Tales From the Darkside 204: Parlor Floor Front

Turns out it totally was him. John D. MacDonald wrote “The Girl, The Gold Watch, And Everything”. Of course, that was last week's episode, so let's move on, shall we?

The episode opens with a couple working hard to renovate their New York city brownstone, painting walls and patching cracks. They've got a problem beyond upkeep, however - even though they bought the building, New York's rent-control laws mean that they can't evict him unless they can prove they need the space! So this yet another story about New York real estate, which, naturally, I can't get enough of.

Seriously, though, writers, I know you've been told 'write what you know', and a lot of you live in New York, but the travails of trying to find a place to live in the big city don't make for the most relatable fiction outside of the five borroughs. Just FYI.

The wife of the pair is determined to get the house to themselves - she's aggrieved that the janitor downstairs gets to stay in their building for just 95 dollars a month, which really is fantastic rent, even considering those are dollars from 1985, well before America's economy collapsed. The janitor offers to help out in any way he can, and the husband suggests he work on the renovations for minimum wage. It seems like everything's going to be just fine, until they hear some strange noises from the downstairs apartment that very night:

It seems the janitor is some manner of bokor, who performs rituals for neighbourhood people in exchange for tiny amounts of gold! Overlooking the creepiness of the voodoo going on downstairs, the wife sees it as yet another way to get him thrown out - report his earnings to the IRS, for example, or have him investigated for running an unlicensed business!

Tensions rise when the janitor trips over a paint can and destroys a vase, and the wife demands that the old man pay for it, which he profoundly can't afford to do. The husband tries to play mediator, but things go from bad to worse when, the next night, they see the janitor performing a mysterious ritual on the stairs, demanding that whoever is responsible for the misery in the house, be it him or “someone else” be cursed!

It's possible that curse is in effect the very next day, when husband's arm is sprained by a falling 2x4 - and then the wife admits that she left the paint can in the middle of the floor. Between the wife falling off ladders and a cat mysteriously dying, it looks like curtains for these put-upon yuppies! If that stress wasn't bad enough, the wife reveals that after falling from the ladder she had a miscarriage - yup, they're certainly going to have to do something about that evil wizard.

The wife heads downstairs and asks that the curse be removed. The janitor claims ignorance about the falling ladder and dead cat. When he hears about the miscarriage, finally the janitor breaks down and admits that he meant the curse as simple mischief, and no deaths should have resulted. The wife demands that the curse be removed, and hands over a gold ring as payment - because giving an evil wizard a piece of your jewelry is always just a great plan. Wracked with guilt, the janitor tries to remove the curse - but can he do it in time?

Oh, instead he just killed himself out of guilt. On a side note, that house has profoundly high ceilings!

The husband offers to let the family have the wake in the janitor's apartment - hundreds of people visit to pay respects to their local witch doctor. Once things have wound down, the husband goes to discuss the burial arrangements with the janitor's sister. He notes the large box of gold lying in the coffin-

And asks why the sister isn't taking it. Finally we get an explanation for why he needed to be paid in gold - it seems the janitor wasn't being paid at all, whenever he removed a curse he accepted a piece of gold from his client, the idea being that the evil intent of the curser was trapped inside of it. Which is kind of a neat concept for a story, come to think of it...

The husband notices that his wife's ring is in the box, but doesn't take it with him. I see this causing trouble very soon. Yup, in the very next scene the wife announces that she wants the ring back - but what about the curse? She announces that there was no curse, it was all an elaborate con she was playing to get the janitor to leave! She faked a pregnancy/miscarriage and murdered their cat, all to make the janitor think that his spell had gone too far!

The husband understandably storms out after hearing about this, leaving the wife to go downstairs and do the stupidest possible thing - steal her ring back from the corpse in the downstairs apartment. This goes exactly as well as you'd think it would-

Yup, the zombie bokor comes back for his ring, and the wife dies of fright.

Which brings us to the moral of the episode - seriously, don't mess around with wizards. You know, come to think of it, that's the moral of an awful lot of things...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to thank you for writing these TFTDS recaps. Very well written and entertaining