Love Flowers From Hell — A ghostly short story by rayanda


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by Rayanda

Dedicated to M.A.B. for the nightmare

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this work are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. LOVE FLOWERS FROM HELL. Copyright © 2009 by Rayanda Arts. Protected by a Creative Commons 2.5 license: You are free to share and distribute this work for noncommercial purposes provided you retain attribution and make no derivative works. This notice of copyright must be retained on any copies.

by Rayanda

“I never thought I'd enjoy stripping this much,” Jason said. “Me neither,” Sara said with enough lechery to match his. “A whole day deflowering. What fool wouldn't trade places with me?” She saw him smile without looking at him. He stepped back from the bedroom wall, and his smile vanished as he eyed the wallpaper. “Like what were they thinking when they hung this god-awful stuff?” “It's what comes from love.” “You're a scream, Sara, a real scream.” “No, really. Big yellow and orange flowers on pink and purple motifs were all the rage when they bought this in the sixties, I expect. And they hung it with so much care, look at how long it's taking us to get it off. We've been at it all morning, and we've only got one corner done.” “So that makes the wallpaper less ugly, I suppose? It's so gross, there oughtta be a law against selling it. Anyhow what's that crappola got to do with anything? The reason we're not making any headway is because they pasted their love flowers from hell on top of the original paper. There's plaster under there, ya know, not drywall. Makes you wonder what sins they were trying to cover up. You know, I have a mind to—” He cut himself off at the sound of a kettle whistling. “— I'll get the tea. Want anything with it?”


“No, I want to get this done.” “Okay, but no begging when I eat my lemon square,” he said with a wink and put his scraper on the tarp covering the otherwise barren floor. As he left for the kitchen, she never took her gaze off the paper. She knew he was right about why the removal job was going way too slowly, but she couldn't for the life of her see what he found so repulsive about the flowers. The colors were so joyful and the flowers themselves were big happy faces. Then she remembered how Leonardo da Vinci used patterns in creative exercises, because each time we look at the same pattern, we see different images in it. She squinted at the paper to get a different perspective. “Nope, all I get are happy faces,” she said out loud and resumed scraping. “You're our happy faces, even though we don't want you,” she added silently. She and Jason couldn't believe their luck when they had found their new old house. An original three bedroom Arts & Crafts bungalow from 1912, so lovingly cared for, all they needed to do was move in. No upgrading, no fuss, no muss. Except for the wallpaper in the bedroom they wanted to convert into an office. Or a den because it didn't have a closet. Den or office, the paper simply didn't belong. Shame, really. “Feel like some music, hon?” Jason called out from the kitchen. “Good thinking.” “Any preference?” “Yeah, I'm in the mood for—” “We need something raunchy to go with the strip-to-the-death wallpaper.”

Bach drowned out the ending of “wallpaper.” That loud, tempestuous, gutwrenching drama with a beat is going to give me a headache for sure. She shut the door. Ah, that's better. Oops. She tripped over Jason's scraper. After moving his scraper to the far end of the wall, she tackled the wallpaper in peace and quiet until she started humming. She sliced bit by bit through a flower at eye level. Damn! The scraper slipped and gouged the plaster. Double damn! It slipped again, but this time, loosening the whole flower. To see how far the air pocket extended, she put down the scraper then straightened up face-to-face with the flower. Light from the sole window in the room, flickered on the flower, making it dance and glow. She reached up to pull back the paper, casting a shadow that darkened the flower, which reverted to its placid grin until she moved her hand away to see the face come alive again. The dappled flower glowed as if from within. The top parts that were sliced off, made the flower look like it had a buzz cut. She laughed. Oooo, that's sooo cute. She moved her hand back to block the window light. Instead of grinning placidly, the flower's happy face flickered and danced merrily, wafting a pungent smell through the room. No, it can't be. The smell was vaguely familiar. Where have I smelt it before? She took hold of the loosened paper to see what was behind it. Her hand flickered and danced with the happy face. Not merrily. Wildly. The flickers grew into flames that licked her flesh.

In frenzied shock, she yanked her hand free. But not free enough to escape the growing flames. The flower danced before her, grinning. And grinning. Closer. And closer. The surrounding flowers glowed and flickered into life. Their flames whipped out at her, with a heat that first burned then made her shiver and shake with cold. The conflagration all the while grinning. And grinning. Closing in on her throat. Gripping, burning, smothering. That smell, that horrid suffocating smell. Where had she smelt it before? She couldn't think. A mantra, Run, Sara, Run, raced around in dizzying circles in her head, chasing other thoughts away and leaving panic in its wake. What's wrong with you? Run! Seized by an overwhelming fear she was going to die, a deadly stillness came upon her. She couldn't move. But she had to. As the faces lashed out in an ever tightening circle, they choked off the light, plunging her into darkness. Her dizziness heightened and she started to sway. Run, for heaven's sake, run! Arggg, I'm going to puke. Instead, she blacked out and crumpled to the floor. “Sara!” she heard from far away in the darkness. In the glimmer of awakening consciousness, she recognized Jason's voice and that almost sweet, completely nauseating smell.

“Sara! Open the door, will you? I have a tray of goodies for you.” She was lying face down on the tarp. In the dark. “Come on, Sara, open the cruddy door!” Jason yelled. She opened her mouth to answer, scream, anything to get his attention. Nothing, not even a whimper because like a black velvet shroud, the flowers enclosed her face, pressing softly against her mouth. She gasped for air and the velvet invaded her mouth, suffocating her into oblivion. Jason's voice calling to her from across the universe, brought her back to this world. “Just because you never got your own way with the music, you're going to pull off a big freakin' sulk!?” he said. “Well, to hell with you. You can sulk in there by yourself for all I care.” “Don't, Jason. Don't leave,” she pleaded without making a sound. “Fine! Have it your way.” His voice trailed off as he walked away. Oh God, dear God, don't let him leave. Make him come back. She struggled to move her head, but it was a dead weight. Her whole body was. I will not die here. Death, you bastard, I won't let you take me. Encased in darkness, she couldn't see which wall she was facing. All she knew was that Jason's voice had come from behind her. Instead of breathing into the flowers this time, she kept her face to the tarp and concentrated on her hands and feet because she could feel them. If I could just get hold of the tarp to pull myself around. Where the hell are the flowers? She could smell them, but they weren't in her face. She clawed at the tarp first with one hand then the other, but her fingers were too weak to clasp hold. So she splayed her fingers, pressed her hands down and with


the tip of her shoes gripped the tarp to pull herself forward. She managed to move a little. Then a little more. And more. Finally she felt the baseboard of a wall and was able to use it for traction to inch her feet over in an arc until she could use her left foot to help her slide along the length of the room in the direction of Jason's voice. She didn't encounter her scraper or Jason's, so she figured that the adjacent wall she was touching had to be where the door was. After what seemed like a garbage bag load of lifetimes, she felt a jamb and greedily sucked in the air from under the door. “Jason! Jason!” she called out weakly between gasps. Bach played on like an orchestrated inferno. I should save my breath. Nothing can hear me but those ungodly flowers. With the door opening inward and her up against it, how was she going to open the damn thing? She knew where the knob was, and the air from under the door had given her a lift. Her mind exploding with fear and her body deadened, insanely oblivious to her efforts, she sucked in air from the crack and strained to lift. Over and over. Death, you will not win. Exhaustion defeated her. While she rested to recapture some of her strength, she zigzagged with giddy speed between sneaking off into the refuge of unconsciousness and swearing that she would not become one with death. As long as I'm alive, death doesn't get the

last word, she told herself enough times to spur her on to sliding into position at an angle from the door. Then with her back on the tarp, she walked her feet up the door, turned the knob with her feet, pulled it towards her and wedged her right foot into the crack. There should be light. But there wasn't. Come to think of it, why wasn't there any light coming in from under the door? She hesitated. Open the door, Sara, the flower's sickly sweet breath caresses your lungs with death in this room. You gotta open the door. She wedged the door open wider. Was she opening a door to eternal darkness? “I'm sick and tired of playing your freakin' games, Sara,” Jason said, his voice getting closer. “What are you doing behind there?” He grabbed the knob. “I mean it, Sara…. Fine then.” “Jason, don't push the door,” she tried to say out loud while she struggled to twist her body out of the way. “Stay out of here! They'll get you!” All he could hear was gurgling that dumbfounded his frustration. The door slammed into her hip. “Sara! What happened? What's wrong, honey?” His face was close to hers on the floor. He smelled so good. The smell of vibrant life. Funny how she hadn't noticed it before. He lifted her up. Or was that endless sleep taking her away? She awoke to an eerie silence. And darkness. A different kind of darkness. One that shared its mystery with light, making it penetrable. She could see that it was night and she was on top of the bed in their bedroom. She could move too, but

her head was pounding with a rhythmic, malignant pain that snaked down to her stomach. Where was Jason? She couldn't hear or see him, but the excruciatingly tight knot in her stomach led her to him. No, it led her to the closed door of death's favorite room. He must have closed the door to protect the rest of the house from the smell. Or he…or they…they what? The door had to stay closed, but he had to get out even if he couldn't move. Or breathe. To get him out, one of them still had to be breathing. With her head pounding like the flowers had turned to steel and were rampaging through her brain, she ran to the kitchen, turned on the patio lights, ran outside to the back of the house, grabbed a patio chair and smashed the bedroom window. She expected to be blasted by the rank odor of demon flowers, but she couldn't smell much of anything. Maybe because all her senses were concentrating full-force on what she was seeing. And not finding. The tarp was a crumpled mess from her efforts to get out of the room, but nowhere in the graveyard of sliced bits of flowers was there anything resembling a living being. Wild, crazy thoughts of flowers slashing, suffocating, devouring Jason added to the pounding carnage in her head, while she checked the garage to see if his car was gone. It wasn't. Neither was hers. She raced back inside and scoured the house. He could have collapsed anywhere. Except in the room where death awaited her. All her frantic search gleaned, however, was that his smartphone was

on his desk where he had left it yesterday. And the only thing it revealed about him is that he had changed his haircut appointment from Wednesday to Thursday. Hell's flipping damn bells, where is he? I have to get some help. No, that must be where he's gone—to get help from one of the neighbors. Yes, that's it—no, they got him. I need to get help. Yes no yes no yes no. NO! I'm not going to let them get me. That's it, I'm going back in. And let them get both of us? The war raged on inside her head, with the censorious side making hay of every courageous thought. But she knew she had to go back into the wall-flowered room to chase away a hell-load of foul smelling demons. Besides, with the window in pieces on the floor, the room was being ventilated. Death, eat my dust. Armed with a chainsaw from the basement and with a bandanna covering her nose and mouth, she opened the door to the room and took a deep breath, which was hard to do because her heart was pounding in her throat. Then without giving herself time to think about backing away, she flicked the light switch, turned on the saw and charged up to the wall with the mangled flowers. “Slash and burn 'em, baby!” she said without much gusto because she was starting to feel lightheaded and nauseous. Damn that infernal smell! The world around her was growing fainter and her resolve weakened, but she was convinced there was something behind the laths she was sawing through. Something toxic and lethal. Like the carcases of a million dead rats? That was what it smelled like. She cut a hole down to

about her knees, which were shaking with or from the saw. She couldn't tell which. Strange, but the smell didn't get any stronger as the hole got bigger. And there was nothing amiss with the innards of the wall. Not a damn thing. Except for the gaping hole she had made. This is just madness. What the hell am I— A huge chunk of the wall crashed to the floor. She jumped back, dropped the saw and gaped in disbelief. A nude woman was curled up, sleeping peacefully in what was only seconds ago a wall. Sara's knees rattled. Loathe to tear her gaze from the woman, she picked up the saw, which was well on its way to making mulch of the hardwood floor. She nixed the kneejerk urge to shut off the saw. But what was she so afraid of? The woman wasn't a foul-smelling monster with the self-satisfied smirk of relished cruelty. No, she was the picture of serenity. Her arms were hugging her legs and her head was turned to the side, resting gently on her knees, making her face visible. For all its youthful beauty, her face was ghastly because it was not the face of slumber but of death, and her expression was not one of serenity but of surrender. Yet…yet the smell was gone, and she seemed to be radiating an intoxicating warmth. Sara shut off the saw. The instant she did, the woman disappeared, and Sara uttered, “Who did this to you?” The question reverberated in rhythm to her pounding head. Did what? And what is “this”? There were no signs of abuse on the woman, and she looked so healthy. Her auburn hair had a glorious sheen that invited you to touch it. If I had


touched her, what then? Then…no, she was just a hallucination brought on by the fumes. What fumes? The smell vanished before she did. Was the woman an apparition, a spirit projection of some kind? Blow that. It didn't matter a flying fig what she was, because when she was in the room, she wasn't real. Whereas Jason wasn't in the room, but he was very real. Where was he, though? He had to be over at one of the neighbors. She knew him. One whiff of that noxious stench, and he would have been out of the house in a shot, trying to find out if any of the neighbors with the same house model as theirs had been having trouble with gases seeping through the walls, and what had they done about it? After grabbing her cellphone—in case Jason called—she ran out the front of the house and looked up and down the elm-lined street. No lights on in any of the rooms in any of the houses. Not a one. Not even Mr. Dabydeen next door. A hint of summer sunrise was cracking the horizon, and he usually got up at the crack of dawn to putter around in his garden. The sunrise reserved its hints for the sky, leaving her in the dark. Hell's flippin' damn bells if I know where you are, Jason. A numbness crept over her. The kind of numbness that came with panic and twisted all her hope and dreams into a deadly sense of defeat and despair. She struggled to think, to feel something beyond this moment worth believing in. She turned to go back inside and stopped dead again. The front hall light flashed on then off inside Mr. Dabydeen's house next door to theirs. Maybe he had heard or

seen something. Anything. “No matter, he always found a way of being helpful to everyone, whether they asked for it or not,” she told herself as she rang his doorbell. “Been like that for the whole forty something years he's lived here, my guess is.” Hurry up! He was taking an awfully long time to answer. Finally, a small man with big ears, small eyes and oversized dentures greeted her in his housecoat, pajamas and slippers. “Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Dabydeen, did I wake you up? I saw your hall light come on and—” “Darn fool Rudy was hollerin' to get outside. Couldn't find him anywheres.” He shifted his gaze to a tabby cat climbing the porch steps behind Sara. “There you are, you rascal.” He chuckled as he picked up the cat. “Couldn't find ya coz you were hollerin' to come inside. Best you come in too, Sara. You got trouble, I can see that plain enough.” “Have you seen Jason?” she said, not moving. “Come.” He motioned her to come in. “You're letting the skeeters in.” She remained where she was. “I'm looking for Jason. Have you seen Jason?” Her voice lifted with each word. “Maybe I have,” he said, giving her a weird look. “What do you mean, maybe?” she thundered and stepped inside. Before turning his back to her, he answered her with a smile that wasn't really a smile, she decided, because it was just a glimpse of some totally whacked sicko thought.


Although she was barking Jason's name at him and nipping at his heels, he didn't turn around and refused to acknowledge her presence until he had put Rudy down in front of his kibble bowl in the kitchen. The place had a faint odor of demon flowers. She had noticed it when she first stepped inside, but she thought she was the source of the smell because it was lingering in her clothes. But she was fast coming of the mind that the smell was too pervasive to be coming from her clothes. Without bothering to face her, he shuffled over to the fridge. “How long have you known Jason?” he asked with maddening matter-of-factness. “Why do you want to know? And where is he?” “I know you two got hitched in Mexico last summer, but—” “But nothing! What are you up to?” “Getting Rudy his wet food. Then I'm gonna make us a good-morning cuppa.” “That's not what I meant, and you know it!” She wedged herself between him and the fridge then caught her breath at the sight of a bloody smudge on his forehead. “Where is Jason?” She tried to hide her growing alarm by stifling the shrill tones, but she knew he had seen her start. “If you don't tell me, so help me, I'll—” “Now, now, little lady.” She towered over him and pushed him aside with a minimum of effort. Jason had to be somewhere in this house, and she was going to find him. She ran to the living room, then down the hall to the first bedroom and the second. No Jason anywhere, but the sickening stench of demented flowers was growing stronger.

She was about to go into the third bedroom when she heard a growl behind the door. Oh! That's Tiny, his German Shepard, guarding the room. What had Dabydeen done to Jason? Is he even alive? She groaned with pent up frustration that was fast approaching rage. But Tiny was a gentle giant who liked to play fetch with her and scratch his back on her lawn. “Tiny, fetch your ball, Tiny! We're going to play FETCH!” The growling quickly switched to whining and the door rattled from him scratching on it. She turned the doorknob. “I wouldn't do that if I was you,” Dabydeen said. He was pointing a shotgun at her. She dropped her hand from the knob, but otherwise remained still. “Come,” he said like the shotgun was a plaything. “What are you going to do with me and Jason?” she said, then added to herself, “The whacked fossil is getting off on my fear.” She locked her knees to keep them from shaking. “Depends. First, we're gonna have that coffee.” Keeping the gun on her, he stepped back into a bedroom doorway. “Ladies first.” He motioned with the gun for her to move along the hall to the kitchen. She sat down at the small round kitchen table, while he stood between her and the cupboards. The barrel of the gun was within grasping distance of her. She waited for the right moment to pounce. “How long before you got hitched did you know your fella?” “I'll tell you if you tell me how you got that blood on your face.”


His scant white eyebrows shot up in surprise then came together in a menacing frown. “You really think it's smart to negotiate with this here?” He shook the gun at her. “From where I'm standing, you're on the wrong end, little lady.” “I met him in Mexico six months before we got married,” she said, with the idea that if she kept him talking, she could distract him. She quibbled with herself about whether to make up a story or tell the truth, but she decided to stick with the truth in case he had already used Tiny to force the information out of Jason and was testing her as an excuse to shoot her. “I'm only guessing, mind, but your meeting him was a stroke of luck. You didn't meet him through a friend or the like, am I right?” Again, she nodded. “Now, my memory's not so good as it was, uh, near as I can remember, he isn't from these parts, but the two of you came back here, then you went back down there to get hitched?” She nodded. “Ever meet his wife?” “I am his wife.” “Naw, the one before you. Now let's see, where was I? Oh yeah, the money for the house came from his loaded aunt when she passed on, isn't that so?” She shook her head. “I'm not answering anymore questions. Like, where are they leading, except to my death? You trying to get me to help you write a suitable epitaph for my grave? Is that it?” He gripped the gun tighter, and she winced in the expectation he was about to fill her with lead. Instead, he burst out laughing. Good time to pounce, she decided. But he took a couple steps back. Still laughing. She never was any good at poker. Her face always betrayed her. She hadn't realized before that laughter could be terrorizing. But he thinks he's safe now.

She pounced, jumping to the side of the gun and grabbing it. Even in his maniacal laughter, he was ready for her. He jerked the gun away. So she slammed into his side to throw him off balance. The shotgun went off. It missed her, but the report seemed to mesmerize them both, for they stood there gaping at plaster spraying down from the ceiling. She snapped out of it first. “You don't really intend to use that on me, now do you?” she said, reaching for the gun. He tucked it around his other side. “Only if I have to.” “What for? What's in it for you?” “My life.” “What!? By killing me you get to live!? You're completely off your—” she cut herself off as a realization dawned. “You think I'm trying to kill you?!? Oh,” she slapped her thigh, “this is just too whacked. What? Did I look at you the wrong way? Or did you decode something I said as a secret message for murder? Huh? What are you talking about, you crazy old man?” “That's me, crazy as they come, coz I'm not going to let you do me in with that bottle.” “What bottle?” “That there bottle with the rancid concoction you used to poison your hubby.” “Stop it!” she shouted. “You're not making sense. What have you done to Jason?” “He's safe enough from you.”

“But not from you, you crazy bag of—” The words were choked off by her sudden lunge at him. She attacked him with a fury. Either she was going to wrench that shotgun from him or she was going to die trying. His lunacy took up every bit of the middle ground. With one more violent jerk she had the gun. “Not much good to ya without the ammo.” “What do you think is harder, your head or this?” She swung close to his head with the butt of the gun. “Now, little lady—” “Oh, so now I'm a lady again because I've got your power. Well to hell with you!” She got out her cell. “Beat ya to it. Already called the cops. Gave 'em your address.” “As if I'd believe anything a dirt bag lying lunatic has to say.” She called 911. “Help! Someone's trying to kill me!” She gave the address as she ran to the bedroom where Tiny was holed up with Jason. “Tiny! Tiny!” She called out. Before the door was fully opened, the dog bounded at her. And licked her face. “Down!” He obeyed. “Good boy.” She looked in horror at Jason sprawled out on the floor at the foot of the bed. His face and right hand were covered in blood. And he reeked of demon flowers. The whole room did even though the window was open. Is he dead or alive? Alive! Thank God. She put the gun down to grab a pillow for his head.

“If you like money so much, why don't you earn some of your own instead of killing poor fellas like him for it?” Dabydeen said from the doorway. She lunged for the gun. “How much poison did you give him?” “None,” he said, remaining at the door. “He opened up the bottle to see what was in there and took a big whiff, and wham, he went down like a sack of taters.” He reached into his housecoat pocket and pulled out a small liquor bottle in a plastic bag. She reached out for it. “Nothing doing,” he said, shoving it back into his pocket, “it's evidence.” “If he collapsed with the bottle, then how come you—” “It fell of top of him.” He took the bottle out again and shook it. “See? Only a smidgen left. Enough to knock someone out cold, and for the cops to figure out what it is, I'll wager.” “You are one crazy son-of-a—” Jason stirred, moaned and opened his eyes. “Sara?” Holding onto the gun, she fell to her knees and kissed his face, blood and all. “Get that dog away from me! The rabid bastard bit me.” He rubbed his arm. “Let's get you on the bed,” she said, helping him up. He looked over at Dabydeen and terror filled his eyes. He refused to lay down, steadying himself by holding onto a bedpost instead. “Don't let him come near us, Sara, he tried to kill me.” “I know, Jason, I know.” She helped steady him by hugging his waist with her free arm. Suddenly a change come over Dabydeen. He looked like he had seen a ghost. Then he smiled vacantly before saying, “That fella of yours is quite the boy there,

Sara. Had me fooled. Yup. Lock, stock and barrel.” He shifted her gaze to Jason. “When I, uh, when Tiny and me caught you digging around the rhododendrons tonight, you said your wife had tried to poison you, and you were trying to bury the evidence in a safe place before the police came, coz she was still after ya. But you weren't burying anything, you were digging it up to get rid of the evidence, coz you thought she was deader than a doornail. Or else you were going to go back and finish her off with what's in that there bottle. I'm only guessing, mind, but I'll wager you're the one who got poisoned tonight, Sara.” She eyed Jason. Did his body stiffen, or was that merely her shock running through him? She dropped her arm and stepped away from him, stopping beside Dabydeen, who stood with his hands in his pockets. “I've never seen a picture of your first wife, Jason. I appreciate that you couldn't bear to set foot again in the house you shared with her, what with her dying in your arms from cancer and all. I can understand how the horror of it all made it too painful for you to be surrounded by reminders. But what it comes down to is that I only have your word for it that she had a freckled fat butt, hippo hips, elephant legs and no boobs, and you loved her dearly. Buttttttt, tell me, what color was her hair?” “Black,” he said with the speed of someone who didn't need to think before answering. “Short, curly black hair. But she didn't have much left of it after all the cancer treatments, like duh!”


“You know, Jason, I truly believed in you, and….” She let the words die in her throat and simply shook her head, partly in disgust, but mostly to shake off the image of the beauteous dead woman, ever silent, ever dead. “So you've been snooping through my computer files. Typical of a woman. If you already knew the answer, why waste my time asking?” he said with pointed irritation. “Come off it, Sara, get real. I've got a splitting headache for crying out loud!” “That's it, isn't it, Jason? Always crying on the outside where you can fake it, but never crying on the inside where there's no audience but yourself, so there's no percentage in feeling anything. Is there?” He didn't answer, and she didn't expect him to. She could taste his blood on her lips and wiped it away with her sleeve. It didn't make her feel any better. She felt shaken, dispirited and morbidly sad. “Don't you know, young fella,” Dabydeen said, “it's not what you have that's your problem? It's what you don't have." Like a conscience, Sara thought. Looking down at Tiny to avoid the desperate but nevertheless shameless appeal for sympathy in Jason's eyes, she said. “Whose parents bought our house for us as a wedding present?” “Knock it off, Sara,” Jason said. “Whose parents?” she insisted, looking right at him. His lack of anything resembling concern or regret for what he had put her through, made her shudder. Not simply for what he had done, but for what he might do now. Her guard went up


along with the shotgun. He doesn't know it's been fired. Or does he? “Whose parents?” “We all know the answer to that one,” Dabydeen said. “What I want to know is: Did he do her in?” “Oh shut-up! Why would I? I love her,” Jason said. “Don't listen to that moldy old fart.” Sara threw a sideways glance at Dabydeen, and their eyes met in understanding. He too caught the present tense of “love”. Jason still loves her. Not me. I'm just a lucky stroke. “She's alive then?” Dabydeen asked. “Of course she is,” Jason said, his breath uneven from trying to control his temper. “Which makes you a bigamist,” Dabydeen said. “What a crock! She ran off with some creep from her job, so I divorced her.” Dabydeen looked at Sara. “You're awfully quiet.” “He knocked her out with his concoction, then he walled her up alive between one of the walls of their bedroom. That's why it took him six months to tidy up his affairs before moving here. He only visited me on the weekends and such, isn't that right, my sweet psycho from hell?” Nausea swept over her at the thought of how he must have schemed and plotted to kill her. Ordinary, simple things like asking her whether she wanted sweets with her tea or what kind of music she wanted to hear, were merciless contrivances of evil. He knew she would close the door once he played Bach, just as he

knew she was working on the part of the wall where he must have inserted a tube up from the basement to deliver the poison. Even his anger was bogus. He only pretended to be put out with her so he would have an excuse to stay out of the room to avoid the poison and to implement his dirty, despicable scheme without her noticing. With the music playing full blast like it was, he knew she wouldn't hear him in the basement. But he miscalculated. He didn't give her enough. So he had to get more from Dabydeen's garden where he kept his stash. “The pump or whatever might not be in our basement anymore, but the hole you drilled to insert the tube or hose will,” she said, breaking the silence that was beginning to fray her nerves. A quick glance at him then Dabydeen revealed they both understood her only too well. “What's with these cock-and-bull ravings? Very uncool of you, Sara, making ugly like a woman spurned,” Jason said, punctuating it by rolling his eyes. Oh, but Jason, you fiend, I wasn't spurned, I was betrayed. “Meaning what?” she said. “That you've already lined up your next victim, and I'm supposed to be jealous of her? Or am I supposed to be jealous of your wife's ghost? It's over, Jason. It stops here, right here.” She pointed to the bloodstained floor. “You've come unhinged. You've totally lost it, babe.” She looked at him. Hard. To try to see the man she had fallen in love with. Everything was still there, the reassuring firmness of his voice, the sparkle in his eyes, the disarming tilt of his head, the parted lips always ready to please. All had conspired to make her love him. Then. Now they made him an attractive monster. The most dangerous, lethal

kind. She tried to conceal how she was recoiling in revulsion and prickling with fear. Every fiber of her being was bristling with something finer, deeper than anger. But he noticed, because he said, “Look at her, Dabydeen! You can see she's lying her head off.” “What difference does it make if she is?” Dabydeen said, pulling something out of his other pocket. “She's the one with the shotgun, and—” He handed her a box of shot. “—the ammo.” As she started loading the shotgun, the doorbell rang and Tiny bolted by them to guard the front door. Jason sprang into action, charging at them to get past the doorway. The gun wasn't fully loaded, and everything was happening too fast to swing at him with the gun. Suddenly, the smell of demon flowers overtook all her senses. Dabydeen slapped the bag with the bottle against Jason's face, and Sara dropped the gun to clasp both hands over Jason's mouth. Down he went. “See?” Dabydeen said. “Like a sack of taters.” He had fallen on his injured arm, so she crouched down to move him. But the poison began to seep into her brain with toxic remembrances of the same demon smell on the shirt he was wearing the day they met in Mexico. She had commented on the smell, because it was too vile to be his cologne. It reeked like rotten marigolds smothering the life out of carnations. He had explained away the smell with his usual effortless skill by telling her he had spent the morning walking in a park filled with unusual flowers, and wouldn't she like to revisit it with him? She lifted herself up without touching him.

“Don't expect we gave him enough to keep him down for long,” Dabydeen said. Seeing her sway, he offered a hand to steady her. “Best we answer the door.” By the time the police had assessed the situation and interviewed both Dabydeen and Sara, Jason was regaining consciousness. “How was I to know she was allergic? I saw her throw the flowers in the garbage. I never knew she was allergic. She never told me she was allergic. I never knew she was. I LOVE HER! She never told me, I swear, she never told….” Sara and Dabydeen followed the paramedics carrying Jason out of the house. The sunrise was in full bloom. “Now what in hell's name is he going on about?” Dabydeen said, scratching the bald patch on top of his head. Sara shrugged. “Don't know.” She thought a moment then added, “Maybe I do. He bought a bouquet of flowers for her. And she didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him she didn't want them because of her allergies, so he took it as total rejection and…and…well, you know the rest. He—What the hell? What are they doing?” She watched two officers coming out of her house. “Told ya I called 'em. He had me all twisted round the wrong way, so as I couldn't honestly tell which end of the stick I was holding.” “I know.” “When he took a whiff of that there stuff I was a goner. I meant no harm to ya, little lady. Suppose I did then, but I swear I was sure he didn't know that the bottle was filled with one of those breathing poisons. Otherwise, why would he have put his nose right up to it like that, you know what I mean? I know now that he took a

whiff to throw me off his scent. 'Cuse the pun and 'cuse me for turning against ya like that.” Tiny sat beside her as they watched them loading Jason into the ambulance. She stroked Tiny's head. “Why Tiny? That's a silly name for such a beautiful, proud dog, if you don't mind me saying.” “He was the runt of the litter. The one no one else wanted, coz he wasn't big and beautiful, just cute and cuddly. Isn't that right, Big Guy?” Tiny went to him. “It happens that way sometimes, the little ones are just big ones in disguise,” he said, joining her in petting Tiny as Rudy joined them and took turns rubbing up against our legs. “Or the other way around.” “No foolin'. But why did the skunk try to do you in? Why? If it's money he's after, why wouldn't he stay with you? Sounds like your parents have money, and you both have good-paying jobs. It doesn't make sense.” “I've been trying to avoid the question because I know the answer. He wanted the whole house and my insurance, for sure. But what he really wanted was to erase me from his life. I'll really be surprised if he's sold the house he shared with her. It's a shrine to his love—and hate—for her. I think he's been carrying the expense of keeping his life with her intact, and just decided it would be easier to get rid of me than to destroy his precious memories of her.” “But that's more foul than that there concoction of his.” She smiled faintly in agreement. “You know, until tonight, I never really had a sense of what hell is like. But I know now. It's a barren, lonely place, devoid of

feeling, light, love and life. Just your mind going around in ever tightening circles with nothing, no one to connect to.” “No one's there because they're all here on Earth making hell.” “After what we've been through tonight, how can you have room in your heart to be cynical? I know I don't.” “Think not? Listen to him.” He placed a hand softly on her shoulder. She tuned into Jason saying, “I love you, Sara. Sara! I love you!” over and over. She tuned him out before they shut him inside. A ghost just left. And my headache is leaving with him. Jason was all shimmering light and love on the outside, but nothing was really there. He had no substance. Her heart reached out to her kindred spirit, the woman he murdered. “Awake and go in peace,” she murmured to the vision of a beautiful light ascending.





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