(A SHORT STORY)
Mavis Butterworth winced as she bent to pick up the post that lay on the doormat. She lingered slightly in the stooped position as she placed an arthritic hand on her hip. Mavis took a deep breath and straightened.
“Oh, me poor bones, there getting worse you know,” she announced to no one. She shuffled into the kitchen and placed the pearl coloured envelope on the yellow melamine tabletop. She pulled out a chair and plonked down onto the stained seat pad.
“Now then what can you be?” she asked the envelope as she clasped her gnarled fingers around the handle of a brown teapot and poured some over brewed tea into a cracked china teacup. After adding a drop of milk and then two heaped teaspoons of sugar she slowly stirred the brown liquid. She stared at the envelope through large tortoise shell rimmed glasses as she brought the slightly shaking teacup up to her thin lips and sipped the brew noisily.
“I bet it’s my telegram from the queen,” she exclaimed excitedly. “Oh, silly me, I’m only eighty-two not a hundred,” she said shaking her head. She gingerly picked up the envelope and opened it. Mavis slid the contents out and placed the now empty envelope back onto the table.
“I can’t see a thing, where’s my glasses,” she looked around for her reading glasses. “It’s no good, I’ll have to get a new pair I can’t go on without my glasses you know,” she muttered to herself.
“Go and lose me head if it wasn’t attached,” she scolded as she squinted through the lenses at the large words on the piece of paper. Mavis slowly read the words and then placed the piece of paper onto the tabletop.
“Oh that’s nice I’ve won a trip to go on a mystery tour, I wonder where it will go?” she mused as she sipped her strong tea.
Derek Paterson smiled as he closed and locked the door to number twenty-two Rochester Grove. He paused and looked up at the sky for a moment, it had been over four years since he had taken a trip anywhere. He had at first thrown the envelope and its contents into the bin but something kept nagging him to go and retrieve it, he did, and then he opened it.
He started to read the letters contents and snorted. ‘Why the hell would anybody want to give away a free mystery tour, all expenses paid?’ he thought as he read the words.
“Poppycock, load of twaddle, you get nothing for free, it’s a bloody con,” Derek exclaimed to Horace who looked up at him and meowed. He screwed up the letter and tossed it back into the bin and walked into the kitchen to feed Horace. He opened a tin of cat food and started to spoon some out into the cat’s dish when he suddenly stooped and stood slowly.
“You know maybe a trip would be nice, I’ll go and pack a few things,” he said trance like to the cat as it arched it’s back and hissed at him, he placed the tin on the table and disappeared upstairs. Back in the kitchen Horace stopped hissing and spitting and glared after the man.
Charles Clearwater drained the last of the gin and threw the empty bottle into a bush.
“Daaaaaaaaamn,” he slurred as he watched the bottle bounce on the turned earth and disappear into the thick foliage. He stood and swayed slightly as he looked around the now dark deserted park. He cursed himself for not getting another cheap bottle of plonk from the supermarket to see him through the night, the thirst would soon come and it would last until the shops opened and he could sooth it with a swig of Gordon’s finest. He prided himself in the fact that he only drank Gordon’s gin but the truth was that he would down anything he could afford and get his hands on.
“D…daa…aaaaaaamn, andshh…andshhhhhh, blashhhhhhhhhhhhht,” Charles stammered as he plodded towards an empty park bench and fell on to it. He giggled as he pulled himself upright and ran a filthy gloved hand over his mouth. He sighed and scratched himself then reached into his dirty over coat and pulled out a battered tobacco tin with it came a pearl coloured crumpled open envelope, he squinted at the tin as he concentrated on removing the lid. The lid popped off and the tin fell to the floor scattering the old tab-ends and tobacco all over the floor.
“Ah, da…mnnnn…it,” he gasped as he bent over and tried to retrieve the tin, he toppled over and landed on the path with a thud. He moaned softly as he swallowed and tasted his blood, he turned his head slowly and watched as the battered filthy envelope drifted lazily down and landed in front of his face. He frowned, he couldn’t remember how he got the envelope, he smiled and winced at the pain it brought him from the split lip he had just received. He stared at the envelope and thought about what the letter had said. His booze induced fogged up brain suddenly became clear as the words replayed in his mind. ‘What the hell’, he thought.
The vapour passed silently through the nighttime streets lit only by spots of orange light. It passed the occasional car their occupants staring out at the deserted road in front of them. It slipped through the night unseen and stopped outside Mrs Mavis Butterworth’s dark silent cottage.
Mavis heard the coach pull up and rose from her armchair. She walked towards the window and drew the curtains partly closed.
“Right now I’m off, so I’ll see you later,” she said to the empty room. She reached out a hand to the door handle when the bell rang. She opened the door as much as the chain would allow.
“Yes?” she said as she peered through the gap.
“Hello, Mrs Butterworth? I’m the driver of Damnation coaches,” a tall handsome dark haired man dressed in a red suit with the company logo emblazoned on his breast pocket said.
“Oh, goody,” she said excitedly as she closed the door and removed the chain, she opened the door again and clutching her handbag she stepped outside into the sunshine.
Outside in the cold night a ghostly figure appeared at Mrs Butterworth’s front door and moved towards the lingering swirling vapour.
Mavis allowed herself to be helped onto the coach by the smiling young man.
“Oh, thank you,” she said as she glanced at the rows of empty seats. “Is there nobody else going on this trip?” she asked as she turned to face the driver.
“Only yourself, Mr Paterson and Mr Clearwater,” the elegant young man said as he pointed a long manicured finger towards a row of seats which housed the two gentlemen.
“Oh, I see,” she said as she looked at the men.
“Now if you don’t mind, please find a seat as we have to be going,” the young man said smiling as he climbed into the drivers seat. Mavis shuffled along and sat down opposite the men who turned and glared at her, she nodded and smiled thinly at them as the coach pulled away from her cottage with it’s gently swaying rose arch and ornamental bird table with its throng of twittering squabbling birds as they fought over the scraps that Mrs Butterworth had left.
The vapour moved away and disappeared into the darkness, it left behind a dark cottage with its still rose arch and quiet ornamental bird table.
The three people travelled in silence for what seemed hours, they didn’t speak to one another but looked out at the shops and fields as they whizzed by.
“Er, when do we arrive at our destination?” Derek said as he sat up slightly in his seat and peered over the headrest of the other seat in front.
“Well Mr Paterson you have reached your final destination,” the driver said as the coach and everything around it changed into Derek Paterson’s first house.
Derek blinked and looked around. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“What the, what kind of nonsense is this?” he said sternly.
“Do you recognise this place?” the driver said as he appeared from nowhere and stood next to him with his arms folded.
“Yes…its my first house the one I bought with…Jean…” Derek’s voice trailed off as he turned and looked at the man next to him.
“That’s right, you bought it with Jean in…let’s see in…nineteen fifty two as I recall,” the young man said as he uncrossed his arms and brought a hand up to his chin. “You had just got married and you worked at the nearby crematorium,” the man walked away from Derek who just gawped at the man.
“Now I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll get right down to the point,” he said as twirled and faced Derek. “Do you remember what happened to Jean?” he asked as he walked slowly towards the wide-eyed slack jawed old man before him.
“What? I…no…Jean…please…I,” Derek babbled as the man stopped in front of him and fixed his dark black eyes on him. “You killed her Derek,” he stated as he slowly moved towards the lounge door.
“No…I…it has to be a dream…I…oh, God please,” Derek muttered as his confused mind tried to make sense of what was happening to him.
“I’m afraid God won’t help you,” the driver said as he reached the door and opened it.
Derek stared at the man and was about to speak when in walked Jean.
“Hello Derek,” Jean said as she walked towards the trembling old man. “Why did you kill me?” she said softly as she stopped in front of him, she reached out a hand and touched his face. Derek flinched and backed away from the woman.
“What did you do to her Derek?” the driver said as he appeared as by magic by Derek’s right side.
“Oh God, I killed her I hit her…” Derek wailed as he stared at the woman.
“What did you hit her with and why Derek?” the man’s voice said.
“I hit here with the frying pan, I…I hit her three times on the head…all, be…because she grilled the bacon and didn’t fry it…I told her so many times to fry it!” he sobbed as he spun towards the young man.
“So you battered her skull in, because she grilled your bacon,” the man said shaking his head. “Then what did you do with the body?” he said as he walked over to the woman.
“I, dragged her to the bathroom and…” Derek paused and stared at the floor. ‘This had to be a dream or a nightmare’ he thought.
“And?” the young man said as he gestured with his hands for Derek to continue.
Derek looked up at the people and carried on speaking, he hoped that if he said what they wanted to hear then this would be over and he could wake up.
“I cut her up in the bath and disposed of the body in plastic bags…I opened up a few of the coffins…and placed her body parts inside,” he said softly then he fell to his knees and started to weep.
“The police never found her, you told them that she had disappeared, they searched your house and even work but found nothing, she had literary gone up in a cloud of smoke,” the driver said as he cocked his head towards Jean and did a ‘poof’ gesture with his hands.
“And for all those years you had gotten away with it,” Jean said as she looked down at the huddled form before her.
Derek looked up as Jean raised a large frying pan above her head, he tried to figure out where the pan had come from when she smiled at him and started to swing the object down.
“No, please…” Derek pleaded as Jean brought the frying pan down on Derek’s head.
Derek Paterson tossed in his sleep then arched his back and slumped back into the covers. Dead.
“I say young man, were on earth has the other gentlemen gone?” Mavis asked as she noticed that Mr Paterson was not in his seat.
“Oh, don’t worry Mrs Butterworth Mr Paterson is not on earth, well not his spirit anyway no he is…” the young man paused while thought of the right remark. “ Let’s just say he left us for more warmer climes,” he chuckled at his own wittiness.
“Now then Mrs Butterworth I believe it’s your turn,” the driver said as he turned and faced the frightened old lady. He smiled as the coach and surroundings melted away.
Mavis blinked and raised a hand to her face as a cloud of dust washed over here.
“Where am I?” she coughed as she lowered her arm and blinked the dust from her eyes.
“Why don’t you remember? It’s the sixteenth of June nineteen forty three,” the young man said as he twirled and pointed to the smouldering ruins. “You lived in this very house all those years ago with your husband Burt,” he said softly as he appeared in front of her.
“I don’t understand, why am I here?” she said confusedly.
“Do you remember a neighbour of yours back then, a Mrs Brigsby?” he said as he turned to a shattered doorway, Mavis followed his gaze and watched as a figure walked through the ruined doorframe and towards her.
“Hello, Mavis it’s been along time,” the woman said as she neared the frail old lady.
“But your dead, you died in the war, in this very house…” she turned away from the woman and looked at the man.
“Why have you brought me here?” she demanded as she glared at him.
“I think you know why Mavis…” he fell silent as Mavis interrupted him.
“It’s Mrs Butterworth to you sonny!” she told him as she jabbed a bony finger into his chest.
“I’m sorry Mrs Butterworth, but as I was saying, I think you know why you’re here,” he said unruffled.
Mavis turned away from the young man and back to the woman.
“You got what you deserved, you…you, hussy, you scarlet trollop,” she snarled at the woman.
“Why don’t you tell me all about it Mrs Butterworth,” he said softly. Mavis glared at him for a moment then back to the woman.
“Fine,” she said flatly as she smoothed her overcoat.
“This…thing,” she said snootily as she waved a hand dismissively at the woman. “Stole my husband, and that is that, I have no more to say on the matter, I wish to go home,” she demanded sternly as she crossed her twig like arms defiantly.
The driver sighed and threw up his hands. ‘Why were the old dears always the most stubborn’ he thought. He couldn’t go to the next ‘job’ unless she admitted what she had done. He glanced at his watch it read: twenty past two. He had to goad her into a response.
“Now look here Mavis,” he spat. “There is more isn’t there, this bitch, this harlot, ruined your life, she made it so miserable for you didn’t she?” he said smiling as he walked around the old lady. Mavis lowered her hands slowly and watched him. He was right she had made her life a misery.
“Yes she made my life a hell, with her fancy clothes and her dinner parties,” she said as she pointed to the woman who just stood and stared back.
“All my friends wanted to be her friends now, but…but…what about me, there mine not hers!” Mavis shouted. “She stole my husband with her sultry ways, and he then went to war and never came back, she killed him and she deserved to die!” she snarled as her tiny frame shook with rage.
“Yes, yes! But how did you kill her?” the young man said as he moved like a snake around her.
“We had an air-raid and we took a direct hit on the houses, I came out into the rubble and smoke and noticed her lying in the rubble,” Mavis looked at the woman and gulped as the memories of that day surfaced. “She wasn’t dead, so I hit her over the head with a house brick,” she said as she turned to the young man.
“So you got jealous of Mrs Brigsby and killed her in cold blood, in the middle of an air-raid, ingenious,” he said in astonishment.
“The authorities thought I had been killed by falling masonry, so that was that,” Mrs Brigsby piped up.
“Until now, an eye for a eye and all that, me thinks,” the young man said as he skipped and danced in the rubble.
“What do you mean?” Mavis said as she glared at the woman who started to walk towards her. Suddenly she saw the brick in the woman’s hand and knew what was about to happen to her.
“Go to hell the pair of you,” she snarled as Mrs Brigsby slammed the brick into the side of Mavis’s head.
“You first my dear!” The driver said as he laughed, he liked Mrs Butterworth she had fight and spirit, he would enjoy eternity with her.
In the quiet little cottage with its rose arch and ornamental bird table Mrs Butterworth fought for breath as she clawed at the bedclothes, she gave a torturous wheezing gasp then collapsed into the bed linen. Dead.
“All aboard!” The man in red said cheerfully as he hopped into the drivers seat. “No,” he said as he looked from the door to the only occupant of the coach.
“Hold on booze hound it’s your turn,” he said as he gripped the steering wheel as the coach vanished.
“I…” was all Charles could say as the steam rose up and surrounded him.
“Oh come now Charles, don’t tell me that pickled brain of yours can’t work out where you are?” the coach driver said as he walked towards the tramp out of the steam.
“It looks like my old penthouse suites bathroom, but it can’t be…can it?” Charles stated as he blinked madly.
“Indeed it is my dear Charles,” the young man said as he twirled in the steam making it spiral and eddy in the disturbed air currents.
“Why thank you, dear, dear boy, you have brought me back my wealth and my life,” Charles said excitedly as he moved towards the bath.
“Er, Charles, I wouldn’t thank me just yet, as for your life well…I have someone who would like to meet you,” the man in red said as he smiled.
“I, don’t understand, who would want to meet me in here?” Charles asked as he waved a dirty-gloved hand around the steam soaked room.
“And who is behind door number one?” the young man said in a game show host voice as he gestured towards where Charles presumed there was a door. Charles heard the door open and saw the steam swirl as it was sucked out of the room. He strained his red blood shot eyes at a figure as it emerged from the warm water envelope.
“Billy…is that you?” he said softly as his brain worked out who the boy in front of him was.
“It is! Well done Charles, you win a cigar, oh sorry I don’t have any but what you do get to do is to tell me what happened to Billy all though years ago,” the driver said as he sidled up to Charles who looked at him dumbfounded.
“Oh no, please I can’t…” Charles began to say but the young man stopped him.
“Think of this as freeing your poor alcohol riddled heart,” he said smiling softly.
“I had been out for a meal, with friends and on my way back I stopped and…picked Billy up…I’m into…” Charles stopped speaking again as the man in red placed a finger up to his lips and silenced him.
“I don’t wish to hear your more sordid details, just tell me what happened to Billy,” he said.
“We decided to have a bath together and I wanted to have…you know with the lad,” Charles said as he nodded towards the boy. The driver nodded and gestured for Charles to continue.
“The boy declined my advances and I lost my temper and…I…oh no…I pushed him underwater, I held his head underneath the surface until he stopped struggling,” he said as he started to weep.
“So let me get this right,” the handsome dark haired man said as he walked and stood by Billy who just stood and stared at the dirty dishevelled tramp before him. “You wanted him, he said no, so you drowned him, how did you get away with it Charles?” he asked frowning. He stood there next to Billy and stared at the old man waiting for a reply.
“I…framed my butler for the murder, he went to prison for twenty years, I lied in court,” Charles muttered as he sobbed loudly.
“What a total and utter devious man you are! How wonderful!” the driver exclaimed happily.
“I lost everything after that, my wife, my business everything,” Charles said softly.
“I’m afraid it gets worse than that Charles old boy, you also lose your life,” the man in red said as he glanced over at Billy who smiled sweetly and lurched towards the old tramp pushing him backwards towards the bathtub.
Charles shrieked as he was propelled back towards the steaming bath, he tried in vane to dig his heels of his battered shoes into the wet shiny tiled floor. With arms flailing he plunged into the water and disappeared beneath the frothing bubbling surface.
In the cold dark park a single figure lurched and thrashed on a park bench then, finally the figure went rigid and then slumped off the bench and onto the ground. Dead.
The handsome dark haired young man looked at his watch it read: twenty five past four. He smiled and turned and walked towards the door, behind him the penthouse suite bathroom disappeared and he found himself walking down a long stone staircase. As he walked the tapping of his hoofs on the stone steps echoed around him, after a few more steps the sounds of tortured soles drifted up to greet him from the bowls of the underworld.
“Ah, it’s good to be home,” the devil said.
© COPYRIGHT SIMON MURPHY 2002
Updated 11th March 2012