THE HOME EVERYTHING STRETCHED across acres of parking lot, a non-descript entrance at one end and multi-doored exits at the other.
Cliff passed through the sliding doors and paused in awe. Massive aisle signs hung from a cathedral ceiling fading into the distance.
The scent of exotic spices teased his nostrils.
"You here to pick up a garbage disposal?"
He spun around.
The word 'voluptuous' exploded into his mind. Striking features, milk white skin, lips red as fresh blood, mid-night colored hair.He gulped. There was something inhuman about her eyes.
She adjusted her orange vest, displaying the nametag "Ashtoreth". Cliff's mind froze, unable to assimilate both his errand and the woman's black volcanic-glass eyes.
"Ashtoreth," he babbled. "Ishtar. Astarte. Ancient Canaanite goddess."
She tilted her head slightly, holding him with her eyes. "You're smarter than most."
"Trivia like that won't get me a job."
At the word 'trivia', she squinted darkly. "I'm needed more than ever." She paused. "Your wife wants you to pick up the disposal."
Without awaiting his answer, she led the way.
Aisle after aisle of power tools, lumber, tile, batteries, and nails passed by. She finally stopped beneath a sign the size of a truck - 'Will Call'.
"This is what your wife wanted," smiled Ashtoreth. "It will dispose of anything."
"Anything," she assured him. "Exactly what Jane said she wanted."
Ashtoreth slid the odd-looking box from the counter into Cliff's arms. "Heavy for a garbage disposal," he grunted.
Manhandling the appliance into the car was as challenging as lugging it to the kitchen.
After an unforeseen splattering of foul, grey garbage sludge, he connected the electric power and drains. Cliff flipped the switch, and the disposal responded with a satisfying mechanical growl of whirring blades.
Job number one, accomplished.
Job number two, make supper. He pulled a frozen brick of ground beef from the freezer, and placed it in the sink to thaw.
The hamburger disappeared down the drain. The disposal ground furiously, then turned itself off.
Cliff backed away. The package of ground beef was too big to fit down the drain. He grabbed a flashlight from the drawer and peered down inside. Not a trace. But he saw it happen.and kitchen appliances don't turn themselves on.
Wiring problem? Logically, no. He hadn't touched the switch. Must be something wrong with the garbage disposal.
Cliff crawled under the sink, and studied the unit. Three wires to connect which he had done right and the hose to the plumbing.
He crawled out and stared at the drain. There was no way a whole tray of ground meat could fit down a three inch opening.
Cliff took a can of beer from the fridge, and standing a safe distance from the unpredictable appliance, sipped and thought. He was still thinking when the front door opened.
Jane entered dragging her purse and briefcase. For an instant, surprise flickered across her face. "You're still here?"
"Yeah. I picked up the disposal. Put it in."
His wife arranged her purse and briefcase on the kitchen table. "Have your tried it? Does it work?"
"It works, all right." Cliff held the empty beer can over the sink. "Watch."
The garbage disposal ground to life. He dropped the can and snatched away his hand. The whirring blades stopped. The empty beer can rattled to a stop in the sink.
"What am I supposed to see?" asked Jane. Cliff peered at the empty beer can lying across the drain. Jane snuggled close, putting her arm around him and standing on tip-toes, kissed him lightly on the cheek. "What did it do?"
"The thing sucked down a whole package of ground beef. It started by itself."
Jane slipped away, looking at him oddly. "Garbage disposals don't start themselves."
"Why didn't it take the beer can?" asked Cliff.
She laid his hand on his shoulder. "You've been under a lot of stress. Losing your job, and all."
Cliff shook his head. "Yeah.six weeks, and no job leads. I've been looking. For anything"
"I know you have." She patted his shoulder reassuringly.
"We can always cash in my life insurance."
"We agreed you wouldn't," said Jane.
He sighed. Stress. It was a good explanation. "I really thought it sucked down a whole package of frozen meat."
"Cliff." Her voice was soft and gentle and comforting. "Put your feet up, have another can of beer "
"I got it!" Cliff grabbed the handle of the refrigerator. "I bought two packages of ground meet yesterday. If one's gone, it really happened."
He swung open the door, and sticking his head inside, shuffled through unidentifiable, wrapped frozen things.
The frying pan smacked into his head, and he buckled into a heap.
Cliff woke to find himself draped over the kitchen counter. The disposal was grinding enthusiastically, and Jane alternately dragged and pushed him toward the sink.
She grasped his arm, dangling his hand over the drain.
Cliff pulled away. He lost his balance and slammed Jane into the counter. Stumbling, she thrashed out her arms for support, and reached into the sink.
Jane screamed a piercing, truncated wail. The disposal sucked her arm to the shoulder. Her mouth moved, but only choking sounds came out. In a heartbeat only a leg stuck upright from the drain. The foot wriggled in desperate protest, then spun out of sight.
For an unpleasant moment the disposal crunched and ground. Then it switched off.
Cliff peeked over the countertop. The stainless steel sink glimmered as clean as when he had scrubbed it.
The doorbell chimed.
Panic exploded inside him. The police. They found out
Ridiculous. Nobody knew. Nobody would believe it. Answer the door like nothing happened.
Ashtoreth stood at the door.
"Hmmm," she said, her eyes narrowing.
Cliff ushered her in. "That's quite a machine you sold my wife."
"It was only rented. I must take it back."
Her fox-like eyes bored into him, hinting at bleak amusement. Ashtoreth lowered her chin, gazing up beneath raven-wing eyebrows, attacking him with a knowing smile. Then, opening the kitchen cabinet, she deftly removed the garbage disposal without the tiniest splash of muck.
"Things always have a way of working out," she said.
"But my wife Jane she's dead.!"
"Not necessarily." Brushing back her ebony hair, she gave the unit several shakes. Maybe it was Cliff's imagination, but he could hear voices from inside. Lots of voices, screaming for help.
"Can I get her back?" he asked.
"She just tried to get rid of you for the insurance."
"Yeah.but " Ashtoreth was right.
Cliff built up his courage. "How much did Jane pay for that thing?" he asked.
Ashtoreth named a figure.
"So that's where my severance money went." Something dark and disappointing grew in him. "I can't believe Jane.what do I tell everybody?"
Ashtoreth tossed on Jane's jacket. She opened the briefcase, and with one hand dropped the garbage disposal inside. The unit should have been too bulky to fit, but disappeared from sight. Taking Jane's car keys, she tossed the purse over her shoulder, and picked up the briefcase.
"Your neighbors will see Jane drive away."
Her eyes darkened. "I'm a goddess, remember?"
He followed Ashtoreth to the door. "Did you know.?"
"It worked out just like it should," she said.
"This.that's all that's to it? I mean you leave and nobody knows and everything's, uh, done?"
"Not necessarily." Ashtoreth flashed a look that clutched his heart with icy fingers.
Days later, wearing an orange Home Everything vest, Cliff slid a garbage disposal in an odd-looking box across the counter.
A woman oozing desperation through her designer suit held out her credit card. "This will dispose of anything?" she asked.
Cliff glanced up the aisle to see his Canaanite goddess supervisor approaching.
"Anything," he answered. "I know from experience."
He wondered if Ashtoreth's could hear him at this distance.
"But things don't always work as planned," he whispered.
© 2005 Chris Bauer, all rights reserved
March 2005 Issue, Updated March 24, 2005
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.