The phone rang Friday afternoon. Betsy almost dropped her cell when she heard the words, “You won the writing contest.”
At first she thought it was a prank call. She’d told so many people about entering the contest, but invariably when they heard what the story was about, they got funny looks on their faces and clammed up. A twitch in her synapses – was it guilt? – thought there is no way the judges would choose her story. It was too far “out there” for the tame little community that was sponsoring it. She asked for a call-back number and confirmed the call was legitimate.
The anthology would be printed straight away with the top six stories in each of the four categories. The sponsors would use the profits from it for next year’s prizes. The check for $500 was being put in the mail today and she should receive it in two or three days. Part of her obligation was to attend the awards ceremony at the fancy hotel on the river and to make an acceptance speech.
Betsy let the reality of her win sink in and felt a small bit of joy rise to her throat. She knew now what she had to do to make it in the writing world. After untold numbers of rejection letters for her “normal” stories, Betsy decided this time all limits, all boundaries were removed. She searched in the murky pools where most feared to swim and took a sturdy net with her. What she pulled out was a shock to her sensibilities and she thought for days whether or not to throw the catch back; in the end she gutted it and grilled it with garlic, oil, dill, and a blowtorch.
Holding the check in her hands made it real to Betsy. She texted her work friends and treated everyone to pizza and drinks at the local watering hole.
Bill asked, “Is that the story where the woman kills her kid?” as he munched the veggie pizza.
“Bill, it was more than just about killing her kid, but yes, that’s the story.”
“Well I forgot the rest of the plot. Just checkin’.”
That night after Betsy got home, she wished there was someone else she could celebrate with. She’d been single for 20 years, her parents had passed away, she wasn’t close with any of her siblings, and her two children had moved out of the country years ago and didn’t want to have anything to do with her. It somehow lessened the satisfaction she knew she would have felt with family enjoying her win. Betsy drank a few more whiskeys then headed to bed. Looking out her bedroom window, she saw the wolf moon in a clear windless sky shining on the snow.
Betsy fell into a dreamless sleep. After an undetermined time, thumping and bumping in the kitchen pulled her awake. Instant fear had her reaching for the loaded revolver she kept by the bed. A woman who lived alone couldn’t be too careful. She dialed “911” and reported a break-in. Police were on the way.
Betsy tip-toed to the door and opened it a crack. She saw the chairs in the kitchen moving but nobody was there. She also noticed a large bowl of tomatoes on the kitchen table. It took Betsy’s sleep- and alcohol-grogged mind a moment to analyze what she was seeing. Was she dreaming? It didn’t feel like a dream.
A familiar voice from long ago pierced her ears, “Mom, the police can’t help you. Come on out so we can talk.”
The voice was that of her daughter, Minni, when she was 12 years old. But Minni (Minerva) was now 33 years old. Was she losing her mind?
“No, mom, you’re not losing your mind. We just need to talk for a minute.”
Terror struck Betsy’s heart. She slammed the door shut and prayed the police would get there soon.
A see-through apparition of Minni slid through the door and laughed, “Mom, you can’t get rid of me that easy. I insist you come out and talk with me in the kitchen.”
The door flung open and Betsy found herself being pulled along by invisible hands, until she sat at the kitchen table – facing the large bowl of tomatoes.
Minni floated up and curled herself around the bowl.
“I just want to know why? And don’t bother to ask what do I mean. I know you know what I’m talking about.”
Betsy’s vocal chords were paralyzed at this point. Her mouth opened but no words came forth.
Minni continued, “Did you really think you could write a story about murdering the 12 year-old me and using my body to fertilize tomatoes and not have it rip the fabric of the cosmos? The forces of darkness strike bargains in all sorts of ways with people. Remember how you agonized over whether or not to send the story in and then consciously decided you’d do anything to win? You signed the pact at that moment as surely as if you’d dripped your blood on a piece of parchment.”
Betsy’s eyes felt like they were bulging out of her head and her heart felt like a balloon being filled with water in her chest while at the same time her lungs were being deflated. Her mouth opened to scream but no sound came out.
“Mom, Genny and I moved to Scotland so you’d forget about us. It wasn’t enough you tortured us as children to a place where we never wanted to see you again. You had to pull my child spirit into your evil story. My adult self will suffer for this. Not as much as you will though.”
The moment the last word came from Minni’s transparent mouth, the tomatoes in the bowl rose and began to circle Betsy. She mustered enough air in her collapsing lungs to utter a feeble scream before her now lifeless body tumbled out of the chair.
Police officers arrived moments later and began pounding on the door. After 30 seconds, they forced it open and found Betsy’s body, now covered with mashed tomatoes. Her mouth was stuffed with a large tomato and her eyes were frozen open with terror. The autopsy held later found not only had her stomach burst with tomatoes but her heart was completely black as were her lungs. Cause of death was listed as “undetermined.”
There was no funeral.