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Fiction #153
(published September 25, 2003)
The Devil Leaves Mrs. Harbison (part 2 of 2)
by Ben Stroud

We had our small card game that night like we planned, but I kept looking over my shoulder, at the back window, always expecting to see something that wasn't there. Bill noticed my distraction and cursed me as we nearly lost all our pennies, but he could not deny that he had a strange feeling, too. We said goodnight to the Ramsey's at the door then went straight to bed.

"I might test ole Mrs. Harbison tomorrow," Bill said as he slid his calloused feet into his slippers.

"What do you mean?"

"That crabapple of hers has grown branches over our yard and I don't want another season of those mushy things droppin inside our fence."

I was gurgling my mouthwash, so I couldn't answer right away. Bill must be crazy. I did a quick swish or two around the mouth then spit it out.

"You must be crazy," I said while I washed my face.

"Why?"

"You know what happened last time you started cuttin on her trees."

"Oh, that wasn't nothin."

Finished, I walked out of the bathroom and took off my robe. "Nothin? You call havin to take you to the hospital for heart and lung trouble nothin?"

"Well, it turned out to be nothin."

"That's just because you were strong enough to withstand her curse. We're older now." I was in bed, settling under the covers. Bill was beside me.

"Ah, hell, she done changed, hadn't she? I remember that whole exorcism a few weeks ago. There was so much demon raising going on over there my lawnmower started up by itself and mowed six six six in the grass. I had to mow over it the next morning so people wouldn't think we were cultists. You remember that, Vernie?"

"Oh, I remember. I remember not bein ready for the weather because her demon raising shorted out the tv. But what I'm saying is those demons coulda hopped back in."

"Well, I reckon we'll find out tomorrow."

We both fell asleep, but later that night I woke up thirsty. When I glanced out the window above the sink I swear I saw Mrs. Harbison standing in the backyard, staring at the house. I looked again, but she wasn't there. I drank my water quickly and checked the locks on the house and it was some time before I could get to sleep.

 

The next morning Bill found the hedge clippers in the garage and oiled them as they had gotten rusty. Then he started to snap the thin, year-old crabtree branches that had shot out over our yard bearing green leaves and buds. I stood on the porch and watched, busying myself with some potted vines, and I could feel Mrs. Harbison in her house, stewing. When Bill was finished I helped him bag the shorn branches, and when that was done we stepped slowly from the crabtree, glancing over our shoulders as if expecting it to jump toward us. Despite all of Bill's hullabaloo the night before I could tell he was nervous. I told him to go on inside and clean up while I took the bag of clippings to the garage. He did so and when I walked around the house I found Mrs. Harbison standing in the driveway, staring, it seemed, at the taillights of our Buick.

"Oh, why hello, Mrs. Harbison." I dropped the bag in our garbage can then dusted off my hands, doing my best with my voice and manners to pretend that nothing had happened.

"You cut on my crabtree," was all she said. There weren't any smile today.

"Well, it had grown over the fence and we didn't want any crabapples falling in the yard, they get so mushy and disgusting when they rot."

"That crabree's my property." She moved her piercing stare from the LeSabre's passenger taillight to me.

"Not when it hangs over our yard, Mrs. Harbison," I said in a tone that one uses with small children to explain why other children deserve equal portions.

Mrs. Harbison fell silent as if she were soaking it in. She shifted her weight from her left leg to her right and so seemed to shift the angle of her conversation.

"Did you all have a fine time last night?"

"Yes, we did."

"Thought so. Been a long time since I played cards." I abhorred her shameless hinting. Especially as she raised her voice at the end and rolled her eyes as if posing the comment to no one in particular though someone in particular indeed.

"Is that so?"

"mmmhuh."

I let her mmmhuh float away and there was a pause. Mrs. Harbison seemed divided. On one hand she was angry about the crabtree, on the other she wanted us to invite her over. Neither me nor Bill wanted her in our house, though. We figured if she got to know us better then that would just give her more reasons to curse us if she ever turned evil again. I decided to change the conversation—if you could call it a conversation.

"How is your new life in the church, Mrs. Harbison?"

"Oh, fine, fine." She let her voice glide in the wind and left a big gap in between the fines.

"That's good to hear," I said

Then her voice centered as if drawn down and in by a heavy weight. "Found out you can still curse a man in the church."

"Really?" I tried to sound enthusiastic, as if this were some great boon for her. But if Mrs. Harbison was talking about cursing, she could only be up to no good. And I honestly had no idea what scripture she was talking about and doubted there really was one. Them demons had just formed a conga line in hell and danced their way back into her head if you ask me. I decided it was time to leave. "Well, I've got to go. Lotta housework, you know. Nice talking to you, Mrs. Harbison." I walked to the front door as I tossed her a wave, but she did not move at all except to shift in her spot to keep an eye on me as I retreated. Once inside the house I went to the kitchen window and peeped out. She was still there, staring at our garage. I vacuumed the living room and the hallway, then went back to check on her. She was gone.

 

That evening me and Bill were sitting together watching the tv. We had just finished eating and the dishes were soaking in the sink. I'd made spaghetti with the bottled sauce that Bill likes. It has a picture of an Italian man with a thick black moustache holding mushrooms and garlic cloves in one hand and tomatoes in the other on the label. I also took some of the bread that was beginning to go stale and lathered it with butter and garlic salt, then toasted it. It was a good meal and I had nearly forgotten what had happened that morning with Mrs. Harbison.

Anyway, Bill started to feel a pain in his chest and I told him it was the tomato sauce. Like I said, I had forgotten about Mrs. Harbison and wasn't thinking of curses. I gave Bill some antacid and we returned to watching our program. Eight people were trapped in an elevator and at each floor one was voted off. But when a few minutes later two of my favorite Hallmark figurines fell off the mantle without any provocation, I knew Mrs. Harbison was cursing us again. Bill groaned from his recliner as he held his hand over his chest. I got the dustpan and whiskbroom and started to clean up the shattered porcelain. There were tears in my eyes. One of the figurines was a fairy sitting on a log next to a grinning toad. The other was a little angel with its eyes on heaven and its hands holding a rose.

But that wasn't all that happened. When I went to throw the porcelain shards away I found a goat chewing on my good dining room drapes. That really set me off. I dropped the shards and they shattered into even smaller pieces against the wood floor Bill and I put in three years ago, then I rushed the goat, waving my hands at it to shoo it away. It glanced at me but didn't give up the drapes. I waved my hands at it again and screamed but it kept on chewing and refused to budge. I wrapped my arms around the dirty thing's stomach and dragged it skittering across the floor, but it pulled the drapes down with it. With some more pulling I did get my drapes back, and when I finished that I hit the goat across its backside and chased it out the front door.

I took up the dustpan and started to clean up the shards, again. Bill was moaning Sweet Jesus from the lazyboy and I told him to hold on, he'd be all right. Like I said, that goat had really set me off and once I poured the shards in the trashcan I put my slippers on and headed straight for Mrs. Harbison's.

I knocked on her door but no one answered. I knocked again, pounding till I almost beat it down. Finally it opened and, let me tell you, Mrs. Harbison was looking worse than ever. Her hair had fallen around her face and her eyes looked darker than a tornado sky. She opened her mouth and said with a growl of a voice that nearly knocked me down, "I'm busy."

She tried to shut the door in my face, but I lodged my foot between it and the jamb and forced my way in. "Like hell you are," I replied to her "I'm busy" as I walked into her living room. On the coffee table was set out some kind of stuff I had never seen before, but it sure looked like witchcraft to me so I swept it onto the floor with my arm and then turned to look at Mrs. Harbison. Now, I'm too ashamed to say exactly what all I said then. Suffice it to say Bill always told people I had a gift for yelling. Well, he must be right because by the time I was finished telling Mrs. Harbison what for, I had done what that Baptist preacher from the other town couldn't. I had driven every last howling demon from that poor woman's suffering body.

When I finished, Mrs. Harbison fainted to the floor and I realized she had finally been cleansed. I dragged her over to the couch then left through the front door, twisting the safety lock behind me.

The next morning Bill was feeling better and I hung up the chewed drapes after mending the holes the goat had made. There was still a vacant spot on the mantle where I lost my two favorite figurines, but I guess that's just more treasure laid up in heaven. Mrs. Harbison came by the house to apologize for everything, bringing with her another mason jar of preserves. Peach this time. She admired my petunias and told me she felt a purity she had not known since she was a virgin child. I told her that was very good and once she left I threw the preserves away.

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The Last few Fiction pieces (from Issues #152 thru #148):

The Devil Leaves Mrs. Harbison (part 1 of 2)
by Ben Stroud

Lloyd Gets Free (part 2 of 2)
by Jennifer D. Pellerin

Lloyd Gets Free (part 1 of 2)
by Jennifer D. Pellerin

The Catted Anarchist
by Ambrose Bierce

Tokens of Affection (part 2 of 2)
by Terence S. Hawkins


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