1st Prize Winner in Creative Writing Institute’s 2014 Annual Short Story Contest
As his heavy boot flew across the room, Audrey Morgan ducked behind the dining room table. The shoe bounced off the wall just behind her. She held her breath waiting to see if her husband would continue his tirade with something else to throw or, worse, with the hand-to-hand combat he favored at her expense.
The yelling resumed. “I work hard for my money, you lazy witch! I’ll get what I want when I want so keep your mouth shut!”
Audrey wasn’t saying a word but she wasn’t wasting her time either. She had silently crawled under the table to the very center figuring she may not be seen there and, if seen, she had a chance to crawl away from him on the opposite side when he lunged at her.
She held her breath. Minutes ticked loudly away from the clock on the kitchen wall. Finally, the beer kicked in for Mel and he began sobbing. “I work so hard and nobody appreciates me…” His voice faded as he trudged up the stairs to the couple’s bedroom.
Audrey remained on the cold, hard floor half expecting Mel to attack her again. The sound of his heavy body making their ancient box spring creak allowed Audrey to breathe a little easier. Minutes later his loud broken snore erupted and she started to creep out from under the table.
She froze and her eyes widened. A pair of expensive black loafers peeked out from blue trousers blocking her exit. She sat back on her haunches hoping she hadn’t been seen.
“Come on out, sweetheart,” a strangely familiar voice drawled. “I feel your pain.”
“Who are you… how did you get in?”
“While you shuddered with fear under this here table, you sent a special delivery request and here I am to grant it.”
“I didn’t say anything,” she protested.
“It was a silent prayer that Mel would die and those prayers are always funneled downstairs, if you know what I mean.”
Completely out from under the table now, she appraised the dapper man from head to toe. “You’re the devil?!”
Instantly he morphed into a multicolored demon with sharp teeth and shiny horns protruding from his forehead. “I just use a gentleman’s guise as my front man. It gets me in to places that normally remove the welcome mat when I approach. That ‘feel the pain’ shtick is priceless.”
Audrey showed no fear of the devil in his natural form perhaps having seen worse from her beloved. She said nothing.
“Your understated response to me is refreshing, Audrey. May I call you Audrey?”
Her mute nod encouraged him to continue. “I feel I know you very well and I owe that familiarity to good ol’ Mel upstairs.”
“Has Mel made some kind of deal with you?” Audrey asked.
“Every time he yelled at you for asking about the bill paying money, every bruise he adorned you with, the time he kidnapped your dog when you finally locked him out, and so many other events were his way of showing off his handiwork to me. Yes, Audrey, he’s made a deal with me and repeatedly enjoyed himself at my expense. Heck. 10% of what he’s done to you would guarantee his basement cubicle. Tonight, your prayer just lit a little fire under me: Mel’s soul is past due and I aim to collect.”
“Why are you telling me about it?” Audrey asked with a mixture of dread and a niggling of hope that Mel’s daily abuse might soon be coming to an end.
“Actually, Mel has proven to be quite resistant. First I gave him high blood pressure leading directly to a stroke but he was never struck. Then I added the high cholesterol to guarantee a heart attack but he snores contentedly above us. Finally, I threw in diabetes to help the other two along but nothing happened. Frankly, Audrey, I don’t think anything will happen without a helpful mortal hand.”
“I’m not going to kill anyone!” Audrey screeched.
“Calm down, you don’t want to awaken Prince Charming, do you? You don’t need to do anything. You’re going to dinner at the Coral Reef. He’ll be slightly drunk, of course, when he begins to choke on his shrimp kabob. When he starts coughing send him to the men’s room. Dozens of embarrassed chokers die on the floors of restaurant bathrooms every year. Mel will just be one more. No muss, no fuss and you are finally free. How does that sound, Audrey? It’s a win-win for both of us,” he smiled engagingly before disappearing in a sudden smoky poof.
The next day Mel came through the door waving a white envelope. “Get your fat butt in gear, Audrey, I won us dinner in the office baseball pool.”
Sitting across from Mel, whose manic return home was now dampened by three dry martinis, Audrey watched the weak flicker of the candle on their table. It appeared that the devil was wrong again about Mel because he’d just ordered a steak instead of the deadly shrimp kabob.
“Oh, and doll,” Mel shouted to the waitress as she walked away, “add an order of those shrimp on a stick things.” With that, the flame in their candle inflated and Audrey felt a strange coldness in the room.
Sure enough, Mel continued drinking. When the shrimp kabobs came, Audrey tried not to watch him ingest them unchewed while he laughed about some idiot at work. Suddenly his eyes bulged and his face turned red. He tried to cough but couldn’t. Audrey felt an urge to help or call for help but then she saw the rage building in his eyes at her inaction and decided to follow the devil’s original plan.
“Go to the men’s room, dear. Hurry!” she urged.
Clumsily he bolted for the men’s room. She waited. Minutes dragged slowly by and she considered having someone check on him but was afraid, afraid he might live.
“Ma’am, I’m Paul Stevens. I’m a doctor. I was just in the men’s room and saw your husband on the floor…”
“He’s dead?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, ma’am. I got there in time and was able to expel the shrimp caught in his throat. He’s going to be okay.”
His gentle hand rested on her shoulder as she began to shudder. She filled with dread wondering what Mel would do to her after this.
Mel’s flirtation with death seemed to improve his disposition for a week or so. After that, he added, “Why din’cha do somethin’ to help me at that restaurant? You tryin’ to kill me or somethin’?” to his repertoire of verbal abuse.
So vehement were his attacks now that Audrey fled out the front door and hid behind the neighbor’s tall bushes the next night he came after her. When he gave up, she slumped down into a neat dirt bed wondering when it would be safe to go inside.
“We blew it!” the devil whispered just a few inches from her face. “What rotten luck… a doctor needing the head at that precise moment! Well, not to worry, Audrey, I’ve got a better idea!”
“He’s worse than ever. I don’t need any more of your help!”
“Now, Audrey, calm down. He’s in there right now drinking that twelve pack and eating pork rinds. He’ll sleep like a baby so you can get some rest. Tsk, tsk. Those smudges under your eyes add years to your appearance. Tomorrow, he’ll be tired of all this fighting and ask what you want to do.”
“He never does that.”
“This time he will and you’ll ask to go to the fair. When you get there, be sure he gets fried chicken and deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies. He loves anything fried! Now he’ll be pretty tired after eating all that so you’ll take him on the swan boat ride. While you’re floating around, he’ll have the big one… a heart attack right off the Richter scale. You just wait it out. No one will be around to interfere this time.”
Audrey accepted the notes detailing her part in Mel’s demise. She felt a surge of hope growing within her. ‘I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?’
Audrey was surprised at the deep sleep she fell into and even more surprised when Mel offered to do whatever she wanted the next day. At the fair, he eagerly gulped down two deep fried Twinkies and three deep fried Oreos as toppers to his fried chicken. An eager fellow with a strange resemblance to the devil motioned them over to the swan boats. Mel seemed happy for the chance to just lull around in the water.
Audrey steered their boat away from the others. This seemed a signal for Mel to raise his voice. He demanded to know where all of his money went. Audrey mildly replied, “Your booze.”
It set him off. His verbal abuse increased and he raised his hand to slap Audrey. She crouched to avoid the blow that never came. Instead, his palm now faced himself as he clutched his chest. He fell toward Audrey with desperate eyes pleading for her help. She merely moved over to his side allowing him to hit his head on the plastic seat she had been sitting on.
Across from him, Audrey waited and watched. He was still for a moment then he made some gurgling sounds. He rolled over so that his head and upper torso lay on the seat and his legs hung limply to the floor. Audrey glanced nervously about and was relieved to see that they were secluded from any other boaters or fair goers.
Mel’s breathing was more relaxed now and she was sure he was near death. His eyes blinked open and focused on Audrey. “You did this! You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?” he growled.
Leaning up on one elbow, he reached over viciously grabbing Audrey’s auburn hair and pulling her toward him. Even in his weakened state, she was no match for him but she clutched his hand to stop the painful drag on her scalp. As she did, he was pulled off the seat and his head and chest hung precariously over the water. She shifted her weight to lean the boat in that direction and as his legs flew over his head in an amazing back flip, he mercifully released her hair. He splashed loudly before sinking into the murky water while Audrey held her breath expecting him to resurface dramatically.
Finally, she rowed back to the starting gate. The devil gallantly took her hand and helped her on to the pier. “That was flawless, Audrey! Good job!” he congratulated her.
“Well, you said he was past due, so I guess we both got what we wanted,” Audrey offered with a shaky smile.
“Actually, it was you I wanted, Audrey, I already had Mel. It was just a matter of time with him. But you, Audrey, all that self-sacrifice, forgiveness and second chances. I didn’t have a chance at your soul until you made that little prayer for Mel’s death. Why I realized then, if I didn’t work quick, Mel would bite the big one and you’d be lost to me forever. Now I get you both!” he said with glee.
“But you set everything up! You killed him!” Audrey pleaded desperately for her soul.
“Sure, you were just going to look the other way which might be argued as a lesser sin of omission. But then you took the bull by the horns, today, Audrey. I waited with baited breath to see how you’d react to Mel’s little resurrection and you made me proud! Drowning…I hadn’t even thought of that!”
That said, the devil flung a friendly arm around Audrey’s shoulder before his laughter erupted. So loud and strong was the sound that the earth began to shake and Audrey steeled herself for the new demon in her life.
See 2nd and 3rd place winner stories here:
2nd place winner: This Woman’s Right by Brian Staff: https://deborahowen.wordpress.com/this-womans-right-by-brian-staff/
3rd place winner: Reading the Leaves by Gargi Mehra: https://deborahowen.wordpress.com/reading-the-leaves-by-gargi-mehra-3rd-place-winner/
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