 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.
 
Copyright © 2018 Mandy White
(Published in Weirder Tales by WPaD)