This afternoon, we’re being treated to a creepy cool short story from Urban Fantasy author Jeanne C Stein for our Halloween Flash Fiction event. This is the image that inspired her…
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A Taste of Eleanor
The rickety old dock spanning the river between our house and the forest beyond has been there as long as I can remember. Word is my great-great grand dad built it as a fishing dock used by all the men in our family for five generations…and I’m sure hated by all the women in the family for just as long. Take my wife, Eleanor. She thinks the time I spend dangling a line into a river long-since fished out just shows how stupid I really am. I think dangling a line into that river is the only way I keep my sanity. She’s afraid to walk on it so it’s both my escape and my solace. She’s changed since we lost our baby. Neither one of us can stand to see the unbearable sadness we feel reflected in the eyes of the other.
So, as is my habit, I rose that Saturday morning and crept out before Eleanor could make any demands on my time. I grabbed my line and tackle box and walked gingerly to the far end of the dock. I say gingerly because the old wooden boards seemed to creak a little more loudly underfoot of late. Showing her age, I suppose. I took my usual seat at the end, back to the house, and dropped the line into the water.
It was late fall. The pines nearest the river’s edge held their green but the aspen and birch beyond were skeletons cloaked in mist. I watched the float bob and weave in a gentle current until my eyes grew heavy and I leaned back against the boards.
A startled cry brought me back. I looked around until I realized the cry I heard came from my own lips. The fishing line had pulled so taut, it yanked the pole from my hands. I grabbed for it and managed to snatch it up before it disappeared into the murky water. Something big and silver flashed just below the surface before it was gone in a swirl of silt and debris.
I stared after it. A fish? Here? And such a big one?
Excitement bubbled up. Here was my chance to prove to Eleanor I wasn’t just wasting my time. If what I saw was any indication, we would feast for a week on a fish that size.
What to use for bait? Every day I tried something different. From table scraps to minnows, nothing tempted that fish to bite. Oh, he was there. He’d swim to the surface and taunt me by grabbing my line and running with it until he tired of the game. Then he returned to whatever depths he’d come from and that would be that for another day.
Ten days. Two weeks. I asked the neighbors, but none had heard of such a fish in our parts. When Eleanor was with me, they’d shoot her a look that said she had their sympathies—as though I was making it up to keep from facing the truth of our situation. They thought I should be getting on with my life—getting back to work.
Not until I caught that fish.
Another week and Eleanor was shrieking at me all the time. I hardly came back to the house at all except when I knew she was asleep. Then I’d sneak in, grab some food, a clean shirt and jacket, and return to my place on the dock.
One day, a neighbor’s piglet got loose. I hadn’t realized it was following me until I crossed the bridge and turned back when I heard a startled squeal. The piglet had slipped into the river and faster than a thought, that fish had snatched it up and in a heartbeat, both were gone.
My heart pounded. Had I really just witnessed a fish gobbling up a ten pound piglet?
My mind raced. What else would it eat?
I raced back to the house, grabbed the car keys and my wallet and headed for town. We had a small general store close by but I knew that what I intended to purchase would raise eyebrows and surely get back to Eleanor. So I traveled the extra twenty miles to a supermarket and placed my order with the butcher.
I had to work fast. We had an old freezer in the garage but hadn’t used it in years. I plugged it in, my fingers crossed that it still worked. The motor clicked in and the generator hummed. I tossed in my purchases. I left the car outside and locked the garage door knowing Eleanor would add that to the list of things to scream at me about but no matter. A plan was beginning to take form.
For the next five days, I hauled different cuts of meat down that pier and tossed them in—beef, chicken, lamb, pork. The fish snapped them all up. But pork was its favorite. Other cuts of meat, it would nibble first before devouring, but pork it swallowed whole.
Eleanor discovered the locked garage three days into my experiment. I didn’t know it though until the fourth day when she surprised me at the freezer. I thought she’d rant and demand to know what I was doing, but she was strangely quiet. She didn’t even ask about the freezer, just said that she was leaving me. She’d already told the neighbors to look on me every once in awhile and that she thought I had gone crazy with grief. She was leaving before she went crazy, too.
She would be gone in two days.
My plan came together.
I would have to work fast but I was giddy with glee. She’d made it so easy. By telling the neighbors she was leaving, I didn’t have to come up with a reason for her disappearance.
That night, I waited for Eleanor to go to sleep. I snuck into the pantry and laced her coffee with the sleeping tablets her doctor had prescribed after our baby had died. I knew the first thing she did in the morning was drink her coffee. Would there be a change in the taste? I didn’t know. But hopefully she’d be too preoccupied with getting ready to leave me to notice.
I hid outside the kitchen door the next morning and waited. I heard Eleanor go into the kitchen, put the coffee on, and peeked in to see her seated at the kitchen table, head in hands.
Was she crying? I couldn’t tell but I felt strangely unmoved. All I wanted now was peace. And the only way to get it, was to get rid of Eleanor.
The timer on the coffee pot went off. I heard the chair scrape as she pushed it back, heard her footsteps as she walked to the stove, heard the cup rattle on the saucer as she pulled it down from the shelf. Every moment seemed to drag on. Would she notice the difference in the taste of the coffee? I knew it wouldn’t be long before I knew the answer to that. If the taste was too bitter, she’d dump it out. If not, she’d be asleep at the table within five minutes of finishing the cup.
I waited ten before I peeked in the window.
Her head had fallen onto her chest, her hair hiding her face. I crept quietly inside. She didn’t move as I brushed her hair back. I gathered her into my arms and carried her into the garage.
This would be the hard part. I debated how to kill her. I laid her out on the workbench. Smothering would be the cleanest. I stuffed a rag into her mouth and held her nose closed. I expected her to buck and struggle, but she didn’t. She barely moved. When I thought I’d waited long enough, I felt for a pulse.
She was gone.
It had been so easy.
I removed the remaining bits of meat from the freezer. Most of what was left was pork—I laid Eleanor’s body inside and unwrapped the pork. I hauled it down to the end of the pier and tossed a piece in.
The fish leapt to the surface. As if smiling, its wide mouth and sharp teeth flashed before it gulped down the offering. I tossed a second piece in, then the third—all I had left. It continued to churn the surface, though, demanding more.
“Just wait until tomorrow,” I said softly. “If you liked that, wait until you get a taste of Eleanor.”
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