Griselda Beamish was happier than she had been in a hundred years. While others of her kind were having trouble adjusting to modern times, Zelda embraced the new. All of the most recent advances in technology made her life simpler.
There were opportunities that she could never have imagined before. Take her job for instance. She worked from her pretty colonial two-story in the suburbs as a telemarketer under contract.
It didn’t bother her at all when the people she called got mad and screamed she was a witch, then hung up. “You got that right, sweetheart” she’d say to herself.
She particularly liked the hands-free option that came with some cell phones. She could be brewing up one of her imaginative concoctions and never miss a beat.
Zelda started in the business with intimate chat lines. Her voice and manner were well suited to stringing some poor sucker along.
When she asked, “So big boy, can you imagine what I’m doing right now?” very few of her clients guessed she was in the process of stir-frying and eating a bat.
But even Zelda found the phone sex to be tawdry, although it did teach her there were a lot of lonely people out in the stratosphere.
It inspired her to begin work on her greatest creation, a love potion for the masses. This led to frustration. She could never get the ingredients quite right. There was always something missing.
Modern devices did come in handy, though. For example, she used her top-loading washing machine to mix her ingredients. It was a lot easier than all that shaking and stirring nonsense.
One special day in early spring, the usual eye of newt, toe of frog and other staples from her unsavory inventory were churning away as she added a Barbara Cartland novel for romance and a hockey puck to provide body.
It was a familiar failing formula on its own, but likely to yield a worthy base. That’s when the doorbell rang.
It was the Glad-‘e-ate-‘er pizza delivery boy. The company milked the pun in its commercials, but it also required its staff to dress in full faux Roman gear. The logo on the box was a trident.
Zelda paid the gawky young man the billed amount plus a healthy tip and sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy her meal.
When she finished fifteen minutes later, she remembered an unfinished chore. During her morning jog, she’d made a mental note to wash her sneakers. She returned to the laundry room and flung her running shoes into the machine.
Too late, she heard the splash and recalled she had a formula brewing. That made her laugh and she stood back for a few minutes while the pulsating action tossed the mix to and fro.
Finally she stopped the machine and immersed both forearms to retrieve her footwear. The doorbell sounded again.
She grabbed hold of her wet shoes and left them to drip and dry on a floor mat. Despite her best efforts, her hands were still clammy and smelly when she answered the door.
“I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but did I leave my sword here?” Halfway through his question, there was a remarkable transformation in the young man’s face.
This wasn’t the old crone he’d met earlier. He was now looking at a vivacious beauty who was the answer to all his tasteless fantasies.
Zelda could see the change for the better. “What’s going on?” she wondered. “I haven’t had this much allure since the early 1800s.”
Then it came to her. “Can it be? Have I discovered the secret ingredient for my love potion – my sweaty Nikes?”
She invited the pizza boy in and endured his moony attentions for the next half hour while she mentally sorted through what had happened. Fending off his advances was difficult, but she kept a clear head.
Striking the right come-hither, back-off balance became too much and she ordered him out. But for the next week, Zelda was visited regularly by her pizza Petruchio, who always brought a free meal.
She used those opportunities, plus visits to the grocery story, the library and the apothecary shop to test out various amounts and delivery systems for her potion.
She found that it worked in two ways. When hitting the olfactory senses, only the victim would fall under her spell and imagine her young and beautiful. If she drank a teacup full, years would be knocked off her appearance to the world at large.
The latter had a limited time frame, lasting only a couple of hours. She’d only do it in extremis as the liquid form was a noxious swill that was hard to swallow.
As for the air-borne method, dabbing a little behind the ears was good, but it took a moment or two to take effect.
What clearly worked best was a perfume atomizer held about two feet away from the intended target’s nose. He’d lock onto her right away and bear no distractions.
The dalliances with her mozzarella-and-meat-sauce suitor were growing tiresome, so she eased back on the dosage and he quickly lost interest. It was time to take her discovery for a more interesting test drive.
That’s when she got lucky.
Her sixth phone call on a weeknight 13 days after the eureka moment took a surprising turn. She was making a super-dry pitch on behalf of a company that wanted to carry out duct-cleaning on a family’s undoubtedly dusty abode.
The man at the other end was not the usual hard-liner. Instead, he launched into his own spiel.
“Why are you people always contacting us and asking to clean our ducks? We don’t have ducks. We have a dog and a cat that are pretty dirty and could use a good bath. But no ducks.”
“Sir, if you’ll just let me clarify…”
“Besides, I’d never own more than one duck. I have to admit a single duck might come in handy if ever there was a night we couldn’t make it to the store to buy dinner.”
“Please sir, I’m speaking about ducts. You know, air vents for heating and cooling systems.”
“Ducts, not ducks? Oh. Sorry for the misunderstanding.”
She waited for it and was rewarded with the expected click.
Zelda had to admit he’d been pretty cute and original. She could hear the twinkle in the man’s voice. This guy deserved a look up.
She retrieved her reverse address book and thumbed through the pages to the correct number.
There he was, 35 Burloak Drive, only a five minute drive away. Co-habiting wife or girlfriend be damned, Zelda was on a mission.
Zelda made herself presentable, as only a several-centuries-old woman can and drove her Prius to the address noted. This was a neighborhood of single detached ranch-style dwellings. From across the street, she waited and watched.
An hour later, a studdly 30- to 35-year old male exited the front door, stepped behind the wheel of his Mini Cooper and drove down the street. Zelda followed him at a discreet distance.
The man pulled into a strip mall’s parking lot, climbed out of his vehicle and walked into a variety store. Zelda parked nearby, got out of her car as well and stood anxiously.
She sprang on him – well not so much sprang as spritzed her vaporous magic on him – the instant he came back through the store’s entrance.
The reaction was immediate. He took one sniff of Zelda’s perfume and was prepared to follow her anywhere.
Ten minutes later, Zelda had driven back to her place with catch in tow. The semi-captivity began in earnest.
Several days later, when the amorous fireworks dissipated slightly, Zelda finally thought to enquire his name. After all, Corey was taking up full-time residence in her humble home.
He could be useful in more than one way. The seed of a money-making scheme had been taking root in Zelda’s mind for a while. This was the perfect occasion for launching her plan.
Zelda used part of a considerable nest egg she had acquired over the years to buy necessary video equipment and set up an in-house studio. She filmed an infomercial starring herself and Corey.
Then she bought time to run her spot on the shopping channel. Sales of Zelda’s perfume started off slowly, but as word-of-mouth success stories became more frequent, they took off.
Zelda was careful to sell only a diluted version of her product. She couldn’t afford to draw too much attention to herself and Corey.
For his part, Corey was at first delighted with the arrangement. Except he had never really been a one-woman guy.
Sure, his girlfriend Mitzie was living with him in their joint home on Burloak, but he’d always been on the lookout for action on the side.
He instinctively knew that might be a problem with Zelda. She had warned him if he left her, he’d seriously regret it – within hours.
She was very specific on that score. Of course, other women had told him something similar and it never turned out like they said.
It was only after weeks turned into months that Corey became really dissatisfied.
He noticed Zelda’s appeal waxed and waned at odd moments.
When she wasn’t responding to order requests, she was either doing laundry or jogging. If she forgot one or the other for a day or two, her looks and demeanor could change radically.
Finally Corey decided Zelda was too much of a good thing. It was time to make a break.
Halloween came and Zelda was going to spend the night out with the girls, her “sisters” as she called them, although Corey had never met any of her relatives.
Corey would be on his own in the house for the first time.
Before leaving that evening, Zelda proposed that she and Corey adopt the Halloween spirit and have their own party.
Zelda would wear a peaked cap and carry around a broomstick like a real witch. She wanted Corey to dress up too – actually dress down – in accordance with the title of her favorite book, The Naked Ape.
The subsequent role playing led to one of their better bedroom romps in a long time. But once Zelda left the house, Corey realized he’d been duped.
All of his clothes were missing. Zelda kept her clothes in a locked closet that was a virtual panic room. He supposed that his personal effects had been moved there as well. Time was of the essence and he had no chance of gaining entry.
All he needed to do was reach his car. For nights when bartenders took away his key, he’d taped a backup to the undercarriage.
But his dreams of traversing the short distance to the common parking area for the community’s visitors had been rendered more difficult.
That is, until he spotted one article of apparel that Zelda hadn’t bothered to hide, never imagining Corey would be desperate enough to make use of it.
Mitzie had been dealing with the disappearance of Corey for six months. She was first distressed and depressed, but there were some mitigating circumstances that made it easier to accept.
Corey had always been a philanderer. She knew there was the possibility he would eventually take off with one of his bimbos-on-the-side. Even before he disappeared, she made up her mind to leave him. This way, she got to keep the house, no questions asked.
That’s why she never bothered reporting the matter to the police. Besides, a month after Corey left, her best friend spotted him on the shopping channel, hawking a love potion.
Mitzie could hardly believe it, but sure enough, when she tuned in at four in the morning, there he was with what must be his newest floozie emoting away about the virtues of “Zelda Zest.”
Whenever she needed an antidote to feeling bad about Corey’s desertion, she cranked up Springsteen’s Hungry Heart on her i-pod and let the words slap her back to resentment.
From the very first line in which some no-good jackass abandons his wife and kids in Baltimore, she’d be cured again. Thank goodness she and Corey had no offspring to consider.
It was the day after Halloween and Mitzie looked out the front window to check on the weather and see if the neighborhood kids had toilet-papered her tree like the year before.
Standing forlorn in the driveway was something she hadn’t expected to see again. It was Corey’s car, with no sign of Corey in proximity.
The situation looked suspicious, but not dangerous and she knew she’d better check out the vehicle, if for no other reason than that it was blocking her own vehicular exit from the garage.
She approached the Mini Cooper and looked through the driver’s side window. Nothing much to see, but she did note the door was unlocked. She opened it and out popped a weasel.
From the ground, standing on its haunches, the weasel stared into Mitzie’s eyes for a full fifteen seconds. Transfixed by the animal’s sorrowful gaze, Mitzie felt increasingly uncomfortable.
Then the furry beast scurried off into the bushes. “What was that about?” she wondered.
Mitzie turned back to the car. On the front seat, lying in a crumpled mat, was a pair of women’s knickers, also known as undies, skivvies, delicates or unmentionables. “Who on earth do they belong to?”
Too many questions. Mitzie was as titillated as the next person by a good mystery, but she immediately sensed this one was going to haunt her for a ridiculously long time.
For a follow-up fun read, I suggest Chasing a Murderer into Polar Bear Country.
Or how about the courtroom drama of The Madame Lazonga Defense?