Genre Writing Challenge Round 01 — Perry Broxson

As mentioned, we’re starting a new challenge — the Genre Writing Challenge. Each round, the three writers — Perry, Gary, and me — will write a story on a given genre. The Twins decided the first genre is Mystery/Crime.

For the record, I would have split those into separate genres, but that’s fine.

We’re also doing something different as far as posting the stories. Dropping three stories that can total anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 words is an imposition on readers, so we’re going to stagger the posts. First up is Perry’s story. It will be followed by Gary’s story in two days, and finally, my story two days after that.

Our usual disclaimer:

The writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG range, with a few perhaps pushing into the R range. 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. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).

So, without further ado, here’s Perry’s contribution to the Mystery/Crime genre.

Wait . . . first, the blurb:
Who killed the Black Dahlia? Who would know better than the lady herself? All is revealed in this perfect storm of murder, mystery, and magic.

The Divided Lady

Copyright 2023 — Perry Broxson

(5,050 words – approx. reading time: about 19 minutes based on 265 WPM)

“Don’t call her that,” Dorothy Short snapped. “Her name was Elizabeth. When I hear Black Dahlia, I just wanna spit.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” Jonah Weisz apologized. “The name – Black Dahlia – it’s just so ingrained in the culture.”

“She’ll always be Lizzy to me,” Dorothy recalled, tipping her eyes to a memory. “My big sister; so sweet, so trusting, so beautiful. When I close my eyes, I can see her dark curls and bright smile. But when I open them, young man . . . .” She trailed off, covering her face with her mottled hands. “Sometimes . . . I see her . . . in those photos, posed, shown to me by the muckraking journalists.”

Having researched this cold case for the past eleven months, Jonah had seen the old 1947 photos. If pressed, he’d admit to several sleepless nights. The black and white images of the twenty-three-year-old woman, naked, slathered in feces, bisected at the waist, her entrails tucked neatly under her buttocks – were nothing short of deranging.

“Glasgow Smile,” Dorothy said.

“Pardon,” Jonah said, lost in the macabre imagery. “Did you say Glasgow Smile?”

The old lady tried to smile. When her taut skin would not stretch, she hooked her fingers into her cheeks and tugged, creating a faux smile, an exaggerated rictus.

“Oh,” Jonah said, remembering the gruesome detail. “She was cut.” He traced his fingers from his dimples to his earlobes. “Glasgow Smile . . . is that what it’s called?” He quickly wrote it down, loving the Gaelic name of the heinous act.

“I see it,” Dorothy said. “More and more. As I grow older. Closer and closer . . . to my just rewards. Her smile. So pretty at first. Cranberry lipstick. Rosebud rouge. Then the smile . . . widens.” She made the same gesture Jonah made, sweeping her knobby fingers across her cheeks. “And then her face opens up like a sliced melon.”

Jonah shivered, seeing the scene through the sister’s cataractous eyes. “I know this is a lot,” he started. “This interview . . . these questions . . . the memories. But I think I know who the killer was, Miss Dorothy. I think I know who murdered the Black Dah – I mean, your sister, Elizabeth Short.”

She touched his knee with the delicacy of a feather. “If you could solve this mystery, Mr. Weisz, I would be forever in your debt. Our family has suffered so. Mother, the most – God rest her soul. More importantly, I feel that Lizzy would be released . . . to peacefully transcend this terrestrial cesspool.”

Jonah wrote down the quote and then looked up. “Do you think she hasn’t?” he asked. “Transcended?”

Dorothy’s yellow eyes slid latterly: left, then right, then left. She shook her head in the same motion. “No,” she whispered. “She remains.”

“She remains,” Jonah repeated, thinking it might make a great chapter title. “She remains . . . among us? A spirit? Here . . . in this house?”

Dorothy smiled, showing her acrylic dentures. “I’m afraid so.”

“You believe in . . .” Jonah ventured, “ghosts?”

Dorothy laughed. “Weisz,” she said, changing the subject. “Your last name. You share it, do you not, with a great – maybe the greatest – skeptic?”

Jonah flinched. Had the researcher become the researched? “I’m surprised,” he said. “You know the name Weisz . . . the true family name of great Harry Houdini.”

She nodded wisely, then repeated her previous refrain. “I’m afraid so.”

The teakettle whistled, and Dorothy shuffled into the kitchen. She returned with shortbread cookies and a hot teapot. “It’s Hibiscus Tea,” she said. “You really must have some.”

As she poured, Jonah lingered on the word ‘afraid.’ It seemed the old gal was attempting to send him a message. “Dorothy. Is she here?” he asked. “Do you see Elizabeth? In this room, with us? Now?”

Dorothy’s eyes darted, betraying her words. She laughed and said no, no, no. But her eyes traveled toward a white suede loveseat draped with crochet lace.

Jonah followed her eyes to the vacant chair. “That lace,” he said. “It’s beautiful. Was it hers?”

“She made it,” Dorothy said. “Lizzy was quite gifted with textiles. She made all her own clothes.”

“It’s been reported that she wore only black,” Jonah said. “Could you speak to that?”

“Poppycock,” Dorothy said. “So many lies. So many slanders.”

“Such as,” Jonah asked, tilting his pad to his pen.

“Such as . . .” Dorothy leaned in and whispered. “Such as her being a . . . a lady lover.”

“A lesbian?” Jonah probed.

Dorothy winced at the word. “Yes, one of those people. She wasn’t, Mr. Weisz. Lizzy loved men. She was boy-crazy. That’s one of the reasons she took off to California. Mother was so strict with her here in Boston. So Lizzy dropped out of high school and hitchhiked to LA.”

“She moved in with your estranged father, correct?”

Dorothy’s face puckered as if she’d sucked a lemon. “That no-good rascal,” she spat. “He left Mama and us in ’29, after the market crash. Drove his Buick to Charlestown Bridge and . . . left . . . left us to believe he’d killed himself. Jumped into the river. But he hadn’t, Mr. Weisz. He was too cowardly to commit suicide but just cowardly enough to abandon me, Mama, and Lizzy.”

“Wow,” Jonah said, “it must have been a shock when you learned he was alive, living in California.”

“Ten years had passed,” she said, rubbing her aching knuckles. “Mama took work as a bookkeeper for Montgomery Wards. We ate boloney and what Mama called Church Treasures – which was whatever scraps our good Christian neighbors put on the porch that day.”

“What a jerk,” Jonah said, then followed up: “Did they get along . . . Elizabeth and your father, John Short?”

She laughed. “Got along like porcupines and balloons. No, sir. Lizzy didn’t suffer fools, and John Short was a natural-born fool. She took a job cashiering at the Army Base Exchange on Camp Cooke . . . soon moved out and moved in with a grunt that was none too kind. Beat on her, she said. For no good reason but the day’s name ended in Y.”

Jonah shook his head, ashamed of his gender. “His name was Lompac. Sergeant Sidney Lompac. He passed three polygraphs and had an airtight alibi the night Elizabeth was killed – something about a bivouac exercise two hundred miles away.”

“Wasn’t him,” Dorothy said. “Sid was mean, but just regular mean. The kind of mean that fetched a girl a shiner when his uniform wasn’t ironed properly . . . that kind of mean. The killer was on a different level . . . something akin to demonic meanness. Wouldn’t you think, Mr. Weisz?”

“Interesting that you would rule out Sergeant Lompac,” Jonah said. “He admitted to hitting her. Knocked out a tooth – his own words.”

Dorothy smiled knowingly. “Sid got as good as he gave. Lizzy broke his nose with a rolling pin . . . not to mention snatching him a ragged bald spot.” She laughed and looked casually at the loveseat with the yellowing lace.

Jonah scribbled the anecdote on his pad. “A real fighter,” he said, relishing the action scene he could craft. “Five-foot four-inches. One-hundred-and-fifteen pounds. Scrappy lass.”

“She was,” Dorothy affirmed. “We grew up dirt-poor in Hyde Park. If you weren’t tough, you were dead.”

“Dead,” he echoed, watching the octogenarian tip a wink toward the suede sofa. “You keep looking at the loveseat,” he said. “Is there a reason?”

Dismissing the question, she asked about Morty.

“Morty?” he questioned. “Are you referring to Glen Dillon, the mortician?”

“Morty,” she repeated. “That’s what his friends called him. That’s what Lizzy called him. Morty.”

Jonah wrote it down. “I’m so glad you accepted my solicitation for this interview, Miss Dorothy. I’ve researched this case doggedly for almost a year and never heard Glen Dillon referred to as Morty. Where, may I ask, did you garner that delicious tidbit?”

She glanced at the loveseat and said, “A little birdy told me.”

Jonah looked at her, then the loveseat, then back to Dorothy. “Okay. Do you have any insights regarding Glen ‘Morty’ Dillon?”

“Do I?” she said, then covered her mouth with a linen napkin she’d set out for tea and cookies. “His passions,” she confided, “were aberrant.”


“Yes, aberrant.”

Jonah pressed the pen to the pad. “At the risk of impropriety, could you elaborate, Miss Dorothy?”

A blush of blood gushed up from her ruffled collar, up her creped neck, past her jowls, and settled in her cheeks like twin roses. She was embarrassed, he realized.

“Lizzy said he liked her to play dead,” Dorothy said. “When they . . . coupled. He told her not to move . . . to just lay there and play dead while he did his business.”

“Oh, my,” Jonah said. “That is aberrant. When, may I ask, did Elizabeth confide this to you, Miss Dorothy?”

Dorothy’s color drained. Her face whitened, and Jonah thought for sure she was dead . . . or at least playing dead.

Finally, she flapped her hand like a pigeon wing and said, “She told me when she told me.”

“Okay,” Jonah said, adjusting to her fickleness. “It’s my inclination that Morty may be our man. He was married. He was having an affair with your sister. He was under the misapprehension that Elizabeth was pregnant. He did not have a good alibi for the evening of January 14, 1947. He had motive, opportunity, access to the tools, and the requisite skills.”

The old lady shook her head slowly, side to side to side.

“You’re not convinced?” he said. “May I ask why?”

She continued to shake her head as she said, “Because Morty didn’t do it.”

Jonah clucked his tongue, unsure how to spar with her tautology. “But my research indicates he checks all the boxes . . . and there may be some supporting DNA evidence.”

“DNA?” she asked. “Like those CSI stories on TV?”

He nodded. “Yes. But I should be clear. We don’t have it yet. The DNA sample. It was, after all, almost eighty years ago.”

“You don’t have the evidence?” she asked. “The DNA? But you just said” –

“No, ma’am,” he said. “That’s another reason I’m here today . . . talking with you . . . Elizabeth’s last remaining relative.”

Dorothy’s expression went from curious to furious. “You want to dig her up, don’t you?”

“Exhume,” he said, then added, “carefully, respectfully, and reverentially.”

“Pretty words,” she scoffed. “But you forgot desecration. It’s bad enough them hooligans defile her plot each year on her birthday – with all those stinking dahlia flowers. Now you want to dig up her bones and . . . and . . . what . . . what, Mr. Weisz? What further indignities do you want to do to Lizzy’s body?”

Jonah took a long sip from the teacup. “I have a theory,” he said. “According to reports, your sister was violated”–

“Of course she was violated!” Dorothy shouted. “She was sawed in half!”

Jonah cleared his throat and continued bravely. “Anally.”

Dorothy’s face melted, sliding into her ruffled collar.

“I’m sorry,” Jonah said. “This is all so sordid. But the coroner’s report is quite clear. Her colon was dilated and” –

“And you want to dig up my Lizzy and swab her butthole,” Dorothy asked, glancing glibly at the unoccupied loveseat.

Jonah regrouped. “We have Glen Dillon’s DNA. He died in an altercation with a client in the mid-sixties. The widower of a deceased woman accused him of . . . let’s just say, aberrance with the corpse. The point is we have Dillon’s DNA. If we can exhume Elizabeth – with your permission, of course – we can test to see if there’s a match. We could place Morty at the crime scene.”

Dorothy closed her eyes and shook her head. “I told you, it wasn’t Morty. You’re not listening, Mr. Weisz. Morty didn’t kill Lizzy.”

He placed the teacup on the table with an indignant clink. “And you know this how?”

She smirked and jerked her eyes to the loveseat. “Because.”

“Because why?”

She chewed a cookie for a full minute, then said, “Because somebody else killed her. Somebody you know, Jonah Weisz. Someone you researched but dismissed.”

Gobsmacked, Jonah dropped his pad and then his pen. He stood, perhaps too quickly, and experienced acute vertigo. His tongue seized, and his throat locked. “Whahh . . .” he mumbled. “Whahh dyoo sssay?”

Dorothy laughed and said, “Go to sleep, Mr. Weisz. Sweet dreams.”


“The tea,” he slurred two hours later. “You dosed it.” His head ached, and he attempted to rub his temples, but his hands would not reach. “What did you do to me? My hands.”

Dorothy pointed to the wrought iron newel post at the base of her staircase and said, “I handcuffed you to the stairs. It’s for your own good, Mr. Weisz.”

As his vision returned, Jonah realized that she had done just that. While he was unconscious, the old biddy had supernaturally dragged his 200-pound body across the room and manacled him to a newel post – an ornate but solid pillar of anchored iron.

“Do you recognize them,” she asked, pressing her fingertips to her lips coquettishly.

“Recognize what?”

“The handcuffs, silly,” she said. “They’re your grandfather’s.”

“What? My grandfather’s . . . handcuffs? What are you talking about? Are you crazy?”

She licked her lips with her lavender tongue. “Theodore Weisz. Harry Houdini’s younger brother. A renowned magician, escapist, and illusionist . . . in his own right. Don’t act so surprised, Mr. Weisz.”

Jonah blinked and thrashed his head as if to reboot his brain. This was all so surreal. An eighty-something-year-old woman drugging him, dragging him, shackling him. And for what? The alleged sins of his father’s father?

“Dorothy,” he said. “Miss Short. Please. There’s been a misunderstanding. I’ve obviously upset you, and offended you. I’m so sorry. I guess I got too engrossed in the story. I only wanted to solve the mystery of your sister’s death.”

“Mystery?” Dorothy cackled.

Suddenly, the laughter doubled. There was another voice in the room. A female voice – youthful and bawdy and derisive.

Jonah strained to see who it was but could not – secured as he was to the iron post. “Who’s that? Who’s that laughing at me?”

Dorothy got up and walked around the front of the loveseat, now obscured from Jonah’s vision. “You sure you want to see, young man?”

Jonah nodded his throbbing head.

“Okay,” the old lady said. She then rolled up her billowing, floral-print sleeves and commenced to push the head of the white suede loveseat, spinning it some 60 degrees. The wooden legs screeched on the wooden floor, adding a strident soundtrack to the laborious act.

Jonah bit his dry lip, trying not to scream. For there, on the suede loveseat, were the naked, lacerated halves of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia – her upper body on the right side of the sofa, her lower extremities on the left.

“You’ve got Teddy’s wavy hair,” Elizabeth Short remarked. Her mouth, elongated as it was, pronounced the words wetly and with defective diction.

Jonah yanked the chains, bruising his wrists. “No. Nooo. Noooooo!” he cried.

“That’s so funny,” Elizabeth lisped. “That’s what I said. Actually, those were my last living words . . . to Teddy Weisz. Your dear grandfather.”

“Papa,” he said. “No.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth insisted. “Your dear grandfather, your Papa, smashed my skull and then hacked me in half. What do you think about that?”

“You’re wrong. He was always kind,” Jonah said. “A gentle, gentle man. He couldn’t have done such a thing.”

The top part of Elizabeth’s body reached for a shortbread cookie. She inserted it into the side of her cheek and chewed it. “Are you calling me a liar, Mr. Weisz?”

“No,” he blurted. “I mean . . . only that . . . you could be mistaken. The head injury. And the . . . the trauma . . . the torture . . . the being dead for eighty years.”

“Good try,” Elizabeth said, slowly clapping her hands as her legs crossed independently. “But I was there. I saw it all. Why is it that you are so willing to accept the second-hand testimonies of long-dead so-called witnesses, but not mine? After all, I am the Black Dahlia. You’re getting it straight from the whore’s mouth.” She beamed sardonically, showing him rotten molars and diseased gums.

When Jonah didn’t answer for some seconds, Dorothy screamed, “Answer her, dammit!”

“I don’t know,” he shouted. “Except that . . . I’m hallucinating. The tea. That, or I’m having a psychotic episode. Either way, I just want to go. To leave this place. Please, free me.”

“I’d like to,” Elizabeth said, feigning sincerity. “Really, I would. But as you can see, I’m torn.”

Dorothy tittered, relishing the wordplay.

Jonah looked to each sister, pleading with his eyes. “I’ll write whatever you want. I’ll say Papa Teddy did it. Theodore Weisz. My long-dead grandfather. Just let me go.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Elizabeth said. “You haven’t even asked why. Why would sweet, gentle Teddy Weisz cut me in chunks and then pose me like spraddle-legged slut . . . for all the world to see?”

Jonah recalled the photos he’d seen. It was true. The victim had been posed in a shameful way. “Why?” he managed. “I’m asking. Why?”

“Glad you asked,” she said. “I’ll answer your question with a question. Have you ever heard of the magic trick called The Divided Lady?”

Jonah rummaged through his foggy brain. “My grandfather – he spoke of it. The illusion in which a woman is” –

He stopped. He clamped his mouth, daring not to speak the coda.

“In which,” Elizabeth finished, “a woman is sawn in half by a magician.” With a flourish of her arms, she presented her halves as a testament to the trick. “Voila!”

“Are you really saying that my Papa Teddy did this to you?” Jonah asked, his voice hushed and humble.

She scratched her knee on the opposite side of the sofa. “I am saying just that, Jonah Weisz. Theodore The Magnificent, your Papa, wanted so much to live up to his older brother’s acclaim, that he stole the act from a British magician and brought it to America. It might have worked if your grandfather was half the magician as Houdini. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t disciplined. He was addicted to cocaine and laudanum and absinthe. He’d go on mad jags, working on his acts, summoning the spirit of his dead brother. But his magic was never good enough. And when he was cruel to me, hit me, and cursed me, I did not hesitate to tell him that he would never escape the shadow of Houdini. He was half the man. Half the magician.”

“How do you know all this?” Jonah asked.

She slowly uncrossed her legs and showcased her womanhood. “I wasn’t just his whore,” she quipped. “I was his Assistant. I was the Amazing Adelaide.”

Jonah wept for her. He wept for himself. He wept for his disgraced legacy. “Why, why, why would he do this?”

“Men,” Elizabeth scoffed. “Such fragile egos. He came to my bed that night . . . out of his mind . . . beside himself – stoned on laudanum. Crying – like you. Wanting me to console him. Blubbering about how he could never match his brother’s achievements. I was in no mood for his self-pity. So I simply agreed with him. I said, ‘It’s true, Theodore. Compared to the Great Houdini, you are half the man, half the magician, half the lover.’”

Dorothy stifled her laugh with her fat hand. “Oh, Lizzy. You didn’t.”

Elizabeth snapped, and magically, an ivory-handled straight razor appeared in her hand. She pointed to her face. “He said I sure had a big mouth. I told him to go home and fuck his wifey-poo. That’s when he cut me.”

Jonah gasped.

“First, this side,” she said, tracing the gash on her left cheek with the razor. “Then this side.”

“That fiend,” Dorothy bawled, clenching her fat hands into fat fists.

“I tried to scream,” Elizabeth explained. “But the blood . . . I choked on it. I couldn’t breathe. He hit my head, and I blacked out. When I awoke, Jonah, your dear sweet grandpa was sawing on me.”

Jonah dropped his head and wept fully. For a man that was fueled by words, he was depleted.

“Tears are worthless,” the Black Dahlia said. “It’s your blood I need.”

Jonah lifted his snotty, teary face and said, “What?”

“Blood,” she repeated. “I learned a few tricks in my apprenticeship as the Amazing Adelaide. I learned that all the best magic begins with blood.”

Dorothy rubbed her hands as if she were kneading dough. “Blood,” she echoed. “Begins with blood. Ends with blood.”

            Elizabeth reached out and grasped the ceramic teapot. She poured its contents onto the wooden floor.

            “Sister,” Dorothy complained, “I’d have gladly emptied that in the sink.”

            Elizabeth showed the empty decanter to Jonah and said, “A teapot of blood should do.”

            “Should do . . .” he asked, bewildered, “should do what?”

            With gruesome flexibility, Elizabeth reached under her rib cage, into her cavity, and extracted her flat-gray heart. She then squeezed the organ, wringing it, expressing a trickle of indigo blood into the teapot. “Now, for yours,” she said, smiling widely at Jonah.

            With her blackened hand, Elizabeth daintily placed the teapot on the truncated stump of her lower half. She then shoved her buttocks gently off the sofa. The legs wobbled coltishly at first, then stabilized – standing on Dorothy’s wooden floor, supporting the teetering teapot.

            She folded the razor and placed it between her teeth. Then she used her arms, spiderlike, to descend the suede sofa. In a macabre choreography, the two halves waltzed across the waxed floor toward the horrified man manacled to the stair rail.

            “Whatareyou . . .” Jonah screamed. “Whatareyougoingtodotomeeeeee?”

            She spit the razor into her palm. She flipped it open. She stroked his pink cheek with the flat of the steel. “You do look like him. Like my Teddy Bear. I’m going to tell you something I should’ve told him.” She pressed her mutilated face to his and whispered, “I love you then, now, and forever. I love you with all of my heart.”

            Jonah turned his face, repelled by the stench of her infected breath.

            “Kiss me,” she lisped.

            He groaned and said, “Noo-ooo-ooo.”

            She hissed. “Then give me your blood.” She raked the blade across his wrist, opening a vein. She retrieved the teapot from the table of her waist, then placed it under the crimson current. In less than a minute, the pot overflowed.

            “Mind my floor,” Dorothy scolded. “It ain’t you gotta mop it.”

            Using the razor like a teaspoon, Elizabeth stirred the two bloods, hers and his, intermingled into a magical mixture. “Bottoms up,” she said, tipping the pot, sipping from the spout. “Now, your turn.”

            “Noooo,” Jonah groaned again. “Please. Just let me go. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll burn my files. I’ll never mention the Black Dahlia again.”

            “Drink,” Elizabeth snarled, pressing the razor to his neck, and pushing the spout to his mouth.

            He resisted. Of course he did. He spit and spewed and expelled the sanguine brew as long as he could. But Elizabeth’s persistence won the struggle.

            “Now,” she said, “the magic words. Say it with me. She raised the razor like a maestro’s baton and coordinated the talismanic spell. “Abra-ca-dabra.”

            It was only her and Dorothy that harmonized, but that was sufficient. Elizabeth pitched the teapot at the wall and waited for the magic to happen.

            “Hey there,” Dorothy griped. “That was part of a set mother gave me.”

            “Quiet, you cow,” Elizabeth snapped. “It’s happening. The Magic Show has begun.” With this said, she channeled her old persona, the Amazing Adelaide, and theatrically presented the star of the show. “Born of a virgin on the hallowed night of Halley’s Comet. Raised by sorcerers in the enchanted forests of the Orient. Descendant of Merlin. Acolyte of Allister Crowley. I give you Theodore The Magnificent.”  

            And then it happened. Jonah’s face changed. It was subtle and then sudden. Slowly, then all at once. His nose lengthened, and his chin whiskered, and his eyes became as green as gas lamps.

            “Theodore,” Elizabeth said, her voice moony with desire. “I knew you’d come.”

            “Elizabeth,” he said, repulsed, looking first at her head and torso, then her pelvis and legs. “What Black Magic is this?”

            “The blackest,” she said, running her tongue along her elongated lips. “Blacker than the blackest dahlia.”

            Dorothy stopped her chores of cleaning the floor and interrupted. “You killed her, Theodore Weisz! You murderous monster! You killed my Lizzy.”

            Theodore looked at his cuffed and bloodied wrists, then at the odd sisters – one that was old and one that was two. He remembered his madness, and he welcomed it. He laughed with magnificent abandon.

            Elizabeth chafed, then softened. “I forgive you, my love. It was my jealousy that drove you to murder. But now . . . now we can be reunited . . . forever. Please, accept my apology.”

            “Apology,” Dorothy objected. “He’s the one that sawed through your guts, Lizzy.”

            “Reunited,” Theodore said with his thick Hungarian accent. “You can’t even reunite yourself. Look at you. You’re a freak.”

            “Freak,” she repeated. “Freak!”

            Theodore wriggled his wrists, testing the manacle’s metal. Then, with pseudo sincerity, he said, “You were my Magnum Opus, Elizabeth. The apex of my craft; the summit of my necromancy; the climax of my magic. The One and the True . . . Divided Lady!”

            “You mock me,” she said.

            “He does mock you, sister,” Dorothy affirmed. “Reverse your sorcery and send him back to Hell, where he belongs.”

            “I’ll need more blood,” Elizabeth said. “Fetch me another pot.”

            Dorothy huffed and hustled into the kitchen.

Rid of her sister, Elizabeth pleaded with her paramour. “Use your magic. Use it to repair me. Finish the trick. Then we will retire into our life after life . . . lovers forever.”

            “You were my whore,” he said. “Not my lover. Are you too stupid to know the difference?”

            She laughed weakly, meekly. “Your humor is harsh. This is not the time for cutting comedy.”

            He laughed haughtily. “My dear. Not even a dead man can resist this hilarity. You, with your clownish grin. You, with your bifurcated body. You, groveling for the love of a reanimated corpse.”

            Her eyes blazed hatefully, but her Glasgow Smile remained. “I returned for you. I brought you back for us. I forgave you, for this.” She pointed to the intestines that trailed her like a bridal gown train. “I forgave you . . . for this!”

            “Foolish is,” he tsked, “as foolish does.”

            “You bastard!” she screeched, exhaling hatred so that her cheeks fluttered like boat sails. She flipped the razor and lifted it, relishing the fear in his green eyes. But there was no fear to be found. What she saw was a glint of mirth and a sparkle . . . a sparkle of what could only be . . . magic.

            He caught her wrist with his hand. A hand that Dorothy had dutifully manacled to the staircase newel. He was free, she saw. The escape artist had escaped. He squeezed her wrist, unclenching her fist, causing the release of the razor.

            “There, there,” he said. “Sharp tongues are one thing. Sharp blades are quite another. Someone could get hurt, my dear.”

            “Let go of me,” Elizabeth demanded, thrashing her top half.

            Free from handcuffs, Theodore stood. He towered over the halves of the woman he’d killed eighty years prior. With one hand, he pushed over her top, then toppled her bottom. He watched the independent pieces fall and flail on the floor, crablike, unable to right.

            Chuckling, he stepped over the parts and strode toward the door. “I must go, dear. So sorry for my haste. I can’t wait to see modern magic – the technology and advancements. Nor can I wait to share the secrets of mysteria – the riddles of the occult. Together, I will unite what has been divided. Combine the profane and the divine – the mundane and the marvelous.”

            As he reached for the door, Dorothy burst from the kitchen, keening. In her fat hand was a meat cleaver, held high like an Indian’s tomahawk. “Keeeeeeeel youuuuuuu!” she shrieked.

            Surprisingly fleet, she caught Theodore at the door and struck him with the cleaver. He lifted his arm, as if shielding the sun from his eyes. In one mighty whack of the hatchet, she amputated his hand from his forearm. He spun, unaware, reaching for the door handle with a hand no longer attached.

            “Keeeeeel,” Dorothy bayed. “Keeeeel the keeeeler!” Two hands on the haft, she chopped, chopped, chopped at the man. Fingers, ears, scalp, slabs of shoulder, chunks of buttock – it all flew and fell onto her freshly waxed floor. “For what you did to Lizzy,” she panted, “what you did . . . you monster! Take that. And that. And that and that!”

            It was Elizabeth that finally stopped her. Had she not scuttled across the floor on her palms and embraced her sister’s legs, Dorothy may still be whittling the magician into splinters.

            “There, there,” Elizabeth said calmingly. “It’s done, Dorothy. You’ve out-magicked the Magnificent. You’ve divided The Divider. You’ve avenged your sister.”

            Dorothy looked down at Lizzy, who was smiling inside the gash of her Glasgow Smile. The two girls began to giggle.

            “The mess,” Dorothy started, then fell into guffaws.

            “The mess,” Lizzy echoed, stifling her laughter. “Shall we . . . shall we put him back together, dear sister?”

            Dorothy, giddy with gaiety, hopped and clapped and squealed, “Let’s do. Let’s do.”

            “And then . . .” Lizzy added, but couldn’t finish; overcome as she was with maniacal merriment.

            “And then,” Dorothy said, bending to stroke her sister’s dark curls. “And then kill the magnificent motherfucker all over again.”


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