The Thing About Curses
by A. M. Johnson
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
“You thought I wanted us to have sex! Me having sex with you?” Her laughter was loud and, at first, Red joined in. But it felt like she was making fun. I mean, he was the young guy, the handsome guy with the big muscles, and she was the old broad with saggy tits and more squishy spots than a rotten tomato. Why was she laughing?
The more she laughed, the angrier Red got.
Before he got really steamed, however, she had quickly changed the subject.
“You know,” she said, suddenly serious, “it occurred to me that if somebody needed to get rid of a body, that cave would be the ideal place.”
“How you figure?” asked Red. His anger was subsiding, and she had definitely piqued his curiosity. Hiding bodies was something he’d never had to do before, but there was a first time for everything.
Marie leaned forward, her face serious, and an odd look in her eyes he had never seen before. Red told himself it was just the reflection from the flames in the fireplace.
“Everyone knows this land is cursed,” she began. “Locals won’t come near it. A couple of people have disappeared out here, and the sheriff always makes a show of doing a search, but it’s really just a matter of them flying a helicopter over the area. Nobody wants to wander around in this wood.”
Noted, thought Red. Helicopters were pretty much useless when it came to seeing through thick tree cover.
“Also, there’s no roads that you can drive on to get to that cave,” Marie continued. “You saw how challenging the hike is.”
Red nodded. It had been a tough climb down. Probably couldn’t even get an ATV down there.
Marie leaned even closer, and the dancing fire reflected in her eyes was mesmerizing. “We didn’t go that far, but if you go in deeper, there’s a little pool of the cleanest water. It comes from an artesian well. It’s so deep you can’t see the bottom. When I was a kid, I tried to find out how deep it was.” Marie paused, and Red couldn’t help himself.
“What did you find out?” he demanded.
“I couldn’t find a long enough rope, at least not one that I could carry down there myself. It’s more than sixty feet deep.”
Red was intrigued. “I see what you’re saying,” he started. “Just get the body there, tie a rock to the feet and drop it in. No one would ever find it.”
Marie nodded. “And that water is cold. Like a refrigerator.” She looked down at Pearl, who was contentedly sleeping in her lap. “I don’t think a body would even decompose. It would get waterlogged I guess, but it wouldn’t rot.”
Red nodded. So no odor of decay would lead searchers to the location.
Then, Marie had done something really odd. Even more odd than talking about getting rid of bodies. Standing and placing Pearl on her chair, Marie had grabbed some herbs they had gathered that day, crushing them in her hand. She had begun to chant softly in a monotone voice, words Red didn’t recognize.
The smell of the herbs was strong, a citrusy fragrance that was slightly off. Marie was crushing them in her hands and rubbing them on her exposed arms, then her chest, then neck and face. As she did so, she chanted the strange words over and over. Pearl watched her from the chair, crossed eyes seeming to focus on something in the distance. Red was beginning to feel a little strange, like he’d had more whiskey than he remembered drinking.
Marie began to sway from side to side, chanting the words a little louder, and staring at Red intently.
Red was not one to be easily spooked, and in the beginning of the display, he was mainly just surprised. But as she began swaying and staring at him, he found that he was sweating profusely. His heart was beating fast and his mouth was dry. He tried to look away from Marie, but he couldn’t. As he watched her, she began to change.
Her fading blonde hair took on a golden sheen and appeared to grow like some sort of wildflower into a bouquet of gorgeous curls. Those saggy tits raised themselves up to become beautifully firm globes. Her rounded tummy flattened out, and her hips seemed to take on the roundness of a ripe peach. As he stared, she suddenly became young, lovely and vibrant. In spite of himself, he felt his manhood becoming firm, and his thoughts turning sexual.
Just as abruptly as she had begun her chant, she stopped, and tossed the crushed herbs into the fire, which flamed up energetically for a moment, turning a red color before dying back down.
Red sat stunned, not sure what to think, until Marie let out with a loud laugh. “See there, young man, what you could have had?” The usually kind face had a cruel look to it as Marie laughed at him.
Red stared, feeling his anger coming back.
The woman who stood before him now was not the lovely, shapely creature he had witnessed moments ago. It was just Marie. Frumpy, dumpy old Marie, who had laughed at the idea of having sex with him, and now apparently drugged him so that he would hallucinate that she was young and beautiful. This was really too much for a man to take, especially one who was not known for his patience or impulse control.
That was when he had done it.
Marie had left her hunting knife, the one she had cut his thumb with, right next to the pile of herbs on the rough little table by the door. In a flash, he jumped up and grabbed it, slashing her throat in one swift motion. He watched as she bled out on the floor, gurgling noises coming from the opening in her neck.
Red had never killed before, but it had seemed so natural. He hadn’t even really thought about it. It had been a crime of opportunity. As he watched her slip and fall in her own pool of blood, he looked her in the eyes. What he saw there was what shocked him, surprised him, took him aback.
There was no panic, no fear, no sadness or anger. Instead, she seemed to be smiling at him, the flames from the fire dancing in her irises.
Red had mopped up the blood as best he could with Marie’s sleeping bag. As he took it out to burn it, Pearl had fled through the open door. Probably wise. At least in the woods, the cat could hunt for food. Red certainly wasn’t going to adopt it.
* * *
Red was sweating when he reached the cave entrance despite the cool night. Marie’s limp body had become a terribly heavy burden, making his shoulders and back ache. Several times, he had slipped on the path and ridden sliding gravel down a few feet before regaining control. He had dropped the body twice.
At the mouth of the cave, he stopped and set down Marie’s body so that he could readjust his flashlight. He was surprised to see Pearl, who sat on a rock nearby, staring at him.
“You best be glad you can’t talk to no one,” Red said to the cat. “Guess I won’t have to kill you since you can’t rat me out.” The cat stared back, seeming to look over Red’s shoulder.
Red picked up Marie’s body and proceeded into the cave, stepping on the bones as he went.
The pool Marie had spoken of was pretty far in, at least a quarter of a mile. Red marveled at the cave, wondering how much farther it went on before it ended.
At the pool, Red unzipped the sleeping bag enough to fill the bottom with rocks. He made it heavy enough that it was difficult for him to lift again. As he zipped it closed again, he took one final look at Marie’s dead, pale face. Her wrinkled lips were blue. He took the top of the bag, shoved Marie’s head down and zipped the bag closed at the top so she wouldn’t float out. Then he hauled her up and threw her into the center of the dark pool.
All the effort had reopened the wound on his thumb, and it was throbbing. He directed the flashlight on it and realized it was bleeding again, but much more than before. Blood was running down his hand and dripping onto the stones near the pool. For some reason, the sight of his bleeding thumb made him feel woozy, and he began to sway dizzily before abruptly falling backward onto the hard cave floor. The flashlight clattered onto the rocks.
Before Red blacked out, he thought he smelled the sharp fragrance of the herbs Marie had crushed. He watched through half-closed eyes from his prone position, his head turned slightly toward the pool. He had awakened to the sound of water being disturbed, not splashing necessarily, but definitely in motion. An eerie red light came from somewhere, and his cloudy brain thought it must be his flashlight, though he knew that couldn’t be right. It seemed to come from the water, but that couldn’t be right either.
As he gazed sleepily at the glowing water, churning like a boiling pot, something began to emerge from the pool. A slick, shiny form bobbed to the surface, a head with long hair plastered to it, covering all of the face except for the gaping maw, which had an incredible number of sharp, pointed teeth. Not human teeth, and not the teeth of any animal he had ever seen. So many teeth.
Claw-like hands broke the surface of the water, reaching toward the edge of the pool. Red felt fear rising in his throat like vomit, but for some reason his body was paralyzed. All he could do was watch as the dripping figure pulled itself from the deep red pool and came toward him.
Then the voice spoke, and Red felt his blood run cold. It was an old voice, older than the voices of gods and religions, older than the rocks upon which he lay immobilized. “You are privileged, Red,” the voice said, and even though it didn’t sound like Marie, it was Marie. He wanted to speak in answer, but his voice was also paralyzed.
“You are part of my refreshing,” the voice said. “Thanks to your sacrifice, I will be young and powerful again. I will be desired and worshipped. All because of your contribution.”
Red couldn’t help but think that this sounded a lot like the Policeman’s Association when they called asking for donations. “Thanks to your contribution, blah blah blah...” He wanted to say so, but his mouth wouldn’t cooperate.
The creature was now standing over him, dripping the cold water from the pool onto his face and arms. In the red light, it looked like blood. It disturbed him greatly that the creature was so close, dripping on him, but he couldn’t run, couldn’t fight, couldn’t even scream.
“I will make you greater than you were,” the giant red maw said, not really seeming to form actual words. All those teeth got in the way of speech.
“You will be my servant. My familiar, as some would say.” The face covered in wet hair turned as if considering something, then drew closer. Red could smell rot and heat and pestilence coming from that jagged red mouth. It made him ill.
“I have waited for you so long, Red,” the creature continued. “Waited for someone truly evil, like yourself, to feed the spirit within me, while your young, strong flesh will feed my body.”
Finding his voice, he managed a trembling question. “Are you going to kill me?” Red’s voice was barely above a whisper.
The face seemed to consider some more as the slick head turned from side to side. Underneath that plastered curtain of hair, Red thought he saw a glimmer of eyes staring at him, black eyes like pools of used motor oil.
“Your soul will live on,” the creature said, the odd mouth moving out of sync with the words. “But your body will refresh me!”
With that, the pointed teeth descended upon Red’s face. He found his voice briefly again to scream in agony as the creature closed its cold, putrid lips around his right eye, and the spire-like teeth excavated deep into his frontal lobe.
* * *
“It was just a bad dream,” Red thought, looking at the opening of the cave in wonder. The sun had risen, and dappled light peeked through the leaves overhead. Red sat staring at the cave, confused. Whatever drugs Marie had given him, they must have been powerful.
Just as Red was thinking about going back to the cabin to find Marie, she emerged from the cave. What a relief, Red thought, or maybe a disappointment. I didn’t kill her after all. This was ALL a dream.
He started to say something in greeting, but stopped as he realized... this was Marie, but not Marie.
Long, lustrous red hair flowed around the shoulders of a beautiful young woman, possibly late twenties. Her perfect breasts bounced slightly as she clambered gracefully over rocks and uneven turf on her way to where Red sat. Those long legs and rounded hips, that flat stomach. The perfect porcelain skin. The face was Marie, young and beautiful Marie. Everything else was different. Slender hands reached toward Red and wrapped around him tenderly, picking him up from where he perched. Those gentle hands caressed him, pulling him close to the perfect breasts, kissing the top of his head with impossibly soft lips.
Then the rosy, plump lips opened and, behind perfect white teeth, a velvety voice spoke. “Thank you for waiting, Pearl! I feel so refreshed!”
Copyright © 2019 by A. M. Johnson