W J Sluis
He was trying to follow the hand written directions without losing his patience. There seemed to be no correlation with the modern highway system and instead it referred to landmarks and ancient road signs for towns that may longer existed.
‘Did you see a turnoff for Hadleyburg?” he asked his wife.
“No”, she said, “I’m sure you wouldn’t miss it if we had passed it.” She was starting to tap her foot in tune with the music on the radio, a clear sign of impatience.
He took a quick glance, probing for any sarcasm.
“Look at the map again,” he asked her.
She opened the folded paper and scanned the instructions, the doctor’s instructions were written in a surprisingly neat hand, a far cry from the usual prescription squiggle they had expected from a doctor.
“Take Old Wisconsin 12 to Sump Road, left, go sixteen miles through Baker County. Make the second right…”
“Second right?” his challenge rose quickly and then throttled back, “Are you sure it was the second?”
There was an uncomfortable pause before she responded, “We haven’t seen any turnoffs for the last ten minutes.” Pausing, “I’m sure you couldn’t have missed it.”
They drove in silence, a verbal armistice loaded but on safe for the moment..
He fiddled with the radio getting only static and turned on the CD player. Soft classical filled the opulent vehicle.
He was a trained arguer, a lawyer who prepped for courtroom battle. She was gifted with a sharp tongue and a childhood filled with verbal sparring and long, simmering conflicts in the home. This was billed as their last chance to save a marriage already stretched to the limit.
The state highway turned slightly as the rolls of upland hills rose, twisted and undulated across central Wisconsin. Sparsely populated, the land was dotted with cranberry bogs and rocky farms whose abandoned shells lay overgrown with wild growth, shitwood, locals would say. It was an empty land, beautiful in its Spartan absence of man and billed as a tranquil retreat in the country.
A sign stood to the left of the road, a rusting sheet of tin that was nearly unreadable for the multiple bullet holes and hard winters.
“Here, finally.” He breathed with relief.
They turned onto a secondary road whose concrete was patched haphazaqrdly, a quilted path marking the many winters hard abuse. The forest grew closer, majestic pines whose lineage dated back to the Great Depression when armies of unemployed men had toiled in the service of the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps to replant the dust bowl and create a nation of parklands and service projects.
They rolled down the windows, a little awed by the perfect silence that emanated from the trees.
“This is something,” he said, cresting a forested road and finding a seemingly endless visage of green. No other cars traveled the way with them. They rode in silence through the wilderness, a voyage out of time.
She sat silently in agreement. It was remarkable to be so far from the great endless sea of Chicago in the northern part of the state.The trip was their last chance to save the marriage. The getaway was the final act before the endgame arrived and she made the final jump into divorce.
‘Cheryl, I know you are considering leaving him but sometimes a change of scenery can make all the difference,” the physiatrist said, not unkindly.
Sitting in the counselor’s office, alone, after Gerald had missed yet another appointment feigning work she responded, “I have already seen my attorney; he says I have an excellent chance of getting the house and portfolio. I can’t do this anymore...”
“You are partly to blame…” he said, not accusingly, but as a matter of fact. “You cheated on him.”
She began to stand; a defensive move that preceded many a session of feints and jabs, and then sat down, deflated.
“Doctor Billings,” she began.
“It’s still Brent,” his eyes laughed.
“Brent, I think this might be a mistake, all of it.”
“If I can convince him to take some time off with you I guarantee this can work, if the two of you let it.”
“If you can get him to take some time off,” she huffed, angrily,” this has been the problem all along. He bills sixty hours a week and still sits on the board of…”tapping her foot.
“Cheryl,” now adopting the fatherly manner that both infuriated and overwhelmed her, “let the past be the past. The two of you have to do this together or there won’t be a together anymore.”
“Would that be so bad? I will get the condo…”
“You would lose more than you would gain. The two of you have been together six years now…”
“Six years too long.”
Nonplussed,”…and this could spark the fire between the two of you. Give me a week to talk it over. No TV’s, no radio,” he removed his glasses and looked pleadingly into her eyes, “Give it a week and then come back to me.”
Cheryl crossed her arms and said, “A week…”
“Wow, “was all he could manage to say.
The road finally opened up to reveal the cabin.
“I thought he said there was a pond….” Cheryl said.
The twilight revealed an expanse of green water that lapped to the shores of an empty lake nearly a mile long and maybe half as wide.
“Is this all his?” Cheryl wondered.
On the near shore a small dock reached out onto still waters. The cabin was a one story whitewashed clapboard structure with a porch running the length of the waterfront side. Flower beds ran along the front of the cabin, now empty, but planted recently for all the turned soil. A flagstone walkway leads from the cabin to the dock and then petered out and was replaced by a dirt track that meandered past a barn off to the rear.
Gerald drove over the gravel surface and stopped in front of the barn.
He turned off the car engine and sat a moment, gathering his thoughts. Opening the door he leaned over the top of the sedan and breathed in the fresh air, redolent of water and the everpresent pine scent that flowed from the surrounding forest.
Leaving the passenger side Cheryl looked at her estranged husband, “Are we staying?” The question carried more weight than she meant.
A smile crossed his face and he moved to her side, “Yes, yes we are staying. I think this might be the place.”
“Why did you pack so much shit?” she asked as her husband pulled a camping cooler from the trunk.
A little sheepish, “He said the nearest store was ten miles or so and we might want to stay, well, private, out here,” hoisting the perishables though the front door.
Cheryl almost said something then thought better of it; her husband was making a real effort to get with the spirit of their retreat and if he was willing to make a go of it then she could too.
She crossed the muddy ground which showed the first green of spring grass and opened the door after her husband. He interior was dark and a little musty, probably from the long winter she thought. But nice.
The interior of the cabin held a surprisingly spacious kitchen whose appliances, while far from modern, appeared functional. An off white refrigerator sandwiched one end of a counter that held a small sink and five feet of counter. The stove looked a little old, a note on the counter said it was run on LP, whatever that was. A plain wooden table filled the center of the kitchen and had two straight-backed chairs with floral cushions. Bordering the kitchen an expansive living area took the front half of the building and was blessed with a stone fireplace large enough to stand in.
The one bedroom held a giant four poster bed made from wrought iron and a small dresser, scarred with use. The single bathroom had a toilet with a pull chain hanging from a box over the top and a shower stall. Small, but efficient.
Gerald studied the toilet intently.
“It’s a crapper,”he said, “Well, that’s what their called, I think.”
“Does it work?”
The mysteries of plumbing were suddenly their most pressing concern.
“Try the handle,” she said.
The pull chain disappeared into a recessed bolt on the underside of the box. He pulled it once, testing, and then gave a sharper tug. The bolt pulled down and a mechanical clicking sound could be heard in the expectant stillness.
The bowl stood empty and dry.
“I think we are going to rough it,” she said, meaning it as a joke, but the humor melted away quickly.
His annoyance was starting to build again, the lawyer in him was gearing up for a fight, a complaint and the earlier good mood was melting in friustration at defeat.
“We came all this way and now….”
“Didn’t he say there were instructions on the counter?” she stated.
Gerald reigned in his frustration at being challenged by so simple thing as a flush toilet and mock slapped his head, “Of course, he said the cabin had was shut for the winter and he had only come up here once this year.” Crossing the smallish bedroom towards the kitchen entrance, “We have to turn on the water and power.”
They returned to the kitchen and looked around. On the table a printed sheet of instructions lay face down beneath an old vase.
“Here it is, says here ‘Electricity First’.” Gerald was now moving and feeling better for it.
“Go to the panel next to the back door and turn on the main power switch by turning the lever to ‘on’” he read aloud.
The breaker box was painted gray and had metal conduit leading to on the top. Throwing the switch there was a load clank as the ancient metal snapped down and lights came on.
“Hey, “Cheryl jumped in surprise.
Cheryl now had the list and began to read as he stood ready to follow her orders. Caught up in the sudden adventure of their journey she called out,” go to the rear of the house and open he cover of the pump, flip the on switch and let the pump cycle for a minute.”
Gerald went outside and flipped a recessed switch that was sheltered with a plastic cover. A steady hum came up from the recessed well pump.
“It says turn off the pump and let some water out through the spigot on the left. It says you have to let the air escape or the pipes will rattle.”
Turning off the pump he then opened a rusting valve. A blast of cold water spurted out in jet and quickly subsided.
“Turn the power back on, quick!” she laughed.
He leaned over the pump and flipped the switch again; the hum of the motor sent a great surge of well water onto the ground. A backsplash rebounded off a rock and a cold jet soaked the side of his pants.
“Gawd that’s cold!” he laughed..
Cheryl couldn’t help herself and let out a giggle that might have ruined the moment but then he recovered and, taking a cupped handful of icy water, splashed her blouse full on.
“Gerry!” she gasped, “Jerk…” and then she laughed.
Now laughing at his own folly Gerald crossed to his wife and said, “I’m really glad we came,” and for the first time that year kissed her.
Cheryl tensed but gave in. Only a week…
“Honey, how do you light this thing?” he stood perplexed before the stove, an iron frying pan filled with eggs.
“With a match, dear.” She had slept well and awoke refreshed, playful.
“I turned the knob on the stove but I don’t think anything happened. You think the gas is turned off or something?”
She looked at the side of the stove where a jointed line ran into a small hole in the floor. Turning to the counter she picked up the instruction sheet that they had used the night before to prime the well pump and read.
“Oh, the gas is off. It says to go into basement and turn the master for the stove and the hot water heater.”
“Basement…” mumbling, “I didn’t see a basement door.” He took the instructions from her hand and read, “Says there’s an access from the bedroom closet. ‘Watch out for the ladder’.”
Returning to the bedroom, their bedroom, he looked about and found a trapdoor beneath a small collection of cardboard boxes in the corner of a small closet. Moving them aside and removing an old moth eaten jacket he lifted a trap door which swung upward on resisting hinges and peered below.
A whiff of dankness rose from the gloom beneath the cabin.
“Whew, someone’s got mildew down there.” He said.
Cheryl entered the bedroom with a maglight, “Found this in the kitchen.” Frowning at the small hatchway, “Be careful down there. Don’t bring up any spiders,”
He took the flashlight and started down the ladder which rocked on unsteady footing. Reaching the bottom he turned on the beam and surveyed the darkness; there seemed to be some scattered furniture or branches in the corner, tumbled and broken and vaguely green in them dim light. The floor was black dirt, lumpy and foul looking, discolored. He crossed the floor leaving moist footprints in the damp soil, the lake was near, and examined the utilities. The water heater lay directly under the kitchen. Raising the beam to the ceiling he say a line of gas pipe running from the rear wall, with the LP tank outside, to the heater and then again up through a hole. It must go to the stove, he thought.
A red valve on the pipe hung eye level from the low ceiling. He reached for it, “What do I do with the water heater now,” and turned the valve in the direction of open.
From above, “You light the pilot light by opening an access hatch on the bottom. Oh, turn the pilot valve on first.”
On the bottom of the water heater a small panel opened at the turn of a knob. The hiss of gas began as he opened the line.
He had one of the matchbooks that lay next to the stove.. Touching a flame to the jet of gas it erupted with fire and then the larger ring set beneath the body of the heater blossomed in a steady yellow glow.
“It’s on. I’m coming up.” He turned and made his way towards the ladder.
. Shelves ran along one wall containing a few boxes and mason jars. He walked to the shelf and saw they contained bits and pieces of metal, nails? something. Junk, mostly. A belt buckle caught his eye and he picked it up and saw an outdoors design done in tarnished brass.
“We have hot water and stove, mi lady.” Climbing the ladder, “I shall now cook your feast.” His clothes were smudged from the dust of the basement and he patted himself in an attempt to rid it. A small cloud enveloped him and he coughed.
She was laughing from the sight, “Take a shower and I’ll finish breakfast then we’ll take a walk around. I think it’s going to be a beautiful day outside.”
Cheryl made quick use of the stove once the burner was lit. Eggs and freeze-dried hash browns flew onto their plates and she toyed with the older utensils she found in the drawers of the cabinet before deciding to forgo using the plastic ones they had brought with them.
She was relaxing more as the hominess of the cabin set in. It was a really nice place, much different than the upscale life she was used to on Chicago’s Gold Coast of luxury condos along the lake front. Less complicated, inviting.
No cell phone, no television, no other people, everything that Dr. Billings had promised. A week’s vacation in the country and then goodbye to Gerald and on with her life. She’d had enough, no matter what happened here.
Glancing out the small window she lingered on the massive trees that surrounded their getaway and wondered why Billings had allowed them free access to this paradise.
He was an sweetie, she thought, always on them to reconcile and get back together; to kiss and make up.
Determined to make the most of these last days she decided to have a good time.
In the shower Gerald undressed and experimentally turned on the shower letting the water run. It was frigid from its deep slumber beneath the ground but quickly warmed as it flowed. Stepping into the stream he lathered up with a bar of Irish Spring and began to wash in earnest.
Beneath the kitchen floor the flame in the water heater brightened as the demand for hot water increased, a small solenoid increased the gas flow and it pulsed higher. The flame licked the bottom of the tank, quickly raising a blister of red as the metal heated. The metal pulsed slightly as the flame increased and then the flash of warmth spread downward past the supporting legs.
The naked soil steamed slightly as vapor flashed and expanded outward from the point of impact. A small glow, phosphorescent and otherwise invisible, began to pulse and quiver on the floor of the basement following the path of escaping steam. The flash of luminescence spread further across the floor and into the rocky foundation of the building, where it sparked a St. Elmo’s fire which arced from stone to stone. Soon the entire room was throbbing and glowing in a sickly opalescence. The glow climbed in frequency and strength, building into a steady light that burst in a sudden brilliance that flashed once, twice in the darkness and then stopped, abruptly, and went out.
The basement sank into darkness once again.
In the kitchen above Gerald and Cheryl sat down for breakfast together.
“Oh, I forgot the coffee pot,” rising from the table, “Let me….”
“I drink too much coffee as it is.” Gerald said, “Don’t get up unless you want some yourself.”
She enjoyed the newfound compassion in his voice and said, “Well, did you want to explore a little. He said the whole pond was his, or lake, we would have it all to ourselves.”
“I like the idea of a private lake. Maybe we could swim later.” Neither of them had brought a swimsuit. The invitation surprised him, a little.
She didn’t respond..
Clearing his voice, “Take your shower, I’ll clean up and we’ll take that walk.”
There was a foot path leading into the forest proper. It was warming up in the late morning but a hazy fog lingered between the trees, more of the mighty pines that FDR’s legions of workmen had toiled to plant in those impoverished times decades ago. The way was quiet, no motor sounds could be heard this far from civilization, the trees seemed primeval in their solitude. It might have been a sacred grove from some long lost druid encampment of yesteryear.
They walked a bit, pointing out trees and animals to one another. City dwellers, the northern woods awoke some hidden outdoorsman quality and soon they were swinging their arms and relishing the easy climbs and new discoveries.
Topping a small rise they stopped to catch there breathe admire the waters.
“I’m glad Dr. Billings made me come,” Gerald stated, now more relaxed and frank of tongue than he would have expected. “This is a great place, I’m so glad we came here.”
Cheryl said nothing, wanting him to continue.
“We, we really made a mess of things this last year. I know I have ignored you, I have spent too much time at the office and only made things worse by not paying attention when you were trying to ….”
“We both made some mistakes. I guess we just have to make the best of a bad situation” The words came from Cheryl’s lips. “This really is so nice. Wouldn’t it be great to live here year round?”
Gerald took her hand, “What if we did, live up here.” He made a sweeping gesture at the countryside around them. “I could get a practice up here, some small town and hang out my own shingle, lots of legal work everywhere. It would be quiet and we would be, together.” He looked at her expectantly.
She didn’t know what to say so she kissed him, hard, and forced her tongue in his mouth.
He greedily pulled her to him and steadily forced her down where they lay necking and touching; he began to breathe heavily as their petting increased.
“Not now, Gerry,” she gasped, “Maybe later…”
They lay on the pine needles, he frustrated but hopeful, she resigned.
“Did we remember the bug spray,” he asked, scratching at his legs.
“God, I sure hope so. If not I’m sure we’ll find something in the cabinet; it never goes bad, you know.”
“What should we do for now?” he whined a little.
Thinking of how to avoid the inevitable for awhile she said, “I think he has a boat in that shed. Maybe we could get it out?”
“I hope it’s not too old, they say that old boats leak.” Cheryl had never been on a boat.
“I’ll check it out tomorrow. Feel like a dip in the lake?” Gerald teased.
“I walked out on the pier and put my hand in, the water is icy cold. You want to dive in that?” she stated.
“Maybe we’ll just paddle around it instead. You feel like fish for dinner tomorrow?”
“If you catch something I’ll be happy to cook it,” she said playfully, “If the captain can launch his boat,” and she mock saluted.
They spent the rest of the day exploring and making small plans for their week off; the flue to the fireplace was opened with some effort and they gathered sticks and small branches from the surrounding woods. Dinner flew by as they drank wine, picnicked in the front room and recounted their early days after college.
“Do you remember that old club off Michigan, the one with the piano in the back?”
“Was it near the Firehouse?”
“No…near the offramp…I think.” Laughing.
“I’m still so horrible with directions…”
“Didn’t it burn down…?”
“No, it was the one on Rush Street.”
He refilled her glass and then opened a second bottle.
Feeling well lubricated Cheryl raised her glass, “To Dr. Billings and his cabin on a lake in the woods may we never leave his weekend getaway…”
She reached over and kissed him, hard, and they made it to an old sofa before loosing control. Gerald cupped her breast as he fumbled with his zipper but she beat him to it.
Reaching into his pants she guided him into her mouth. Gerald nearly came but he held off and nearly ripped her clothes undressing her.
They barely made it to the bed before ….
The house was awakening slowly; the chemical pheromones increased its activity. As the couple touched and groped, mutual lust awakened old feelings and they embraced again; strange things started too happen: Where the lights had died away small beads of condensation began to appear, milky in color and more viscous than water. It began to ooze from the stone walls in small rivulets that joined to flow faster as sap flows in a newly awakened tree. On the floor the loamy dirt pulsated as droplets of ooze reached the soil and this in turn sent shivers though the walls of the foundation that spread in mirrored sympathy to the building itself. First the vertical supports began rhythmic vibration that spread to the plaster lathes and this in turn spread up, up to the rafters and overhanging supports.
The entire structure groaned as its bulk expanded slightly, laden with new life. The walls hummed audibly for a moment and then there was silence. Expectant.
In the bedroom they sensed none of this. Gerald had entered his wife, oblivious to the transformation around him.
Cheryl arched spastically and reached a shaking climax that surprised her in its suddenness and ferocity; she rarely climaxed so quickly with her husband.
Around them capillaries throbbed and pulsed, branches of near sentience.In the rafters above the bed a small dampness of amber fluid began to pool, drawn to the height of the cabin by a reverse osmotic action that would have perplexed most engineers, had they lived to study it.
Cheryl lay awake listening to her husband snore next to her in post coital bliss. She was thinking about her attorney and the unsigned forms that awaited her in a safety deposit box back in Chicago. Old resentments flooded back, the long nights alone while Gerald chased partnership; the fights, most of them trivial, that had caused so much tension.
Trying not to wake him she crawled out of bed in the darkness and felt her way into the bathroom, closing the door. It was cool; the night was still and country fresh.
A bird cry echoed outside.
Cheryl sat down shivering in her nakedness, the porcelain was old but serviceable.
What to do, she thought; Gerald was expecting their relationship to heal itself overnight when she had already made up her mind. Maybe she could write off the week as a merciful release? Maybe she would let him down when they got back to the city; it would be a shame to waste the privacy they had together.
On the ceiling above a small crack appeared, pregnant with questing fluid. It dripped, languid, onto the top of the reservoir and then flowed onto the small pull chain which hung from the tank.
She thought about the young stockbroker she had been seeing; he certainly made time for her. Maybe she could keep him on the side while…no, that would be living a lie.
It was too much. Finish off the week and let him down gently. She had outgrown him that was all. Gerald wouldn’t put up too much of a fight. She always had controlled him.
Above a grasping proboscis formed from the liquid, tendrils of fibrous matter slithered down the length of the handle.
Finishing her business she reached for the small wooden handle at the end of the chain and pulled….
Gerald awoke with a familiar sense of release, both tired and rested from the night before. He thought about last night, and was happy.
‘Mornin’ sleepy, breakfast is on.”
Throwing aside the comforter he sat up.
Cheryl stood in the doorway, an unfamiliar apron around her waist and the smell of bacon in the air. She glowed happily in the morning light. Beatific.
“Good morning, “he said. “How long have you been up?”
“Oh, maybe half an hour or so, “ she lied easily, “I thought we would start the day off with a lumberjack’s breakfast and maybe try to get that boat out, if your up to it.”
“You really want to get the boat out? On the lake?” perplexed.
“I might like lots of things if I try them,” her smile stretched from ear to ear.” You wanna spend the day in bed? I could be tempted to join you…” she played at pulling the apron off.
Smiling, “Let’s get the boat out if you want. Do I have time for a shower before breakfast?” he was delirious with her new affection and promise of restarting their failed marriage.
She struck a languid pose and answered, “We have all the time in the world.”
The shower came on cold but quickly warmed up. Jumping into the spray Gerald lathered up and daydreamed about the possibilities to come; everything will be alright.
A crack opened in the ceiling above his head.
He had hung a small shaving mirror on the wall, the tiled surface held the suction-cup backed mirror in place while he reached for a razor…he had left it in the tote bag in the bedroom.
The crack widened as a bead of ooze swelled above him.
He looked at his face in the mirror, he was fair haired and the one day of growth looked good, he thought, rustic somehow. He smiled and decided to skip shaving.
A great bolus of fluid gathered above him, pulsing and moving internally as strange protein-like chains twisting internally. The mass pulsed and throbbed as if muscle fibers were gathering for a sudden springy action, a propelling motion.
He stepped from the shower and turned off the water in one fluid motion.
The liquid’s descent froze inches from the ceiling, it wavered and leaned in his direction as if sensing the air and silently withdrew. The fissure darkened briefly and then oh so slowly closed, an orifice unused but sleeping.
He dried off and dressed quickly. Cheryl had laid out pants, socks and an old college sweatshirt that had seen years of duty. He looked a the shirt, a ridiculous cartoon representation of the school’s mascot that he wore with abandon during those halcyon days in early law school, it was the same shirt he had been wearing when they had first met.
Cheryl must have packed it.
He thought she had thrown it out, a peace offering during their early marriage when she took it upon herself to reorganize their lives and clean out old mementos, and memories, of the years before the were a couple.
He was moved almost to the point of tears. His wife, the woman who had put her burgeoning career and graduate degree aside to help support them as he finished law school, his wife, whom he had once described to an associate as a ‘training wheel’, a step in the right direction but definitely ‘first wife’ material had surprised him almost to the core of his very being.
Putting the shirt on he went into the kitchen and sat, alone, a contemplated the second chance that now awakened before him.
Cheryl came through the front door, “It’s so beautiful outside, I don’t ever want to leave this place.” The apron was off and she was simply radiant in the morning air.
“I love you,” came out before he knew it.
“I know Gerald, I love you so much,” she was almost glowing with good cheer.
“I had hoped this trip would solve everything, I think it will. Now eat before we go out, I’ve got things to show you.”
He gobbled his breakfast without tasting it, it was really good, and he smiled a fool’s grin between bites.
Cheryl stood and watched him in perfect silence. Expectant.
He made all the required hmmm’s as he finished the eggs and the bacon. The coffee was scalding hot and heavily laced with sugar, they way he loved it but never got it at home.
Finishing, he asked, “What do you want to show me?”
“Oh, the flowers are blooming outside,” the radiant glow returned, “Come on out.”
The front porch of the cabin was ringed with a flowerbed that had been all but empty when they arrived. It was now bursting with color. Tulips and daffodils jostled for space amidst the rock walled beds that were filled to nearly overflowing.
“Wow, I wish we could have these at home,” he said.
Laughing, “We have a condo. Maybe if we moved out to the burb’s we could manage it.”
Moving the suburbs had been an early topic of some tension between them.
“I think it would be nice.” He said, and meant it.
They walked along the side of the cabin, Gerald admiring the foliage that had suddenly come to new life, Cheryl trailing, her smile radiant but frozen, a mask of good cheer that hid whatever lay behind her eyes.
“So, you want the boat out?” he didn’t know if he could actually do it alone. How do you launch a boat?
“Just take a look, the rails might help,” gesturing to the parallel metal tracks that lead into the water.
He opened the door and saw an ancient aluminum craft, some vague rust along the sides, sitting on what appeared to be some sort of cart. He entered the shed and saw that the front of the cart was attached to a winch of some sort that attached to the back wall.
“I think I could roll into the water, don’t know about an engine...” he didn’t see one on the boat. “Could it be a rowboat?” Turning.
Cheryl was standing directly behind him.
“Oh, sorry,” the smile never wavered, “I wanted to take a look,” she was studying him, “did you find a motor?”
“No…” moving to the back of the shed, “I don’t”
“Why don’t you check the house? Did you see anything in the basement?” she said with perfect innocence.
He had been in the basement and hadn’t seen anything resembling a motor, but he was there only briefly. Not wanting to ruin the great mood they were enjoying he agreed, “I can take a look.”
Cheryl smiled and followed as he headed of the house. He missed a step as he admired the flowers, they were really something, and went in the front door.
“I’ll just tidy up the kitchen, you let me know if you need any help.” She turned on the sink faucet and reached for a bottle of Dawn.
In the bedroom closet the hatchway was as dark as he remembered it, a gaping hole in the floor that leaked cold air, and something else, a fetid, animal smell.
Gerald flashed briefly on the smell of wet fur on a dog, roadkill next to the highway that had festered and swelled in putrescence. A sudden urge to avoid the basement gripped him, a certainty that something awaited.
“How would he get a motor down the ladder,” he said, meaning Dr. Billings, who was past fifty, at least.
“I don’t know. Maybe he had help.” Cheryl was standing just past the doorway to the kitchen, waiting.
Gerald flipped on the flashlight and descended the ladder, slowly but not knowing why.
The basement smell was an overpowering miasma of rot and decay that stung his nose and brought a near sneeze. Gerald stood on top of a large rock than support the uprights, not daring to step off.
Raccoon, he thought, must be a dead raccoon or something in the corner.
He smell slid from the walls and floor.
Cheryl glided in to the bedroom, “did you find it?”
The smell increased, Gerald felt as if he had stepped into a closed room with poor ventilation, he grew dizzy, briefly, and steadied himself on the ladder while swinging the flashlight about desperate to find the source of the smell and wanting to escape as quickly as possible.
“I don’t see anything,” gasping, “I’m, I’m coming up.”
“Please Geri; I really want to go on the lake. Look in the back corners.”
The cellar floor heaved in the center, a great bubble of dirt that glistened with wet purpose. Fumes arose from the mass filling the chamber with a sweet aroma.
Gerald swooned as he attempted to climb the ladder, grasping the rungs and pulling himself up one step at a time, gasping for air.
“Cher…Cheryl…hep’ me…” managed to get out, the effort costing him.
Cheryl was silhouetted at the top of the hatchway, watching. “Just check the back corner; I’m sure it’s down there…” her eyes were lit with an inner fire and she was touching herself, her hand a ball of nervous energy as it kneaded her crotch, “Look in the back corner Gerald. Look in the back corner!” now screaming with excitement.
He reached the top rung and was about to make the first desperate grab through the hatch and onto the floor. “Ughm ugh…came out,” a desperate calling, “Wheeeeeeze…” flowed from lips made purple with the straining effort.
She leaned over and grabbed the trapdoor, “I love you Gerald,” and slammed it down. “Everything will be alright. Everything will be fine.”
Gerald hung in the darkness, gasping for air amid newfound horror.
In Cheryl’s mind she was doing no harm. No, this was part of the PLAN, the plan to save their marriage. Where these thoughts came from, she didn’t really know, it just felt right to stay there, to be there together for Gerald to go to the basement and get something….
The scene was dissolving into a tableau of fantasy as she stumbled to the bed enwrapped in the first wave of a massive orgasm. Her frenzied fingers had pulled off her hiking shorts and were busily thrusting into herself on the bed as she writhed in wave after wave of pleasure, her mind melting into a burning coal of ecstasy as compulsion took her. She writhed in uncontrollable fits of pleasure and shook as muscular tremors grew in strength and frequency.
…she and Gerald were together and living in New Lenox, miles from downtown, on a quiet street. Their two boys were on the honor roll and Gerald was thinking of running for congress…
…ohhh, she soooo wanted to be in Washington….
In response to her exertions the ceiling bulged downward, a darkening pustule that cracked the plaster lathe as it grew in size and effort; the walls thrummed in response to her shakings and finally the ceiling gave way. A river of fluid, thick and aromatic poured greedily from the building engulfing her on a bed drenched to the limits. Her body arched in response as the new onslaught sent a massive wave of chemically induced endorphins through her nervous system to overwhelm her brain. Cheryl’s hair dissolved into a tangled mass as the enzymes broke their molecular bonds; skin sloughed into ribbons of tissue and peeled away.
In the cellar Gerald was hanging onto the ladder in darkness as his wife slowly died. He made a feeble attempt to raise the door above him but could not find the energy as his lungs failed him.
“Why, why, why…” repeated over and over in mind in desperate confusion.
Cheryl’s movements had tumbled her to the floor where the pooling enzymes, really a form of digestive fluid related to that found in some anaerobic bacteria, ate her flesh off. A sudden surge of arterial blood darkened the floor but was absorbed as quickly as it flowed
The effort to digest the woman concentrated all its energy, drawing attention and resources away from the rest of the house. The tissue above the bathroom flowed onto the bedroom ceiling and merged to join the growing tide of liquid that was now the bedroom floor.
Cheryl’s body was dissolving into its base components as her chest made a last rise and fell quietly into permanent slumber. Her tissue split and the first angular grey expanse of bone pushed through.
In the cellar Gerald took a shallow breathe as the digestive juices leached up the walls in the same osmotic motion that succeeded its awakening. He punched the door, it rose slightly, and then with a desperate heave he flung it aside and crawled onto the floor.
Cheryl’s remains shone dully, her exposed skeleton engulfed in a torment of activity. The bones bubbled slightly as the calcium leached out and was carried away.
“Gawk…” he managed at the site of his wife’s corpse and heaved up the remains of his last meal.
He crawled from the room, sobbing, and afflicted as his lungs failed to take in more than a cup full of air at a time; they had begun the process of breaking down from the airborne enzymes he had inhaled.
“Cheryl, Cheryl…, what the fuck…” came out, a rhythmic mantra of despair.
Reaching the kitchen he found the front door wide open and Dr. Billings standing there in hunting gear and high rubber boots.
“Gerald? Mr. Simmons, are you alright?” a frown on this bearded face.
“Cheryl…” crying onto the floor where he lay, gasping, “I think she’s…”
Billings crossed to the door and saw the last traces of the late Cheryl Anne Simmons pass through the floor as a colloidal solution of amino acids and fatty tissue, the bones dissolved completely into calcium ions.
“Did you go to town to shop, for dinner?” he asked as he reached into his jacket pocket.
“Cher...gone…” Gerald reached out to his counselor, pleadingly.
Dr. Brent Billings, PhD., M.D. withdrew a snub nosed .38 from his jacket pocket and shot him in the center of his head. Fragments of bone and brain flew out and covered the floor in a fan pattern.
Billings waited; in the doorway a small tentacle of ochre ooze, blood engorged, made a lazy roiling motion as it began to cross the linoleum.
He stepped aside as it progressed towards the body, his hip waders offering some protection but long experience gave great weight to his caution.
Not needing to watch, Dr. Billings went outside to his Jeep Cherokee, a far more practical vehicle for these back country roads than the late Simmons’ jaguar and began unloading. First he piled cartons of dry goods on the gravel road and then a trio of gas cans for the old outboard motor that lay, hidden, in the rear of the shed under a pile cordwood.
Checking his watch he returned to the kitchen, gloved up, and grabbing a broom, swept up a few odd pieces of metal. Stooping to pick one up he saw it was a surgical pin, funny he didn’t remember Gerald talking about a bad break...
The basement was deathly silent as he crossed and deposited the contents of the dustpan in a new mason jar. He pocketed the slug and made a mental note to dump it in the lake; the rest would gather dust in the jars until next year’s addition.
He ignored the pile of deer antlers in the corner… for some reason they never dissolved like the bones did…
This way was much easier although his practice was suffering somewhat, maybe it was time to think bout hitchhikers again although there had been scares in the past…like that soldier on leave he picked up once. He had put up one hell of a fight once they turned off the main highway. If he hadn’t had the gun…