There are some things in this world that can neither be forgiven nor forgotten. Betrayal is one of them.
Judy Richter had been my best friend since elementary school. We were like sisters. Inseparable. We shared a bond that kept us connected for many years, through good times and through bad. A bond that was unbreakable, that is until Johnny Hornsby came into the picture.
You see, Johnny was the love of my life. He was good looking, sweet-talking, and a real boss dancer. No one could do the twist, the stomp, or even the mashed potato as good as Johnny. I gave him my teenage heart, along with my virginity, in the back of his Ford Woodie station wagon, where he kept his surfboard. He told me how much he loved me. He even promised to marry me. And, despite all the warnings from my girlfriends that he was no good, I truly believed he was sincere.
No girl should have to die at her Sweet Sixteen party. But I did, back in 1963, surrounded by faceless silhouettes and pink and white balloons, as Bobby Vinton’s voice crooned from the speakers of my record player, “bluer than velvet were her eyes.” Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not the death of my physical body that I’m speaking of, although that would have been preferable. It wasn’t even a spiritual death. It was something far worse than that: it was the death of my innocence.
Johnny and I had just finished dancing to The Contours’ hit record, Do You Love Me. He told me all that dancing worked up a thirst, so I went over to the punch table to get us each a cup of punch. When I returned, Johnny was gone. I looked everywhere for him but he was nowhere to be found. I felt so confused. Where had he gone? Was he all right? He had never ditched me at a party before.
Later on, just as Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet began to play, I saw Johnny waltz through the door with my best friend Judy Richter by his side. He had his arm wrapped around her the way he used to wrap it around me. Judy flashed me the meanest smile I had ever seen, and I was mortified when I saw she was wearing Johnny’s ring! They strolled past me like a king and a queen as if I weren’t there and began doing a slow drag to the music. Soon they were kissing with such passion that I thought for sure they were going to make out right there on the dance floor.
I suddenly felt everyone’s eyes on me, and I heard them whispering and laughing behind my back. I felt so humiliated, so heartbroken. I just wanted to curl up and die. I tried to pretend that it didn’t bother me, and I told myself, that’s the way boys are. However, the tears staining my lilac embroidered, chiffon party dress betrayed me, as did my lover and my best friend.
How could they do that to me? How could they be so cruel? It was all too much to take. And then something strange happened to me. I felt something inside my brain snap like a rubber band. My tears of sadness became tears of rage. I felt like making a scene—and I did! I opened my mouth and screamed. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I went ape and threw the punch bowl on the floor. It broke, sending pieces of glass and fruit punch all over the place. I picked up the glass cups and, one by one, hurled them at my guests. One hit Danny Bleecker in the face, breaking his brand new Buddy Holly glasses. Another bounced off of Betty Valentino’s bouffant and hit Mary Lou Kaminski in the forehead, knocking her unconscious. When I ran out of glasses to throw, I pushed the table over and let out a savage growl. Nobody was whispering or laughing at me anymore. They were all screaming and running for the door, some slipping on the wet floor. It was sublime! I continued to rampage until two men strapped me to a gurney and took me away in an ambulance.
Hey, you would snap too if it happened to you.
Nine months later, Johnny Junior was born, out of wedlock, with protruding ears, bulging eyes and a condition known as facial palsy, which left him unable to laugh or smile, or express any facial movement whatsoever. He was taken away from me after I gave birth to him, and was raised by strangers until we reunited, years later. It infuriated me to learn that these people had horribly abused my son. But it warmed my heart to read in the newspaper that their dismembered bodies had been found in garbage bags along the Massachusetts Turnpike. The killers were never caught.
The day I returned to my hometown with my son, now a fully-grown man, we moved into the white clapboard rooming house on Main Street, run by old Franklin Jasper and his wheelchair-bound wife, Essie. Neither of them wanted to rent to us; they had their reasons—all of them cruel. But, with the help of Johnny Junior, I managed to persuade them.
After settling in to our new home, the first thing I did was to get in touch with my old friend-turned-nemesis Judy Richter, who now went by the name Judith Hornsby. I phoned her at the real estate agency where she worked. Using an assumed name and under the pretense of selling a house, I arranged for her to meet me at the Jasper place. The appointment was set for two o’clock that afternoon, and she was right on time, eager to earn her five percent commission, just as she was all too eager to steal my fiancé so many years ago.
“Hello. I’m Judith Hornsby, from the real estate agency,” she announced, a phony smile plastered across her carefully made-up face. She extended her right hand to shake mine while her left one clutched the handle of an expensive-looking leather briefcase, no doubt filled with contracts and forms and other paperwork pertaining to her sales trade.
Restraining my urge to do her bodily harm, I shook her hand in as cordial a manner as I could bring myself to muster and returned the smile. Unlike hers, mine was genuine. I had waited nearly a lifetime for this glorious day, planning for it, rehearsing it over and over again in my mind, dreaming about it until it became an all-consuming obsession gnawing at my sanity like a disease-carrying sewer rat. I invited her inside and shut the door behind her, taking care to secure the deadbolt lock.
“Are you having a party?” she inquired as she gazed around at the pink and white balloons decorating the room.
Still smiling, I nodded my head. “Today’s my birthday.”
Seeming a bit surprised, she wished me a happy birthday, and then her eyes shifted to my lilac embroidered, chiffon party dress. It was obvious that she was trying hard to hold back her laughter. “Oh my, what a cute dress,” she commented in a polite but condescending voice. Her compliments had always been as fake as her eyelashes. “I haven’t seen anything like that since the early sixties. It’s so…so retro.”
“I do hope you’ll stay for my party, Judy. You don’t mind me calling you Judy, do you?” I asked. Before she could answer me, I added, “There’s birthday cake with candles, party favors, and records to dance to. It’ll be dreamy. Just like in the old days.”
I could tell by the expression on Judy’s face that she was feeling uncomfortable. She began to squirm a little bit, and that pleased me.
“Uh, thank you, that’s very kind of you,” she replied, choosing her words with great care. “But I’m afraid I have a three o’clock appointment over in Marshfield and I’m a bit pressed for time. I’m sure you understand. Now, as far as putting this house on the market, I’ll need to speak to the Jaspers, since the property is in both their names.”
“Of course,” I nodded. “Follow me and I’ll take you to them. Old Frankie boy and Essie are waiting for you in the dining room.”
“You know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about you that seems awfully familiar,” she remarked. “Maybe it’s your eyes, or your voice. I’m not quite sure. Have we ever met before?”
“I don’t think so,” I lied, enjoying my little game of cat and mouse far too much to reveal my true identity to her before the start of the party. “I’m sure I would have remembered if we had.”
“It’s just the weirdest thing,” Judy continued, unable at this point to focus on anything other than my face. “You really do remind me of someone—a girl I knew a long time ago.”
“You’re mistaken,” I said as I opened the dining room door and ushered her in. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
Seated at opposite ends of the table, under a festive canopy of pink and white balloons and plastic streamers, sat the Jaspers, the top of their heads crowned with glittery paper hats, while multi-colored party blowers dangled from their grayish lips. In the center of the table, next to a large and very sharp meat cleaver, sat a cake frosted with white icing and pink writing that read: Happy Birthday Leslie. The orange glow from the cake’s sixteen candles cast shadows across the mannequin-like faces of the old couple.
A look of horror suddenly raced across Judy’s face. “Oh, my God!” she shrieked. “You’re Leslie! I thought you looked familiar! But, but, how? I mean, I thought you were…”
“Committed to a state mental hospital?” I completed her stuttering sentence for her. “Yes, it’s true. I was. But I’m all better now. See? Just as good as new. That’s why they let me out. I’ve waited so long to see you again. What’s the matter, Judy? Your face has gone all pale.”
“Just what the hell is going on here?” my nemesis demanded to know. “Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke?” She called out to the Jaspers, but they didn’t answer. Nor did they move or blink an eye. Silly Judy, she couldn’t tell they were corpses until she ran over to them and tried to shake them awake. They slumped down in their chairs. “Jesus Christ! They’re dead! Did you kill them, Leslie?”
“No,” I replied in my most sarcastic-sounding voice, “they accidentally stuck their heads in a plastic bag and tied a belt around their necks until they suffocated. Don’t be so stupid. Of course I killed them!”
Judy’s eyes grew wide with horror. “You’re insane! They should have never let you out of that institution! I’m calling the police!”
She reached into the pocket of her blazer and extracted a cell phone, which I promptly swatted from her hand. Before she was able to retrieve it from the floor I stomped it with my foot, smashing it into pieces.
“You bitch!” she screamed. “You crazy bitch! That was a two thousand dollar cell phone! I’ll see that you pay for that if it’s the last thing I do! I’m out of here!”
I could tell Judy was about to make a run for it, so I grabbed the meat cleaver from the table and blocked the door. “Leaving so soon? I wouldn’t hear of it!” I yelled. “Don’t you know it’s rude to leave a birthday party early? Don’t be rude, Judy. Have some cake. I baked it just for you.”
Judy’s face turned ugly. She told me to “get screwed” and to shove my cake. She hurled vulgar derogatory names at me and demanded that I get out of her way so she could leave. Her rudeness was truly appalling, her conduct most unladylike. And I told her so. She took a swing at me with her expensive leather briefcase and missed. I took a swing at her with my meat cleaver and sliced off a small chunk of flesh from her upper arm. A gush of blood rushed out of the wound. The sound of her scream was pleasing to my ears.
I pressed the cleaver firmly against her throat and ordered her to take her place at the dining room table. With tears streaming down her terrified face, she nodded and obeyed my command. So far, this was turning out to be a very good day!
I cut a big wedge of cake and placed it in front of her on a paper plate. “Have some cake,” I said.
She shook her head in defiance.
I pushed the cake closer to her. “I said, have some cake!”
“I don’t want any cake,” she bawled. “I just want to go home.”
“Dammit, Judy!” I was beginning to lose my patience with this one. “I told you to eat the damn cake! What’s the matter? Are you afraid I put rat poison in it? Maybe some razor blades? Crushed glass? Eat it, you ungrateful, back-stabbing slut!”
Judy picked up her fork, but instead of sticking it into her slice of cake like a normal person, she stabbed it into my arm and then leaped out of her chair, running straight for the door.
My adrenaline was pumping so hard I was beyond feeling any pain. I lunged at her, knocking her to the floor. I rolled her over and began bitch-slapping her mascara-streaked cheeks. It was an exhilarating feeling for me, even though she made me break a couple fingernails. After my hand tired, I pulled her up by her hair, and shoved her back into her chair. I then proceeded to bind her hands and ankles together with balloon string and plastic streamers before yanking the gold band from her finger.
“What are you doing, you heartless bitch?” she cried. “That’s my wedding ring!”
“Johnny was mine, and you stole him away from me,” I hissed. “That ring was meant for me! It belongs on my finger, not yours.”
“Is that what this is all about?” Judy asked, as I slid the ring onto my finger and admired it. “That’s ancient history, Leslie. It was decades ago! So Johnny chose me over you. Get over it, bitch. Besides, the man is dead and buried now. Let him rest in peace!”
I glared into Judy’s eyes. “I have one question for you: why did you betray me like that? You were my very best friend in the whole world, and I trusted you.”
Judy let out a venomous laugh. “It’s about time you knew the cold, hard truth, Leslie. I was never your best friend. In fact, I’ve always hated your guts! Yes, that’s right, Leslie. I hated you. And still do. The very sight of you literally turns my stomach, and always has.”
Judy’s words stabbed me in the heart like a dagger.
“You were chunky and ugly, and still are,” she continued. “None of the kids at school, including me, could stand to be around you. We all laughed at you behind your back. So did the teachers. Here’s a newsflash: I only let you hang around me because my mother made me. She felt sorry for you. All the while I was secretly wishing you’d drop dead! You don’t know how glad I was when I heard they locked you in a padded cell in that mental hospital. And I prayed that you’d grow old and die in there so I’d never have to lay my eyes on your ugly face again.”
Judy’s eyelids were swollen and her face had turned an exquisite shade of black and blue. It was quite becoming on her. But I felt she needed a little something extra to complete her look. I placed the palms of my hands firmly upon the back of her head and shoved her face down into the birthday cake, despite it being covered with lit candles. She screamed into the frosting and hot wax.
“Yes, Judy. You were always the pretty one,” I conceded. “And now I’ve made you even prettier!”
I called out to Johnny Junior, who was hiding in the kitchen, to bring out my birthday surprise. Moments later, he entered the dining room, pushing Essie Jasper’s wheelchair with the disinterred body of my beloved Johnny sitting in it. He was mostly skeletal, his bones held together by the remains of leathery connective tissue and rotting clothing. But in my eyes he was as handsome as ever. And this time he was all mine. “Surprise, Judy! Johnny’s come back to me!”
She let out a piercing scream, like I knew she would. It was so loud it made my ears ring. I thought for sure she’d shatter the lenses of old Frankie boy’s glasses like an Italian opera singer shattering a crystal wine goblet when their voice matches the resonant frequency of the glass, but she didn’t. Instead, Essie Jasper’s glass eye popped out of its socket and landed on the dining room table, where it spun around like a Hanukkah dreidel before rolling off the edge and onto the floor. I was delighted!
“Oh, sweet Jesus! What have you done?” Judy wanted to know, after she finally cooled it with the god-awful screaming.
“I invited Johnny to my party,” I replied. “And, as you can plainly see, he accepted my invitation.”
“You demented lunatic!” she screeched. “Everybody always said you were nuts, but this is beyond insanity! What sort of twisted fiend goes to the cemetery and digs up a dead man to bring to a party? I swear to God you’re going to rot in hell for this!”
“Don’t be such a twat, Judy,” I said as I placed a Bobby Darin record on the turntable. “You’re just jealous.” I turned to my beloved Johnny. “I’ve saved the last dance for you, my darling.” I wrapped my arms around him and lifted him out of the wheelchair. Despite not having much meat left on his bones, he still had some weight to him. He smelled like decay and damp earth, just the way a man should. The aroma was like a weird aphrodisiac, and I felt my lady-parts start to quiver. As our bodies swayed to the music, magic filled the air and I was sixteen again, transported back in time. It was ever so beautiful… until Judy had to go and spoil it all by breaking free from her restraints and smashing a chair over my back. There just seemed to be no end to her rudeness. Johnny and I crashed to the floor, his skeletal remains coming apart. It was now my turn to let out a scream. Johnny Junior grabbed my ex-best friend and threw her against the wall with such force that the back of her head put a delightful dent in the plaster. I beamed with pride, as any mother would.
Judy started back up with the screaming and tried to come at me again. Johnny Junior locked her in a reverse bear hug, allowing me to pick up poor Johnny’s now detached humerus and beat her in the head with it until she slipped into unconsciousness, giving my ears a rest.
We strapped her into the old lady’s wheelchair and gagged her mouth so she wouldn’t disturb the neighbors with her silly screams. And then we waited until nightfall. Under the dark cover of a starless sky, Johnny Junior wheeled her down Main Street and over to the cemetery on Dorsey Road, while I followed close behind, carrying our shovels and a lantern. The caretaker of the cemetery had locked the gates at sundown, but I didn’t fret. I simply picked the padlock using a little trick I had learned from a fellow inmate at the hospital. It worked like a charm! The hinges creaked as we swung the gates open.
By the light of the lantern, we made our way up a meandering lane, past a dozen or so rows of tombstones and a fancy mausoleum filled with snooty stiffs from our town’s only millionaire family. It didn’t take us long before we arrived at Johnny’s gravesite. It was just as we had left it the night before with a huge pile of excavated dirt alongside it. We wheeled Judy to the foot of the open grave. I undid her straps and Johnny Junior tilted the wheelchair forward, depositing Judy into the murky pit. She landed with a thud like a sack of potatoes.
She came to just as Johnny Junior and I had started filling in the hole with shovelfuls of dirt. She squirmed about the rocks and roots like a giant earthworm, which was amusing to watch. And then, to my dismay, the gag came loose from her mouth. She suddenly turned religious and cried out, “Oh God! Help! Help! Save me!”
“Keep you voice down, Judy. You’ll wake the dead,” I laughed. “Besides, God has better things to do than waste His time on the likes of you.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” she cried. “Why?”
Judy never was very bright.
I paused my shoveling for a moment and let out a sigh before enlightening her. “You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. Because… it’s my party, and I’ll kill if I want to!”
I tossed in another scoop of dirt and smiled, content in the knowledge that Judy Hornsby—no, Judy the Ratfink Realtor Richter—would never sell another house. And it was just as well since the housing market had already hit rock bottom… just like Judy.
Gerri R. Gray is an American novelist, short story writer, editor, and lifelong aficionado of horror and dark humor. She currently has ten published books with HellBound Books Publishing and over two-dozen books with other publishers. She is a member of Ladies of Horror Fiction, and one of her short stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A part-time antique dealer and former B&B proprietor, Gerri lives in upstate New York.
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