This is the third round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, you can read about it HERE and HERE. For them interested, the Round 3 Title voting results are found HERE.
As a quick summary, we solicited titles, readers voted for their favorite title, and we each wrote a story using the winning title.
The winning title for Round 3 was Of Broken Things.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Perry’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Perry’s:
Undoubtedly, Gill Beazley is a colossal jerk. Any man that would fake dementia to cheat on his wife deserves a harsh comeuppance. But does he deserve to be brutally murdered? And who gets their hands bloody? His wife? His lover? His lovers? Then, there are the babies. How will they be used to kill Gill? Crime is no longer the exclusive domain of the young. Seniors, insane or sinister, can be quite entertaining. This one is a ripping good murder story. Enjoy.
Of Broken Things
Copyright 2022 — Perry Broxson
(3,830 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Why would anyone kill Gill Beazley? Great question. Honestly, I’m just as eager to find out as you are. Let’s make a pact. I’ll write and you read . . . together, we should arrive at a satisfactory answer in approximately thirty-eight hundred words. Ready?
Spit-balling: Gill’s kind of a cad, so I see a woman killing him. And the setting – let’s do it in a Senior Living Community. Yes. Given that he is in his late-sixties, that’s a reasonable scene for a crime. And let’s make it . . . bear with me . . . a crime of passion. And the murder weapon – not sure. Got any ideas? A walking cane. Gardening sheers. Or maybe a bust of Pallas, as alluded to in Poe’s Raven. Gill doesn’t deserve a pillow or poison. For his dastardly crimes, nothing short of a brutal bludgeoning will do. But a bludgeoning might not ring true. He’s a relatively healthy man, he should be able to defend himself from a battering woman, right?
More spit-balling: Perhaps Gill’s killer will have some help. Partners in crime.
I think we’ve got enough information to tell a ripping good tale, don’t you? Let’s get started.
On June 28th, Gill’s wife, Felicity, walked in on him and their housekeeper. In flagrante delicto, was the phrase she used while describing the scene to accessing nurse at Morning Star Senior Living Community. “There he was, on top of her,” Felicity said, twisting her wedding ring. “I’d forgotten my wallet so I popped back in, you know, unexpectedly. I’d only been gone for five minutes . . . and there he was, in flagrante delicto, with our housekeeper, Consuela, in our bed. And when I screamed, it was Consuela that leapt and ran, grabbing her apron and underthings. Gill’s reaction was . . . well . . . there was no real reaction. He looked at me as if I were an unwelcome guest. ‘Can I help you?’ he asked. Nurse, we’ve been married for forty-two years, and it was as if he didn’t know me.”
The nurse nodded and ticked a series of boxes on her evaluation report. She looked at Gill sitting placidly with his hands splayed on his thighs, eyes hooded, sporting an inscrutable smile. She asked him thirty questions from the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test. He answered a third correctly, a third wrong, and then drifted on the final ten.
The nurse addressed Felicity. “Dissociative dementia,” she said. “Could be Anosognosia. Could be vascular. Could be DLB. Definitely frontotemporal with misappropriate sexual manifestations. You’re in luck, Felicity. We’ve got an available room in the Assisted Living wing.”
On cue, paramedics pushed a gurney with the corpse of a withered woman past them. The sheet covered all of her face, save a single eye – clouded, pale blue, shot with burst vessels – what Poe called a vulture eye.
“Gill’s only sixty-eight,” Felicity said. “These years are supposed to be our time. To travel. To re-connect, to rejuvenate our love.”
Before the nurse could respond, an ancient man in mismatched pajamas approached her desk and said: “My mother is expecting me home for dinner. Can you give me a ride? A colored fella stole my car.”
The nurse pushed an intercom button and said: “Caregiver needed at nurse’s station. Wayne needs redirection.”
As the nurse continued to evaluate Gill, Wayne repeated the same three themes: Mother. Ride. Colored fella.
“Is this some kind of loony bin?” Gill asked, suddenly lucid.
“Dear,” Felicity said, “it’s your new home. Don’t worry, I’ll visit you every day. But I can’t take care of you by myself. These kind folks have agreed to help me . . . help you.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Gill said sharply. “But I’m not a gibbering idiot like that guy.” He pointed to Wayne. “I just need some meds and I’ll be as good as new.”
A caregiver took Wayne by the elbow and led him toward the dining room. “Want some toast, Mr. Wayne?”
“No,” Wayne snapped. “My mother is expecting me to be home for dinner.”
The caregiver petted him and said, “Your mother called and said to go ahead and eat some toast, that dinner would be late.”
Wayne dabbed drool from his chin and nodded, following the caregiver. “Colored fella stole my car,” he groused, shuffling to the kitchen.
Gill jerked his thumb at Wayne. “That’s not me. I’m not cuckoo. I have these . . . these blackouts . . . fugues . . . occasionally. But I know my mother’s dead and that my car is in the garage.”
“Who am I?” Felicity asked.
“What?” Gill asked.
“Go ahead,” the nurse prodded, “answer her.”
“You’re Felicity Beazley,” Gill answered, hands flapping. “My wife. Jesus, we’ve been married for thirty years.”
“Forty-two,” Felicity corrected.
The nurse made a note, then asked: “What is your wife’s maiden name, Gill?”
Gill knew it was Johnson but figured he’d better play the fool or get busted. “Johannsson? Jones?”
The nurse slid her eyes to Felicity, who shook her head. “Johnson.”
“Pretty close,” Gill said, thinking he’d threaded the needle.
The nurse put down her pen and looked Gill in the eyes. “Are you faking? Because if you are, it’s dangerous. Very dangerous. You’ll be prescribed a regimen of psychotropic drugs – some of which could be harmful to a brain of normative cognition.”
“Faking?” Gill faked. “Faking what?”
Felicity spoke up, “Gill, please, tell me you’re lying, that this is an act. Tell me you’re a cheater and I’ll forgive you. Tell me. Tell me you’re lying.”
“Lying? I’m not lying,” Gill said. “Who are you again?”
The two women communicated telepathically. The deal was done. The nurse pushed the contract across her desk and Felicity signed it.
Gill noticed that a tear blotted the document as his wife signed. He wondered how it had gotten this far. Yes, of course he was faking, artfully dodging Felicity’s righteous wrath. He’d gotten the idea from an old Jack Nicholson movie called “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Unfortunately, Gill had lost interest in the movie and never watched the ending. Spoiler Alert: Gill’s ending will be worse than McMurphy’s – a man forcibly lobotomized.
Once settled, Gill began to survey the property and people of Morning Star Senior Living Home. Nice digs, he thought to himself, admiring the commodious common room. There was a magnificent fireplace, on par with the hearth from Citizen Cane. Off the east wing, there was an array of entertainment rooms: music, library, TV, board games, and a surround-sound theater. He had no complaints. The food was passable and plentiful. The pool and sauna were always clean and available. And there was a sprawling courtyard, wherein that he could enjoy some of the residents’ gardens.
At first, the meds were a problem. Vomiting the pills was onerous. Soon, however, Gill perfected the lingual legerdemain of hiding the tablets under his tongue. When the caregiver left his room, he spit them in the toilet and flushed twice.
All in all, life was pretty good for Gill Beazley. But he knew it couldn’t last. His plan was simple. Lay low. Wait it out for a spell. Give himself a vacation – maybe three or four months. Then, gradually become himself again. Credit the doctors and medication and thoughts and prayers. Tell Felicity that he was ready to come home. To join her in the rest of their lives . . . together . . . till death do they part.
Such was the plan, until he met Rose. She had the curves and curls of post-menopausal Marilyn Monroe. She was around his age, but looked younger. A blond bombshell, built like a brick shithouse. Unlike the other ladies in Morning Star, her breasts hadn’t deflated into flaccid sacks of shriveled skin. And her derriere, mercy! It was as ample and shapely as any ass in the building – to include much younger nurses, caregivers, and management.
Gill met her in the garden where she was kneeling, trimming roses.
“Beautiful,” he said, leering at her backside. Startled, she turned. Her eyes were as blue as Forget-Me-Not flowers and her unmade face was as white as a Pallas bust.
“Thank you,” she said, clipping a rose with pruning shears.
“And,” he added, counting the beats, “the roses are beautiful also.”
After a moment of puzzlement, she blushed. Her cheeks bloomed to rival the roses.
Gill extended his hand, helping her up. “I’m Gill,” he said. “I’m new at Morning Star. Someone said that you would give me a tour.”
“Who said that?” she asked.
Gill pointed vaguely toward the administrative wing of the building. “Someone,” he repeated. “Sorry. Names. Sometimes I forget.”
“You’re in the right place,” she said sweetly. “I call this the House of the Forgotten and Forgetful.”
“Poetic,” he said. “How long have you been here?”
“Three years,” she said, then giggled. “Or three-hundred. Who’s to say?”
Gill moved closer, smelling the earth and sweat. “Forgive me. But you don’t seem . . .” he trailed off, then circled his ear with his finger.
“Crazy?” she asked.
He deflected the word with a shrug.
“My ex-husband put me in here,” she half-laughed. “My Old Man said I was dangerous. Can you believe that? Me? Dangerous?” She snipped a stem and handed Gill a rose.
Gill grasped the flower. A green thorn pierced his thumb and he said, “Fuck.”
Before he could apologize for the vulgarity, she stuck his thumb in her mouth and sucked the beading blood. Her Forget-Me-Not eyes held his gaze as her tongue caressed the wound.
“Fuck,” he repeated, this time softly, redolent of erotic awe.
She smiled somewhat crazily, he thought. But the sight of her blood-red lips negated the warning signals blaring in his brain. “What’s your name, beautiful?”
She blinked for five seconds, then opened her eyes. “Rose. I’m Rose. Just like the flowers.”
“Let’s play a game, Rose,” he suggested. “I’ll call you Felicity and you call me your Old Man.”
“Okay,” she said. When she started to ask why, Gill pressed his bloody thumb to her lips and said, “It’ll be fun.”
“Fun,” she echoed.
He took her by the hand and began to lead her to his room. “Fun,” he repeated. “It’s my second favorite F word.”
“Wait!” Rose barked, her eyes darkening. She snatched her hand away and turned back to her flowers. She reached down into the thatch and retrieved a bundle.
“What’s that?” Gill asked, feeling his erection wane.
“It’s Lily,” she said matter-of-factly.
Gill fingered the blanket, opening a fold. “It’s a baby” – he was going to say baby doll, but he saw her face. It was a mother’s face, beaming, beatific.
“It’s my baby,” she cooed, tickling its chin.
“Yeah,” Gill said, hesitantly touching its skin. Silicon, he thought. Pretty damned realistic. Solid – gotta be eight pounds.
“I’m Rose and she’s my precious Lily,” Rose repeated. “Isn’t she adorable?”
Gill forced a grin. “Adorable. Like mother like daughter,” he said. “Bring her up to my room . . . she can nap while we” –
“Make her a baby sister?” Rose interjected.
“Yeah,” Gill played along. “Or brother. Or the other kind.”
Rose stared blankly at him, trying to cipher his wit.
“It’s a joke,” he finally said, allowing the bloom to return to her perplexed face. “The other kind. Doesn’t mean a damn thing.”
She laughed unnaturally. To Gill it sounded like a fish choking on air.
This is a red flag, he told himself. Do not take her to your room. Do not have sex with her. Do not do it, Gill! Do not! DO NOT!
Unabashedly, she shifted the fabric of her neckline and pressed her breast to the fake baby’s mouth. Gill was simultaneously horrified and titillated.
“Let’s go, Felicity,” he said, taking her by the hand. “My room.”
A caregiver named Carla caught them. She did not use the phrase in flagrante delicto. Bashful, Carla informed the Executive Director by circling two fingers and poking the hole with her pointer finger. After some investigation, the ED called Gill’s wife, Felicity, in for a Care Conference. It went something like this:
ED: Felicity, it seems that Gill has imprinted on another woman.
ED: It’s called Capgras Syndrome. Gill thinks that one of our residents, Rose, is you.
Felicity: Oh, God. Not again. It’s like with our housekeeper, isn’t it? Maybe if I speak with him, reason with him.
ED: It’s a delusion, Felicity. Part of the disease. Reason does not work.
Felicity: (Crying) . . . and her? Does reason work with this Rose woman?
ED: I’m afraid not. She suffers from impulse control. Believe me, Felicity, we empathize with you. This is one of the more sinister aspects of dementia.
Felicity: Sinister. That’s the right word. Tell me, are they intimate?
ED: I’m afraid so.
Felicity: Can you stop them?
ED: I’m afraid not.
Felicity: Why the fuck not?
ED: It’s complicated . . . but it comes down to bodily autonomy. In Assisted Living, as long as a resident is not injuring themselves or others, we cannot force them to do . . . well . . . much of anything.
Felicity: This place is a joke. You charge outrageous prices and make outlandish promises. You’re no better than zookeepers.
As Felicity snatched tissues and bolted from the ED’s office, a couple strolled by, hand in hand. It was Gill, of course – Gill and Rose. Felicity mustered the strength to grab him, to spin him around, to push her face into his and scream: “Who am I? Who am I?”
Gill, in perfect rhythm, replied: “If you don’t know who you are, darlin’, you’re in the right place.”
Rose laughed and stroked his stubble cheek with the back of her hand. “You’re so funny! Everybody, my Old Man is so, so funny!”
Gill kissed her fingertips and added: “Funny and sexy. Don’t forget sexy, Felicity.”
“Felicity!” Felicity screamed. “I’m Felicity, you idiot! I had your sons. I cooked your meals. I ironed your shirts and washed your underwear. I gave up college. My career. I gave up my life . . . for you!”
The ED separated Felicity from the happy couple. “I’ll have to ask you to leave,” she told Felicity.
“Me?” Felicity retorted. “I’m paying for this . . . this . . . brothel.”
Rose squeezed Gill’s arm and dragged him away. “C’mon, Old Man. This woman is crazy. Let’s get some prime rib before the Smith sisters eat it all.”
“I’d follow you anywhere, Felicity,” Gill replied.
The real Felicity watched her husband and the blond enter the lavish dining room, where Gill pulled the chair for his date.
“He never . . . did that . . . for . . .” Felicity sniffed, then dissolved into bawling jag that lasted many minutes.
So, what have we learned? Gill’s a jerk; that’s for sure. Rose is demented and, according to her ex-husband, dangerous. Felicity is distraught – rightfully so – but I see a certain strength in her. I wonder if she’ll kill Gill. As for the murder weapon, hmmm, I’m thinking those pruning shears that Rose used in the garden might show up again. You?
Three months later, Gill was getting antsy. He’d managed to seduce three more “sexy seniors” into his boudoir. As each lady was added into the rotation, he became more nervous about his largess of love. Sophia was Monday night, Dorothy Tuesday, Blanche Wednesday, refractory and rehydration on Thursday and Friday, and Rose got the weekends when the other gals were visiting family. All four of the ladies were in varying states of dementia. The major commonality, however, was their dire devotion to their respective therapy dolls. Creepy, Gill thought. But considered it harmless.
He felt like a juggler – a juggler of flaming chainsaws. The thrill bolstered his libido for a couple of months, but now . . . now . . . he was over it. The sex was loveless and perfunctory. There were times when Dorothy would call him by her dead husband’s name. Times when Sophia would cry inconsolably. Times when Rose would refuse to leave his room, demanding that he be a better father to her doll, Baby Lily. It was a game of Jenga, but with old ladies, their minds as brittle as their hearts.
And then there was his real wife. Felicity, true to her word, visited him every day. Thankfully, it was at lunchtime. He told the other ladies that Felicity was his sister. It was at lunch (Salisbury steaks and garlic mashed potatoes) that he and Felicity had this conversation:
Gill: You’re not my sister, are you?
Felicity: No, Gill. I’m your wife. You have a disease. A brain disease. It’s why you cheated on me with Consuela. It’s why you have women . . . girlfriends . . . here, in Morning Star. You think they’re me.
Gill: I don’t want to be here. I want to go home. With you . . . Felicity.
Felicity: Gill, you called me Felicity! The medication must be working! This is a miracle. The clinicians said that you would continue to decline . . . but they were wrong. Thank you, Jesus!
Gill: (grasping her praying hands in his) I love you, Felicity. Now get me out of here.
Felicity went straight to the Executive Director’s office and told her that she’d be taking her husband home.
“That is certainly your prerogative. Contractually, however, you are obligated to pay for the entire month,” the ED said.
“Not a problem,” Felicity said. “When can I take him?”
“Tomorrow,” the ED replied. “We’ll need to collate his medical files and transfer prescription authority to you, his guardian.”
“Very well,” Felicity said. “Tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came as tomorrows do, becoming today along the way. At 5:00 in the early evening, Felicity arrived at Morning Star. The mood in the building was eerie, even ominous. Residents shuffled in aimless crisscross paths, agitated and moaning, grieving and groping for lost thoughts.
“Sun-downing,” the ED said, seeing Felicity’s confusion.
The ED looked around, as if showcasing the phenomenon. “It’s this. A bizarre, mysterious event, wherein dementia victims become . . . unsettled . . . as the sun goes down. The prevailing thought is that there is a disruption in the ‘body clock,’ brought on by the disease and medications.”
“But,” Felicity followed up, “you don’t agree?”
A smile flashed on the ED’s face, as fleeting as a finger-snap. “Between us girls,” she confided, “I think the onset of darkness scares them. I think they are afraid that they’ll get lost in it. Never return.”
Felicity shivered. “Thank goodness Gill is leaving this place – these people. He’s not like them.”
The finger-snap smile flashed again, and the ED said, “Gill will be missed. He was quite popular here at Morning Star. He’s in his room. I’m sure he’s waiting for you.”
Felicity wended her way through the parade of aggrieved people until she arrived at Gill’s room. She knocked. There was no answer. She pressed her ear to the door and thought she heard panting with an undertone of arrhythmic percussions.
“Gill,” she called. “It’s me. Time to go home, honey. Open the door.”
She slapped the door with her palm. “Gill . . . open up. We’re going home.”
Shrill giggles spilled through the door seams. Voices. Female. Witchy. Comically evil, like a high school production of the Broadway play, Wicked.
“Gill. I’m coming in!” She wrenched the doorknob. It was locked. She pounded and kicked. When the cackling increased, she screamed. “Somebody. Somebody. Help me. Unlock this damn door!”
It was the ED that arrived in the hallway. Seeing Felicity’s distress, she hustled, holding the key above her head. She jammed the key into the slot and popped the lock. She looked inside, grimaced, and closed the door.
“What is it?” Felicity shouted, fighting to enter.
“No,” the ED said. “Felicity. Trust me. You don’t want to” –
Felicity shoved the woman and broke through the door and . . .
Wow! Things appear to have really gone sideways for ol’ Gill. I promised you a murder and I will not disappoint. That’s not say we have all the answers. If you’re like me, you want to know how the murder was done, and of course, by whom.
Let’s wrap this up, shall we?
Felicity shoved the woman and broke through the door and there was Gill, dead, in his bed, his body blanketed, his cratered cranium open, exposed. His head and face looked like a Picasso. His nose had migrated to his ear, and his eyes were cocked and crooked. His skull was a misshapen gourd, smashed so profoundly that gobs of gray matter pooled on his pillow. Blood spatter stippled the walls and ceiling. Mixed into the gore, was a sprinkling of rose petals atop the comforter.
“Gill,” Felicity gasped. “Oh, Gill.”
The ED took her by the arm and tugged.
“No,” Felicity barked. “Let me go to Gill.”
The ED pointed to the fouled carpet. Four baby dolls surrounded the bedframe. They were bloody and broken, arms and legs and heads detached. The murder weapons.
Felicity screamed into her hands, stopping only when saw something wriggle under the covers.
“It’s them,” the ED said.
“We’ve got to go,” the nurse warned. “It’s dangerous. I’ll call the”–
“Who?” Felicity demanded. “Who is in bed with my husband?” With that, she lunged toward the bed and grasped handfuls of blankets and sheets. Mustering the strength of the mad, she snatched the fabric away, revealing four Golden Girls: Rose, Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia. The scene was as grotesque as it was adorable. The four elderly women, naked and freckled with Gill’s blood, buttressed their husband, cuddling and snuggling his mangled corpse.
“Hi,” Rose said, “I’m Felicity.”
“Hi,” Dorothy said, “I’m Felicity.”
“Hi,” Blanche said, “I’m Felicity.”
“Hi,” Sophia said, “I’m Felicity.”
In a macabre choreography, the ladies waved their bloody hands at the real Felicity, welcoming her into their sisterhood. “Join us, won’t you?”
My, oh my. I think we should stop there, don’t you? Our lothario, Gill, has gotten his comeuppance. The Executive Director resigned and devoted her artistic energy into the creation of custom charcuterie boards. Felicity sued Morning Star and received an undisclosed settlement. However, she will be in therapy for the rest her life, which, I’m sad to say, is a mere two years. Pills and vodka – as toxic a combo as she and Gill.
The Golden Girls were found not guilty, by reason of insanity. They lived out their lives in psychiatric facilities, their minds hopelessly broken. Speaking of broken things, the therapy baby dolls were reassembled and purchased by a horror writer. Some say it was Stephen King. Some say Clive Barker. But they’re wrong. It was me.
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