By Keith Errington
The Guttering Man was a familiar sight on the streets of the main town of Hopeless, Maine. If you had any sort of house in the town, it would have gutters, and if you had gutters, then you would need the Guttering Man.
You may imagine that this was a convenience. Why clean out your own gutters when the Guttering Man could come and do it for you? But, no, that was not the reason you needed the Guttering Man. You needed the Guttering Man for the same reason you needed the Cellar Scourge Man, or the Bush Bug Man; critters. Nasty, snappy, bitey, poisonous, scratchy, vicious, aggressive critters. Hopeless, Maine was full of them, dangerous varmints everywhere, the countryside, the town, your garden, your cellar and your gutters.
Granted, the critters living in your gutters were small, and in a certain light, maybe even cute. But woe betide you if you mistook their diminutive appearance to imply that they were no threat to you. It was not uncommon for house-owners wanting to skimp on outgoings to end up severely injured after trying to clear out their own gutters.
Mrs Asphyxia Jones, a widow of some seven years, had a particularly severe case of gutter critters – she knew this as she could hear at least one at night, scuttering along, scratching and scrabbling in a way that was guaranteed to get on anybody’s nerves. Have you ever run your nails along a blackboard? That was the level of raw, excruciating, bone rattling, teeth-on-edge, sounds that Mrs Jones was experiencing during what should have been her sleeping hours. She did what any sensible person did with this much provocation – she put out the word for the Guttering Man to come a calling.
The Guttering man was a big fellow, with broad shoulders, thickset, and with a demeanour that suggested he would take no trouble from anyone and would be equally happy to dish out trouble if needed. He arrived at Mrs Jones’ house with his customary critter sack, a range of tools – which may actually be better described as weapons – and a large carpetbag.
Out of the bag, he fished out a sturdy leather jacket along with a pair of gloves covered in mail. The other essential item was, of course, a ladder, which he set down firmly on the ground, propped against the eaves and tested a few times to ensure the ground was solid.
He turned to Mrs Jones before ascending the ladder, “Don’t worry Mrs Jones, I’ll have it sorted in no time, just you see. Yes. No problem. Now if I could just have payment before I start?”
Mrs Jones gladly paid him, as any amount of money was worth it to stop that incessant skittering at night and get a good night’s sleep.
The Guttering man climbed the ladder quickly and purposefully and surveyed the length of the gutter. It was full of leaves, as many gutters in the town were. Even if trees were not nearby, the winds were strong here and occasionally gutter critters would even collect leaves from elsewhere and make a nest with them in an otherwise clean gutter.
About a third of the way along – exactly where the Guttering Man expected it to be, was a large clump of leaves. Except these were not real leaves, they were breathing almost imperceptibly for a start. To his trained eye, the Guttering Man could tell that they were a slightly different hue to the other leaves in the gutter, a slightly different form, and there was something about the way they were stacked that was just a little too uniform.
“Found one, Mrs Jones,” the Guttering Man shouted down, “I suggest you get yourself inside and lock your doors. This could get messy.”
Mrs Jones grimaced and hastened to do as he’d suggested. From inside the house, she could hear a sudden bang, a frantic scrabbling, a loud, “Oof” from the Guttering Man, more scrabbling, more bangs, a loud, “Got yer!” and then finally, silence.
There was a knock on the door.
“All dealt with Mrs Jones. She was a feisty one, that one. Bit of a struggle to be sure, but safely in the sack now. You won’t have no more trouble.”
“Will they come back?” Mrs Jones asked.
“Well, there’s no guarantee, but I reckon you’ll be good for at least six months yet.”
Mrs Jones sighed. “Well, thank you. I’ll let you know if they return.”
“You do that Mrs Jones, and I’ll be straight round to sort ‘em out. You can bet on that.”
“Thanks again”, said Mrs Jones, waving the Guttering Man off.
The Guttering Man headed to the house of the Cellar Scourge Man, where, in a back room, a group of pest controllers of various types were sitting around chatting and drinking homemade beer. They nodded as he entered and sat down. He was handed a beer, and he rested it on the table next to him. He reached for his sack, opened it a little, and talked into it, “Hey, Beatrice, how are you doing? Would you like some leaves?”
He reached into his carpetbag and took out a handful of leaves from a pocket in the end, and proffered them to the sack. There was a sound like a deranged cat’s meow and then munching. “It’s alright girl, your children are safe – there’s plenty to eat in that gutter and I’ll return once they are of age to find them some new homes.”
The Bush Bug man addressed him then, “One of my customers went and got an axe and killed one of my best performers,” he said sadly, “What a brute. But how was your day? Did you have a good one?”
“Yes, thank you – a very good day indeed,” replied the Guttering Man, counting his money.