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author’s note

well, i’m finished with my novel.  it seems strange, but there you have it.

when i got to the end, when judy has her last words, i was really depressed, because the only other thing i could write was all of the biblical crap that mom adorned judy’s literary efforts with.

but someone had posted a joke on facebook earlier, and i passed it on, and when i was talking to jim about why i was so depressed just to leave it like that, the joke suddenly occurred to me, and it fit right in.

little serendipities, little miracles.

so it’s done now, and swells the ranks of actual novels that i’ve actually completed.  there’s splat, and there’s this one that i’ve finished.  there’s construction news, cathy eats her words, lazy is good, my pirate novel, the starving artist guide, bad grandma, and my memoirs.  they’re unfinished.  hey, it’s a great average.  so far none of them are published.  my dad ran that kind of average, and he never stopped writing.

you do it because you love to do it.  you do it because you have to do it.  it’s an internal pressure.  it’s an addiction.

so now i’ll let it sit until i feel like reworking it. and then i’ll either rework it or write something completely different.  the fun is in the writing.  i don’t really care if they’re published, unless i live for a long time and end up making a living as a writer.  i’m not making a living as a painter, and that doesn’t stop me, so we’ll just have to see.

it’s been fun.  it’s been difficult at times, but when the flow started all i had to do was sit back and type as fast as i could, record as much richness as i could of the stream of scenes and dialog that streamed past my mind’s eye.

i love to write.  there’s something more direct about my connection to the flow when i’m writing than when i’m paintings.  i don’t have to think as much about my materials when they are words as opposed to pigments, binders, and implements.

i hope to be writing for a long time to come, as long as i have ideas.  maybe i should start with short stories, but i don’t like stopping at the end of the chapter.

start here to read the story…

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day 6

Chapter Twenty-Nine

It was a year and a half after Judy’s was convicted of the murders of all her siblings and a good portion of the town besides.

Allen was arrested when it came out that he was Judy’s weed connection and Gordon’s henchman, but they promised him a reduced sentence for testifying against Judy, so he’d spent a few months back in prison, but was out in no time.

He enlisted Sam and Dave to watch over Mom while he was away, and they took good care of her. Mom was the first one they’d ever met who got the joke, and they were so pleased that they worked up a routine for her and serenaded her with a new song every time they came over.

Alice visited all the time with the kids, and took Mom along on trips and outings. She and Ben dated for a minute, and got married as soon as Mom felt it was decent, and when Alice told her she was pregnant again, Mom was just as excited as if Alice were her real daughter. Ben met with the board of directors of Rick’s software firm, erased a few files, resigned with a very healthy package, and spent his time being a stay-at-home dad, and mashing up security footage put up on You-Tube.

Gordon’s will, scrawled on the back of an envelope, gave Mom his newly-acquired strip club empire. This was a little hard for Mom to take until the nice military men came back thru town and explained it to her. She was delighted to do her patriotic duty, and let Allen dirty his hands running the business, with the help of a competent management team – Sam and Dave, who continued to report to the FBI.

Judy’s house was in Frank’s name because Judy’s credit had always been shitty. So with the will Mom forced Frank to write, and a quitclaim from Judy, she got it all years before it would have gone to her anyway. The notebook with Frank’s new will was never found. Mom took one look inside the house, complained that everything smelled of mold, and it all went into dumpsters. They fumigated, then rented the house to a stranger.

Mom and Allen got married a few months after Alice and Ben did. She’d put him thru all the tests, and was satisfied that she was finally marrying a like-minded old fashioned upright Christian gentleman, and he did everything to make sure she continued to think that, and counted his lucky stars. Sure, Mom controlled all the money, kept the car keys, and constantly had work for him to do. But Allen enjoyed Mom’s sexual proclivities, and didn’t mind if she had to be right all the time. They got along just fine.

***

Thanks to the new streamlined federal appeals process, Judy’s journey from guilty verdict to death row and beyond was swift and sure, and before two years were up, she was able to count her remaining time in weeks, then days.

At first she dearly wished she had testified. She knew that none of what the prosecution said applied to her – not the poison, not the childhood animosity, not the welcome mat, not the shot fired at Laurie – never mind the silly serial killings. It was inconceivable that the jury wouldn’t see thru the prosecution’s made-up story, that they wouldn’t see that Judy was behaving exactly like an older sister is supposed to behave, stepping in and taking over and making everything right.

It was obvious that she’d been busy saving her whole family. Well, there was nothing she could have done to help Rick, and all that poison had absolutely nothing to do with her. She only moved the mat out of concern for others’ safety, and the gun went off by itself. Couldn’t they see that? She was convinced that her innocence was obvious right up until the foreman stood up and read an endless stream of counts and guilty verdicts.

Until that point, she was happy with her lawyer’s efforts to prove she was just trying to help. After the verdict, she realized that he’d just been humoring her, while practically winking at the jury – that eager to distance himself from the crazy bag lady smelly mass murderer he was forced to represent.

There was an effort during the sentencing phase to have her punishment include mental health treatment. They made her see several doctors, and forced her to take medication for a minute, but once she was transferred to death row they let her skip the meds, and the infirmary techs sold them to other prisoners instead.

After the celebrity of being in the general population as a serial family killer, she’d been in isolation since she was moved to death row, and spent all her time working on a fictionalized autobiography, a rip roaring according-to-her fantasy of what happened, seamlessly blending truth and fiction to portray a higher reality. What the hell, she was on death row, who was going to care if she made it a screwball comedy? An alien conspiracy? A zombie story? Whatever it was, it would be a bestselling flash in the pan, and all the money would go to Mom, who would insist on playing herself in any movie.

Since all the official evidence pointed at Judy, and nobody was going to believe that she didn’t do everything she was convicted of, she wanted to piece the whole thing together for herself, using what she knew about her family, filling in the gaps with her own informed creativity.

But there was a problem with Judy writing the story her way – it was all first draft, and no editor. And this is a problem because when you die and they go to publish what you’ve written, it’s incomprehensible – notes and shorthand, ramblings and fairy tales, big words used out of context, really bad logical arguments and pungent purple prose. It was as if she’d used a whole bunch of stickies for headings, and filled out the details with a felt-tip in a big notebook.

She exaggerated here and there, like putting dragons in Cindy’s head. For all she knew, Cindy had been ruthlessly sane the whole time she was out killing the dogs and the neighbors. But Judy couldn’t see Cindy doing most of the things she did without being off her head, so she wrote Cindy as a schizophrenic, drug-addled spoiled brat, not much different than she had been as a child.

And Rick. She may have put words into his mouth, and made up some of his actual thoughts, but he was always the same, always self important, always unscrupulous, always out to win at any price. It was easy to write Rick because he was so transparent, such a tantrum-throwing bully. She actually toned down some of the shit he did to Alice, because she just couldn’t stand to write it down.

And Gordon, he was a walnut. Not because he was all that secretive – his style was to tell everybody everything and hide things in plain sight. And Judy always understood him. But she’d never gone as deep into drug-induced psychosis as he had, so it was kind of a stretch. Like with Cindy, Judy really didn’t have a good sense of what they were like inside.

But Mom; well, Mom was an open book, just like Rick was. Her displeasure showed on her face, in the tilt of her head, in the crook of her finger. Judy could see Mom’s resentments pouring off her body like steam. She could hear Mom’s shrill thoughts in her head, could channel her onto the page as if she were in a trance.

If painful, it was mainly easy to write about her family, and they were easy to caricature. But Judy was hardest on herself. And even then, she was really just repeating the voices in her head. People had condemned her for years for being herself. For not doing enough with her potential, for standing up for quirky things and ignoring traditions, for always being out of touch with the way things were supposed to be done, for being an artist instead of having a real job…All that.

And always, out of a sense of fairness, she considered what they thought first. What her family thought, society, the church, government, random other humans. She always wondered if they were right. She always hesitated, second-guessed herself, ignored her own instincts because they might just be right. Fortunately, after a few rounds of this first reaction, she always turned over and said no – my way is what I want to do, so I’m going to do it my way – and at that point she was fine.

Looking back over her life, she made good progress; she achieved lots of small victories over others’ attempts to run her life. But she was always plagued with having to second-guess, to question her own motives, to make sure she wasn’t being as blindly self-serving as everybody around her. And each time, she decided that what she wanted to do was the right thing to do, the only choice that expressed her and made use of her unique gifts to benefit humanity. No matter what everybody else said.

And so, year after year, she’d spent her life plodding slowly along on her own agenda, ignoring – as much as possible – all those voices chorusing in unison: Don’t be stupid, Judy, don’t be wrong. Do it our way; do it the right way and we’ll all love you.

So, as far as being hardest on herself, yes and no. Nobody was more accurate in their criticism of her, nobody had more insight into her agenda and motives. In fact, she was the only expert on her that there was, the only expert on her family, the only expert on the entire story of her life. And she believed that she was a good person. So even at the end, she still decided that she was right to do it her way, and oh well if they didn’t agree.

After lights out, she spent her sleepless death row nights consoling herself that the story of her life would interest lots of people. She had lessons to impart, and advice, and her insights, and her valuable, unique palette of knowledge. So her mission, as a soul about to depart this planet, was to show people that there was another way to understand what had happened. It was her duty to tell people about her way, to show them how good it was to see the world the way Judy Fuchs saw it.

***

And then Mom came for a visit. Judy was sitting in her cell trying to wrap things up, but she’d taken a diversion, and was busy contemplating the comparison between the United States and her family. The USA as a dysfunctional family.

Her stickie read, every row a little more squinched, “Dad raped an Indian, then they got married and had a bunch of kids, who grew up to hate each other and war between themselves and pass their bad blood down thru the generations. Instead of getting it right and having normal lives. There is no normal.

She was annoyed to hear someone coming down the hall and slowing down at her cell. You’ve got a visitor. Mom.

At first Judy didn’t want to leave her cell. Her work was too important. But she thought for a minute and realized that she hadn’t forgiven Mom or Allen for being the prosecution’s star witnesses. Then she tried to look at it from Mom’s point of view, and realized that Mom had never seen Judy’s good side, and would prefer to go with the voice of authority. After all, Judy’s execution would prove Mom right.

Mom always waited until their father got home and wailed about what they’d done to her. It was the same now. Mom thought she was the one who’d been wronged, by them all, and wanted everyone to know that she had suffered horribly because – despite everything – her children had all turned out to be monsters.

But Judy went down to see her anyway. Mom was busy cleaning her part of the visiting room with disinfectant wipes, and sat fussing with the handset for awhile before actually meeting Judy’s eyes. She looked annoyed to be there. She gave the impression that she had finally given in to Judy’s incessant begging and stopped by for an interminable fifteen minutes; even tho Judy hadn’t seen her since the trial.

But that was just Mom, and Judy tried to tell her she was actually happy to see her, and asked how she was doing.

After proudly reciting the litany of just how well things were going with everybody’s life except for her daughter’s, Mom’s face changed. She looked almost sorry. She looked almost guilty.

She quietly confessed thru the handset that she should be where Judy was sitting.

Judy immediately rose to give Mom her seat.

“Hah. No, really,” Mom insisted, glad it wasn’t remotely possible. The germs.

“No really,” Judy replied, thinking of Frank’s death. She sat back down, vaguely disappointed. “Why do you think we should trade seats?”

Mom started to tear up. “Because it’s all my fault that everything happened this way.”

Judy consoled her. Mom was in shock seeing her only child days from a painful death. “No it isn’t, Mom,” she said gently. “You’re not responsible for how everybody turned out. You did your best to raise us. It might not have been good enough, but you were damaged yourself, so the deck was stacked against you.”

Mom agreed that she couldn’t win with kids like hers. “Besides,” Judy continued, “with kids like us you’re lucky to be alive and sane.”

Mom shook her head and started to sniffle. “But you don’t understand. It’s not luck at all. God did all this.”

Sure, Mom.” Judy got that barely tolerant tone in her voice. “God is in back of it all. I know. You can stop trying to make me feel better about being punished in error.”

“No,” Mom protested. “God did everything. And I asked Him to. So it’s all my doing.” She burst into tears. Life was so hard when you were God’s chosen.

Judy tried to be patient, but she wished Mom would leave so she could go back to being the center of her own universe and concentrate on dying. “Mom, what are you trying to tell me?”

Mom sniffed back a sob. “I prayed that God would give each of you what you deserved.” She started crying again, loudly. “My children – even you,” she reached a hand to the glass, “played their father against me at every opportunity. They always went behind my back, they never listened to me, they never gave me the respect I deserved, every one of then plotted against me, right up until the day they died.” She sniffed. “For all I know you’re still plotting against me yourself.”

You were batshit crazy when we were growing up, Mom!” Judy almost shouted thru the handset. “We were just kids, not demons from hell. We’re only pale reflections of the evil that lives within you.”

She glared at Judy, then patted her hair and smoothed her jacket, as if she hadn’t heard the outburst. “So I asked God to smite all of you,” she said, smiling faintly.

Judy sat and stared at her mother.

“I guess I could have prayed for something a little more merciful, but I have always prayed to God that you would get what you deserved.” Mom sat back in her chair and sighed. She was satisfied with this. It showed what a moral person she was. And because God listened to her, it meant she was right.

***

Judy fought with herself for some time after Mom left. She felt betrayed. Her mother said she loved her, and she was sorry, and she prayed for a miracle, but it was obvious that she only wanted to punish her for being Judy. That had never changed. Mom had been like that for as long as she could remember.

So Judy spent some time hating her Mom for it. And then she felt really sorry for herself because Mom didn’t love her, and her sister and brothers were dead, and Frank was gone, and there was nobody left. And she was going to die. And in the end, Judy just wanted to be loved, so she was sorry, and didn’t hate Mom anymore, and wanted Mom to love her.

Then she thought about what Mom had said. Could all these deaths be explained as miracles?

Mom wished Judy would learn her lesson, so here she was facing capital punishment.

Mom always wanted somebody to slap Rick upside his head for being such a bully, so there he was, beaten to death in public.

Mom wished Cindy would die of embarrassment for the cheap, trampy way she looked, and for thinking she was too good for her family. Cindy pissed herself before she died.

Mom wished Gordon would learn to stand on his own two feet. And he did in the end, but it only got him an exploded head.

As for the in-laws, Mom couldn’t help but give her children priority, as bad as they were. Consequently, nobody was good enough to marry into her family, and she despised them all.

Even Frank, whom she’d wished would leave her alone and crawl off into a corner.

Alice at least gave her some grandchildren, but she was so mousy she would irritate a saint, and Mom wished that she would stop being Rick’s ornament and do something with her life.

Bill was a waste of space, and she quite frankly wished he would just eat shit and die.

As for Laurie, Mom didn’t have time to get to know her, but her first impression was that Laurie was just going to cause trouble, and she sent up a quick prayer to keep the evil from her door.

And as for Allen, Mom wished for a real man, which Judy had to struggle to find a definition for, given Mom’s kinks and her slow suffocation of Dad over the years.

Finally, Mom always prayed that she would get the respect and attention she deserved, and so she made out like a bandit when everybody died. She was famous. They were making a movie about her. She had a featured advice blog and call-in show, and millions of fans already.

God is great.

***

After Mom’s visit, Judy didn’t feel like working on her autobiography any more. She felt like the goodness had drained out of life, and everything turned black overnight. Suddenly it didn’t matter about writing things down. Nobody was going to read her distilled wisdom; nobody was going to publish the contents of her stickie-infested notebook. Nobody would be able to understand what she had written. Nobody would understand her point.

Because there was no point.

The world wouldn’t even pause when she was gone; her death wouldn’t affect anything. Why should it? Her life had never affected anything. The minerals in her body would have a more lasting effect on the world.

Whatever Judy was going to be able to take with her, it was going to be what she had in her head right now. Thoughts, opinions, attitudes, baggage, buttons, memories, dreams. And the mountain of illusions and delusions and misconceptions and prejudice. Judy was a blend of anger and resentment, hope and joy. The main thing she had produced was philosophy and a certain fanciful body of rules to live by. A blend of first do no harm and fuck them if they can’t see the joke.

It really hurt that at the end of her life, she could look back and see nothing, a wasteland. Because all the things she’d studied and mastered, all the things she know, all the things that interested her – none of it could be passed on, none of it would ever be known, it would never be shared with anybody. She couldn’t understand why she was so upset about it – we’re just a scum on the side of a planet on the edge of a speck in the universe, why would one life be any different?

The end of her life was all about being alone. About the things she was inside. The reality was that these things were there for her only. And even if she hadn’t gotten all the use out of them she wanted, it was over now, and everything was going to vanish from the world.

She only wished she could still feel joy at being alive. With the world as black as it was, she could only wish that there was something that moved her. But Frank was gone, and she was going to be wiped out soon, and there was no good reason to look forward to anything. Except for death.

Now that her execution was so close, she kind of looked forward to it. The idea of spending the long years of the rest of her life in prison was horrifying to her. Not that she couldn’t have a decent, comfortable, dependable life in prison. But it’s not the life she wanted. Her real life had been wiped away, and maybe out of spite, she didn’t want to live if it meant being in prison.

People kept telling her to make the best of it, to live life to the fullest, even on death row, and that’s why she put so much energy into writing her memoirs. But she didn’t care anymore. She felt wretched, and powerless, and weak, and stupid, and she hated her life. She didn’t want to live if that’s what she was going to have to put up with forever.

But in the end, this attitude washed out of her too, and Judy spent her last hours waiting quietly for death.

***

She felt great the next morning, calm and alert, and living in the moment. The thoughts and feelings in her head were all curious and excited, and she bubbled over, happy to be alive, and wanting to live right up until the moment she winked out.

She was really curious about what it would be like. And she asked a million questions when the medical tech came to discuss the procedure. Sterilized equipment, alcohol prep – did she want music? Three drugs. One to put her to sleep. One to paralyze her. One to stop her heart. She asked which drugs, and they discussed dosages as if her doctors were recommending a course of treatment. Finally she ran out of questions, and it grew awkward.

Painless oblivion – that was the message she was supposed to take away. Judy said thanks for her concern and assured the tech, almost bashfully, that she was really innocent of all charges. When the door closed and the footsteps receded, Judy felt she had made a friend.

***

What determines the quality of death? Does the kind of life you lead determine how you die? Or how accepting you are of life in general? There are two ways to die, one where you give up the ghost easily and just drift away from your body toward the light, and the other where you have to be pulled violently out, squeezed until your spirit pops out. Is it your ego that holds you inside your body until the pressure is too great?

She wasn’t sure that she wanted to be knocked out, because she really wanted to be conscious when she died. At least, if death were really painless. Would she just wink out? If they were going to knock her out with drugs first, then wouldn’t she miss the final moment?

Gordon would want it that way – lulled to sleep with a narcotic, he wouldn’t care what they did to him. Cindy too. And who knows about Rick? They wouldn’t want to experience death personally, they would argue for not experiencing it at all, or paying someone to do it for them. They were normal people; they avoided death like any reasonable person would.

But Judy was really looking forward to her moment of death, sort of. At least she wanted to be conscious when she died, to see the light. Of course, being conscious when she died was something she associated with a really quick deaths, like hitting a bridge abutment at 75 miles an hour, when it would only hurt for a microsecond. She didn’t really like the idea of being conscious when a big bolus of potassium attacked her heart muscle and set it on fire.

So maybe she didn’t really want to be conscious while they shot her veins full of caustic chemicals. Maybe dying in a drug induced coma was preferable. But this worried her, because there was evidence that you weren’t really asleep. Some people were wide awake and suffocating, paralyzed, in agony to the last.

Which was the point, she supposed. Why get any peace from an angry world? Maybe being drawn and quartered was a harsher punishment, but not being able to speak was very close to being the worst thing Judy could imagine.

***

In the last hours before they came to take her to the execution chamber, Judy wrote a long rambling letter to Mom, who would after all get her notebook when she was toast. Just like the letters she left under Mom’s pillow when she was a little girl. She was always tongue-tied trying to argue with Mom. Mom was too quick with a comeback, and so determined to get her way that Judy could never make herself understood. She was sure that if Mom could understand and consider Judy’s point of view, then she would approve, and let her go about it her own way.

Which never happened. Judy often left origami-folded letters on Mom’s pillow when she went to school the morning after some horrendous fight. She always found them in the wastebasket later, crumpled but still folded.

Just like her story. Unread – nobody wants to know – why did she bother – too late now.

Oh well.

***

Mom did read Judy’s story, some months after Judy’s effects were given to her. She went thru and annotated Judy’s logical and moral fallacies with appropriate Bible passages. Mom had many emotions and thoughts as she deciphered Judy’s mentally disturbed scribbles and notes. Mainly she felt faintly queasy the whole time, as if she might absorb Judy’s sickness by touching the pages. Mainly she thought about how they should have known Judy was a time-bomb. They should have recognized the signs and done something about it before people started dying. Mom felt personally responsible. She’d naturally assumed, but should have made it clear to God, that Judy was oldest and should get her punishment first.

***

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin are death.

Exodus 21 – Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 – If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.
Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Exodus 22 – You shall not allow a witch to live.

Deuteronomy 21-22 – And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
You must purge the evil from among you.

Jeremiah 36:31 – And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity.

Jeremiah 21:14 – But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.

Ezekiel 18:20 – The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

1 Samuel 15:23 – For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Romans 6:21 – What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

Jeremiah 16:18 – And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things.

Psalms 94:23 – And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.

Isaiah 13:11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

Psalms 92:7 When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:

Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

***

Judy was walking down a country road. Her dog Pluto was off in the bushes, sniffing and catching up, then running past and stopping to sniff again. She was enjoying the sound of the birds and the feel of the warm sun and the wind, and the colors of the trees and shrubs and fields she passed.

She slowly realized that Pluto had been dead for decades, and that she had been recently tied to a gurney and peered at by people in gowns and masks. So she must be dead too. But it sure was nice, so she kept walking, and Pluto kept frolicking alongside her.
Soon they came to a big, high, smooth and shiny stone wall that went on and on to one side of the road. Finally there was a drive made of gold, and a huge ornate pearly gate gleaming in the sun. She went up to a massive desk next to the gate, where there was an imposing old man in white robes, with a halo on his head.

She shuffled, then coughed, then called out softly, then peered around the desk and up at him and shouted. “Excuse me, where am I?”

“This is Heaven,” the man answered.

“Duh, I guess,” Judy said. “Um, do I tell you my life story, or show you some ID?” She patted her pockets, and found her keys, but must have left her license at home. She felt for her stickies to write herself a note to get it next time.

“I know who you are,” he said.

She stopped fishing in her pockets and waited for him to tell her what to do, but he continued writing in his book.

“Um,” she said, nervously, not knowing what to do next, “I’m pretty thirsty. Do you have any water?”

“Of course,” the man said, shutting his book with a snap. “Come in and I’ll send for some ice water. In a crystal goblet.” The gates began to open. Harp music played softly. Bells tinkled.

“Great,” Judy said, making for the gold drive. “Come on, Pluto.”

The man gestured, and the gates stopped. “No pets, miss,” he said. “They have no souls.”

“Judy stopped with one foot on the gold drive, staring into the distance. Fluffy clouds, rounded hills, sheep, shady trees. There were people in the distance, walking toward the gate. They looked familiar.

She remembered the morning long ago when she lost whatever religious tendency she might have had. She was talking with Mom about Heaven. She must have been eight, maybe eleven. She wanted to know what Heaven was like, whether it was all clouds or was it a real place, whether you could fly, if you had to eat everything on your plate and could you have two desserts.

Then she wanted to know would Poochy and Snuggles be there, and Mom told her that dogs and cats couldn’t go to Heaven because they had no souls.

Judy turned away from the pearly gates, and she and Pluto started on down the road.

“Wait, Miss,” the man at the desk called. She paused and looked back. “Your loved ones are here.”

The group had reached the gate. Rick was there, and Cindy. Gordon called to her, “Judy, come on. It’s great in here. We’ve saved a place for you.” He waved a bag of weed. “I’m holding.”

But Judy didn’t see Frank, and turned away down the road. Pluto went back to the gate and wagged his tail and sniffed them, but caught up with her as Judy walked away.

She walked and walked, wondering why she didn’t just go back and hang with her family. But the day was so pleasant, and if felt so good to simply walk, to simply breathe, to be alive in every pore and nerve. So she kept walking, and Pluto walked alongside her.

After many miles, she came to an old farm, with a broken-down fence and hay that needed mowing. A dirt road stretched off into the woods at the other side of the field, where a bit of smoke rose from a farmhouse she could just barely see thru the trees. As she came up to the dirt road, she noticed the farmer just inside the fence, leaning against a tree and staring up thru the branches at the birds.

“Hey, there,” she said, coming up to him. “What’re you doing?”

“Oh, waiting for you,” he said.

Judy leaned against the tree and looked up. The branches spread out all around, dividing the space equally for 50 feet in all directions. They stood and looked at it in silence for awhile.

Then Judy realized she was thirsty. “I’m Judy,” she offered in a croak, the first time she’d spoken for hours. She leaned over and shook the farmer’s hand. It was warm and soft, and calloused around the edges. “We’re kind of thirsty,” she confessed.

“Well, help yourselves at the trough,” he said, gesturing at a watering trough hidden from the road, just over the dirt road from the tree where they were standing.

She walked over, and gave Pluto some water in a bowl, and drank some herself, and came back to stand with the farmer. They talked about the weather and how pleasant it was to be alive.

Then she remembered her family standing at the pearly gates. “Can you tell me where we are?” she asked.

“This is Heaven,” he said.

“This is Heaven too?” She thought. “Oh, I get it. This is the employee entrance.”

The farmer laughed. “No.”

Judy’s face fell. “Aw. I kind of wanted to work in Heaven. I could be a cook.” She thought for a moment. “I’d love to be a gardener. I could take care of all this,” she gestured at the tree. “That’d be great.”

“No, it’s not the employee entrance. The place with the gold street and pearly gates is Hell.”

Judy looked around. She liked the look of this place better, to tell the truth. The other place was too manicured, too perfect. “But why do you let them use your name like that?”

He leaned his head back and looked up the tree trunk. “We let them pre-screen people for us.” Then he looked at Judy. “Frank’s waiting for you on the porch,” he said, nodding down the dirt road. “Nice guy.”

Judy looked at him and smiled, a big grin. The farmer reached into his back pocket and took out a flask of whisky, took a swig, and passed it to Judy. Surprised, she took a drink, then another.

Then he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a joint, and they stood there under the tree, smoking and drinking, talking about her life.

“So,” the farmer said as he took the joint from Judy and prepared to hit it. “What do you want to do next life?”

***

the end

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day 5

Chapter Twenty-Eight continued

Allen was suitably bashful when the camera crews showed up on the doorstep, as befits a man with a long rap sheet. But Mom ate up her moment in the sun, keeping the crews waiting on the lawn for hours while she got dressed, and then lecturing each reporter at length about the case. They got great sound bites out of her, and she gave nonstop interviews.

***

But Mom sat tight-lipped on the witness stand, having taken an instant dislike to the prosecutor, who acted like the whole family was on trial. She was made to feel intensely uncomfortable – on display in front of strangers, while the lawyer pried into her family’s business. All of it in a very insinuating manner. Mom was deeply insulted, but the judge made her answer the questions, even tho they were obviously biased, and left out all the pertinent details.

Like how they all were as children, and how any faults they may have had were their father’s fault, because God knows she did everything anyone could do to raise her children right.

She couldn’t keep from sighing deeply before she answered the slightest question. And she found it so hard to force herself to take another breath. Oh, that it would come to this. She was glad her husband was dead so he didn’t have to see her being humiliated.

***

It was hard to keep from explaining to the court that Judy’s predicament was her own fault. But when pressed to come right out and call her a murderess, Mom was forced to point out that Judy was trying to save the whole family from Cindy, and must have gotten carried away and shot Laurie in the heat of the moment.

At least she hadn’t tried to kill her own mother. That should count for something.

***

“Of course I recognize the welcome mat,” Mom snapped at the prosecutor. “Judy and Frank gave it to me years ago, and I’ve always kept it on the front porch.”

“Are you sure it was a gift from the defendant?”

This got a whithering stare from Mom. The prosecutor looked at her hands. “She painted it herself. I would have preferred a plain ‘welcome’ in tasteful black, but Judy likes colors.”

You couldn’t tell from what was left of the mat, however. Black just about summed it up for color.

“Thank heaven she didn’t misspell ‘welcome’,” she continued. “We used to tease her after she missed it in that spelling bee…whatever grade it was. She never competed in anything after that. And she was such a good speller.”

The prosecution made much of Judy’s spelling when it came to the various notes and emails they found, and they made much of her handwriting when it came to deciphering her stickies.

***

“Oh yes, Judy was insanely jealous of her sister Cindy from the time they were children.” Mom had lost her reticence once the prosecutor congratulated her on raising so many children under such difficult circumstances. Mom liked her a great deal more after that.

“It was because they’re so close in age – ten months – and Judy resented being number two.” She stopped, fishing for a memory to illustrate. “I once pulled Judy off of Cindy, she was trying to strangle her. I think they were eight or nine. I don’t know. Could have been when they were teenagers. It didn’t calm down around the house until Judy moved out after high school.”

***

“She confessed to you after the murders that she intended to kill all of her brothers and sisters?”

“She apologized for everything. She said she was responsible for everything.” She looked at her daughter. “She said she did it so I’d know she loved me. She said she hoped it would make me love her.” She shook her head and looked noble. “I do love my daughter. She’s my only child now, even tho…she’s responsible…”

She started tearing up, and after a moment took hold of herself. “But I hope she didn’t expect me to lie to protect her. It’s that kind of lax moral standard that ruined her, and I only wish I’d known that when they were all still young.” She sniffled. “They would all still be alive.”

***

“Poison?” Mom considered it. “I might be able to believe it of her. Judy was always secretive, and loved to make foul concoctions in the basement. Why, we had to call the fire department and leave the house once because of something she set off. It left black marks all over the ceiling down in the basement. We had to spend the night in a motel, too. And those were the days when it was expensive to stay in places like that. I had a mind to make her pay for it. She was grounded for months, and we never let her touch a chemistry set again.”

***

“How did Rick and Judy get along? Well, he looked up to her when they were young, of course, but when she turned into a rebel…” Mom had visions of Judy wanting to join protest marches. They grounded her proactively and Rick led the chorus, calling her a Communist and barring her from their games.

“And as adults?”

“Well. When they were older and Rick was successful and Judy was still unemployed, I remember him going out of his way – several times – to help her with loans and even a job, but she always turned him down – rudely if I might say so.” Because all of his offers had strings. Judy only fell for it once.

***

“I never heard what actually happened, because neither of my daughters ever saw fit to confess it to me, but they always hated each other after Cindy’s wedding. And Judy was always trying to make it up to Cindy, and that always made it worse. Whatever it was, I’m glad I don’t know. I would have had to disown one of them, I’m sure.”

She sighed. Two daughters that couldn’t be more different, each an anti-caricature of the other, each fatally flawed. The same for Rick and Gordon, now that she thought about it.

None of them was her fault.

***

“Just try to relax, and tell us what happened that night, Mr. Monroe. In your own words.” Allen was sweating. The lawyer was yet another ballbreaker of a woman. If they were all like this then he almost wished he were back in prison, where everybody was gay.

Allen laughed nervously. “What happened? Which part of what happened? To who? Starting when?” There were so many bits of history to get thru before the whole truth was told, and the stories got twisted up so fast that he couldn’t keep them straight in his own mind. And there was so much that happened while he was doing other things, like being blinded by rubber masks and peeing on himself – half of what he knew was only a guess.

“Tell us what happened when the defendant shot the deceased – Miss LaRue.”

“But Judy didn’t shoot her. It was Cindy, I’m sure of that. Cindy was the one who shot her,” he insisted, and explained how they were too in the middle of things to see who’d actually pulled the trigger on Laurie. Unfortunately, his speech was full of inconsistencies and adjectives, and didn’t favorably impress the jury.

The lawyer leaned in. Allen looked down her cleavage and gulped. “You testified ten minutes ago that the defendant had the gun in her sole possession when it was fired. The State has shown that the defendant had gunpowder residue on her hands and clothing. And the defendant was hiding the gun on her person when she was apprehended. What makes you sure one of the other victims pulled the trigger? And here’s something – if the defendant caused both deaths indirectly, don’t you think she is responsible for both deaths, no matter who actually pulled the trigger?” She sneered at him. He flinched and felt stupid.

Allen’s head was spinning. He only half-heard the ensuing fight between lawyers, and stared at the prosecutor blankly as she fumed. It was funny how horrible women looked when they got mean. He almost giggled – nerves did that to him. “No,” he said. “The gun. I don’t know.” He tried to say something helpful. “Judy’s just a natural pack rat. She puts everything in her pockets. She probably didn’t even notice it was there. Why, you should see all the stickies she has. I’ll bet she’s got some in her pockets right now.” He felt awful. He should have taken a Xanax before being called up to the stand. Three.

He tried again. “Judy would never shoot anyone on purpose.” He wanted to make that clear. “It had to be an accident.”

Allen hated the way it was going. He’d tried to speak directly to the judge earlier, in the middle of his testimony. The lawyer cunt had been harassing him about stupid things and he’d turned to the judge in frustration. “She’s twisting my words, your Honor,” he’d pleaded, but then he couldn’t say exactly how his words had been twisted, and after that the judge didn’t want to know.

He tried his best to turn the jury toward Judy, even with the bitch lawyer from hell twisting everything he said. So when it was time for her lawyer to get up and ask him about Judy, he painted a picture of a sincere, kind Judy, sitting with her friends and talking about philosophy and art – evidence of her gentle and refined nature.

Unfortunately, he also painted a picture of Judy sitting in a drug den smoking pot and swilling cheap whisky. The jury laughed, tho, so Allen figured he’d done well by his friend, and gave her a thumbs-up while the judge wasn’t looking.

***

“The defendant admitted in custody that she repeatedly moved the welcome mat – the device that electrocuted her youngest brother Gordon – her favorite, as you stated – and that she knew that the device was in his path – in anyone’s path who was going to or from the back yard. Did she say anything that made you think she intended to kill her mother instead of her brother?”

Allen thought back to that dinner he cooked for his engagement party. “Yeah, but it wasn’t Judy. Gordon told me it was Frank that booby-trapped all the things at the house.” Stair rails, rotting floors, fucked up wiring, fire hazards, the cast iron bathtub, the unbalanced washing machine. “But that was Frank. I don’t think Judy knew about any of it.”

“But she hand painted the welcome mat.”

And sewed the burning curtains. And made a cover for the shorted-out heating pad. And all sorts of other Frank-and-Judy amateur productions that Mom only kept around so she could complain about missed stitching and hippie touches that were obvious signs of Judy’s illness. Allen was starting to wonder if he really knew Judy as well as he thought. “Maybe she might have known about it,” he mumbled, staring at his knees.

***

“Did the defendant ever say anything that would indicate a grudge against her sister Cynthia, due to an alleged incident that occurred at Cynthia’s wedding?” She’d asked him about that six times already, in various different ways, and he really didn’t know anything about it.

It was just something they didn’t talk about. Judy didn’t like to burden people with her family. This lady lawyer was never going to get married, with an aggressive attitude like that. Allen would certainly kick her out of bed after he came. “Well,” he replied, “the only thing she ever said to me was that Cindy should have been mad at Bill, not her. But, really, we never, ever, talked about Cindy. I didn’t even know they were related, not for years.”

“You’re telling me that – for years – you never once talked about Cindy while you were smoking pot and drinking alcohol together in your trap?” the lawyer asked, looking at the jury.

He’d actually called it that. It was a little embarrassing that she kept bringing it up. “Uh, that’s right.”

She changed the subject. “Did you ever talk about poison?”

“Huh?” Allen tried to think about poison. “Well, we talked about alcohol a lot.” He glanced at the audience, nodding to make his point. “Alcohol’s a poison. And Judy disapproves of tobacco, because it’s a poison, too. And we used to talk about overdoses a bunch. But she wasn’t into that kind of thing. To talk about, I mean. Poisoning someone.” He trailed off and scratched his chin.

“When did you first see the defendant with the poisoned chocolates?”

“Uh, well.” There were so many of those chocolates, as it turned out. In all sorts of places. Being carried around and left places and getting squished into things. “I think it was in my trap, like.” He grinned bashfully. “Or at the club. I don’t know. No, Judy never showed up at the club. It must have been at my place I first saw them.”

The bitch waved his answer away. “What was her stated purpose for having them?”

“Um.” She was asking about a box of chocolates that he’d actually found, in Mom’s trash, and taken back to his apartment, where Judy had snatched them up like they were gold, and then made off with the whole box when they were chased out by Rick. But he didn’t want to explain all that in front of Mom. Or the jury. “Uh, maybe she was…probably she just loves chocolates. Everybody else seems to.” The chocolates made the circuit a couple of times, and most everybody had one at some point. “I hate chocolates, myself,” he finished.

The lawyer changed the subject again. “To your knowledge, is the defendant skilled in arts and crafts? In making things from scratch?”

Allen wondered if this was a trick question. He put his head to one side and thought. “Well, she’s real artsy-fartsy, if you know what I mean.” He smiled to acknowledge the audience appreciation. “She’s always making things by hand, sewing on things, drawing stuff. She made me a pillow that I still use to rest my weary head when I get tired riding around in my car.” He thought to say it had a great smuggling pouch, too, but the lawyer rushed ahead to her next question.

“How about concoctions? You know, herbal remedies, things like that?”

Allen brightened. “Yeah, Judy’s a homopath. She’s a doctor, like, and the medicines she makes are like so pure there’s nothing there. And herbs. And she makes potions – for luck and stuff.” And smokes a lot of weed, he wanted to say, and was almost glad that the bitch lawyer kept not letting him finish his thought. But, for once, the lawyer let him go on and on, and the jury scooped up more candid details of life at the bottom.

***

“That’s just wrong. Judy had nothing to do with Rick’s death. I remember her calling him ‘Asshole’ once, but – not to speak bad of the dead – everybody called him that.”

***

“Um? Bill and Judy? They never had nothing to say to each other. I wasn’t around at the time, of course, but it seemed to me that Cindy was the one held the grudge. But then, nothing ever pleased Cindy.”

***

The prosecution wasn’t really interested in either Mom’s or Allen’s testimony on most of the other deaths when it became clear that had nothing more salacious to add than ,’they didn’t get along.’ But they didn’t need anything from the family. They already had plenty of evidence to convict Judy on the other counts, and were just hoping for a few friendly condemnations from the relative and friend.

So the pair were dismissed, and spent every day of the rest of the trial in the public gallery, and gave detailed opinions to the press every evening. Allen looked forward to the end of the trial, sad because it was happening to a friend of his, and Mom dreaded the end of the trial, because she really enjoyed the attention, and Judy deserved what she got for not listening.

***

Once the chocolates were linked to her, it was easy to prove her responsibility for various poisonings, as well as her incidental contribution to the deaths of Laurie, Cindy, Rick, and Gordon, who would not have been fatally impaired had they not been so callously poisoned.

Once the prosecution established that the gun was hers, it was easy to prove her part in the serial killings, as it was the primary weapon used on six dogs and four humans (Tzingdii mistaking them for dragons).

Bill’s death (Sindee tied him up and disembowled him in the cab of one of his trucks) caused them some consternation, because they weren’t sure whether to classify it as a serial killing, or a siblicide, or even a terrorist killing (this last due to all the paperwork Sam and Dave concocted switching their villain at the last minute from Rick to Bill).

Once all these charges were substantiated, it was easy to prove that Judy was responsible for all the attempted murders of her own mother, even tho she never once tried to kill her, and was the only one of the family who never seriously considered it.

Even tho Mom was certain that Judy never meant her any harm – and in fact was now Mom’s favorite daughter, and had been all along – it became apparent that Judy was behind all the drive-by shootings, all the attacks on the road, all the sabotages of the car and the house, even the devices they found in Frank’s workshop.

Once she was seen to be capable of all that, it was easy to prove that Judy killed Frank. The scars and bruises, the pattern of hospital visits – it was obvious that Judy had been abusing and torturing her husband for years. This was the most shocking thing of all. Everybody had thought they were a happy couple. Nobody dreamed she was capable of killing her husband in such a disturbing manner.

Once it was understood that Judy was a complete psychopath, it was easy to see how she could be linked to drug trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism, and the work of Sam and Dave was once again brought to bear (behind closed doors).

***

Go to chapter 29

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author’s note

it surprised me yesterday morning when i realized i had to leave go telling it from the courtroom transcript point of view, because there was still things that happened after cindy dropped dead that had to be covered before we could get to the courtroom.

or, to say it differently, i didn’t want to have to bring everything out in testimony.  it would be boring, and i don’t really know how lawyers talk except for on tv.

so i sat down and pictured the scene after everybody stopped dying and the cops got there.  and started with that.  and got all the way to judy sitting in jail having one charge after another laid on her.

today i finish writing the courtroom scene, i hope.  and by the end of the weekend please god i will have maybe finished with the first draft of my novel.

and turn my hand to writing something else for the rest of nanowrimo.

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day 4

Chapter Twenty-Eight

It started pissing rain. Mom stood in her back yard, in her thin, torn dressing gown, soaked to the skin, the cold rain making her welts and bruises sting and throb. She was feeling very put upon.

There she was, surrounded by dead bodies and living wastes of space that were all somehow her problem. There was Cindy, lying like an unattractive heap of trash on the lawn. And poor little Gordon looked like he was asleep, except for the horrible way his eyes bulged out. There was Allen over by that tramp Laurie, shamelessly naked, getting a good look instead of being by her side when she needed his support. She’d deal with him later. And there was Judy, standing in front of her, looking pitiful, like she’d lost her homework on the way to school again.

Leaving Mom to deal with everything. It was always like that. Life was so hard. But it was her private penance. Her own children were God’s punishment for marrying against her parents’ wishes. And Judy was further punishment for having sex on their first date.

***

They all stood in the rain and looked at each other while the sirens got louder and louder and finally wound down to a moan. Then they stood in a cluster near the back door and watched as the EMTs packed Laurie away on a stretcher, zipped Cindy into a plastic shroud, and left Gordon where he was until they could get a Hazmat unit out to look at him.

The three survivors clustered by the back door, wrapped in EMT blankets, surrounded by police officers. The policeman in charge came up and asked what happened. Nobody said anything. Nobody knew where to begin.

“I know you’ve all been thru a shock,” he tried, “so just give me the basics, okay?” They stared at him.

He was wet, and getting impatient. “Don’t try to tell me nobody saw anything with three bodies on the ground,” he started, looking at the scene. “Or that this is a series of suicides or something.”

They all spoke at once. Cindy’s attack in the bedroom. Cindy and Laurie fighting in the bushes. Cindy and Judy struggling. The noise of the gun going off. The rain. The weak moral fiber of certain ungrateful children.

***

Just as the officer was starting to get a handle on who shot Laurie, the smell of seared Gordon drifted over them. They turned to look. “That’s Judy’s mat.” Mom pointed at the remains of Gordon’s head sauteing on Frank’s invention.

Allen piped up, “She moved it to the exact place where Gordon stepped on it. And then Blam.”

“I was just trying to put it back,” Judy protested.

“Don’t lie in front of a policeman,” Mom hissed. “You know very well that it belongs on the porch. You had no business moving it.”

“But I didn’t,” Judy protested.

The cop silenced their bickering. “Ok. Let’s get back to the shooting. Whose gun was it?”
Nobody living had seen Cindy draw it out of her bag, but they all saw her pointing it, so the consensus was that it was hers. It actually belonged to the truck driver Bill fired for smuggling clay pots from Mexico for Cindy, without letting his boss know what he was doing. But this information wouldn’t be confirmed for a few weeks.

“Where’s the gun?”

Nobody could tell him.

“Who fired the shot?”

They began bickering again. The argument seemed to be whether Cindy or Judy had been trying to shoot Laurie or Mom, with Judy insisting she was only trying to help and never fired anything.

The cop realized that he had at least one nutcase on his hands, the way they were flinging old accusations at each other. There was no telling what really happened. He ordered Judy’s hands bagged, just in case.

He spoke to Allen and Mom. “Did you see the gun?” They both nodded. “Then who had it when it went off?” They both agreed it was Judy. “So where is it now?” They shrugged. He looked at Judy. She had no idea.

Finally Allen remembered that Judy ran off around the house after Laurie was shot. So the cop left someone to watch them, and conducted a quick flashlight search of the front yard, but they found nothing. They came back and moved off to a corner of the back yard to discuss things among themselves.

Judy leaned in to Mom. In the middle of this crisis she needed Frank more than ever, but he wasn’t going to be able to help her with anything. And the thing she needed to do most of all right now was to express her feelings about it. It was the first chance she’d had to confront Mom about Frank’s death, but with all this sudden life and death stuff she didn’t feel like being nice. “You raped my husband,” she said, looking Mom in the eyes. “You tortured him.” Her hands clenched inside the bags.

Mom looked at her calmly. Her eyes did not cloud over with guilt. She smiled. “He enjoyed it,” she said slowly. “He asked for more.”

Judy was shocked. “You killed him. You’re wicked.” She stopped. She didn’t want to hurt Mom with the truth. But, no – she really did. “They all tried to kill you, you know. Even Gordon. Because you’re hateful.”

Mom reached out, grabbed Judy by the shoulders and shook her, hard. Like she’d wanted to shake her as a child. The dripping blankets fell off of them like parting curtains. Then Mom pulled back and slapped Judy across the face. Just like she did all those years ago when Judy told her to fuck off. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” she screeched. They stared into each other’s eyes with hatred flying between them like razor blades.
Judy raised her hand slowly to her cheek, feeling tears coming to her eyes, and forgot all about hating Mom. She’d just lost all her brothers and sisters, and now Mom hated her.

She started to cry, and Mom stood there looking at her for a moment, and suddenly reached out and hugged her, starting to cry herself. They stood sobbing, holding each other and swaying gently, while the rain fell on them. Judy held on and wished she could be little again. Mom stroked her back and patted Judy’s hair like as if she were little again.

“I never did anything to anybody, Mom,” she said, wheezing between gulps of air. “You just don’t know. I’m the only one who was good. I’ve always tried to be a good big sister. I tried to make them see. To stop them from being so hateful.” She thought of all her attempts to help, backfiring so spectacularly. “I only wanted everybody to get along. It’s all my fault.” She looked at her mother, with love and pleading in her eyes. “I did it all because I love you.” She started to bawl. “I only want you to love me. Waaaaaaah.”

Judy hugged Mom fiercely, and Mom hugged her back, but noticed something heavy in the pocket of Judy’s skirt and pushed her away with a grimace. “I’m not falling for that. You’ve wanted me dead since you were in high school.”

She turned to the police, her conflict between love and punishment solved with a single thought – I was too soft before, but you’re not getting away with it this time, my girl. She waved at the detective and pointed at Judy’s pocket. “She’s got a gun!”

That’s when the cops knocked Judy to the ground and stopped being nice to her.

***

The bruises were purple when they told her she was being charged with Cindy’s death too. The coroner identified a poison the investigators then found in abundance at Judy’s house.

The bruises were turning green when they charged her with Rick’s death from a similar poison.

The lacerations were only fading scars when they added on attempted murder charges for all the similarly poisoned strippers that ended up in the ER.

All her scrapes and bruises had healed and she was in perfect health by the time they charged her with the string of gruesome serial killings that suddenly stopped when she was arrested. Some of the murders involved a similar poison, and there were other links to Judy, like the gun she shot Laurie with, which belonged to one of the serial victims, a trucker found naked and upside down in the driver’s seat, belted in and drained of blood like a butchered deer.

She was then charged with all the attempts on Mom’s life, from cut brake lines to sideswipes on the road, and everything they found in Frank’s basement workshop.
Also, and most importantly as far as sentencing was concerned, she was charged with several dozen counts of making terroristic threats, because of all the plot devices she wrote down on stickies when she was interested in writing a novel about killing off members of her family. It didn’t help that she’d anticipated several attempts with chilling accuracy.

***

Judy sat in jail awaiting trial, studying criminal procedures. Wondering how she got into this mess. Fantasizing a defense based on “My whole life is sitting around my kitchen table getting high.”

***

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day 3

Chapter Twenty-Seven continued oh when will it end

When we left Cindy and her closest friend Alternate Cindy, they were throwing themselves against Mom’s bedroom door at the end of the hall upstairs, thinking themselves elemental heroines battling the forces of demonic evil.

What was happening in the real world was that Mom was in her bedroom, having her way with Allen, and the snuffling and breathing noises the two Cindies had listened to with horror were mostly being made by Allen.

When the Cindeeze burst thru the door, they saw Mom standing over by Dad’s side of the bed, her arm raised in punishment with a wooden spatula in her hand, her eyes closed and her head back in a posture of extreme emotion.

Kneeling before her, his head in a Richard Nixon mask, his limbs securely bound with cords, was Allen, making vigorous snuffling noises into Mom’s crotch as she left red welts on his ass with the spatula. Both of them were pasty white, flabby, and wrinkled. Both were having one hell of a good time.

Exactly what tableaux one or the other Cindy might have seen will never be known for certain, but it probably wasn’t what was actually going on. That would have been too horrible to witness. Cindy’s brain undoubtedly translated it to something involving dragons and witches, something she could understand and react against. If she’d actually taken in what Mom and Allen were doing, she would have curled up into a little ball and never spoken again. But her severely impaired state was a blessing, and cushioned most of the shock she would otherwise have received.

***

Cindy let out a top-volume shriek that went off the scale down in Ben’s dungeon office. Part of her struggled to find the gun in her bag, while the other part of her charged at Mom with both hands outstretched, her only desire to rip and tear until she came apart.

But Mom had a wooden spatula, and except for a slight delay as she switched her attention, was in an obliging mood, and pretty damned strong.

Allen immediately got in the way as Cindy flailed and Mom whacked. His rubber mask twisted so he couldn’t see anymore, and he was elbowed, kneed, punched, pulled, scratched and stepped on as two women fought it out on top of him. Not a good place to be. Allen tried to defend himself, but he couldn’t fit under the bed, and once he fell over, all he could do was roll over on his front and hope they missed his head and his butt. They didn’t. They got his ear and his eye and his nose, his kidney and his testicles, his instep and his fingers. They even yanked out a couple of handfuls of hair off his back. It was a good thing Cindy misplaced her high heels somewhere.

All this time, Allen could hear Cindy screaming – hysterical, crying and shouting at once. And he could hear Mom answering, her speech low and monotonous, repeating the words of an exorcism ritual she’d seen on the 700 Club. This enraged Cindy all the more, and Allen was kicked and shoved a lot for the next few minutes, while they got louder and more heated and more animated, until Cindy and Mom were shouting and screaming at each other as if they were both really enjoying themselves. But he could hear real pain in both of their voices, and it made him want to get up and just hug them both.

Except he was tied up and they were both beating the shit out of him. It was only a small part of him that wanted to comfort them, anyway, and it died when it was kicked in the head a couple of times.

Poor Allen. He was left in peace for a few moments, as the battle raged in another part of the room, and then Mom was there, ripping off his mask. “Why are you just lying there?” she screamed. “I need help! Get up and save me!”

She was a wreck: her hair stood out around her head in a white halo of thin frizz, and she had bloody scratches on her face and down her neck, and on her shoulders, and her chest, and her arms. And there were bite marks on her hands and forearms. There were fresh red marks that were going to be bruises all over. Mom was crying and furious at the same time. Her eyes popped out, and the tendons of her neck, and her face was red and puffy and there was a gob of spit at the corner of her mouth, and her nose was running.

Allen never loved her more.

He pondered this as he rose groaning to his feet and stumbled down the stairs, following Cindy’s bloody footprints and a trail of damage to walls and furniture thru to the kitchen and out the back door. He loved Mom because she had so much life in her, because she was a feisty old bitch who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. She was a challenging woman for sure, but he loved breaking challenging women. And he loved being beaten, too. Granted it was a bit of a conflict, but Allen also loved cognitive dissonance.

***

Judy heard the noise as she came back around from checking the back door. It sounded just like the fights they had when Cindy was a teenager. It was disappointing to hear, because it meant she couldn’t crawl off and go to sleep with all the racket. And having other people over meant dinner and being polite and all that.

She decided to go back to her car and go park at a Walmart for the night.

As she started down the driveway she noticed that the mat had been moved back to the dip at the edge of the carport. Cursing softly, she bent down and grabbed the corner again, and dragged it back onto the driveway to drain. It really belonged on the porch, and she hated to see it getting ruined in the mud. It was one of Frank’s projects…

She stood there in the driveway, missing Frank. The rain picked back up again and she turned for the street, to go home, which was noplace, because home was Frank.

***

While the Cindy twins were upstairs battling the Mom monster, Sam and Dave were setting up shop in the bushes behind the house.

It didn’t take a special microphone to pick up the ruckus in the house, and they scrambled to start recording. It was mostly screaming, tho, with a lot of cursing and rather biblical name-calling.

While they were fine-tuning their focus on the back of the house, Laurie crept in. The space between the bushes was already tight, between them and their stuff, and the trenchcoats really were bulky, and heavy now that they were wet. Laurie, on the other hand, was mostly naked, compared to them, so they felt lucky, and then started bickering about who was going to have to give his coat to the lovely lady. In the end they sat on one coat and let the bushes drip on them while Laurie tried to look stylish in the one they gave her. All this in a little hollow place in the bushes that the kids used to think was tiny even when they were just kids.

Laurie was holding, so they all shared, snorting coke off her fingernail. She took care to jab each of them inside their nostrils, feeling mischievous. She really had no idea what was in the stuff she put on her fingernails, just that the housemom recommended a certain preparation based on something a maybe spy-type told her all hush-hush after too much liquor, and she thought she might want to use it on Gordon one day, and so she’d bought it. So maybe it would work on all these people, or not – who could know? The world wouldn’t miss a one of them, not even Sam and Dave. Hey, we all die, right?

Laurie was still trying to wrest movie references out of the situation, so she’d have something pithy to say. Sex on Mom’s car was one thing – almost art. But crouching in the wet bushes getting dripped on, next to fucking cops who were taking lingering looks up her skirt and making inane conversation while vacuuming up all her coke…

She reached over and snatched the bag from Sam, who tried to look authoritative with a ring of white powder around his nose. She cut off the protest. “And you’re here why?” she demanded. They started babbling but she cut them off again. “I don’t care.” She dipped her little finger into the bag and scooped up a nailfull of bliss, like she was inhaling self-esteem.

She was just deciding to crawl the hell out of the bushes and go back to the car and fuck the stupid revenge scene when Cindy appeared on the back porch, screeching and wailing. They could hear her gnashing her teeth and tearing her hair – Sam pointed it out on the sound meter.

Laurie was horrified. She could see Cindy clearly thru the leaves, her clothes torn, her handbag flapping as she turned looking this way and that and peering into the bushes at them. Cindy was obviously deranged. Dangerous. A wild animal.

Cindy’s hair was stiff around her head, like Mom’s, but it was worse-looking because at least Mom’s hair was white, wispy, halolike: Cindy’s hairdo made a fright wig look chic, even tho it had cost a couple of hundred earlier in the week and would have to be cut real short to repair the torn-out patches. Blood was running down all over her silk suit and her stockings were torn. The blood dripped and pooled on the ground as the rain picked up again.

Laurie snorted in derision.

Cindy heard her.

***

Judy was back at her car. The door was open and she was bending to get in, thinking she needed to throw everything in the car into a bag and sling it into the dumpster. Then she heard screaming in the back yard. She straightened up and shut the door, and went into the back yard the side way, along the bushes. It was raining harder now. It dripped into her eyes and ran down her nose. She began shivering with the cold.

***

Gordon heard the screaming too. He was standing on the other side of the back door by the fence, just out of sight, scratching his ass, which had started to burn a little. The noise sounded like a cat fight. He wavered between appearing suddenly – Gordon to the rescue – and keeping the hell out of the way, and opted for prudence. Laurie could take care of herself. He reached into his pockets for the pause that refreshes, but that evil bitch must have taken it.

The screams fell silent. Suddenly he couldn’t get there fast enough to rescue his stash. He strode out from the shadows and stopped dead when he found himself in the middle of a game of statues.

***

Laurie was sitting on the ground near the bushes, her legs splayed out in front of her, her head lolling. Her arm looked broken.

Sam and Dave peered out from the bushes in shock.

Mom stood in the door in her housecoat, holding a wooden spatula in her fist, enraged.

Allen stood in the yard, naked but for his shoes and socks, his mouth open, his brows knit, his hands out in supplication.

Cindy stood in the middle of the yard, six feet from Laurie, pointing a gun at her, sneering and drooling.

Judy stood in front of Cindy, between her and Laurie, with her hand on the gun.

Gordon considered the tableau. How was he going to turn the situation to his advantage?

***

Allen moved slowly closer, staying out of Cindy’s line of sight.

Sam and Dave retreated into the bushes, looking for the back way out and wondering if they should take their equipment.

Laurie started whining and whimpering, rocking with the pain, more dramatically as she realized she was on show.

Judy and Cindy stood locked together. Judy stared into Cindy’s eyes, searching for her sister inside the freak show. She felt Cindy’s grip loosen, and helped her to lower her shooting arm.

Mom huffed, “I told your father you’d end up like this.” Cindy swung her head to look at Mom, a dazed expression on her face. Judy could feel her tighten up again. Mom stood there waving the spatula, looking superior. “You sicken me. You’re no child of mine.” She clasped a hand to her chest. “After everything I sacrificed for you, you have the gall to attack me.” She swung her hand to point at Cindy. Her mouth was curled up, her face was red, and her wattles shook with rage. “You’re a disgrace to this family. I’ve never been so disgusted by anyone in my life. I wish I’d had an abortion.”

Cindy’s face got ugly. Her body convulsed, and she swung her gun arm up to shoot Mom. Judy held on to it, and they arm wrestled, rocking each other back and forth. Nobody else moved.

Laurie started giggling. “You sound like pigs eating.”

Cindy and Judy paused and looked at each other. Neither of them liked the sound of that. Then the struggle intensified; the gun waved wildly from Mom to Laurie. When it went off, nobody was certain, but it looked like Judy had just finished wrenching it away from Cindy.

The bang hurt everybody’s ears. Both Mom and Laurie fell to the ground and were still. Everybody froze up like statues again.

Cindy and Judy stood there in the middle of the yard looking at each other in wonder.

Allen stood a few steps away and felt warm pee running down his leg.

Sam crouched in the bushes and fought nausea while Dave found his phone and called 911.

Gordon stood and thought about which one to rescue. His mother, or the mother of his child? The one he’d lived with all his life, or the one he was supposed to live with from now on? Which one did he wish dead the most and which the least? The one who he was dependent on, or the one who depended on him?

***

Judy fled around the side of the house, the gun in her hand. She was going to call 911. And Mom’s body was blocking the back door, so she went for the front door. Which was locked. So she came back around and nearly tripped on the doormat, which was back over the dip. Sighing heavily, she moved it out of the way one more time. There was no need for another injury, and she was willing to keep helping just because she should, but it was costing her a lot of patience and energy to keep intervening to put things where they went. And nobody else seemed to be doing anything constructive, so it was just more work for her.

***

Judy’s flight decided Gordon. He ran to Mom’s side and checked her over for bullet wounds. Then he took her hand and patted her face and whispered his concern and devotion while she revived.

Gordon told Allen to see to Laurie until the ambulance got there and gently lifted Mom upright. “Let’s get you to medical attention, Mom,” said Gordon the Perfect Son, wrapping her in his long arms like a spider.

Cindy moved, turning to track Mom’s progress. She followed with halting steps, slowly at first, but then, remembering where she was, she launched herself at Mom’s back, and pulled her to the ground, right out of Gordon’s grasp.

Mom still had the spatula, but it was no good at close quarters so she dropped it. They rolled on the grass, Mom’s housecoat torn and filthy, Cindy’s clothes still ruined from round one. Cindy had her hands around Mom’s neck and was trying to get on top of her so she could put her weight into it. Mom was kicking with her knees and punching, gouging, and tearing with her hands. They sounded inhuman.

Gordon backed away slowly. Maybe he should reconsider throwing his lot in with his Mom. He looked over at Allen, who was staring at the fight, in a trance. He looked at Laurie, who wasn’t moving. He turned to rescue her, his heart full of love and concern, and his foot hit something. Annoyed, he kicked at it, and continued, right into the middle of Frank’s Mat O’Death(tm). Frank’s invention was truly ingenious, because in addition to an electric shock delivered by a series of thin film batteries and capacitors, he had included a special mix of dry chemicals that reacted strongly with water to create even more energy to be stored up and discharged suddenly an available (and soaking wet) ground.

Gordon. Ground. He paused to think about the sound of the words. He paused to listen to something – “You’re grounded!” – that was it. Mom’s voice sung thru his nerves. Mom’s voice from all those years ago, angry and full of God’s vengeance. He never liked when her anger was directed at him. He’d avoided hearing that voice at all costs his entire life; placing anyone, anything between its withering power and his vulnerable little self.

Mom’s voice, strident thru the ages, became static and stretched out, and somehow symbolized the strong feeling coursing thru him. It was a really big rush, like really strong cocaine in his veins, burning toward his heart. He could feel his muscles trembling, and he heard a thrumming in his ears. He bore down and rode it, but it was like an orgasm, when you just can’t concentrate on anything else. He was standing there, arcing back against the wall of the carport, taking the strongest neurochemical surge of his life. It was mystical. He saw a light.

Nobody noticed. Not even when the steam began to rise from his feet. Mom and Cindy were playing on the grass, Allen and Judy were bending over Laurie. Sam and Dave were hauling ass back to their car, trailing bits of equipment behind them. Gordon was getting more and more uncomfortable, and realized that he wasn’t breathing. And that his stomach, formerly queasy, was now feeling like it was boiling. He felt his guts churning and rushing. The zipper of his pants was starting to burn his dick. And now he had a splitting headache. Enough. Time to go sit down. Slowly he peeled himself upright, away from the wall, and tottered off the mat.

His legs collapsed underneath him and he landed against the wall crookedly, sliding slowly over sideways until his forehead rested on the welcome mat, which reached out tentacles and fed on his brain.

***

Cindy and Mom were still tussling half-heartedly, but the fight had gone out of them, and Judy left Allen with Laurie and walked over to break them apart easily. She helped Mom to stand up, then reached for Cindy, who just sat there, crying like she was three years old. She wrapped her arms around Cindy, who sobbed on her shoulders and showed no sign of wanting to get up off the grass.

Judy wasn’t strong enough to lift her, so turned to Mom for help. They gathered Cindy up and moved to go inside with her, but suddenly Cindy broke away and stood glaring at Mom, her face changing from baby to battle hag in an instant. Then it changed again. She wobbled on her feet.

Cindy looked puzzled, like she’d forgotten how to talk. Then she glared daggers at Mom again, and at Judy too, for good measure. Then she laughed, as if she’d just gotten the joke. Then she threw up all over herself, in a gurgling froth that adorned her ruined silk suit with an accent scarf of acid green. When she raised her head, her eyes were bloodshot. Judy got scared. Mom got that disapproving look on her face.

Cindy started talking, and appeared to be speaking in normal sentences that would have made sense if they could hear what she was saying. But she foamed too much, and her words tripped over themselves.

Then she stopped, shrugged, turned on her heel to walk away, and fell over dead.

It rained harder. The wind picked up. It thundered. They heard a siren.

***

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day 2

Chapter Twenty-Seven continued

Judy drove around until she ran out of gas, and got thoroughly drenched walking back to the gas station, where she bought a 40 and put enough gas into a quart bottle of coke to make it to the nearest gas station next to a liquor store. She got gas while she was there, and then hunched over to see the gentlemen about a drink.

One of the benefits of her now temporarily-abandoned method of organization was that she kept the debit card in her pocket at all times, along with a pen, her keys and her ‘wallet’ – dozens of scribbled-on stickies stacked together and held with a spring clip. She felt proud of herself, standing there dripping and disheveled in line at the liquor store; she was in charge of her reality, not a victim. She could choose the path forward for herself, instead of running whatever dismal program everyone in her family had always told her was her future.

She sat in the car, still in the parking lot, sipping her whisky and rolling a joint, the rain drumming on the roof and running in mindless runnels down the windshield. What about creating her own karma, then? Just what kind of path forward could she envision? If she ignored all the depressing lessons involved in growing up in such a family, what was left? Where was that bright, chipper girl whose 5th grade face shone thru the years from the class photo on her fridge? Before the mental beatings, the incessant teasing, the emotional torture that left her such a cripple.

But what was so bad about how she was raised, really? She wasn’t beaten, or unduly punished, or raised with wacko religious teachings, or molested by her parents. She had all these nightmare visions of her youth, but they were memories of her reactions to things that nobody else remembered after all this time. Times when she felt humiliated and stupid. The feelings so overpowered her that she went around feeling ashamed all the time – just to be proactive, just to dull the pain of others’ opinions thru repetition.
She lived like a craven thing, with wide eyes and shivery skin, hiding under things and scuttling about in the shadows. And she did it to herself, because she was certain everybody thought she was a useless lump of humanity, a waste of breath.

It took a surprising amount of liquor on an empty stomach to get her going, but eventually Judy worked herself around to a good indignant state where the question wasn’t what kind of path forward could she envision, but what kind of blow she could strike for freedom from the demons of her family ties. She should kill them all.

With a silent peanut gallery, she could go forward in peace, without her parents and siblings taunting and harping on her many problems. Without the voices, the memories, the self-serving advice, she would be free to react to situations with her own intelligence and curiosity, bravely rather than as if her hand were going to be bitten off. She could be as intrepid as her daydreams. She could get a job, meet new people, learn to live on her own. She had years to live; she was only 50-something…55, 56? Another 20 years, 30 years maybe. She could live a whole lifetime in 30 years. And having learned a bunch of lessons, it wouldn’t be nearly as messy as the abortion of a life she’d been leading.

But hey, she could do all that without killing anybody. And the fantasy was as far as it would get, because Judy was a powderpuff. She lived in a fantasy world that had only gotten deeper and more intransigent since Frank died, and really couldn’t function very well in the ordinary world. She was a mid-50s, unemployed, freshly widowed, and now homeless alcoholic pothead with personal hygiene issues and DSM-IV approved mental ailments. Nobody else in the whole wide world shared Judy’s vision of herself and her potential, or thought that she was capable of creating her karma.

Besides, the matrisiblingcidal solution is like the geographic solution – it rarely works because you carry your family baggage with you wherever you go. They’re in your head and in your habits, and like Obi-Wan, your family only becomes more powerful after death. They are, arguably, the most powerful memes there are.

Okay, that and two bucks’ll buy a cup of coffee, which Judy could use. And some food at the gas station, right there in front of her. So she clambered out of the car, wove her way to the hot dog counter and loaded up one with everything, part of everything ending up all over the counter, and Judy trying loudly to clean it up before being shooed to the checkout. They escorted her to the restroom later, when she’d finished her hot dog and coffee out in the car and needed to pee.

She returned to the car after attempting to straighten up a bit in the restroom, and began driving aimlessly once again. But she was a little more unsteady after lunch (all the msg in the hotdog, no doubt), and it was a dreary day, so she pulled over in a sheltered spot down the street from Mom’s house, and sat picking her teeth with a safety pin she kept on her lapel. Mom’s house looked so comfortable. It always had. It was always a secure, warm place where everybody had a space they could retreat to.

But it wasn’t Judy’s house anymore. It wasn’t any of their house. Only Mom. And they weren’t welcome back. She really just wanted to go back to being a kid again; nothing complicated. Just Mom and Dad, and all her brothers and sisters, and they’d all know better this time, and be a loving family, and not so fucked up. Then everything would be alright.

Everything revolved around Mom. And Mom wanted it that way. That way she controlled everything that they did. Nobody would believe how intense Mom’s attention was when they were growing up. And how manipulative she was, getting her way every time, no matter what. Judy used to have nightmares that she was going someplace special and had forgotten something Mom then called everyone’s attention to. Like she was out in public in just her underwear, especially that silly undershirt she always had to wear so her little nipples wouldn’t show, because she was fat. For years that undershirt dream haunted her.

She hated it when she grew breasts because Mom got even more hysterical about the way she looked. As if she could change how she looked. Other girls anxiously learned about makeup and other lies, but Judy stolidly remained Judy, and couldn’t see why you should try to improve on what you’d been given.

Everyone else snickered and followed fashion, but Judy stuck to her principles, and in the days since Frank died, she dressed even more uniquely than usual. And she smelled. And now that her home was in her car, everything smelled. But at least she had a change of clothes in the car. Lots of clothes, towels, old papers, trash, food containers, empty bottles and cans. and a whole garbage bag full of old clothes in the trunk, ready for the thrift store. Well, not any more. The trunk was now her wardrobe. She’d get around to cleaning the trash out of the back seat tomorrow, and make it really livable.

Considering her meager resources – a car full of junk – Judy still felt hopeful for the future. She had learned a bunch of new habits and had a lot more control over her evil thoughts now, even if her grief was heavy at times. After this little bout with alcohol was done, after she’d had enough of mourning, in a week or two, she would come out of it, find a place to live, get a job, straighten herself out, and move on with her life. Maybe she would move to somewhere else, but not until she proved to herself that she could survive all by her lonesome.

Except for Mom, who would never be satisfied, no matter what. The pathways in Judy’s brain were such ruts that she couldn’t go three flashes of thought without circling back to Mom, feeling a painful throb in her soul every time. Like a lie bump on your tongue, and you have to work up your courage to bite it off.

So she proceeded to torture herself with the fact that she was just like her mother. Especially as the eldest child; she got the largest dose of Mom at the beginning of her run as great mother goddess.

Judy had done her research. Castaneda said that women have holes in their middles after they give birth, and a sorceress had to steal back her missing substance from her children. She combined this with the idea of goddesses that eat their children, and decided that Mom was a psychic vampire. And that no matter how far Judy might run, Mom had her hooks in Judy’s aura and would feed off her as long as she was alive.

So Mom had to die. She kept coming back to that. It’s just that Judy wasn’t going to be the one to do it. She knew she didn’t have the heart to kill Mom, even tho Mom had pretty surely killed Frank. That alone should send Judy into a rage blind enough to stick something sharp into Mom’s eyes. But why bother? Judy was just like Mom, so Mom would haunt Judy the rest of her life, as Judy came to resemble her more and more. Thirty years from now, Judy would be worse than Mom.

But if Judy was like Mom, then Mom was like Judy. And Judy was her own worst enemy, so why not leave Mom alone to screw her own life up?

Except that Mom really didn’t seem to be screwing her life up. She seemed to be right in the middle of a nice, comfortable old age in a nice comfortable old house, with a fresh young victim willing to let her manipulate and abuse him to her heart’s content.

While Judy went thru a dark night of the soul that might well last the rest of her life. Homeless, wet, smelly, drunk, and depressed. Not depressed; angry. Depressed with an attitude. Snarky depression, sitting and muttering to herself in a dark smelly wet beat up old car in her old fucking neighborhood with nowhere to go, while all her relatives partied and cavorted and didn’t give a damn that she was alone in the world.

After a good cry, Judy rolled another joint and had a couple of whisky chasers. Then the rain slackened a bit, and she decided to see if the lock on the sliding door was still broken, because if it was, she was going to crawl into bed in her old room and attempt to turn the clock back all night in her sleep.

She got out of the car, stepping into a puddle and soaking her left shoe. It squelched as she walked to the driveway. She limped up the drive to the carport and noticed the doormat lying in the mud. Snorting disapproval for something out of place, she picked it up by the edge and tugged it back onto the driveway. Intending to put it back on the porch where it belonged, it was so heavy she decided to leave it there and let it drain. The puddle she took the mat out of was brown and ooky, and looked deep. Somebody could have broken an ankle on the mat, sitting over that hole like that.

Judy was a good person. She tried to think of others, tried to be the unknown hand that was always doing nice things for strangers. She went out of her way to help whenever she could. How could life turn out so shitty when she was always trying to be good? Did anybody ever notice? Did it benefit her in any way to be good? No. It benefited them, it meant she was quiet and never made any trouble and never demanded to get her way for once.

This was what she’d been thinking about before, how she was thru doing things because people expected her to. She was going to make her own karma from now on, decide to do things because they were good for her, or just because she wanted to do them. Freedom.
To do what, tho? Freedom to kill Mom for killing Frank? What would that benefit her?

No, fuck killing Mom, fuck being angry with her and blaming everything on her, even if a good case could be made. Blaming Mom just made Judy a victim, and fuck that.

Nope, the kind of karma she was going to create right now was to do a nice thing for someone without being asked, and go find a warm bed in her mother’s house to spend a wet and sorrowful night.

***

Sam and Dave noticed Cindy’s car, as well as Gordon’s, and even Judy’s, when they entered the neighborhood. Rick’s car wasn’t there, but that wasn’t surprising, because Rick was freshly dead and his widow was still negotiating to get her children back. Their new informant Ben was over there lending a hand, and promised to turn in a report.

They were there because a fair number of their secreted GPS devices had converged in a known location. But this time they were prepared. They had parabolic mics, infrared cameras, and lots of stakeout drugs, as well as standard issue trenchcoats to keep the rain off, and a whole bale of paper towels for when they couldn’t.

After Judy stalked past they decided they should move into place closer to the action and prepared themselves properly, saluting Gordon as they finished off a bag of marching powder they’d found while organizing things. The rain had slacked off a little, so they made their move, Dave snickering when Sam stepped into a puddle beside the car, Sam whacking him on the shoulder when Dave slammed the trunk getting the equipment out. “Like anyone’s going to hear,” snarled Dave.

But Judy heard the trunk slam, and the wet thwack of Sam’s slap. And so did Gordon and Laurie, who had rolled off each other, and were actively avoiding Judy behind Mom’s car.

Judy scuttled off across the front yard, crouching and keeping close to the bushes as she made her way around to the back porch. Feeling safe, Laurie knelt down and started going down on Gordon, who leaned back on the car and rolled his head from side to side with pleasure.

Out of the corners of his eyes Gordon saw Sam and Dave struggle by with armloads of gear, heading for the back yard. Somehow they avoided being fried as they turned the corner; maybe Frank’s invention didn’t work.

Gordon finished quickly, before the distraction got to be too much, and left Laurie wiping her mouth with the back of her hands. She’d scratched his ass while he was coming; really dug her nails in. She checked to see if her manicure was still perfect.

Gordon was annoyed to see the mat o’death sitting on the driveway. What the fuck. Damn that Judy anyway. He prodded it with his foot but it didn’t go off. He lifted it by the corner. Everything was still attached. The little light was still on. So he put it back over the puddle and stood admiring the placement. It had to work.

***

Continue chapter 27

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