I recently entered this short story in to a competition. It didn’t win unfortunately, probably because the stuffed shirts in ‘the establishment’ were too intimidated and threatened by my fierce literary thrusting but hey-ho such is life. I thought I may as well put it on here instead. As usual any offers of ‘constructive criticism’ will gain you a place on my list of people to shank once society unravels. Enjoy!
Unholy Matrimony – by Rick White (short story competition loser)
“Doris!” Came the cry from the living room. “Cup of tea for Baal, milk and eighteen sugars, and be quick about it woman.” Doris gave a long sigh. Which one of them was it this time? She wondered. What dreadful, hellish abomination was sat in her living room, which she’d only just that morning hoovered? Staining her upholstery with blood and charcoal and God knows what kind of filth and likely to destroy the whole house and drag her off to eternal damnation at so much as a misheard sentence, good Lord the tension.
“George?” Doris called back. “Could I have a quick word with you in the Kitchen please?”
“What is it woman, where’s that tea?”
“Just come in to the kitchen George!”
George poked his bald head round the kitchen door, “Well?”
“George Mason you’ve become positively insufferable since you opened that gateway to Hell.”
“Me? I’m just trying to make our guest feel welcome Doris. He’s one of the seven princes of Hell for Pete’s sake woman, right hand man to Lucifer himself, if he wants a cup of tea just make him one and be quick about it!”
Doris sighed again, “Fine.” She got on with making the tea. She peeked in to the living room and saw Baal sitting on her white three seater sofa, sure enough staining it with gore and viscera of all kinds not to mention dirt from the flower beds. Baal had three heads; a man, a toad and a cat all placed curiously on top of eight hideously large spider’s legs. It was no wonder none of the neighbours wanted to attend Doris’s coffee mornings any more.
Two weeks it had been since George had dug up the entrance to Hell, whilst tending to his petunias in the garden. He was always tending to his petunias these days, more so than he ever tended to her anyway; it’d been a long while since he even came near her. Men in their late fifties tended to go one of two ways, they either stood up and fought vigorously against the inevitable onset of old age, they bought sports cars, took up yoga or started fencing or cycling some ridiculous distance for charity. Or they simply rolled over and accepted it meekly, like a once intrepid explorer who has given up all hope and quietly lies down to welcome in the cold as it gently saps the life from his bones, the unbearable aching gradually giving way to the first warm comfortable lapping waves of death. This was all rather dramatic of course, but Doris could forgive herself a little drama when she had the commander of sixty hellish legions in her living room, crunching up her best bone china in his man teeth while his other heads chattered and screeched terrifyingly. And besides, the explorer in this particular analogy, George, had never even explored anywhere. He’d most likely curl up and die on an expedition to the Co-op in slightly inclement weather.
For some strange reason though, Doris had rarely seen George more alive than these last two weeks while he had been, quite literally, staring in to the abyss. The fact that his rosebushes and flower beds were never as well pruned as Mr Brown’s next door had ceased to matter to him now that he had breached the door to the underworld. “It’s the entrance to Hades!” George had exclaimed. “Let’s see who’s got the best garden this year you bunch of jammy sods, try and top that.” His excitement had waned somewhat when no-one came to see his prize discovery and all of the neighbours gave their house a wide berth. George had come running in with a bible one day, which he had been furiously studying; “Here it is Doris, thou shalt not covet.” They’re all scared to admit that they’re coveting the gateway, just in case Old Nick hears about it. That’s why the Gazette won’t come round and do an article on it, that’s why Malcolm Brown started crying when I saw him in the post office yesterday; they’re terrified of my malevolent power!”
“Your malevolent power, George Mason? I’ve seen more malevolence from next door’s cocker spaniel and you’ve about as much power as a 30 watt light bulb at the best of times. You should read that book a bit more, it also says pride comes before a fall, I think. Maybe you should stop showing off about that stupid entrance to Hell because no-one cares!”
Doris had to admit that she had been secretly impressed with it to begin with, an entrance to another world, a portal to another plane of existence right there in their back garden! Well it was a little bit exciting even if they did have various evil demons popping in for tea uninvited at all hours, although she had to admit they really hadn’t been as much trouble as she’d expected all things considered. Dagon, the baker of Hell had even bought up some shortbread which Doris had to admit was delicious. Doris could only surmise that the inhabitants of Hell were generally more polite and pleasant company than the inhabitants of mortal earth to which she was currently bound. And certainly she had enjoyed wiping the smile off Christine Chang’s face the other day, always talking about her Pilates and her husband’s promotion at work and the fact they were going to the Maldives for Christmas. “Well actually George has uncovered an entrance to the Netherworld in our back garden.” That shut her up.
Just then Doris was stirred back to reality as Baal disappeared with a sharp crack! Leaving a nasty brown and red stain all over the formerly white sofa. George quickly scurried away out of sight as well and Doris began the task of stripping the covers off the sofa to take them, where? Where on God’s green earth was she going to find a dry cleaners that could do anything about this mess? She should probably just cast the sofa in to the fiery pit and be done with it. Thirty eight years. Thirty eight years she’d been married to George. For twenty five of those years they’d lived right here in this same house in this small suburban cul-de-sac desperately trying to ignore the metaphorical implications of their chosen locale as they became painfully obvious to anyone and everyone except George, who wouldn’t recognise a metaphor if one hog tied him to a spit and roasted him over an open fire until he damn well recognised it. Maybe that’s what Hell really is; the mundane. The crippling dullness and sameness of everyday life building and building to the point where your only thoughts are daydreams and even your daydreams are disappointing and lack the basic elements of even the most pedestrian story telling. Actually no that’s not what Hell is at all, Hell is an actual real place that’s as hot as it is unpleasant if the foul, sulphurous odours and ear splitting screams emanating from Doris’s back garden were anything to go by. No point dwelling on that now though, this could all still turn out for the best.
George re-entered the room looking slightly more crestfallen than usual. “Still not heard back from our Sophie.”
“Well what do you expect George? That girl’s got her own life to lead and she doesn’t want to hear about Asmodeus the lust demon any more than the rest of us do! Next door’s rabbit still hasn’t recovered from his little visit, just stares at her own foot and won’t even touch her lettuce!”
“No one regrets that more than me but Asmodeus has certain proclivities that we all should have been more aware of and, well all I’m saying is it won’t happen again… hopefully.”
Doris had to admit that their daughter had been, even by her standards, very unmoved by the events concerning the gateway. Doris had always harboured a concern that the younger generation were becoming increasingly desensitised with their violent computer games, their iPads and their You Tube’s, gang warfare on the streets and vulgar television commercials and if anything, this proved her point. If their own daughter didn’t even so much as bat an eyelid at her father’s account of the lust demon of Hell making “unwanted advances” towards Trudy the Dwarf Lop then what hope was there for her or her generation? This is what the Devil wants, thought Doris. Actually it’s probably not, if anything he craves attention, he’s a great big show off.
“George?” said Doris, now elbow deep in a grotesque melange of sofa covers.
“Yes” said George now fiddling with a bit of lint which was occupying space on his cardigan and evidently his mind.
“Do you remember my nineteenth birthday?”
“Not really. Why?”
“You booked the afternoon off from work and you rode your bike for ten miles to my house with a picnic basket to take me out for the afternoon.”
“Yes that’s right. It was sunny all morning and then it absolutely hammered it down with rain all afternoon, bloody disaster.”
“No George, it was lovely that you came to see me. We just sat at the kitchen table and ate pork pie and sandwiches and drank your awful home brewed cider. We played a game of draughts, which I won and we listened to the radio until it started going dark outside, and we chatted George. We just talked about nothing in particular.”
“We still chat about nothing in particular.”
“You chat about nothing in particular George Mason. Sometimes I don’t know whether you’re talking to me or just mumbling to yourself. I want us to share a conversation and not just about that stupid gateway to Hell.”
“But I thought you liked the gateway. I just thought it would be something which we could both enjoy together.”
“Enjoy together?” And what exactly do you enjoy about it George?”
“Well it’s interesting isn’t it? You’re always saying how you wish we had more going on well that’s pretty interesting isn’t it? The demons can be a little on the strange side I admit and the screaming and the flames and the constant heavy metal music do seem a bit much at times and maybe it is a bit…what’s the word? You know….a bit…but anyway I just thought you liked it.”
“What have I ever said or done to give you that impression George Mason? I didn’t like it when you got me a microwave for Christmas, I wasn’t excited when we got the new boiler and I don’t like that ridiculous gateway to Hell in our back garden!”
“Well I’m trying my best Doris. I swear I don’t know what you want.”
“I want you George. You stupid man. Sophie’s flown the nest, we’ll both soon be retired and I want to make the most of our lives together. I don’t want to be condemned to an eternity of suffering like those poor souls in the back garden. Just go and cover up that gateway and build a shed like you were going to and spend all of your time in there.”
“Well now hang on a minute. I know I said I was going to build a shed but I could always put up a summer house. That way we could enjoy the garden together. The rosebushes are almost in flower but the soot and the charcoal and the blood isn’t so good for them so perhaps you’re right. I could put up some decking as well and we could have the neighbours round for barbecues when the weather’s nice. And when it’s raining we can still sit out under the porch and have a game of draughts. It’ll even have under floor heating free of charge!.”
Doris smiled in spite of herself. When she originally offered to sell her soul for a slightly more attentive husband she’d assumed the process would be slightly more expedient but never mind. The Devil takes his time and relishes his tasks but as long as the crafty old bugger got the job done one way or another who was she to argue with that?