William R. Eakin
The August Featured Writer is William R. Eakin
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“Neighbor booby-trapped his—yard—knife stuck in my—calf. Oh, no, oh, crap, it’s gone all the way through…”
She never asked me what I thought; she just did it one night with a can of lawnmower gas and six thousand dollars worth of hay Bud and his wife had stacked inside. Burned alive all of Jennifer’s milk cows.
I know what the doctors would think: how could she do it, since Angela’s been dead for two years?
Buried out in the woods, you’ll find what people would call “her”…“her mutilated body,” “her twisted and broken skeleton,” “her tortured remains.” But no one has found “her,” not even the neighbors. As for me? That thing out in the woods ain’t even her. “Her” is, well, she burned the barn. That was “her.” I know where her remains are, because I buried her; dead in an unmarked grave. But Angela doesn’t stay where I put her.
The cameras caught her burning the barn, I’m sure; caught her in nothing but that stocking cap and upturned jacket collar that hid her face from the autumn chill. Chill: that was the same chill she died in, the same chill when she burned down the barn long after she was dead and gone.
It’s something from Emily Bronte, whom she read incessantly: Let my winds caress thee. Return and dwell with me. To hell with that, Emily—I mean, Angela. Return and dwell with me, hell! She just comes back to keep doing her damned dirty work, that’s all she wants, her own sleazy nasty stuff, not love, not a relationship to speak of. Doesn’t even poke around the house unless I’m asleep, she comes back wild from the woods, poking her head through the neighbor’s bushes. Just like she did the very day I waxed her up, finding her in my yard, waxed to preserve her I was so hysterical, waxed to save her—not, I repeat—not like a woman would wax her legs, to get rid of the excess hair, like Mee-Maw did.
I do know where she was buried, I confess. I myself laid her to rest in the breezy pine and cedar grove out between my place and Bud and Jennifer’s. But I did not kill her, not “her;” I found that body mutilated outside the house, at the edge of the grove. Broke me, only starting to heal slowly as I come back to myself, getting back to myself every day, at my place, not hers.
Used to be just Bud’s dog that booby-trapped the yard, until they found that constantly barking German Shepherd dragged down the county road. Car or panther or monster or ghost, they said, dragged him with his head against the pavement until it bloodied unrecognizably and finally just snapped off. Snapped clean off, like it was cut through. Damned dog. They bought another one.
A breeze. A wind.
I don’t know what Angela would have thought about that, although I think she knew the real problem. She knew this at least: everything, including why they’d set that bastard dog on the chain in their backyard in the first place, right in the bushes below the window where Jennifer might every now and then be getting ready for her bath—no one needs curtains way out in the country, like we all are—or be standing in flimsy underwear summer mornings with brilliant yellow light shining through her nightgown, through the slip, through the skirt she put on. Brilliant but not hot, more like a wind caressing the world, caressing those legs, caressing the bushes and startling that second dog Angie had to kill.
Oh, Angela knew what happened to the German Shepherd, all right. She was there. And if it had been my boots instead of those heels she wore to bring home clots of dog booby-trap, I’d have just lost it.
Mama and Daddy died, gory car wreck when I was eight; came to live with Mee-Maw, who hated men, and boys, and was glad to show them so. First I learned about waxing women’s legs to get rid of the hair, was when she did mine. And not just the legs. She took me out to the barn, which was ours until Angela sold it to Bud and Jennifer Davenport just before she herself died so they could raise a couple milk cows.
Out there she had blocks of candle wax she’d made me collect, going through trash in town, finding used candles. Melt off a little into a tin pot, pour it onto the hairy spot, let it congeal and cool in the cool, cool breeze and then yank. First time she did that all over me, burning and then pulling all the hair on every centimeter, I confess I screamed, couldn’t stop screaming, in that barn, and the scream became like the cold breeze.
Later I took some of the wax back up to the house, the day I waxed Angie for preservation—funny how wax can both purify and preserve—and buried her. Not “her,” only her body.
Finally took Mee-Maw down to the nursing home, me no longer pubescent. She went off her mind and sat in that place talking about plain nonsense no one could tell anything about, and she finally died ranting. Natural causes.
Doesn’t mean I can’t hear her voice, ranting over my body, young man, too hairy, ranting over Angela, even though she never knew her. Just before Angela came to live with me, I could feel the impress of her old hands on my face. And the wax. And Angela was startled when she first saw me naked, me with no hair except on my head, because I learned how to wax for myself. I think that was what first disturbed Angie about our relationship. It is certainly one reason why I got the idea of taking the hair off her corpse, too, eventually.
I know they think it was me that did it. They know “Angela moved off to California,” which is what I told them so they’d never have cause to go poking around in the pine and cedar grove that outlined our properties. I admit I’d not been the best husband.
She got Victoria Secret catalogs in the mail, which I liked fine just looking. But, hell, gave me the willies about her. She did not seem to mind me looking at the pictures. She did mind that the old Sears and Roebucks catalogs that still came under Mee-Maw’s name.
She also minded that I continued waxing. She especially minded that I went out to the barn to do it. That was why Angela wanted to sell the barn; candle wax out there. Something she was okay with for a while and then got all bitchy about.
I think that was why she came back to talk with me; back from the dead, standing over me, sometime fairly early the first year, me asleep, lying in Mee-Maw’s old bed, freshly waxed.
The neighbors knew she was gone. I’d told them so.
And I told them that I found Angela standing above me in the dark, always in the dark or in the shadow or just around the corner of a room. I told Bud and Jennifer, “Angela has come back. And she might be dangerous. Watch out.”
And I noticed that Bud shot Jennifer a glance. We were in their living room. I must have seemed pathetic to them. Probably thought I murdered her.
“Gone but come back.” I knew first-hand she could.
Maybe they thought I was just nuts, with that fresh waxing now head to toe. Fine. I certainly wasn’t feeling well. Asked to use their restroom.
They motioned me down the hall. I went past their bedroom really fast. It seemed cold. Twin beds, his pajamas laid out on his; all neatly tightly folded. She probably hadn’t seen him naked in a year; got her jollies from milking the cows. Who would want to see all that hair on him, anyway?
In the bathroom, it smelled of both man and woman. I noted a clutter of deodorant and creams and several sharp-edge straight razors. I thought about taking one but decided I did not need any trouble. When I returned, Jennifer looked at me like she suspected I had been playing with her bras. Should have pocketed a few razors, I thought, that would’ve shown her.
So I think that was when they started, foolishly, evilly, to think the peeping tom was me! And over the weeks and months they thought it more and more. Damn neighbors. That was why they got those two dogs: keep the neighbors off the property. Not because I’d said she had come back. No trespassing.
I couldn’t believe they suspected me. It really was “her.” It really was.
Hell, I couldn’t fit into some woman’s pumps, not the kind at least that would leave stiletto heel marks there in the soil and dog-crap pile below their window. Not easily, that is, not comfortably.
Mee-Maw’s old barn, the one Angela made me sell to the Davenports, was on the trail between our places. Jennifer’s job, apparently, had become to go out there to check for leaks, feed the barn cat, feed the couple of milk cows she had…milk the cows, clean out all the rest of Mee-Maw’s wax, the remaining stuff I hadn’t had a chance to move up to the house. And they did something with it. I think Jennifer might have burned it.
Learned to hate me is what it was. Fine. Oh my God, after Angela died and then came back, I do know she would go out to watch from hiding as that blasted Jennifer did her chores, her so-called jobs: doing it from a milking stool the old-fashioned way, her hobby, her love, kept them in raw milk, knees straddling to either side of the udder, the milky dugs in her slender hands, her legs open.
And I know for a fact Angela stood there, stood there like a rotting, naked, hairless corpse in the darkness of one of the wooden unused stalls, where those old wax blocks used to be, stood and watched naked, even in the cold, holding her breath except as little emanations of breeze, something cold and streaming circling around the room, watching the white milk-streams come down.
I knew Angela loved doing that so much that first thing every morning, before day break, she hustled from wherever she hid in my house or in the leafy cold woods. Just to watch what she liked best to see, in places that made her feel comfortable. And sometimes she brought that bowie knife, and held it steel cold against her abdomen, against her nipples, against her lips. And sometimes she took the cell phone from her thong, the phone she took regularly from my kitchen table, and took a quiet photo. And then in-between, she’d come back to the house and maybe bump around in the night and, I suspect, use the little bit of my wax that I had left.
I continued to pick up used candles from trash cans in town to make sure my legs and privates and chest at least were clear of any godawful dark male-like hair. So I think if there was any inner conflict between me and her come back from the grave and running wild in the woods, it wasn’t hair. Maybe she thought I loved wax more than her.
At night when the day’s barn chores were done, Jennifer and Bud went in from their chores, and a yellow light came on from the interior of their house. I knew Angie, skin clean, eventually came out into the twilight and wandered totally naked from the trees. When she came up to the house after such wanderings, all I ever really saw of her was those muddied, manured-up stilettos left on my porch for me to wash, and the thong on the floor for me to not wash but to hold close to my face and then to fold neatly in her drawer, with the cell phone I would find on the table and had to scan slowly and then delete.
And the knife.
It was a good life in the country, me and her and the neighbors on the other side of the woods and the barn and the green pretty valley. In late September, early October the leaves of the hardwoods sprinkled between the pines and cedars turned peach and yellow and red. Strings of mist came up from the cow ponds and the river not more than a mile away. And I know for sure that at night when Angela went over to peek through the neighbor’s window, the fall air was crisp against her hairless skin, her arms, her stomach, her thighs.
Ground always muddy, the dog always barking again and again, just as he did when Bud came out to inspect and to hit him for barking at—possum probably, armadillo maybe, a distant car, a cat. And Angela, as always, would press herself up against the wall next to Jennifer’s window. If it looked like someone was looking outside or suspecting something, then she’d just take off silently across the muds and the pine needled trails, her cute little bootie just jiggling as she ran. That until she had to kill the dog.
Then it was all just silent. Jennifer bought thicker curtains. And Bud started experimenting with better security systems.
I understood it; no worries. Except just yesterday, just a day after the barn burning, she stood in those shadows with her soiled fuck-me pumps and that knife, my long Bowie knife; she must have dropped it when someone came out and she ran. And neither she nor I realized she’d dropped it and left it in his yard until, well, until I went out to clean those shoes and fold the underwear.
“Sir? Are you still there? Sir?”
“So sorry. It was nothing. A prank gone wrong. No worries.” Bud had the phone now. He clicked it off and pitched it into an especially fresh booby-trap, left by the third dog he’d just bought. He reached down and yanked the Bowie knife from where it ran through and practically split her whole leg, bringing blood and skin and bone and gristle out with it.
Bud sneered at her, looking like he could stab down with that knife, rape her, cut and mutilate her, cover her in melted candle wax, huge dripping amounts, white candle wax, just to preserve her spirit.
I don’t know if she pleaded with her eyes, with our eyes; but she wanted it, what was next; she told him she wanted what he could do. Maybe we all always want it, what was wanted by “her” and by me, too. Except she would add something from Sears and Roebucks.
“Her” in this case being Mee-Maw. I started to say so. Please, God. A caress of wind.
Mee-Maw and I mouthed it together at the red stiletto heels that actually fit some masculine, gnarly but small feet in front of us. We mouthed it up at the sweet bare legs; shaven, not waxed this time, all the way up, and at the little dirty thong, with its male bulge.
Inside, Jennifer’s face was wax-white in anticipation. Our last thoughts, Mee-Maw and me, were that she’d known all along that her husband was Angela’s ghost.
The knife and the razor came back down at the same time.
The earliest of William R. Eakin’s 100 publications appeared in places like F&SF, Realms of Fantasy and Amazing Stories. More recently, stories have appeared in Analog and in both super packs for Kindle of Fantastic Stories Presents. His horror and dark fiction has appeared in such zines as Black October, City Slab, Horror Garage and others. Many of his stories have been collected in reprint in five book volumes and have been recommended for the Nebula.
Bill lives in a rural area of Clarksville, Arkansas, where a real dispute between his neighbors led to an actual barn burning, inspiring this story.