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Let's Talk Toxins
About the Author: Martin Zeigler writes short fiction. A number of his stories have been published in small-press venues, both in print and online. In addition to writing, Marty dabbles on the piano and takes long walks. He makes his home in the Pacific Northwest.


Otto looked over just as Etta thumped her book shut. She placed it ever so carefully beside her on the bedspread, then turned to Otto and gave him a quick smile. “I poisoned the soup this evening,” she said.

Well, Otto thought, this was certainly an improvement over the things Etta usually wanted to talk about at bedtime. Things like maybe someday heading out to Mapleburg Lake for a picnic, maybe someday listening to the Mapleburg Barbershop Quartet sing the old standards, maybe someday browsing the annual flea market at the Mapleburg Senior Center, maybe someday doing such-and-such in Mapleburg, maybe someday doing thus-and-so.

In fact, the subject of poisoned soup came as such a welcome change that Otto, for the first time in he didn’t know how long, set aside his own book and actually took part in the conversation.

“Maybe you’re mistaken,” he said. “Because I’m not feeling anything yet. How about you?”

“Not a thing,” Etta said.

“Pot that big, maybe you should’ve tripled the recipe.”

“It was just your bowl. Not the entire pot.”

Otto nodded. “I see. Well, hate to say it, Etta darling, but you might have to take the poison back to PoisonMart and get your money back, because I feel like a million bucks.”

“It’s slow acting.”

“Does this mean I can wait till morning to call 9-1-1?”

“You’re welcome to try, honey, but you likely won’t make it through the night.”

Otto had to admit to himself that her responses were pretty damn clever. Curious as to what else she might come up with, he said, “It’ll probably be best, then, for me to call 9-1-1 right now, wouldn’t you say?”

Etta shrugged. “Here’s the basic problem. No matter what time you call, you’ll need a phone.”

Otto casually glanced over at his nightstand. The charger cord lay there all alone like an abandoned snake. “Well, look at that,” he said.

He sneaked a peek over at Etta’s nightstand. Etta noticed and sat up against the headboard, allowing him an unobstructed view of her own charger cord, also by its lonesome.

“They’re both safely tucked away,” she assured him calmly, “along with the landline and all the computer cables.”

Otto was impressed that she had not only prepared her script but also managed a few props. “Hell, I didn’t need the damn cellphone anyway,” he said, just to be difficult. “I never call anyone, because I don’t know anyone, and even if I did know someone, I wouldn’t call him, because what would we talk about? And why use a computer? If I don’t know some stupid fact by now, why would I ever need to know it?”

“Oh, I’m well aware of you and the phone and the computer, honey,” Etta said, nodding slowly. “Just the same, I decided it might be a good idea to hide everything anyway, figuring it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

“You mean, on the off chance I might use my damned phone to call 9-1-1 about …” Otto held a hand to his throat and performed a series of elaborate gagging sounds. “Being poisoned?”

Etta waited a moment to see if he was through. “That’s exactly what I mean,” she said.

“Looks like you thought of everything. Well, almost everything.”

“No, I think I’ve covered all the bases.”

“Well, just as a for instance, what if I were to hop up out of bed right this minute, rev up the old Honda, and head out to Mapleburg General? You know, to make an unannounced appearance at their emergency clinic.”

“Oh, honey, didn’t I mention that the car keys are cuddling right alongside the phones and the Internet cables?”

“Okay. Fair enough. In that case, maybe I’ll just throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt and saunter on over to our next door neighbor.”

“You mean our next door neighbor who lives thirty-four miles away in Mapleburg?”

“Is it that far?”

“You said you wanted to move out here to the country.”

“I did say that, didn’t I? But that was many moons ago. I’m surprised you remember. In any case, I’d better get started before the you-know-what kicks in.”

Otto didn’t budge, because he had no intention of going anywhere. Etta leaned over and grasped his shoulder, almost as if she expected him to go somewhere. “Honey, the shape you’re in, if I’d have known you’d try walking thirty-four miles, I wouldn’t have gone out and bought the poison.”



This story appears in our MAR 2019 Issue
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Reader Discussion

2
Mar
Very witty!
By Susan Rickard

3
Mar
My husband overhears my conversations about various murder plots and devices. Then he tells his friends about these, and says, ”I fear for my life.”
By Elizabeth Kral

3
Mar
Good story, Martin! Clever, moves right along, I enjoyed it. Not a big fan of reading online these days, makes my eyes tired. But I stuck with this one! Looking forward toi the next!
By Mo Bock

3
Mar
A clever and fun story. Held my interest all the way.
By Earl Staggs

3
Mar
Loved the repartee. Enjoyable story.
By John R Lindermuth

3
Mar
Very clever. I almost became convinced it was a macabre joke, and then . . . nice twist at the end.
By Elizabeth Varadan

4
Mar
Very clever and extremely witty! I truly enjoyed the story! Nice twist at the end! Well done!!
By Tina Jude

4
Mar
Loved it
By Judy Williams

6
Mar
Nicely done....
By Bill Walker

6
Mar
Marvelous story, which I just happened to read while sitting in a waiting room of the local hospital.
By John L. Moore

25
Mar
Great story! It made me laugh.
By M. A. Monnin

24
Apr
Good one Martin. Very well done.??
By Skyghost3000@gmail


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