The Murderess by Pat Berryhill

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Shedding old lives like a snake shedding skins had become familiar to her, but this one was proving more difficult than what had become standard. It wasn’t the emotional attachments that encroached themselves upon her in the past five years that made disengagement hard. Though they had bored into her like parasitic lamprey, she had developed skills that made her rather adept at scraping them off swiftly and without any residual remorse or pesky regrets.

No, it was disposing of the body that was problematic. Generally, things went smoothly. She planned things out and orchestrated the murder and body disposal so nothing was left. Over the years, she had been versatile and predictable, but careful. One, she fed to pigs. Another, the old standby of cement shoes in an abandoned rock quarry. She had been reading mafia stories that summer.

This time became a disappointment. She didn’t get to do things as planned. She didn’t do the killing. She came home from a weekend away “visiting family” and found him. Blood strewn through the hallway and lying twisted, rigor mortis set in, in a coagulated pool in the kitchen.

He had put up a fight. The TV, computer, a few other items were missing. Poor, stupid bastard. His carotid artery had been nicked and he had spewed everywhere. If she reported it, she was guilt free but her face would be all over the media and there were those that would recognize her with other names than Sylvia Johnson. No, this simply would not do. It was easier to clean up and go. She would have to call David. She had no choice. Damnit, she hated dealing with David.

He knew who she really was, but he was a necessary evil. He picked up on the second ring and held the phone against his ear. She swore she could hear him smiling. “Aren’t you going to say anything? You shit.” Smug low laughter. “Why should I? I know who it is and I’m not the one that wants, oh no… needs, something.” She rolled her eyes out of habit, even though David couldn’t see her. Her finger wound round and round in the old yellow telephone cord stretched across the kitchen, the body, and around the corner where she sat staring where the TV used to be. *Sigh* “I need to hire your maid service.” She nearly mumbled it, knowing what was coming next. She mouthed the words with him. “You getting messy in your old age?” His joke wasn’t funny since she had just hit her 35th birthday. “NO… It wasn’t me. I came home from a trip and found the house a wreck. You know what they say, when the cat’s away.” They did their little chit chat dance a bit longer and she gave him the address. He would be there in the morning around 6am.

She turned the lights out and went upstairs to bed. “Sweet dreams, Jeff. See ya in the morning, Hon.” She laughed a little too hard at her stupid joke. Yep, she was tired. She didn’t even change into her pjs. She just shucked down to her panties and tank top. She laid down caddy corner on the bed and rolled up into the thick, white, goose down duvet. She was asleep before her head hit the bed.

She recognized this place, but couldn’t remember when she had been there last. The old washing machines were the green of 1960s appliances. You know the one? It’s lighter than grass, not as bright, throw in a touch of olive, but cast with a vintage wash and make it always look like it has a chalk dust layer on the surface of it. They were front loading washers and had rubber flaps on top where the soap and fabric softener was added. Large tongues stuck out waiting for quarters. It cost a buck twenty-five to do a load. The curved, inset door handle had the design on it of little gold squares. It was the same pattern you saw on a hundred styles of flashy metallic go-go boots. The floor was black and white checked linoleum with the occasional square that had begun to peel and showed the concrete and zig-zag glue below. There were yellow, molded, plastic chairs bolted to big metal bars. They were lined along the side walls and impossible to move. She was eye to eye with the top of the washer. Just a kid. She was walking around the center island of machines, to get to the measly snack vending options in the back left corner beside all the dryers lined up. Most had doors open and gaping, shiny mouths that implored “Feed me, too.” The holes were large enough she could be swallowed and tumbled. “To keep wrinkle free,” the voice in her head answered her. They, she and her mom, had been there an hour. The peanut butter on orange crackers, she thought, held a curious power over her. As she got to the edge of the center island, she saw something on the floor. It looked almost black, a big mess. Walking back up to the fluff and fold counter, she grabbed the rag and went to wipe it up. She liked Mrs. Wu and didn’t mind doing little things to help her. Mrs. Wu often walked like her own grandma in upstate. One hand doing whatever and the other on the small of her back. She figured, like Grandma, she had a slippery disk in her back. It was then she locked with milky white eyes and a gaping mouth. It was Mr. Wu. His throat had been cut and she could now see the black stuff was blood. He had been there long enough for it to dry. She froze. She couldn’t scream, do anything as his arms went elbows up, palms on floor, shoulders slowly lifting as his head wobbled on his deeply slit throat and rolled… and smiled a sickly, sticky sounding grimace.

She woke up in a pool of sweat. Her short, black bob was plastered to her face under her ice blue eyes. No need for the brown contacts now that good ‘ol Jeff had bit the dust. He and his nicked artery, incidentally, being who she blamed the dream on.

Fuck. She thought she had escaped it. Five years had passed since she had stared into those milky, glazed over eyes. “Katherine” she heard the whisper come from nowhere and everywhere at once. It had been so long since she had heard her real name. She jumped. “Who’s there?” No answer, she shot up and slid on a pair of Jeff’s boxers out of the laundry basket and grabbed his old flannel. She also picked up her gun. Utilizing the strategically placed mirrors she installed when she decorated the house, she carefully cased each room before entering. No one was there.

Katherine sat down on the stairs in the foyer and began to do something she had not done in at least 15 years, not genuinely. She cried. She had no idea if it was because she had been caught off guard by Jeff’s death, because she had to speak to David, or if it was because she lost her 70” TV.

 

Pat Berryhill is a freelance writer living in Winston-Salem, NC. Her passions include photography, animals, printing, painting, and writing. (Of course) She has been previously published in several fine literature magazines including, but not limited to: Breath & Shadow, Change Seven Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Incunabuala, & Fictional Pairings.

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