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A while back I was trying to do a full month of guest bloggers. Then I got sick. Really sick. I ended up with a full month of being back and forth in the hospital. Mike Lane wrote a story for that month and it’s fantastic. I’ve decided to pick up where I left off. Thank you Mike Lane for this amazing story!
There’s A sucker Born Every Minute
by Mike L. Lane
The ’67 Satellite soared over the open road like an eagle silently scanning for prey. Beau beamed in the rearview mirror with unabashed admiration. The Plymouth was a direct result of his silver-tongued charm, dashing good looks and two years of peddling bogus goods at high markups and it sure beat the hell out of the broken-down Rambler he traded in. The Rambler was a complete lemon and he cursed the shady bastard who conned him into buying the hunk of junk in the first place. The bastard’s words burned in his ears to this day. When I see you, Beau, I see a business man fed up with the whole free love movement and the dirty hippies driving around in psychedelic Volkswagen vans. No, you my friend are a man on the move and a man on the move… a serious man… drives a serious car and a rambling man such as yourself drives a Rambler. Am I right? Considering his own line of work, he should have spotted the hustle from a mile away. But he did hate the hippies and he wouldn’t be caught dead in a VW. The man had read him like an open book and his need for transportation clouded his better judgement. The clunker had left him stranded in too many hick towns to count and after multiple repairs, a busted water pump, a shotgun peppered back windshield and miles of humping it on foot, he learned his lesson. He was the fast talker and everyone else would bend to his sales pitch or get out of his way, hand of God. After scraping up enough cash, Beau had marched into the dealership and negotiated for the ride he deserved. He convinced the salesman to drop the price and even the sales tax for the Satellite. The Satellite was the future and served as Beau’s personal reminder. He was in charge of his destiny. Everyone else was a mark to be taken advantage of.
The business was simple. Long before the ill-fated days of the Rambler, he discovered a basic truth P.T. Barnum was credited for, though the saying dated back long before his time. There’s a sucker born every minute. With this thought in mind, Beau invented a fictitious company, Honeycutt LLC, and traveled door-to-door with cases of bogus goods to unload on unsuspecting buyers. Needed a new tile and grout cleaner? Use Honeycutt’s Household Spray- a mixture of scented water and bleach. Going bald? Use Honeycutt’s Ultra Hair Tonic- a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and black shoe polish. The trick was to get his foot in the door, spot what the sucker needed most and convince them to buy. He was damn good at it, too.
The blurred trees surrounding the highway gave way to open wheat fields and a sign came into view.
BLUE BOTTLE CREEK
Beau had stumbled across odd named towns like this before- places like Toad Suck and Booger Hollow- so he didn’t flinch at the idea of Blue Bottle Creek. Backwoods bumps in the road like Blue Bottle were common throughout the state. Most didn’t exist in his tattered Rand McNally roadmap and were easily missed by an ill-timed blink. They hid in the thick woods undisturbed by time, caught in a 1930’s life and unaware of the forty year difference. The inhabitants were simple minded folk, gullible and easy to do business with, just the way he liked them. He down-shifted the Satellite and coasted to the gravel road before turning in. Blue Bottle Creek fit the bill fine. Besides, the Grapette soda he drank thirty miles back had gone straight to his kidneys.
The dirt road snaked past several wheat fields before being swallowed by endless groves of pines, oaks and southern magnolias. Frost burdened branches tapped the roof of the Plymouth and forced Beau to watch his speed. The AM radio crackled off and on, gaining and losing reception while Simon and Garfunkel made a choppy attempt at describing the bleak weather outside. The timid sky peeked through the foliage hovering over his path, but the winter sun refused to show, cowering behind a blanket of ashen clouds. The midafternoon road felt like midnight and the frigid air fogged his windshield. Beau shivered and adjusted the defroster. He disliked traveling into the unknown. He never knew what lurked around each bend in the road or crest of the hill and although he wasn’t frightened by what he might stumble upon, he was always alert. A good salesman, huckster or not, had to be.
Beau anticipated his first customer with each winding curve, only to find more trees. He kept the speedometer below thirty, but with each passing minute he found his foot growing heavy and the dull ache in his bladder served as a subtle reminder that he needed to make a pit stop soon. Like a man stranded at the bottom of a cavern, he was eager to break through the forest and into civilization. Irritated, he reached for his Lucky Strikes, pulled one from the box with his teeth and pressed in the dash lighter. In a moment’s distraction, a black cloud of insects splatted across the windshield with a sickening thud.
“Hell’s bells!” he exclaimed as he slammed on the brakes. Bug guts and crushed wings clung to the window and obscured his vision. He flipped on his wipers and smeared the insect carcasses like egg yolks across the glass. Beau stared in disgust as an oversized fly twitched in its death throes. The metallic blue bug lurched in his direction, banging its head on the glass. Unnerved, he moved back in his seat and jumped as an audible click sounded from the dash. The lighter was ready.
With a nervous laugh, Beau lit his cigarette, reached into the back floorboard for a rag and stepped out of the Satellite. The cold air bit at his skin beneath the suit and he sucked in smoke between chattering teeth.
“Nasty bastards,” he mumbled. He scrubbed the windshield on his side, careful not to touch any of the dead and dying flies. Lovebugs, or honeymoon flies as the old timers called them, were a nuisance he had dealt with before, but only in the spring. These were more like overgrown houseflies and to the best of his knowledge even they disappeared in the cold. It was the damnedest thing. He gazed out over the road where other clusters of flies hovered in the distance. Two of the pests, damn near the size of hummingbirds, buzzed about his ear. He frantically swatted them away and jumped back in the car, thankful he hadn’t been taking a piss. He popped the emergency brake and took off again, making a point to drive slower and hit the first gas station he found.
The woods grew thicker with each mile and the pressure on his bladder intensified. At such a reduced speed, flies hovered lazily past him. One thudded into the windshield, dropped a few inches and cling to the glass. Its mouth… or what he thought was its mouth, opened and shut on the hard surface. The fine feelers lining its gaping maw scratched the glass like wire bristles before it flew away in a stunned daze.
The car dipped down an incline before trudging up a steep hill. The trees thinned back into open fields again and at the peak stood his salvation. Like a beacon in the dark, a large house loomed on the horizon and his anxiety receded. At best, he envisioned the first sale of the day and this always put him in a good mood. At the very least, he could relieve his bladder in the privacy of someone’s bathroom, safe from the winged monstrosities splattering against his car. The house wasn’t the ramshackle lean-to he expected in such a remote location. It was large enough to imply the owners were wealthy and the cash register in his head dinged as he pulled onto the dirt driveway.
Still he was cautious. Simpletons from the backwoods might be easy to con, but they were also testy when it came to trespassing and most had the firearms to prove it. An actress was murdered in her California home back in August and although Blue Bottle Creek was a world away from Beverly Hills, the news of the home invasion was nationwide. Even country bumpkins were on high alert after the incident and Beau had no intentions of getting shot. He had only been fired at once, but once was plenty. He had pawned off a whole case of beauty supplies to a lonesome housewife in Whelen Springs and with a little added charm was invited to the bedroom for some much needed afternoon delight. Much to his dismay, the husband came home early from the saw mill. Beau barely had enough time to grab his pants and dive through the open window before the shotgun blast splintered the wall behind him. If the Rambler had been in one of its typical moods, he would have been gunned down in the driveway, but fortune was on his side. The old lemon fired up on the first try and the infuriated husband’s final shot busted his back windshield. The near miss hadn’t kept him from seducing the occasional buyer- he couldn’t be denied the job’s extra perks after all and with the war going on there were plenty of lonely women who craved a left-handed honeymoon- but it had made him more mindful of his surroundings. People this far back in the woods weren’t to be trifled with and caution was always key.
He let the car idle for a minute as he checked his reflection. A group of children chased one another in a nearby field, running endless circles one right after the other. The one on the end of the chase train stopped and turned toward the car. The child peered at him from behind a Halloween mask. The mask’s gaze squinted into a plastic grimace, its large rounded nose drooping over its upturned mouth. It took Beau a minute to place the character before a strange phrase popped into his head to shake the name loose.
“I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” he mumbled under his breath with a grin. “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”
Beau waved at the child as he stepped out of the Plymouth with a fake smile. He hated kids, but it was show time and his salesman personality kicked in without a second thought. The rest of the children stopped and glared back at the stranger in their yard. Each one of them donned the face of a different cartoon character. The smallest one was Minnie Mouse and Mickey stood nearby. The biggest kid was Donald Duck and the last boy wore the mask of a character Beau struggled to recognize. It looked like a crocheted version of Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon. The pathetic expression on the mask spoke volumes. Beau figured the kid donned the same sad expression beneath; irritated and ashamed of his mask in comparison to the others.
“Hi-de-ho, kiddos,” he said removing his fedora and offering a graceful bow. The gesture had no effect on them and they stood stone still. With a puzzled laugh, Beau placed the hat back on his head and tried again. “Is your ma or pa around?”
The children only stared.
“Bunch of retards,” he muttered under his breath through a forced smirk. Their united glare unsettled him, but he swallowed hard and gave it one last shot. “Any grownups home? Your dad or mom? A grandparent maybe?”
The bitter wind matched their silence and he tugged his suit coat tighter around him.
“An older brother or sister perhaps?” he added. After a moment of silence, he mumbled, “Kissing cousins maybe?”
Giving up, he prepared to go knock on the door when Donald stepped forward and pointed nonchalant at the house.
“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” Beau responded in his best Donald Duck voice. He hoped his impersonation would at least break the ice, but they remained stoic. The boy lowered his arm and the children ran off into the field in the same circular patterns as before. Beau shook his head in disbelief, stopped to check his reflection in the side mirror one last time and strode up the porch hoping the people inside weren’t as off-putting as the kids. He rapped on the door three times.
After a few seconds battling the cold wind and the mounting pressure in his bladder, the door cracked open and warm air washed over his frozen cheeks. A timid, pale woman peered apprehensively through the slight opening.
“Can I help you?” the woman said in a soft, sweet voice, her intriguing southern drawl a light whisper on the whistling wind. The door cast a shadow across her features while the door shielded the rest of her body from the cold. She was pretty in a mousey way with soft features and dark raven hair pinned up in a bun. The male in him sensed vulnerable prey and an opportunity for some after work enjoyment, but he placed these thoughts on the backburner. Counting the chickens before they hatched wasn’t a part of his M.O. The keen eye of the salesman noticed the sparse bags under her eyes and the silver strands hiding within the bun of her hair. The sales pitch Rolodex in his mind whirled and landed on the appropriate opening.
“I don’t mean to bother you, ma’am, but I was just speaking with your lovely neighbor down the road…” he paused and pointed in the opposite direction of the way he came in hopes she would fill in the blank for him.
“Marla Scott?” she asked, taking the bait.
“Yes, yes! Sweet Marla was her name! You must forgive me. I don’t normally forget names, but I wasn’t prepared to be met by such beauty and got so tongue-tied I plum forgot about poor Marla,” he said, spreading the act on thick. His full toothed grin evoked a similar response from the woman in return. He let an awkward silence fall between them, taking in the features of her face with feigned awe before speaking again. “Where are my manners? Here I am rambling on your doorstep like a bumbling buffoon and haven’t even bothered to introduce myself. I’m Andrew Beauregard Phillips of Honeycutt Health & Beauty Supplies, but all of my closest friends call me Beau.”
He took off the fedora and gave another graceful bow, his gaze locked on hers and his smile unwavering.
“You will call me Beau won’t you, Mrs.…”
“Miss Fora,” she corrected him with a blush. “But everyone just calls me Calli.”
“Calli! What a beautiful name to mirror such a beautiful woman,” Beau gushed. He gently took her hand in his and gave it a soft kiss. Calli’s pale cheeks reddened and Beau’s confidence grew. He loved the chase and at this rate a sale was certain. Maybe more if he played his cards right. With the pleasantries out of the way, he needed to push himself inside and out of the cold. He rubbed his hands together and gave off an exaggerated shiver not too far from the truth. “Do you mind if I come in and talk to you for a while, Calli?”
“Oh, land sakes alive!” she exclaimed. She ushered him in and shut the door behind them. “I am sorry as sin for not offering sooner! You must be colder than a polar bear’s toenails, bless your heart.”
The heat from the room was like stepping into an open furnace and hit Beau all at once. The cold air in his suit evaporated and he was grateful for the warmth. The overhead fluorescents blinded him and his vision washed over in white.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so bright in here,” he apologized. His sight adjusted beneath his palm as black shapes took form, outlining Calli’s slender frame. She wore a long, flowing nightgown and Beau sensed his luck improving by the minute. The outfit wasn’t sexy or scandalous by any stretch of the imagination, but the sheer silk and white laced ruffles held a peculiar charm. There was something intriguing, yet innocent about it.
“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Phillips?” she offered. Under the lights, an odd shade of blue resonated from within her black locks. She bit her lower lip and tucked a loose curl behind her ear. “Something to warm your bones?”
“Beau,” he corrected with his salesman’s smile. “And coffee sounds divine.”
“Take a seat in the front parlor… Beau,” she said, the blush returning to her cheeks. She shifted her gaze and hurried into another room, the white night gown flowing behind her. “I’ll bring your coffee in a jiff.”
Beau placed his fedora atop the hat rack and admired how clean and neat the house was. Everything was in shades of whites from the ivory end tables to the satin loveseats. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt to be found and the floor tiles were clean enough to eat from. The home seemed almost sterile. There were a few household products to peddle in the Plymouth, but the house was so immaculate his gut argued the futile idea. No, he would go with his original instinct. Calli needed some of his Honeycutt Cold Cream and Anti-Wrinkle Aides. It was easier talking women into the cold cream anyway. It was a concoction inspired by his grandmother, made from cheap Crisco shortening and isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol was the trick. Its cooling effect gave the impression of instant results. Mixed with a heavy dose of the cheapest, fruitiest perfume he could find, his cold cream fooled them all and cost him a fraction of what Ponds produced. Considering the amount of money spent on the living room alone, there was a small fortune to hustle here, ripe and ready for the taking.
“How do you like your coffee?” Calli asked, snapping him from his thoughts.
“Black will be fine,” he replied. He stood up from the love seat and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Oh, heavens no! I won’t hear of it. You make yourself comfortable by the fire and I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” she quickly replied and disappeared again.
Beau was relieved. His salesman persona required him to be cordial at all times, but he didn’t feel like helping her at all. He was eager to get started on his pitch and to be honest, didn’t really want the coffee. He was always grossed out by taking drinks and meals from complete strangers, especially the ones he targeted. Country folk were used to bare necessities and this was typically true about what they consumed.
He walked over to the mirror above the fireplace and checked his reflection again. Calli was an attractive woman, slight and slender with a bashful charm he found irresistible. The graceful way she glided around in the white, silky night gown enticed him. He was confident he could lure her into the bedroom later; a well-deserved bonus for the hustle he was about to perform. Grinning wide at his reflection, he took a moment to feather his hair and check his teeth. A trickle of sweat rolled from his temple and he blotted it away with the bottom of his tie. The room was warmer than expected and the suit jacket went from being paper thin in the cold to a heavy blanket within the warm house. He considered shedding it, but the suit was part of the act and appearing too comfortable too soon was a rookie mistake. Appearances were everything.
“Here you go,” Calli said. She offered the steaming mug of coffee and he made it a point to graze her fingers. He was astonished at how cold her skin felt to the touch.
“Thank you so much, Calli,” he said. With the first tentative sip, he fought the urge to spit it back in the cup. It was loaded with sugar and tasted like tree sap. He swallowed and feigned delight. “This is excellent coffee.”
“Bless your heart, you’re kind to say so,” she beamed, the red patches springing up on her pale cheeks again. There was something odd about her skin tone Beau found a bit unsettling. Despite the blush, her skin was so white, pale wasn’t an accurate description. It was an anemic alabaster, just a few pigments shy of translucent. Purple veins pulsated in the shallow confines of her skin and her flesh appeared thin enough to burst under the slightest touch. He supposed it was a result of the white washed room, the fluorescent lighting and the blanched gown she wore. He shook the image from his mind and was startled when she broke the silence in the room. “You said you just came from Marla Scott’s?”
“Yes!” he exclaimed and was shocked to hear his calm, cool voice crack. He cleared his throat, gathered his thoughts and pushed forward. “I gave Marla a few free samples of my Honeycutt Cold Cream and Anti-Wrinkle Aides- which she absolutely loved by the way- when she mentioned your name and how you might be interested in them as well. But now that I see you for myself, Calli…”
He closed the gap between them and gently lifted her chin. Caution was key here. How he delivered his next few sentences would determine the sale and any bonus action he had in mind. After pausing long enough for Calli’s baby blues to retreat from his advance, he continued.
“Can I be honest with you? Marla is a beautiful woman- there is no doubt about it- but I must say she pales in comparison to you. I don’t know if you even need what I’m selling.”
He had never even met Marla Scott, of course, but it didn’t matter. Calli had shown enough kindness and poise, she would never say a harsh word about her neighbor’s appearance even if the lady was a wart infested toad. Besides, the whole ruse worked in his favor no matter how Marla looked. If she was pretty enough for Calli to question her own beauty, a sale was in the bag. Keeping up with the Jones’ the old timers called it. And if Marla was a walking nightmare, what woman didn’t love being placed on a pedestal, even if her competition was subpar?
“You are too kind, Beau,” she said. “I’m no beauty queen.”
“Blasphemy! Put me in my place if I am being too bold, but you, my dear, are a goddess,” he exclaimed, raising his arm to the heavens in a solemn oath. “Hand of God.”
Calli laughed and shook her head. For a moment, Beau wondered if he had gone too far.
“I can’t figure you out,” Calli said, stepping away from him and gliding toward the fireplace. “You’re either the most charming man to come calling on me or you’re the best snake oil salesman I’ve ever met.”
“Snake oil salesman?” Beau asked with mock hurt. Something unpleasant tickled the nape of his neck and he swatted it. His palm came away damp with sweat. “Why, I haven’t even tried to sell you anything, Calli. Besides, can’t a man compliment a woman on her beauty just out of sheer admiration?”
“I suppose so,” Calli agreed. “Whatever your reasons, I’m sure you are all the buzz with the ladies, Beau.”
“And it’s not just your beauty I admire, Calli,” he said, ignoring the compliment and pressing forward. “It’s all that you are. It’s the way you carry yourself in front of a complete stranger with kindness and compassion. I look around this immaculate home and see the fine children you are raising all alone and I wonder how you manage to keep your home so clean. It must be so tiresome!”
Beau made a grand gesture of this, running his finger across the mantle place and showing it to her in amazement as his finger come back squeaky clean. His point made, he retreated from the unbearable fireplace. The intense heat in the room contended with the pressure on his bladder and he sought shelter near the window.
“I admit,” she answered with a humble smile, “it is tiring at times, but I love my children and I’d do anything for those little suckers.”
“I never doubted it,” he said. He peered out at the oddball children running around outside and fought the urge to roll his eyes at his own comment. Only love could keep her from running away screaming at the sight of those masked dimwits, he thought. The room’s heat tested his resolve; his irritation bubbling beneath the surface of his pleasant façade. Sweat stains blossomed under his armpits and around his collar. “But children do take a toll on one’s youth.”
It wasn’t quite time for the switch, but waiting wasn’t an option. Sweat trickled down his back and if he didn’t get the ball rolling soon he was afraid he would say something crude. After some silence, Calli spoke up.
“Well, I have started growing crow’s feet,” she said softly, staring at the floor. “And these dark rings.”
“I never even noticed,” Beau lied. He returned to the loveseat and lifted her chin. Fearful of what he might say, her eyes gradually met his. He inspected her face with the appraisal of a jeweler. “They are barely visible, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I do see what you mean.”
The switch was never easy. No woman wanted her flaws pointed out especially one as delicate as Calli, but Beau had pulled this maneuver so many times it came natural to him. Now was the time to build her back up, but the inferno in the room was causing his head to throb. His back was drenched in sweat and if he didn’t break out of the jacket soon he thought he might faint.
“Don’t look so sad,” he said. “It just so happens I have the perfect thing for you, my dear! I’ll tell you a secret. Marla was in desperate need of my Honeycutt Cold Cream and she felt its healing powers right away. She’s so thin and gaunt her crow’s feet looked more like rooster claws, but my cold cream did the trick, lickity-split.”
This comment almost always forced a chuckle, but Beau realized his mistake before Calli voiced it and his mind scrambled for an excuse.
“Beau… uh, Mr. Phillips, Marla is a very… round woman,” Calli said with a wince, as if pointing out her neighbor’s flaws caused her pain. She inched away from him on the sofa as she spoke, her tone puzzled. “She is far from thin.”
“I apologize,” he said, loosening his tie and allowing it to dangle unkempt from his neck. The air was so thick and humid his breaths were labored. He had messed up, but he convinced himself the damage was reversible. There’s a sucker born every minute, he reminded himself, you just have to know the right words to say and you have to spit it out before she has time to think. Grasping the first explanation to come to mind, he forced it on her like vomit. “I meant to say her nose was so thin and gaunt. A thin nose draws attention to crow’s feet and bags under the eyes, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” she said, but her hesitant response was proof she wasn’t buying it. He knew under normal circumstances he could right this train, but the blazing air surrounding him jumbled his thoughts. All he wanted was to strip to his boxers and run out into the cold air. He needed time to think and his throbbing bladder reminded him of the one guaranteed retreat available to him.
“I am so sorry to ask, but can I use your restroom?” he pleaded. His plastered smile melted and the urgency of his question crept through.
“Sure,” she said. She pointed to a room at the end of the hall and he made a mad dash, apologizing profusely as he went.
Stars swam in his peripheral vision and buzzed around his ears like a swarm of flies. He slammed the door behind him, stripped off his coat, dropped his pants to his ankles and urinated with a heavy sigh. The release of mounting pressure was one great relief, but even the bathroom was a broiler oven. Sweat rolled through his close cropped hair and streamed down his chest and legs in buckets. The thick scent of his body odor permeated in the confined space, sour and salty. The temperature was well above one hundred and for the first time he wondered how Calli stood it. Through the course of the past half hour, she had never shown the first inkling of discomfort. In fact, she seemed as cool as a cucumber, unfazed by the boiling air. He leaned over the sink and splashed cool water on his face certain he needed to leave, sales and sex be damned.
“Are you okay in there, Mr. Phillips?” she asked with a light rap on the door. He jumped at the sound of her voice and scrambled to gather his thoughts. Even if he had blown the sale here, there was always Marla Scott down the road, not to mention all the other potential buyers in Blue Bottle. He needed to make a clean getaway without rousing any more suspicion.
“I’m right as the rain,” he lied. Staring in the mirror, he didn’t recognize the strange man before him. His reflection was sopping wet and disheveled. His face glowed bright with heat and his eyes burned like coals. His mouth, keeper of the shark toothed smile and silver tongue, was drawn down in a tight red knot. Struggling to pull himself together, he tidied his appearance in a flurry and went to the door. “Besides, I thought we were on a first name basis, Call…”
The last syllable of her name caught in his throat. Calli’s night gown was completely unbuttoned and revealed the supple swell of her breasts on both sides. The tidy bun was undone and her wavy, black hair hung loose around her shoulders. The shy, mousey expression was replaced by a sultry smirk. For a brief second, Beau forgot about the infernal heat.
“Of course we are, Beau,” she purred. She ran a cold, slender finger down his sweat soaked shirt and played with the top button. “I was thinking we should get to know each other a little better, don’t you?”
Beau was dumbstruck. Calli managed to unbutton three buttons and was kissing his bare chest before his sense of reasoning took hold. Something about this woman, no matter how sexy she appeared, was off. She had transformed from a timid homebody to a sex kitten at the flip of a switch. Her house was hotter than the devil’s anus, yet she was cool to the touch. She had caught him in a lie and disregarded it like a bad memory. His instincts screamed for him to leave and in a hurry. He gently took her arm and pulled away.
“I’m sorry I wasted your time, Calli,” he said, fumbling with his words. He had never refused sex before and the whole experience seemed surreal. “Perhaps it’s best I be on my way.”
“Why, heaven sakes, no. Things are just starting to heat up,” she said with a smirk. She licked sweat from her upper lip and he realized at once it was his sweat. She hadn’t been kissing him at all. She had been lapping the foul scented sweat from his chest with an insatiable thirst. The rank smell of his own body odor made his stomach lurch. He was about to voice his disgust when something else stole the words from his mouth.
A housefly landed on her left eyebrow. It wasn’t oversized like the ones drying on the Plymouth’s windshield, but its body was the same metallic blue. Calli didn’t budge. It was as if nothing was there at all. Nor did she move when another fly landed in her long lashes and preened itself. A third fly emerged from within her right ear, buzzed lazily around and settled on her upper lip. Calli never flinched.
“I have to go,” he said pushing past her. Her bizarre behavior and the roaring heat were too much for him to comprehend. Her bare feet padded behind him, but he refused to stop. He opened the front door and was about to make a run for it when he noticed his car was no longer in the drive. “Where in the hell is my car?!”
Smoke from the wheat field caught his attention and his jaw dropped at its source. The masked children warmed themselves in front of the Plymouth, a blazing fire rippling from the hood.
“Hell’s bells!!!” he screamed in disbelief. The children turned at his voice, their happy masks beaming. The Plymouth Satellite was a roaring bonfire. Flames flickered from the seats and danced across the dash. Red embers rose from the fire and scattered like leaves on the November wind. The cases of Honeycutt Cold Cream added fuel to the fire, exploding in the backseat. Beau’s anger reached its boiling point and spittle flew from his lips as he screamed, “Kill you all! I’ll fucking kill your stupid Mickey Mouse asses! Each and every one of you retarded little shits!!! Hand of God! Hand of God, I will!”
The biggest one raised his glove and lifted the Donald Duck mask. The plastic, duckbill grin revealed the child’s disfigured face and the words in Beau’s mouth dried to sand. His skin was the same semi-translucent color as Calli’s; a sickening, milky alabaster. His head was void of a mouth, nose, eyes or ears. It wiggled in ringlets, fat at the neck but narrowing to a hairless point where its scalp should have been, like an oversized maggot.
“My sweet babies. Bless their little hearts,” Calli spoke from behind him. “They need the warmth to survive, but they do love frolicking in the yard. Sorry about your car, Beau, but you won’t be needing it anyway.”
The hair on the back of Beau’s neck stood on end. Her babies? In the shock of the moment, he had forgotten about Calli. Calli, the creature who had given birth to these abominations and who had licked sweat from his body like some sex craved fiend.
“Look, Calli,” he said, slowly turning toward her with his arms raised in submission. “I don’t want to cause any trouble. I’m not even mad about the car, okay? I’ll just be on my way and never speak of you or your children to anyone. Hand of God, you have my word…”
Calli’s nightgown lay behind her on the floor. Her legs were spread apart in an awkward stance with her knees much lower and bent back in the wrong direction. She closed the ground between them in a floating rush, her bare feet skimming the floor tiles. Black hairs spread across her arms and legs like a taint through a spoiled bowl of fruit. Flesh split on both of her shoulder blades and two barbed appendages lashed out at him. He turned to run, but one slashed at the back of his foot and severed his Achilles tendon with a sound like ripping fabric. He screamed in painful misery as he fell onto the porch, his leg no longer able to bear his weight. The kid with the crocheted mask turned toward him and tilted his head as if to say, Who’s pathetic now? Calli’s other barbed appendage wrapped around his waist and pulled him back inside, its sharp hairs pricking deep into his flesh like needles.
“Oh God oh God oh God,” he sobbed. He wanted to beg for his life, but the words hung in his throat.
“Land sakes, Beau! You shouldn’t carry on so,” she said. He couldn’t tell if the pity in her voice was real or her own twisted version of a sales pitch. He dug his fingers into the passing tiles, scratching and clawing to find purchase. Two fingernails snapped off into a trail of blood before Beau acknowledged he was no match for her strength. She pulled his limp body across the hallway floor with ease and down into the cellar. Beau watched in horror as the open front door disappeared from sight. “It’s not so bad, dear, I promise. I have no intentions of killing you.”
“Oh God, please no,” he moaned. If she wasn’t going to kill him, there was only one other thing on her mind. Tears streamed and mixed with the snot bubbling from his nose. Involuntary convulsions of terror rocked his body. He had to talk his way out of this, but the horror was too great. It choked the words pouring from his lips into a shrill whine. “I can’t… I mean we can’t! My … my equipment… down there… it doesn’t work, you see? Limp as a noodle in boiling water, hand of God. Please, God no…”
Calli laughed and tossed him onto a filthy mattress on the cement floor. The impact sent a wave of sharp pains through the puncture wounds in his abdomen and he sobbed hysterically. The foul odor of the room burnt into his nose and churned his stomach. It smelled like a mixture of rotted fruit and sewage. She spread him out, roping his arms and legs to four iron stakes as he blubbered for mercy. With him secured, she placed her foot beneath his chin and lifted it toward her.
“Do you really think I want to lay with you?” she laughed. She stood dominantly over him, but Beau kept his eyes clamped shut, his mind unwilling to accept whatever horrible sex act she was prepared to unleash on him. Disturbing images forced bile into his throat and he vomited on his shoulder. “Honey, no offense, but you’re not really my type. Now open your eyes.”
He refused. Whatever depravity she had in mind, he wouldn’t watch. He couldn’t. Thoughts of spawning insect half-breeds with this creature flooded his brain like a recurring nightmare. Warm fluid splashed his stomach wounds and he screamed.
“Oh, hush! It doesn’t hurt,” she said, the first hint of irritation creeping into her voice. “Take a gander for yourself.”
Beau kept his eyes shut, but he felt something change within his open wounds. The searing pain subsided. The puncture wounds were no longer burning coals but an almost tolerable dull ache. They began to itch, the same type of intense, maddening itch of a scar as it heals. He raised his head for a better view.
“I secrete a healing enzyme,” Calli explained. Beau was mesmerized by the wounds. They were covered in the slick, slimy substance, but much smaller than before. They itched like mad, but his restraints kept him from scratching.
“Is this some sort of sick sex game for you?” Beau snapped, turning his head away again. “You hurt me, lube me up with itching slime and rape me?”
“Beau,” she sighed shaking her head, “you are one typical male. For the last time, honey, I’m not having sex with you. Ever. No one is.”
A strange moan issued behind him. Startled, Beau angled his head around. On another mattress was a large mound of sore covered flesh. Blood oozed from grayish wounds and hundreds of large, milky puss pockets were scattered all over it from head to toe. The body shivered in haggard, shallow breaths and wild eyes stared back at him. Its mouth pleaded with urgent, pitiful moans, but whatever the flesh mound tried to convey, its meaning was lost on Beau. The words were unintelligible.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Calli said. Sarcasm dripped from her lips. “I thought you knew my neighbor, Marla.”
Marla, or what was once Marla, bucked against her restraints. Streams of phlegm erupted from her open mouth and splattered on the cement in gobs. One rounded nub of an arm reached out for Beau and he angrily looked back at Calli.
“Not so thin and gaunt after all, I’m afraid,” Calli grinned. “But bless her heart, she has lost some weight.”
For the first time Beau got a good view of Calli’s naked body. Her stomach had been shielded well behind the night gown, but now there was no hiding it. The semi-translucent skin of her belly revealed rows and rows of pearls within. But they weren’t pearls at all. A popping noise sounded behind him like someone snapping bubble wrap and he turned back to Marla. Horrific realization hit him all at once. The puss pockets on her flesh gave way, one by one, bursting with larvae. Miniature versions of the Donald Duck kid squirmed free from Marla’s flesh and Beau’s heart mimicked them, attempting to escape from his chest.
“I lay my eggs in decaying flesh, Beau, but don’t you worry your pretty little head over it. My secretions will keep you alive for many, many years, I promise. Hand of God, as you say,” Calli said, squatting over him. The southern drawl he had found so intriguing was no longer sweet or sexy, but menacing. “Land sakes alive, Beau! I’m willing to bet there’s one of those little suckers born every minute.”