Thursday, August 16, 2012

WITCH


Here's a story I sold many years ago. Since I sold it, this one earned a decent amount in royalties. A surprising amount. I think the anthology finally went out of print (one of Marty Greenberg's many books, I think?). At any rate, this version has never seen print, but is essentially the story accepted those many years ago.

"WITCH"
By
James Robert Smith
Copyright 2012 

 
     In spite of the hatred, he kissed Rebecca, her lips pliant against his own. Damn. Her spells were kicking in.
     It was a nasty surprise when he tasted the rot of her decaying tongue, felt juices that were not saliva flow into his mouth. Gagging, he fell back.
     He froze, feeling the urge to vomit. "You bitch!"
     Rebecca placed fingers over her mouth, hurt that she had let it happen, stung by his words. "I'm sorry, Ted!" She was sincere, though Ted had killed her.
     Ted looked up from gagging, saw that she appeared as tan and healthy as usual. At least the visual illusion hadn't faltered. He backed away, no longer feeling anything approaching affection for her, no longer doubting why he'd strangled the life out of her weeks ago. She came toward him, the way she always did when she upset him. Why did she have to do that when what he needed was space?
     "You keep away!" He pointed, index finger a straight line. "You...you witch!" How stupid. Of course she was a witch, an avowed witch; it was the thing about her that caused him the most embarrassment.
     Because she loved him, or because there was nothing more he could do to her, Rebecca didn't listen to his implied threat. She went to him, taking him in her arms, chanting a new spell.
     "There, there, Teddy. Everything is okay. You know I'd never hurt you." He could feel her arms drawing him closer than he wanted to be.
     'Oh, god,' he thought. 'Just six feet of earth between us, please.' But nothing was there save the fabric of their clothes, not even that where their cheeks met. Her flesh felt soft, smooth; he knew that it wasn't, that it was swollen, stinking. He didn't know how she was keeping herself in this seeming state of life, only that it was through the witchcraft that had embarrassed him whenever they'd mingled with others. He recalled how he could've killed her, and her spells couldn't make him think of love. Not for an instant.
     "Let me go. Just for a minute. Please?" He waited, taking little breaths through clenched teeth, arms dangling.
     She gave him a pat, then backed away. "Of course, Ted. If that's what you want."
     He gazed at her, flanneled forearm across his lips. "Why didn't you stay dead?"
     She stared.
     "Why don't you go away?"
     She stood; looking healthy, pretty in her way, brown hair making parallel lines aside her face. Her hair actually shone in the sunlight that beamed through the window. Ted wondered if it was really that full, that clean; perhaps it'd begun to fleck from her head; perhaps her scalp had peeled from her running-sore-of-a-skull. There was no way to know, except during instants when her concentration faltered. Ted thought that one of the neighborhood kids suspected, or had caught a glimpse. The fat Wyler boy used to hang around, waiting for Rebecca to give him those cupcakes she was forever baking. Maybe she'd invited him into the kitchen for a snack and had handed the lard-ass one of her treats, and as she'd handed it to him, he'd seen, catching a flash: her face purple, dripping, skin splitting where rot was starting. Ted would've laughed if he wasn't trapped there.
     "Let me go."
     "Don't talk like that." There was an edge of anger in her voice. Running was suddenly the furthest thing from his mind.
     Afterwards, Ted seemed to forget what was bothering him. Certainly not living in his house, with his wife. Not even if he'd beaten her to death with his bare hands and she just wouldn't lie down and die. Not even that bothered him. So he looked out the window, saw that the lawn needed mowing; and he went out and, by god, he mowed that lawn, working up such a good appetite that he was able to keep his meal down that afternoon, even knowing what sat across from him chewing. And he didn't scream when she insisted on making love that night.

     He'd tried to run. He'd tried to kill her again. But every time he'd frozen or she had risen. Had she won? He didn't want to admit it.
     Maybe she hated him, and didn't love him. Perhaps her fawning, servile attitude was merely another way of reviling him, a further embarrassment before others. She had so succeeded in embarrassing: her very appearance--she dressed in the worst, most outrageous fashions. Her voice, too: that whining, Boston accent had driven him bats, was the joke among his southern buddies.
     But the witchcraft had been the worst of it. After their marriage, what had been an interest became obsession. The books had filled shelves. It was bullshit that insulted his intelligence and the sensibilities of everyone they knew. They could not sit with anyone and have a conversation in which she did not bring it up. Her obsession had stymied his career. His superiors hadn't fired him, but promotions had passed him by. He knew. It was her goddamned witchcraft.
     When he finally realized that she hated him, did not love him so much that she wouldn't die, he knew what to do. He decided to make the best of it. He would. The weeks passed.
 **
     The new account was his. The client had flown in, spending the day with Ted. He bragged of his ability to get the job done, flattering the big man. He'd told him how outrageous Rebecca could be. When Ted got through, the guy was dying to meet her. "Yeah, she's really something," Ted told him. Both of them, drunk after martinis, had roared.
     Ted got that account, the next, and the next.
     His commissions grew from five per cent to seven-and-a-half, then to ten or he would've left the firm and gone elsewhere. He was changed; jovial and loquacious, the perfect host when a new account came calling. The district manager invited him to lunch, to visit at Ted's home. And he wasn't put off by that awful stench when he'd first stepped through the door. That had passed and he'd enjoyed himself, meeting Rebecca, finding that she was the trip Ted had boasted: quite interesting in small doses. Ted got a promotion.
 **
     "Oh! I'm so happy!" She gave him a hug.
     The glint in his eyes was of expectation. He never knew what he'd get--firm breasts pressing against him, or perhaps she'd dissolve to liquid in his arms. He grinned, hiding madness.
     "I can't believe it, myself!" He tossed his briefcase, pretending to be happy. He knew he had her fooled, hoping that she would give in soon. It had been four months, now. How much could there still be?
     "Let's celebrate," she said, grasping Ted's face, forcing him to look.
     For a bare moment, his eyes clenched as she pulled his head down. When he opened them he could see: the look that could pass for love if he didn't know. "What do you have in mind?"
     "I don't know. A night on the town. Something!" She was good. But Ted knew, now, how to beat her.
     "Well, I've got an idea." In his mind, he smiled. "We'll have a party. Here."
     "When?"
     "Tomorrow."
     "So soon?"
     "It's arranged. Everyone's coming. Even Mr. Jameson."
     Her eyes widened in surprise. "The president?"
     "The very man." He grinned. He'd beaten her. "And you won't lift a finger. I've catered the whole thing. All you do is be yourself."
 **
     At eight, the guests began to arrive. First, Edwards, stuffed into his coat, ushering a girl too young for him. Then Gardner, talking sharp. After that, McGregor swaggered in, followed by Sam, Batten, Whisenant, Crowley, and Baker with portfolio under arm, Hoffman, and Poston, trying to suck his way to the top. Then Ted lost track, leaving greetings up to Rebecca because he wasn't worried anymore.
     Around nine, Jameson showed, coming with his wife, not his secretary as Poston had sneeringly suggested. All was right with the world. Ted had accepted things, as he should've done all along, as he would from now on.
     At nine twenty, they ran out of hors d'oeuvres and Ted sent Rebecca into the kitchen for more. Keeping her busy was the best way to get her to shut up. Even those who knew what to expect were beginning to find her tedious. Ted slid a word in and she went for another tray.

     Perhaps it was too many people. Perhaps she had grown too tired to continue the ruse. Perhaps she really did hate Ted, had been punishing him.
     It was Poston who smelled it. As the kitchen door swung wide, he crinkled his protruding nose and announced his displeasure. "What died?" he said.
     Then Ted saw saw the expression upon his wife's face, her squinted eyes as she tried to concentrate.
     The tray clattered to the floor.
     Not because she had dropped it.
     But because her arms had broken off at the elbows. She looked, surprised at the blackened things as they dissolved. The crowd froze in disbelief. Then she, too, toppled, flowing to rest. And that last expression upon her face had not been of hatred, but of hurt, failure.
     Ted screamed, stalking across to lash at her with glinting leather shoes. Dark liquid spattered some of his guests. "Do you see?" He screamed as some began to race for the doors. "She always embarasses me!"


2 comments:

MarkGelbart said...

What anthology was the published version in?

I have several of Greenberg's anthologies somewhere on my bookshelves but I can't remember which ones.

I just took a brief survey...I found Sherlock Holmes in Orbit--A collection of short stories about Sherlock Holmes but with a SF twist. I know I've got some other ones around here.

HemlockMan said...

Honestly. I can't remember where I've sold some of my stories. I'm not in the big leagues of someone like Wayne Sallee or Steve Rasnic Tem, but after you pass sixty or so short story sales you kind of stop paying attention to where they were published. All I can say is that every few months for several years I would get a royalty check for this one. I sold several to Marty Greenberg, so that's what came to mind. (And his outfit was great about paying royalties that you weren't even aware you were owed.)