by Kathy Kingston
This I Know was first published in the Sisters In Crime anthology in 2011.
It was Halloween and monsters were on the prowl, many imagined and a few real.
The restraining order was in place, but a thin piece of paper was meaningless to my lunatic, soon to be, ex husband. His boyish charm act had fooled everyone, including me, until the underlying insanity manifested itself in violence. Long sleeves, turtlenecks and scarves became an important part of my wardrobe.
Despite the advice from my family and friends, I was determined to hold my annual Halloween party, or die trying. The phrase almost brought a smile to my face, but not quite. Halloween was my favorite holiday. I had been hosting this wildly fun and successful party for three years and I wasn’t about to stop now.
This he knew.
Restraining order bedamned; he would come to the party in costume and wait for me to find him. He wanted me dead and the cops would never get there in time; he would get away with murder.
This I knew.
My parties were well known for innovative and clever costumes with prizes awarded to the best ones. The first prize winner last year was a night stand with a hole cut in the center and the person standing inside it wore a lampshade on his head to become a “One night stand.” Funny, creative–you get the picture.
Being a veteran of party giving, I hired a competent staff, stood back and let them run the show. I didn’t want to be involved until the end and besides, I’d be busy doing other things, like keeping an eye out for my ex. I did have one advantage. He stands 6’4” tall, so he shouldn’t be that difficult to spot.
I positioned myself near the entrance to watch carefully for guests to start arriving as creatures, caricatures and dreams. We tried to guess each other’s costume. Sometimes it was obvious, other times it wasn’t.
Music was playing, food copious, drink flowing and the dance floor had been cleared for action. I filled a plate and started circulating. I watched as most of the guests entered, but the crowd was getting large and people were entering unseen by me. I needed to see size and movement; it was important.
A ghost came up to me. “Why hi there, it’s so good to see you and isn’t this just a wonderful evening and such a lovely party. I just love your costume. So are you Aunt Jemima?”
“No,” I replied, “Are you Casper the Friendly Ghost?
“Yes. Good call,” he replied.
People were dancing and moving about as I wended my way through the crowd looking, scanning. Too short, too thin, I didn’t see him. The lion outfit attracted my attention; size alone made it suspicious and the beast aspect would be attractive to him. After a few moments of watching I determined that the lion was actually a lioness and not my husband. The large character in the “Scream” outfit drew my attention but when it started dancing I moved on.
I stopped. There was a sheep sitting in the corner of the living room. I didn’t remember any of my friends mentioning a sheep costume! I went over to the corner. “Sooo, a sheep huh?” I can be so damned eloquent sometimes. The eyes were thin fabric that he or she could see through, but I couldn’t.
“No, I am not a sheep–something else.”
The voice was unnaturally low. I started to get a chill, just a tingle, and a vibe. The sheep was slouched in the chair, but the height seemed right for someone 6’4.” I waited for him to move or say more, but he didn’t. My inner alarm system started shrieking. “Well you sure look like one,” I said moving away.
He called after me, “A black Knights Templar?”
“No, something else,” I yelled over my shoulder. It could be him, but I wasn’t positive. All I knew is that he would come and make me pay. My abusive, sociopath husband had become a creature bent on revenge. I would never be allowed to leave him voluntarily. My only goal now was to get out alive and the law would be no help.
This I knew.
I moved through the crowd. “You look frightening,” a strange creature said to me, “But what are you? And what is that newspaper page that you’re holding? The Obituaries? Who died?” She studied me closely. I studied her closely. She scanned the paper and gave it back. She gave up. I gave up; I had no clue what she might be.
Sheep, sheep shit, sheep dip, sheepish, no, shit on a shingle, way off track, sheep herder, sheep shank, yum–what the hell is a sheep that’s not a sheep? Jingles, stories, nursery rhymes, definitions coursed through my head when suddenly I went back to stories. A link was there; tenuous at best but at least there.
“A black lady liberty?”
“No,” I said, annoyed at having my train of thought interrupted. Sheep–where you have sheep you have grass, fields, pasture, dogs, shepherds, sheep shit–I mentioned that– coyotes…wolves, wolves, Little Red Riding Hood, sheep costume. Shit.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” I yelled as I rushed into the living room, but the chair was empty. I should have known better. Deep down I’d known it was him, but I just wasn’t sure. He didn’t stand up, didn’t move and barely spoke. He was controlling himself, suppressing his anger, a bomb ready to go off again. Now he would wait for me to find him and then he would explode.
Once more I circled the party, looking everywhere, including the bathroom, but he was gone, except that I knew he would never leave until I understood completely and absolutely what his costume implied, and his vengeance was complete. At least his costume was easy to spot. I wondered if he was thinking about mine at all, trying to figure it out, and what it implied.
“Hey what’s that big red shape on your chest?”
“You tell me,” I said to two aliens. They shook their heads and moved on. I was beginning to think that my costume was too obtuse and difficult to decipher. I stopped at a mirror and examined it. It definitely required some thought; time will tell. This year Halloween and the full moon occurred at the same time, which was a bonus. I needed the light, so went outside into the smoke and moonlight-tinged air.
The house became a lighter colored smudge, almost one with the night, the windows glowing like TV sets. I circled around outside, looking into the bright rectangles but not seeing a sheep. I saw ghosts, monsters, flappers and a very silly Captain Crunch, but no sheep. I circled again to cement the image in my brain, just in case I never saw it again.
Another beast had fed here recently. Fire had ripped through the Southern California desert and normally this was a natural event, but this blaze was fueled by non-native grasses that burned like napalm and the ensuing destruction was horrendous. Homes were lost and plants that would survive a normal brush fire perished in the intense heat.
Firefighters covered my house with foam and saved it, but others were not so lucky. Black skeletal branches of Creosote Bush clawed the sky and lumps of scorched, deflated cacti dotted the ash covered ground. Things were revealed that had once been hidden.
The moonlight was bright enough to cast distinct shadows on the desert floor and coyotes made their presence known in the hills nearby, with their odd yips and howls. Creatures skittered under bushes into the dark. Blackened, spiky Joshua Trees tugged at my dark clothing as I moved away from the house.
A caterwauling sound came from the direction of the cliffs; it wasn’t a coyote. He really is insane. I traveled down the path cautiously, frequently glancing to both sides. I always came out to the cliffs to smoke a joint during the party. My house was a no-smoke zone, and the view from the top of the rock cliff was magnificent, especially during a full moon.
He knew all this.
The boulders were getting larger as the path moved across wide swaths of solid rock where objects were drilled and bolted into the boulders from a previous era, metal, cables and wood serving some unknown purpose. They stuck up, ragged, sharp, rusty and splintered. They had torn clothing and ripped the skin and flesh off of many who had passed by, including myself. I skirted them carefully, the moonlight accenting their dark shadows. I could feel his presence now, emanations of hate.
As I came around the last boulder I saw the flash of white. He was there waiting as I knew he would be. I stopped and said, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Yes, exactly right, but I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to have the party or come to the cliffs.”
“You’ll be the prime suspect you know.”
“Nah, my buddies will provide an alibi and there will be no physical evidence left behind. I didn’t eat or touch anything and I’m wearing a full body suit. Besides I used to live here, so of course there will be traces of my presence from the past.”
“Did you really think I was a black Knight’s Templar?” I asked moving slowly backward.
“No, but if I didn’t try to guess you would have been suspicious. Then you wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be able to wring your neck, slowly–several times.” He took off the sheep’s head, revealing a maniacal grin, gleaming teeth and eyes that glittered in the moonlight. He looked stark, raving mad.
“So you think of yourself as a wolf?” I asked, for lack of anything better to say. He moved in my direction and I moved back again. “Why a wolf? They’re respectable animals. Why not a weasel or wolverine, or rat?”
I found this costume in a thrift shop and as I held it the whole idea came to me. I became the wolf, the taker of life. I could feel the power and knew exactly how and when I would kill you. The wolf in sheep’s clothing–I thought you of all people would appreciate the cleverness.”
“Okay, it’s not bad” I said, changing my direction, stepping around some jagged, rusty metal.
“It’s better than, ‘Not bad,’ and you can’t get away you know, so just stop frigging moving,” he said crossly, following me across the rocks.
I turned. “Have you wondered about my costume?”
“Of course, they’re always clever. So what is your costume?”
“Guess,” I said, holding out the newspaper.
“You’re completely black, carrying an obituary for James G. Pierce, some guy I never heard of and you have a weird red symbol on your chest.”
He scrunched up his face like he did when in heavy thought. “That symbol on your chest looks familiar, but I can’t place it. A dumb-bell maybe?”
I moved again and he followed. “So, do you remember how we always wondered what this shit was hammered into the rocks?” I asked. “All this metal, wood and cables? Why it’s here?”
“Huh,” he said, confused. “What the hell are you talking about?”
I turned, facing him. “This stuff,” I said, pointing down at the metal and wood at our feet.
He glanced down and as he did I said, “My costume is that I am Mrs. James G. Pierce.”
He looked up, a light dawning and said, “So that makes you a ……
“Widow!” I shouted, as I leapt forward and pushed. The old rusted metal beam directly behind him caught his ankles and he fell backwards. He never believed for a moment that he would meet resistance. He expected fear, compliance and domination and that would be his downfall.
This I knew.
Those things fastened into the rocks had supported a mining claim that had been abandoned so long ago that it had been forgotten. The long deep shaft remained, revealed only recently after he moved out, when the logs covering it burned in the conflagration and fell into the hole. The cool air drew my attention and when I dropped pebbles into the hole, they took much longer to hit bottom than I thought they would. He went backwards into the shaft and considering the thickness of his skull, he might have survived the fall although I seriously doubted it. I threw the sheep’s head into the hole after him.
I had stock piled rocks around the edge in anticipation of just this event and I sent them all into the hole now, throwing them as hard as I could. I found myself grunting, screaming and crying with each throw. I would never fill up the hole, but I certainly could prevent anyone in there from coming out. Ever. Tomorrow I would construct a new cover for it and camouflage it. After all, it was dangerous.
I smoked my joint while admiring the sparkling lights in the valley, then went back to the party just in time for the unveiling. “Where’s our hostess?” everyone was asking. “What is her costume? Anybody know?”
“It’s me guys,” I said, entering the room. “Can’t anybody tell me what I am?”
A graying, bearded, potbellied Tinkerbell stepped forward to get a closer look.
“C’mon Kenny,” I said, “You’re smart, you can figure it out.”
Challenged, he stepped up and studied me; “Okay, you’re black, I think, although your make up is a little streaky.” Then he checked out the obituary, the red hourglass mark on my chest, the black clothes and skin again, and said, “Are you Mrs. James G. Pierce?”
When I replied, “Yes,” he said, “Then you must be…A Black Widow.”
I smiled. “You’re absolutely right.”
I held the obituary page for Mr. James G. Pierce close to my chest.
I am now a widow.
This I know.
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