The Red Scarf
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.
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!