Dark comedy, horror, surrealism
© Isabella Bailey 2020
All rights reserved.
Henrietta Higgins did not have a particularly itchy back, and on those rare occasions when she did feel the need to scratch between her shoulders, she was perfectly capable of doing so without outside assistance. Nevertheless, the bamboo back scratcher she'd discovered at a rummage sale ten years ago was one of her most treasured possessions. For someone her age and stature, it was like a best friend, crucial for navigating the tall shelves and high cupboards of her sprawling Victorian mansion. It also played a critical role in the unfortunate events that took place on April 15th, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The eighty-seven-year-old widow of timeshare magnate Humphrey Higgins, Henrietta had inherited her husband’s estate ten years ago after he passed away in an unfortunate seltzer-related accident, the details of which I will spare you here. The focus of our tragic tale is Henrietta, who now lived alone in the sprawling family manor with only her two cats, Priscilla and Egbert, to keep her company. None of this particularly bothered her.
Mrs. Higgins was a plump woman who stood a proud four feet and six inches tall. Her hair was a cap of tight curls which she had permed and colored every three weeks without fail, come rain, shine, or even the occasional typhoon. Her pedigreed locks were supposed to be a regal shade of silver, but generally came across as more of a sickly lavender color. Due to her failing eyesight, Henrietta had never realized this, and no one in her circles had the heart to tell her. Aside from the occasional social visit to her friends in the Wealthy Widows Who Play Backgammon Club, she mostly kept to herself in her estate. Henrietta had always been a solitary creature, and was perfectly content indulging in a steady diet of Murder, She Wrote, Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra, and at least seventeen prunes a day. She found the quiet relaxing, and was able to get so much done around the house, such as knitting sweaters for hairless animals and adding to her vast collection of knick knacks. You could never have too many, she believed.
Most of these daily tasks she accomplished with the help of her back scratcher. Due to her small size, fetching things from high heights was difficult without risking a nasty fall. Thankfully, the best solution was often the simplest. With this in mind, she had adopted the practice of using her back scratcher to pull things down from the higher shelves that would have otherwise been out of reach. There was a bit of a learning curve, to be sure — she smashed more than one snow globe before getting the hang of it — but not having to haul out the stepladder was worth the occasional casualty, or so she thought. This would prove to be a grave miscalculation.
Our tragic tale takes place on the morning of April 15th, what would have otherwise been a normal Tuesday. Maybe it was fate that brought her face-to-face with the statue that day, or maybe it was chance. We may never know the answer, but one thing is certain: Mrs. Higgins had no idea just what kinds of forces she was meddling with that day.
Her morning had gotten off to a slow start. The alarm clock went off at 7:45 sharp, signaling that it was time for her usual breakfast of tomatoes on toast, cottage cheese, and two cups of tea: lemon and ginger to get her motor running, followed by English breakfast because, well, it was breakfast. With that out of the way, she made her morning rounds, cranking the Duke Ellington and feeding Egbert and Priscilla, who were inexplicably out of sorts today. Her wanderings eventually took her to the parlor, where she indulged in a second cup of English breakfast while wondering whether she should have someone come over to trim the hedges, which bordered the front driveway and were cut in the shapes of various mollusks. Then, as her eyes drifted from the topiary to the old rotary phone on the coffee table, she saw it.
There, on the mantel above the fireplace, stood a statue.
Jammed in as it was amongst the various pictures, ornaments, and baubles that made up her impressive collection, she might not have noticed it at all if her eyes hadn’t happened upon it. No bigger than a football, it was nestled between Humphrey’s 1957 Semiannual Bird Watching Championship trophy and a porcelain narwhal… and it was without a doubt the worst thing she had ever laid eyes on.
It was a statue of an overweight baby sitting atop a lion, rendered with artistic care in solid marble. The baby was wielding a battle axe, which it held high above its head, poised to strike, and it on its pudgy face it wore an expression of vicious indignation. Its eyes, hewn from polished onyx, gleamed blacker than black, glaring at Henrietta from across the room. It seemed to issue a silent challenge, a call to arms, as it stared her down in a way that could only be described as profoundly unnerving.
Where had it come from, she wondered? How long had it been there? She had long made a habit of cataloguing every knickknack she added to her collection, and knew every pocket watch and pill box like the back of her liver-spotted hand. She couldn’t place this statue, however, or even for the life of her figure out where she might have gotten it. It was almost as if it had just appeared on the mantel, seemingly out of nowhere.
She supposed its origins didn’t much matter. Everything about it was offensive to the senses, and she knew immediately that she had to be rid of it. It gave off an aura of scorn and superiority, almost like it was judging her, which was, of course, absolutely ridiculous. Regardless, it was the eyesore to end all eyesores, and all that mattered to her at that moment was getting it off the mantel and into a garbage can.
Knowing what she had to do, Henrietta rose from her armchair, her tea forgotten, and took a wary step toward the fireplace to investigate. The baby’s eyes bored into her as she moved closer.
Come and get me, it appeared to taunt.
Oh, I will.
Her face set in grim determination, Henrietta reached for the statue, ignoring the angry popping that emitted from her left knee, which was about two decades overdue for a replacement. She rose onto her tiptoes, but it was no use. The statue stood just out of reach. She would need her back scratcher, she realized, but part of her felt strangely apprehensive about taking her eyes off the marble baby, even for just a minute. Something about the hideous bauble set her on edge, and she was momentarily struck by the absurd notion that it would be gone by the time she got back from the kitchen.
There was nothing for it, though. With no other choice, Henrietta squared her shoulders and strode off purposefully in the direction of the doorway. With her back to the fireplace, her hackles went up. An alarming sensation had descended upon her, faint but insistent.
She felt like she was being watched.
No, not watched — observed, with an air of umbrage and an agenda that she could neither know nor comprehend.
Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself, fumbling in the drawer for her back scratcher. It’s not watching you. It’s a statue, and statues can’t watch people. Just toss it and you can move on with your day.
That steadied her, and soon enough she was returning to the parlor with her weapon of choice, ready to do battle.
Just try it, the statue seemed to proclaim. See what happens.
Disgruntled but determined, Henrietta stalked back to the fireplace. If she could just move it a couple inches, she would be able to lift it down. Standing on her tiptoes, she swept the back scratcher in the statue’s direction. She missed spectacularly, and let out a rather unbecoming exclamation as arthritic pain shot up her arm. Gritting her dentures, she tried again, not holding back this time. Despite connecting with several other ornaments, the back scratcher still missed its target, although by all appearances, it was well within reach.
Odd, she thought.
The statue stared defiantly down at her. You’ll never get rid of me, you old bat!
Gripping the back scratcher with both hands, Henrietta swiped at it again, tipping over one of her favorite Fabergé eggs in the process, but again, she missed. The statue continued to watch her.
She tried again to displace it, and then again — once, twice, three times. Her swatting had become more indiscriminate, and she grew increasingly agitated with every failed attempt. Why couldn’t she reach the blasted thing? Her back scratcher had never failed her like this before, even with heavier objects on higher shelves. And yet somehow, the fat baby remained where it was, glaring down at her from atop its lion steed, its battle axe raised threateningly. It was almost like…
Like it’s moving out of the way.
The thought came and went before she could give it any real consideration, but it brought with it a renewed sense of unease. Where had it come from? More importantly, how had she never noticed it before, especially given its attitude?
Now just hold on a minute. She took a step back. A statue can’t have an attitude.
Craning her neck, she assessed her foe for a moment before approaching for another attack, this time using the hooked end of the back scratcher. She missed.
Again. She missed.
It is moving around. The thought was back, and this time, it didn’t depart so quickly. It has to be!
But was it? She’d been watching the statue this whole time. Surely if it had been moving, she would have noticed… right?
The baby scowled at her from on high, not offering any answers.
Anger boiled in Henrietta’s stomach, overshadowing her bewilderment. Those eyes were what was getting to her, and the accusatory way they stared, like she was the interloper, and not this abominable hunk of marble. She wasn’t about to be defeated by a statue, much less one as ugly as this. She was Henrietta Higgins, and she was invincible.
The statue continued to watch her, unmoved, projecting an air that said, You really think you can beat me?
Henrietta let out an incensed growl. All rational thought was rapidly going out the window, along with whatever her other plans had been. She would keep at this all morning — all day, if she had to. Her mission was singular, and she would not rest until the statue was out in the rubbish bins where it belonged.
A new strategy came to her then, and she turned away from the fireplace, hoping to catch the thing by surprise. Pausing long enough to steel herself, she whirled back around, ignoring her protesting joints. Her attack caught the handle of Humphry’s bird-watching trophy, which toppled to the floor and fractured into multiple pieces.
The statue didn’t budge.
Outraged, Henrietta lunged forward like an Olympic fencer, her eyes wide with a ferocity that was half-deranged. Her swipes were frenzied, sending other decorations tumbling to the floor alongside the broken trophy, but she hardly cared. The statue consumed her thoughts, boiled her blood, and only seemed to mock her more with each passing moment. At one point, Egbert the cat wandered in, only to quickly depart upon seeing his mistress in such a state of rage. But her target stood strong, and her arthritis-stricken shoulders were getting tired.
Just when she was ready to give up hope, however, one of Henrietta’s blows connected, and the statue moved — only a little, no more than a fraction of an inch. For a moment, she hardly dared believe it, but it was true: She had managed to shift it ever so slightly to the right.
Eyes widening, Henrietta set upon it with renewed vigor. Give up, old woman! the marble baby seemed to yell, its axe gleaming in the morning light that streamed in through the windows. You’re no match for me! I am chaos! I am eternity! I have always been and always will be! You are nothing!
But Henrietta was not to be deterred. The heat of battle galvanized her even as the baby continued to issue its silent threats. She would have the last laugh. She was hellbent. Never in her eighty-seven years had she put up this kind of a fight, and she doubted she ever would again. This was an adversary like no other, an insult of unknown origin, and she would not let it win. Rising to the balls of her feet, Henrietta stretched her arm high above her head, her eyes bloodshot, her wrinkled face contorting in an expression of heated determination. Her shoulder straining in its socket, she swept the backscratcher with all her might one final, frantic time…
And the statue came tumbling off the mantle.
In that moment, time seemed to stand still. The statue spun and turned in the air, end over end, every chubby limb shining in the light, its battle axe twinkling and its dark eyes raging, its lion steed roaring savagely as it fell, plummeting, careening, down, down...
Down onto the top of poor Henrietta’s head. There was a sickening crunch, and then she crumpled to the ground in a heap, her back scratcher skittering madly away across the floor. The statue landed nearby, crashing down with enough force to split the hardwood. And as Henrietta Higgins lay there in a puddle of blood, it remained miraculously undamaged, as perfectly plump and polished as it had been in the beginning... if it even had a beginning.
© 2020 Isabella Bailey
All rights reserved.