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Something was happening next door. Though Mavis Sempith believed in keeping herself to herself, it was impossible to ignore the raucous music, the manic laughter and the repeated sounds of smashing glass.
"Maybe we should call someone," said Mavis.
"He's a young man, isn't he?" said Trevor, meaning their neighbor's, the church-going civil servant they knew as Nick Wolvine.
Then, as if an argument had just been settled very much to his satisfaction, Trevor returned to his newspaper.
From next door, the sound of a window smashing. Mavis twitched the curtain aside. A dishwater blonde with bloodstreaked hair was screaming to the night:
"Help me! Help me!"
Trevor was still reading his newspaper, engrossed in a review of Mozart's Requiem.
"There's something not quite right. Next door."
From next door came a succession of piteous, uncontrollable, agonizing screams. Irritated, Trevor flicked the curtain aside, and immediately saw the video playing on the TV in the living room opposite. A man was shoveling a broken bottle into a woman's stomach, and apparently she was not enjoying it. Trevor frowned. Not quite his cup of tea.
"Just a video, darling," said Trevor.
"No, Trevor, actually it's not. There was this woman, she was positively hanging out of the window."
"That was your imagination," said Trevor positively.
He was an accountant. He knew about such things.
Ready to dispute this, Mavis Sempith came to the window. Her new spectacles gave her immaculate eyesight. On the TV screen opposite, she could plainly see the dishwater blonde whom she had noticed earlier. Without a doubt, they were one and the same person.
"But she was hanging out of the window," said Mavis. "And - look, the window really is broken!"
"Yes, well, I expect they've been having some sort of party," said Trevor vaguely. "But if she's on video she can't have been hanging out of the window, can she, now?"
"The thing is," said Mavis, "she's still screaming. If she keeps it up, someone will call the police."
True. So Trevor made a phone call.
"Is that Mr Wolvine? Yes, this is Trevor Sempith. I don't think we've met. Who? Oh, I'm your next door neighbor's. It's about the, uh, video, actually. I don't wish to seem ... Oh, you will, will you? ... Well, yes, yes. It's the wife, actually. She's rather sensitive to loud noises."
Problem solved. As Mavis watched, the TV showed a large hammer - it looked like one of those sledgehammer thing workmen use for breaking up concrete - descend upon the blonde's head. Bringing an abrupt silence.
"Those special effects," said Mavis, shaking her head as she let the curtain fall into place.
Trevor had already returned to his newspaper. And Mavis went to the fridge and got herself another bowl of kidney beans. She was on the kidney bean diet, which permits you to eat anything you want on the odd-numbered days of the month providing you eat nothing but kidney beans on the even-numbered days.
The next day, Mavis was fine, but Trevor felt uneasy. Something was nagging at him. He could not quite pin it down except that it had something to do with houses. Or a house.
"Why don't we take a holiday in Glasgow?"
"Glasgow?" said Trevor. "But we don't know anyone in Glasgow."
"I meant a proper holiday," said Mavis. "Not a seeing people holiday. You know. Some people go to Monte Carlo, some people go to Majorca. We could go to Glasgow."
"We could also go to Timbuktu," said Trevor, spreading more marmalade on his toast. "What would you want to go to Glasgow for?"
"I don't know," said Mavis vaguely. "It just seemed like a good thing to do."
Trevor snorted, then looked at his watch and realized he was already two minutes behind schedule. Time to leave for work.
When Trevor returned that evening, his neighbor's, Nick Wolvine, was doing a spot of car-cleaning. His car looked as if someone had spilt red paint inside it. The red paint had splashed all over the place. It was mixed together with scraps of torn cloth and the oddest pieces of fur. Looking at it, Trevor had the most peculiarly unpleasant vision of a bottle of carbonated drink exploding inside a fox.
"Doing a bit of car-cleaning, are we?" said Trevor.
"Yes," said Nick, smiling in a blandly professional way, like a dentist promising you it won't hurt.
Truth was, Trevor didn't like him. That video nasty business. Still. That's what the world's come to, isn't it? And, give the fellow his due, he's a nice enough chap. At least he doesn't have a dog. Or a pack of dogs, like the last lot.
Inside the house, a ragged letter from Mavis, scrawled in an unnaturally chaotic hand and left on the table.
"Goodbye, Trevor. I've gone to Glasgow. Won't be back."
"Well, this isn't very convenient, is it?" said Trevor. "What am I going to do for dinner?"
Then he remembered the pizza home delivery service. He would have tried it before, but Mavis had always disapproved. With a delicious sense of daring - this was quite Bohemian! - Trevor picked up the phone and dialed.
"Somebody screaming?" said the pizza boy, frowning.
"Just the neighbor's's video," said Trevor, who hadn't been paying it much attention.
Half an hour later, though, he did sit up smartly when he heard Mavis screaming his name.
"Trevor! Trevor! Help me!"
Drawing the curtains boldly aside, Trevor looked straight into Nick's living room and, without much surprise, observed Mavis's bleeding body on display on the video machine.
So Mavis has become an actress. Well, really. This is about on a par with wanting to go to Glasgow on your holidays.
"It's right now, Trevor!" shrieked Mavis. "The camera, the camera, he's doing it to me right now!"
After long years of making sense out of his wife's often disjointed utterances, Trevor was able to see what his wife was getting at. Her words suggested that she was being filmed right now, and that the image of her torture was being piped from the video camera to the TV in the living room.
Interesting. A metatheatrical effect, of the kind Trevor had studied when doing those Open University courses - the kind of effect you get when the people in the play (or the movie) refer to their own drama. Shakespeare does it a lot. And there's a scene, isn't there, in that movie about seven years - "Seven Years in Tibet", yes, that's the one. In the movie, the actor playing the Dali Lama asks his Austrian associate if anyone will ever make a movie about them. Yes.
Trevor realized he had been woolgathering. In the interim, Mavis had lost her nose, both eyes and most of her scalp. Amazing what they can do with special effects these days. Some props were now in evidence, ready for the next stage of the drama: a crowbar, a length of barbed wire, and a bottle of something which might have been acid. But Trevor didn't really want to watch.
"Not really my cup of tea," he said, and went and put on a Shostakovich CD.
The Shostakovich, however, failed to soothe his sense of distress. To be frank, he felt violated. It was one thing for Mavis to run away and leave him. That he could bear. And, if she chose to go slumming as an actress in a snuff movie flick, that was her business. But to bring his name into it! That was - well, a kind of mockery. Other people would see the movie. And maybe the tabloids would get hold of it, and find out who the real Trevor was, and then what would people say at the office?
And that Nick. He must have organized all this. Yes. Trevor could see it now. Those video nasties had always held an intense fascination for Mavis. Nick must produce the things. He was a movie producer, he had seduced Mavis away with promises of starlet glory, of Hollywood fame. It was all too much.
Straight away, Trevor got Nick on the phone.
"What have you done with my wife?" said Trevor.
"She's gone to Glasgow," said Nick, nastily. "And you're going with her."
Then abruptly hung up. When Trevor dialed back, he got an engaged signal. Well, really! So. They were running away together, were they? "I'm going to Glasgow with her" - that's what Nick must have meant.
Putting on his greatcoat - a much-treasured family heirloom which had first been worn by his great-grandfather in the trenches of Flanders - Trevor set out for one of his rare late-night walks. In extremis, some people got drunk or resorted to drugs, but Trevor liked to walk. It was soothing.
When he returned at 4 am, the fire brigade was just finishing dousing the ashes of his house. Both Trevor's house and that of his neighbor's, Nick Wolvine, had been burnt to the ground. And the police had some questions to ask.
Trevor thought of telling them about Mavis and Glasgow, but that was private, wasn't it? You don't go telling the police about your wife's secret affair with a movie producer.
"You don't seem very worried," said Trevor's burly interrogator, misinterpreting Trevor's dazed fatigue as happy-go-lucky insouciance.
"Oh, she'll be all right," said Trevor.
"My wife. She's gone to Glasgow. Visiting friends."
I mean, you have to give a reason. Nobody would just go to Glasgow. Not unless they had a compelling purpose. Visiting friends, then. Yes, that would serve at the office. And then maybe she could have a ... well, a car accident. Yes. Very sad. Cremated already, and, yes, I am a bit broken up about it all.
"So she went to Glasgow," said the policeman. "How very convenient."
"If you want to look on it that way," said Trevor, sensing a subtext, but not quite able to work out what it might be.
"House was insured, was it?" said the policeman.
"Of course," said Trevor.
Then, in horror, he realized what had been nagging at him the other day. The house! He had forgotten to renew the insurance, and it had expired! He said as much.
"But you didn't know that at the time?" said the policeman.
"I'd forgotten about it," said Trevor.
That statement was used in evidence against him in court, and he did six months for arson. By the time he got out of prison, he had lost his job, his savings had been exhausted by legal expenses, and his friends had deserted him.
All but one.
Across the road from the prison gate, a car was waiting. Nick Wolvine was leaning against it.
"Like to see your wife?" said Nick.
"Whatever," said Trevor, with a shrug - that degraded shrug, an uncouth mannerism the pre-prison Trevor would never have indulged in, a firm proof of exactly how far he had fallen.
"Then get in," said Nick.
"Where are we going?" said Trevor, buckling up.
"Glasgow," said Nick.
This story, "The Kidney Bean Diet", was first published in Albedo One issue 16, 1998 (edited by a collective) (Lusk, Ireland, ISSN 0791-8534) (pp 12-14; 1,899 words) (horror). Copyright © 1999, 2002 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
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Perry Voight woke to find himself lying atop a small grassy hill from where he had a view over a very large golf course. Hole after hole, the golf course stretched away in all directions, reaching to the far horizon. According to his watch, the time was 6.17, and the dewy cool of the clean and scentless air suggested it was 6.17 in the morning. The sun was just rising.
"Uh huh," said Perry.
He had a very clear memory of having been put to death by lethal injection for the murder of his wife. In fact, Perry had not killed his beloved Daphne, nor did he know who had. But he was fairly sure that he himself was dead.
"So this is ....?"