Libby wasn’t living her best life, but she couldn’t see any way to do better for herself. She was forty-five and lived alone with her seven cats, Marvin, Scooter, Spidey, Stinky, Marvin Two, Cat Man Do, and Ilsa. Having suffered a mental breakdown, she lived alone in her broken-down trailer house, drinking to excess and conversing only with her feline “fur babies.” She never went outside. Never, ever, ever. Somehow, for reasons unknown to her, she had developed Agoraphobia—a fear of leaving her house. Things had been like this for more than two years now, and Libby hadn’t felt sunlight on her skin for more than a few seconds here and there (when she had to answer the door for the grocery delivery boy or pay the kid who mowed her lawn) in that time.
Most of her days were spent watching television shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and Divorce Court. She would do this each day until around three or four when she started drinking straight vodka. It wasn’t much of a life, and she was well aware of this. Hell, it wasn’t any life, really. But it was hers and she had resigned herself to the fact. The high points of her days were cuddling with her fur babies and eating her meals, which were always, every single day, the same thing—an eighty-nine-cent Banquet meatloaf TV dinner. She hadn’t eaten anything other than processed meatloaf meals in years now. Nothing. She rarely showered, occasionally doing so only when her body odor grew too much for her to stand. She didn’t brush her teeth and hadn’t changed her clothes in months. It didn’t matter anyway, as all her clothes were dirty and had been for years.
Making all this worse was the overwhelming sadness she felt. This was caused by the one-two-punch of having lost her mother, Connie June, and her fiancee Darnell seven weeks apart nearly four years ago. They were the only two people she’d ever loved and felt close to. Libby hadn’t always been like this. She’d been “normal” once. She wasn’t sure there was any such thing as normal, but what she had known then was far closer to anything resembling that than the life she now endured.
Libby had grown up an only child raised by a single mom. Connie June hadn’t been perfect—she had been a mean drunk on her best days—but she had done her best, even if it was three miles short of adequate. The two of them had lived in this same trailer, which should have been condemned a decade before Libby was born. The floors were rotten then and now. Libby’s memories of her childhood mostly consisted of watching TV alone in the living room while trying to ignore the sounds of her mother getting pounded by random dudes on an inflatable mattress in the next room. When her mother and one of her boyfriends fell through the rotten bedroom floor during sex, Libby had been secretly delighted. At least it had shut them up. Connie June had been a terrible mother, and it was nothing short of a miracle she had never lost custody. Libby was aware of how profoundly terrible Connie June was, but she loved her unconditionally. No matter what Connie June did to her (or allowed her boyfriends do to her), she was her mother and Libby loved her.
When Connie June had first contracted AIDS, Libby had been sure the disease would be her demise. AIDS was deadly for a young person, and Connie June had been well into her sixties when she’d contracted it. But in the end, it wasn’t the disease that killed Connie June. It was her Johnny-come-lately boyfriend, Sarge. Sarge had been a retired Marine drill instructor with a cartoonishly-chiseled face, a graying Hitler mustache, and an appetite for sadism and rape. (Both Libby and Connie June had learned this the hard way.) But Connie June kept Sarge around well past his expiration date, despite his horrendous actions. But then, finally, she attempted to break up with him, and wound up getting beaten to a bloody pulp and later dying from her injuries. Nothing ever happened to Sarge. He just disappeared, never to be seen again.
At that time, Libby had been engaged to Darnell, a used car salesman in the process of getting his sixth divorce. He’d had five children he hadn’t spoken to in years, but this didn’t deter Libby. The plan had been that she and Darnell would tie the knot as soon as the divorce was finalized. Libby suspected that Darnell was cheating on her as she’d found a dirty condom in the backseat of his car. Another time he’d screamed out the name Tammy while they were having sex in his Malibu. (Tammy wasn’t Darnell’s wife’s name either. Libby had no clue who the hell Tammy was, but Darnell had dismissed it, saying he’d merely mispronounced Libby’s name. Libby, of course, knew this was horseshit, but had dropped the subject.) Similar to her relationship with Connie June, Libby had allowed Darnell to treat her badly and had gone right on loving him anyway. He sometimes called her less-than-affectionate names like “Fat Cow,” “Stupid Bitch,” and “Horse Face,” but Libby had told herself it could have been worse. He could have been physically abusive. But he wasn’t. Not in her eyes. He’d only punched her twice, choked her a handful of times, and broken her ribs. It could have been so much worse, she’d thought, remembering some of the more severe beatings her mother had endured at the hands of various boyfriends.
When Connie June died, Libby was happy she was not alone. Darnell had been there for her. He would listen to her cry while they ate KFC in a seedy motel room for several minutes before finally screaming at her to “shut her stupid mouth” and demanding oral sex. Libby had seen this as a kindness and had been thankful for it. She knew others would likely see Darnell as a bad man, but she knew better. She believed if people got to know him as she did, they would see that he wasn’t so bad.
So, with Darnell’s help, she had semi-coped with Connie June’s death. But then Darnell got shot and murdered after unknowingly walking in on a convenience store robbery. After that, Libby’s life spiraled out of control and she’d hit rock bottom. Before those losses, the only death Libby had ever experienced had been the death of her cat Buttercup. While Buttercup’s death had saddened her, it hadn’t devastated her the way these had. (She thought this may have been at least somewhat because of Buttercup’s annoying tendency to urinate on her pillow.)
So here she was, sad and alone, subsisting on TV dinners in the darkness, surrounded by her cats. In addition to watching TV and getting drunk, she would occasionally masturbate or read. Usually she read a John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell paperback. But she was a slow reader. So slow, in fact, it would sometimes take her a full year to finish a book. This was also due to the fact she read infrequently, which was fine by her. What was the rush? She enjoyed reading the books (as much as she “enjoyed” anything) in this manner. It wasn’t like she had anyone to talk to about the books when she was finished. She didn’t even have a computer, smart phone, or Internet to read about other reader’s reactions to them.
Libby had recently finished a Grisham book she’d been working on for the past eight or nine months. It was something about a lawyer, but now she couldn’t even remember any specifics at all now. She wanted to read something else now but realized she had nothing to read. Maybe, she thought, she would re-read The Pelican Brief. But then she remembered the box of old paperbacks sitting in Connie June’s closet. The books had belonged to Connie June’s dead brother Eduardo. Libby had never looked in the box and had no idea what might be in it. She doubted there would be any Cornwell books, but at this point she was open to anything. So, what the hell? She hadn’t been in Connie June’s room since she’d died, and the door had been closed ever since. So, on the upside, there would be less piles of cat shit for Libby to trudge through in there than there were in the rest of the trailer.
Libby made her way past the stacks of old magazines that now dominated the kitchen. One of the cats, Scooter, looked down on her from atop a stack. She wiggled between the magazine piles into the hallway, making her way through a huge pile of cat dung (easily one of the ten largest in this side of the house) to Connie June’s room. She reached for the doorknob and suddenly felt sadness, but she didn’t know why. Was it sadness over her mother’s death? Was it sadness because the door somehow represented things now past? Or maybe it was just sadness caused by the innate notion that she should be saddened by the room and all it represented. In this way, she thought, it was a room of sadness. She liked that, thinking it should be a book title. For the briefest of milliseconds she thought she might write Patricia Cornwell and suggest it, but she knew better. She would never leave this trailer again. She would never write any letters to anyone. This was her life now, and she would never do anything ever again but die alone in this trailer.
She sighed, turning the knob. She pushed the door open, and it struck Connie June’s bed. The room was so small that the door couldn’t open without doing so. The room smelled musty. The entire trailer was musty, but she thought this a different kind of musty. Maybe it was simply a less-cat-shit musty. She looked to the closet, with its sliding doors slid to the right. Libby moved into the room around the bed, moving sideways (the only way she could fit) towards the closet. She slid the doors to the left and looked inside. There were her mother’s old shoes in there, mostly flip-flops, and several cardboard boxes. One of these was the box of paperbacks. She reached in and stretched her arms around it, hefting it up and twisting towards the bed. Her back hurt as she did this. This was the heaviest thing she had lifted in a long while.
She sat the box down on the bed, trying to catch her breath as she did. There were several paperbacks visible on top, all covered in a thick layer of dust. Through that she could see Stephen King’s name, some guy named Elmore Leonard, and another guy named Mickey Spillane on top. She’d heard of King, but didn’t know the other two. She sat the book aside, allowing her to see more books beneath. She dug through them, seeing several King books. There was a Janet Evanovich book. Libby didn’t know who Janet Evanovich was but thought she had a cool name. Maybe she would read that. Still digging, digging past a couple Harlequin romance novels, Libby came to a tome titled True Urban Legends. This book wasn’t fiction; it purported to be true. Libby picked it up and turned it over, reading the back cover text. “Everyone knows those old wives’ tales,” it read. “Urban legends everyone knows aren’t true. Those tales told around a campfire in a shroud of darkness, intended to scare the listener. But some urban legends are true…”
Hmmm, she thought. The book sounded interesting. She didn’t believe in urban legends and had never given them any thought whatsover, but True Urban Legends sounded like something different. It was certainly different from Grisham or Cornwell. It probably sucks, she thought. But she had nothing else going on, and if she found it too boring she would just toss it into one of the junk piles in the living room. Yes, this was the book she would read next. She started to turn towards the door, but then thought she should probably take a second book in case this one sucked. That way she wouldn’t have to return to this room. She looked at the books and grabbed the Janet Evanovich one, and then went back into the hall, closing the door. She made her way through the kitchen to the living room, almost tripping over Marvin Two as she did. Luckily, she caught herself and managed to keep from falling, potentially spraining her ankle and necessitating a trip outside.
When Libby got the living room, she snaked herself between the junk piles, finally sitting in her old cat-piss-covered recliner. She kicked up her feet, took a drink of vodka, and then opened the book, leafing through it. Inside she found many interesting urban legends, but didn’t stop on any of them. For now she just kept leafing through, sort of glancing at the chapters. Then she came to one titled “The Curse of Mr. Deadman.” She had never heard of Mr. Deadman and wondered who he was. She started reading and learned this was an urban legend that claimed that if a person stared into a mirror and said the name Mr. Deadman exactly seventeen times, a ghostly figure would appear, commanding them to commit unspeakably evil acts.
She kept reading. The book said if the person didn’t do what Mr. Deadman commanded, he or she would die a horrible death. But the book didn’t say what the method of death was at first, only referring to it as being something “horrible beyond comprehension.” When Libby read further, she discovered that, according to the legend, failure to obey Mr. Deadman would result in explosive diarrhea. This caused Libby to chuckle. What was so bad about diarrhea? It made you feel terrible, but beyond that, what was the big deal? But then she read further and learned that the person would supposedly then drown in their diarrhea. What the hell? She didn’t understand. How could such a thing even be possible? She didn’t know and the book didn’t explain. Not that it mattered. It was silly anyway. There was no such thing as Mr. Deadman and Libby felt confident no one had ever died drowning in their own liquified shit, and if they had it hadn’t been the result of some stupid urban legend. She closed the book, shaking her head.
She took another drink. She grabbed the television remote and switched the TV on. When it came to life, there was only static. She switched the channel, finding more static. What was this bullshit? She continued flipping through the channels, finding that the cable was out. Shit. She switched off the television and sat the remote down. She took another drink and looked back down at the True Urban Legends.
Mr. Deadman! Who the hell would ever believe such a crock of shit? It was stupid. All of it. She thought about the story, contemplating death by diarrhea drowning. Could it be true? No. Of course not. It was absurd. Scooter climbed down from the back of her chair now, onto her right shoulder, and then down onto her lap, sitting on top of the book. He purred loudly, but Libby paid him no mind. She was lost in thought, considering the urban legend.
“It’s bullshit,” she said aloud. “Pure bullshit.” She looked at Scooter now, and he looked at her as she did. “What do you think about Mr. Deadman?” Scooter said nothing, just blinking at her. “I think it’s a load of crap, Scooter,” she said. “That’s what I think.” The thought of the book trying to convince readers of such nonsense suddenly infuriated her. She pulled the book out from beneath Scooter and hurled it at the wall, striking one of Connie June’s collectible Wizard of Oz plates, causing it to fall and shatter on top of the TV.
“Christ,” she muttered. She sat there thinking about Mr. Deadman. She grabbed Scooter to lift him. “Move, Scooter,” she said. She tossed the cat to the side of the recliner, lowered her legs, and stood again. She wobbled a little, as she usually did when she first stood. She made her way around the chair back to her bedroom. She slid in through the door, which was obstructed by a large trash pile. She made her way in, wading through piles of old clothes, newspapers, and mostly-dried cat shit. She went into the bathroom and stood before the dirty mirror over the sink, staring at her reflection. She rarely did this as the sight of what she’d become sickened her. There was no one particular thing, but it was all of it, from the sores covering her face to her yellow Chiclet teeth to her dirty, scraggly hair.
How many times did she have to say Mr. Deadman’s name to make this work? She thought about it for a moment, trying to remember. Then it came to her: seventeen. Yes, that was it. Seventeen. What an odd, random number. Was there a significance? The book hadn’t said. Well hell, she thought. Here goes nothing. She began uttering the name Mr. Deadman over and over again, saying it seventeen times. She stared, waiting. Nothing happened.
Shocker. None of this shit ever worked.
Libby started to turn away, but then saw a shimmering face starting to appear in the mirror, becoming clearer and clearer with each passing second. It was a horrifying face. A man’s face with no eyes. Instead, it looked like there were black scribbles over the spot where the eyes would have been. This, she knew, was Mr. Deadman.
Libby started to scream. She felt as if her blood was turning cold in her veins. Her breath caught. She wanted to move but could not as she was frozen with fear.
“Hello, Libby,” Mr. Deadman said with a horrible, scratchy voice that made her feel as if she might piss herself. “I want you to do something.”
She stared, terrified, her eyes transfixed on that horrible face.
“There’s a lawn mower in the shed,” said the voice. “The one the boy uses to mow.”
Libby didn’t understand.
“Take your cats and bury them up to their necks in the earth. Then, once they’re trapped with only their heads sticking up, I want you to start the mower and run over them. Kill those cats, Libby. Obliterate the little fuckers.”
Mr. Deadman started to laugh a horrifying cackle. Then he stopped, looking at her. Although he had no eyes, Libby was certain he was staring at her. “Kill every cat you see, starting with yours. Cut off their heads. But kill yours first. Shred their heads with the mower.”
Libby grabbed her temples, her hands sliding through her greasy hair and clutching the sides of her head. She wanted it to stop. She wanted to scream and tell him to stop, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t say anything. She doubled over, trying to scream, but nothing came out. She felt confused and terrified and many other things she couldn’t identify. She straightened up, standing erect again. When she did, she looked into the mirror, but the apparition was gone. Where had he gone? Her eyes darted back and forth, her head turning with them. She looked around the bathroom and then back into the bedroom, but no one was there.
WHAT THE FUCK?!
She tried to regain her bearings. Tried to make sense of it. But none of it made sense. Her mind was racing, a thousand thoughts at once, all jumbled and confusing. As she stared into the bedroom, Cat Man Do strutted out into her path. Her eyes locked on him. At that moment she heard Mr. Deadman’s voice clearly.
“DO IT, LIBBY! CUT OFF HIS FUCKING HEAD!”
Libby screamed now, for the first time. She screamed and she kept screaming for what seemed like an eternity. Her screams didn’t scare the cat away. Instead he just stood there, staring at her as if to say she was an idiot.
“DO IT, BITCH!”
She stopped screaming and stared at the cat, their eyes locking, and he blinked. Staring at him, she began to imagine how easily his legs might be pulled from their sockets and how they might be twisted clean off. That could be fun. So much fun. She could do that before she buried the little fucker, she thought.
NO! She stopped herself. She would never do such a thing, even though she wanted to so very desperately. It was then she realized that Mr. Deadman was somehow compelling her to do and desire such actions. No, she had to resist, had to fight him. She stared at the cat, feeling an overwhelming desire to poke out his eyes with her fingernails.
Cat Man Do was a dick, her least favorite of her fur babies. But she wasn’t about to hurt him or any of the others. She wouldn’t hurt any cats, let alone shred or behead them. As she thought this, her mind simultaneously tempted her with images of herself ripping the cat’s limbs from its body. She had to stop herself. But…she wanted to do it. She wanted to do it REALLY FUCKING BADLY. She moved towards Cat Man Do, waving her arms frantically in attempt to scare him away, but the cat stood his ground. She turned sideways and slid through the piles, past him, towards the door. It took all the strength she could muster to keep herself from dismembering him. Cat Man Do rubbed his ass against the leg of her sweatpants as she passed him.
Libby went through the door into the living room, where she immediately saw two of the cats, Marvin and Scooter, lying there in her path.
“CUT OFF THEIR HEADS, YOU CUNT! DO IT! DO IT NOW!”
Libby turned instinctively, looking for Mr. Deadman, but no one was there. The voice was inside her head.“I WANT TO SEE HEADLESS FUCKING CATS NOW! HEADLESS CATS EVERYWHERE!”
Libby looked at Marvin staring at her. She knew it wasn’t possible, but she believed she saw recognition in his eyes, like he knew.
“Don’t worry, baby,” she heard herself saying. “Mama would never hurt her babies.”
But the voice came again, booming and menacing, hurting her head. “RIP IT OFF NOW! RIP OFF HIS FUCKING HEAD WITH YOUR BARE HANDS!”
“No,” she said defiantly. “I won’t do it! I’ll never do it!”
She started to move, not knowing where she was heading. Now she was running, somehow sliding her big body through the piles, moving towards the kitchen, where Spidey jumped out. Libby screamed, throwing her hands in the air.
She turned and Stinky emerged, practically begging to be murdered. Seeing the cats made her feel a strong desire to hurt them with her hands, hurt them with knives, hurt them with the mower, hurt them with anything and everything she could find. It didn’t matter what the tool was as long as the cats all died excruciating deaths.
She wouldn’t. Not ever.
No, she told herself. She turned to her left, and there was Ilsa. Libby screamed, unsure where to go to escape. As long as the cats were there and she could see them, she would feel an unrelenting desire to destroy them. As long as Libby was inside the trailer, none of the cats would be safe. She turned and bolted towards the door, leaping over Marvin as she did. She stumbled forward, her hand out, stopping herself from falling by grabbing the doorknob. She twisted it, pushing it, and the door swung open, exposing her to the bright light of the sun and the sweltering summer heat. She screamed a high-pitched scream, putting her arm up over her eyes to shield them. Still moving, she stumbled forward towards the steps and stumbled down them onto the pavement. The impact stunned her and she banged her chin. It hurt like hell. Her whole body did. She forced herself to stand. She had to run—for her fur babies. She had to make sure they were safe.
She stood there for a brief moment, wobbling, afraid she might topple again. But she didn’t. She forced one foot in front of the other and started moving again, her atrophied version of a run. She moved forward as fast as she could—not fast by anyone else’s standards but fast for her—and she approached the gate to the chain-link fence. She lifted its handle, opening it, and she moved through it. She stumbled again, but kept propelling herself forward, somehow staying on her feet. She was in the street now, moving. Her balance was lacking, but she continued moving. She made it about two houses down before she saw the Siamese cat sitting on the curb to her left.
She screamed, stumbling to her right in an attempt to get past it. She kept stumbling forward, each step clomping down hard against the hard pavement.
“Fuck you, Mr. Deadman,” she spat defiantly, panting and out of breath. “Fuck you. I will never kill cats. Never.”
She kept moving, finding the slightest bit of confidence as she did. It dawned on her how remarkable it was she was outside the trailer. She started to smile at this, but then it happened… As she continued bounding ahead, she felt a sharp pain in her stomach, followed by a loud gurgling sound in her belly. Her eyes grew large and she realized what was about to happen. But she kept moving, her muscles on autopilot.
And it began. She felt her bowels loosen and the first wave of warm diarrhea shot into her panties.
“Fuck,” she managed, realizing she was about to discover how people drown in their own diarrhea. She looked toward the sky, uttering a prayer under her breath. Then she felt her bowels loosen again as the second onslaught of liquid shit ejected into her panties.
She started to slow now, her muscles still trying. She was out of breath and tears streamed down her face. She could feel the warm wetness of the liquid shit in her pants as it snaked down her thighs. She stopped now, feeling another wave coming. She turned towards the Siamese, now twenty feet away. She moved towards it slowly, holding out an inviting curled finger.
“Here kitty, kitty,” she said.
The Siamese cat stood there staring at her as she moved towards it. Maybe there was still hope, she thought. Her stomach rumbled again as she moved closer. “Here kitty, kitty.”
Maybe, just maybe.
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