Only the high beams of her candy red Cadillac seemed to pierce the mist. The fog swallowed all else without discrimination. The monstrous V8 engine purred quietly, though its usual growl may have been subdued by the sudden thudding of Mort’s heart. The curious scent of brimstone and disapproval wafted down the street.
She always came in the mist, that gaunt and terrible woman. Each step left a wake of noxious perfume and hairspray. Each click of her long high heels on the pavement raised the hair on the back of his neck.
“Hun, your Mother’s here,” Mort said.
“What? Why?” Rachel said.
“The hell should I know, she’s your mother,” Mort said
“Well, turn out the lights and lock the door,” Rachel said.
“She’s already seen the lights.”
“Well lock the damn door!”
Mort stomped his way to the door, turning the lock before the evil lurking behind could reach it.
Somewhere, in some far-off Valhalla plane, his ancestors were greatly disappointed. By fate he had been gifted with a body not far removed from a refrigerator. His unkempt beard was proof of his heritage, and the wiry red and brown bristles could have been a substitute for industrial cleaning tools. His nose protruded with wide nostrils and picked up everything. His family had earned the name Ulfr not by killing wolves, but by having impeccable tracking abilities. Their enormous noses only encouraged the name. In another time, monsters that slithered in from the mist might have thought twice about invading Mort’s home.
But not now. Mort , the insurance agent, huddled behind a door that he could hardly fit through. He leaned heavily against it, ear to the wood, listening for movement. At first a small knock, sickening in its politeness. Then the chamber turned, as she slid her own key into the door and swung it open. Mort fell to the concrete porch, landing with a befuddled grunt.
“Tsh. My grandchildren will never play sports with balance like their father’s.”
“Nice to see you too, Gertrude,” he said.
“Speak only when spoken to, oaf.” she said, her voice oily in discontent. As she spat her words the smell of sulfur grew stronger. Mort tried to breathe through his mouth but his heavy frame made him sound like he was panting.
Gertrude’s cleavage acted as an open museum exhibit through her dress. There must have been a time when they were the talk of their little town, but gravity had ravaged them into twisted beasts; Angels fallen from grace.
“Oh daughter of mine, I’ve come home,” Gertrude shouted. “If you can call it that. This shanty that you and your hobo reside in is entirely insufficient for you.”
Mort bit his lip. The house was a restored Victorian number, and he had taken all the options. Granite counter tops, vanity sinks, and in-floor heat. The works.
“Would you like something to drink?” Mort asked.
“How incredibly polite. I would love one, but the pigswill you buy from the gas station won’t quite cut it.” She peered down the hall. “Rachel? Come down and say hello.”
Following her into the living room, Mort felt the sinking futility of the situation. He was a worm under her four inch heels.
“Look at this dreadful mantle piece. Did you really hang a tarnished old sword in plain sight? What are you? A fourteen year old? Look at the cheesy lighting effects.”
On the wall hung a long blade, several runes glowed with a light color that Mort had only seen on rare occasions, and usually accounted as a trick of the studio lighting. The normally dormant runes glowed soft white as the woman approached.
Through the perfume and rotten egg smell of sulfur, he picked up something tinny in the air. The metallic smell reminded him of speech class. Of nerves before talking to a girl. Was he really that afraid of her? Or was she the nervous one?
“It’s a family heirloom, I couldn’t even tell you how many generations it’s been with us.”
“That’s probably because of the inbreeding. It becomes so hard to keep track when your brother is your uncle and so on.”
Letting out a heavy sigh, he looked at his watch.
Mort heard Rachel’s footsteps tracking down the stairs. They were slow and prodding like a death march. “I thought you said you would call if you are coming by,” she said, rounding the staircase.
“I did, and unless your ham over here forgot to pay your cell phone bill, you should have several missed calls. And voice mails. And I had our secretary write an email.”
“Stating that you are coming and being welcome are entirely different things.”
“Come now child, we have business to discuss. Put on some coffee, and use this. I won’t drink anything you had to steal from a Walmart dumpster,” Gertrude said, rummaging through her purse and pulling out a bag of Kopi Luwak.
“You know, Dad made a lot of money from Walmart stock in his day. They haven’t exactly treated you badly. And do you know what this is made from? Its goddamn coffee beans made from cat poop. Look it up.”
“This is like caviar all over again,” Gertrude said. She clicked her long red nails on the table. “Just make it and meet me in that tacky dining room.”
Even beyond his hatred of his mother-in-law Mort still wanted to be in her good graces. The salesman in him would allow nothing less. He knew that managing and exceeding expectations was the best way to make someone happy, but Gertrude made that impossible. Even still, he made the coffee and put it in their overpriced tea set, a present given to Rachel by her mother after their first major argument as a couple. Instead of warranty information it came with blank divorce papers.
He put the tray on the table in front of Gertrude and took a cup in his enormous hands. The coffee smelled fine, but he picked up the slightest tinge of the civet’s digestive tract. He put it out of his mind and slurped heavily. “So what brings you to suburbia tonight?”
“Please, this is closer to a Hooverville. Don’t get delusions of grandeur just because you know how to hold a tea cup.”
In truth, the only reason he held his pinky out is that he could only fit two fingers on the cup’s tiny handle.
“Mother, that’s enough. Say what you came for and get the hell out.”
“So disrespectful. I see what poverty has done to you. Gimme gimme gimme. Very well then,” she said, pulling out a stack of papers. “This, is your father’s last wishes.”
“He isn’t dead yet.”
“Oh, I’m all too aware of that. Unfortunately, in his current state, I was granted power of attorney. I went through the will and made sure his affairs are in order. There were some grievous clerical mistakes no doubt, as he wanted to leave you and your brother the bulk of his estate. He left me with the house, and a paltry sum that is basically 30 years of my pitiful allowance.”
“Sounds overly generous to me.”
“I had the lawyers draft a new will, which will be instated tomorrow adding conditions to your bereavement package.”
“Let me see that,” She said, snatching the papers from the table. Her eyes tracked over the legalese, and her brow tightened with each paragraph. “Are you flat stupid or are you just evil? You just want me to live at home so you can keep up your lifestyle. You’re driving him to the grave and you think that ring gives you the right to everything!”
“It sounds reasonable to me. I suffered his dull lifestyle. He only had taste because I forced it on him. This ring is a shackle for both of us. I want to ensure when I’m set free I get my proper take. I corrected the error and retain the entirety of his estate, unless you meet his wishes.”
“So you think my father, only in light of his current stroke, would all of the sudden hate his son in law enough to take me out of his will unless I leave Mort and come home.”
“It’s not like you could ever bear his children. Their dopey, melon heads would surely be the end of you. I’m trying to save your life.”
Mort stood from his chair and looked at the paper. Sure enough, every statement relating to his wife had to deal with her leaving Mort, quitting her job, and moving back home. He crumpled up the will, throwing it at the smirking woman. She took off her reading glasses, and pulled another will from the purse.
“What did I do to you?” he shouted. “No wonder the old man had a stroke at sixty. You’re a goddamn harpy. A succubus if I’ve ever seen one.”
“I’m not a harpy. At least your Chihuahua brain figured that one out,” Gertrude said, grinding her prosthetic nails across the table top. Her grin turned wider. With a click, her teeth shunted downward. They fell from her mouth and new, serrated edged teeth burst out. The smell of copper and blood washed over Mort and he felt himself grow light headed.
“Mom?” Rachel asked, standing from her chair.
“And it’s nothing you’ve done, at least not yet,” she said, her eyes sinking deeper into her skull. “It’s what you could do.”
Gertrude spit the last of the teeth on the table. The molars skipped, leaving droplets of blood with every small click.
“What the fuck?” Mort said, backing away from the table.
“You will do what I want, Rachel, or I will do it for you.” Her voice rasped as though she had gargled drain cleaner. Her skin started turning to a shallow gray, and she stood from the table, launching the chair into the wall. The smell of fetid fish came as her scales wretched their way through the skin of her hands and feet.
Mort whipped the cup of coffee at her. The glass shattered, but ultimately had the effect of a kitten landing on a soft pillow. The scalding drops left smears of makeup that covered her scaly skin.
The lights flickered as Gertrude began to shriek. The terrible sound she created appeared to be words, but Mort couldn’t tell. He was already one step out of the kitchen, Rachel following behind.
The creature gave chase, a gnarled and hunchbacked beast. Black hair, thick as a gorilla’s covered the rest of her skin and only her enormous cleavage showed through.
“Mort, Descendant of Karthak the Foul Nosed, I seek you out.”
Rachel exchanged a glance with Mort. “What?”
At the top of the closet was a Taurus Judge pistol that was kept for home protection. She loaded the .410 shotgun shells into the gun, her hands shaking as each round was chambered,
“Your ancestors wronged me, Mort. They took away my king, and banished me to the cold! Long I’ve waited seeking my vengeance. I knew who you were the moment I took this body. That man stench! Those beady little uncaring eyes!” She shouted, ripping the closet doors from the hinges. Mort and Rachel spilled out, landing on the floor in front of the succubus. She raised her clawed foot, then slammed it into Mort’s chest. Blinding pain shot through him, and he could feel the breath leave him. He thought his ribs were broken, then she kicked him again and he knew they were.
BOOM! The sound roared from the heavy pistol. The smell of burning hair was as pungent as gun powder. A black substance ebbed from the many circular holes that were cut into Gertrude. BOOM! BOOM! The buckshot dropped the monster, and she kept firing until the hammer strikes only clicked.
The black blood dribbled onto Mort’s face and into his mouth. The smell reminded him of being a child and accidentally drinking his father’s soda can, filled to the brim with chewing tobacco and sun warmed spit.
The succubus wheezed out laughter, spitting more of the black blood, and slowly returning to her feet. “Foolish girl. Your weapons are useless. Just like that mongoloid you married,” she said, running at the girl and pinning her to the wall. “How about you give your mother a kiss?”
Mort was still laying on the ground, clutching his ribs. He rolled to his chest, wincing, and pushed off of the broken coffee table.
Rachel reeled back in horror as the succubus’s gnarled face puckered up. Then her eyes caught a glowing on the far wall. “Get the sword!”
“No!” The succubus screamed, dropping Rachel to the ground.
In an instant the smell of fear was back. Mort ran for the sword.
She stomped her way toward the mantle, but Mort was already there. He felt power reverberating through it. He had held the sword dozens of times before, but never once had it felt like this. The runes that were glowing dimly earlier were now shooting out of the sides, illuminating streaks across the living room walls.
When he turned, the Succubus was on him, striking with its mangy arms repeatedly. His ribs screamed in agony as she brutalized them again. With a shout, he raised the sword, and swung it at Gertrude. She tried to dodge, but it lopped off her right arm from the elbow. Black blood shot out in pulses, sending the ink like substance over the walls. Mort felt a sudden wave of purpose over this. Like he had been born to swing the sword and to cut down his enemies.
Her wailing cries shook the furniture and the walls. Lamp bulbs that strobed before turned bright white and then popped. Mort swung the sword again, and she ducked under it. She dove forward, catching him off balance and dropped Mort to the ground. The sword left his hands with the momentum it was carrying, and flew across the room and stuck in the drywall. She slammed her scaly fist into his face, breaking Mort’s nose and bloodying him. He tried to reach for the sword, but she continued to lay into him with brutal strikes from her one good arm. He couldn’t move under her freakish strength.
Rachel ran to the sword and picked it up. In an instant, the light flashed out of the weapon. She swung it in a large arc, connecting with the small of Gertrude’s back. The succubus was launched off of Mort, but the sword only moved her, and did not slice. Mort grabbed the sword from her hand, watching it illuminate at the touch of its true owner. Gertrude was in a heap on the ground, sprawling to get up from the pitch soaked hardwood floors.
Mort charged forward, letting loose a mighty yaup as he swung the sword, beheading the succubus. The head rolled. The mouth still snapped, as if trying to speak, but without the vocal cords to do so. Mort walked over, holding his ribs. He levied the blade over the center of the face, and drove it down, splitting the bone and flesh, then driving the heavy sword into the hard floor with a thud.
Rachel smiled as Mort put an arm around her. They watched as her father cast his line over the boat and smoked a cigar. His recovery had been quick and substantial when Gertrude was gone. They recounted what happened at the house, and the old man took it surprisingly well. Mort thought that it might have been all the drugs he was on.
He may have worked hard in his life, but there were still plenty of things Mort and Rachel could not afford. Sitting at the stern of his own Viking ship with his wife and father in law, he was reminded of what it took to get there. How embracing his heritage and more violent nature burned the coward out of him. He supposed that this expense was a fine homage to his ancestors. He thought about it, and also concluded that an authentic Viking dragon boat does not make a very good fishing trawler.
Tony Southcotte hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.