The Unauthorized Woman
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by Efrem Emerson
Category: Horror/Humor Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Honorable Mention
Description: The Unauthorized Woman showcases the world of the inner freak, where no matter how "normal" or technologically advanced we become, we are consumed by our demons. Enter a landscape populated by the pre-dead and morticioners, by cockroaches and 300-lb robots. And, whatever you do, don't eat the overcooked lamb...
eBook Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2005 2005
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [142 KB]
Reading time: 84-118 min.
"In Efrem Emerson's fiction the bizarre is commonplace. But what separates his bizarre from other writers is its utter inexplicableness; no matter how prosaic-seeming an initial scenario is, you can never anticipate what Emerson's next narrative move will be. The single certainty is that however he reverses expectations by twisting a scene, a characterization, or a dialogue, the result will be horrific clown's play, bizarrely comical."--Harold Jaffe, author Terror-Dot-Gov and 15 Serial Killers
"Efrem Emerson is a literary mariachi whose debut book is a mosaic of sublime horror, absurdist humor and Burroughsian grit."--D. Harlan Wilson, author of Pseudo-City and Dr. Identity
GRANDMOTHER HAD BEEN DEAD nearly a week by the time word reached us here in the States. There had been some communication problems in Rio San Rolfo, the town where she'd died, and a telegram hadn't been sent 'til a translator could be found who spoke decent English. Father had read it to us in the family room. It read: OLD WOMAN DEAD-Stop-COME AT ONCE-Stop-CONDOLENCES-Stop. A man had called the next day and informed us that as there were no adequate mortuary facilities, her body had been initially kept in the walk-in cooler of a large seafood restaurant near the Rio San Rolfo waterfront ... standing up so as to take up less room, and wrapped in a sheet so as not to alarm the busboys. Grandmother it seemed, had eaten there several times, and had also left huge tips. The owner wished to express his gratitude.
We later learned that her body, wrapped in plastic then nailed up in a cheap wooden coffin, had been put aboard the train for Los Diablos, six hundred miles to the north, then switched to another train going east. Just south of Monterrey, this eastbound train had hopped the tracks and plunged into a deep river, killing many of the passengers. Grandmother's body had been submerged for three days, and what damage this caused was anyone's guess. The train had finally been pulled from the river, and the waterlogged baggage, as well as the hundreds killed, sorted out. It was then, perhaps, that the smell had been initially detected. * * * *
Grandmother wasn't well liked, I'm afraid. She used to visit quite often, but treated us like dogs and servants. After a particularly violent drunken fight in which several windows, an expensive lamp, and one of the television sets were broken, Father had told her that it would be best if she went away. Grandmother had, needless to say, been extremely upset. She had her attorney inform us that we were cut out of her will, every one of us. She wrote long cruel letters denouncing us, calling us bastards and whores, informing us that we were all adopted. Father finally threw her letters away unopened, and after a while they stopped coming.
Once though, a dead cat had been mailed to us ... covered in its own feces. It had been tied up with clothesline and gagged with a washcloth, which suggested that it might have been alive when placed in the box. How it smelled! There was, of course, no return address, but we knew ... yes, we knew.
"She is a terrible woman ... a bitter, poison old woman," Father would say, "and you must be on guard, for she is very rich and cunning." He would then turn to Mother, and they would exchange a look that we came to associate with fear and disgust. Mother would then cross herself and mumble quick prayers.
I remember answering the phone once, very late at night, and it was Grandmother. She was, of course, very drunk, and began telling me how much she loved me, and would I be her little bambino? I could hear a man laughing in the background, and quickly hung up. She called right back and told me she'd cut my nuts off if she ever caught me alone. Again, I hung up. I was very afraid.
Another phone call came yesterday evening just as we were sitting down to supper. It was a man from the train depot at Dos Passos de las Mariposas, three hundred fifty miles south of the border. In broken English, he informed Father that there was a five hundred dollar shipping cost that would have to be paid before Grandmother's body could be released. Father had quietly hung up.
Later that night, an emissary from the Department of Tourism paid us a visit. He was a nervous little man, completely bald, with sweat covering his shiny brow.
"Señor, we have thee uh ... remains at thee Don Ricardo de las Esposas train station in thee storeroom," he'd said. "Covered, of course, weeth much ice, but we cannot keep eet long! Eet ees smelling now very bad ... joo must please come at once, please."
"At once?" asked Father. "You mean right now?"
"Jes," he answered. His clothing was soaked with sweat.
We all gathered around and stared at the little man, whose frantic beady little eyes seemed to plead with us. A moment later he went away, looking rather unnerved I noticed. We then returned to our evening of television.
It was perhaps a week later that other letters began arriving. Bills actually, from an assortment of people, all demanding large amounts of money of course. Grandmother, it seemed, had run up a healthy tab in her final travels. We received bills for as much as fifteen thousand dollars (Grandmother had supposedly leased a Rolls Royce, then smashed it up while drunk), and as little as $12.50 (a bad check written at a cheap restaurant). Father regarded all these things calmly. He merely read them aloud to Mother and the rest of us, then tossed them on the fire.
"It is good that she is dead," he told us. "She is not a saintly person ... certainly not the sort who would be accepted by any worthy God, and certainly not ours. She is probably writhing in the pit of flames as we speak. Perhaps you'd like to mention her in your prayers ... but then again, perhaps not."
I remembered Grandmother's chilling phone call, then thought of my sweet sisters possibly receiving such calls. I bowed my head and began to pray for Grandmother's soul.
"Oh, Heavenly Father ... take the soul of this sick diseased woman straight to the bowels of Hell, and--" The abrupt ring of the doorbell stopped me, and I went to answer it. When I pulled open the door, a short dark-skinned man in a black crushed-velvet suit stood there. He gazed at me for a long moment, then smiled. I noticed that his teeth were gleaming white, nearly perfect.
"Ees jour father een, boy?" he asked in a heavy accent, "I have a desire to speak weeth heem."
"Why?" I asked suspiciously. "Who are you?"
"I am Jaun Batiste del Crabbe. I am an undertaker. Do joo know what an undertaker ees, boy?" His eyes were coal-black. They glittered in the moonlight.
"Yes," I answered, holding back a shiver as best I could, then smiling up at him. "It is one who deals with the dead. Am I right?"
"Correct, boy," he said. He then reached into the inner pocket of his dark jacket and withdrew a Polaroid photograph which he held before me. "Can joo ideentify thees as well?"
The blood froze in my veins as the stark image of Grandmother's partially decomposed head and shoulders came into focus. The dead rubbery eyes were wide open and still fixed in a cruel glare, and the mouth was twisted into a wicked grimace. Her dyed blue-black hair sprang out at weird angles.
"It is Grandmother," I answered weakly, "and she's not looking well, I must say."
"That ees correct, boy ... now would joo be so kind as to get jour father? I am een a hurry and have no time for seelly games."
"No," I answered calmly, noticing the man's eyes flinch briefly. "Father is busy now. He cannot possibly see you. Perhaps you'd like to call back at another time." I was about to slam the door in his face, when Father appeared behind me.
"What's all this about, son?" he asked, staring at the dark man from over my shoulder. "Who are you?"
"He tried to ... to touch me, Father," I said casually, all the while looking toward the ground. "He offered me money if I would let him do things to me."
"What?!" said Father. "What are--"
"Thees boy lies!"
I looked back up into the undertaker's glittering black eyes, then, when I knew Father couldn't see, grinned maliciously.
"I'm calling the police at once!" said Father. "Step back in the house, son!"
The undertaker, his eyes now locked onto mine, began to shake, slightly at first, then more vigorously. He glared down at me with a fury I'd never before seen, and his eyes, those frigid blacker-than-black orbs, appeared to vibrate in his head.
"Jou'll pay! All of joo! I'll dump her steenking body on jour focking lawn!"
"Get out of here, you filthy deviant--" shouted Father, waving his arms threateningly at the dark man. "I'll be giving your description to the police within five minutes!"
The dark man began to curse loudly in Spanish. He backed off a few feet, shook his fist at us, then turned and stalked back to his car, an enormous black Cadillac double-parked on the street in front of our house. When he was gone, Father and I went back inside where we found the rest of the family sitting calmly by the fire watching television.
A week or so later, Grandmother came to me in a dream. I was standing in a long, brightly-lit hallway, and she was walking slowly towards me, a large shiny meat cleaver clutched tightly in her right hand, an evil look on her wrinkled face. She was also completely naked I noticed, and her skin was extremely white, like a fish's belly. This was where the majority of light was coming from, I suddenly realized. Her withered breasts with long pointed nipples hung nearly to her belly button. The wisps of gray-black hair between her scrawny legs frightened me, and I felt my small testicles crawl back up inside for protection. I could hear this loud heartbeat, also, pulsating from somewhere in the walls.
"Bury me, boy!" she said, her voice now extremely deep, louder than the heartbeat. "Bury me, now!"
"No, Grandmother," I found myself saying, my voice also deep and subterraneous. "Your tortured soul must wander endlessly throughout time ... for you there will be no rest."
She lurched nearer and nearer, the hand with the cleaver now high in the air. I stood there paralyzed with fear, but unable to move. Soon she was right before me, looking down with her cold, dead eyes. Like a film in slow motion, the cleavered hand began its terrible descent. I watched, fascinated, as it traveled through the air, through space, through some twisted form of time. A scream was frozen in my throat.
It hit directly above my left eye, and I felt my skull give way, felt the cold sharp metal penetrate deeper through the skin and bone, through the protective layer around the brain, into the brain, deep into the brain, through the...
I woke up screaming, and soon Mother was holding me tightly in her arms.
"It's just a dream," she said softly. "Only a dream."
"No," I whispered softly. "No, it is not."
The grisly heartbeat was still ringing in my ears.
Two nights later, I heard a noise outside on the front lawn. I slipped out of bed and peered cautiously out the bedroom window. In the bright moonlight, I could see two men on the lawn below. They both wore dark masks as they grunted and struggled with a bulky, thickly wrapped object. One of them swore continuously while the other attempted to shush him. I watched them carry the cumbersome thing to the center of the front lawn where a small fountain bubbled next to Mother's prize roses. Without the slightest hesitation the two heaved the object into the cool water, causing it to splash up over the sides, then ran off into the darkness.
"Oh no," I heard myself whisper just as another intense dizziness filled my head. My mind began to fill with whirling images of pain, bright light, and wind, then I passed out.
I woke standing in darkness ... a lamp came on suddenly at the end of a long hall, a bright visible line at the bottom of a huge closed door. I saw the shadows of someone's feet, and then heard a sad muffled voice crying. The voice was familiar, yet beyond reach. I felt myself walking down the hall of this unknown house, my own house ... with voices chattering all around me, the loudest being the familiar weeping one.
I held a large knife in my left hand. I was then in the living room. The entire family was watching TV in the den. I saw Father, Mother, and my sisters all enjoying themselves as some distant horror/sitcom played itself out on the screen. The fire was burning merrily. I knew they wanted me to join them, but my feet were frozen to the carpet. Father was laughing and smoking his pipe. He looked over at me suddenly. "Kill her again," he said, smiling. He then turned back to the television. Then the doorway into the kitchen opened, the weeping voice became louder, and I could see Grandmother, naked and sitting calmly at the kitchen table staring at her reflection in a large hand-held mirror. I walked up to her, smiled, then plunged the knife deep into her bosom. I could feel the skin separate, could hear things rip apart inside with a sickening, sucking sound, then Grandmother's final putrid breath escaping into the cold air as the mirror crashed to the floor.
It was then that I began to scream.
I came to with strong hands grasping me, shaking me awake, and then Father was there, kneeling before me, pulling me against him. I let the bloody knife slip from my grasp and drop to my feet. Father held me tightly for a moment, then stood up and looked over my head to something I couldn't quite see.
"Come along now, son," he said, patting me affectionately on the shoulder. "Grandmother is dead, you know ... shall we go watch some television?" He then placed his huge brown pipe in his mouth and, grinning broadly, began searching casually through his jacket for a match.