Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jean on the Origins of Witch Hunts

(This was another also-ran fiction contest entry, also shared here to establish copyright. The Citheronia regalis caterpillar, victim to one of the (several different) infectious diseases that cause "black death" in caterpillars, was real. Pondering what possible good can come out of such an ugly natural phenomenon prompted this story. In July, when I wrote the fictional story, I had not yet read a marketing study that suggests that a majority of young women like to look at guys with three-day beards...I have officially lost touch with the young.)

In the café Jean told Meg, “I prefer older men,” meaning Mark (32, 5’11”, 160 pounds, engineer) over Steve (27, 5’9”, 190 pounds, unemployed).

If she’d noticed Bob at the next table, at all, Jean might have assumed he was hard of hearing. This would have been a mistake.

“Hey, babe,” Bob puffed, barely managing to catch up to Jean on the way out of the café; she slowed down automatically—another mistake—not wanting to see a total stranger collapse on the street. “I uh noticed you in the café and I wanted to like talk to you…uh…I think you’re like really hot…uh…zat what they say these days?”

“Fine, thanks, and you?” Jean said, not really listening. (Another mistake.)

“Um, well, I heard you say you prefer older men, which would definitely include me, right?” Bob addressed Jean’s shirt. “So I’m sixty-nine, but I’m a young sixty-nine, y’know? I like younger women.”

“Oh.” Jean was now listening. “Like, sorry, but my parents are still together, okay?”

“Um, you got nice chest,” said Bob, not really listening. “Uh, my name’s Bob, what’s yours?”

Jean checked out the morbid obesity first. Then she noticed the bald scalp, the three-day beard, the flabby lips almost visibly drooling, the smell (actually of diabetes) she associated with the stains on the shrunk-and-faded shirt. Then she walked faster again.

“Hey, wait!” Bob panted. “Like maybe we c’go for pizza or something. My car’s back there.”

Good, Jean thought, go back and get into it and lose me. Halfway down the block she saw that Bob had turned back. Three-quarters of the way down the next block she saw Bob in a rusty minivan that pulled up just ahead of her. Now what do I do? I do not want this pest to follow me into my actual NEIGHBORHOOD

In the gutter she saw what looked like another crumpled, blackened leaf. Actually, on closer examination, it was a long-dead caterpillar—the kind that reach the size of sausage links, with the pairs of long, back-curved, bristly horns…

“What about lunch?” Jean said, holding the thing up to Bob’s face.

“And he just peeled out,” Jean told Tiffi the next day, having checked that Bob was not in the café.  “And I’m like, you know how in the olden days they used to decide some woman was a witch? Like, eye of newt and toe of frog? Is that how those things used to get started?”