Mystery, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, horror & YA by "Cheryl Kaye Tardif" & romance by "Cherish D'Angelo". Cheryl is represented by Trident Media Group in NY.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Atrophy ~ a short story by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Sometimes an obsession overtakes the mind and heart. Sometimes an obsession can be deadly.

Aggie was stuffed.
She was so full that she couldn’t digest even a single thought.
Homer stroked her hair lovingly while she stared at him, speechless. Her mouth stretched into a slight smile and he leaned forward, gently kissing her lips.
“Happy anniversary, honey. You’re the love of my life, Aggie. Always have been, always will.”
When a tear trickled from her eye, he wiped it away with a tissue.
“I’m not very good at this, but I want you to know that you look almost as lovely as the day we met.”

In the summer of 1968, Homer Duggan’s life changed forever at the Klondike Days fairgrounds in Edmonton. That was the year he had met Agnes McFadden.
She was in line ahead of him, her long coppery hair covered with wisps of pink cotton candy. Noticing the sticky mess, Homer reached out a scrawny hand and plucked at her hair.
“Hey!” Aggie scowled, outraged that some tall, skinny kid with freckles splayed across his nose would have the audacity to touch her.
Homer grinned. “Well, aren’t you a sweet thing?”
Over the summer he followed her everywhere. He was in love. Well, as in love as any sixteen year old could be. Aggie was his dream girl, and he knew they were meant to be together…forever.
When she finally gave in and rewarded him with a date, Homer was in ecstasy. Two days later, Aggie―with hair the color of a shiny new penny and eyes as blue as the cloudless sky―became his girlfriend. A week after his nineteenth birthday he married her.
“I’ll love you forever,” Aggie whispered that first night.
The next morning Homer told her that he refused to have children. He loved her so much that he didn’t want to share her with anyone. Aggie reluctantly agreed, and their life together was perfect.

Until last month, when Matthew Patterson moved in next door.
Homer took a steadying breath.
“It’s all Patterson’s fault, Aggie.”
He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Some things just had to be said, he realized. Hell, if their relationship didn’t have honesty and trust, how could they possibly last?
“For better or worse, Aggie. That’s what you promised. Remember?”
When she stubbornly refused to answer, he crossed his arms and glared back at her.
“If it wasn’t for Matthew Patterson, none of us would be in this predicament.”
Ten years younger than Homer, Patterson operated a business out of his basement. People would drop by at all hours of the day or night, carrying large packages that they left behind.
At first, Aggie and Homer suspected he was a drug dealer. Then late one night, Homer saw Patterson carrying a garbage bag out to the curb. He decided to investigate, and what he found made his stomach heave.
Immediately stomping over to Patterson’s door, he pounded furiously until the man opened it.
“Homer? What are you do―”
“Explain this!” Homer growled, shoving the bag in the man’s hands.
Patterson stared at it, uncomprehending. Then a slow smile crept across his face.
“What the hell’s so funny?” Homer demanded.
“You must be wondering if I’ve slaughtered someone in here,” Patterson said with a chuckle. “I can assure you, it’s all quite innocent. Come inside.”
Homer shuddered as he entered the pitch-black house. An unpleasant, coppery chemical smell lingered in the air. It reminded him of a hospital.
He paused at the basement door, suddenly terrified. “W-what’s down there?”
“Follow me. I’ll show you my masterpiece.”
In the basement, Patterson flicked on a light, and Homer saw two worktables lining one wall. Over twenty glass jars were neatly labeled and stored on a nearby shelf. But it was the thing in the corner that made his heart skip a beat.
A large Doberman sat upright on the floor, its tongue lolling lifelessly to one side.
“H-he’s dead!” Homer sputtered.
“Rejuvenated,” Patterson corrected as he tenderly stroked the dog’s shiny coat. “I’m a Pet Rejuvenator. What you found in that garbage bag came from Mrs. O’Brien’s dog. Max was hit by a car yesterday.”
He explained how he had preserved the dog by draining the fluids, removing its organs, then filling the body with material to maintain its shape.
Homer had to admit that the dog was mesmerizing. Almost lifelike.
“But why?”
Patterson smiled. “I’m like GE. I bring good things to life. Mrs. O’Brien told me she’d wither away to nothing if she was left alone. She couldn’t stand to be separated from Max. He was all she had left. Lots of people feel that way about their loved ones.”
Homer left Patterson’s house feeling slightly relieved.
When he told Aggie about their neighbor’s strange business, she shrugged. “He’s not doing anything illegal.”
Nothing illegal, maybe. But was it right?

Homer swallowed hard.
“I should have known something was up when you started staying out late, playing cards with the girls.”
He knew that she was going to deny it, so he shushed her. “There’s no point in lying to me. Not now. I saw you go into his house.”
He had confronted Patterson four days ago, knowing without a doubt that his neighbor had been messing with his wife. The man actually had the nerve to deny it, to say that it wasn’t what Homer thought.
“You were sleeping with him, Aggie. And you were going to leave me for him.”
Homer’s throat began to burn as his anger simmered.
“Do you want him now?” he sneered, turning Aggie’s head toward her lover.
Matthew Patterson’s twisted atrophied body was a nightmare.
It was obscenely fastened to the basement wall with hooks and long spikes. The man’s motionless eyes stared at them, unseeing. His temple was caked with crusted skin and congealed blood, and the stench of death oozed from every pore.
Almost perfect, Homer thought.
Except Patterson’s stomach was deflated and he looked…dead.
“Practice makes perfect,” he muttered. “I tried to remember what he showed me. I should have paid better attention when he did Max.”
Of course, having a body kicking and screaming on the worktable didn’t make it easy. Homer had to take a hammer to the man’s head, knock him out a bit and tie him up with duct tape.
Red Green would be proud!
“I’ll do a better job with you, Aggie. I promise.”
He smiled at her. A trophy bride.
Aggie was stuffed. And almost completely drained. Tears poured from her horrified eyes and she made raspy mewing sounds that grew fainter with each dying breath. Her deceitful mouth was glued shut, but a few pieces of stuffing had escaped.
“I’ll have to clip these,” he murmured. “I’ll glue your eyes shut too, my love. So your tears won’t ruin your makeup.”
Suddenly the doorbell rang.
Hurrying upstairs, Homer was greeted by a young courier who was holding a small box. Perplexed, he signed for the package and brought it inside. He opened it slowly, then wheezed in a gulp of air.
A stuffed squirrel was nestled in the bottom of the box.
A card was attached to it. It read:

My dearest Homer,
Matthew found Rocky stuck in the tree. He was dead.
I know you loved watching and feeding little Rocky so I had Matthew stuff him for you.
Happy anniversary and all my love.
Forever yours,

Homer sucked in a breath and struggled to slow his hammering heart.
Forever was a very long time.

Copyright © 2006 by Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Previously published in the March 2006 issue of Silver Moon Magazine.

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