The Red Scarf – Short Story (Part 6) END

The Red Scarf

By J. A. Weymouth [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

The crickets sang in the hot summer night within the overgrown lawn outside a sorrowful looking house.  Any onlooker passing by would see that it was in a despairing state so unfit that it was to the point of decay.  Everything about the house needed urgent attention as the paint cracked flinchingly back from age, weather-beaten and worn.  The dried paint appeared like rotten potato peels revealing the naked wooden boards underneath.  The wood was in rot from previous pests that had been eating away at the house’s exterior.

Any person passing by would see this house and then somehow a cold shiver would crawl up their spines, even in the hot weather, making them feel ill at ease.  This happened so often, for so many years that people began to avoid the house altogether and even children claimed it haunted.

No one really ever saw the man who lived in that house.  People were only aware that someone was living there because of the rare chance of seeing spying eyes peering through moth eaten curtains staring out as passers walked by, and the newspaper pile that every once in a while was cleared away could anyone who cared enough tell that someone still lingered inside that rotten house.

There was one who was still brave though, amongst all the neighbours and curious onlookers.  Maggie White had grown up in that neighbourhood knowing all about the “haunted house” that all the other children had been so frightened of during their childhood.  But Maggie was never afraid.  In fact, she was the first and only child of that neighbourhood who could walk up to that house and touch the front door with her index finger in the middle of the night in a dare, and walk back to her friends, and then becoming, the coolest and bravest kid on the block.

Years later, as an adult, Maggie worked in that house and had begun to learn all about the agoraphobic old man who lived inside the rotten house.  Like the house he lived in, there was something disturbing about the strange old man. A sinister feeling would hang in the air as she nursed, cleaned and cooked for him and even Maggie, the coolest and bravest kid on the block, learned to grow wary.

She had been appointed in his care only a few days ago, but even then she started to feel uneasy.  He was impatient and rude, and although he never touched her (unlike some of her previous patients who would occasionally tap her on the fanny as she worked around them) the way he would look at her, unnerved her – a look she could only compare with when a man would greedily stare at a woman in a certain, chilling way.  Maggie could only cast this thought away, as he was still an old, harmless man and in great need of her care.

One day, something happened that she never thought would happen while she worked in this particular house.  Someone had knocked on the door.  Surprised and also very curious to know who would visit this loner, she answered the door, thinking it was probably just the postman but instead she found a young man, handsome with kind, blue eyes.  Was he his son?  She wondered.  She didn’t think the old man had even married.  Or was it a love affair?  Too lost in her own thoughts she forgot to greet the young man.

‘Excuse me?’ he queried hesitantly.

Shaming herself for forgetting her manners, Maggie apologised.  ‘I’m very sorry! I’m not used to strangers knocking on this door.’

He smiled in amusement but the smile turned strangely, as if it was a strain for him to hold.

‘It’s not I problem. I’ve only come here to drop this off.  Does Robert Cutteridge still live here?’

‘Yes, of course.  Can I help you?’ The man did not reply he only stood there, pensively, however, his body language suggested that he was not comfortable standing where he was.  Despite the large box that he was holding, it did not seem to Maggie that it was heavy.  Something else must have been making him feel awkward.

‘Would you like to come in?’ Maggie invited hoping this would ease him.  Instead, this suggestion only seemed to agitate the man even more so.

Maggie was about to say something until Robert called out to her, demanding that she attend to him.

At the sound of Robert’s voice, the stranger shoved the box straight into Maggie’s arms, not forcefully but enough to surprise her.

‘I’m sorry,’ he apologised quickly and continued to speak desperately, ‘but could you please give this to Mr Cutteridge?  Say that it is from an old friend.’

With his last word he smiled, but it was not a warm smile.  And then he left before Maggie could organise her thoughts enough so that she could reply.  Usually, she was so quick-witted and hot tempered that even she was shocked at her own loss of words.

When she looked up again he was gone.

‘Maggie! MAGGIE!’ Robert yelled once more and before he could scream her name again (in that demanding tone that she hated) she returned bitter-sweetly agreeing to make him a cup of tea.

After handing him his tea, Maggie shared her encounter with his strange visitor.

‘Well, who was it?’

After she explained that the man didn’t give her his name and that he only told her that the package was from “an old friend” Robert simply sneered and whispered under his breath that she was useless.  Maggie said nothing but rolled her eyes and placed the box onto his bedside table.

‘That’s the end of my shift, now, you know how to contact me if there is any need.’ The old man ignored this as she left, and stared at the curious package, his attention fully absorbed.

Robert Cutteridge, 82 years old, could count the seconds from the moment his heart stopped.  When he opened the box, to find the shards of a broken mirror he was dumbfounded at the sight of it at first, until he cut his finger on one of its pieces as he held it up to see.

It all came flooding back – when the blood dripped down, sleeking the edge of the shard in deep crimson – the moment he raped and then murdered his pretty Fanny Fahrner over fifty years ago.  His heart stopped and there was no one to hear his death cry, no time to reach the phone.  He was dead in an instant.

The next morning, Maggie would find the old man missing from his bed. Instead, what lay in his place, was a fully formed, magnificent mirror, the most beautiful mirror Maggie had ever seen.  And no one would ever find his soul, screaming from within its pretty frame.

***

END

Thank you to everyone who has supported and commented throughout this story. I know it has taken a long time but I wouldn’t be able to do it without the encouragement from everyone.  Thank you!

The Red Scarf – Short Story (Part 5)

The Red Scarf [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

By J. A. Weymouth

There was an eerie silence about the derelict mansion when Henry returned.  Its stillness unnerved him.  It was in the trees, the overgrown shrubs – throughout the quiet grounds.  A curious sense lingered over him as he stepped towards the fallen passageway.  It was like stepping into a graveyard.

Henry felt unsure and wondered whether he should visit the room – the one with the mirror and ghost he thought was imprisoned inside it.

After avoiding the familiar traps that littered the path before coming into the room, he entered and realised how quiet the room was inside, almost peaceful yet incredibly lonely.

When he saw her he didn’t think it frightening like he thought it would be.  Instead, it was sad seeing her.  It was just like waking from a dream – or remembering one.  He wasn’t sure.  Her image was still smudged, blurred as it had been in the photographs so that it seemed to him that she was neither in this world nor in the world of the mirror. She was in between.  Her being struggled with the idiosyncratic existence as the mirror had trapped her soul but she was meant to be free.  It appeared to Henry as he looked closer that her image softly vibrated, struggling with her entrapment.

Henry trailed his fingers against the soft surface of the mirror then rested his palm over the place where her hand had touched.  At this, it was as if Henry could feel the restlessness of her soul.  He had realised that it had only taken a moment for each of their souls to coincide with the unique rhythm of both worlds connecting as each one touched the other.  Then, a strange sensation overwhelmed him as if being pulled by an unknown force.

The feeling lasted only a second but Henry moved by a strange urge to turn and find the girl standing behind him.

She was watching him as he stood to see her with a curious expression decorating her face.  Henry thought her pretty with her auburn hair tied up in a neat bun, the red scarf placed gently around her neck though hiding a shameful secret, and saw in her deep, brown eyes that still looked at him cautiously but with the same sadness that he found in those pictures he had seen yesterday.

He was about to speak but she moved towards him, very suddenly, even though she was standing as far as the other side of the room.  She had only taken one step and already she was in front of him with her hand open towards him in front of his face.  The movement was graceful and with her hand nervously meeting his cheek she spoke.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said with a displaced, little voice, ‘but I have to show you.’

And she did, with her touch, her memories passed onto him of the night she had died.

It was unbearable.  It was as if he stood by her side during her traumatic encounter with the older, vile man that had been chasing her and, in the end, had finally caught her.  He could not move as he flowed with every quickened step she took to get away from the man.  Henry barely was able to glance around to absorb their surroundings: forties London, war posters, apathetic scattering looks, and deafening alarms.

Then it came to her rape. Seeing everything, breathing, smelling the sweat on his face as he lay on top of her, then the blood… the blood as he scratched at her throat with a piece of the shared mirror; the vile man’s last pleasure as he finished with her.  Henry had absorbed all her senses, all her feelings, becoming her and it was too much to bear and yet, as he felt like he was going to pass, everything went black.

He woke to her hand on his chest.  It seemed too cold as he woke, and yet he was in sweats and shaking all over with the feeling of shamefulness from not being able to help the girl.  This feeling overwhelmed Henry for a long moment even though he knew that she was already dead and it had all been a memory.  With a sigh, and as he grasped the girl’s open hand to help pull him to his feet, he stood to find the girl gone and standing in front of the mirror, in the derelict room alone.

Angry, he took the mirror from its hanging, finding a sharp, dislodged piece of wood protruded from the collapsed ceiling; he swung and with great force and empathy, smashed the mirror against it and it shattered into a million pieces.  Henry fell to his knees and cried.

As he composed himself, and feeling somewhat at peace, he noticed a small light shining in his eyes.  The light irritated him.  Henry found that a piece of the broken mirror shone a new, morning sun into his eyes and picked it up to stop it from reflecting it into his eyes.  Before he threw the piece away, he noticed a scarlet thread attached to its side.  He picked at the thread and as he brought it in for a closer look, it vanished into dust.  Its scarlet particles shone like red glitter in the sunlight.

A soft breeze carried like a whisper and Henry then knew that the girl had passed with a final thank you in the wind.

~~~

Final part to come soon ~

The Red Scarf – Short Story (Part 4)

The Red Scarf [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

By J. A. Weymouth

The next day, Henry took the newly developed photos and began studying each subject to choose those that stood out and toss out some that he was unsatisfied with.  Those that he would decide to put up as part of his exhibition he started preparing them for larger sizes and the frames that he would later fit them in.

While Henry had placed his prized photos under the enlarger he noticed something odd about one of the photos that he had taken from his first photo shoot.  What he had noticed could not be possible.  At first he thought it was the speck of dirt or spot of light he tried to ignore while he had been trying to take the photo.  What appeared to be a disturbance of the lens was in fact a blur or a motion construed by something in the picture.  As he stared at the image, he slowly began to understand the shape – a blur of movement, like someone turning away.  Faint and distant.  It seemed to Henry like an outline of something small but distinct but almost as if it were a shroud of light broken by shadow.

As Henry stared closer, he began to think of it as something like a figure with the soft outline of someone’s head, crouched over in the very far corner of the room, as if in a strange way, that it was hiding itself from the mirror.

Adjusting the enlarger, and focusing the lens more, he then removed the photo and cleaned it for a better look.  It was distracting him.  But it was no good.  The motion was still there and as he looked at it closer, he realised the shape that formed in the picture had now moved.  The faint outline of a feminine figure became the centre of the photo.  She had raised her head as if something had caught her attention.  The movement was a blur but the gesture had never been so clear.

Henry was positive that he had been the only one present in the room at the time so it was impossible that someone else had been there at the same time as him.  He was sure since the door was the only entrance to the room, or at least, he thought he was sure.

Henry took the next photo and placed it in the enlarger.  It was another photo of the mirror.  Again he sees the disturbance in the picture.  He was sure it was a girl because now, unlike before, he could see the girl’s face.  It frightened him, the way the girl’s face seemed to move in his mind, but obviously it wasn’t possible.  Her figure in the picture seemed somewhat blurred still even though he could clearly see her as if someone had dragged their figure over her image, smudging the outline of her.

Something unnerving and cool coiled around his stomach as an idea throbbed inside his mind, itching to be thought. Soft drops of sweat beaded his forehead as Henry glanced over the photo again.  It couldn’t be.  He was certain that he had been the only one in the room at the time.  Not only that but he was sure the girl had moved, which was impossible.

The photo shook.  No, not the photo but his hands.  The idea that something that was not supposed to be there, in the picture, had moved physically, changing from one frame to another.  The impossible became more absurd with every new photo as he watched and trembled all over with each picture he picked up and put it through the lens.  Henry felt like screaming.  She was standing still, slightly turned but now facing him.

Each photo depicted her movement as she appeared closer to him.  Henry took the photos away as the image of her was large enough for him to see without the lens.  He saw her and realised, beginning to understand the unreal.  Hands still shacking, he looked at her closely and watched (still half denying and half accepting) her move before his eyes.  She appeared to struggle with her movement.  The outline of her stilled then blurred and stilled again in quick vibrating motions which gave Henry the impression of a hummingbird’s wings fluttering so quickly that it had stilled itself into a slow motion of beauty.  It was beautiful but frightening.  Her elegant neck twisted against the red of the slash in her throat – her eyes deep with despair.

The idea lashed out at him as he realised what this was.  He bit his lip as he thought the word.  Ghost.

Fear subsided as he held her picture and realised something.  The picture was empty.  He had blinked only for a second.

***

Henry had awoken the next day to red with the memory of the girl and her bloodied neck.  She had haunted him in his dreams that night but was not completely certain if the whole ordeal had been real, not unlike his nightmare.

Flicking through the photographs with a desperate need to confirm this ghost Henry tried to find his proof but found only pictures of a derelict room.  The pictures that had once been the photographs of the mirror were now blank.  All he had left was the reminiscence of a mirror in empty pictures.  There were no signs of the girl.

Starting to doubt himself, Henry went to the bathroom and washed his face.  The ice cold water jolted his senses but did little to remove the unnerving feel he had since the night before.  He was sure it was real, as any shocking truth could be.  He would have liked to deny it but the flashes of the girl’s disfigured neck had seemed as an all too real thing – and the insurmountable sadness that he felt from her.

He decided there was only one way to confirm it by going back to the mansion and seeing it with his own eyes.

~~~

The Red Scarf – Short Story (Part 3)

The Red Scarf [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 4]

By J.A Weymouth

Outside the old mansion, a car pulled in.  The radio’s I need you tonight blared from the car and echoed throughout the courtyard, interrupting its peace.  Henry sang innocently to the song’s lyrics, (“I need you tonight! Because I’m not sleeping.  There’s something about you girl, it makes me sweat…”) as he stretched out a map over the dust board, tentative of his current location.

During his stay in the nearest town, he had asked around, investigating the town’s local ghost stories.  He had heard from friends back home that the area left remembrance of the war.  Shattered buildings in ruin and homes forgotten in their despairing state, he had hoped for something he could work with.  As a photographer Henry found beauty in such derelict sadness and therefore found himself at present outside an old mansion with its garden overgrown, vines entangling the once proud structure now crippled by an unpleasant past.

Henry had been guided by a local, hoping he had followed true to the woman’s directions.  When he arrived, despite being unsure if this was the correct place, the mansion appeared to fit the description and with a shrug he stepped out of the car.  Kit in hand he made a mental checklist and walked towards the gate.

It wouldn’t budge.  Henry attempted to climb the gate only to find himself entangled by persistent vines causing him to fall in a clumsy mess.  ‘Goddammit!’ he cried as he ripped the weeds away from his ankles.  Rubbing the soreness from his backside as the frustration encouraged him to try again, Henry estimated the complicated entry.  While thinking about how he could climb over he came up with an idea and then checked his camera to see if it was damaged and then made his move.

After successfully climbing over the gate (by the third try), he pulled himself together and set foot towards the mansion but stopped in front of its doors.  The gate wasn’t the only thing that had been covered in vines and age.  Half the building had been torn away from decay or the by the effects of war.

The doors were sealed and while he checked to see if there was another entry he realised it was no good.  Window ledges were laden with broken glass but inside he could see the last remnants of a home; lost.  Bits of furniture still scattered one of its rooms.  A glimmer of light shone and reflected from the decaying room that drew his interest.

Henry pried the sealed door open with a force he didn’t know he had in him.  He succeeded with a final pull.  Half the front door came with it which took him by surprise and made him tumble backwards, though he was able to quickly catch his feet.  He made his way into the hallway.

The mansion was grand indeed and Henry couldn’t help but pull out his camera and start clicking away.  What especially had moved him was the oddly placed stairway that opened itself to the rooms above, its stance still eerily maintained since its younger days.

Henry went up stairs, careful to avoid the cracks missing floorboards and nails waiting for a nasty trip, though just as the thought passed and was about to reach the next step his foot clipped a jagged edge causing him to lose his footing and fall face first onto the landing.  Dust blew up in his face as he landed and coughed, particles floating up into the air and glittered in the sunlight.  The air flowed into the gap of a door – ajar – drawing his curiosity to the room inside.  He entered to find himself in a place he had earlier seen from outside.

The collapsed ceiling appeared in a more advanced state of decay then what Henry had seen from the courtyard; glass scattered across the floor, glistening in the sunlight as the last fragments of a window and as he looked down the wood by his feet appeared more rotten then what was left in the building.

Henry walked into the room careful to avoid the debris and the sharp, smirking edges of the broken glass.  He removed his camera from his back-pack and organised himself for some shots.  The room was long and quite narrow as he meandered around with the camera to his eye, the lens amplified his environment.   The same vines that tripped him out front had covered themselves around half the room.  Pepper green wallpaper still maintained some of its colour in the corners.  He could tell that this place had once been a grand room indeed.

He turned to take photos of the door from the way in and found something he had surprisingly missed.  A lone mirror stood proudly in dust and dirt like everything else but fully intact.

The preposterous mirror appeared out of place as well as a good portion of the room surrounding the mirror remained unscarred bar a few pieces of glass and tattered furniture.  There were no cracked floorboards or debris lying at the foot of the mirror and the paint had not peeled back from age.  Only this area of the room and the mirror remained pristine.

Henry went over to inspect the mirror.  Stroking its golden, elegant frame he pondered over its mystery and wondered how it could survive the devastation that surrounded it.  The perfect mirror merely glimmered in silent response.

The mirror became the subject of his work.

Henry tried to take the perfect shot only to end up frustrated.  As he was trying to take photos of the mirror there had been a speck of dust or a spot light which obstructed his focus of the subject.  Giving up, and with more photos then he expected Henry left the mansion to move onto his next destination unsatisfied and hoping for better luck.

~~~