#Flashfiction – Carrot Ranch challenge: Bouquet
Charli Mills have provided the prompt bouquet for this weeks 99-word flash fiction prompt. You can join in the prompt here: https://carrotranch.com/2018/06/15/june-14-flash-fiction-challenge/. I am on a writing roll with my Ghosts of Bungay stories and this is what I came up with this week.
Under the stairs
In the deep shadows under the stairs you may catch a glimpse of him. The form of Rex Bacon, dangling from the end of the rope he used to hang himself. An upended stool and a bouquet of wild flowers lie at his feet.
The flowers were for this beloved wife. On his last day of life, he had left work early and gathered the flowers for her during his walk home. When he got home, he found them together. In his rage he had killed her lover and escaped to the local pub where he had hung himself.
The extended form – Under the stairs
She crept through the small, square door under the stairs. A little kid of nine years old. The wooden door fitted so precisely and neatly into the paneling that it difficult to spot if you didn’t know it was there. The small cramped entrance opened upwards, forming a sharply pointed wedge shape due to the steepness of the stairs above it. The small space creaked and settled around her.
She inched backwards and hit a pocket of cold air. Not just damp and cool but icy, as if she had stepped into a refrigerator. She pulled her coat tighter around her body and closed her eyes. Her long journey yesterday afternoon had worn her out and her limbs felt heavy and slow. The sound of running feet outside the door vaguely filtered into her mind, dull with fatigue, but she ignored it.
When she opened her eyes again, there he was, hanging from the supporting beams underneath the stairs. His face was black and his eyes were puffed shut. His tongue lolled out of his gaping mouth, like a black snake. He opened his eyes.
She couldn’t move, her limbs were frozen with shock.
Beneath his feet lay an overturned wooden stool and a bouquet of wild flowers.
He grinned at her. His awful maw opened and she could smell his fetid breath. It smelled of death and graves.
“I never meant this to happen,” he rasped. “It was her. She cheated.”
Betsy let out a shriek that could probably be heard for miles around. She backed out of her hidey hole, wrenching the door open. The bottom edge of the door squealed against the stone floor.
She jumped to her feet and ran down the corridor, straight into the group of children that were gathered just outside the doorway. They had finished their game of hide and seek and were wondering what had become of Betsy.
As he set off along the pathway towards the village, Rex Bacon began to feel a tingle of pleasant anticipation. It was a balmy summer afternoon and it was Saturday. He had finished his deliveries in record time and the Boss had let him finish early. He whistled softly as he walked. Tomorrow was the day of rest and he was on his way home to his beautiful wife.
All along the path, the wildflowers grew in a profusion of bright colours; blue, purple, yellow and white. He smiled as he bent and gathered a colourful bouquet for Katheryn, binding them together with the pink ribbon he kept in his pocket for this purpose.
At the top of the rise, he stopped. The woodlands fell away on both sides of the path. On the right he could see the village, with its haphazard cluster of wooden houses, the Church and the pub and on the other he could see his cottage – their cottage. It was tiny and ramshackle but it was theirs. It looked just the same as it had that morning when he left home before the sun rose. There was no difference, none at all.
He swiftly descended the slope and walked to the door, the summer crickets jumping around his shoes. “Katheryn,” he shouted joyfully as he entered the one roomed cottage and stopped.
Katheryn sat up in the bed in the corner of the room, her dark eyes wide with surprise. The blanket was pulled up over her chest and her shoulders, plump and white, rose above it. Next to her sat a young man, his dark hair vibrant and lustrous. His cheeks were flushed and his naked skin glowed with vigour and life.
“Rex,” said Katheryn. Her voice was soft and timid. Rex’s eyes rolled in their sockets, filling with hideous rage. He stumbled backwards towards the door, grabbing one of the stakes he had stored there in readiness for the weekend’s planting.
An inhuman force seemed to have taken over his mind, roaring in his ears, commanding him to destroy the figure in the bed. He lunged forward.
“Don’t!” screamed Katheryn while her lover’s face drained to an ashy white. He had not moved but was whining, deep in his throat. The sound seemed to go on and on.
Rex’s eyes locked with the man in the bed as he raised the stake over his head and brought it down with all his strength. Its sharpened end smashed into the man’s stomach, driving deep into the flesh. The man screamed. A terrible shriek of pain as Rex wrenched the stake out of the man’s body and plunged it into his neck. The shriek stopped; cut off suddenly as blood gushed from the gaping hole in his neck. The body toppled slowly sideways.
He struck out at Katheryn, hitting her in the face with all the force of his closed fist. He then turned and ran out of the cottage.
The bartender, Richard, looked up as Rex walked in a took a seat at the bar. The pub was empty as most of its patrons were still at work. He had never seen Rex in the pub during the afternoon before, in fact, he hadn’t seen Rex in the pub at all since he got married a few months back. He thought Rex look distracted and a little pale.
Richard watched Rex overtly as he sat on his stool, drinking one whiskey after another.
“Are you okay, mate?” Richard asked. Rex smiled, it was a horrible twisted smile, and looked at him out of eyes that looked years older than his actual age of eighteen years old.
“I’ve had some bad news. It will pass. All things pass in the end,” he replied.
Richard was to recall these words later.
Rex walked out of the bar. Despite the large amount of whiskey he had consumed he didn’t feel drunk, just determined. He picked up an old bar stool that stood discarded in the corner and walked purposefully towards the stairwell. It was dark and dingy in the cramped, wedge-shaped space under the stairs. In the shadows, he found the coil of rope he had hidden earlier.
Standing on the bar stool he was able to throw the rope over the heavy beam that ran underneath the stairs and tie it firmly in place. He formed a loop at the loose end of the rope and placed it around his neck. He stood on the bar stool shaking. He closed his eyes and pictured Katheryn, his darling. He kicked out and the bar stool wobbled and fell over.
They found the body a few days later when one of the pub dogs, attracted by the smell of a corpse starting to rot, had suddenly appeared with a shoe in its mouth.
A man-search for Rex was underway following the appearance of a hysterical Katheryn, her eyes blackened and her face swollen and bruised, in the village late on Saturday evening. She had told her story.
Betsy’s Grandfather nodded when she told him her tale of seeing a ghost under the stairs.
“There was a young man you killed himself by hanging under those stairs,” he said. “It was right after he murdered his wife’s lover. There have been sightings by other people of his tormented ghost over the years.”
“Why could I see him, Grandfather?” Betsy asked.
“Well, I think it might have had something to do with your being so tired and going to sleep under the stairs,” Grandfather explained. “Sometimes, when a bad thing happens in a place the negative energy remains. If our defenses are down because we are waking up form sleep, that negative energy can manifest itself into a visual manifestation that we call a ghost. It can’t hurt you so try to put it out of your head.”
Later that night, Betsy got into her bed in the tiny room at the end of the corridor in the pub. Her overwrought mind kept conjuring up pictures of the horrific ghost she had seen under the stairs. She closed her eyes and tried to take comfort in Grandfather’s words, “it can’t hurt you.”
Hours later she woke up suddenly. The temperature in her room had dropped and she felt very cold. Glancing up she saw a swollen black face hovering above hers.
“It’s been a long time since a child could see me,” the ghost rasped. “It’s been a long time since I could kill again.”
These were the last words she heard as the damp, fish-like hands of the ghost of Rex Bacon wrapped around her neck, squeezing until the life slipped from the little’s body in this world and into the next.