Not for the faint-hearted
A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA The Keith Of Mystery)
Part three – a flashback and a finale
Writers can manipulate time you know. Oh, yes, we have that ability. Whether it is the clichéd flashback or the premonition of things to come, writers have been playing with time for centuries. And so now, I am playing my very own time travellers card – I invoke my fictional temporal abilities and take you back to that fateful day when Horace met Flora…
— < ooo > —
Horace had but one thing on his mind, and it wasn’t pleasant. He knew what he wanted, and he knew he was going to get it. Flora was weak – just a girl. He was a man, a strong man, with the power and the strength, the desire and the lust – it all was boiling up inside him as he grabbed at Flora. Even when she went limp his urges did not subside as they might have done in many other men, no, he liked it, now she was totally helpless – a rag doll to do with as he willed.
Except… she wasn’t.
I suppose I should explain. On Hopeless, death was not necessarily the end – many dead people walked amongst the living (I say walked – it was more hovered really) and it wasn’t even particularly rare to encounter one. But Flora was a singular orchid, a mythical beast, an entity as rare as a truthful politician. Flora, through fate and circumstance, had, at some point in her past become one of the part-dead. Dead and living sharing the same body.
And now, in the midst of this turbulent event, the dead was loose. Moments after she went limp, and whilst Horace was deciding exactly how he was going to gratify his carnal desires, a creamy yellow mist formed around Flora’s body. Transfixed by this apparition, Flora still in his arms, Horace watched, unable to move, as the mist coalesced momentarily into the shape of a woman, and then without warning, rushed towards him.
Horace found himself laying the lifeless body of Flora carefully in a chair. Then he turned around and walked towards the door – except he didn’t, it wasn’t him, he wasn’t walking, his body was. Or something? In any event, his body seemed to be moving of its own volition. His brain lacked the ability to comprehend what was happening, to understand the nature of the fate that had befallen him. He walked through the open door of the cottage and up the path, then stopped, returned a few steps and carefully closed the door. Horace at this point was worried – he couldn’t seem to control himself, he seemed trapped in a body he no longer had control over. He felt a rising panic as his body marched along the coast road in pitch-black darkness. A few moments later, somewhere inside his head, he was screaming uncontrollably as he headed inexorably towards the sea.
Back at the cottage around an hour later, and you would have seen Flora up and about, laying out the clothes she needed to iron in the morning, making a small hot drink and then getting ready for bed.
— < ooo > —
If this were a film we might switch from black and white to colour, or have rippling waves across the screen, or perhaps a montage of newspapers whirling in and out of view. But as this is merely the written word, we shall keep it simple and just write: Let’s return to the present and Mr Forager’s quest for the truth.
— < ooo > —
It was a modest dwelling that Flora lived in – a well-worn paved path led to a wooden door with a small catch and a simple knocker. Clement raised the knocker and let it go two times. There were small noises inside and then the door swung open and Flora greeted him. For a moment the two regarded each other. Clement noticed her long blond hair neatly tied back in some way, the symmetry of her face and the grace in her fingers as she moved them unconsciously to flick back a stray strand of hair. Flora noticed his piercing blue eyes, his strong jaw and above that – a disarming smile. There was a slightly uncomfortable length of silence before Flora said, “Good day sir, what can I do for you?” Despite the woman’s innocent appearance and complete lack of any characteristic one would associate with danger, Clement, almost by force of habit, replied with a well-rehearsed white lie, “My name is Clement Forager, and I am looking for someone to do my laundry on a regular basis, and I was informed that you might be able to fulfil that role?”
“Of course, sir” replied Flora courteously, dipping slightly, “Do come in”.
Clement was ushered into the front room and a large chair set across from a smaller, less comfortable chair. He sat down and Flora settled opposite. Clement started by asking Flora some questions of her services, what services did she offer? How much would she charge? How long do things take and so on? He kept noticing her exquisite hands, the smoothness of her pale skin, and the engaging way she smiled at him every time she answered calmly and professionally. Then he asked how many others used her service and were there any customers who failed to turn up when they said they would?
She looked bemused but answered him; yes, occasionally customers would fail to turn up when they said they would, but then, that was the way of the world.
Clement changed tack and asked if she was married or did she perhaps have a jealous boyfriend. Suddenly Clement realised he was in trouble, Flora was clearly a very perceptive lady, and now her clear eyes were eying him carefully, reading him for any signs of his intentions.
“I am single Mr Forager, with no current entanglements. Perhaps I should be asking you these very same questions?” her eyes twinkled, “But I would mainly like to know why it is you ask?”
The intensity of those beautiful eyes made him pause. “I’m sorry, I suppose I should be honest with you – whilst you can probably tell I do need to find someone to do my laundry,” he glanced down at his clothes, whereupon she nodded and smiled, “…I have another reason for visiting you miss Flora.”
She leaned forward slightly, “Oh, and what would that be?” She seemed more curious than wary.
“I wanted to ask you about a number of young men who came to visit you” Clement began falteringly.
“What do you mean?” asked Flora with a somewhat cheeky smile, leaning back in her chair watching his reaction.
“No – not that, I mean…” Clement was flustered. He did not do flustered. What was going on? He composed himself. “A large number of men seem to have committed suicide over the past few months – and the one thing they all had in common was either visiting you or heading in this direction. I’m looking into the matter for… a… friend”
“Lots of men – and ladies, visit me – I do their laundry after all.”
“Well, obviously” continued Clement – why couldn’t he concentrate – this was so unlike him. What was it about this Flora? “But these men were not seen alive again.” That seemed to touch a nerve.
“Are you suggesting I murdered them?” her voiced raised ever so slightly.
“No, no, of course not” Clement blustered “But perhaps you could tell me when you last saw them and if they said where they were going?”
Flora studied Clement carefully for a moment and conflicting emotions welled up inside her.
“How rude of me Mr Forager” Flora suddenly said and stood up – can I get you a cup of something or a drink perhaps?
Clement instinctively rose up at the same time as Flora, and almost as instinctively replied “No – I am fine, thank you”. He was not just being polite – when offered a drink in Hopeless, Maine you never could tell what you might end up drinking, but in most instances, you would probably end up regretting it.
“Are you sure – I have some lovely sloe gin I made myself?”
Now that was an offer he found incredibly tempting but he was supposed to be getting answers here. “No, I am quite sure. I hope you won’t think I am being impolite.” He added.
She stepped towards him – “No not all. Perhaps if you let me have the names of these young men I might be able to tell you something about them?”
“Of course,” said Clement and dug the list out of his pocket, then handed it to her. Suddenly, he was very much aware just how close he was now standing to her – she smelt vaguely of violets, and lily of the valley, and lavender and sloes. It was a heady, almost intoxicating combination, and breathing it in, Clement was beginning to understand just how much he desired this angel, this beauty.
Flora noticed his gaze and then turned away quickly and read aloud from the list, “Horace D’Arblay?”
“Yes” replied Clement, “Bit of a bully by all accounts, seemed to drown himself after visiting you”. He stared at her intently, watching her eyes for any reaction. For a moment he thought he saw them grow in intensity, fiercer, keener, sharper – and then they just disappeared behind slowly lowering eyelids as her lifeless body fell towards him. He caught her in his arms and then… and then…
— < ooo > —
Perhaps at this point, I should talk about the weather in Hopeless, Maine which is wild, various and worthy of much study. We could discuss the unusually and specifically cruel breeding cycle of the Gnii or the best way to cultivate night potatoes and remain relatively sane. A long discussion of the geology of the island might prove informative don’t you think? Oh, and it never ceases to amaze me just how many types of cottage industries you might find on such a small island – I’m sure there is a book in there somewhere?
But surely, you would like to know about the sixth book across, on the third bookshelf up – in the bookcase on the left, in Reverend Davies study? Or perhaps the intimate details of the interesting way Mrs Beaten relaxes on the weekend? Or maybe, you’d be fascinated (or, more likely, appalled) to know just what is in Doc Willoughby’s cellar?
What’s that? You want to know what happened to Clement? Oh, I am so disappointed in you – wanting some sort of resolution – some sort of ending. Oh, alright then, I’d really hate to disappoint.
— < ooo > —
Clement awoke and rose from the bed, he felt completely refreshed, he couldn’t remember the last time he had slept that well. He dressed and went down the narrow stairs to the kitchen. His nostrils twitched as the smell of coffee (the good stuff) and some kind of bread reached them.
“Good morning Clement – I trust you slept well?” Flora greeted him with a warm smile and handed him a hot mug of brown heaven.
“Hmmm, like a log” Clement replied smiling back. “Thank you, for everything” he added.
She smiled sweetly and gave a little laugh, “I should be thanking you – it’s been a long time since I’ve had company. And such good company too!” Her eyes drifted away for a moment. Then she spun around and attended to the oven. “Sit down and I’ll bring you some food” she instructed.
Clement sat. He was happy. Happier than he had ever been. The funny thing was, he wasn’t really sure why. He wasn’t even sure how he got here. But he didn’t care – why question a good thing – a very good thing.
“Just think Flora,” He said and she turned to look at him as he continued, “Just think, if you hadn’t fainted, we would never have…” he didn’t finish, he couldn’t finish. He just couldn’t quite remember exactly what happened – only that it had been the experience of his life, and he smiled once more.
“A faint?” she responded laughing, “Oh my darling, that wasn’t a faint – it was a swoon!”