Note: for readers of this blog, if any, the first 12 parts of this piece are available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/12/01/deep-freeze-consolidated-first-11-parts/. I will post the final installment over the next couple of weeks.
It was mid-May, almost 4 months after the crash, and I sat out at the end of the dock on the first truly warm day of spring. Watery, musical tones lapped at the shore through the reeds under a gentle breeze. Swirling the chipped ice at the bottom of my drained martini glass, I looked out across Ragged Lake to the opposite shore. The ice-fractured tree branches, tinged a mossy green with struggling leaf shoots, stabbed up starkly into the yawning blue sky. They seemed to tear the bellies of the low-lying, cotton ball clouds into thin, twisted, white ribbons that blew out over the scrubby hills behind the tree line. The blackened, angry scars from the train disaster carved what looked like bite marks; two giant fangs dragged across the landscape until ending abruptly where the molten wreckage plunged through the ice and drowned in cold water.
An unwelcome pricking sensation alerted me to a mosquito, the first I had seen since the spring thaw, thirstily sucking on one of the many thick veins that crisscross the back of my hands and forearms like chaotic train lines. Leah had been so fascinated by my veiny body, she had photographed me naked and pasted some prints into her journal to accompany a morbid piece on vampirism. I watched absently as the mosquito’s belly swelled and, just before it extracted its javelin-like proboscis, I swatted it loudly, the symmetry of the blood splatter slowly spreading out over my skin around its crushed body like a Rorschach inkblot. “What do you see in the pattern?” I imagined a psychiatrist asking me.
“A foetus,” I murmured.
“What?” asked Marylyn, making me jump as I had not heard her and Ben approaching down the dock.
“Ah, nothing,” I said, with a twitchy shake of my head, flicking away the sticky mess from my hand. “Damn mosquitoes.”
“Wow, that was a big one,” she said as I got up, bent over the edge of the dock, and washed my hands in the freezing lake water which Ben leapt into with carefree delight. She sat down in the deck chair beside mine and smiled. Wearing a light, colorful tank top, she clutched her bowling-ball belly with her left arm while the right, amputated just above the elbow, dangled uselessly at her side, the scarring at the end twisting the purple skin grotesquely like a balloon knot. It was quite miraculous that this was the only injury sustained in the crash. Despite us being knocked out and the car almost completely destroyed, the airbags had deployed perfectly and protected everything, including the foetus, with the exception of Marylyn’s arm. It had been crushed and almost torn off when it got pinched in the shearing metal of the passenger door.
I took the piece of arm in my hands and massaged it gently from the shoulder down. “How are you feeling?” I asked earnestly, excruciating guilt coursing through me for the millionth time. I had been arrested at the scene of the crash after I failed a breathalyzer test. A further test at the police station revealed that my blood-alcohol content was .083, a hair above the legal limit. Sheriff Jacobs interviewed me at the station, cheerfully informed me that in his view I was not intoxicated and that he would “bury” the test result. I was free to drive to the hospital and be with Marilyn and no charges would be filed. Yet again, I had dodged a bullet and would not have to take any responsibility for my negligence.
Or so I thought at the time. A couple of weeks later, I was revisited at my office by the federal agent. He had dug up the “buried” test result and bluntly told me that he too would let me off the hook if I leveled with him about what I had seen out in the woods. When I reiterated that I had not seen anything, his entire head slowly went tomato-red as if it were about to violently explode like the mosquitoes’ engorged body I had just swatted. Without a word, he stomped from my office and slammed the door so hard, the wood cracked around its hinges. He immediately saw to it that Sheriff Jacobs was placed on administrative leave and, after a brief preliminary hearing before a clearly cowed judge in the city, a trial date was set for me for later in the year to answer DUI charges.
“I’m fine, baby. Please don’t look so tormented. I keep telling you everything is okay.” She meant it too, her spirit as ebullient as the snow trilliums defiantly popping out from the ice storm’s detritus strewn around the house. She held me blameless for the crash, insisting that, despite the failed breathalyzer, I was not intoxicated. It was simply an accident just like Sheriff Jacobs’ falsified report had concluded. Clueless that he was actually on to something, she contemptuously spat upon the federal agent’s harassment, declaring him a bullying thug who had only fallen on the right side of the law by happenstance.
“I know,” I said, smiling weakly. I marveled, as I scrutinized her contented face, that she was just as clueless that Leah had tried to kill her and the child growing inside her on that bleak, icy night in the dead of winter. Although Leah had not haunted me since, I felt a persistent, aching terror in the pit of my stomach that it was only a matter of time before she appeared again.
“You know”, she said, as I watched Ben splashing around and lunging at imaginary creatures conjured by the shadows of the waves he was creating, “I was wondering if we should have your barbecue a little earlier this year.”
“Um, sure. Why?”
“I don’t know. People still seem so down after all that’s happened – ”
“Ever since Leah died,” I interrupted, absently.
“Never mind Leah,” she snapped testily. “People are demoralized and they love your summer party. You know, Maeve Wheeler is putting ideas in peoples’ heads that Herring’s Jaw has fallen under a curse.”
“Oh, God. If only the next misfortune, conjured by this curse, could single out that old bat for something particularly unpleasant.”
“See? Even YOU are doing it!”
“I’m just kidding. When are you thinking to have the party?”
“How about a month or so from now? It will be warm enough. I can take care of it. Put the lanterns out and everything. All you have to do is prepare your world-famous sausages.”
“Sure,” I said, thinking blankly.
“And besides,” she said, pointing to her belly, “there is no curse because this is coming! Oh, and I forgot to tell you after I got back from the Market this morning – Claudia is pregnant again! More good news!”
I tried to stifle the bizarre sound, something between a snort and a burp colliding in my trachea, which reflexively escaped me. “Sorry. Excuse me,” I muttered, avoiding Marylyn’s quizzical look. My head lolled back and I stared up at the long, thin clouds which had now stopped moving. They seemed as if they had been scratched out of the deep blueness by the sharp talons of some gigantic bird of prey from outer space. “That… is… amazing…” I said slowly, struggling to mask my voice choking down the revulsion.
Marylyn stood up abruptly and squatted in front of me. “What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed, as she pushed my legs apart.
“You are so damn anxious these days,” she said reproachfully, deftly opening my belt and unzipping my fly with her one hand. “And I am going to relax you.”
“You can’t do that out here!” I cried.
“Oh yes I can!” she laughed, taking me in her mouth. As her head bobbed up and down rhythmically, I could feel the endorphins racing from my pituitary gland, like horses out of the gate, invading and relieving every aching cell in my body. My mind drained itself of all its tormented thoughts and I no longer cared who might be watching us through a pair of binoculars.
“Oh, my God…” I groaned loudly as I released. I stared at the top of her head, my pelvis shuddering. Not for the first time I was struck by the perverse idea that my semen was now going to nourish my unborn child.
“You know what?” I said, my spirits suddenly buoyed.
“What, baby?” she asked, looking up with a wet, sugary smile.
“I think it’s a great idea to have the party earlier this year. You’re right. We could all do with some cheering up around here.”
Much later on that night, I stood in the basement in front of a long counter adjacent to the deep freeze. On top of it, on an old, worn butcher’s block lay the well-preserved body of Claudia and Brody’s deformed baby. It had been defrosting since earlier in the evening (after I had drugged Marylyn at dinner and put her to bed). It was now fully thawed. The beam from my surgical headlamp threw a ghastly, enlarged shadow of the open-mouthed corpse across the wall. Its outstretched hands, locked in rigor mortis, seemed to grasp desperately for some invisible lifeline dangling from the well of darkness on the ceiling.
Clenching a long-handled scalpel, I cut open the torso from the sternum to the navel and gently removed the slippery pink liver and florid heart, careful to leave the other organs in tact and in place. I put them on a scale and was pleased to see that, together, they weighed almost exactly 250 grams. “Perfect,” I whispered. With a carving knife I cubed them, along with an additional 250 grams of skinless, boneless pork shoulder. I ground the mixture in a high-speed grinder, 3-4 pieces at a time into a chilled bowl. I added my “world-famous” concoction of spices and some Italian red wine and, not long after, I was setting out the newly made sausages, which I had labeled ‘C & B’ alongside the others I had made earlier, a mixture of fish guts and pork, labeled ‘DB’.
Turning back to the corpse, after carefully stapling the flaps of the long incision, I wrapped it up in plastic sheeting and placed it in a duffel bag along with a can of propane. I glanced at my watch. It was 2:30 AM. Plenty of time. Marylyn was out cold and would not begin to wake up until later on in the morning. Snapping off the headlamp, I grabbed a flashlight, slung the duffel bag over my shoulder and trudged out of the house. I did not have to worry about alarming Ben because I had drugged him too.
I marched with stony-faced determination deep into the woods, far away from any known paths, the shadows of the excoriated trees dancing like ungodly wraiths in front of the bobbing glare of the flashlight. I could hear the sounds of night creatures scuttling away from me as I approached. The light occasionally caught startled orange eyes, momentarily glowing like a jackals’, before disappearing into the chilly blackness. Along the way I collected some kindling and firewood and, after finding a small clearing, built a tiny pyre, placed the baby’s corpse on top of it, doused it in propane and set it ablaze. I watched grimly as the skin blackened and popped, the flesh underneath melting away like meat fat from the burning embers of twig-like bones.
Mesmerized, I whispered into the flames: “You shall have your vengeance…”
To be continued…