Marlin will be joining us for a Meet & Greet event on October 7th. Here is a FREE look at a Short Story from his upcoming collection.
Take a trip through a mind-bending world with a collection of short stories that will hold you in their grip from beginning to end. Science fiction, thriller suspense, and paranormal short stories with fast-paced plots that are packed with plenty of twists and turns. Lickety Split is an example of what you'll get. You can follow me on my FB author page for what I'm doing and I share info about other great authors too: https://www.facebook.com/Marlin-Williams-346785895394780/
Published by Marlin Williams
Copyright © 2017 Marlin Williams
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual person, living or dead, business establishments, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.
by Marlin Williams
Oh my God, what have I done? Coaly Banks berated herself. Just a few sweet days ago she had been a sane woman, well, at least as sane as you could get nowadays, but now, here she was today, speeding along Highway Seventy-Three with a dead body in the trunk of her car and the inside of her head a big ball of confusion. And she blamed it all on that late-night infomercial.
Lickety Split was the name of the product and it guaranteed instant weight loss. You'll actually lose an entire person, the spokesman claimed. She ignored the fanatical glint in the speaker's eyes as they urged the viewer to Order Now! and she did. Then she soon fell into a contented slumber feeling hopeful for the first time in years.
The chime of her doorbell woke her bright and early the next morning. When she answered the door, there stood a salesman carrying a briefcase. He was short and he was thin, wispy really, and wore a blue, polyester suit and a starched, white shirt with a polka dot bow tie—not one of the horrid clip-on things, this one was hand tied. The breast pocket of his jacket bulged with pens and a Lickety Split button was pinned to the lapel. He wore black frame glasses over a pair of sparkling, blue eyes, and a white Boater Hat, made of straw with a red ribbon circling the crown, topped his dark hair.
He set the briefcase down, cleared his throat, and broke out into his own rendition of the Lickety Split jingle. It was the same words they sang on television, but that is where the resemblance ended, because his version wasn't nearly as good. His ditty ended with the line, it'll put some pep, pep, pep in your step, step, step. He capped his performance with a big, cheesy grin and removed his hat. "Mister Simon at your service." He took a quick bow. "May I come in, Miss Banks?"
Still stunned, she nodded. Trance-like, she stepped out of the way and motioned him inside. He picked up the briefcase and waltzed through the door like a child brimming with energy. Energy was something she lacked these days, and despite his off-key performance, she hoped his peppy step was a harbinger of good things to come for her future. She motioned to the large, overstuffed recliner. "Please, sit down." The small table next to the chair held a lamp that emitted a dim glow that, besides the TV, was the only source of unnatural light in the room. She always kept the curtains on the large window drawn, and her shrink had once declared that Coaly was trying to shut out the outside world and should keep them open. That was a year ago, and the curtains were still closed, and that little bimbo psychiatrist with the pouty lips was outta sight and outta mind. Right now, she was thankful for the darkness that hid the empty snack bags and drained soft drink cans that littered the room.
The man folded his thin frame into the hollow where she'd spent countless hours watching old, romantic movies while many women her age were out partying and having fun, or on dates with handsome men like the ones in the movies. She sat on the couch across from him and settled back. It groaned in protest under her weight and she shot forward and covered her face with her hands in shame.
"No need to be embarrassed," said Mr. Simon. "Come on, now; let me see your face." She parted her fingers and peeked out. His gaze roamed over her body. She'd always wanted men to look at her, but now that one was, she felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was because he was looking at her in a way an entomologist would look at an insect beneath the lens of a microscope. Coaly knew what a bug scientist was called because she'd seen documentaries on the subject and read nature magazines that were among the heaping mass of overflow from the bookcase in her bedroom. She finally lowered her hands and his wandering eyes settled on her face. "Such beautiful features," he said. "And those eyes."
She wondered why he was using such a hokey sales pitch when she had already called the 1-800 number and gave them her credit card information. And, he certainly wasn't flirting with her; she knew what she looked liked. When Coaly last weighed, the scale was tipping at the 280 mark. That was months back. She was sure that she had surpassed that milestone. She'd tried every fad diet ever invented and once even joined an exercise class full of skinny girls dressed in skimpy workout attire. She'd felt like Hyacinth the dancing hippo in the Walt Disney movie, Fantasia. While the slim chicks glided through the moves, Coaly was a sweaty, jiggling mass stuffed into gray, baggy sweats boogieing to the high-energy music with ungraceful moves. The demons inside her head eventually won out and she dropped the class, returned to her old routine of late night TV and junk food, and left the aerobic classes to the slim chicks that didn't need them.
Mister Simon opened his briefcase. "I want to show you something." He reached in and grabbed what looked like a small stack of cards. Okay, she figured, here it comes, the catch. It was probably meal plans; a list of food she could have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, like celery sticks and cottage cheese, or some other impossible condition she would have to do in tandem with the herbal pills to achieve weight loss success. He splayed them out on the coffee table. They were pictures. Mr. Simon pointed to one of them and exclaimed, "That was me a few weeks ago."
Coaly leaned down for a closer look at the face. Sure enough, the rotund man in the picture, taken seaside, bore a striking resemblance to the man sitting across from her. To be sure, she checked his face one more time, and it was then she noticed the thin, pink line running down the center. More than likely, he'd been involved in an accident.
It's not polite to stare, an old childhood commandment entered her head. It was in her mother's rigid tone of voice. Only it wasn't just her voice, it was a scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, the tin man, scarecrow, and cowardly lion stood quaking before the floating head of the great and powerful Oz. But, it wasn't the wizard's head she saw, it was her mother's, and Coaly herself was Dorothy. Coaly quickly withdrew from the vision and averted her gaze back to the pictures before he could catch her looking at his unusual marking.
"You see," said Mr. Simon. "I'm not just a representative for Lickety Split, I'm a client." He collected the pictures from the table and stuffed them back into the briefcase. He spent a few extra seconds foraging in the contents and produced a small bottle. It was tinted green with a yellow label on it. He held it up and shook the bottle. It clattered like an infant's rattle. "And here are the babies that will bring out the skinny girl in you." He set them on the tabletop. "The best part is, you can eat whatever you want and not gain a pound. Just imagine, a few days from now, you'll be turning some heads."
"A few days?"
He grinned widely, picked up the bottle, and pointed to the label. "Yep, it says right here, fast acting." Then he points to himself. "Just look at me."
Her head was swimming. "Isn't that dangerous?" She doubted losing a substantial amount of weight in two days could be safe.
"Well, if you don't want them—" With his smile gone by the wayside, Mr. Simon placed the pills back in his briefcase. "Of course you're under no obligation and your money will be refunded on your card in full." He closed the lid.
Her one and only chance of ever being slim was disappearing with the snap of the clasp. Panic swelled inside her. "Wait!" He looked at her. There was expectancy in his eyes like he had played this scenario out many times over. "I didn't say that I didn't want them." She crinkled her brow. "Say, what kind of herbs are in those pills?"
"The healthy kind," he replied. He reopened the case, retrieved the bottle, and held them under the lamp so he could see the label. After he named off the list of ingredients, Mr. Simon said, "Herbs are herbs, until their properties are managed by the way they're blended proportionately. That's what gives these pills their synergistic value." He paused for a moment, and then said, "I can see by the look on your face that I've confused you." He paused again. "Look, I'll simplify it. You can go out and buy these exact ingredients and take them, but it won't do anything, because it has to be the right amount of each herb to get the desired effect."
She got the gist of the explanation, enough to know that she could spend a lifetime taking shots in the dark to stumble upon the correct blend. She nodded. "Okay, I'll take them."
His smile came back. He handed them over. "I understand this must be frightening for you, but I can assure you, it's safe. But, there are—" he hesitated for a moment, "side effects."
With the panic gone, she was now filled with apprehension. "Side effects? What kind of side effects?"
"Oh, nothing serious," he replied.
She was almost afraid to ask. "What are they?"
Mr. Simon riffled through his briefcase and dug out a placard. He held it under the lamp and read it aloud. "Nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, skin rash," he held up a finger and quickly spat out the words, "but, they're only temporary."
She could put up with almost anything as long as it was temporary. Coaly looked at the bottle in her hand hoping that the product was worth the five-thousand dollars she'd siphoned off her credit card. It was going to take years to pay back that kind of money at twenty-one per cent interest. If it was a rip-off, hiring a lawyer was out of the question. That would be a waste of time and even more money. Scam companies knew that and that's why they fearlessly touted worthless products. She had fallen for more than her share of scams over the years. She uncapped the bottle and stuck it up to her nose. It smelled similar to cooking spices. She then looked inside the bottle. There were only four pills. That was one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars a pill. She looked up. "Are you sure that four pills are enough?"
He grinned. "Positive. Take one tablet twice daily for two days, and before you know it you've shed all that deadweight and you're going to be a whole new person."
She quickly lost all the apprehension inside her and she smiled. This time it's going to be different, she was sure of it. If not, as her mother always said: You'll just have to suck it up, Buttercup.
"But," he said.
Her heart sank and the short-lived smile disintegrated. She hated the word but.But this or but that was always usurping her happy high. She braced her herself for the bad news that was going to follow this but.
"You should allot at least a week to give yourself plenty of time to handle the process. Some individuals require more time than others. But, the recommended time frame is a week."
Her smile came back. The company that she worked for allowed her to bank sick leave. Since she'd never used any in the five years she'd worked for Sunny Co., she had more than enough to cover the time she would have to miss. Who knows, maybe she wouldn't have any side effects at all. But, why not just go ahead and take the time off and return to work after a week, and if the pills worked and she was thinner, she could blame it on illness. She felt eager for Mr. Simon to be on his way so she could get on the phone and call in sick, then she could get started. She envisioned herself at the mall browsing through the trendy and sexy attire instead of the tents she'd worn all her life. She would no longer look like the circus had come to town. She stood up and extended her hand. "Thank you, Mister Simon, for everything." She beamed a big smile at him.
He matched her smile, leaned forward, and placed a hand on hers. "My pleasure," he replied and let his hand slip off hers. He leaned back, perused the contents of his briefcase, and produced a stapled document.
"What's that?" she asked.
"The contract," he replied as he removed one of the pens from his breast pocket. He clicked the top button and the writing tip popped out. He extended it to her.
Coaly shrank back. "I don't understand. Why do I need to sign a contract?"
"It's standard procedure. I'm afraid you'll find it full of legal jargon. You know, a bunch of corporate lawyers justifying their jobs and overpaid salaries with big words and redundancies. But, you should read it carefully before you sign it since it is legally binding."
She took the document and plopped back down on the couch. She didn't bother to read the thing; hell, she couldn't read it in the dim lighting even if she wanted to, so she pretended to do so, while flipping through the few pages. She never read agreements anyway; it was her standard practice to trust the legalities to the people that wrote them in good faith. She scribbled her name on the bottom line.
Mr. Simon scooped up the papers and placed them neatly back into his briefcase. He retrieved another set from inside the black, leather case. "This is a dummy contract for your records." He handed them to her. "I should be off, I have other clients today." He stood.
Coaly hefted her weight out of the cushions with the aid of a groan and crackling knees and tossed the contract on the lamp stand. She walked him to the door, wanted to hug him, but refrained. It might be misunderstood. Instead, she offered him her hand, which he took.
Releasing her hand, he tipped his hat, and walked out of the gloomy living room and into the bright sun. "Oh," he said. "I almost forgot." He reached around to his back pocket and removed his wallet. He took out a card. "My number, just in case." With briefcase in hand and whistling a tune, Mr. Simon walked along the sidewalk and disappeared around the corner.
After he was gone, Coaly rushed back inside, grabbed her phone, and dialed work. She feigned a hoarse throat and threw in a few sniffles while she explained to the boss's secretary that she had the flu and wouldn't be in for a week. After she hung up, she congratulated herself for an outstanding Oscar worthy performance. She then took the bottle to the kitchen, fumbled the cap off, and dumped one of the pills into her sweating palm. She stared at it. What if she swallowed it and got bad side effects? What if it was just a placebo and nothing happened? What if it didn't work? Yeah, but what if it did? She quickly ran a glass of water and downed the pill before her doubts could reassert themselves. She returned to the living room and sat in the recliner to wait. Minutes into Gone With the Wind, she jumped up out of the chair and rushed to the bathroom.
By her calculations, she should have already lost weight. Coaly used a foot to slip the dust-covered scale out from beneath the pedestal sink and stood on it. The digital readout went from zero to three-sixty-two in one point two seconds and fluctuated back and forth a few pounds. When it settled, she gazed into the mirror hanging above the sink with a disappointed look on her face. Damn it! Damn it all to hell! It was even worse than she'd thought. Now she felt even more desperate than before. If Lickety Split couldn't help her, she was doomed.
Coaly returned to the recliner and tried to block the cravings for a snack, or a snacky wacky, as she liked to call them, by concentrating on Rhett's and Scarlett's love/hate relationship. By the time the movie ended, Coaly was asleep in the chair, snoring and engaged in a dream where a village of little people, wearing bibs and armed with knives and forks, where chasing her. She wore a sweatshirt that had the words Big Ham emblazoned on it. She eventually made it to a mansion in the center of a huge plantation. She ran inside and placed one foot on the lowest rung of a sweeping staircase when one of the little people caught up to her and jabbed the tines of a fork into her leg. She snorted and woke up. She shook her head at her subconscious's ability to twist her battle with weight loss and a classic movie into a nightmare.
She glanced at the clock and realized hours had passed. She rose out of the chair and trundled back to the bathroom in anticipation. When she got there and turned on the light, Coaly noticed a change without setting foot on the scale. She stared at her reflection in the mirror at the thin pink line in the middle of her forehead that crept from her hairline down to her eyebrows. One of the side effect symptoms was a rash. Nothing to worry about. It wasn't too noticeable. And, didn't Mister Simon say the side effects were temporary? She stepped on the scale. What the hell? She'd gained a pound. She stepped off the scale and kicked it back beneath the sink.
She stomped back to the living room with the intention of calling Lickety Split to return her recent purchase and get a refund, but decided to wait. Give it a chance, she thought. Her stomp faded into a march that took her through the living room and into the kitchen where she foraged for a meal. For some reason her appetite had grown. Her stomach growled. Eat all you want and still lose weight, they'd said. She hummed the tune of the Lickety Split jingle.
With a plate of cold cuts piled high, she returned to the living room and sat in the recliner. She flipped through the channels and paused when she came across another Lickety Split infomercial. She dropped the remote and got caught up in the same uplifting hopeful message she had felt the first time when she'd placed her order while she absent-mindedly polished off the entire plate of meat and started on the bag of chocolate she had stashed in the side pocket of the recliner. She might not have lost any weight yet, but she was certainly feeling lighter. The program ended with her feeling comfortable with her purchase. She noticed it was nearing ten-thirty, so she'd take another pill, hop in bed, and snuggle with a hot romance novel. She liked the character, Jake Evens, in the Harlequin she was reading now. She'd read it before, but reading it again was like rekindling a romance with a long lost love. She picked up the herbal medicine, popped one in her mouth, and chased it down with a mouthful of water from a glass that had been sitting there a few days. She hated the taste of stale water even though it didn't make any sense that water could get stale.
Coaly hopped up out of the chair, raced to the bathroom, and climbed on the scale. The digital readout soared to her now established weight. She hadn't lost a pound. Furious, she looked at her reflection and gasped. The line in the middle of her forehead was still there, only it was a little wider and had spread like a creeping vine down to her chin. It began to itch. She scratched it with the tip of a nail, but that only made it burn. If she ever saw Mr. Simon again, she'd wring his skinny neck like a chicken. It was bad enough that she was fat, but now she had this thick, pink line down the middle of her face. She looked like one of those funky alien types on an episode of Star Trek. Not the original, but Voyager. She would for sure be turning heads now.
She thought about driving herself to the emergency room. But, she couldn't do that. She'd have to explain the diet pills and a lot of other things that she didn't want other people to know. She heard her mother's voice: They're all going to laugh at you! along with lines from the infomercial, You've got nothing to lose but unwanted fat, Lickety Split, order yours today! Put some pep, pep, pep in your step, step, step, as a convoluted chorus in her head.
"Shut up." Coaly clamped her hands over her ears, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" She straightened up and said to her reflection, "You're just going to have to suck it up, Buttercup."
She climbed into bed, bypassed her nightly adventures with Jake, and closed her eyes. Visions played through her mind like a slideshow. Images of her trying to pass off the pink line down her face as an injury from an accident kept coming up. That could work. After all, hadn't she thought that about the line down Mister Simon's face? But, her mind wasn't content with just dwelling on that topic. It was ruthless in throwing everything from current events at her to dredging up ancient history until she could not stand it another minute. She got up and took a double dose of sleeping pills. The night eventually became a dark pit of dreamless sleep and it only seemed like moments passed before she opened her eyes and gazed at the sun coming through the partially opened blinds like glowing slices of lemon. Coaly shook off of what remained of the night's slumber and sat up. She stretched and let out a yawn. She felt better, better than she had in a long time. It might be nothing more than optimism that would be short lived, but still, she hoped and climbed out of bed.
She made a beeline to the bathroom, left the light off, ignored the scale and mirror, did her business, and got out of there quick. Ravenous, she headed for the kitchen, glad she had stocked up on food only a few days ago. She grabbed a bagel and popped it into the toaster. Reached in the fridge and got the cream cheese, placing it on the counter. There would be plenty of food for the entire week without having to go to the market. She dreaded the idea of going out at all with a pink stripe down the middle of her face. She closed her eyes. She hoped it was gone. Just in case it was, she reached up to touch it. Instead of the raised place, it was now a dent. It was shallow, but definitely a depression.
She forgot about the bagel and made a mad dash to the bathroom afraid of what she'd see in the mirror. She flipped on the light and stopped dead in her tracks. The red puffy line was now a trough, and it had traveled down her throat and past the collar of her gown. She ripped off her nightgown and stared down in fascinated horror. The line divided her body into halves from the top of her head to her crotch. Naked as a jaybird, she fled the sight and raced back to the living room where she'd tossed Mr. Simon's card on the lamp stand. She snatched it up and dialed the number. When the voice said hello, she blurted out, "Mister Simon. I mean, what the hell?!"
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"There's something weird going on. You've got to get over here right now."
"Who is this?"
"It's Coaly Banks! Who the hell do you think it is?"
"Ahhhhh, Miss Banks, how are you?"
"I've got a big line down the middle of my body! How do you think I am?!"
"Beautiful," he replied.
"Beautiful? Didn't you hear what I said?! There's a thick, pink line running down my body. I mean, what the hell?"
"It's the means to an end."
That didn't make a whole lot of sense. Was she going to be scarred for life? "What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's part of the process and it's temporary. It'll fade over time. Mine is hardly noticeable," he replied. "So, just calm down; it's a natural part of the process. I assure you that it's quite normal."
"Normal? I can assure you that this isn't normal! Come pick up your pills and give me my money back."
She could almost see him shaking his head before he replied.
"I can't do that," he said. "It would stop the process and you'd remain like you are right now. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
"Your frickin' commercial says your product comes with a money back guarantee."
"That's true," he said. "But that's only if you complete the course of pills and it doesn't work. But again, I can assure you that it always works. However, it is imperative you take all the pills or the current effect will remain permanent."
"You didn't tell me about this," she shouted.
"You didn't ask, and please lower your voice."
"What am I suppose to do?"
"Finish the bottle and call me in the morning." Mr. Simon replied.
Her mind raced out of control. There was a hush at the other end of the line. "Hello? Mister Simon?"
"Damn it!" She hung up. There was nothing left to do but finish what she'd started. Or else, walk around the rest of her life looking like Humpty Dumpty. She rambled back to the living room and picked up the bottle, dumped a pill into her open palm and tossed it into her mouth. She took another swig of the old water, swallowed, and shuddered. It tasted staler than it did the night before, even though she knew how impossible that was.
She flopped down into the recliner. The impact sent tiny particles of dust flying into the air where they swam in a shaft of light slipping through the part in the blackout curtains. She began to feel sick. She had the chills and was certain a fever was coming on. Maybe she should sleep through whatever was going to happen next. After taking a few more sleeping pills, Coaly returned to the bedroom, crawled into bed, and pulled the covers over her head.
When she woke up, the room was dark. Coaly still had the chills and felt bile rising from her churning stomach. She'd never felt this sick in her entire life. She was going to vomit. She rushed to the bathroom and kneeled at the toilet just as a gusher came out of her mouth. Coaly waited until her stomach settled before rising on shaky legs and wobbling over to the pedestal sink. She avoided turning on the light and looking into the mirror. She was afraid her image would reflect a monstrosity to match her physical ailment. She had to force herself to complete the process. She managed enough strength to walk back to the lamp stand and take the last pill, and then she flopped back into bed.
Sometime during the night, her fever broke. A storm rolled in bringing bolts of lightning, loud thunder, and rain drumming against the windowpanes. She woke again, and amazingly, she felt better. The nausea was gone. However, when she tried to sit up, she couldn't move. Suddenly, she had this horrible thought that she was paralyzed. Wouldn't that be ironic: to finally be svelte but confined to a wheelchair?
No way in hell she was going to settle for that. She began to thrust and squirm and fight against the oppressive weight holding her down. Suddenly, there was a ripping sound as a searing hot pain shot from her groin up the center of her body. She screamed and passed out.
Coaly came to. She was lying on the floor next to the bed in a puddle of clear goop. She was weak, but with some effort, she climbed to her feet hoping that the ordeal was over.
With blurred vision, she made her way back to the bathroom and stood at the mirror peering at the fuzzy blob. She turned on the water and vigorously scrubbed the goo from her face. Afraid of what she might see once she looked, she peeked in the mirror with one eye. And almost fainted.
"Woooo hooooooo!" Coaly raised her hands above her head and twirled around. When she stopped spinning, she scanned her body, turning this way and that, with approval. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. She always knew she had a centerfold model's body trapped inside. Her face was thinner and more defined. Mister Simon was right. She was beautiful. Except for that pink line running right down the center of her. It tarnished the whole effect and wouldn't work at all. It was like getting all dolled up, then getting a run in your pantyhose. No, this line had better be temporary. Oh well, if not, who cared, she was in the skinny chick club now and that was all that mattered. She cracked a smile. She could cover the line with makeup and clothes. Oh yeah! Clothes! But wait! First, she needed a shower and to wash off the remaining slime. "Lickety Split!" she yelled as she jumped into the bathtub and yanked the curtains closed. Minutes later, what was left of the residue sluiced down the drain. She jumped out, toweled off, and rushed back to the bedroom and peered into the closet. There were striped tents, polka dot tents, all kinds of patterned tents, and with one shove, she pushed them all aside. And, there it was. The little black dress.
She'd bought it in January, not on a whim, but as a new year's promise that this year she'd lose enough weight to fit inside the slinky size six. She grabbed it off the rod, realizing that this was October and she'd met that goal with two months to spare. She looked the dress over and smiled thinking how hot she was going to look New Year's Eve. Yep, she was going to be a real heartbreaker. She might even break a few of the skinny chick's hearts at the health club. She took it off the wooden hanger and took a deep breath. This was the moment of truth.
Coaly stepped inside the dress and wiggled it up over her hips. It was snug, but doable. She slipped her hands and arms through the armholes and pulled the shoulders up into place. Wow! She'd actually done it. Coaly stood there silently, basking in the moment, closed her eyes, and gave herself a hug. The full-length mirror was attached to the backside of her bedroom door to keep the visual reminder of all the rolls and bulges hidden from herself for years. Exuberant, she march over to the door and swung it closed. Hot damn, she looked good! She stood up on hers toes, turned to the left, turned to the right, and let out a squeal as she spun around and faced the bed. Her eyes rounded out in fear as she clapped a hand over her heart and screamed out, "OH—MY—GOD!" This couldn't be real. It had to be a trick, or a hallucination created by the pills. Slowly, with her heart beating wildly inside her chest, Coaly crept forward. She screamed. Long after the shriek was gone, Coaly still stood in the same spot staring wild-eyed at the naked person lying in her bed. At last, she half whispered, "Hello?" Instantly, she felt stupid. It wasn't like she had been trying to be quiet before now.
The person remained immobile.
"Excuse me," she said, a tad louder this time. You'll have to be braver than that, she told herself. But sensible the voice of reason said. Coaly slinked backwards to the closet and scrabbled around for something to use as a weapon. She didn't own a gun, but now she wished she had one. Aha, at last she found something. With a bowling ball in hand, Coaly crept to the side of the mattress. Slowly, she leaned over the body, and shrank back as she dropped the ball and stepped away from the bed. This was impossible, wasn't it? She covered her mouth with her hand and eased closer to the body again. It was her, well the fat her, lying there as if asleep. But, there were no signs of life and the eyes were stuck at half mast. What had been the pink trench down the center of her body was now fused back together leaving a deep pink scar. A clear, gel-like substance was drying out in odd patterns along the flanks. Coaly ran from the room.
She'd left her phone on the lamp stand and knocked it to the floor when she made a grab for it. Frantic, she reached down hoping she hadn't cracked the screen. She sighed in relief when she found it intact and dialed. The representative from Lickety Split answered.
"Mister Simon, I mean, what the hell?"
"Ah, Miss Banks, how are you?"
"How the hell do you think I am? There's a dead body in my bed. Mydead body!"
"Please calm down, Miss Banks. This was all covered in the contract."
"I'm sure I would have noticed any reference to a dead body in there." Damn it! Why hadn't she taken the time to read that contract?
"It's not a dead body per se."
"Excuse me." There was fire in her tone. "I know a dead body when I see one. And that body is definitely dead."
"No, no, you don't understand. We here at Lickety Split use the term deadweight. The term is associated with carrying an inert person or thing, or metaphorically, it means carrying a heavy burden."
She knew what the term meant. But, what significance did that have on her current situation?
"Everything," he said.
It was like he was reading her mind. "What?"
"The deadweight is part of the old you. It's those extra pounds, the burden of guilt, low self-esteem, and doubt that you've been dragging around all these years that caused you to binge."
"You're free of all that now."
She didn't know what to say other than, "Thank you. Bye." Feeling more than a little disconcerted, she was about to hang up, but the realization of the immediate situation zinged back into her head. "Mister Simon?" she frantically shouted hoping that he was still there.
"Yes, Miss Banks?"
She breathed a sigh of relief. "What about the bod...the deadweight?"
"What about it?"
"I mean, aren't you guys going to come back here and pick it or something?" her tone was hopeful.
"No." He left her hanging for a few seconds. Long enough for fear to creep up inside her, coil itself around her chest, and squeeze. "The deadweight, as described in section two of your contract, is your responsibility to dispose of."
"What am I suppose to do with it?"
Mr. Simon huffed. "It's all outlined in the contract, and in it, you'll also find the location of the nearest designated disposal site."
"Yes. It's the same place that the others in your area take their deadweight."
"You'd better hurry, Miss Banks, you only have a limited amount of time."
"What happens then?"
"It's in your contract. Have a nice day!" He hung up.
"Mister Simon?" Dead air. "Damn it!" She slammed the phone down on the table. Why hadn't she read the contract? Knowing about this complication may have changed her mind about the whole thing. She ran her hands down her sides, reveling in the new contours of her body. She shook her head. No, it wouldn't have changed a thing. With the fire back inside her, she gave the situation some thought.
She should call the police, that's what she should do, and bust the whole thing wide open and clear herself of any wrong doing. After all, she would be keeping others from being roped into the same scam. She picked up the phone. But how the hell could she explain all this without being locked up for sure; either in prison or in a nuthouse. She certainly didn't want to deny herself her newfound freedom, now did she? Hell no. She'd have to take care of this herself.Suddenly, she saw the logic in it. If the dead body was really just a part of her, then no one was going to turn in a missing person report. All she had to do was dispose of the carcass. She tossed the phone onto the lamp stand. Right into a half full can of soda that pirouetted before falling over. She watched as the dark, syrupy liquid cascaded into an amber pool right on the contract.
What the HELL! She snatched the document up and raced for the sink. She tilted it down a let the excess run off, grabbed the sponge, and began dabbing and swiping as fast as she could. The ink was starting to run. "Ohhhhhhhh," she cried as she tried to lift the first page and it tore. Easy. Easy. Coaly gleaned through the pages like they were an ancient artifact that could crumble to dust at any moment. She spotted the keyword, disposal time. Fours hours after waking. She strained to remember what time she'd roused from her sleep. Was it eight? Maybe eighty thirty. No. Closer to nine. "Ohhhhhh, I don't know," she cried out. What would happen after four hours? The rest of the paragraph was a blob of black ink. The only saving grace that came from this fiasco was the name of the disposal site.
The Atchafalaya Swamp! She'd recently read in the paper that there was an unprecedented amount of unidentified bodies being discovered there. One of the local sheriffs had claimed there was more dead bodies at the bottom than you could shake a stick at and that it would take years to recover them all. The homicide department was under the perception that they were desperately searching for a lone serial killer before he or she could strike again. Added to the mystery, was the baffling forensic findings that the prints of the few victims that were actually readable, matched those of people still living. She shook her head. They didn't know the half of it. The place had to be swarming with cops and could be like walking into a nest of angry hornets. Now she wished that she'd read the contract earlier and questioned Mr. Simon about these things. But the conditions of the contract are only broken if she were caught breaking them. Right? She could take the body someplace else. She knew of a few secluded places. Besides herself, who would know? What had she gotten herself into? Were they watching her? Maybe during the metamorphosis a biotracking chip had been implanted inside her. She could only speculate on the answers since the damn contract was now unreadable. Even if she was caught in a breach of contract, at this point, let them prosecute her. Prosecution? What were they going to do, take her to court? Not likely.
As it was, she had already wasted a significant amount of time and the clock was still ticking. She hoped the Lickety Split company had somehow safely paved her route to the Atchafalaya.
The swamp was only a two-hour drive, and there were miles and miles of secluded roads she could choose from. Her Volvo was parked inside the garage and the door was down. All she'd have to do is wrap her deadweight in a sheet, load it in the trunk, make the drive, dump the body, and get on with her life. Perfect.
She returned to the bedroom. She stood staring down at her old self and she got angry. Coaly lashed out and slapped one of the fat cheeks. "Fat ass! You've ruined my life. I'm glad you're gone. And I'm going to make sure that you never come back." She took the sheet and spread it out on the bed next to the body. She wrestled with it and finally got it rolled over onto the sheet. She grabbed the corners below the feet, began tugging and pulling with all her might, until it landed heavily on the floor. She spent a good hour heaving it along the floor in five-foot increments and finally made it to the back of her car.
Coaly stooped and placed a hand under each armpit of the deadweight and let out a groan as she tugged. The effort was like strapping a bottle rocket onto a space shuttle in hopes that it would lift the massive object into the stratosphere. Now red-faced and out of breath, she released her grip and paused to catch her breath and give this situation another think.
She looked around the garage for anything that might assist her. The company she worked for used conveyer belts to move the product from point A to point B for packaging. AHA! There, next to the dryer, camouflaged with hanging clothes, was her treadmill. She'd bought the thing last January as part of her New Year's resolution and used it for two weeks before it became an expensive clothes rack. She raced over to it and picked the hangers off until the apparatus was uncovered.
Thank God, it had wheels. She rolled it over to the trunk of her car. Coaly lifted the base of the treadmill onto the bumper. With it securely in place, she wrestled the deadweight up into a sitting position propped against the belt in between the bars. She took a few moments to catch her breath before turning the thing on.
Duh! You have to plug it in for it to work. She quickly found the end of the power cord. Way too short. She needed an extension cord, but knew she didn't have one. Her eyes lit up. Mr. Harvey probably had one. He was the kindly, old gentleman next door who often stopped by to see if there was anything that needed fixing. He lived alone, a widower, and definitely old school on how to treat women. More than likely he was home, he almost always was since he retired. Oh wait! He was retired from the police force as a detective working homicide. If she asked him, he'd probably insist on coming over to help. She could see it now. Mister Harvey, do you have an extension cord I can borrow? What's that? Oh, no. I can take care of it myself. Besides that, she had seen Mr. Harvey just yesterday, and yesterday she had been really fat. Hell, he might not even recognize her. He'd be suspicious and tenacious. She was certain he still had connections down at the station and he'd make a phone call. She didn't have to play out the rest of the scenario in her head. "No! No! No!" That wouldn't work at all. She'd have to think of something else. Think, think, think!
There were strings of the things in a box on the shelf above the washer. She raced over, grabbed the box, and placed it on the floor. Within seconds, she had a strand and was working through the knots, while cursing herself for not taking the time to wind them up properly after Christmas. At last, she unraveled the remaining knot and plugged the prongs into the wall socket. One-hundred twinkling lights did as they promised. She grabbed the other end and raced back over to the treadmill. She fitted two of the prongs into the receptacle, leaving the ground post exposed, and flipped on the machine. She hadn't bothered to check the speed setting. It must have been at the fastest pace, because Deadweight Coaly popped up through the frame like a jack-in-the-box. The momentum only lasted for a second before the deadweight buckled at the waist and knees and fell on top of her.
Muttering curses while she climbed out from underneath, Coaly managed to get to her feet and dial down the spinning belt from the impossible pace of fifteen miles an hour to the nice, slow speed of two. I mean really, someone would have to be as fast as a gazelle to run at that stride.
Coaly managed to prop the deadweight against the slow moving belt and this time it worked like she planned. The belt conveyed the body to the top and dumped it over the edge into the trunk. The back-end of the car bounced and settled. With that task out of the way, Coaly hoisted the treadmill down, moved it back to its spot next to the dryer, came back, and slammed the trunk lid shut.
She raised the garage door and then backed the Volvo out onto the street, grateful that no one was out and about to see her driving away. One of her nosy neighbors might read a look of a guilty conscience on her face. She calmed herself with the fact that she really hadn't done anything wrong. Then she sped up, headed straight for Louisiana.
Overhead, dark clouds were cramming the sky with the threat of rain, and by the time she had crossed the Louisiana State Line and merged upon I-10 eastbound, it began to drizzle. She tried her best to put the thought of the deadweight in the trunk out of her mind and popped in her favorite CD. She angled the rearview mirror down and spent the last hour and a half glancing at herself as she rocked out to Pink while ignoring the pink line marring her new look. Suddenly, there was a wall of taillights in front of her. She hit the brakes and peered past the wiper blades at the idle cars spread out in front of her. Her heart jumped up inside her throat. Ahead, red and blue lights flickered.
Cruisers, with lights flashing, were parked one after the other forming a V, forcing the traffic to bottleneck to just one lane. Two state troopers, dressed in caution-yellow raingear, stood on either side of the opening stopping each car and conducting a quick search. Panic welled up inside her when she saw the car at the front of the line pop the trunk open. "Idiots," she yelled. "Why now?" After her outburst, she looked around to see if anyone had heard her, but it was hard to see past rain splattered windshields and fogged glass. Satisfied that her sudden flare-up had been unnoticed, she settled back in her seat trying to figure out what to do. She looked in her rearview, cars were piling up behind her, and so she couldn't turn around. Even if she could, she would be headed the wrong way down the eastbound lanes. She just had to play it cool and not arouse suspicion. It was as if one of the officers was reading her mind, because he looked up about that time, and peered down the line of cars and she felt like he was looking straight at her. She slid down into her seat. She watched as car after car was subjected to the search until she was next in line. She placed her hand on the door handle, ready to jump out and run. But then what? There was no place to run. No place to hide. What would be the use? As the car in front of her pulled away, one of the troopers motioned her forward with the sweep of his hand. Coaly was trapped. Not knowing what to do, she sat there trying to conjure up a surefire plan that would get her off the hook. In an effort to heighten her senses, she squeezed her eyes shut. Come on, think, think.
She silenced Pink with a push of a button and the stereo automatically went into radio mode, did a quick search, and settled on a local channel casting a news bulletin. The female voice bleeding through the speakers talked about a rash of dead bodies found in the Atchafalaya Swamp and the possibility of a serial killer on the loose.
A rap on the window caused her to flinch and her eyes to fly open. Her heart leapt into her throat. The trooper stared at her through the glass with a no-nonsense look in his eyes. She quickly pressed the button to lower the window. "You about made me jump out of my skin!" Jump out of her skin, she thought. She'd already done that. Literally. The play on words sent her into a fit of nervous giggling. "What's the trouble officer?" she asked through a stream of chuckles. She clapped her hand over her mouth and her eyes welled with tears with the effort to quell the irrational response. I must be losing my mind. She ran her hands over her face to wipe the salty liquid from her cheeks. She looked up at the officer.
The rain was coming down pretty hard now and was quickly collecting on the brim of his hat, so that when he tilted his head down to speak to her, it caused the water to eddy forward and spill off the front in a wide column that split the view of his face in half. "Is everything okay, Miss?" His polite tone did not match the probing way his eyes searched hers.
She had a body in the trunk of her car. Why wouldn't everything be okay?"Fine," she replied. "Everything is fine." Coaly fought to get the nervous laughter under control.
"May I see your license, please?" he asked.
"What's going on?"
The trooper leaned down and looked her in the eyes. "I'll need to see your ID."
She quickly twisted to the right and grabbed her purse riding shotgun in the passenger seat. Coaly clumsily dug through the contents, found it, and snagged it from the jumble. She handed it through the open window to him.
He plucked it from her fingers. First he looked at the picture and then at her. He did this several times before his eyes settled on hers. "Miss Banks."
"Yes." She shivered. Maybe it was from the rain or maybe from the fear of what was going to come. She squeezed the lids of her eyes shut and readied herself for the impact of bad news.
She opened her eyes to see him tapping the screen of an iPhone. He nodded briefly, placed the phone back into his pocket, and handed her license back to her. "If you'll pop your trunk—"
A streak of fear shot through her along with an idea. "The latch is broken." She forced a smile that looked more like a grimace.
"Why don't you just try it for me?"
She looked straight ahead. The coast was clear. She could floor the gas pedal, but doubted that her four-banger would make it very far before a fleet of souped-up police cruisers caught up to her. She looked back up at him. She could play the victim card by stepping out and popping the trunk, feigning surprise that there was a dead body concealed in the back. But, officer, I have no idea how it got there. She was cute as hell now and she could play it up and get away with it.
He repeated the command to open the trunk adding steel to his voice.
"Sure," said Coaly. Slowly, she reached down to the floorboard between the driver's seat and the door for the lever that would trigger the release. A dreadful thought entered her head. She replayed the deadweight popping up like the jack-in-the-box when she had turned on the treadmill. But, there was nothing back there to make Fat Coaly pop up. Nonetheless, her heart pounded as she curled her finger under the lever. The moment before she pulled it, one of the other officers called out.
The trooper turned around.
"Get over here," the other officer yelled. There was urgency in his voice.
"Please wait here." He turned and walked away. Thank Gawd! She'd been granted some time to hatch a plot that would get her out of this mess. After minutes of straining her brain, she had it! The other officers were milling around aimlessly like ants, and being the amateur entomologist that she was, Coaly knew that ants worked together as a unit using a collective consciousness or intelligence. Maybe the officers worked like that too and were focused as one on some other issue and she could just drive slowly away. She cracked a crooked smile, rolled up the window, and shifted the car into drive.
She'd only inched her way a few yards when the repeated fire of knuckles rapped against her window. Coaly jumped and stamped her foot on the brake. She turned her head. The trooper she had spoken with a few minutes ago was now staring at her through the rain-speckled glass with a what the hell expression pasted on his face. She rolled the window down.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.
"Oh, I thought you said I could go." She feigned innocence.
He shook his head. "I told you to stay put. Now shut off the engine and pop the trunk."
She was busted, big time. But, hey, on the bright side, she was going to look great in that orange jumper. She might even get a tattoo. "Okay." She did as she was told, and her heart skipped a beat when the latch released with a pop. "What do you know: it worked!" She watched in the rearview as the trunk lid floated up and came to a rest. With her heart thumping wildly in her chest, she watched the trooper walk to the back of the car. This was it, she was doomed. She may as well hang both hands out through the open window and let him cuff her wrists. The car shook with a bang when he closed the trunk and she sank in fear as he walked back to her window. She squeezed her eyes shut tight.
"You can go."
Surely she hadn't heard that right. She opened her eyes. "What'd you say?"
"I said, you can go." He motioned her on with a wave of his hand.
What the hell? She rolled her window up, started the car, put it drive, and pulled slowly away while trying to figure out why the state trooper was letting her go. I mean, what the hell? He must have seen the body in the trunk. He'd have to be blind not to have seen it. Maybe she was suffering from a massive hallucination. Or, maybe she had woke up from a bad dream and hopped in her car thinking there was a body in the trunk. Could that be a side effect from the pills no one knew about? She looked in the rearview. A skinny-faced Coaly stared back. Or maybe she was still sleeping and the whole thing was nothing more than a bad dream.
A mile down the road, she pulled over onto the shoulder, popped the trunk, and got out of her car. She walked around the back fearing that Deadweight Coaly was still there and then feared that she wasn't. She lifted the lid and peered down.
The fat girl stared sightlessly up at her. This only added to the confusion. She slammed the lid down and got back into her car. She drove away determined to get rid of the body before anything else could happen.
It was still raining when she took the exit onto the feeder and turned down a dirt road that was now mud. No one with any sense would venture down this road in a sedan. She shrugged and continued on, reasoning that it would help with her alibi if she ever needed one. The tires slipped and she went into a slide, but was able to gain control. The rain was easing off and Coaly could see the swamp. Cypress trees rose out of the dark water with tendrils of moss hanging limply from their limbs. Cypress knees jutted sporadically throughout the marsh. An alligator was parked precariously on the bank and as she drove past, it dove in with a splash. My God, that thing was the size of a dinosaur. Now, she could see why Lickety Split had her bring the deadweight out here. It would provide a tasty snack for Mr. Gator and also invoke the no body no murder rule. But she wasn't about to go near the edge with that monster lurking nearby. She drove a little further.
She spotted a pirogue; a small boat hollowed out and shaped from a single log. As she got closer, she could see that it came with a paddle. Well, this looked promising. She pulled over and got out, looking to see if there may be a house nearby or another source for the little boat. There was no sign of human habitation in any direction. She pulled the trunk release and lifted the lid. Now what? At home, she'd had the assistance of the treadmill to load the body, but here, she had nothing. It would be impossible for her to wrangle the body out of the trunk by herself, much less drag it over to the pirogue. She looked at her watch. There wasn't much time left. She'd have to get creative. She thought about movies she'd seen and books she'd read; trying to think of what might work in this situation.
A few seconds later, she hopped back in her car and drove about forty yards before she came to a stop. Coaly shoved the gearshift into reverse, checked her rearview, and then she floored the gas pedal. A few yards shy of driving off into the murky water, she slammed on the brakes. The car slid to a stop.
She jumped out and hurried to the back, and much to her disappointment, Deadweight Coaly still resided there. The lip of the trunk had kept the dead girl from being flung out and deposited into the boat as she had planned. Coaly would have to think of something else. Suddenly, she had another idea.
She remembered seeing a broken sheet of plywood in the tall marsh grass growing on the side of the road. She could use it as leverage by placing one end down into the trunk and propping the other end up on the open lip. On foot, she hurried to the spot where she'd seen it. It wasn't far. This was the first time in her life she was thankful for people who dumped their trash in remote areas. It took some doing to liberate it from the muck, but at last, she worked it free. Her shoes were caked with mud, so she kicked them off. The wood was waterlogged, but she managed to drag it back to her car. Coaly heaved one edge of the sheet up to the trunk. It was heavy and the slime-coated wood made it hard to grip. There seemed to be no end to her challenges. She looked down. The deadweight was gone. "Oh my!" She looked around. Nothing. There was no sign of the deadweight. This was impossible. Wasn't it? She went back through the hallucination/dream scenario ritual again. Well, if there was no body, then her problem was solved! She could just get back in her car and head for home. Well, maybe she'd stop at the mall. She needed some new clothes. Yes, now she was free!
Coaly pushed the plywood off her car, slammed the trunk closed, and headed around the side of the car. Deadweight Girl was leaning against the hood facing away from her. Oh crap! Was her old self a zombie now? Was she/it waiting for Coaly's curiosity to get the better of her, and when she crept closer, the deadweight would spring on her and do something horrible, like eat her? Now what the hell was she going to do? Panic stricken, Coaly opened the driver's door. She'd run over her, that's what she'd do. But that would be murder, murder in the first degree. It would never hold up in court. Killing yourself isn't murder, it's suicide. Wasn't it? The ramifications boggled her mind. Just do it, she told herself and climbed into the car. As she started the engine, the naked deadweight slowly rose into a full standing position, turned, and stared at Skinny Chick Coaly through the windshield with puppy dog eyes.
"Get out of the way or I'll—!" Coaly revved the engine and gripped the shifter ready to throw it into gear. It couldn't be any worse than running over a wild animal, could it? Or, she could shove it into reverse and leave fat, naked Coaly here to die by the ravages of the elements. I mean, what was Fat Coaly going to do? Walk out of here? Coaly looked back into the fat girl's eyes and thought she probably had the IQ of a turnip, which led her to the conclusion that the deadweight couldn't fathom what was about to happen either way. Just the same, Skinny Coaly didn't have the heart to run over the pathetic thing. She shoved the gearshift into reverse. The sight in her rearview made her jump.
Flickering lights reflected off the glass. The cruiser came to a standstill behind her car, blocking her in. Deadweight Coaly watched stupidly as the officer stepped out of his car.
Coaly continued to watch in her side mirror as he approached her window. It was the same officer at the roadblock on I-10, the same officer that had let her go. Maybe he was playing some kind of cat and mouse game with her.
The trooper rapped his knuckles against the glass. With a push of a button, she rolled it down and looked up at the straight-faced cop. It was then that she noticed it; the thin, pink line. Earlier, during their first encounter, it had been raining and the water funneling off the front of his hat had eclipsed the line in the center of his face.
His smile grew broader and he broke out into the Lickety Split jingle. When he finished, he nodded his head at the deadweight and said, "I see that you didn't dispose of it in time."
She shook her head.
"It happens," he said and pulled his revolver. "But, I can take care of the problem."
"What are you going to do?" she asked. Her eyes were filled with terror because she wasn't sure if he was referring to her or Fat Coaly as the problem.
"Put it out of its misery," he answered. "Or put it out of your misery, whichever way you want to look at it."
She was almost relieved, except, that to him; this whole thing was as easy as shooting a rabid dog. But, to her, it wasn't a rabid dog, it was a part of her, a big piece of who she was, or had been.
He aimed the gun at the fat girl.
The deadweight didn't react at all. It was more like a baby. A big baby. It was all the hurt parts of her stuffed into one big sausage casing. All these years, Coaly had hated that part of herself and always plotted ways to expel it from her being. But now that she saw the truth standing in front of her. Coaly suddenly had compassion for the fat girl. "Stop!" Coaly sprang from the car.
The trooper lowered his gun. His smile disintegrated. "What's the matter?"
"You can't shoot her."
"Why not?" When she didn't answer, he raised the weapon long enough to wag the open bore at Fat Coaly and said, "If I don't do it, you'll get sucked back in."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that in about less than a minute you two are going to be united in holy matrimony until death do you part. Do you really want to look like that again?"
She looked down at herself. This was the body that she'd always dreamed of having, and soon, if she didn't let him dispose of the deadweight, she was going to be her old self again. "No."
"By the look in your eyes, I can see that you're giving in already, and if I don't take care of it now, it's going to be too late." He raised the revolver and pointed it at the deadweight.
He lowered the weapon and with a look of exasperation, he asked, "What now?"
"But you're a cop. Cops don't shoot innocent people."
"She—it, is not innocent. It's guilty of causing you a lifetime of grief," he shot back. "And, I'm not a cop."
"But you were back there checking people's trunks. If you're not a trooper then what are you?"
"I work for Lickety Split as an enforcer." He grabbed the lapel of his jacket and turned out the button pinned to the inside. "See." He released his lapel and the button turned back in. "Enforcers make sure that customers get rid of their deadweight in a timely manner. And when they don't, we step in and finish the job. There are dump sites all across the country and we set up the checkpoints as a way to keep the process under wraps." He raised his gun again.
Fat Coaly stared back emotionlessly.
The enforcer lowered his gun. "Miss Banks, you're really starting to bug me."
"Isn't there some other way?"
"'Fraid not." He raised the revolver, and this time, he cocked the hammer back.
Fat Coaly continued to stare like a lost puppy dog, unaware of what was about to happen.
Skinny Coaly lunged for the gun and they became a tangle of flailing arms and dancing legs as she tried to wrestle the weapon away from the enforcer, but he proved to be too strong. The gun was slipping from her fingers. In a last ditch effort to thwart the man's plan, Coaly bit into the flesh on the back of his hand. He let out a scream followed by a string of curse words. He held on tight, but Coaly hoped that maybe the assault had made him loosen his hold and tried again to pull the gun from his grip. It did more than that. The revolver plummeted to the ground. Despite her knowing that guns don't go off when they hit the ground except in Hollywood movies, it went off with an ear-splitting bang.
She heard the shot, felt the percussion, and saw the spot of blood rapidly expanding. The terror in the enforcer's eyes spread across his face as he slowly sank to the road and collapsed. What were the chances of it going off and hitting him? Probably a zillion to one. She watched in horror as he bled out, the light in his eyes winked out, and the expression on his face went blank. She nudged him with her foot. He didn't budge. She kneeled and felt for a pulse. There wasn't one. She popped back up and stared Fat Coaly in the eyes. "Now what are we going to do?"
Fat Coaly stared back like a goldfish looking out through the glass. Her mouth opened and closed, much like a guppy trying to breathe out of water. Who knows? Maybe she was trying to form words. "You're right; we need to get rid of the gun."
Why didn't I think of that? Oh, I guess maybe I did, technically.
She reached down, grabbed the weapon by the handle, and flung it as far as she could out into the swamp. Suddenly, Skinny Coaly felt something strange. It started with a tickle on her toes. She looked down. Tendrils from Fat Coaly's toes had stretched out like long worms and attached themselves to her own toes. They had teeth and bit into the soft flesh of her skin. "Owwwwww!" she yelled and tried to jump back, but the tendrils had her tethered. Much to her horror, Coaly felt the wigglers work their way inside.
Everything from there happened quickly. Fat Coaly began to shrivel and collapse in on herself, like a rotting banana recorded by time lapse photography. Coaly felt herself swell like a water balloon, her clothes ripped along the seams, and she burst out of the skinny size six dress much like Dr. Banner had ripped out of his when he changed into the Incredible Hulk. Less than a minute later, the transformation was complete. Suddenly, she felt dizzy. And like a massive oak being chopped down, Coaly fell over backwards and smacked hard against the ground.
A new bumper of rain clouds was sailing in from the South, jamming together, creating a thunderhead above her while she was flat on her back staring up at them. A few large drops of rain pelted her on the head. She tried to sit up, but had to wallow back and forth to get enough momentum to heave herself into an upright position. She let out a groan as she sat up, and then labored under her enormous weight to climb back to her feet. The task left her huffing and puffing. She stared down at the enforcer. Now, she was faced with getting rid of his body.
Still naked as a jaybird, Coaly grabbed the dead man by his wrists. She was surprised how much easier her extra poundage made it to drag him over to his car and lift him into the front passenger seat. She climbed behind the wheel, and started the car. Then she shoved the gearshift into drive and aimed it for the water. Coaly had seen this maneuver performed countless times in the movies. The driver would floor the gas pedal and just before the car took a nose dive into the water, the driver bailed out. Easy-peasy. Oh, except for one thing: she opened her door so she could easily eject herself from the rolling car.
She hit the gas. Pea gravel and mud spewed out from beneath the tires. Just when it appeared like she was going nowhere, the tires grabbed hold of the slippery medium. Like a rocket, the car took off. G-force jerked her head back and the door slammed closed. No! It had to be open so she could jump out. She pulled the handle and pushed as hard as she could. She looked through the windshield and saw she was on a fast approach to the water. At this speed, she'd be in the water in less than a second. BAIL! But, when she tried to jump, her belly had her wedged between the seat and the steering wheel. Slam on the brakes! Too late!
A wave of water surged over the hood and splashed across the windshield. The collision flung the enforcer forward and his face smacked against the glass and he flopped back in the seat with his head facing her. He mocked her with a glassy-eyed stare. She had to get out. The car was floating, thank God, but swamp water slowly seeped in.
The level of the water quickly rose up past the bottom of her window. She was sinking fast. To add to the mêlée, gators on the opposite bank slipped off into the water and were headed her way. "Oh, Coaly Banks, what have you gotten yourself into?"
In an effort to free herself, Coaly wiggled back and forth until she successfully squeezed from beneath the wheel and out to her right. She clambered up on the seat on her knees. The compartment grew darker as the car descended into the murky depths.
She pulled on the door handle, to no avail. She'd have to roll down the window to equalize the pressure. Coaly thanked her lucky stars that the window had a hand crank instead of an electric motor. She took in a deep breath as a surge of water rushed in. The force shoved her into the dead enforcer and then smashed them together against the passenger door.
With the seconds rapidly ticking away and the air in her lungs depleting, Coaly pushed off from him and returned to the driver's door. It was stuck and no way was she going to squeeze her big butt through the window. Her lungs burned and her head told her, You better get things straight with the Lord, because you're gonna die!
No way. She turned and began kicking the door.
Her lungs ached.
Coaly pulled herself across the seat so she could reach the back doors and tried them both.
They didn't budge.
Now, her lungs burned with excruciating pain.
She faced back to the driver's door, and in a last ditch effort, kicked it harder.
Coaly pushed through the opening thinking that she'd sink like a sack full of rocks. Lucky for her, fat floats. She rose to the surface like a helium balloon, and as her head broke the surface, she sucked in a deep breath, and then bobbed in the water until her oxygen debt had been repaid. Coaly dogpaddled to the shore, crawled through the primordial muck, and climbed to her feet.
Shaken and exhausted, but satisfied that her ordeal was over, she turned to walk away on shaky legs, but as she did, something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She did a one-eighty. Her heart skipped a beat. "Damn." She'd watched enough of those forensic television programs to know that newly dead bodies could float if they still had air in their lungs. Somehow, the enforcer had escaped his watery grave and had popped up like a cork. The body floated toward shore. Now what? She thought about the dinosaur gator and his pals that she'd seen earlier and bet that would take care of the problem.
She heard a noise. What the hell? Coaly turned her head in that direction. A vehicle, that's what it was, a loud frickin' vehicle, and coming this way. "I mean, what the hell?" She couldn't leave him floating out there now. She could imagine it; a carful of people passing by, gaping at the fat, naked chick dripping water standing next to the road and a dead police officer floating on the water. Wow, like that wouldn't arouse anyone's suspicion, or blaze an imprint of the scene into a person's mind, now would it? "What am I going to do?" she asked the ether expecting a response. There'd been plenty of times that she'd asked a question hoping that an answer would materialize in some form or fashion, and it usually did. Why would this time be any different?
Coaly waded out, retrieved the body, and pulled the dead trooper, enforcer, or whatever he was, over to her car. The gap between her and the approaching vehicle was closing; Coaly would have to act quickly. In a series of what looked like well-choreographed, swift movements of a dancer, she opened the door and popped the trunk. A second later, she twirled around and was at the back of the car heaving dead enforcer what's his name into the trunk. She slammed it closed. Now everything was going to be all right. She looked down. Except for being naked. She made a mad dash back to the open door, bent over and rummaged beneath the seat. She heard her momma say, Yep, all asshole and elbows. It was good to have Momma back.
The rumble of the vehicle's engine was nearer. It was going to be damn close. Her fingertips raked across the material and she pulled it out. Lucky for her, she kept a yellow slicker under the seat in case of rain. She slipped it on, jumped into the seat, and slammed the door. And just in the nick of time. By the sound of the engine, the vehicle was right behind her. She wasn't going to turn her head and gawk at them. She would look like a frightened chicken. Instead, she picked up her phone and aimed the lens toward the water at the cypress tress and hanging moss. She was just a girl enjoying the beauty of the swamp. Who would be suspicious of that? After the vehicle passed, she sat there for a few minutes before starting the engine, turning around, and driving off, lickety split.
Oh my God, what have I done? Coaly Banks berated herself. Just a few sweet days ago she had been a sane woman, well, at least as sane as you could get nowadays, but now, here she was today, speeding along Highway Seventy-Three with a dead body in the trunk of her car and the inside of her head a big ball of confusion. And she blamed it all on that late-night infomercial.
I mean, seriously. What the hell?