A last repast in the palace
Editor's note: Local Voices columnist Jon Hauxwell really likes Halloween.
Larry had been swearing constantly for the past half-hour. After taking one or more wrong turns, he swore at his car, now stalled along a country road. He swore at the starter as he cranked it until the battery was dead. He cussed his cell phone, which refused to locate any towers. The GPS endlessly recalculated until he swore and slammed it on the dash.
A few yards on up the road stood a battered mailbox displaying the name "Circe." The flag was up. Larry fished out a couple letters. The return addresses said "Rhoda Circe, Route 3." That would be the occupant of the house at the far end of the adjacent drive. He hiked the hundred yards of gravel and knocked on the door of the two-story wooden building, wondering how to pronounce that name.
A woman in her 30s answered. She wore jeans and a plaid shirt, and she was stunningly beautiful. Maybe my luck is changing, he thought.
He asked if she had a land-line phone he could use, but she didn't; nor did she own a vehicle other than a bike with a flat tire. But the postal guy would come by the next morning, and might give Larry a ride.
"If you'd like, you can crash overnight in the guest room off the main hallway," she offered. "I can fix up some supper." Larry required no persuasion.
"There are towels in the bathroom, if you want to wash up," she said.
"Nah," replied Larry, "I'm just a little sweaty, is all."
Larry stretched out on the bed and snored until she called "supper's on!"
Now wearing a rich purple gown, she sat opposite Larry across the small but ornate wooden table. Floating and undulating, her gown reminded Larry of a toga, like they wore in the frat-party movie he'd seen.
Larry stared at the three meat medallions on his plate, stabbed one with his fork, and tore off bites with his teeth. "What's this here?" he coughed, "ain't chicken, is it?"
"No," she said with a tight smile, "it's ... pork. Roasted low and slow, as they say. The tenderloin. I should have company more often."
"Ain't bad, I guess," he said, swallowing the last piece almost whole. "Ya got some more?"
"Try the new potatoes and snow peas -- my special garlic, butter, and white wine sauce."
"Whatever," said Larry. He raised his glass of red wine, and downed it in a couple gulps. "Tastes like vinegar," he said, "but maybe it's got a little kick. Ain't you drinkin' none?"
"I cook with wine," she said, "but I don't drink it." He promptly grabbed the bottle and poured another glass for himself, and another.
Finally, he emitted a loud belch, laughing at his own cleverness. "I'd say it's time for dessert, honey," he said with a leer.
"We have some gelato," she said.
"Ain't talkin' about no dam' jello," he growled. "Ya got dressed up pretty just for me, honey, and I ain't stupid. So, yer room -- or right here on the table?"
He stood up, pushed his chair back, and unbuckled his belt. His trousers dropped to his knees, but when he tried to extract his foot, it caught in the folds of cloth. Hopping and flailing his arms, he toppled sideways. The chair tipped over as he hit the floor.
He swore artlessly while he jerked and yanked at his entangled feet, but his legs quickly grew heavy and tired. Finally he quit struggling and tried to catch his breath.
"Oh, dear," said the woman, "let me help you there." She left the room, returning immediately with a wheelchair.
With some difficulty they were able to drag him up and into the chair, but the effort made him so weak he could barely sit up on his own. A leather strap conveniently materialized to hold him upright.
She wheeled him through the kitchen and down a ramp into a chilly cellar. By this time, he could scarcely talk. The cellar was large, its recesses hidden from the dim glow of a single bare bulb. That changed when she switched on the overhead banks of fluorescent lights.
Larry stared at a big walk-in freezer; nearby, he could make out a stainless steel table, flat except for the narrow gutter around its edges. An instrument tray stood at one end.
Surprisingly strong, the woman removed the leather restraint and wrestled him onto the cold metal gurney, where he lay puffing, trying to see the rest of the room.
That's when he spotted the pallid carcass, hanging from a hook in the ceiling near a corner. The gut cavity was open and empty, and one leg was missing, but it unmistakably had been a human male.
"Wuh! Wuh!" he gasped, eyes wide. "Nuh!"
The woman tugged on a clear plastic poncho she retrieved from a peg on the wall.
"You men," she said to No Man in particular. She grasped a pair of heavy shears and a long knife. "You're such pigs."
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays -- or does he?