Victor-Bluebeards-Wife-2008-Etching-LRThe challenge was to write a 500-word story inspired by this superb etching by the artist Diane Victor, part of a series, Pandora’s Sisters, courtesy David Krut Projects Cape Town.

Congratulations to Claudia Ferreira who wins a R250 voucher to an independent bookstore of your choice.

Helplessness Blues

 His beard is a big and bushy Lumbersexual dream. It’s bright electric blue, like her favourite nail polish.

He shows her around the flat, pointing out his most treasured items. The kiln where he bakes the pottery heads he sells at the rooftop market each Sunday. The mid-century modern desk where he works an old typewriter with glass keys. The cow skull he says he found at a desert music festival while tripped out on Khat.

There’s one room he doesn’t show her. He warns her not to enter under any circumstances. That must be where he keeps the weird sex stuff, she thinks, before turning her attention to a Mondo poster of Steve Zissou on the wall.

At first, they’re great together. She’s finally found someone who understands her, who gets her taste.

They stay up nights listening to Sub-Pop records on his vintage-styled Crosley turntable. They snuggle out on the balcony, making up stories about the people passing below. They host movie nights for his friends, where they make fun of cheesy ‘80s movies.

But then, she begins to find little things about him that irritate her. The smell that lingers on the breakfast table after he’s smoked his disgusting pipe. The ironic covers of Katy Perry songs he clumsily plays on the banjo. His obsession with Mumblecore. God, she can’t stand Greta fucking Gerwig.

One day, she asks him if he has any hip hop records they can jam to. He hands her some Kendrick Lamar. She asks if he has anything older. He hands her early Kanye.

Later, after he falls asleep streaming NPR, she goes to the Dalmatian-shaped jar he keeps his keys in and takes out the one to the forbidden room.

A bizarre sight awaits her when she finally finds the light-switch – piles of CDs and DVDs adorn every inch of shelf space and most of the floor.

Who even buys CDs anymore, she thinks as she picks up a DVD case from the shelf. A wormy feeling of dread starts making its way up her spine. There’s something not quite right about this picture.

At first, she can’t quite comprehend what she’s looking at. Adam Sandler stares back at her in a wig and hoop earrings. Then she realises it’s the movie Jack & Jill. The wormy feeling starts metamorphosing into a Kafkaesque horror.

She grabs a handful of CDs. Each one is worse than the last. The Essential Michael Bolton. Celine Dion: Taking Chances. My Name is Skrillex.

She drops the next one as if it were white-hot. It’s a Kurt Darren CD.

“I see you found my secret,” a voice says from the doorway. “You realise I’m going to have to kill you, right?”

She turns to look at him, his bearded face half-hidden in the shadows. He holds a novelty lamp in his hand. She tries to speak but she can’t think of anything to say.

He walks towards her and raises the lamp.

We’d also like to commend a number of other entries and their authors.

Deidre Donnelly who wrote a curious and intriguing story set in the maplotter heartland…

Of the neglected plots edging the forest, the most isolated was Blouballe’s. He’d earned that epithet when he failed to make the school rugby team. With his chickenish legs and round shoulders, it was enough for him to be labelled a frustrated man: more blouballe than Blou Bulle.

Japie, growing up on the neighbouring plot, thought it unfair. While you’d never find Blouballe at the bar with the manne, when he went hunting in his pelt, he looked semi-manly. And when his parents passed and he erected the ‘taxidermy’ sign out front, Japie thought Blouballe had finally accepted his eccentricity.

Japie watched him. She knew what it was like to feel alone. Her only friend was Groot Kattie, the scavenger cat that had arrived on her folks’ stoep. Groot Kattie was scrappy, but could she growl! Scavenging for survival meant Groot Kattie hadn’t mastered the manipulative ‘miaow’. Her guttural ‘MAAAAooooooWaaaaaahhhhhh’ seemed summoned from the depths of the forest itself. The stalking-giveaway sound was perhaps why she lived off ‘sloppy seconds’. Yet there’s skill in scavenging: You must know where to hang around.

Japie had seen women visit the hermit. None stayed. Japie and Blouballe seemed destined to be solitary, until the night Blouballe caught Groot Kattie and Japie on his erf. He wasn’t angry. He just appraised Japie for the first time. When Blouballe eventually proposed, Japie’s parents were relieved: She wasn’t his first choice, but maybe he’d make a woman of their semi-feral child.

When Japie took Blouballe’s hand to cross the fence, Groot Kattie hissed and snarled. “It’s like I’m a brak!” said Japie. Blouballe hurried her into their conjugal home.

That night, Japie felt tension as they retired to the bedroom. But when Blouballe’s pelt parted, and she saw those scrawny legs, she felt no desire. Surprisingly, Blouballe seemed pacified – jolly, even.

After months of unconsummated marriage, Blouballe visited the city. He left his keys, reminding Japie that his taxidermy den was out of bounds.

Japie, curious as a cat, was tempted.

When she opened the den’s trellidoor, the smell of decay overwhelmed her. Soon, shapes emerged from the shadows − corpses in various stages of disintegration. Flayed flanks, jars of jellied organs, putrefied heads on poles.

She recognised the women in this cadaver cave. Looking at their black-and-blueish flesh, Japie was furious. These bodies, still at his mercy? How undignified!

Her rage became an unstoppable desire. She first nibbled an earlobe, bit a lip… then she ripped into breasts, buttocks, thighs… She ate until she’d sung over the clean-picked bones of the women who’d preceded her.

When Blouballe found Japie in a glassy-eyed stupor, a grinning skull cradled between her thighs, she saw what the others had seen: fear in the face of a woman’s desire. She was hit by an urge: the want for fresh blood. ‘But what will I do with his body? I’m done with scraps,’ she wondered. Blouballe gripped at the trellidoor just as a sound emerged from the other side: “MAAAAooooooWaaaaaahhhhhh.”

Mia Dancey whose entry is dark and full of deliberate ambiguity entirely in keeping with the ambiguity’s of Victor’s etching…

You’ve heard my name. You’ve heard of the horrors that are caused in my wake. Hunger. Sickness. Pain. Desperation. I prowl the dark alleys at night; I slip slyly into your dreams and fill them with misery. You may not believe I exist, you may not believe my stories but you’ve heard of me. And you’ve felt my presence. I am wreathed in a cloak of shimmering gold shot through with black arrow holes. Many people have tried to kill me but to no avail. My teeth gleam like sabres in the darkness and my eyes glow red with glee at your hopelessness. When you fall through the looking glass, my echoing laughter is the last thing you’ll ever hear…

***

Many eons ago there was a young man. Full of hope and joy, he stepped into the world wreathed in his own silken cloak. His stance was proud and his face was keen. He had a dark, luscious beard framing his handsome features. His very footfalls rang with honour and dignity.

The noble man encountered many hardships along his journey: dragons, wraiths, witches, ghouls, ghosts and other creatures of the dark forests. He defeated them all. His sword was quick and his arm strong; the dragons, witches and ghouls fell before his might.

But as the years went by, the man grew weaker. There were monsters far darker lying hidden in men’s hearts than in the blackest corners of the forests. These were not monsters his quick blade or strong arm could cut down; these were not monsters to be defeated.

Despite this, the man continued on his way. Yet he grew thinner and his eyes seemed hidden behind heavy lids. His once sumptuous beard was now knotted and dirty but under the grit it still held some of its previous shine.

The man wandered far and wide across the land. He met many people along his way: bartenders and merchants, fishwives and herbalists, noblemen, priests, and ladies of the night. He met sell-swords and cutthroats, thieves and liars, corruptors, rapists and other foul souls living in the dirtiest corners.

When the man finally returned home, his face was thin and haggard and his eyes were sunken holes in his face. Each day he saw the monsters of men and each night he saw me. He became weaker still, disappearing slowly into the murk of the world until he became nothing but the detritus of history. I paced impatiently about him, waiting for him to join me.

One day, the man tied a noose around his neck and kicked the chair from under his feet. His face was white and red, as my jaws closed around his throat. Mine, finally. The last thing he ever heard was my echoing cackle.

The man with the silken cloak and keen face, the man whose step once rang with honour and dignity now haunts my shadow. His eyes are pits in his empty face and his beard is blue with dirt.

And Elle Katzeff’s story turns the original on its head in a very satisfying way indeed.

In the end it was pitiful really, seeing him shorn like an old sheep, shivering at the door. I had thought him a worthier adversary. All those years, my sisters and I had plotted and schemed, none till I could beguile him. And we had paid a heavy price, dispatching each wife with an undue haste so that the village hummed with speculation. By wife number four, all but Perrault the butcher, and Jean-Baptiste, the owner of Blackheath tavern would cross the road to avoid him. He’d had to go further afield to find his next wife, and only my family knew that he had hidden her lifeless body in the cellar,  so terrified was he of more talk amongst the locals. Truth be told we can’t take credit for that one, for she had slipped whilst climbing, silly girl, and all a brother had to do was twist the neck a little more, and that was that. Or so we thought. For try as she might, Marie could not entice him. Mother’s hands were raw from her job as a washerwoman but what use were they, when not even a fine dress could disguise Marie’s shortcomings. Without meaning to be rude, not one of my sisters could hold a candle to my beauty. I was fair of complexion you see, and even as a child had to contend with lascivious advances. It would have been easy to open my legs like a cellar door but mother knew how highly prized the contents were, and so we guarded the treasure until the time was just right. It’s not that I’m heartless you understand, I’ve been known to lend a hand to elderly townsfolk, and I’m a dab hand at settling a baby. Good with dogs too, and gentle with horses. Still, we’ve had too many years of hardship, too many nights of hunger to be sentimental about these things. And all those women before me, had grown up soft, for he only chose from gentlefolk. Until me. So they’d had it easy, I always reasoned, if overcome with a little remorse. By the time, I caught him he was richer than Midas, and as weary as a fish flapping feebly on the line. It took some doing to get him to the altar but there’s nothing like a Virgin to revive an old man’s appetites. And whilst he might not have been the biggest one I’d seen, he was as hard as a school boy when I hooked him. I rode him like a mad thing, until he cried with happiness the poor thing. Mother always said that every man wants a virgin who’s a whore, and he was no exception.

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