Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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No, That Seat’s for Vincent P

L

eigh, Leigh, what are you doing? Your mother is dead. The house is still warm, and yet, you are staying over all alone.

This is a ghost house, though it doesn’t look like ghost house. There is no Adams Family peeling banister, no entry hall the size of a football pitch, no distant, clanking garret. Instead, it’s a cramped, two-story council house on a rather dodgy estate. Four hours after her mother was pronounced dead, somebody – some urchin – stole every garden gnome from the garden. Which was almost funny. But not quite.

Leigh is thirsty and needs a pee. Why is it always like that? Stupid body should re-route the stupid plumbing – one to the other – so she can get a decent night’s sleep.

Wishes her bladder was the size of a bin-bag, and that all dreams be about Mr Depp in that pirate cozzy, and not that shitty dream about that big, old chair.

Villains marching, hand on plough, turning through a door.

The wrist says: 4:27am.

Sees only those blinking numbers as, bumps elbows and knocks head, exits wrong side of bed. Wall in way.

Now standing in Gia T, Miffy knickers and well-woolly socks. Shivering.

4:28. Zero seconds. Right on the transitional minute.

And this? Rucksack packed; sits on the bedside cabinet. When did she do that?

Forget stupid luggage. Doing the dance. Must go pee. Or… will… go… in… own… socks…

Falls over a pair of purple Doc Martin’s; stands on a mobile phone charger; steps on a runny piece of soap on the bathroom floor. Skids a little. Her mother was scrupulously clean. These are Leigh’s daylight errors, come to haunt the night.

Christ. Foot hurts. You don’t want to stand on a plug.

White plastic, pink flesh. Soooooo good.

Giant clock goes, BONG!

Says F-word. Climbs back into skin.

Left dangling on the toilet pan. So thirsty, sucking tooth enamel for moisture. Has a nagging feeling supposed to be meeting someone, but can’t think who. 4:31am. Depp married.

Must drink. But not from funky toilet tap.

Heads downstairs, hitching a clump of sock from under her arch – the sticky, soapy patch is coming back to hex her every step. Never mind. Should warm up soon enough; or it’ll go black and furry like a gum spot.

Here’s that annoying clock, halfway down the steps: a big grandfather job, made from laminated plastic. Strikes every half hour, and on the hour, and – presumably because Mum anticipated being hard of hearing in the afterlife – you can hear it right across the street, let alone in the next, eternal dimension.

Leigh pauses by the living room door. It opens into a blank space. And it is here she treacherously thinks:  Stupid cow, falling over like that.

Christ, Leigh! I can’t believe you just shat on your mother!

Remorse, moments later. Selfish, then. Just tired. Now what, darling? Glass of warm milk like Mamma used to make? That what life comes down to?

Either way, it moves on.

Despite being a ‘bad person, who’ll probably go to hell’, Leigh tromps on through the living room doorway, intent on milky goodness. But the dire feeling of being left behind remains – like a petulant child alone in a shopping centre with no toys to throw.

This room is full of shadows – tasteless shadows inhabited by crystal unicorns, frilly dolls; the spider-work of lace on the TV as much icing sugar explosion as the ectoplasmic remains of the dead. There is silence here; a space with her mother’s name on it.

By the fire – a three bar gas fire, that should by-all-rights be condemned – is her mother’s pride and joy. Imagine Artex on the ceiling, and walls of seaside-sick-yellow with a pinch of mother-of-pearl pink, and a carpet that makes your finger tips crackle with phosphorous fire if you touch something metal after shuffling across it, and then… this chair, high-backed, gothic, gnarly with curvaceous carvings, that twitter and swoop and cluster and ripen, while the back, and seat and rests are taught tapestry, woven into scenes of castle life: slaying the dragon, beating the villains, supping from the pees pudding pot. To put this in context, there are three other chairs in the room that all came from Milkley’s Bargain Hut down at ‘the front’, for £3.50 each.

So, a little bit of Adams Family, after all…

Shadows stick to that chair. She can just about make out her mother’s cushion propped in the well of its armrests, that follows a design for ‘expert embroiders’ featured in Women’s Weekly. Letters A-Z and ‘No place like home’, with a rather tatty ‘p’. That indeed is true – this really is no place like home, up to and including, that problem ‘p’.

“Speak to me,” says a soft exhalation.

She finds herself asking, “What?” before even realising she, herself, has spoken. The room is resiliently quiet. It smells of stale chip fat and cigarettes.

Then, rising like a draft…

“Speak to me. But ask me no favours and I’ll tell you no lies.” Laughter.

Hands clasped under her bottom lip. In vibrato: “Mum?”

There is a very long silence, and then…

“No. Just a passenger.”

Silence once more.

She feels like a fool standing in a cluttered room, looking, now, to the chair. This is the centre of her prickled neck, and blood-carried chill that makes her knees ache.

There enthroned in shadows, flickering like an inverse of fire, but gathering form from those tattered shades around the cushion, the tall back – a graceful thing designed for repose in front of a massive hearth of cyclopean scale – a brutish man, part animal, resolves in the corner of her eye. A musty smell; a cough (her own).

Otherness settles in that chair, flexing god-knows-what, and, despite the horror of it – so abstract, she isn’t at all scared – she meets its eye as the thing looks round. It’s as real as a ten pence piece or a can of cola, beaded with cooler condensation: skin and bones and flesh of shadow; reality cut around with scissors. It sits as a prince, solid, unforgiving – haughty, perhaps – but interested. Very interested.

Its words wander along, like fingers on a page: “Sometimes, when a door closes, something else slips through…”

Leigh raises a hand. Or at least, her fingers twitch to do so.

Instead, it is the voice that moves to a higher register. “No. Not your damned ‘Devil’. And, no to being able to read your sticky, little mind.” The darkness crinkles in merriment. “Or can I?” Then it snickers until the red thrum of it fades, like wine slopped down the side of a crypt.

Horns? Some sort of faun? She’s seen The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Cramped cinema; stank of popcorn.

And it’s sitting in that stupid chair.

“Ta da! It’sfor Vincent Price, innit?”, she’d said. “Should he ever have occasion to, you know, pop round. Lovely, innit? Wha-da-ya-think?”

Impish. Insane. Always with the bargains. Gee, thanks, Mum. It…uh… goes with the baroque curtains? Or maybe, some other frickin’ flat!

Life over. This is it.

Goat breath huffs out. “No, not death.”

There is a creak, as the shadow sits forward, face, lips, not present and yet, a haze close to the edge of that high carved back, speaking into the light – moonlight, which is no light at all; to some, only darkness. The ebony twist of a beard.

“I sit. I wait. To observe, smell, conjure. Laugh at folly. See with your human eyes.”

No, not human. That musky smell, like ancient forest.

Past pictures come with clarity. The tapestry, she can see, is feverishly embroidered and emboldened with a picture: a horned beast, resplendent; a throne ten feet high. While men, line up and cross a door stacked with blazing wood, Bayeux-style.  Norman writing rambles along the contours of a warning, in shaky, penitent stitching.

“Your mother, a collector?”

There is no sweeping hand, but a sweeping gesture none-the-less.

Unaccountably, she’s embarrassed by the plastic guddle; the sparkly gifts of the shopping channel.

“Ask.”

She looks around. There’s nobody else in the queue. Out in the hall, comes the deep tick-tock of Taiwanese manufacture in that tinny clock, which is all grandiose façade. No pressure, then.

Leigh breathes in, curves her lips around some vowel or other.

“No, not that.” Comes that hushed, wind-thrown blade.

“Hu.” She blinks in surprise. Frowns. Mouth open, to…

“Or that.”

An imagined hand waves, revolving from the elbow; a royal exhortation. Bring it on, it says. The real question.

Leigh frowns, bunches fists. “I want,” – a shadowy chin lifts in interest – “to… I want to. I want…”

“Enough!” Wood pops at unsettled seams. “Oh, Leigh. Adventure never proclaims itself! Never at a time of your ease-and-choosing. Think upon all your most essential changes. Which were announced politely? Which, just when you were ready? No. I am humbled, to bring you fear, trauma and uncertainty. Something new. And the price? Why, a slight companionship on the road, is all. Any memories, pack and bring them as you will.”

Was it just her, or did that sound entirely suspect?

And yet, why is it she wants to do whatever it says?

6 comments

1 Steve Green { 05.14.11 at 3:33 pm }

When I first started reading this I felt amusement at her splintered thoughts, and little accidents, but the amusement turned to chill when she went downstairs.

To me, horror always works at its best when placed in mundane surroundings.

I think I would take a hammer to that clock too. 🙂

2 Stephen Hewitt { 05.20.11 at 12:14 pm }

@Steve — that mix between humour, ‘waking thoughts’ and horror was tricky, so hopefully it all worked together. Introducing a non-standard sentence construction to mirror her waking thoughts was a bit of an angst-ridden experiment, but I think I got it to readable. That clock actually exists… Or at least, a version of it, in a nearby flat. I’ll be dropping the chair around to them, tomorrow 😉

@John — a very poetic critique. The laughter lingers, but the darkness has gone travelling…

@Icy — I love it when that happens. Good old ‘synchronisity’. Never heard of The Queer Chair, but will now be forced to investigate. I love Dickens. Glad you enjoyed the wander through the house.

@Joan — I’m glad you picked up on that ‘I’m a bad person, I’ll probably go to hell’ line. And yes, the character in the chair could be any of several things. And may be entirely pleasant or not. With the rucksack, and a few other details, I wanted to make sure the first half of the story connected with the second, and, having stood on all manner of stuff getting up in the middle of the night, I figured poor Leigh was going to get it… right in the feet.

@Lara — really glad you liked those short quirky, sentences. Like I mentioned to Steve, I just wasn’t sure that folks were going to be able to scan that stuff. So very happy it seems to have worked.

3 John Xero { 05.14.11 at 7:50 pm }

Ah, subtle, stolen shudders… So, so good. Well played, well paced. Delightful to dally in the darkness of it all…

Lulls you into a false sense of security and leaves you with lingering dark laughter… =)

4 Icy Sedgwick { 05.16.11 at 12:52 pm }

It’s odd timing that I’d read this now, since I just read Charles Dickens’ ghost story, The Queer Chair, yesterday! You painted the perfect picture of the house, especially the type of carpet. Full of such rich detail.

5 Joan { 05.16.11 at 2:34 pm }

Well-crafted in the build up from the familiar (who hasn’t had to get up in the night at some point for a pee?) to the abstract of the beast – the fact he is abstract somehow making him more acceptable – as though she’s been waiting for him all along. The detail in it is good – you think nothing of the packed rucksack until, at the end, it makes sense. There is the fear of hell – she’s been bad for thinking negatively about her mother – but he isn’t the devil. He says so … but can he be trusted? Could you ever trust the devil? The story is open to interpretation, which is also a good thing.

6 Lara Dunning { 05.20.11 at 4:03 am }

Nice detail. Loved the short and quirky sentences of minute thoughts and events. Chilling.

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