This short story was intended to be part of the One Word Story Project. Each story in the project was to be inspired by an unusual vocabulary word, one that’s unfamiliar to most people. Unfortunately, the project itself has officially fizzled, but I would still like to share my contribution with you! Please enjoy this horror tale, inspired by misogamy. A photo to set the mood:
The Cold, Hard Facts of Life
by Rebecca Gomez Farrell
Misogamy: a hatred of marriage – Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
“They lived and laughed and loved and left” – James Joyce
The cool press of pillow on her skin pleased Virginia — until she couldn’t breathe. Her bulging eyes opened to the pre-dawn darkness of the bedroom, and the choking sensation fled. Air filled her lungs, gasps fading as fast as the dream. The pillow beside her own remained in its place, and Virginia sighed relief. No ghostly form rested its head there, the pillow undisturbed since the death of her third and final husband. At least, that’s what she’d assumed until her boyfriend, Carl, had gone and complicated things…
What a nightmare. The thought brought a chuckle that applied as equally to the fleeting sensation as to her relationships. Fully awake, and fully aware from the dim, navy blue numbers on her alarm clock that she’d have to report for work at the district attorney’s office soon anyway, Virginia threw back the blankets. She plopped her feet into the fuzzy rabbit slippers Husband #2, Peter, had hated. Peter was so humorless, Virginia had taken to repeating Knock Knock jokes to him in the hopes of a smile.
-Orange you ready for a divorce?
He had almost laughed that time, until she handed him the papers. The slight smile then deepened into creases she knew too well. For a time, Virginia had been certain she’d fall into them if she stuck a finger within their folds, so she stopped touching Peter at all, opting to touch Husband #3, Harold, instead.
At the sound of her footfalls, two cats dashed out from their hiding places. They raced each other to the food bowls but stopped short of their usual hurdle into the wall. Fur rose into a ridge on each arched back. With growls deeper than Virginia had thought them capable of, the cats inched backward then scurried away on the paths they’d just taken, nearly tripping her in the process.
Ignoring pricks of trepidation, Virginia flipped the kitchen light on. Her dear Irish mother, after burning sage to ward off the evil spirits, would have said that no one who’d left three husbands behind had room to be a coward. Then she’d joke about all the bumping Virginia already did in the night. Virginia rubbed the lucky horseshoe pendant she wore around her neck, smiling fondly at the thought of her sassy Mam.
Fluorescent bulbs buzzed into fullness, revealing a dirty sundae bowl by the sink and the last week’s worth of cat fur on the linoleum. The only horror was a hairball by the water dish, beset by ants. Virginia sighed with relief as she went for the Raid and Windex under the sink. She didn’t believe all Mam’s old superstitions, but some things she just couldn’t explain. Like those planter boxes that kept overturning at her last place — had to be gnomes. This time, though, a mouse had probably been the culprit. The cats were never ones for hunting.
Bending over, Virginia reached into the cabinet beneath the sink just as the refrigerator’s hum fell silent.
Something slapped Virginia’s ass from behind and the momentum sent her head banging straight into the cabinet door’s sharp corner. She slumped to the floor, too in shock to scream, as the fridge’s motor roared back to life. The iron taste of warm blood on her tongue roused her, and she scrambled to her feet, regretting it instantly. Her head transformed into the inside of a drum, battered from pounding drumsticks on all sides. Blood slicked the hand she raised to her forehead — she needed first aid.
Virginia stumbled forward, reaching for the wall to guide herself to the bathroom. But her hand sunk into something dense in the air. It sucked at her skin, the consistency of hot chocolate pudding but the temperature of ice. She flung her arm backward, tumbled into the hallway wall, and planted her hand on it for balance.
What was that?! The empty kitchen held no answers. My head’s making me imagine things.
As Virginia turned on the bathroom light, a face flashed in the mirror then blurred out of sight in a whirl like the Cheshire Cat come to visit. Gooseflesh raised on her shaky arms as she gasped. But something had looked familiar about that reflection, had felt familiar about the hand against her bottom. The dread vanished as she placed them both. Oh, that’s too funny.
“Is that you, Arthur?” The day Husband #1 tried to hurt her was the day she’d believe in leprechauns. Ghosts, on the other hand, could be tricksters — Mam had said so. A little joke of his, that’s all this accident was. He used to playfully swat her bottom, then she’d give it right back with a hand towel, the very one she ran now under hot water. She pressed it gently against the scrapes on her head and rubbed the blood away.
So she had a ghost, but who could be afraid of poor old Arthur? May as well pay him back with some teasing of her own. “Assault’s a violation of the Oregon Criminal Code, you know.”
More blood flooded in as she wiped, filling wounds as deep as Husband #2’s wrinkles. She sucked in air through her teeth. The cuts stung, but she could take care of this herself. All of it.
“You shouldn’t have surprised me like that.” Virginia requartered the towel to produce a clean square and pressed it against her forehead, determined to reduce the flow. “It isn’t very nice, Arthur, and you were always so proud of how nice you were.”
The endless litany of niceness had driven her mad with boredom. No matter how hard she’d yelled, raged, cried, Arthur only responded with soothing tones and love-filled caresses. For a woman born into a home where voices raised over weather forecasts, she’d found it incomprehensible. And his refusal to get a decent job had been even more so. Lord’s sake, the man had been a toll collector on the expressway!
So Virginia enrolled in night classes to earn her paralegal certification and make a respectable salary. Was it her fault one of her classmates, an older gentleman with an irresistible throaty laugh, took to spending extra time tutoring her on tort law after class? She’d learned she had a thing for gray-and-red peppered beards and that she wasn’t quite as good of a little girl as Daddy had thought.
Thinking it a reasonable solution for saving their marriage, Virginia had offered Arthur an open relationship. After all, they lived in Bend. But he didn’t see things the same way, never had, and now…
Now the reflection of his sad, brown eyes stared back at hers from a black mass in the dark hallway that she could sense more than she could see. The air felt brisk against her skin.
“It is you, isn’t it?”
A dim silhouette took shape around the orbs in the mirror, and the bathroom light flickered. One of the cats growled.
“Simmer down, Catsanova.” Virginia’s voice was firm, irritated even. “It’s only Arthur.”
Husband #1 had never liked being diminished. A spectral arm prodded at Virginia’s right shoulder. She tried to slap the “hand” away, but her fingers labored through the ghost’s form like a cold knife through cheesecake.
“Now here,” she admonished. “Let me finish with this bandage, and then I’ll give you my undivided attention.”
His shrill laugh raised her hackles, but she carried on. No use getting any more bent out of shape for Arthur. She’d stopped doing that years ago. But she kept an eye on him all the same as she rifled around for gauze and sealing tape. As she finished applying the second square, something creaked down the hallway.
She and spectral Arthur jerked their heads toward the noise, and the cats hissed from safe distances. Arthur’s form shrunk in on itself as a bulkier mass came into view. Tension filled the air along with the spirits, and while Virginia didn’t sense malice, the charged energy between the two ghosts was definitely unpleasant. She rubbed her horseshoe again.
Arthur shrunk into the corner behind the end table, concaving into a black hole that shot out angry sparks that tickled her chin hairs. For a ghost, he wasn’t any more intimidating than he’d been as a man. His reaction to their new visitor reminded her of the last time she’d seen him, right after she’d agreed to marry Husband #2.
“Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?” The words spilled out despite her growing apprehension. “Why you came, Arthur? You heard that Carl proposed last night, didn’t you?”
Arthur hadn’t taken it well when he’d heard about her engagement to Peter, either. He’d called one night, made claims about a flat tire off Exit 3. She should have rung for a tow truck instead, but some infernal sense of loyalty had compelled her, and she’d arrived to find him cowering on the edge of the Halloran Expressway’s pedestrian bridge, clearly violating Oregon Civil Ordinance 113. After spotting her, Arthur had shaken with a literal death gasp then toppled himself over the side of the bridge. The guilt had nagged at Virginia for a few months before she threw herself back into fittings for her second white wedding dress.
Arthur’s ghostly form seethed and shimmered. It wasn’t like him to build up resentment like this. Why, shed’ only ever sensed this sort of energy from him once before, when he’d first met Peter at that bar–
Oh. Oh. Sadness that would have surprised her fifteen years ago, when she’d told that last knock-knock joke, lodged right in her upper ribcage. Virginia turned to the new ghost, arms opened wide. “Peter, I didn’t know you were dead. I am so sorry to hear it.”
Peter rippled in the hallway, and Arthur puffed up for a moment, indignant, before withdrawing to a darker corner. She clasped the roll of surgical tape to her bosom as she spoke.
“What happened? How long has it been? Should I send flowers somewhere?”
The lights dimmed again, before the one over her head exploded. She dropped to the floor, but thank heavens, the worst that happened was a few shards stuck in her hair-sprayed perm.
“Now what did you do that for?” She rose, shaking her head. Peter was the only husband she hadn’t wished shuffled off the mortal coil. And she’d need a broom to sweep up the mess! “I was being considerate, Peter. Didn’t you always tell me I needed to be more considerate?”
Her electric razor whirred to life of its own accord before the casing flew off and the blades soared like baby nunchucks across the room. One glanced against her arm.
“Hey now!” Virginia didn’t like the turn things had taken, not at all, but when had her mouth ever obeyed her better judgment? Her finger jabbed into the air like a dagger. “That was uncalled for. Here I am, concerned about your health, or lack thereof, and you’re bursting bulbs at me! Is that anyway to treat the woman who saw you through all those hard nights of studying circuit board configurations?”
The figure lunged forward. A curling iron’s heat seared her wrist in the form of three fingers, thick ones — Peter’s, no question. She screamed and wrenched her arm away, then thrust it under a stream of cool faucet water. Welts rose up instantly.
Trembling, she pleaded, “If this is about Carl, I’ll…I’ll say no.” Threats weren’t like Peter at all. He’d had more of a backbone than Arthur, but New England breeding had given him both that resistance to good humor and a stoniness that would not dignify her demands with compliance or defiance. So she’d done whatever she’d wanted, including Husband #3.
“Truth be told, I was probably going to say no, anyway.” Something must have happened to her husbands in the spirit world, something that twisted their souls. Maybe she could soothe them, at least long enough to get herself to the door.
“Carl’s cute and all, but thinking he could measure up to either of you, well…that’s quite presumptuous, don’t you think?” Tears of desperation welled, and she wiped at them furiously. They’d never believe her if they noticed; it was the surest tell she had.
Something tapped her shoulder and she whirled around, uninjured fist first. Her hand caught resistance against a presence that had a different feel than #1 or #2, a sludgier one. The being hovered half a foot taller than the others and crackled orange with malevolence. With a guttural voice, it broke out into song.
“Lord, you should have seen their frantic faces/they screamed and cried please put away that knife.”
The final verse of a Porter Wagoner ballad, and Virginia knew how it ended. Harold. She retreated until her butt met the countertop, heaved herself onto it, and pressed her back flat against the mirror. There’d be no more talk of Carl. In her memoirs, it would read, “Don’t marry the man you cheat with, because he’ll never trust you alone.” Yes, her track record argued against her, but Harold had made her life H-E-L-L. No drinks out with friends, no swimming pool without a wrap. The only gym she could join was Curves. Virginia had wanted a man with a little fire, and she’d gotten a full-blown forest blaze. Harold never hurt her, but each time someone so much as smiled in her direction, she could feel the threat in the gaze he directed back their way.
But he was so good to her as long as she played by his rules. He sang her old country tunes, rubbed her feet after a long day spent couriering papers between law offices, cooked a vodka sauce with penne that she’d considered taking up residence in. Yet all that checking in and ego-soothing wore on her in time. If his high-blood pressure hadn’t taken him first, she would have. She’d been contemplating making tea out of that oleander bush he’d loved so much on the balcony, a favorite weapon of unhappy Southern wives.
Harold slowed his singing for the final line.
“But who taught who the cold hard facts of life.”
All the blood drained from Virginia’s face. Ghost Husbands #1 and #2 hadn’t been pleasant, sure, but she could handle a little bleeding and planned to find herself an exorcist before her lunch break. Harold’s bass sent a visceral fear through her that she couldn’t shake off. For the first time that morning, with the autumnal colors of sunrise streaming down the hall, Virginia was truly scared. If only they’d been gnomes.
Adrenaline propelled her past Harold, through the doorframe and toward escape — the front door. Fluorescent kitchen bulbs shattered with a noxious fume as Arthur and Peter glided into place before her, forming a barricade of strange bedfellows. She determined to barrel through them; their substances had been barely more than dense wisps of air, after all. With a running start, she leapt…and the force with which she hit their corporeal forms took her breath away. A surprised “O” froze on her face as she realized, plummeting to the floor, that they’d manifested somehow. Mam had warned something about ghosts stealing energy. Virginia wished she’d given her stories more attention.
Something cracked as she hit the ground, and blood gushed faster than any gauze bandage could have contained. Harold floated over, shattering the hallway light to join with the others. Three men, united in death over what had divided them in life, smothered Virginia with their condensed spirit material. A strangled gasp for breath passed for a death gurgle. Moments later, the phantoms oozed through the window screen and dissipated into the early morning mist.
Three days after that, the apartment remained as untouched as the pillow. Angry messages from the law office and a boyfriend who took silence for rejection filled her voicemail. No concerned neighbors or co-workers knocked on the door; Virginia never could keep a friendship going. Once the cats had emptied and shredded the last bag of dry food, they took care of what was left.
I hope you enjoyed this little humorous horror ditty! If so, leave a comment! And feel free to share wherever you’d like.