By Martin Dodd


Misty lay on a chaise lounge in the light of the tiki torches on the deck of her beachfront cottage in Balboa.  Even though the late evening was unseasonably warm for Halloween, she didn’t expect any more trick-or-treaters.  Misty reached into the basket beside her and retrieved another fun-size Milky Way, which she peeled and popped into her mouth.  As she savored the mixture of milk chocolate, caramel, and malt-flavored nougat, she went over the past year:  the Caribbean cruise and Carlos; the Alps and Marti; New York and Aaron; the New England tour and the bus driver; Disneyworld and the guy in the Goofy costume…

She had climbed high in eighteen years. At nineteen, from an impoverished hollow in West Virginia, Misty had hitchhiked to Hollywood to be discovered.  She fell for a porno-movie writer, who promised a script, but gave her the clap.  At twenty-one she tossed him for a smooth-talking agent, who promised a career but snored in her ear. Twenty-three brought hunky Rip, the stuntman.  On her twenty-fifth birthday, she broke both ankles in a parachute jump.  At that point, Misty decided to follow her grandmother’s advice:  “a girl can marry for money as easy as love.”  Rich old men marry nurses, why not a home health aide?  She dumped Rip, trained for six months, and went on the prowl.

After a year of back rubs and bedpans, the agency assigned her to Torvald who lived in a musty Bel Air mansion.  Torvald:  rich, old, alone — with a bad heart and a twenty-year addiction to heroin — Bingo! Following three weeks of stiff massages, Torvald proposed.  At sixty, he appeared ancient, but a union she expected would last months ran into years, twice as long as her other marriages combined.  She had sought comfort, but a decade of Torvald required comfort-eating, pushing her waist to forty inches.

Torvald had claimed to be some sort of scientist, a metaphysician.  He wrote tedious books about multiple realities, Bible codes, the occult, and soul migration.  He asserted that he had been Shakespeare in an earlier life, demonstrating this belief by reciting Macbeth, Hamlet and other plays ad nauseam.

Weird beyond weird, the various modes of execution infatuated Torvald to the point of a fetish.  He had converted the Bel Air mansion’s carriage house to a Museum of Death Devices that he opened to the public, four times a year on the season’s solstice.

Torvald conducted the tour regaling and horrifying visitors with vibrant and gory descriptions of their uses: a scaffold and noose for Guy Fawkes the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, the inspiration for the movie “V for Vendetta;” the chair for William Kemmler the first to die by electric execution, which gave us the portmanteau word “electrocution;” a cross for crucifixion, although the host explained that Jesus was more likely attached to a crux simplex, an upright stake as the crux immissa, the familiar Christian symbol, was invented by Constantine three hundred years after the execution of Jesus; a guillotine, which Torvald claimed was the actual one used to relieve Marie Antoinette of her regal head; he explained it was an invention brought about by a Doctor Guillotin who offered reforms for executions to render them equal across all classes and devoid of torture; and Torvald’s favorite, a huge cauldron for boiling people alive in water, tar, or molten lead. He found great irony in that it was first used in England for a poisoner, an Archbishop’s cook, one Richard Rice. Torvald finished with a flourish: “No doubt the precursor of our cooking rice by boiling it in a pot.”

In addition to this macabre mess, Torvald held sťances, attended by equally weird people.  After his death, the weirdoes still came to gather “in his presence,” until she sold the mansion out from under them.  Along with the Museum and collection, it brought five million, his insurance two million, and book royalties, a hundred thousand.  Torvald’s death, appropriately on Halloween, gave Misty a new, rich life, one year ago today.

The doorbell shattered her reverie.  Misty sighed, grabbed the treat-basket, and went to the front door.  Three warty-nosed witches in black robes and pointy hats stood before her. They were too big to be pre-teen pranksters.

One witch said, “Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.”

A second said, “Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whined.”

The third witch added, “Harpier cries ‘’Tis time, ‘tis time.’”

Misty interrupted.  “Ah, weird sisters, I know the routine.  Boy, do I know the routine. Double, double, toil and trouble, but you and Macbeth are out of luck.  No more treats, kids. Fuck off.”

The witches cackled, “Black spirits and white, red spirits and grey. Mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may.”

She slammed the door and retrieved another Milky Way, took it whole, and chewed hard. “Damn teenagers. Damn Shakespeare.” Misty imagined Torvald intoning, “Something wicked this way comes.”

Torvald had been wicked.  He ridiculed her, calling her “BoBo,” because she reminded him of a roly-poly clown he had seen in a circus.  She chuckled. “Look at BoBo now, Mister Spooks!”

Shortly before his departure, Torvald jabbered to Misty about a breakthrough.  “In sťance, a horn heralds the spirit’s return,” he said.  “Everybody always thought horn meant trumpet, but it’s a ram’s horn, a shofar, like those that brought down the walls of Jericho.”   Misty thought he was nuts.  Torvald and friends.  Horns and spirits!  Woooo… crazy bastards.

Torvald’s death appeared natural, but she had sweated the first hour, until his doctor signed off, “heart failure.”  Two days later, she had Torvald cremated, no lingering evidence.  No one had suspected a thing.  Ten years of marriage and no other beneficiaries hide a lot of sins.

Misty believed Torvald had practically invited her to murder him.  She even considered her act as a sort of assisted suicide. After all, his treatment of her provided the motive, his heroin use provided the opportunity, and his obsession with executions gave her the method. 

Torvald’s Museum housed many other devices; a headman’s axe and block, a gas chamber, a brazen bull, some too horrific to explain, and Misty’s inspiration: the gurney with straps for lethal injection. Torvald explained three drugs were used: a narcotic, a paralytic, and potassium chloride. With the latter, Torvald would hold up a little blue picnic-size shaker and say, “A simple table salt substitute, which people, such as myself, with hypertension use to season their food. But…” He would pause for maximum effect, in lethal injection, about one-half of this little shaker of potassium chloride will stop the heart.”

A plan gelled. Torvald often knocked himself out with heroin, and there was potassium chloride upstairs, downstairs, and all around the house. Research revealed that a potassium overdose was difficult to detect in an autopsy. And it was unlikely that an autopsy would be ordered if cause of death were signed off by his personal physician, who treated him for a failing heart.

Last Halloween, Torvald nodded off so deeply that, at first, Misty thought his heroin dose may be fatal.  But his snoring and regular, if faint, pulse evidenced his viable state. Previously, she had dissolved the required amount of potassium chloride in seventy cubic centimeters of water. At ten o’clock p.m., Misty injected the lethal dose via two thirty-five cc syringes. The injection site would raise no suspicion as it was among the many heroin tracks on Torvald’s skinny arms.

A murmur and movement brought her attention to the deck.  In the light of tiki torches, the witches stood with other people in a circle.  She recognized Torvald’s sťance friends. They swayed, eyes closed, holding hands and chanting.  One witch pulled a ram’s horn from beneath her cloak and began to blow.

Misty heard Torvald’s voice before she saw his shimmering, transparent visage suspended before her.  Thou hast it all, dear BoBo, and thou played’st most foully for’t.  But, a spirit untimely displaced can reclaim life by possessing an unworthy’s body.  Move over BoBo, or ratherout.”

The apparition faded. Misty’s thoughts crumpled.  She felt jostled, crowded, then mashed against the walls of self, flattening, thinning, shredding, and tattering away. Her attempt to scream became a fading whimper. The last Misty heard in swelling darkness was the moaning horn and Torvald’s command: “Out, out, brief candle.”

Martin Dodd lives in Steinbeck Country: Salinas, California. Following his retirement from community service, he began creative writing in 2002 at age 67. His work has appeared in Cadillac Cicatrix, Hobart Journal (web issue), New Yinzer, Homestead Review, Holy Cuspidor, Foolish Times, Monkey Bicycle, Over My Dead Body!, and Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul. 

He has won, or received recognition in, various contests:  Gimme Credit Screenplay Competition (super short), St. Louis Short Story Contest, Writers Digest, By Line Magazine, Glimmer Train, Inkwell Journal, Writers Weekly, The Stoneslide Corrective, Central Coast Writers (California), East of Eden Writers Conference (2008), and NorthernPros.

Copyright © 2014 Martin Dodd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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