When the brilliant author & dilettante Miss Helena Hann-Basquiat asked me to post a chapter from her new book, I immediately said yes.
Now that I’ve read this chapter, I find myself totally sucked into this strange and unique world featuring The Princess Bride and Murderous Big Macs.
Read, like, comment, share & most of all, ENJOY!
The Countess Penelope of Arcadia’s Delayed Reaction
“It’s possible… maggot,” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia (a pastoral community in the beautiful countryside of Florin) admitted, while at the same time managing to both insult me and channel The Princess Bride. “You may have been right about Greek life. Sororities are not for me.”
Penny had taken some time off between high school and university, due to the untimely death of her parents, and recently, she’d been having some regrets about not really getting involved with some of the more social aspects of university. She’d been doing well with the academic portion, but found that she’d lost touch with the very concept of making new friends.
I had just picked her up from a social function – some sort of alcohol-free affair designed to help off-campus students get involved with campus social life. Having moved down to Hamilton from Toronto to move in with Penny’s grandmother had played hell with her already almost non-existent social life, and I was doing my best to encourage her to get out more. What can I say, darlings? If you can’t do; teach. (My social life of late left much to be desired.)
“I tried to tell you, darling. There are all kinds of societies you could get involved in – but a sorority? Are you going to dye your hair blonde and become a cheerleader, too? Oh, and the line is, It’s possible… pig.”
“Wow, Judgey McJudgementalstein,” Penny said. “Any other college culture stereotypes you’d like to throw out there? Oh, and, bite me. I like my way better.”
“Sorry,” I said. “It’s good that you’re trying to…”
“Ooh! McDonalds!” She interrupted, pointing to the golden arches glowing from the side of the highway like a mystical lighthouse. All that was missing were three Sirens sitting at the base of the giant M, singing in hypnotic tones: Ba ba ba ba baaaaah… I’m lovin’ it.
Sirens or no, we were shipwrecked nonetheless, as Penny insisted we stop for what she constantly referred to as two all-kangaroo-pouch patties saturated in MSG, questionable sauce, bacteria-laden lettuce, cheese-like plastic, pickles, dehydrated flakes that once belonged to an onion, on a processed bun so high in sugar it would give a diabetic a stroke.
I know, darlings, it’s quite a mouthful – but then, so’s a Big Mac. Why does she continue to eat them, you ask? Good question.
“If you hold Big Macs in such low regard, darling, why do you continue to eat them?” I asked her as we got off the highway to head toward the fast food femme fatales drawing us in with the alluring aroma of frying fat.
She looked at me incredulously.
“Because they’re delicious, of course!”
“Uh huh,” I said, shaking my head. “And not because they put an addictive chemical in them that makes you crave them fortnightly?”
“No, no,” she said, shaking a finger at me and slipping into a Scottish brogue not unlike Mike Myers in So I Married An Axe Murderer. “That would be The Colonel, smart ass.”
I really didn’t want to go to McDonald’s, darlings. The last time I ate even a few MSG laced french fries, I re-enacted the pea soup vomit scene from The Exorcist and may have spoken in tongues, I can’t be totally sure. I decided to try another tactic. I began to sing Meat Is Murder by The Smiths.
“And the flesh you so fancifully fry is not succulent, tasty or kind. It’s death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.”
The Countess Penelope of Arcadia gasped in utter shock as if I’d slapped her across the face.
“How dare you quote Morrissey at me, Helena?” She feigned offence, though for about two weeks after I introduced her to The Smiths, and she learned that Morrissey was a militant vegetarian, it was Penny who had given me grief if I even put butter on my toast. “You of all people.”
“What does that even mean?” I laughed.
“Oh, it’s on, Helena,” the Countess said, and rolled up her sleeves as if we were suddenly about to engage in fisticuffs. “You want murder? I’ll give you murder.”
“Cryptic much?” I asked her, putting the car into park in the McDonalds parking lot despite my utter lack of wanting to be there.
Penny looked at me with a devilish grin and began to mu ha ha. Yes, darlings, this is now a verb, conjugated in the present tense thusly: (which is still not a word, by the way) I mu ha , you mu ha, he/she mu ha has, we mu havons, you (plural) mu havez, they mu ha ha ha. Don’t ask me about conditional or subjunctive tenses, I’ve never been very good at those irregular types.
We walked into the McDonalds and for some reason, Penny seemed delighted that the lobby was full of people. As we stood in line waiting our turn to buy our chemically modified foodstuffs, however, she seemed to almost wither. It was like watching a kid crash from a sugar high. I didn’t make too much of it, until, when our turn to order came, she stumbled, and I had to catch her arm. She looked up at me and smiled, laughing it off.
“Sorry about that,” she said, shaking her head. “Just felt dizzy all of a sudden.”
“Welcome to McDonalds,” an only barely post-pubescent young man with the unfortunate name of Ronald said unenthusiastically. “Can I take your order?”
I looked at the Countess, who was leaning one hand on the counter and looking up at the menu board for some reason. She didn’t need the menu – no one needed the menu at McDonalds. Everyone knows exactly what they want when they walk in the door. Who browses the menu at McDonalds? I mean, really, what are you going to do? Ask if the Filet O’ Fish is good today? Ask what the soup of the day is? Say ooh, the McChicken sounds wonderful! Can I get that with a side of pommes frites and some salsa de tomate? Is it free range chicken?
“Yes, I’ll have the…” Penny said, and stood up straight and shook her head, smiling. “Sorry about that. I’ll have a Big Mac, and…”
And then Penny slumped to the floor and started twitching, and then full out convulsing.
“Penny!” I snapped, and looked around the room as people gasped in alarm and stared. “Penny, stop it!”
I was sure that she was pulling some sort of stunt, but then her eyes rolled back in her head and she began frothing at the mouth and making choking noises.
“Penny, no!” I screamed, and dropped to my knees and grabbed a hold of her. People gathered around us to witness the spectacle and pulled out their cell phones to call for the paramedics. Poor Ronald stuttered and stammered and asked what was wrong with her.
Penny shrieked – a high pitched, wheezing cry – and then went still.
One hour earlier…
Penny had been watching the girl in the Paul Frank t-shirt intently, and couldn’t figure out what it was about her that she found suspicious. She usually trusted her instincts, but then, there was always a first time to be wrong, and in this situation, she couldn’t afford to make a false accusation. It would be social suicide.
No, Penny thought, I have to be absolutely sure before I say something. Just be cool.
But she never got the chance. The girl with the monkey shirt and pixie cut walked over to Penny, handed her a drink, and introduced herself.
“Hi,” she said, and winked at Penny, who then grimaced. “I’m Laura.”
It was the wink, Penny told me later. One wink, and it was all over.
I knelt with my head to her chest, listening to her faint breathing, and screaming for people to get back and leave us alone.
“Oh, Penny,” I sobbed in frustration. “Why don’t you get up?”
“It’s conceivable,” Penny suddenly whispered, plainly and clearly. “You miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I lack the strength to stand.”
Penny eyes popped open and she put a finger in front of her lips, silencing me. She mouthed the word maggot, and I thought in that moment that I might actually strangle her.
She began coughing, faking spasms as if she were recovering. She stood up and acted mortified and embarrassed. She got my nomination for an Academy Award. My performance, however, required no acting.
“Oh, Helena, let’s get out of here!” she cried melodramatically, and I indulged her.
We reached the car without me losing my cool, but when we got in the car and closed the door, I swore a blue streak at her.
Penny looked at me, waiting for me to finish.
“Are you done?” she asked, knowing full well that in order to pull off that stunt, she was going to have to face my wrath afterward.
“You went too far,” I said, furrowing my brow at her in an attempt to look stern.
“To quote your best buddy, the immortal Ferris Bueller, you can never go too far. Besides, it was funny. In a couple of days, you’re going to realize this, and you’re going to call me a genius. Because you don’t even know what you saw in there; not really. I’m a genius, Helena. A fucking genius.”
I sighed. “Okay, genius, tell me what I just saw in there.”
“Uh uh,” Penny said, crossing her arms across her chest. “You’re just patronizing me. Ask nicely.”
“Please.” I said. “Pretty please with a side of I promise not to kill you in your sleep tonight.”
She looked at me sheepishly with a smile that was like looking in a mirror, and I grinned back at her despite my still present desire to push her into traffic.
“Yeah, but what about tomorrow night?”
“No promises,” I said, and felt my anger slightly dissipate and my curiosity peaked. “Please. Let’s hear the reveal.”
An hour and a half earlier…
“So this is just a get to know you exercise,” the perky blonde with the sparkling white smile said. “I want you all to go around and introduce yourselves – but be careful – one of you is a murderer. Remember, if someone winks at you, you need to wait an appropriate amount of time before you fake your death – you want to give our would be murderer a chance to get away with it. But if you make a false accusation – well, let’s just say the consequences will be dire.”
She pointed to a bathtub filled with chocolate pudding. The message was clear.
Penny, it seemed, was an unfortunate victim of the wink murderer.
“So I waited an appropriate amount of time – that is, enough time to get the hell out of there – and when you dropped the murder gauntlet, well… I just seized the opportunity.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said. “And you scared the shit out of me.”
“It was funny. Admit it.”
“I admit,” I admitted, “that it would have been hilarious if I had actually been there and been part of that Wink Murder game. But as it was, I was completely out of the loop, and as such, it wasn’t funny at all – it was cruel.”
Penny considered this for a minute, and hung her head.
“You’re right,” she mumbled.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, not believing my ears. “What was that?”
“I said you’re right,” she repeated, and when she raised her head, there was a mischievous look in her eyes that I couldn’t help but mistrust. “My genius is wasted on you! You weren’t there! Oh, Helena, I could kiss you!”
“Uh oh,” I said, worried.
“You promise you won’t tell anybody about this?”
I looked at her in disbelief as an idea of what she was thinking began to form in my mind.
“No,” I said. “Of course I’m not going to say anything.”
“Good,” she said, rubbing her hands together like a cartoon villain. “Then I can still use it on those sorority idiots! They’ll never know what hit them. Say it, Helena! Say it like you mean it!”
I sighed. “You’re a genius.”
“Good,” she said, grinning maniacally, hands still rubbing together with glee. “Gooooood.”
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE