Note: for readers of this blog, if any, the first 13 parts of this piece are available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/12/01/deep-freeze-consolidated-first-11-parts/.
From the leaded windows of the second floor, stiff drink in hand, I scanned the large gray-stone terrace out back of the house where the guests had been trickling in and milling around throughout the afternoon. Ben weaved nimbly through the crowd, eagerly hunting for dropped goodies. In years past, Leah had confined him to the house during the summer party but Marylyn let Ben do as he pleased and he adored her for it.
I saw Maeve Wheeler gesticulating excitedly at a platoon of over-weight, badly aging women fluttering around her as gracelessly as ostriches. Having recently undergone plastic surgery in the city, the skin of her face had been pulled back so tightly, her eyes were reduced to slits and her mouth, encircled by freshly botoxed lips, seemed permanently stretched into something in between an exaggerated smile and an agonized grimace. Behind her, it was fascinating to see Bob Darling chatting so merrily with his son, Joel, the author of the garish scar on the side of his head that the hair had never grown back over. As I stared at them, the early-evening sunlight softening like yolky dampness over the hills, a twisted overhanging branch from an injured tree began rhythmically and urgently tapping at the window. It seemed to be under the influence of some unknown force as there was not the slightest breeze. A blackbird alit at its end and, cocking its head, scrutinized me with eyes that had all the seeming of a demon’s and I felt a sudden chill.
My cell phone binged the sound of an incoming text message and I fumbled in my pocket.
Marylyn: Where are you?
Me: In the house
Marylyn: What are you doing in there?
Me: Just needed a minute
Marylyn: Well get out here – we need to start the bbq
Me: Coming – we got blackbirds
Me: Never mind – coming out now
A little later, I was sweating like a marathon runner over the enormous barbeque with a long lineup in front of me. Rafts of sausages sizzled and crackled as I swept them back and forth across the grill, always stabbing at them, with serrated tongs. A churning plume of thick smoke belched upwards, snaking through the leaves and pine needles overhead as if desperately hunting for something unattainable before dissipating into the nothingness of air.
I had always happily hosted this party but, this year, through the inferno of heat and smoke, I could only think about hospital incinerators, receptacles for ruined and unwanted human tissue; amputated limbs and smashed foetuses. Still, I had taken immense satisfaction in serving Doug Black his fish guts sausages and watching him greedily devour them. Afterwards, he wiped his greasy hands across the faded, old denim shirt stretched across his ever-expanding pot belly and attempting to engage in conversation with a handsome young man who had recently arrived in Herring’s Jaw (for reasons unknown but I would not be at all surprised if he was running away from something like many of the rest of us who had ended up here later in life). I turned away in disgust. My attention was now focused on the prize: Claudia and Brody. They were at the back of the now-short line chatting with Marylyn who would, of course, never dream of eating before everyone else had been served.
“Hey there, doc!” Brody almost shouted, giving me an almost painful slap on the shoulder. “Awesome Q, man!”
After pondering my slapped shoulder for a moment, I looked into Brody’s eyes and smiled the most benevolent smile I could muster. “Hello, Brody,” I said, shallowly breathing to keep my voice steady and calm-sounding. “Hello there, Claudia,” I said with a nod to her, both she and Marylyn looking at me with mirth-filled eyes. “How are you both? Or should I say, ‘how are the three of you’?”
“Fantastic!” said Brody, grinning like an idiot and rubbing Claudia’s belly. “Damned hungry though! Still got any left for us there, doc?” he asked, slapping his hands and rubbing them together as Claudia giggled.
“You know what?” I said, through a tide of adrenalin. “I saved for you two, the happy couple, my latest creation. Here, try these babies and tell me they aren’t my very best yet!”
“Aw, thanks,” bleated Claudia. “That’s so sweet of you!”
“The pleasure is all mine,” I said with the deepest sincerity as I plunked two regular sausages on Marylyn’s plate.
I sank into a chair beside the barbeque, wiping my face with a napkin, as I watched the three of them wander off to a corner of the terrace which glowed blood-red under Japanese lanterns that cast dragon shadows. I was almost bored watching Brody wolf down his plate. What I was aching to see was Claudia ingest her own murdered baby and know that she was nourishing her new baby with it. However, she and Marylyn were engaged in such animated conversation, clearly about their pregnancies, as they kept pointing to and touching their bellies. Come on, come on, I thought as exasperation pricked at the inner lining of my skull. Eat!
Suddenly, to my abject horror, Leah materialized out of the crowd and walked slowly towards Claudia and Marylyn. Her skin was as white as snow and her eyes were closed as if she was gently sleeping. She wore a long yellow and red silk scarf loosely around her unnaturally bent neck. I rose to my feet and was about yell when Leah’s eyes snapped open and bored into mine. I was paralyzed where I stood, frozen and unable to speak as if I had been overcome by locked-in syndrome. She closed her eyes again and walked up behind Claudia and Marylyn. She started mouthing words into their ears. They continued talking, as if she was not there, and then, with a wave of her hand, they traded plates and started eating. Ravenously eating.
“No!!!” I screamed without a sound escaping. “Don’t Marylyn!!! Don’t!!!” Engulfed in despair, I watched aghast as Marylyn swallowed the last piece, licking her greasy lips. Leah opened her eyes once more, briefly, and released me. I ran over to Marylyn, sweat pouring down my face and took her hard by the shoulders.
“Hey! What’s the matter with you?! You’re hurting me!!!”
“Marylyn!” I shouted, shaking her. “Listen to me. Stick your fingers down your throat and throw up. Please. Do it right now. Trust me. You… you can’t eat that… our baby! Please, throw it up! Do it now! Please!”
“What the hell are you talking about?! Let go of me!!! What’s wrong with you?!”
As the guests gathered around us to see what all the commotion was about, I let go of Marylyn and I turned to Leah who was still standing there, the faintest of smiles curling at the corners of her dead mouth. “How could you?!” I screamed at her hysterically. “How could you?! I loved you but you left me!!! Why?! Why did you do that?! Why are you doing this?!” She did not answer. She just turned and, walking towards the lake, vanished into the mist.
“Who’s he talking to, I wonder?” asked Brody, nonchalantly, as if he was watching a movie.
“He’s sick,” said Marylyn, her voice thick with fear and anxiety. “Let’s try and get him inside and lie him down.”
Turning back to Marylyn, I grabbed her by the back of the neck, roughly, and bent her over. “Marylyn! You have to throw that up!” I cried as I tried to shove my own fingers down her throat. Screaming, she struggled against me for a few moments before I felt the tip of a gun barrel being pressed against my temple.
“Let her go, doc,” said the federal agent, cocking the gun, “and put your hands behind your head nice and slow.”
I am now confined indefinitely to a small room in a maximum-security psychiatric facility. The federal agent had, unbelievably, found the spot deep in the forest where I had cremated Claudia and Brody’s baby. He had managed to extract DNA samples, including mine from some hair follicles left behind. I was tried for first degree murder but found ‘not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder’. Most of the town had testified about me shouting incoherently at a hallucination prior to attacking Marylyn. It turned out that, just as I was being arrested, I had actually succeeded in making Marylyn throw up. Needless to say, the jurors at my trial were horrified when presented with the lab results of the contents of her stomach. Nobody believed me when I testified that Brody had drowned the baby in the Chattering Teeth under duress from Claudia. Psychiatric experts called by the prosecution all concurred that I am a narcissistic sociopath.
I have had only one visitor since I was taken into custody and she is sitting with me now, in the corner of my room, as I write this last piece of my story. Leah has been my constant companion ever since the evening of the party, watching me intently, like a wolf that has cornered its prey. This morning, after I woke up from sedation, she mouthed words into the ear of the burly orderly responsible for stripping down and removing my bedding for the day. She convinced him to leave behind a sheet. All day long, she has been staring at a ceiling fixture and whispering over and over Come out from the woods, my dearest. It is almost nighttime now and things weep in the dark; creatures that bite.
I am listening to her. Right now.