Dave opened the door with relief and anticipation. It had been a long day. It had been lasting, in some ways, for about 10 years. All he really wanted right then was to escape to his self-made sanctuary, shutting out the signs of the mundane world and relax, popping down a beer or two…or ten.
John was gone for the night. Though he loved his son, Dave was often (he felt somewhat ashamedly) glad for the respite that solitude gave him. Teenage boys can be a handful, after all. Yes, he knew that while John did have a lot of common sense, he also knew that often, as a parent, what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Maybe it was Pollyanna optimism; maybe it was simply trust. In any case, this night he was glad to just be alone.
Closing the door behind him, he entered the foyer and dropped his keys on the table in the hallway. It felt good to be home. Sanctuary? Yes, but that feeling was slipping away over the last two years since… his escape. Now, more and more, it seemed like his place… his domain.
God, had it been two years already? Yes, he told himself, it had, but it seemed like so much less than that. Maybe that’s because time, a wonderfully fickle thing, loved to play with your mind. How can hours, or days, pass, seeming like only an instant, while the same period of time can plod along so slow, laborious? Yes, time was weird. It could rob you… if you let it.
The 18 years with his ex, Martha, were a blur, punctuated with blazing images. Some good. Most bad. There’s that weird tapestry of time again. Smears the memory. They say time heals. Did it? He supposed so.
Dave fumbled in his shirt for a cigarette, walking into the living room. ”Gonna have to quit this someday” the little voice in his head chided, for the umpteen- thousandth time.
As he approached the couch, he stopped suddenly. A cold ripple of ice slithered down the back of his neck. Little voice is speaking again, but this warning was much more eerie.
“What”? He thought.
He stood there, frozen, trying to make out the words, but they weren’t there. He hadn’t really heard in words. It was more of a feeling. He listened, straining against the silence of the house that at times was deafening.
Have you heard something? What was the alarm at that went off in his semi consciousness? He looked around the room, eyes and ears searching.
Same old secondhand furniture. TV in the same place, a week’s worth of newspapers
stuffed behind the easy chair. The afternoon shadows stealing across the carpet, same as ever. Outside, he can hear the muffled drone of a lawn mower from the Sibley’s next door. Nope… nothing wrong here.
‘Jesus’, he said to himself, plopping into the couch. “I thought you were over that”. He should be, shouldn’t he? It’s been two years for Chrissake. Yeah… right… but maybe it takes longer than that to erase what you’ve been through.
“Damn”, he thought, as the smoke exhaled through his nostrils. “Get a hold of yourself”.
Dave had reason to be nervous though. His journey through the kaleidoscope with the Queenofallwitches had certainly taken its toll. It wasn’t just the alcoholism. Nor was it her lying, or her damn near ruining him financially. It wasn’t even the countless episodes of screaming, fighting, (under the guise of “let’s talk”). Year after year he told himself, he would get through this… make it better. Get through somehow. Not even his suspicions of abuse toward their only son were enough to make him give up. Of course, he told himself, good ol’ Dave, ever the optimist, had turned a blind eye.
The last three years were the worst. Paranoia and delusion had taken her over. He mused, once again, as he had so often back then, that if it were simply a matter of marital conflict… misunderstanding, or atoning for words or actions born of inconsideration, there might have been a chance. But how in God’s name can you respond… much less defend yourself… much less succeed… when there is no reality? When the demon sitting in front of you isn’t the real problem at all, but the demons that drove her mind?
No. You couldn’t. Dave had long since lost his self-respect. Sacrificing his family, his goals, his dreams, “for the good of the marriage”, he felt ashamed. But there was one thing he just could not, would not, sacrifice. And that she insisted on having… and devouring.
They say that the basic animal instinct for self-survival is the strongest there is. Well, that’s certainly must be true . For in the end, it was that which enabled him to say, “No more”, and escape the clutches of the hell his life had become.
Not that it was easy. Dave knew that he was dealing with a brittle, unpredictable mind the first time she spit in his face. This was reconfirmed when this graduated to her hitting him. Bad as that was, he never felt truly afraid until the night he’d had to wrestle the gun from her.
“The only way this marriage will end is in death”! She’d screamed.
Dave was overcome with fear then. Oh, yes, indeed. So much so, he didn’t dare ask whose death… hers, or his, she meant. From that moment on, he’d taken her very seriously. And for the first time, his life of depression and despair had become one of fear and terror.
But that had been two years ago. The Queenofallwitches was safely locked away in the Looney Bin, wasn’t she? She wasn’t going anywhere, all comfy behind steel doors and drugged with God knows what.
“Geez, cool it, man”, he thought to himself. “You’re just tired, and on edge from a long week”. Still, something “pinged” in his mind. Something he could not quite put his finger on.
He snubbed the cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray and kicked off his shoes. Yes, everything is all right. You’ve got your life back. Things are coming together pretty damn good. He was laughing more, drinking less, had started to carve out a good life. Maybe even the buxom schoolteacher he saw at Wal-Mart would eventually give him a chance.
He smiled at that. Yeah, she was a head-turner all right. Something told him that they could have a lot of good times. Images of perky breasts with pink nipples flashed across his mind. These were followed by scenes of holding hands, walks in the park, candlelight dinners, raucous laughter and dancing.
“Yes, maybe I could have a regular life again”, he sighed.
Just then his reverie was snapped shut with a cold metallic clang. The icy feel in the back of his neck returned. What the hell was going on?
Fumbling for the remote, he brought the TV to life, surfing the channels as he always did. The Mets lost to the Braves (again). Arafat broke off Peace talks (again). Roger on “General Hospital” was boinking Laura Lou (again). “not sold in stores. Order ‘smooth ‘70s, $18.95 for cassette, $29.95 for CD’” (again). Then he stopped, with the local news. The bleach blond anchorwoman was giving the late breaking story.
… “has escaped. Authorities are not giving details, but at least one person is dead and a massive manhunt is in progress”.
But it wasn’t those words which froze him where he sat. It wasn’t even the superimposed picture behind Ms. TV Anchor lady. It was that damned smell. The smell he had known only too well.
The TV sound faded away in his mind, but the smell lingered, making the superimposed picture on the TV cruelly more vivid. The picture of Martha, in one of her more hideous moments, when she’d been arrested. It was the smell. How many days/nights/years has that horrible aroma entered his nostrils? The smell of cheap gardenia perfume, which was the only stuff that woman would wear. If it had sickened him then, it positively revolted him now. Yes, it had been that smell, unnoticed, which had sent the silent alarm.
“Oh my God! It can’t be…!”
With great effort, he found his legs enough to stand. Slowly, agonizingly, afraid, yet afraid not too, he turned toward the kitchen. Life, like time, can be funny. Sometimes, when something is so impossible… so unlikely… that when actually confronted with it there’s no surprise. This was one of those times.
There she was. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Her dark eyes ablaze with a vacant, mad determination.
All the fear, the revulsion Dave had tried to the first live with, then suppress, engulfed him like a wave of hot dirty water from a ruptured sewer line.
“What… How”? He could only mumble a soft unbelieving whisper.
She made no response. She just stood there, framed in the doorway. She was like a snake, with cold unseeing eyes that knows it will soon dispense with its prey.
Slowly, deliberately, she raised her right hand, which held the gun. Dave was only dimly aware of it. His mind was reeling with a myriad of sights and sounds.
The Sibley’s lawnmower droning outside. The TV had moved on to Oprah. That god awful gardenia smell that would forever be associated with Martha.
And then he noticed, unwilling to see, the curl of her lip as she began a half-smile. Yellow teeth glared in the late afternoon shadows, and for a moment, he thought he could actually see blood dripping from her lips. God! Surely not!
He didn’t really hear the shots, either of them. His mind racing, feverishly, trying to comprehend. Nor did he feel it when his body was ruthlessly thrown back, knocking him to the floor, overturning the coffee table.
The sound around him faded. He looked down to his hands clutching his chest. They were filled with blood. His blood. It was the last thing he saw as his vision began to blur.
Reader Reviews for
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|Reviewed by J Howard
|really enjoyed the read. suspenseful with purpose-the just way i think a good story should be written.
|Reviewed by Sheila Roy
|Intriguing storyline! I love the comparison of this woman to a snake! Very vivid imagery throughout, but that was my favorite part. You built suspense in this tale perfectly, and the ending was a shocker. Great work! Sheila|
|Reviewed by Dennis Griffin
Great story! Thanks for posting it.I felt like I was right in the room with Dave, feeling his emotions.
I hope there's more to come.
|Reviewed by Linda Pannett (Reader)
The story left me wanting more. I was right there, waiting, wanting to read more. Such a gifted writer you are.
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read|
|Reviewed by Sherry Gibson
|So real. If this is an example of how much suspense you can put into a story, I can't wait to read your book. Short stories are hard for most to write. This was EXCELLENT! You managed to tell a life time in just a few short paragraphs. Loved the Gardinia perfume touch. So glad I stopped by and read this. You are an inspiration to all writers.
|Reviewed by Joyce Scarbrough
|Loved it. You did a great job of foreshadowing, giving away just enough little by little to build the tension, and it gave me a wonderful case of the shivers. Thanks for the scare!|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|I was never married but once engaged I can relate to this. Dark read to say the least; it actually gave me the chills because reminded me of the psychototic ex-girlfriend a bit.|
|Reviewed by Janet Lee (Reader)
|What happened to warning people eh? Before they read something so filled with emotion and feeling at 9am in the morning..
A read that will trigger everyone who reads it's own held onto nightmare escape..
Thanks for the memory, but i am glad your ending was different..
|Reviewed by Clayton Umbach (Reader)
|Pretty good read.|
|Reviewed by Kevin Yarbrough
|Good story Doug. Like they said the perfume was a good touch, glad my wife doesn't wear that kind. Keep it up, waiting for the next one.
|Reviewed by Dinah Roseberry
|Fantastic! I was right there in the room! Gooseflesh from this one! It's a true talent when an author can make a reader's neck hair stand up. (Now I'm afraid to take the dogs outside, Doug.)|
|Reviewed by Joyce Rapier
|Great balls of fire! The hair on the back of my neck stood straight out! Heaven help me, if I even begin to smell Gardenia perfume, at Wal Mart or any other place, I will wonder if it is Martha and run like hell! Loved the write. Whew!
|Reviewed by Josh
|Incredibly real. I felt almost as if I had lived this myself. We all come face to face with the Queenofallwitches at some point in our lives. Wow! Amazing!|
|Reviewed by Terry Vinson
|Speaking as a man thrice-divorced, I can at least identify to a certain extent...chilling stuff. Now if I could only get my first ex out of my mind...|
|Reviewed by Linda Alexander
|Doug: Chilling. Excellent piece of work. I'm impressed . . . & I now have a serious case of the willies!! The gardenia perfume scent was a perfect touch.|
|Reviewed by Lynn Barry
|Deadly relationships (literally) put to words...I could feel the frustration...nice job..|