EARTH, WIND & FIRE

Sarah’s car had broken down on a country road. It was getting dark, and she tried to phone the AA, leaving her number. But however many times she looked at her phone, it didn’t ring. After awhile, a car drew up beside her. A woman got out. Sarah explained the situation, and the woman looked under the bonnet: “I can easily fix that”, she said. And so she did, and soon the engine was purring away. She insisted on following Sarah home to make sure all was well, and after introducing herself as Jessica, she left. 

 

Sarah thought no more about it. Then, a few days later, a new tenant moved into her block of flats. Sarah saw her unpacking a car, and she realised with a shock that it was Jessica: “cooee! When I saw a flat had come up in your block, I thought it must be fate! We’re going to be such friends!” A sense of foreboding flooded Sarah’s mind, but she dismissed it. After all, she was a little lonely: and Jessica was so capable. 

 

As the weeks drew on, Jessica somehow inveigled her way into every crevice of Sarah’s life. She was very good at computers: she could back up, she could install a printer. She could deal with a blown fuse. But the dependence came at a price. Jessica got to know all Sarah’s friends, and characterised them all: “he is a card!” - “I’ll bet she plays fast and loose!” She got herself invited to their parties. Sarah had a sense that she was somehow being played, and she was in thrall, like a rabbit caught in a headlight. 

 

It foundered on sex, as it always does. Jessica had unusual tastes, and was a dominatrix on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She  had a sort of rack installed in her flat. You could hear the odd thump and squeal from the hallway outside. Sarah was temporarily out of work, and Jessica proposed that she should act as a sort of concierge, taking the money. And so Sarah, who often thought it was bad enough having sex with people you knew, was forced to listen to the amatory din. She found herself  in a French maid’s outfit, wearing pince-nez and holding a briefcase full of money.

 

It all went wrong, of course. One of the clients took umbrage, and Jessica was forced to hide in a caravan in Deal. When she came back, she had had sharp spurs mounted onto her boots, and hung razor-blades from her ears. She had bought Sarah a pair of 5-inch stiletto heels. Sarah was always a Hushpuppy kind of girl, so did not relish her gift. Clearly, something had to be done. 

 

She noticed that a grave had been dug in the  local churchyard in readiness for  a funeral the following day.  She suggested that they might go down at midnight and rustle up some spirits. Jessica agreed  enthusiastically - “ever the best of friends, aren’t we, Sarah?” And they sallied forth. But Jessica was very drunk, and clambered down into the grave as a joke. She needed a hand to pull her out: but Sarah did not proffer it. She sat quietly as Jessica dozed off, somnolent in the earth. After awhile, a stiff wind got up, and it howled around the pines. And then something extraordinary happened. Jessica’s body started to steam, then smoke. It burst into flame, and an acrid pall filled the air. It was a case of spontaneous combustion. It might have been the alcohol, it might have been a lighted cigarette. But to Sarah, it was a benison.

 

All that was left in the morning was some black effluvia and a faint smell of barbeque. Sarah, never one to be sentimental, felt great relief. Jessica had gone too far, got too close, was too much in command of her. And now Sarah had got herself back again. No more French maid’s outfits for her.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |