Edition 13: Stills by Jeremy C Shipp
The latest in home decorating style are the Stills, key to any successful social engagement. Their position requires time, patience, and only the very best will do. A great bizarro piece from our guest author, Jeremy C. Shipp. SY
You can imagine the shock to my nerves when I catch my son balancing on a wobbly barstool, placing a diaper on a woman’s head.
“Look, mama,” my boy says. “She’s a diaper queen. Mama, look.”
I cross my arms over my chest, so that he knows I mean business. “Take that off of her. And get down from there. Now.”
Steven leaps off the stool and I gasp. Thankfully he doesn’t break a leg or even twist an ankle. He rushes away from me, giggling, flapping his arms like a frightened chicken.
I sigh and approach the Still. Today she has blonde hair and diamond-studded pumps. Thankfully Steven didn’t place a dirty diaper on her head, so I don’t have to send her to the bathroom to get cleaned up. I would hate to snap her out of her dormant state at this point in the afternoon. If I broke the trance now, she would fidget and twitch for an hour or more before achieving this level of suspension again. And we don’t have an hour. Company’s set to arrive in fifteen minutes.
I carry the barstool back to the kitchen and toss the diaper into the trash. For now, my wild little boy will satisfy himself by playing childish pranks on the Stills. But it’s only a matter of time before I catch him kissing one on the cheek or peeking up her skirt. When that day arrives, I’ll have to chastise him, but even the harshest words won’t temper his curiosity.
After all, boys will be boys.
Later that evening, my husband takes the hand of a Still with brown curls and black knee-high boots. My husband leads her away from the red circle in the dining room to the red circle in our bedroom. All the while, she follows him like a shadow.
“She’s new, isn’t she,” my husband says.
“I think so.” I sit on the edge of the bed, waiting.
My husband moves the Still’s arms to her sides. He places his hands on her face and he narrows her eyes. He opens her mouth, just a little.
“How does she look,” he says, standing back, admiring his work.
“Good,” I say.
My husband removes his corduroy sports coat. He unbuttons his gingham dress shirt. He’s standing between me and the Still, but he’s facing me.
After losing all his layers, he becomes my hairy lion. He pounces at me.
As he kisses my neck, I face the Still. She’s taking deep breaths, trying lower her heart rate. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t changed her expression or moved an inch since my husband positioned her. She’s a real pro.
“You like this, don’t you,” my husband says.
He’s not talking to me, so I don’t respond.
As a rule, I would never allow another woman into our bedroom, but this is obviously different. When you look into a Still’s eyes, you don’t see a home or a car or a family. You see an empty plot of dirt.
The Still watches us with her mouth open a little. She barely even blinks.
When it comes to dinner parties, I don’t understand those who pose their Stills in stiff, formal postures. Isn’t the purpose of a display to catch the eye of the dinner guest? To spark conversation? Art and fashion shouldn’t blend into the background with the wallpaper. And so, to avoid the infection of hackneyed ideas in my household, I make sure to immerse myself in every aspect of the creative process. Sometimes I even go so far as to brush the hair of the women who will be displayed.
Tonight, I focus on the theme of emotion. In one corner of the dining room, a woman stands on a spinning platform of crimson velvet, her bejeweled fingers reaching toward the heavens. Her dress cascades down her body like a waterfall.
Close to the dining table, a woman in gold-infused furs holds herself like a prima ballerina. Almost-invisible wires suspend her in the air, allowing her toes to remain pointed at the red circle on the floor.
While I’m inspecting all five of my women, Steven appears in front of me with his hands held out like a tiny bowl. “Mama, look. It stopped crying.” A mass of light blue feathers squirms on his palms.
“Steven, put that away,” I say.
My wild little monkey disappears under a table.
I put the finishing touches on my displays, and before I can catch my breath, the guests start to arrive. Most of them flock to the furry ballerina, as I knew they would. They point and gesticulate.
Martha and I stand away from the crowd, near one of the less extravagant pieces. Beside us, the curly-haired Still holds out her hands in a defensive position, her eyes and mouth wide open. You can easily imagine a madman with a gun in front of her, pointing his weapon at her heart. You can almost picture his face.
“The hand-beading is exquisite,” Martha says, reaching out as if to touch the Still’s dress. But she doesn’t.
“Maybe I should have prepared more displays,” I say.
“Oh no.” Martha touches my arm. “You’ve quite outdone yourself already. I’m speaking for the rest of the neighborhood when I say: for goodness’ sake, don’t raise the bar any higher.”
I receive positive commentary from countless guests, young and old. Even General Sparks compliments me on the fearlessness of my vision, and he’s not a man easily impressed by anyone other than himself. The dinner moves along without a hitch until a high-pitched whine stains the mood. Conversations freeze in mid-sentence and I look over at Steven. Thankfully, he’s not the one making the noise.
The whimpering brings to mind a wounded animal, and I can’t help but think of the squirming blue feathers that Steven showed me earlier.
“Is it some sort of alarm?” Martha says.
In no time at all, the whining evolves into a jagged scream. Martha covers her ears and General Sparks stands from his chair.
At last, the culprit reveals herself. The Still with the curly brown hair changes her pose without my permission. Instead of holding out her hands in a defensive position, she touches her face. She continues to scream.
Steven stands on his chair and shrieks with the Still and giggles.
“Get down from there,” my husband says.
The Still stops screaming at last, but then she goes on to claw at her face. Her fingernails work at her skin like potato peelers. Streams of blood ruin one of my finest, oldest show dresses.
The woman with brown curls collapses. She lies on her stomach like a lizard and crawls out of her red dot, dragging the catheter bag behind her. You can imagine how red my face has become at this point.
I’ve heard of the Screaming Sickness, but I never thought this could happen at one of my dinners. The agency I use is supposed to be the best. They’re supposed to send me the best.
Martha touches my elbow with her cold fingers. “These things happen,” she whispers.
My husband appears out of nowhere and covers the broken Still with a floral, hand-embroidered covering cloth.
“Not that one,” I say. I cross my hands over my chest, so that he knows I mean business. “That one clashes with the tiles.”
And so my husband rushes off again to fetch the cloth with the blue stripes.
Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of Cursed, Vacation, and Attic Clowns. His shorter tales have appeared or are forthcoming in over 60 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, Withersin, and Shroud Magazine. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with a couple of pygmy tigers and a legion of yard gnomes. His online home is jeremycshipp.com.