There is no greater gift, than that of reciprocation.
Many an hour did pass as I sat with the barkeep in heated discussion about my potential staying in the spare bedroom adjacent to his; much too cluttered it was, though! And in no way would someone as respectable as Edward Potts perform such a task as to empty it!
Having had my fill of whiskey and conversational monotony, I slid back on my stool, rose, and made for the exit, sharpish – so to convey my indignation. Only one option remained; to the Andersons! – a small, quaint bunch, why, I’d no concerns as to whether they would allow me at least a brief weekend visit. Reasoning for such a visit, and at such a late hour (it was almost dawn) would have to be decided on once I had arrived.
How troublesome the journey was; blazer torn and trousers muddied, I half-expected the Andersons to slam the door shut in my face! I can’t imagine I was a feast for the eyes. Instead, I was met with tired but concerned chubby faces, (for the pigs were ‘big uns’ this time of year), who were insistent on my staying being that of a much lengthier one.
“Goodness! You look as though you’ve seen a ghost! No! Been chased by said ghost! Come inside, come inside! What brings you here at a time like this? Were you being followed?”
Overwhelmed by the onslaught of questions, I found myself giving such false replies to this interrogation; a murder, I had witnessed a murder! My wise old landlord, struck down in his prime! How unjust! And so I fled; the Anderson’s humble farmhouse seemingly the safest place to lay my head without fear of being found. My, oh my! I was so startlingly convincing, even I was beginning to believe my lies…but Mr Anderson’s concern dripped off his sweaty, mud-laden face, paving the way for disbelief.
“Mr Austin, I have reason to believe you are inebriated. I can smell it on your very breath.”
“Oh, I can assure you Mr Anderson that is not at all the case.” I told him. “On fleeing, I bumped into a childhood acquaintance, Mr Potts, who, after contacting the local constabulary and informing them of the horrific circumstance, tried to calm my nerves with a single serving of whiskey, charcoal-mellowed twice-over. It had little to no effect. By any standards it may well have had the adverse effect! I could not linger much longer so near the scene of the crime; not with a murderer on the loose! Hence, I am here, shaken and sober, I assure you.”
Mrs Anderson’s look of displease with her husband’s accusation was enough for him to drop his concerns, for now, though he still looked dissatisfied, very much so. That night I drifted into a deep slumber to the song of an arguing married couple. As for the following night, well, after the departure of the persistent and oh so arrogant Constable Biggins my ears were blessed with the muffled screams of the recently widowed Mrs Anderson.
It would be an age before the authorities returned to the farm, suppose they even did. Constable Biggins was more than taken with my woeful retelling of that awful, awful night, though he did request I make a visit to the station for a written statement. ‘Standard procedure’, I was informed.
Mrs Anderson proved to be a nuisance, a noisy one at that. Beside her lay the empty vessel of her husband. His tongue cut, for he ought to have known his accusations would not be met with smiles or with warmth, and his cold dead eyes fixated on the rotting wooden beam above him. Wrists and ankles bound, her husband’s bloodied handkerchief a quarter of the way down her throat, Mrs Anderson’s insistence on waking the dead with her muted pleas only aggravated me further. The sheer volume! Intolerable it was!
Honouring my romantic tendencies, with great vehemence I plunged the very blade used to free Mr Anderson of his life into the stomach of his doting wife. Her watery eyes darkened and it chilled me to my core to note the passing resemblance to…no! I tore the blade from her gargling innards and cast it beneath her left eye, forcing it into the socket and prying upwards, attempting the fling the ghastly sphere right out.
Mrs Anderson’s gasps rendered my skin a goose-pimpled painting, but they soon ceased. The sweat, it trickled down my face in streams of cooling relief. That was no mere coincidence, I tell you! The old man! The similarity was overwhelming. I had done the woman a service, freed her of his possession! In doing so, I had also done myself a disservice. The place, figuratively and literally speaking, was a bloody mess, and so began the painstaking process of removing any evidence of foul play. Should the walls speak of what they saw, why, I would have torn this place down!
On completion, the Anderson’s lay mummified in rolls of bedding beside the door. Hauling Mr Anderson over my shoulder, I haphazardly made my way down the warped, seemingly ancient stairs, who in turn gave agonising moans at the prospect of having to support the weight of their ‘big-boned’ master. I propped his corpse against the wall and let out a chuckle – why it looked as if he was very much alive and well, having stumbled in late one evening, passed out, merry as an Irishman! I can only imagine the hilarity coroners must have with the deceased.
Before I could tend to the merry man’s wife, I heard what I believed to be a young woman, sneezing. In unrivalled panic I hot-footed it over to the bedroom window to discover the aforementioned opening the front gate! Who on Earth could this be?
Dropping to my knees, I crawled across the room and to the staircase, looking down to the door, where the frosted windows either side, though obscured by a floral pattern, showcased this lady, who as far as I could tell, was frowning. She rapped her knuckles on the door, and then the glass, in such an aggressive manner that had I not seen her approaching, I would have mistaken the caller for a gentleman.
“Mrs Anderson? Why are there no lamps lit? Is everything alright? Whatever is the matter?”
With that, honey seeped from under the door into the hallway and in turn began dripping from the ceiling, coating my ears with dulcet tones and most agreeable harmonies. Her voice! Good heavens, I thought, I’m in love. Oh, but if this mysterious visitor were to know of my deed…this cannot be!
I scampered down the stairs and dragged Mr Anderson into the next room, scouring the premises for a glimmer of hope. This came in the form of a small cupboard beneath the staircase, in which I promptly and with great haste rammed his bloated corpse and shut the door. It was a tight fit but it would have to suffice for the time being.
“Mr Anderson? Is that you? I implore you, answer me…you’re beginning to worry me!”
Blood rushed to my groin as her voice encased my being in a warm glow. I threw my blazer, now sprinkled with scarlet, into the dining room.
“Shall I call for help? Please! Answer!”
Of all the misdeeds, opening the door to this ‘fine’ lady I hold amongst the most gross of all, the reasoning for which I shall divulge as my tale progresses.
A stern look of confusion and harsh suspicion took hold of her. Like a porcelain doll falling from the mantelpiece and crashing to the floor, shards careering in all directions, was her face on seeing the cupboard under the stairs burst open and the body of Mr Anderson tumble out with a sickening crunch. The blighter landed on his face, his wrist also snapping under the strain of his enormous lifeless mass. The caterwauling that followed was enough to turn even an iron-clad warrior into a catatonic shell of their former self.
It was with great hesitance that I gagged the poor creature; though civilisation was dead to the world (they ought to be, given the time) and many miles from the farmhouse, the potential for somebody out on a moonlit stroll in the countryside catching wind of what was happening was far too frightening to bear.
I spared her the upset of Mrs Anderson’s corpse and immediately escorted her to the barn. Using the soiled shirt of the late Mr Anderson, I began tying her dainty wrists to one of the support beams between two stables, though woodworms and damp would soon ensure it would be supporting no such thing in the near future. Something was not right in here.
It was a most grotesque and puzzling scene…all around us lay dead horses! In not one stable was there a live horse! I have my doubts as to whether the Anderson’s were neglecting the equestrians though. It was more than likely a result of this devilish winter we have been currently experiencing.
Her eyes…they were magnificent…innocence personified! Her pale skin dirtied by the scuffle, I approached her, so to clean her cheeks, but she winced, as though I would harm her. Tears ran down her cheeks, with such force and volume, I feared we would both meet our demise gasping for air as water filled our choking lungs. It was in this precise moment I fell in love with her.
June. After ensuring it was abundantly clear I was in no way responsible for the demise of these horses, despite a knowledge of what I had done to the Andersons, the remarkable lady believed me. Removing the gag, I had a wonderful conversation with her and she informed me her name was June Whittely. Miss June Whittely. What a beautiful name, my favourite month it just so happens!
It concerned me greatly that the poor lady would keel over from dehydration, not having drank anything since her departure. I would not be long, I told her, reassuring her of my return, lest she worry for my well-being. Near the barn grew a splendid arrangement of wildflowers, quite the display. I knelt down and picked a makeshift bouquet for June in the hope it would make her smile; I had yet to be graced with a smile. Oh, what I would have given…my very life!
The bouquet had an entirely different effect on my June. Once again, she frowned! Am I wrong in my thinking that women are fond of flowers? Especially when there is no expectation of a gift? I queried her bewilderment, her face contorted, as if I had just performed some horrendously inhumane act.
“There are people you can talk to…please, sir,” many, many more litres flowed down her face, “I won’t tell a soul! Just please, release me…I beg of you.”
Despite my usual countenance and inherent ability to hide irritation or a similar emotion, so to prevent an upset with a lady, I found myself unable to contain my annoyance. I threw down the flowers in disgust, questioning why in the name of God would she regard my affections as some sort of madness! From here on in, I became acquainted with the face of a beautiful, but nonetheless immeasurably dangerous weapon. A woman capable of lying.
It was as if she had placed a mask over the otherwise undeniably blameless June, thus concealing all evidence of that woman I had grown oh so fond of.
“Why…I. Sir, I cannot deny that your gift was that of a kind, sweet gentleman. But, how can I show my gratitude, bound to this beam? You know…sir, I find you to be the sweetest man I have ever known! Should you release me, I will, with no qualms, tell the town of my affections for you!”
This was a ruse; why continue to cry when blessed with the gift of romance?
“Your face tells an alternate story, my love.”
“No no! I cannot, I would not lie to you! Please. Just let me go. I won’t tell a soul of what has happened here! To Mr Anderson, the horses, I won’t!” Again with the tears. June was barely audible beneath her pathetic whimpering.
My veins coursed with a sudden loathing scorn, subsiding only as my attention was drawn to the pattering of nimble feet outside. It was nearly midnight, of that I was sure. I could not for the life of me ascertain any rational reasoning for this stranger’s arrival. A thief perhaps? Gagging June once more, I peered out from the stables to find, would you believe it, another lady, only this time, in search of her sister. This sister had supposedly spoken of an employment opportunity at the Anderson’s, to be discussed over dinner. Not having returned, she feared something was awry, given the murder yesterday. And what is your business here?
It struck me as odd, the sibling of such a well-mannered, beautiful woman being so upfront and doubting of me, and so I struck her between the eyes. Her nose, judging from the crunch and stream of warm blood running from her nostrils, was broken. With that, I gripped the intruder by the back of the neck and reunited the Whittely sisters.
Much like her sister, Cara, despite her intelligence, did not appear to find me all that attractive. Foul, she called me. A sadist, she proclaimed, as I tightened my belt around her wrists.
The two Whittely sisters, opposite one another, arms above their heads, screamed mercilessly as I sought a blade.
My dear reader, it matters not that a woman sports skin smooth as marble, when they, as in the case of the Whittely sisters, are rotten to the core. What good is beauty, if accompanying it is an air of arrogance, self-importance? Maybe true beauty is not recognisable by the beholder.
June Whittely’s beauty, and my appreciation of it, merely corrupted her, inflated her ego. She was far too beautiful to be seen beside an Austin. As I flayed the flesh from Cara Whittely’s face with careful precision, peeling back her mask and displaying to her self-obsessed sister the horrifying reality that we all share the same disgusting human form, an intricate mess of blood, bone and pulsing innards, June’s wailing failed to cease. Denial, it was. Complete and utter denial.
By Ryan Carrier