by John Mara
Mandy will be carved to pieces soon. Or so she’ll think, courtesy of her husband Bo. For now, Mandy relaxes by the campfire, mesmerized by a single red spark as it swirls to the heavens. This magical lakeside all-nighter with Bo is Mandy’s favorite moment of the year.
Sitting beside Mandy, Bo trains his eyes on the woods, not the campfire. Last year, on this very night, a woman in their tiny Maine village was raped and murdered. The killer — still at large — vowed to repeat his savagery in a note: “Same time, next year.”
Right on schedule, a hulking form skulks on the edge of the woods. He carries a bludgeon, rope, and a potato sack. Bo detects his stealthy movements in the dark — and snickers. The intruder is his landscaper. Bo enlisted the landscaper with a hundred bucks to help him pull off tonight’s murderous prank on his wife. Mandy has been one-upping his macabre antics ever since they met. The knavery will stop, though, after this one last topper of a stunt: it’s time to grow up and start a family.
Bo triggers the night’s mischief with a pre-arranged signal: “I’ll go up to the cabin and refresh our drinks,” he says, a bit too loudly.
“Don’t be long, Bo,” Mandy says. “I’m a bit worried about that … psychopath. Is there really any chance he’ll come back tonight?” She shivers and wraps her red shawl tightly around her shoulders.
“Does lightning ever strike twice, dear?” Luckily for Bo, Mandy can’t see his impish grin in the dark.
Bo strides up the long wooded path. He looks back and sees the would-be assassin slink out of the woods. Bo instructed the landscaper to “Give ‘er a good scare, but don’t take the gag too far. Got it?” Heck, he doesn’t want to frighten her to death; but he does want a whopper of a tale to add to the family lore.
Bo walks right past the cabin and jumps into his convertible instead. The landscaper will drive Mandy and meet up with him at the village bar once the caper is over. Boy, will they all have a chuckle over beers tonight!
“Heeelp! Help me, Bo!” Mandy’s blood-curdling screams make Bo wonder if he’s gone too far this time. The landscaper muffles her cries. “There goes the potato sack,” Bo mutters thankfully as he drives away. “The hoax ends right there.” Nice and short. Right according to plan.
At the bar, Bo climbs aboard his favorite stool. He sips a beer and recounts every turn of his best and final deception for the bartender. He orders a second pint and checks his watch. Where are those two? He monitors the door while he nervously pours back a third.
The landscaper finally walks nonchalantly into the bar and right up to Bo. “Everything set?” the landscaper says.
“You bet! So how’d it turn out?” Bo says. “And where the hell have you been?”
“What do I mean?” Bo glances at the door. “Where’s Mandy?”
“How would I know? She’s your wife!”
“Weren’t you just ravaging her tonight?” Bo says, with finger quotations.
“Tonight?” the landscaper says. “I thought we were all set up for tomorrow night!”
Bo shoves the landscaper aside and races unsteadily out of the bar. Maybe he can still save Mandy’s life. The landscaper’s truck is parked right next to his convertible. Bo notices a torn strip of red shawl wedged in the tailgate. It stops him dead in his tracks. He falls to the ground on all fours and howls primordially to the heavens, “Oh God, what have I done?!”
Back inside, Mandy walks into the bar through the side door. The landscaper flares a wide grin when he sees her. Mandy slaps two hundred bucks into his palm. “I’m still the master!” she declares. “But the pranking stops here and now,” she adds to herself. She’s dying to get Bo back to the tranquility of her campfire and whisper to him, “We’re having a baby.”
Mandy is still rubbing her stomach when, from outside, she hears a single gunshot.