Horror Humor

An Ounce of Prevention

By Tim McDaniel
4,188 words · 16-minute reading time
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            Now, just because a wife kills her husband -- even a perfectly agreeable husband -- it doesn't necessarily follow that she's to blame.  She may have a perfectly reasonable explanation.  For example, perhaps the aging process, and a certain amount of overeating, has left the husband in such shape that death could reasonably be seen as an improvement.

            But we're getting ahead of the story.

            Ben Ratburn had a theory about death.  He shared it with his wife Fawn one day when she complained about how slow he was in getting his art career started, allowing another deadline to pass by, without a painting or a drawing or a sketch submitted.  This bothered her, as she was that kind of wife who wanted her husband to succeed in life.

            "Don't worry about it," Ben said, lying beside her that night, a comic book in his hands.  "I've got time.  If it takes me a bit longer than others to get my projects done, so what?"

            "'A bit longer?'" Fawn sat up straight in bed, upsetting her bowl of Oreos.  "Ben, you're not just slow; you're stopped dead in your tracks.  You're almost forty!  It takes time to climb to the top, and you haven't even set your foot on the first rung.  And you don't care.  'I've got time.'  At the rate you'regoing?  I don't thinkso!"

            Ben looked at her a moment through narrowed eyes, then came out with his theory. "You know that writer, the Red Badge of Courageguy, what's his name?"

            "How should I know?"

            "Crane, that was it.  He wrote great stuff, really impressive.  Then he died when he was thirty or something.  And Keats, the poet.  He died really young too, after surprising everyone.  And how old was van Gogh?  And I read about this mathematician from India, this supergenius.  He died when he was thirty-five.  And Mozart, Jim Morrison--"

            "Yeah, so what?"

            "They all died young, full of talent.  They did it all, then they died."

            Fawn lay against her pillow and folded her arms.  "But that's what I'm talking about!"

            "But don't you see?  They did it all -- thendied.  Me?  What have I done?  Nothing yet. And at the rate I'm going, I'm going to need a hundred and fifty years or so to get anything at alldone.  So I'm in no danger of using myself up and dying young like those guys."  Ben placed his hands behind his head, pleased with his logic.

            "You're kidding."  Fawn did not seem so impressed.

Ben closed his eyes, a blissful look on his pudgy face. "No," he said, with quiet certainty.  "I don't know how I know, but I know. It's like God has told me.  I simply can't die, not for a long, long while at least.  It just can't happen."

            "Of course it can happen.  Heart attack, the weight you're gaining.  A truck--"

            Ben interrupted her, an unusual and dangerous thing for him to do. "No.  It can't happen.  Believe me, Fawn.  I won't lay quiet until I'm finished, until I've sculpted a masterwork or painted my Mona Lisa.  Or at least my Wonder Woman."

            Fawn scoffed, but she'd never heard such a tone in her husband's voice before.

            She turned away, and her glare fell on a little clay figure Ben had sculpted, a tortured dancer with arms raised to the sky, her dress twisted about her. He'd never finished the base, but what he had done actually wasdamn good.  Maybe the toothbrush holder he'd sculpted for the bathroom -- an open mouth with hideous teeth and no handle -- wasn't to her taste, but...  Fawn hated to admit it, and never would -- to him -- but damn it, he wasgifted.

            And despite herself she believed in him.

                                                                            

            "Jeez, my stomach is really starting to kill me."  Ben pushed the plate of nachos away.

            "Well, you shouldn't have eaten so much," said Fawn, turning the volume up on the TV with the remote control.  "I keep telling you, you gotta start a diet at some point.  It's embarrassing to be seen in public with you these days!  Everyone notices those extra folds in your shirt, the extra strain on your belt."

            "What do you expect -- a guy my age?  You've got to assume there'll be a little degradation."

            "Your old high school buddy Ross is the same age.  Now he looks good. When he was over here on Saturday--"

            "Yeah, well, he's the exception."

Fawn turned from the TV to look at him, her lip curled in contempt.  "Oh, no, no, it's not just him.  Most of your friends lack the excess poundage that you cart around."

            "It's just genetics," murmured Ben.  "But -- Jeez! -- my stomach iskilling me.  It feels like I've swallowed a dozen razors."

            "I'mjust fine."  Fawn grabbed a handful of potato chips with one hand, and a couple of Cheetos with the other.  "You gotta watch what you eat, you know."  She giggled.

            "Well, youmade the nachos.  And I notice you didn't have any.  Maybe there was something wrong with them.  How'd you make them, anyway?"

            Fawn smiled.  "I tried a new little secret ingredient.  If you don't like 'em that way, next time I'll leave it out."

            Ben's face contorted in an fascinatingly unnatural manner. "Whatever that ingredient was, it doesn't agree with me."

            Fawn laughed, blowing potato chip particles all over the sofa.  "You think?"  She laughed harder, and began to choke.  Throwing herself back against the sofa dislodged the obstruction, and she was able to fill her mouth again.

            "I think I'll lie down for a second."

            Fawn's Burger King wrappers from breakfast, still sticky with congealed cheese, yet littered the bed, so Ben went in to use the bed in the spare room. That bed came in handy when Fawn was particularly annoyed with him, as seemed to happen with more regularity as of late.

            Soon, he was lying on that bed.  He drifted off.  Later, consciousness seeped back into his brain.  His eyes were open and bulging in an unseeing stare.  His swollen tongue lay half out of his mouth between slack, purple lips.

            A strange gurgling noise emitted from the body.  One might assume it was nothing more than noxious gasses escaping from the body -- perhaps a little more than usual -- and pay it no heed, but they continued, and Ben sat up groggily, and spoke to himself.

            "Oh, man, I guethh I leally didh ith."

            He did not look well.  His tongue still lay limply out of his mouth, and his eyes, now glassy and fishlike, stared out from darkened hollows.  With a nerveless finger he pushed his tongue back into his mouth and chuckled, a rather obscene sound, a ghastly croak.

            No question about it.  He had died.

            Mostly.

            Ben felt the hysteria climbing his throat, and he jammed his fist into his mouth. All that emerged was a high giggle. Fawn was just in the next room; had she heard?

            Ben couldn't tell.  The volume of the TV was ominously down.  Normally it was only that quiet when Fawn wanted to sleep through a program.

            How late was it?  He focused eyes still bleary from death on his watch.  Only 10:32.  She couldn't be sleeping.  Then what was she doing out there?

            And what if she found out he had died?  How was she going to like being married to a dead guy?  Or were they even still married?  Till death do you--

            He couldn't let her know.  It might not be that hard.  To hear her talk, he'd looked like the walking dead before now.

            "Well, I can hopeshe won't notice, anyway," Ben thought.

                                                                            

            "Ben, if you forgot to pick up the mail again today, you're dead meat!" Fawn called from the living room, where she sat eating heart-shaped bon-bons from a large box.

            "I got it, I got it.  Nothing but bills anyway."  Ben put the mail on the arm of the sofa and turned to the bathroom, keeping his face turned away from her.  He kept his left hand in his pocket.

            In the bathroom he closed the door and looked into the mirror.  During the day at the Hostess warehouse (he'd thought it was a way to get free Twinkies when he applied for the job; that hope turned hollow, but once there, momentum ensured that he'd never bother to apply anywhere else) he had noticed that his face was slipping, the skin becoming slack and gray.  His mouth tended to hang open -- more than usual -- and his eyes were reddening in their hollow sockets.

            Amazing, the changes a few days can bring.

            He rummaged around in the bathroom drawers, looking for Fawn's makeup.  She must have something to help him; Fawn had every kind of makeup known to humanity (and perhaps others), and tended to use it as if Tammy Faye were her fashion consultant.  Ben turned on the shower to hide the sound of the makeup bottles clattering on the counter.

            He put some rouge on his cheeks.  It was red -- much too red; he looked like a exile from a circus.  He rubbed it, spreading it around, and it lightened a bit.  Now he just looked like he'd been slapped around a little.  Fairly normal.

            Visine seemed to do nothing for his eyes -- well, he could explain that as a hangover.  A hangover would explain his slack mouth, too.

            Now he looked at his right hand.  He'd been cutting a box open at work.  It was a thick box, and he'd had to tug at the knife, working through the thick, tape-encrusted cardboard.  Then he'd turned away to correct a co-worker's bizarre assertion that it had been Otis Redding who had sung "What's Going On," and when he looked back he saw that he'd sliced right through the tips of two of his fingers. He hadn't felt a thing.

            He dug in his pocket again, and pulled out the fingertips.  They were purpled and shriveled; Ben had thought he would re-attach them somehow, but now he had to discard that idea.  The fingers, too; he flushed them down the toilet, watching them swirl around in the water, bumping each other on their way down like marbles spinning down a funnel.

            Ben considered, and eventually a thought struck him.  He turned off the shower and opened the bathroom door.

            "You better not have used up all the hot water!" said Fawn.

            "It's fine," said Ben, slipping past her back on the way to the spare room.  "I'll be online for a while."

            "Stay away from that porn site!" Fawn said, as Ben closed the door to the spare room.

            He approached a mound of clothes and plastic toys and cardboard boxes that tottered on the floor and spilled over onto the bed.  He pawed through it, tossing a Marvin the Martian t-shirt to the right and a Speed Racer lunchbox to the left and a stack of Marvel Comics behind him.  Finally he found the box he was searching for.  He opened it.

            "Ah hah!" he said, taking out the claylike Sculpey.  He set to work.  And he may or may not have been an artist on the same level as Mozart or Crane, but he certainly was talented.

            The hardest part was getting the fingerprints right.

            And he found a use for superglue that the ads never mention.

                                                                            

            "Are you still in there?  Jesus!"

            "Just taking a shower."  Ben turned on the alibi.

            Another day, another bit of minor surgery in the bathroom, all in the spirit of keeping Fawn in the dark.

            The last few days, Ben had noticed a certain amount of bloating.  Normally this wouldn't have concerned him, but it continued to the point where his stomach had become distended, like someone who watches TV wrestling dressed in a t-shirt.

            Yes, the gases of decomposition were gathering in his gut, and he had to do something about it.  He took the kitchen knife out from under his shirt and looked at it.

            It was long, almost a foot, and serrated with tiny jags.  And it was sharp.  He ran an experimental thumb along its edge, and marveled how easily it sliced the flesh.  Just what he needed.

            "Just let a little air out.  Nothing to it," he whispered.

            He turned the knife towards himself, like a dishonored samurai.  He closed his eyes.  Plunged the knife into his belly.

            It was cold going in, like a winter wind on a strip of exposed backside. Funny; he thought death would have numbed him more.  But there was no pain.  He opened his eyes, and looked at the knife protruding from his body.

            "That wasn't so bad."

            The roiling fumes weren't coming out, though.  He began working the knife upward, to create a gash, and as he did so the noxious gases from within escaped with a wet blatting fart that echoed around the bathroom.

            "What the hell have you been eating?" Fawn called from the other room.

            "Those refried beans, I guess," he called back.  He turned on the bathroom fan.

            "Jesus, Ben!"

            The last of the gasses escaped, and the bathroom fan was plainly inadequate to the job, but he wasn't quite as bulbous as before.  Still, he couldn't walk around with this ragged gash.  He could sew -- he'd done up that jacket for his lizard-Elvis sculpture and it looked great -- but before suturing himself, he might as well take the opportunity to lose some of that weight that Fawn was always complaining about.

            He reached a hand into the cavity, and felt around.  The slippery meat inside was a bit gooey, but he grabbed a handful of it and pulled.  Then he yanked, and jerked, and strained, and finally a glob of glistening yellow fat came free with a sucking sound.  It flew out of his slick hand and plopped on the tile floor next to the door, loud even over the sound of the shower.

            "I heard that!" said Fawn.  "I told you before, Ben.  You got to aim!"

            "Sorry!  I'll clean it up!"

            How had she heard, over the sound of the shower?  Ben had the irrational fear that she was crouching right next to the door, listening to him.  He stood still, attentive, but heard nothing.  It must be all right.

            He reached in again, and raked out a few more handfuls of the glistening fat. He slapped the sickly yellow gobs in the sink as they came out.

            The he hit a barrier of some kind -- it felt like a sheet of plastic. Something he'd swallowed, and forgotten about?  It was all too possible.  He reached in and slid his fingers around the sheet.  He found the hole the knife had made, and inserted a finger.

            He tugged at it.

            It wouldn't come at first, and it was hard to get a grip on it, as it was coated with more fat.  But he kept yanking on it, and finally a big piece of it tore free and flew out of his hands onto the bathroom floor, next to the slab of fat he'd originally dislodged. The sheet did look a little like plastic, but by the way it had torn he knew it wasn't.

            He bent over to pick up the slippery slab and the membrane next to it.  As he did so, unfortunately, other things -- organs, he supposed, though it was hard to tell; they didn't look like they did in the anatomy illustrations -- and a loop or two of intestine -- slid out as well, cascading wetly down past his arms to slap the floor.

            And then it reallybegan to stink in that bathroom.

            Ben went to his knees and tried to gather together all of his parts.  They were too big to flush.  He'd have to stash them in the bathroom garbage, then take them out to the dumpster later.  But they would stink so badly!  Maybe he could cut up each piece, and then flush them.  He stood up, his arms full of himself, and tried to think.

            Then the bathroom door opened.

            "Jesus, Ben!"  Fawn was looking at him, her mouth open, an unwrapped Butterfingers bar dangling from a hand.

            Ben could only stand there, himself in his hands.

            And then Fawn did something surprising.

            Totally unexpected.

            She began to laugh.

            It wasn't a laugh of hysterical horror, as one might suppose would be released by a wife who comes into a bathroom to find her husband standing there with his own wet guts in his hand. No.  It was the kind you let out when you finally admit to the victim of a practical joke that you've been having him on.

            She eventually stifled her laugh, and smiled at him, her hand in front of her mouth.  "Well?" she said.  "Is there an explanation for all this?"

            "I kinda died..." Ben began.

            Fawn began laughing again, doubling over until she had to put out an arm to keep herself from falling..     

            "You don't understand," Ben said.  "I'm the undead, a walking corpse.."  It was hard to think, with Fawn laughing that way, almost doubled over now.  "A brain-sucking zombie, a suburban Nosferatu, a damned soul!" he continued. "I didn't want you to know. I've been hiding it from you, using makeup and pretending to sleep all night and vomiting my food after dinner, trying to find ways to.."

            Fawn straightened up and came towards him, her face still red, giggles still escaping her mouth.  She hugged him close, oblivious to the dead meat staining her blouse and pants. "Oh, Ben, you dufus!" she said.  "I know!  I've been having a ball, watching you slink around trying to hide it!"

            "What?"  Ben shifted, and a foot came down on something that popped and squirted greenish goo onto the floor.

            Fawn drew back so she could look him in the eye.  Then her eyes traveled up and down his body.  "You know, you would look pretty trim if you just sewed up that gash.  And maybe you could sculpt yourself some abs while you're at it, out of that clay stuff. With a shirt one, no one would know the difference."

            A coil of intestine slipped through Ben's nerveless fingers and plopped onto the floor.  "How did you know?  What tipped you off?"

            "Well, I could say the stench, which I guess you haven't even noticed.  Or I could say the way you try. so pathetically, to use my makeup.  But really -- Ben, how do you think you died?"

            "Well, I guess something was wrong with the nachos.."

            "Yeah.  Too much strychnine."

            "Huh?"

            "I put in some cyanide, too, and arsenic; I didn't know which was best. You get it now?  I poisoned you."

            Ben didn't like hearing this bit of news, and it showed in his face.

            "Here, let me help you tuck that in," Fawn said, poking a stray stand of intestine back into his belly.  "Come on."  She led him to the living room, and sat him down on the couch (after placing newspapers on his seat).

            She looked down for a moment.  "Ben, watching you age.. you know, once you hit forty, I mean, you just started to fall apart.  I just couldn't stand by and watch it happen.  It was too painful.  And how can I hold my head up in public, walking next to a guy like you?  No offense, but my friends were starting to talk. How could I live with that?"

            "So you killedme?"

            "Oh, Ben, I knew that you wouldn't stay dead. not like other people. You told me why yourself."

            "That?  You actually believedme?"

            "I had to, the way you talked.  And it made sense."

            "It made --  But I'm still dead.  Is that an improvement over aging?"

            "Oh, sure, there are some physical, uhh, changes -- the red eyes, and so on -- that I don't especially like.  But don't you see?  You won't fall apart now, the way you were starting to.  We can preserve you.  You're already thinner.  Tape up that gash, put a shirt on, a little properly applied makeup, and you'd be looking damn good!"

            It had been a long time since Fawn had talked to him that way, and Ben found a smile on his face.

            "We women like to be seen with trim, athletic-looking guys," said Fawn. "That's not my fault.  It's genetic.  So everything worked out for the best, see?"

            "Uh, I don't know about how things can go in bed--"

            "Oh, please.  Like you were any good before.  Anyway, I'm sure you can sculpt something magnificent and serviceable that'll work just fine.  It won't have to be too impressive to surpass what you had before, after all.

            "And think of all the other improvements you can make!"

            Ben did that.

                                                                            

            He had had plenty of practice sculpting brawny, tiny-waisted superheroes out of clay, using wire frames.  Now his own skeleton became his wire frame, and Ben went to work.  Abs, rippled like wave-carved sands.  He sliced away the fat rotting on his arms and legs, and replaced it with simulated muscle.  His butt was harder to operate on; he had to have Fawn help him slice it down, but then he molded a replacement that turned girls' heads.  He even found a way to insert clay forms under the skin of his face, and gave himself defined cheekbones and a cleft chin.

                                                                            

            He had to quit his job; the questions were getting too personal as the changes mounted.  He stayed home for several months, working on his body, and then he responded to an ad, and soon was getting modeling work, taking only jobs that would allow him to stay fully dressed.  The money was good, and he refined his body even further.

            Now he was turning boy's heads, too.

            He was practically a god.

            Fawn was delighted to be seen walking next to him these days.  But she still had one small complaint.

            Halfway to the bottom of a carton of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, she brought it up.  "Ben, are you going to do something about your butt design, or what?"

            Ben continued to leaf through his GQ. "Lots of people have designs on my butt.  What did you have in mind?"

            "Well, you know, you have that little -- I mean, it's just a littlebit lopsided."  She spooned more ice cream into her mouth.

            "I know."

            "You know?  Then why don't you do something?"

            Ben put the magazine down.  "Look, Fawn, the only reason I'm not rotting underground is that I haven't achieved the masterpieces I'm capable of.  If I straighten out that last little problem with my ass -- well, that's it. I'll done.  And I mean done."

            Fawn decided she could live with his butt just the way it was.  She filled her mouth with ice cream once again.

            Ben's face twisted, and he picked up his magazine again.  But he couldn't read.

            The thought that his wife had murdered him without even asking for his consent had bothered him a little at first.  But as time passed, and Ben had seen his forty-something-year-old friends start to deteriorate, he had finally agreed that Fawn had known best.

            But now he looked across the living room at her.  He saw the dried ice cream streaking her multiple chins.  He noticed that she grunted with effort every time she shifted her position on the sofa so that she could reach the remote.  He heard the sofa creak under the poundage.

            He was getting embarrassed, walking beside her on the streets these days.

            He still had his knives, still had foam rubber and clay.  After all his experience cutting his own skin open to dig out the fat and insert more proper bulges, how hard could a little home-liposuction be?  He’d have to be careful not to kill her – then again, if she did kick the bucket, well, it’s not like he had started the murdering businesses in their marriage.

            Anyway, it was worth a try.  After all, it was embarrassing to be seen on the street walking with her.

            There were sleeping pills in the bathroom cabinet.  Ben got up.

            "You want some chocolate milk to wash that down with, honey?"

This story originally appeared in Dark Recesses.


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