Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Halloween Short Story

Remote Control

I awoke in total darkness. No light shone in the room through the window on the wall opposite my bed. The room was likewise shrouded in silence as if the lack of illumination had muffled even the slightest sound. Of course, that’s we went there. That’s why we bought the cabin in the woods. To leave the sights and sounds of the city behind us and “get back to our essential selves.” That was how Rhonda put it. She’d also recently signed up for a pilates class, started watching Desperate Housewives reruns and drinking in the afternoons. I wasn’t concerned until the exercise class thing. That’s the thing that got my attention. Rhonda and I had been married for nine years and, honestly, the heat had faded. My job takes me away from home for long stretches of time and I worried she hadn’t launched her new fitness kick with me in mind. Better safe than sorry.

The cabin had been her idea. She thought it would bring us closer together if we could spend large quantities of uninterrupted time together. So, on one of my few weekends home, we drove into the mountains, found one we liked and bought it. The place had two rooms and few amenities; no running water nor indoor plumbing. No electricity. The kitchen consisted of a propane stove, a sink and an icebox. Not a refrigerator, an actual ice box. For heat, there was a huge fireplace in the main room. And that was it. I thought it might be a little Spartan for Rhonda’s tastes, but she loved it as soon as she saw it. I think a lot of the appeal for her was the location. The closest neighbor was miles away. The glorified path masquerading as a driveway posed a challenge even for our Hummer. Drive-by traffic wouldn’t be a problem. The only hat-tip to civilization on which Rhonda insisted was a ceiling fan in the bedroom. No problem. On another free weekend, I wired and installed the fan, which got its power from a small diesel generator outside the window. I even included a three speed switch on the wall, so I wouldn’t have to climb onto the bed and tug on a string to change it. I was serious about my wife’s needs. Tranquility. At last.
All of this suited me just fine. I wasn’t much of an outdoorsman, but I wouldn’t turn down a chance to piss in the woods for three weeks every fall. So when I woke up in pitch-black silence, I wasn’t surprised.

My difficulty staying awake did surprise me, though. My eyelids felt heavy as if I’d been drugged. The two glasses of wine I’d had with dinner must have affected me more than I thought. I tried to roll over and light the candle on my bedside table, but found I could not. I tossed and turned so in my sleep that I’d wound myself up in the bedclothes. When I attempted to dislodge myself I came to a nasty realization. I wasn’t trapped beneath the sheets; I was strapped to the bed.

“Nice to see you’re finally awake.” Rhonda’s voice drifted through the darkness. “I suppose I shouldn’t have used as much sedative as I did. I might have killed you.”

“What’s going on, Ronnie?” I asked. I tried to sound calm and authoritative. Instead, my words came out panicked and frightened. “Why am I tied to the bed?”

“To keep you from running away, of course.”

I suppose I should have responded to her words, but I didn’t. Words failed me. Hell, thoughts failed me. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the situation enough to understand what a mess I’d landed in. I though the wine caused my mental malaise. On the other hand, there aren’t many experiences one can have that will prepare you for waking up and discovering the woman you love has gone insane.
I heard movement followed by the zip of a match striking against its box. The flame erupted in the darkness, illuminating the entire room. I watched Rhonda light the scented candle on the table next to her then blow out the match. After the prolonged black out, I squinted into the feeble light of Fresh-Baked Cookies.

“I don’t understand, Ronnie,” I said. “Why are you doing this? In fact, what exactly are you doing?”

“We’re finished,” she said. Simple. To the point.

“But I love you.”

“And I haven’t loved you in years.”

“I see. So what’s your plan? Tie me up and run away with your new lover? I would have expected more from you, Rhonda.”

She laughed. I wish I could say there was something cold and evil about the sound, but there wasn’t. It was joyous and full of life as always. She stood - candle in hand - and walked across the room to the ceiling fan switch. She flipped the switch and the blades started to move.

“Do you know how many nights I lay alone on our bed, waiting for you to come home but knowing that you wouldn’t? I used to lay there and watch the fan go round and round for hours on end. Sometimes, I’d dream about it, forever stuck in the same pattern, its momentum causing it to strain at its moorings, never going anywhere except around in the same circle one more time. And no one ever noticed it. Except for me.” Her eyes flicked to meet mine. “Did your mother ever tell you not to stick your fingers in the fan because it could cut them off? Mine did. Then it occurred to that you could sharpen the blades of a fan until they were like razors. Spinning razors. Right above your head.”

She turned the switch to medium and the blades moved faster. The candlelight flickered and I could feel the breeze on my brow. The blades reflected the dim light. They looked sharp.

“All you would have to do is loosen the screws at the base, tilt the fan ever so slightly and who knows what might happen?” She turned the switch again and the blades turned faster yet. “You could cut your fingers off. It could even be fa-“
She never finished her sentence. At full speed, the fan rocked and jolted its base against the ceiling, loosening the grasp of screw in wood. The fan rocked wildly. One of the blades struck the ceiling and snapped off. The broken piece of razor-sharp plastic caromed across the room, striking Rhonda. She fell to the floor, out of my line of vision.

“Ronnie? Ronnie, are you okay?” I craned my neck, trying to see her. All I saw was a dark river of blood slowly spreading across the floor. I flopped back on the bed in triumph as my neck muscles complained about their poor treatment. Ronnie had never been good with tools.



The bedspread caught fire. Above me, the fan still limped along, its deadly broken blades jerked back and forth unbalanced as they fanned the flames on the bed. Panicked, I jerked and tore at my bindings to no avail. Finally, I knew it would be one or the other. As I waited for my fate my only thought was this:

I should have gotten a fan with a remote.

No comments: