(To push myself to write faster and release more often, I’ve started a short fiction challenge. Every Monday I’ll release a piece of short fiction – maybe a short story, maybe a poem, maybe something else entirely. The goal isn’t for every piece to be a masterpiece, but to improve my skills and the speed at which I write.)
Young Flesh We Require – Short Fiction Challenge Week 2
“She took a sip and collapsed down the stairs. Broke her neck at the bottom. It was simple and painless,” said a lanky man with black, bulging shrimp eyes and a droopy white mustache.
“My Lana took her tea in the bath,” said a fat, bell-shaped man with a bald head. “Had a sip and snuffed it right there. I’m glad she died doing what she loved. Taking a bath, I mean. Not drowning.”
“Maxine took her tea in a portable cup and went for a drive, though I’d begged her to drink it before she left,” said a man with an acne-pocked face and gnarled, yellow teeth. “I found her crumpled over the steering wheel, the car in a ditch along the country road. It was a shame to lose the car – a lovely red Ford Damascus – but I suppose one must make sacrifices…”
The fourth man at the table, Louis Rigman, stared dumbly as attention turned to him.
“Well,” said Louis, as the men leaned forward, waiting to hear him to speak. “I haven’t exactly… done it yet.”
The four men sat at a round table in the hazy yellow light of the bar. Cigar smoke hung in the air, and the sound of laughter and glasses clinking filled the room.
“Louis!” said the acne-pocked man. “You know the tea isn’t potent for more than a few days.”
“The thing is…” said Louis, removing his glasses, cleaning them with the table cloth, then replacing them. “I haven’t bought it yet. I’m not sure I want to go through with it.”
There was an eruption of grumbles and scoffs, and the bell-shaped man leapt up, throwing his hands in the air.
“Not go through with it!” said the bell-shaped man.
“I just… The more we got talking, the more I was reminded of Debra’s good traits,” said Louis. “Her kind nature and how she always makes sure there’s a pair of clean socks waiting for me when I return home.”
“Well of course,” said the shrimp-eyed man. “My Alexa was a fine woman. For twenty-five years she made sure I started every morning with the paper and a cup of coffee. And I’m talking the good, imported stuff.”
“And my Lana was an excellent cook,” said the bell-shaped man thumping his bulging belly as he slid back into his chair. “Never would have reached such a healthy weight if she wasn’t. But we men have certain… certain…”
“Needs,” said the shrimp-eyed man, stroking his long, floppy mustache. “We just aren’t satisfied by the wrinkles and sags of older women. It’s young flesh we require. Darwin tells it all, of course.”
“Yes, of course,” said Louis, lowering his eyes.
“Tom’s already got himself a new girl,” said the acne-pocked man, slapping the bell-shaped man on the back.
“It’s true,” said the bell-shaped man. “A secretary in my acquisitions department. A nineteen year old. Cooks an excellent roast. I’ll have you all over for dinner.”
“And I’ve got three dates lined up next week,” said the shrimp-eyed man, the electric bulb which hung overhead glinting in his beady eyes. “A blonde, a brunette, and an Oriental.”
“An Oriental!” said Louis, clapping his hands. “The times we live in…”
“So what do you think, Louis?” said the acne-pocked man, leaning forward conspiratorially. “It won’t be the same without you.”
The door creaked as Louis pushed his way into De Muffler’s Oddities. The shop was small and dark – lit only by dripping candles which were scattered throughout. Velvet curtains were drawn tightly over the windows, and a thick cloud of incense smoke hung in the air. There were rows upon rows of shelves packed haphazardly with books, beakers, chests, charms, and mechanical gadgets.
“It was a mistake, sir! Forgive me!” said a hunched man in faded robes as he rushed in from the back room. The hunched man hobbled toward Louis, weaving between tall piles of dusty tomes. The man was hunched over so far that his head only reached Louis’ naval.
“The sign must have flipped in the wind. It should say closed,” said the hunched man, tugging mournfully on his cheeks. “And dear me, did I leave the door unlocked again? What a batty fool I am.”
“You’re closed?” said Louis, removing his pocket watch and glancing at it. “At mid-day?”
“Of course, sir! I follow each and every city regulation. You’ll find no mysterious or magical items being sold here.”
“But I was told…”
“Please sir, don’t arrest me!” said the man, dropping to his knees and grabbing Louis by the ankles. “I have a gentle soul. I won’t last in prison!”
“I think you misunderstand,” said Louis, lifting his legs up and down, trying unsuccessfully to break the man’s grip. “I’m not with the military. My friends sent me. You made a tea for their wives, and they’ve suggested I see you as well.”
The man looked up, his eyebrows arched, and wiped away the tears which had been streaming down his face.
“Not with the military?” said the man, hoisting himself to his feet. From within his cloak he removed the most elaborate pair of spectacles Louis had ever seen. For each eye there was not one lens, but five. The man slipped on the spectacles and grabbed Louis by the collar, pulling their faces close.
“Come on, let me get a look at you,” said the man, rotating Louis’ face to view it from every unflattering angle. The man released Louis and stuffed the spectacles back into his cloak. “Very well. Follow me.”
The man hobbled toward the back of the shop.
“And lock the door behind you. No need to break the law more than is necessary,” said the man, winking over his shoulder.
Louis pushed the door closed, clicked shut three rusty locks, and followed. The man shuffled behind a desk, his hunch so severe that his chin nearly rested on the table top.
“The name’s Marseilles De Muffler,” said the man. “Your friends, they were fed up with their wives and looking for younger women, if I recall?”
“That’s right,” said Louis.
“And it’s the same for you? You’d like to off your wife and move to greener pastures?”
“Well…” said Louis, scratching his head and adjusting his glasses.
“Well?” said Marseilles, jabbing Louis in the stomach with a long, bony finger. “Get out with it! Bottled up emotions are bad for the gut.”
“It’s just… My wife isn’t so bad. Sure, she’s gotten a bit round in the rear, but she’s a lovely lady.”
“Hmmm,” said Marseilles, stroking the single gray hair on his chin. “I might have something…”
Marseilles turned away and dug through a wooden chest packed with vials of colorful liquid.
“But bear in mind, this is highly experimental,” said Marseilles, turning to Louis and holding out a vial of algae-colored liquid.
“I don’t want to hurt my wife” said Louis.
“Not to worry. It’s an anti-aging serum. Three drops in your wife’s pudding, and by the next morning she’ll look as young as the day you met.”
Debra really was magnificent. Louis arrived home that evening to clean socks, an already lit hash pipe, and a steaming platter of breaded lamb and potatoes. And Debra couldn’t have been a more lovely conversationalist. She gasped with delight as Louis recounted his day of adventure overseeing the sewage line repairs on forty-third avenue.
As Debra scurried into the kitchen to fetch a beetroot pie (Louis’ favorite!), Louis pulled the serum from his jacket pocket. He removed the cork and tipped it over Debra’s still full glass of orange soda. The serum flowed slowly, like cold sludge, and Louis counted the drops as they fell into her glass.
“One. Two. Three.”
Louis corked the vial and returned it to his pocket.
“Honey, have a toast with me,” called Louis, using a silver spoon to stir her soda.
A cool morning breeze fluttered through lace curtains, and blue light seeped into the room, stirring Louis awake. Next to him, Debra snored gently, her body facing away from him. He trembled with excitement, like a tot on Christmas morn, as he peaked beneath the covers.
“The rear is still quite full,” Louis grumbled. “And the legs too veiny, but perhaps the serum starts at the face and makes its way down.”
“Wake up, tootsie,” said Louis, shaking Debra’s shoulder.
As Debra rolled over, Louis gasped. Her nose, which had once been cute and petite, a nose which Louis had spent countless hours nuzzling, had grown bulbous and crooked. Her lips had bloated and turned purple, like those of someone who’d eaten poisonous berries. Her eyes bulged obscenely, and her cheeks were speckled with yellow-tipped boils which looked ready to burst.
As they dressed for the day, Louis conversed as normally as he could while completely avoiding eye contact. He didn’t dare mention her transformation, couldn’t think where to even begin, and when she moved to the mirror, Louis’ heart thudded in his chest as he waited for her to scream. But Debra did not scream, and began applying makeup normally – smearing eye shadow on her lids and lipstick on her lips.
Debra clomped to the kitchen with bow-legged strides, knocking paintings off the walls. She slouched into the icebox and removed a plate of hard-boiled eggs and a bowl of a lamb gravy and dropped them onto the breakfast table with a thud.
As Debra ate she held her spoon with the scooping part down, slopping gravy into her mouth, onto her face, and all over the table, like a toddler spreading mud with a toy shovel. Between bites she smiled sweetly at Louis, gravy dribbling from her chin. Louis pushed away his plate, for some reason not feeling as ravenous as usual.
“See you soon, my love!” called Debra as Louis sped out the door.
“Open up you swine!” said Louis, pounding on the front door of De Muffler’s Oddities. “You sniveling worm!”
“Please, my dear man,” said Marseilles De Muffler, peaking through a window, a velvet sleep mask perched on his forehead. “You’re making a racket.”
Locks clicked and the front door creaked open. Marseilles waved his hand invitingly, and Louis entered the dimly lit shop.
“You ruined her, my dearest Debra!” said Louis, shoving the algae-colored vial in Marseilles’ face.
“How did I ruin her?” said Marseilles, calmly lowering Louis’ hand. “Does her skin not have the smoothness of a baby’s gentle bottom? Do her eyes not sparkle with the luster of a burbling country creak?”
Marseilles pressed his face against Louis’ kitchen window and saw Debra on all fours, her face buried in a casserole, growling like a rabid dog. Her limbs were as thick as tree trunks, with veins throbbing throughout, and her flaky scalp was visible where clumps of hair had fallen out. Though Marseilles couldn’t see Debra’s eyes, he’d wager that, no, they did not sparkle like a country creak.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” said Marseilles. “My rose petals were fresh and my egg root sufficiently rotten…”
“Scared of the military, are you?” said Louis, his face turning purple with rage. “Fix my Debra or I’ll make sure the Sergeant himself throws you in stocks!”
“But, sir!” said Marseilles, his eyes filling with tears.
Marseilles’ screams and sobs convinced Louis that his threats were sufficiently motivating, so he took leave and said he’d pick up the antidote the following morning. At work, Louis wasn’t his normal astute self. He didn’t even notice as a worker drilled improperly into the main line, sending a geyser of sewage spewing over forty-third avenue and causing a filth-splattered carriage to veer onto the sidewalk and crush panhandler.
That evening, Louis returned home to find Debra in a most aggressive state. As he entered the front door, Debra clamped her jagged teeth on his shoe. Louis fled, leaving the shoe, and Debra occupied herself with her catch, her lips oozing saliva. Louis sneaked outside, around the back, and crawled in the bedroom window.
Torn fabric and feathers rested upon every surface, like winter’s first snow. Louis dug through the wardrobe to find spare bedding, and when he heard smashing glass and the clacking of claws on hardwood floors, hurdled out the window.
Louis made his bed in the outhouse, using a wood board to cover to the toilet hole and a pillow to cushion himself against the wall. Given Louis’ profession, the smell was manageable, and he was kept company by a tiny spider which lowered itself on a delicate thread.
“It’s funny how we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone, isn’t it, spider?” said Louis, raising a candle to better illuminate his new friend. With a fizzle, the spider’s limbs twitched and curled, and the spider dropped to the outhouse floor, smoke streaming from its charred body. Louis was tired anyway, so he blew out the candle and fell asleep.
“Yes, yes, come in!” called Marseilles from deep within the dimly lit shop. Louis pushed open the creaky door and entered. Marseilles rushed into the room and began scouring a cabinet full of herbs. Under his armpit he clutched a spoon as big as a boat oar which dripped with purple slime.
“Well?” said Louis.
“I had a very successful night,” said Marseilles, removing a thorny red plant from the cabinet. “Figured out where I went wrong. Simple mistake, it seems!”
Marseilles, hunched low, sped into the back room, and Louis followed. In the center of the back room sat an iron cauldron in which purple slime bubbled and smoked.
“Good!” said Louis, coughing and waving away the smoke. “I assume this is a brew to put my Debra back to normal?”
“No, no,” said Marseilles, dropping the thorny red plant into the cauldron and using the massive spoon to stir. “I’m afraid you’ll have to learn to love her as she is. I’ve seen men deal with worse.”
“Now look here!” said Louis, grabbing Marseilles by the collar. “You said you’ve figured out what went wrong, so you must be able to make a potion to undo it!”
“It’s true, I could in an instant!” said Marseilles. “Only I’m not allowed! Military regulations and all that! You must understand.”
“Is it money you want?” screamed Louis, lifting the hunched man in the air. “Is that your game? You make me a faulty potion then extort me for the antidote. Fine! Name your price.”
“There’s no game, sir! I’ll even refund what I charged before. I’m not a con man,” said Marseilles, his eyes watering. “Please, sir, you’re hurting me.”
Louis released Marseilles, who fell onto all fours.
“You leave me no choice,” said Louis, stomping from the building.
A moment later, Louis burst into the shop follow by a tall man in a crisp, blue soldier’s outfit.
“That’s him, Sergeant!” said Louis, pointing aggressively at Marseilles.
“This man says you’ve been selling potions. Is it true?” said the Sergeant calmly. “I thought we had an agreement.”
“Not since yesterday, sir! I swear,” said Marseilles, his eyes wide with fear.
“He claims you’ve turned his wife into a beast,” said the Sergeant. “That I’d quite like to see.”
Louis, the Sergeant, and Marseilles stood in the bushes by Louis’ kitchen window.
“I don’t recommend you go inside, Sergeant,” said Louis, tapping on the window. “She’s mean.”
Debra stalked into the kitchen on all fours. Seeing the men at the window, she leapt and smashed her face against the glass, her jagged teeth gnashing violently. Debra slinked away from the now cracked window, and rubbed her nose with a hairy paw.
“Marvelous,” said the Sergeant. “And this is after only forty-eight hours?”
“Even less,” said Marseilles. “And she was only a housewife. Imagine what it’ll do for men with fighting experience.”
“I want to quadruple my order,” said the Sergeant. “Forty servings by the end of the month.”
“Of course, sir,” said Marseilles, smiling.
“Excuse me?” said Louis, not smiling. “You’re not arresting him?”
“Absolutely not, my dear man,” said the Sergeant. “Marseilles works for us now. He came to me this morning claiming he’d developed a potion that could help our military. I was willing to take a risk, put in a few orders on faith, but seeing the effects in person gives me the utmost confidence in Marseilles’ abilities. There’s a war brewing, don’t you know? And soldiers with these… capabilities will assure our victory.”
“But his potions, his shop,” stammered Louis. “It’s illegal!”
“Very true!” said the Sergeant. “And shame on you for setting foot in there, let alone buying! You’re lucky I don’t throw you in the stocks! Come on Marseilles, I’ve got tea at eleven.”
Marseilles and the Sergeant departed, leaving Louis alone in the bushes. Inside, Debra dangled from a light fixture, swatting confusedly at a fly.
“Ah Louis!” said the shrimp-eyed man as Louis entered the dimly lit bar. “Haven’t seen you in days!”
“Join us,” said the acne-pocked man, standing up and pulling out a chair, which Louis slumped into.
“Gotten back into hiking, have you? You’re covered in cuts and bruises!” said the shrimp-eyed man. “Good on you for staying connected to nature.”
“Have a drink, old chap?” said the acne-pocked man, holding out a whiskey.
Louis took the drink and downed it in one gulp.
“Tom was just telling us the troubles with his new girl,” said the shrimp-eyed man, slapping the bell-shaped man on the back.
“She’s beautiful, yes, but the things she chooses to occupy her mind with!” said the bell-shaped man, “All she cares about is celebrity gossip. I tell you I’ve heard more than enough about Dimbo Pembington’s gold-digging ex-wife. My Lana could at least hold her own discussing world affairs.”
“How about you?” said the acne-pocked man, gesturing with his glass toward the shrimp-eyed man.
“The blonde and I were to do theater on Wednesday, the brunette and I an Italian restaurant on Thursday, and the Oriental and I an art museum on Friday,” said the shrimp-eyed man. “My mind not being what it once was, I showed up at the art museum on Wednesday, an Oriental restaurant on Thursday, and on Friday, before I’d even had a chance to leave, fell asleep in my armchair…”
“At least you’ve got dates,” grumbled the acne-pocked man. “The women I meet run before I get a chance to ask.”
“Maybe you’ve got the right idea, Louis. Us creeps can’t compete with young studs anyway. Darwin explains it all, of course,” said the shrimp-eyed man. “How is Debra? Would she have a bunch of old widowers over for dinner? Her breaded lamb would really hit the spot.”
“Now that’s a wonderful dish!” exclaimed the bell-shaped man, thumping his belly.