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Constant Worth

Constant Worth

by Jon Willer

When the Worths got picked to go on Family Double Dare, they asked me and Becky if we'd do their dogs' insulin shots. Mrs. Worth had asked around and heard we were responsible kids. The invitation to Nickelodeon Studios came in a bright green padded envelope. Rhea Worth traced Marc Summers's signature on her jeans.

I didn't really know the Worths, but I didn't like them. They were stuck up. Evander and Rhea went to the magnet school, and Becky and I went to Jeane Kirkpatrick. Their dad was just a corrections officer, but they were loaded since he let the Power Authority put wind turbines on his land. I fenced one bout against Rhea at Regionals. There was this new referee who mixed up the hand signal for Halt, and I got a totally BS yellow card for taking off my mask on the piste. I tried to argue it and got red carded for refusing to obey. Rhea won from the penalty hit. When I saw that trophy on their entertainment center I almost left. At least I always beat her in assaults.

Mrs. Worth showed us how to do the injections. First you drew up some Vetsulin through the rubber stopper on the vial. You flicked the syringe and squirted out any bubbles that jiggled to the top. Then you pinched up some flab on the dog's scruff and glided the needle into him at an angle. You could distract him with a rawhide twist, or a pig ear chew.

The dogs were two Weimaraners, Dewey and Louie, big lanky droolers the color of Swiss Miss who galloped through the halls together. They slept in a nest of ratty comforters in the mud room. Their brother Huey had a paw amputated over the winter. He still had to be put down. Mr. Worth said Weimaraners are supposed to be at low risk for diabetes but that's the way the cookie crumbles. Mrs. Worth put Dr. Cupka's number on the fridge and said that if Dewey's or Louie's breath smelled like nail polish remover we should call him right away.

Becky ran us out there in Dad's Blazer after supper the day they left for Orlando. The Worths lived at the end of Irish Settlement Road. We bounced over the gravel and I tried not to bite my tongue.

Becky was crabby because the tape deck ate Tragic Kingdom.

 

I suggested we stop at the IGA for Slush Puppies, my treat, and she kind of snapped at me.

She apologized later while we were searching for the plastic rock that held the house key. Being out in the woods creeped her out, Becky said, even if the house was a huge A-frame with deluxe cable that was mostly all glass. I reminded her that we were going to be loaded. We were raising money so we could go on the Afrikaans Club trip to Johannesburg over spring break, and by the end of the week we'd be halfway there. Becky hugged me and flashed her LYLAS bracelet.

After his shot Louie was staggering and slobbering. Our note said that if they got woozy we should give them a Dreamsicle from the chest freezer. Becky went to the cellar to check. The box was empty. She said to wait there while she went to IGA. I was scratching Louie's ears and doing a review packet for the state test on parallelograms. These furry moths kept zooming up and thumping against the screen door. The dryer was running – Mr. and Mrs. Worth said it was fine if we used the whirlpool bath, so we had to dry our suits – and every few minutes I'd hear a foom and the lights would flicker.

I was already jumpy from the dryer noises when a crash came from the kitchen. Dewey growled. I tiptoed in. Shattered on the floor was the jar of muesli from the counter. Oatmeal clusters and slivers of almonds and glass were all over the tile. Becky wasn't home yet and the dogs hadn't left my side. I started freaking out. My hands shook holding the dustpan.

Suddenly the juicer revved up with a screech. It rocked back and forth and tumbled off the island, jittering at the end of its cord. A meat mallet dropped into the steel sink and the stove burners flared blue.

Becky ran in, asking what the heck I was doing, and I screamed for her to duck. She got down just in time as Rhea's foil twanged deep into the wood of the door.

We called the number they left us for the hotel. Mrs. Worth said she was sorry about the hassle. They should have let us know sooner. They had a poltergeist. It was Arnold Worth's father's grandfather's grandfather, Constant Worth. Constant had been in the infantry in the Civil War. He was taken prisoner at Second Bull Run and died of sunstroke digging latrines at Castle Thunder prison camp. He was the leader of a fife and drum corps, and his dying request was that his prized rosewood fife be mailed home to his mother. The guards obliged, but one of Constant's great-nephews pawned the fife for money to stake a claim in Indian Territory, and he'd haunted every generation of Worths since.

They had tried everything. They scheduled a very expensive séance and bought enough black curtains from T.J. Maxx to cover the entire dining room, at the medium's request. Constant said through the medium that he sure didn't calculate it was his job to find the fife, seeing as it weren't him what lost it in the first place. Mr. Worth said that if his ancestor expected them to search through every antique store in the state tracking down some flute he could keep dreaming. The medium vomited carpenter ants. Candles flew everywhere. The spattered wax didn't come out in the wash, so they couldn't even return the drapes.

Then they had the bishop sprinkle holy water and nail up crucifixes. That really got Constant's goat. He smashed up Mr. Worth's mint condition Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and bent all the good silver flatware.

There was nothing to worry about, though, said Mrs. Worth. He was mostly just a nuisance. They were really counting on us to give those shots.

Mrs. Worth was full of it. Constant shot Becky in the eye with a Nerf dart. He hid my protractor. There were these hanging pots of hibiscus plants on the patio, and whenever we came or left he'd set them swaying so cold water sloshed on our heads. Sometimes he'd give my nose ring a quick tug. The Worths had HBO but we couldn't watch Honey I Shrunk The Kids because Ken Burns's Civil War was on PBS and whenever we went for the remote Constant would shatter another punch bowl.

By Thursday I was saying I would never go back. I didn't care if the dogs went into a coma or I never raised enough money for the plane ticket. It was Becky who got the idea of tricking him. She still had her piccolo from when she did marching band. She looked up a fife on Encarta and they were almost the same. It would take Constant a while to figure out it wasn't his – long enough to keep him out of our hair until the Worths got back.

We brought the piccolo over that night. We found sidewalk chalk in the garage and drew a pentagram on the guest bedroom floor. Becky lit a cone of incense from Spencer Gifts and I wrapped the piccolo in a scarf. We placed the offering and switched off the lamp. There was a crack and a lightning smell. When we put the light back on the piccolo was gone.

We high fived, injected Dewey and Louie, and drove home.

 

Constant didn't bother us for the rest of the week.

The Worths didn't win the car. Mr. Worth got hung up looking for a flag under the giant foam pepperoni, and Rhea slipped on her way to the giant nose. They did get a year's supply of Fruit By The Foot. Getting paid was sweet. I'd never held a $100 bill before. They brought us each back a t-shirt with an airbrushed dolphin, too.

The day before Halloween Mr. Worth didn't show up at the prison for his shift. The warden's receptionist tried the house phone and there was no answer. A state trooper stopped by that evening. Smoke was trickling from under the garage door so he shouldered it in. Mr. Worth's charcoal grill was set up in the mud room, full of smoldering briquettes. The Worths were all in bed, dead and blushing from carbon monoxide poisoning. The Weimaraners were dead in their nest.

According to the coroner, Mr. Worth was planning on grilling but decided to take a nap. They found pork chops thawing in the sink. Case closed.

That's why I'm writing you, Aunt Linda. Mom says you know a lot about astrology and aromatherapy and paranormal stuff. There's no way Mr. Worth would think you can grill indoors. I know what happened, and Becky knows what happened, but I'm scared nobody will believe us and I don't want to go to prison if they do. How do we fix it?

Thank you for the turtleneck for my birthday.


Jon Willer is a data entry clerk living in Champaign, Illinois. His fiction has appeared in Hawai'i Review, and he has a short story forthcoming from Juked. He is at work on a novel.

Riley Burrus is an Illustrator living and working in the Dallas area, and a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with a BFA in Illustration. She is a native Texan, but has lived in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, the MidWest, but is currently back in D-town. Her work is highly detailed and focuses on finding the goodness in activities we do everyday. She is inspired by folk and naïve art made popular by regionalist artists in the 1930s, such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.  Her work utilizes pattern and texture to give the pieces a handmade, whimsical quality.  When not illustrating in her studio blaring folk music, Riley can be found in her kitchen trying out a new recipe or exploring the city. 

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