What could possibly go wrong with a nice game of Happy Familes?
|The Covent of Misery.
By Stephen A Abell
Number Of Words: 3442
Three small black shapes tore themselves free from the night time shadows and padded quietly towards the house. The inhabitants of 83 Sycamore Close were unaware of the happenings outside their very door, and were, in fact, just about to start a game of cards.
Emily had rushed upstairs to sort out the correct deck for the night, while her sister Josephine set up the card table and chairs in the front room. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Rebecca was making their hot drinks. The card game had become a regular occurrence in the Miseria household. The spinsters thought it a wonderful day to end a Sunday evening, getting ready for the week ahead and the surprises that it might hold.
Josephine added the melted bar of milk chocolate to the cocoa, to give it body, and placed the three steaming drinks on the tray. Outside the kitchen, just behind the triple locked back door the three mysterious shapes converged.
Rebecca quickly ran a duster, covered with a light spray of polish, over the intricately carved table to remove the small build up dust. The “card” table was over a thousand years old. Etched in the centre was a pentagram within a double circle. Around its circumference were the letters of the Latin alphabet. Coming out of each corner were a set of runes. It was, in itself, a beautiful work of art. They had once asked an antique dealer around to assess a few pieces; once he spotted the table, he grew rapturous. He said he knew clients that would give anything to have the table top alone; and how much did they want for it? He was not too overjoyed to hear they had not intended to sell the piece as it was a family heirloom and meant a great deal to them. The dealer had battled on in vein for the next half hour, until the sister forcible pushed him out the front door, slamming and locking it behind him. He phoned on a regular basis. The calls stopped only after they moved house. Evidently, there was a great calling for a witches table.
The game the sisters played every week had been Emily’s idea. It was even Emily’s game. She pulled open her top draw and removed the large wooden box which she placed on the bed. She carefully removed the lid and looked down at the cards. Now the question was how long did they want to play for? Both Jo and ‘Becca stated they were feeling a little tired at dinner. They had been gardening out in the July sun while she ironed and pressed their clothes for the following week. She knew that weeding was a tiring and back breaking job so she chose four decks of three cards, as well as the obligatory consequence decks, for a quick game. Tonight her tired family would rest early. After placing the lid back on the box, she rushed out of the bedroom and down the stairs, a spring in her step.
As the sisters took their places around the table a quiet scratching and tapping sound came from the back door. Neither of the women paid any attention to the noise, it was an old house and old houses made strange noises. Nothing to be afraid of.
Emily placed the four decks on top of one another, shuffled them seven times, and passed them clockwise. After Josephine shuffled them seven times, she handed them over to Rebecca for another seven shuffles. Once they were back in Emily’s hands, she began the deal. In her mind she truck up a mantra; Jo; ‘Becca; me; Jo; Becca; me. Unconsciously she repeated the three names until the deal was exhausted. Now it was ‘Becca’s turn to start the play.
Rebecca had to give Em credit, she really was a superb artist; the faces looking up from the cards, in her hand, were immaculately rendered in pen and ink, a slight watercolour wash had been added to give vibrancy and life. From the kitchen came a heavy thud followed by a couple of quieter ones. The sisters looked up from their cards and as their eyes moved towards the hallway door, they heard another loud thud, then a few quieter ones. Now soft padding could be heard coming from the wooden floor of the hall as something approached. Another few thuds sounded and then all there was were the sound of small, yet rapid, footfalls. The hallway door opened wide to reveal three pairs of yellow eyes. Slowly the eyes advanced until the living shadows strode into the lamplight of the room. All three cats meowed their hello’s and proudly walked to their mistresses, tails high and wafting in the air, happy to be back.
The sisters cried out in glee and tapped their knees in response to the felines. Each cat split apart from the pack and jumped up happily on their mistresses’ knees where they proceeded to paddy-paw and look intently for attention and affection. After five minutes of fuss the cats jumped down from their mistresses laps and took their usual position on the back of the sofa.
Rebecca picked up her discarded cards and started to move them around to make packs. She held in her hand Mr. Cartwright – an office administrator for a local business. He was so anal that he owned ten sets of business suits, including the shirts, ties, and undergarments. Once worn, they were placed away so at the end of the week they could be sent to the dry cleaners, even his socks. At the weekend, he locked himself in the garage with his model aeroplanes.
Mrs. Cartwright – a housewife. Who had just recently advertised her sexual preferences on the World Wide Web. As a result, the increase of visitors to their home had doubled. Everybody on the crescent was talking about it. It seemed that she was insatiable. Well they could not blame her for that, especially if her husband was not satisfying her needs.
Grandpa Wright – a retired bank manager. Who was struggling, at the moment, with his retired wife, who only recently showed signs of cancer, and their Grandson. He had worked hard to get to manager of the local bank, but now when he thought he should be taking it easy he found he was working harder and worrying more. At night, he sometimes prayed for death to take her away. Mostly he prayed for death.
And Daughter Greenburgh – a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, that was failing in all her studies but had quickly learnt to embrace vodka and ecstasy. The people of the crescent hated her, for she hung around in a gang which she, all too often, brought back to this quiet haven. There usually followed a lot of shouting and cursing, sometimes stones and other objects were thrown at windows. The consensus for this young Miss was either a young offenders home or to become a teenage mother.
Rebecca smiled and thought, who knows what tonight may bring? And asked “Em, darling, do you have a Daughter Cartwright?”
“Sorry Bec, I don’t”
Grimacing, Rebecca reached over and pinched a card from Emily’s hand.
Mrs. Greenbaugh – a housewife and a drunk. The stress that her daughter caused her drove her to drink, her husband’s neglect of the situation makes her think of suicide. Her life is never ending turmoil.
Isn’t it amazing what trouble one deck of cards can cause, Rebecca thought and giggled to herself.
In Josephine’s hand were – Mr. Greenbaugh - a forty-four-year old mechanic, suffering from low self esteem and a bad midlife crisis. Work had been scarce, as a result, he had to sack three of his staff and become a one-man-band again. Every week he found it hard to draw a wage. At home, he had a lush of a wife pouring his hard-earned money down her thought and complaining that he did not know how hard she had it. His daughter was stealing the money out her mother’s purse to buy her own gut-rot booze and drugs. Neither one was grateful that he was working all hours to keep them in the life they had become accustomed to. More frequently, he found himself looking at the cabinet, in the back office that held the shotgun and the cartridges. Just recently, he had taken to opening the cabinet.
Grandson Wright – a good teenager; always ready to help his Grandpa and Grandma, especially now, in their time of need. Unfortunately, he was a little bit more than clumsy as one time he nearly blew up the bungalow by leaving the gas on. Luckily, Grandpa smelt the leak in time and stopped himself from flicking on the light switch. Lucky was less fortunate. He had been the families terrier and in the house at the time. Apart from that one major incident, there were many minor ones; broken plates, cups, and mugs. The video recorder never worked for him. Toast always set on fire, if he tried to make it. He was jinxed.
Mrs. Arkwright – a hairdresser by trade and a gossip by profession. She had the dirt on everybody in the town. Her customers were only too happy to chat over a shampoo and perm, but when they left the salon all they could talk about was what a busy-body she was. She had used the information well and had eagerly played people off against one another, if it meant profit for her; whether it be monetary or personal.
Grandma Wright – worked in an asbestos factory when she was younger and through it her lungs weakened, leaving her susceptible to further illnesses. Just a year ago after a case of flu that nearly killed her, and physically wore out her husband and grandson, she was diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. The cancer is not spreading but it is not in remission either.
Some of the things we’ve done, in the name of the game, have been truly horrendous, Josephine mulled with a saddened heart, and not everybody deserves the pain and suffering we are allowed to hand out. Sometimes she wished they could break the deal they had made, but then only Hell awaited them. All the sisters had glanced what awaited them and this job, no matter how sickening, was better.
Josephine looked between her sisters and rested her eyes on Rebecca. “My happy Rebecca would you happen to have Daughter Greenbaugh?”
“Bugger.” Was the succinct and less than happy reply. Her fingers grabbed the card from the centre of the deck and passed it over, “here you are.”
Again Josephine’s eyes moved from one sister to the other as if trying to read their body language or their minds, “Emily, could up please hand over Mrs. Greenbaugh.”
“Oh sweet sister I would if I could,” the smirk rose on her face and shone in her eyes, “but you see I do not possess Mrs. Greenbaugh.”
Josephine pulled a card from Emily’s hand, leaving her with just two cards. This could be a pretty quick game. She hoped it would end soon her heart was no longer in the game, though it looked like her younger sisters still revelled in it.
Daughter Arkwright – a quiet and shy fourteen-year-old; who had no friends at school but excelled in all her studies, and looked after her baby brother when mum worked late. Each night she would close her door and listen to Marilyn Manson, Evanescence, Nightwish, Cradle of Filth, and cry herself to sleep each night, the headphones still covering her ears, praying he would not visit her that night.
She sighed with relief; all she needed now was Son Arkwright and this game could be over.
Emily looked down at the couple of cards remaining in her hand and smiled. She did not mind playing the game but she enjoyed the glamour more and hopefully one of her sisters would soon win. Thank the stars that her memory was the best of the three; she knew roughly, which sister had which cards. All she had to do ask for a card they did not posses.
She held – Daughter Cartwright – a twenty-one year old woman still living at home with her parents. She knew of her mother’s new practices, the bitch even asked if she wanted to join in. She was looking for a place of her own to get away from the depravity that had taken over her once stable home.
Son Arkwright – a mean tempered and bad spirited five-year old, that had already killed two cats and one small dog by cracking their skulls open with a brick. Now the silver of the carving knifes sang a son of seduction to him. He could also hear the steady beat of his babysitter’s heart under her flesh, and in his dreams, he bathed in her blood.
“Oh ‘Becca, do you have Grandma Wright?”
“Hah!” Her laugh was triumphant, “no I don’t so dip your hand in here and pick out a card.” She wafted her hand in front of Emily’s face.
Slowly she pulled out a card and slipped it into her deck. Mrs. Cartwright.
As the sisters continued with the game, they could hear soft snores coming from the cats as they snoozed on the sofa. The special cocoa was drunk and Emily lost all her cards, just as she planned and in doing gave Josephine the last family reunion.
Josephine placed the cards face down on the table and looked towards Emily who picked up the conclusion cards and started the seven shuffles required. After the deck had passed clockwise around the table Emily cut the cards into two piles then Rebecca cut one of those piles to create a third. Now it was Josephine’s task to pick a pile and pull the card from the top of the pile. With a heavy heart, she chose the pile on the left and turned the top card over. As her sisters cackled, she knew they were forever damned.
Rebecca eagerly laid out the four cards in the centre of the pentagram. “Jo, can I cast the spell?” The excitement dripped off her voice like thick, sickly molasses. “Can I please?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“What’s up sis’ you don’t look too great?” She was touched by the concern in Emily’s voice, maybe there was hope for them yet. “You used to love this bit.”
“I know. It’s just that I’m feeling a little tired. It’s been a long day, you know.”
“Yeah it has, so lets let ‘Becca cast this spell and we can get off to bed, what do you say?”
“Sounds good to me. I could do with the rest.” She knew there would be no rest for her tonight.
Rebecca placed three fingers of each hand on three runic symbols in each corner. Her sisters covered the same runes on the remaining corners. They closed their eyes as Rebecca began to chant in an ancient Latin tongue. The letters around the pentagram lit up with a fiery light forming the words that were spoken. Emily and Josephine joined in hushed tones. The chant grew faster, louder, and stronger. The letters flashed and flared sending columns of fire up into the air, like a crazy laser show. From the centre of the pentagram smoke swirled into the air, with it came the stench of brimstone. The cards lifted off the table and danced in the air for a few seconds. Suddenly the cards shredded into a thousand tiny pieces and fell to the table. The chant ceased and the smoke receded back into the pentagram.
As the sisters watched the torn cards, the glamour began. First, they twisted into tiny card balls, then ten long legs unfurled, and lastly the head popped out. The creatures skittered around but were unable to cross over the double circle. Josephine turned to call her familiar over only to see that he was sat at her feet looking up intently. Placing her hand on the table, she forced back a shudder as the playing card insects climbed onto her flesh. She felt sorry for her pet and friend as she lowered he hand and passed the nasty little critters over to their transportation.
As soon as the last had climbed on and into his black fur, he turned and trotted of towards the kitchen and the cat-flap. Once outside he melted into the shadows and took off after his prey, their smell was strong in his nostrils. He passed through four gardens, and felt both the fox and the dog back away from his scent in fear. He was glad not to be an ordinary feline; they had it tough. Inside he smiled as he thought; I make it tough.
Slipping around to the front of one house, he jumped the latched gate to the pavement and crossed the road, reaching his destination. He knew that the mites he carried could take it from here but he wanted to get just a little closer. Stopping he scented the air and smelt the humans, there was a window open somewhere. Following the scent, he spotted an open window on the landing, no problem. He jumped onto the fence and then across to the flat roof. From there the window was only four feet away. Once inside he made a quick tour of the upstairs, pausing just long enough to mark his territory in each room. Carefully he padded into the master bedroom and jumped up onto the bedside table. With curious eyes, he watched the black mites crawl down his legs, onto the table top, up onto the wall and across to the bed. Once on the bed they split into packs and headed of to find entrance to the prone body. He watched as they crawled into his ears, down his nostrils. He watched as they tentatively touched his lips and eyelashes until they opened up and allowed access. The humans hands came up and scratched his face but he never awakened. The mites that entered the bed sheets found their targets as his hands scratched his penis and arse. The cat jumped down and headed off home.
A new scent halted him on the sill; someone here was pregnant. They were not far along and probably did not know. That, he thought, was probably for the best. He jumped out the window.
He did not know how he had gotten to the garage, but here he stood in front of the cabinet. The cabinet that was unlocked. The cabinet, whose door hung wide. The cabinet where his shotgun was secured. The shotgun that gleamed in the moonlight, enticing him to embrace it. The shotgun that held the answer to his problems in its barrels. The shotgun that rested in his hands and felt like a true extension of himself. The shotgun that was pointed at his self pitying lush of a wife.
The explosion tore through the quiet house and out into suburbia. The bullets tore through the flesh, shattered the bone, and liquidised her brain. Both bullets and skull smoothie passed through the pillows and the bed frame, under the ruins of her head, finally lodging in the brickwork of the wall.
He staggered on strange legs into his daughter’s bedroom, broke open the bridge, pushed in two more cartridges, and locked the barrels back into working position. Unable and unwilling to stop he raised the barrels towards his screaming daughter. He could vaguely make out some of the words in her rant. He squeezed one trigger and destroyed her pretty face. She fell lifeless onto the bed. Behind her, brains and matter slid down the Slim Shady poster.
He started to turn the barrel so it would nestle under his chin but stopped. His daughter had been pregnant. That is what she had screamed. “I’m pregnant daddy.”
Slowly he walked to his daughter’s body. A single tear fell from his eye. He swung the barrels around and pulled the trigger. Her belly exploded in a fount of blood and gore.
Was there someone banging on his door?
He reloaded as he walked onto the landing and sat on the top stair. He wedged the butt on one of the stairs and leant forward until his chin sat on the hollows of the barrels. With his thumb, he pushed the triggers.
At 83 Sycamore Crescent, Josephine Miseria lay awake sobbing as the four explosions erupted into the night. She did not move to help because as the saying goes “Misery Loves Company”, and tonight they walked hand in hand.