M.J. Moore is an Australian author with an affinity for horror and dark fiction. Her new short story collection, Anomaly, is out this year and she has stopped by the blog today with one of her stories, "Jack of All Trades." But first, here's a little word from M.J. Enjoy!
When Pennywise The Clown was unleashed upon the world twenty-eight years ago, he made millions of people think twice before putting any part of their person near a drain. I read IT when I was nineteen, old enough to know there wasn’t really a carnivorous monster dressed as a harlequin waiting below my shower grate, but the image has stayed with me ever since. Recently – while taking a shower, oddly enough – another image came to me: a plug hole with teeth. When I pasted that image onto the face of a handyman, the humble InSinkErator – a device that feeds on the things we waste – took on a whole new, horrible meaning. Here’s Jack Of All Trades, a story from my new horror anthology, ANOMALY, which is out now on Amazon. http://amzn.com/B00I3QBEGC
Jack of All Trades
a short story by M.J. Moore
The handyman whistles as he walks down Bellflower Street, slipping fliers into letterboxes that, like the houses they stand before, would all be identical if not for the numbers on the front. These near-new neighbourhoods are all the same – freshly scrubbed kids walking reluctantly to school, husbands and fathers rushing off to work, living to work and working to live, all seen off with a wave by wives and mothers whose only job is to feign satisfaction so as to ensure that the home and family doesn’t collapse in on itself. But Jack can spot a dissatisfied woman a mile off. The rancour of living a scripted life is something they work intensely at hiding. They camouflage it with Colgate smiles, wash down hard lumps of it with Lipton’s Tea, and hold it under scalding soapy water until, to the outside world at least, they once again resemble the bright, pliable wads of pink plasticine their men think they married. He can smell the aroma of their sweat as he walks by, wafting out the window on a cloud of bacon grease, tobacco and floor wax.
The air around twenty-seven Bellflower Street is thick with it. The houses sherbet lemon and polar white colour scheme makes it look like a gigantic, inverted baked Alaska, remaining impossibly prostrate under the glare of the mid-June sun. The woman of the house is sitting on the front stoop, having seen off her husband and two thirds of her children. The youngest child, whom Jack estimates is perhaps a month or two shy of a year, is sitting on its mother’s lap and has taken up a fistful of her skirt to chew on, presumably to sooth its flourishing mouth. As a result of this, the woman is unwittingly showing her white-cotton-clad purse to all and sundry.
The agony of the image would be lost on anyone but Jack.
He stares just long enough to capture her attention, to let her know exactly what it is he’s looking at, then walks away in silence as she yanks the cloth from the child’s mouth. She is watching him, he doesn’t need to look back to know that. Physically, Jack is what most people would describe in their bullshitty-polite way as non-descript; plain, in layman’s terms. He isn’t especially tall, has no more or less muscular bulk than what is required for him to function, and the thinning crop of colourless hair with which he was genetically gifted sits uneasily on top of a skull which bears an uncanny resemblance to a pudding basin. No one would call him ugly, but they wouldn’t throw themselves at him, either. Unlike many people lacking in physical notability, Jack does not try to compensate for this shortcoming with either an overt or a minimal sense of aestheticism himself. On the surface, most women are the same - none any prettier or uglier (or plainer) than the next – but not the Wanting Ones.
The Wanting Ones are alive. They burn, constantly alight inside. Rock Hudson is fine to drool over while sitting next to their husband’s in a darkened cinema, but when it comes to quelling their anger and desperation, Jack is just the calmative they need; his menthol stare tells them so. The woman of the house at twenty-seven Bellflower Street has been ablaze for quite some time; the phone line crackles in Jack’s ear as she introduces herself.
‘Hello? Is this Jack Smiley, of Smiley home and car maintenance?’
‘Oh,’ the woman sighs, ‘you dropped your flier in my mail box today. I’m at twenty-seven Bellflower Street; my name is Moreton?’
‘Yes, Mrs Moreton. What can I do for you?’
‘Well…my insinkerator needs fixing, and I don’t think my husband’s up to the job, bless him.’
I’ll bet he isn’t.
‘I’ve got a few jobs on at the moment...I should be in your area today or tomorrow at some point; will you be at home?’
'I...I think I should be...yes.'
Of course you will be.
She opens the door to him with the baby in her arms.
'Oh, I wasn't expecting you so soon!'
Her hair and makeup, perfected to a point where she looks like a young Grace Kelly, say otherwise. She leads him through to the kitchen and points sheepishly to the sink. He is unsurprised to find that her Insinkerator doesn't need fixing.
It’s brand new.
When he turns to her, she’s shaking, overcome with anticipation, and just a touch of fear. He takes the child and places it on the floor, then picks up its mother and sets her down on the counter. Her breath is only halfway out when he rips open her dress.
Two hours later he gets into his car and drives away from twenty-seven Bellflower Street. Marcy Moreton is still sitting on the kitchen counter, legs apart. She is staring at the ceiling, smiling, stalled at the intersection of Living and Consciousness. She is wearing a different dress when the older kids arrive home from school. The buttons are done up the wrong way but they, being kids, don’t notice. She fixes their afternoon snack, milk and brownies, but only half fills their glasses. The boy starts to protest but she’s gone.
‘Hello? Mr Smiley? It’s Marcy Moreton. That darned Insinkerator’s on the Fritz again.’
‘Same time tomorrow?’
When he gets there, the child is in its playpen. She has given him a bottle and all of his toys and has left the television set on. She is prepared for him, having abandoned all pretence of modesty. He carries her to the kitchen table, lays her down and pulls up her blouse.
This time, it takes Marcie a full hour to get back into her afternoon routine. When the kids get home, they find themselves sitting down to an unopened cookie jar and two empty glasses. The boy starts to protest, but she’s gone again.
‘I’ll be there.’
The child grins at him with its four teeth by way of a greeting as Jack walks by, carrying its mother. He bends her over the sink. Marcy has just stepped back into her underwear and is still tugging at it when the kids get home. She plonks the cookie jar onto the centre of the table, no glasses. The boy opens his mouth to protest, decides against it.
The child waves at him with a shiny, drool covered hand as he reaches up under its mother’s dress and removes her underwear. He steps out of his own lower vestiges and carries her to the kitchen, where he sits on a chair and pulls her down on top of him.
The girl notices as she is sitting down to eat that her mother is jiggling a more than usual and immediately averts her eyes when she discovers the reason; her mother’s unadorned behind betrayed by the lack of a visible knicker line. Marcie haphazardly plonks the cookie jar onto the table on her way past, and the boy just manages to stop it toppling over the edge. By now, both children are a little worried about their mother, but neither dares say anything.
The child presses its face up against the bars of its playpen and squeals at its mother’s visitor, delighted to see his familiar face again. The washer is thundering away mid-spin cycle, when Jack tells Marcie to unbutton her housecoat and sets her down on top of it.
The kids are, inwardly, appalled to find their mother still in her housecoat when they get home. Marcie picks up the cookie jar, whizzes past them, and in her haste completely misses the table.
She says nothing when the ringing stops, letting her breath do the communicating.
Porcelain shards and cookie fragments are still littering the floor when their father gets home and the girl, the eldest at all of twelve, is elected to be the one to talk to their father about the ‘funny’ way their mother is behaving. Her father tells her not to be silly, that their mother is just feeling a little run down and that she’ll be herself again in no time.
This is a lie. He is just as concerned about his wife as the children are, and knows what he needs to do about it, but he cannot tell the children about it, particularly his daughter; it would kill her to see the woman she models herself on from the outside of a padded cell.
The child is not in his playpen today. Marcy doesn’t bother explaining that her husband has taken him to his grandmother’s to give her a break. Explanations aren’t necessary with Jack, and neither are excuses or apologies; she shows this by answering the door naked. He takes her on the kitchen floor, with a little more force than usual, and when she looks into his eyes, she sees nothing.
It is pitch black in there.
The kids go into the kitchen and get their own snacks when they come home to find their mother, dressed once again in her trusty housecoat, on the phone. They eat in silence, take their plates and glasses to the sink, put the cookie jar in the cupboard and the milk in the fridge and go to their rooms.
An hour and a half after she first dialled Jacks number, the ringing stops.
Jack twirls an exquisite string of pearls around his ring finger, an identical string to the one Marcie’s mother in law gave her on her wedding day, and says nothing. She must be the one to ask.
‘What are you?’
‘I’m yours.’ He wraps the pearls around the neck of the telephone receiver, listening patiently.
‘You’re mine,’ she repeats.
‘But…’ he coaches. He can sense her effort, hear invisible cogs turning in her brain.
‘But I’ll never be yours.’
Jack twists the pearls, slowly, deliberately.
Marcie mulls something over.
‘So what am I?’
Jack lets the dial tone answer for him. He unravels the pearls. Marcy pads over to the sink, immune to the cold linoleum beneath her feet. She peers over the sink into the drain. Jack lays back in his recliner, swinging the pearls back and forth over his face, drawing out his pleasure. Marcy stares into the void. It is where she came from, where she belongs; she never should have left it. Jack runs his fingers over the pearls, savoring their perfection. It is a perfection born of pain, but not quite enough, not yet. Marcy leans over the sink, her mother-in-law’s pearls dangling mid-air. Jack opens his mouth wide. His teeth recede back into his gums like the top rolling back on a convertible on a pleasant spring day.
Marcy leans lower. Her right hand is inching up the wall, groping for a large white button.
Jack screams as two shimmering metal blades pierce through his gums. He closes his eyes and hums as the blades spin into motion, his breathing now a sickening mechanical whir.
Marcy leans lower still. Her mother-in-law’s pearls graze the lip of the drain. She closes her eyes. Jack closes his eyes too as he feeds the pearls to his ravenous metal mouth. At first there is a succession of shattering crunches, as there should be when a thing of beauty, hardened and honed by years of suffering is consumed. He pulls at the necklace, sucking and drooling on it as though it’s bacon rind, cured in tears and sweat and regret.
Then the necklace entwines itself around one of the blades. It twists around Marcy’s neck, yanking her forward like an errant dog. Her eyes burn, her ears throb, and the last things she hears before she slips down the drain into the void are her own declining heartbeat and the dainty approach of her daughters stockinged feet.
Jack Smiley is spent; feeding off fifteen women in one week does that to a guy. He sinks into the recliner and drifts off into a well-earned slumber, secure in the knowledge that the energy he has ingested will be enough to sustain him until he comes out of hibernation again in another twenty years or so. He will not dream, for dreams are a manifestation of the stresses of the everyday world, the fear of one’s own mortality chief amongst them. Jack Smiley isn’t mortal; as long as there are neglectful husbands and ungrateful children, he will live forever.