Bewildering Stories

Attention, PLEASE!

Steven L. Shrewsbury



"We are all born crazy. Some remain that way."
—Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1955)

Harriet ran a fading hair from her scalp across the well-honed blade of her husbandís ax. As the hair split, confusion set in her throbbing brain over just where to place this instrument. Harriet ruminated that she must apply this ax where it will do Phil the most goodóbut where was that spot?

Her husband hadnít been a bad man really, she thought, just not as focused as she wouldíve liked. He worked hard to provide them with a home while Harriet went through college. A good father and an adequate lover, Phil wouldíve made any woman happy. Harriet grunted and then said aloud, "If they could get his attention!" As she walked about in their home rubbing the ax handle she heard a voice ask, so what is the problem? After twelve years of marriage she felt Phil was bored with her. At first, he sent her a card almost every week reaffirming his love. Now, it was strictly a holiday affair to get a love reminder from him. Phil still told her he loved her, but usually after only a furious bout of sex. More often than not he had to watch porno to get excited enough to get it on with her, she mused, swallowing hard.

She could live with that, but it was that he spent a nary spare moment with her! Yes! That was it! Since her medication started, his interest waned. Phil's mind couldnít handle the fact that she was nervous! Who was to blame for that?

Slowly, Harriet cruised through their home, her brown eyes leering about for a prospective culprit for their marital dullness. Phil was a multifaceted man so blame could start on any number of hobbies that occupied his time. Her eyes rested on a stack of comic books. They were Philís not the childrenís. He possessed thousands of them sealed in boxes in some storage house.

No, they werenít guilty. Phil didnít pay them much mind recently. He moved most of them into storage not long ago, much to her shock. Phil worked in his woodshop more as of late. Harriet didnít mind his woodworking activities much. He built several houses and play structures for her seven cats. That was no sin.

Her next potential victim was the television. Phil was an avid movie lover before they were married, but again, this was no longer of much interest to him. Grimacing, she moved into the study and then heard Philís voice call up the stairs to her.

"Harriet? Harry? Iím finishing up out back! Iím gonna go rent some movies for later, all right?"

"OK!" she called out as she twirled the ax handle in her bony fingers. Phil had been in the shop all morning, after he finished his daybreak writing. She whined to him about spending more time with wood, nails and paper than her. Phil shot back comments about her "Damned cats" and headed to the shop. Phil loved animals but only when cooked on a spit. He always tolerated her tabbies before, but complained of their odor often.

Then it hit heróTHE COMPUTER! That is where he spent too much of his damned time!

Harriet stood in front of the slumbering computer with ax, poised to strike. Nothing had been the same since this thing arrived, she knew. She was sick of his western stories and dustbowl dramas. The old west made her puke and shake nervously, not understanding how those people survived all that! If they spent one more vacation in monument valley she promised to deposit her guts on the beautiful scenery. Sure, his stories provided an additional income, but she was more important than those characters on his papers. Did she not rate better than morons named Gus, Vance or Audrey?

The blade of the small ax split the air with a WHOOSH just before it permanently divided the computer screen. She insisted that Phil unplug it whenever he didnít use it so she bore no fear of the energy that usually coursed through this monstrosity. Once the screen fell away she bashed the ax down on the rectangular hard drive underneath, smashing the repulsive object wildly until she was certain her job was complete. It sat before her gutted, oozing fragmented chips and wire boards. No breath exhaled from the beast and a smile danced on her pale lips. All she could think about was her medication and what to make for dinner that evening.

She strolled casually down the stairs; glad the kids were at her motherís. She strutted about the living room with the ax on her shoulder, fantasizing that she was a female Paul Bunyon, or a Viking maiden fresh from axing a poor Briton to oblivion. Entering the kitchen, she laid the ax carefully on the counter top and opened the fridge. Pulling out a platter of leftover roast beef, she wagered this would be good enough stock for beef & noodles.

When Harriet moved to the stove, she spotted a new wooden structure in the back yard. She wondered what the tiny thing was, and then decided it was part of Philís tedious insanity. Phil certainly enjoyed a weird streak, but didnít most writers? She once caught him pouring four gallons of vinegar into the bathtub and then dumping an entire box of baking soda in it. He claimed it was an experiment for a story.

"Writers are nuts," she said and shook her head. Hemingway and Howard shot themselves, Phil said. Harriet didn't care about some nut that ran with bulls or a chronicler of barbarians. When she did read with one of her cats on her lap, her tastes swung more toward romance novels. The contributors to her romance magazines were a great deal more creative than her hubby!

The new structure in the back yard made her stare, though. It had been built from something else, she concluded as her anger grew. "That bastard tore apart a cathouse to make it!" she hissed. Harriet knew because she made Phil engrave every catís name on the doorway. In the afternoon light she could see the name TILLY etched on the board on the back of this construction going against the grain of the other boards.

Enraged, she picked up the ax and exited the house. As she stomped toward the wood makings she thanked God that the kids were gone for the day. There was going to be war over this tonight, she reasoned. Phil is going to get two lessons today!

When she reached what Phil created two lightning fast thoughts ran through her brain. #1. Where are my kitties in the yard? They are usually on a body like flies on dung when the back door opened. #2. Open your eyes silly! Canít you see them in front of you?

The cats were around the back of Philís morning project, strung up on a system of twine rope. Each dangled lifelessly over small trapdoors. Harriet knew nothing about the mechanics of such a thing, but it was plain to her that they werenít hung on the tiny gallows to kill them. They were dead before they were hung on the miniscule nooses. The tiny trapdoors, replete with shiny hinges, were equipped with no mechanism to make them open. The ropes werenít on any pulley system but tied behind each pole. The thought that each animal was throttled before this injustice bubbled into her brain and burst, bringing her no calm feelings.

Tears drenched her eyes as she noticed that each catís name had been finely engraved beneath its swaying feet. Each feline wore a black hood to hide their expression. All of these hoods were larger than Harriet remembered their heads being. She dropped to her knees and wept. Only then did she see the postcard under the hanging frame. It was a card filled with buttes and rock formation sites near the four-corner states. There was nothing written on the back of it.

Anger welled up and she screamed, howling and foaming so much that the neighbors called the police. When they came and took her away for animal cruelty, all she could say through a frothing mouth was that her husband was insane...and that was it.

***

The State thought otherwise.

When authorities searched the house they found the smashed computer and small droplets of Philís blood in various places in the bathroom. Coming up with no body, they searched the house and eventually excavated the crawl space. They never found any body or the card under the gallows. Harriet had stuffed the card in her mouth and digested it, as if that would destroy the real location on the card.

On several disks still intact for the computer detectives discovered plans written under the tag of HARRY. These plans showed how she planned to kill her husband and melt his body with acid. Around a small drain in their garage detectives found several jugs of hydro choleric acid along with traces of Philís clothing and more blood.

Several neighbors and her own family came forward to testify against Harriet. They told of vile rages against poor Phil and threats to "cook his goose" some day.

***

...And somewhere in northern New Mexico, living off cash from the sales of ancient comic books and hidden bank accounts filled by a pseudonym, Chance Ritter (alias of Phillip Coleman) wrote more stories about the man who done his old lady wrong...



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Copyright © 2002 by Steven L. Shrewsbury and Bewildering Stories.