A 500 word short story from ‘Behind the plague door’.
Poe is asleep and dreaming.
A telephone bell rings in the large hall of an Edwardian house. As Poe picks up the black Bakelite handset electric light casts his shadow on the faded vermillion wall behind him. With the receiver against his ear he hears an incomprehensible voice distantly babbling from somewhere unfathomable. What are you trying to say? Poe asks.
The babble continues. Poe slams the handset back in the cradle as a Westminster doorbell chimes. He opens the front door. An elderly man, gallows white, stands shaking in a roaring wind. Dad is that you? Poe asks. The man’s ragged Harris Tweed overcoat flaps, cracking in the gale to reveal blue and pink striped winceyette pyjama bottoms held up with a length of sisal. His chest is a dense jungle of curly jet-black hair and his metre length Rasta beard whips and lashes all about him in the storm. He opens his mouth to speak; his lips move in silent slow motion. An elderly woman bursts out from the open flies of the old man’s flapping pyjama trousers as the wind whisks him away into the night.
The woman is no more than four feet tall with fiercely permed white hair, brown eyes, rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick. A fluffy caramel coloured, poodle-like knitted coat reaches down to her tiny shiny brown court shoes. She smells of paper and frantically chatters like toy clockwork teeth.
A small, white, barking dog, a Westie, scurries into the hall past the old woman who enters, and tries, but fails to slam the door behind her as a pack of barking Westies rush into the hall. The hall shudders. The front door bangs incessantly in the wind. The dogs bark.
As Poe struggles to shut the door against the wind another elderly woman, identical to the first, appears. Another materialises, identical to her predecessors. The woman duplicates. Replicates. Now there are five of them. The old women keep reproducing until the hall is full of them, their deafening chatter, and the barking dogs; the front door is invisible through the raucous throng.
They all smell of paper. Paper? How can that be? Terrified, Poe struggles for breath as he seeks to escape.
A sudden silence. Poe is alone in the hall.
The front door is now a red telephone box and within it a telephone rings. Poe enters the box, picks up the Bakelite handset and dials 999.
Poe awakens. Stares.
An elderly woman, carrying a Westie, stands at the end of his bed. She taps it on the end of its nose. Bad boy, your barking just has to stop. Look, now you’ve woken Poe.
Mum, what are you doing in my bedroom?
You were having another of your night terrors.
Why do you smell of paper?
You’ve forgotten, haven’t you, Poe? It’s the dog, love. It’s not me. It’s Arkwright. It’s not paper you can smell – he’s stuffed.
As his mother’s carer, he thinks, That’s two of us.
© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.