Hello, my Freaky Darlings!
I know it’s been a while and a lot has happened in the last few weeks, including my starting a brand new day job with really long hours which should help take the pressure off my writing career to pay the mortgage and feed Midnight and Mogwai.
But have no fear, I’m still getting new words on the page and The Patron is progressing. I’m still hoping to have it out before the end of the year.
To tide you over, here’s another short story for your reading pleasure. I really hope you enjoy it.
The banging of the antique typewriter keys echoed through the attic and down to the rest of the house, waking the entire family. Every night since they’d moved in, at precisely quarter to midnight, the keys had been thumped on for fifteen minutes then remained silent until the next night. It was highly annoying.
The new owners of the house on a quiet suburban street, Rebecca and Jerry Brown, hadn’t had a chance to clear out the previous owner’s possessions from the attic. Rebecca had been nagging Jerry to sort it out since they’d moved in. Which, in Jerry’s defence, had only been a week ago. Jerry, on the other hand, felt that clearing shit out that wasn’t his and had been there for what looked like a few decades wasn’t really a priority, especially since they still had a whole bunch of their own crap to unpack. He also realised that if he left it long enough, Rebecca would deal with it sooner or later.
The fifteen minutes of loud typing wouldn’t have been so bad for Rebecca and Jerry if it hadn’t also woken little Jerald, the young couple’s two-month-old baby. Jerald’s crying then resulted in their two-year-old, Samuel, being woken up. Once both children were awake, nobody got any sleep.
To make matters worse, no one could tell Jerry and Rebecca what had happened to the old couple who had lived there before, only that they seemed to have disappeared. They’d had no children and no relatives to speak of. The police had investigated their disappearance, but due to a lack of evidence of any foul play and no corpses had been found, the case file had found its way to the bottom of someone’s drawer to collect dust and get eaten by silverfish.
The house, even on auction, had cost Jerry and Rebecca more than they could really afford. They still weren’t entirely sure how they’d managed to get the loan to buy the house in the first place.
There was no way anyone would buy it from them with half painted walls and a kitchen that was missing cupboards. They’d gambled that if they could fix it up nicely, they’d be able to flip it for a tidy profit down the line. The nightly typing and the thought that the house could be haunted put a bit of a spanner in their plans.
They’d tried throwing the typewriter out after the first incident, but the next night it somehow managed to find its way back to its spot in the attic. Jerry had even taken a hammer to it, but once again it had been back in the attic the next night and thumping away. They’d given up trying to dispose of it.
As much as the nightly episodes were starting to annoy and freak Jerry and Rebecca out, it also had them curious. What the fuck was that machine typing every night? What message from the other side was it sending them? Was it a message or was it just making a noise for the sake of irritating them? Was it really haunted? Were the old couple trying to tell them what happened? Or was someone playing a practical joke on them? The last one was definitely an option as far as Rebecca was concerned. She wouldn’t put it past any of Jerry’s drinking buddies. They were immature enough to think waking her children up every night would be funny. Jerry had a slightly higher opinion of his friends but didn’t want to argue the point with his wife just in case she was right. If she turned out to be correct and he’d disagreed with her, he would never hear the end of it.
After yet another sleepless night, Jerry decided that a trip to the stationery store was in order. He purchased a ream of A4 paper which he hoped would fit into the antique typewriter even though it was meant for a standard printer. That night, once the children had finally gone to sleep, Jerry climbed up the ladder to the attic. The single light bulb that barely illuminated the surrounding area, dangled from the eves, casting deep shadows that seemed to move all around him. Jerry had to bow his head and hunch his shoulders to fit under the roof. Every object and surface was covered in dust and cobwebs. As he made his way to the far end of the attic, he swore and sneezed every step of the way.
The typewriter, unlike every other object in there, was clean. Not a single spec of dust or rust could be seen on its pristine surface. This wasn’t due to Jerry’s multiple attempts at destroying it. It had always been dust and cobweb free. The creaky table the typewriter was on and the chair next to the table were unfortunately just as dusty as everything else. Jerry cleaned the chair off as best he could, sneezed some more, and sat down. After rolling his tense shoulder muscles to loosen them a bit, he slipped a sheet of paper into the typewriter. He didn’t think more than one piece would be needed since it only typed for fifteen minutes.
How many words could the damn thing type in that amount of time? Jerry wondered.
He put the rest of the ream on the table next to the infernal machine and hoped the table wouldn’t buckle from the added weight.
Then he waited. And waited.
His watch seemed to tick slower than usual while he sat there staring at the typewriter. He’d started to think that the whole thing really had been an elaborate joke like Rebecca said, but then the table wobbled and the typewriter seemed to buzz. The keys began to thump down. Words began to appear on the page. They were barely visible, but they were there on the page. As he sat in the dark attic watching the keys hit the page, his heart thumped along with the typewriter, but his heart wasn’t beating that loudly out of fear. He was excited.
“Bugger,” Jerry said as he tried to make out the letters that were appearing on the page, but for the life of him, he couldn’t decipher it. With each new indent on the page that seemed to form words, Jerry became more frustrated.
He didn’t know much about these sorts of machines, but he guessed that just as printers needed ink, a typewriter needed something similar. He vaguely remembered his father swearing at his old clunker. The memory of his father hunched over a similar machine got him thinking. It took a few moments for him to notice that there was a missing component. He searched his memories of his father. It took a few moments for the elusive word to find it’s way to the tip of his tongue.
“Ribbon,” he shouted as though he were shouting Eureka. If he wanted to read what the machine was trying to write, he was going to have to get one.
“Shit,” he swore once more.
He really wanted to know what the thing was typing and didn’t want to have to wait another day to find out. It also meant another sleepless night. But strangely enough, that didn’t bug him as much as he thought it would. What really pissed him off was the delay in solving the mystery.
He barely slept once the machine had finished it’s nightly banging. For a change, it wasn’t just the screaming baby that prevented him from sleeping. That night it was his mind turning over with all the different possibilities. Jerry wasn’t even remotely tired when he jumped out of bed the next morning. He couldn’t wait to get going. The beginnings of an obsession stirred within him, but he didn’t care. He ignored Rebecca’s quizzical stare when he barely drank his morning coffee and stormed out the door without saying very much of anything.
He spent most of his Saturday going from one shop to another looking for the typewriter ribbon and only getting shrugs and confused looks from shop attendants. One young guy, barely out of high school, suggested he join the modern age and get himself a laptop and printer with a scanner instead.
After getting no luck at any of the usual stationery shops, he started hitting the antique stores. Finally, after trying five shops where he was either laughed at for believing in a haunted object or just being indulged by the dealers, he found an old man in a pawnshop who had what he needed. Even though the pawnshop owner laughed at his story, he still wished Jerry luck and asked him to come back and let him know what the typewriter had to say for itself.
Jerry rushed home, probably breaking a few traffic laws on his way. He banged the front door open in his haste, sprinted up the stairs, and dashed up the ladder to the attic. Rebecca shrugged as she watched him and closed the front door which he’d left wide open. She’d never seen him quite that energised before. She secretly hoped he’d apply some of that energy in other areas of their life, maybe even in the bedroom. They hadn’t made love since little Jerald was born and couldn’t help thinking that Jerry no longer found attractive. She didn’t think he would cheat on her, but it still concerned her that he would rather be dicking around in the dirty attic than do the horizontal tango with her. She sighed as she listened to him move around, knocking over items, in his rush to solve the mystery.
“While you’re up there,” she shouted up at him. “Why don’t you start sorting through some of the other things. Maybe it’s not just the typewriter that’s haunted.”
A distant grunt was the only answer she got.
Jerald started fussing in his playpen distracting her from Jerry’s antics in the attic. As interested as she was in the mystery surrounding the typewriter she still had two little children to look after. With another sigh, she dragged herself down the passage towards the sitting room and her two children and a whole lot of boxes that still needed to be unpacked.
While Rebecca, in her sleep-deprived state, looked after their children, Jerry plonked his arse on the rickety chair that wobbled under his weight. He promised himself that if the chair held out long enough for him to solve the mystery, he would drag himself to a gym close by. He’d spotted a few during his hunt for the ribbon. Thoughts of his ever-expanding girth soon fluttered away as he removed the typewriter ribbon from its packaging.
It took a few tries, and there were more than a few moments when he thought he’d ripped the ribbon before he finally managed to get it in the machine. He just hoped he’d done it right and that it would work. Jerry then sat back to admire his work with a self-satisfied sigh. He then realised there were still many hours before the machine would start banging away.
“Bugger,” he groaned.
While he sat there with time on his hands, he looked around the attic, at all the dust and cobweb covered boxes and furniture. He could use the time productively and do what Rebecca wanted him to do. There were quite a few items he could clean up and sell to some of those antique shops he’d just visited, but if he was honest with himself, he just didn’t feel like it.
“Fuck it,” he grumbled as he stood up and dusted himself off. “I need a beer.”
So instead of doing what his wife wanted him to do, he made his way back down to the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the fridge. He felt he deserved it. Jerry also resolved to rest for the remainder of the day, maybe catch up on some sleep before the typewriter did it’s thing later that night. But first, Jerry sat on the veranda and surveyed their tiny garden, that also needed some serious work, while he sipped his beer. The garden was yet another thing that Rebecca had been bugging him about and yet another thing he’d put at the bottom of his to-do list which Rebecca kept adding to. At that moment, sitting on the veranda, Jerry really didn’t give a shit. That night the mystery of the typewriter would finally be solved, and he would be the man who had solved it. He put his feet up, sighed, and took another swig of his cold beer knowing that that was what victory tasted like.
Rebecca spent the day grumbling and taking care of the kids while Jerry relaxed. By the time she’d cooked Jerry’s dinner and fed the kids, she was exhausted. She was also in no mood to deal with that bloody machine or Jerry’s obsession with it. She just wanted to get a proper night’s sleep. She didn’t think that was really too much to ask for.
Instead of going to bed at their usual time, Rebecca and Jerry stayed up and watched TV. There was no point in going to sleep when they knew they would only be woken up in a few hours. Time seemed to drag. They both kept glancing at either their watches or their cellphones to see how long they still had to wait. Neither of them had gotten around to unpacking Rebecca’s mother’s old clock that was supposed to stand on their mantlepiece.
At twenty to twelve they gave up pretending to watch whatever programme was on and made their way upstairs. Jerry let Rebecca go up the ladder first and allowed her to sit on the chair while he hunched behind her. He also let her feed the paper into the typewriter, only biting his tongue once when he thought she was going to put it in the wrong way.
And then they waited.
“Are you sure you put that ribbon thing in right?” Rebecca asked peering down at the typewriter through the gloom.
“Yes, dear,” Jerry said.
The hum was almost imperceptible at first, but the closer it got to show time the louder it got. It seemed to Jerry that it was louder than on any of the preceding evenings. He notched it up to the fact that he had been smart enough to install the missing component. Jerry almost gave himself an actual pat on the back but contented himself with just having a smug smile on his face instead.
And then the main event started with a wild clattering of keys hitting the page. It only typed one word over and over again without any punctuation or spaces. At first, they thought it was just a greeting or whoever was responsible was merely practising before they got to the rest of the message, but in the entire fifteen minute period it only typed that one word.
When the time was up the light flickered, and the air seemed to change, but Jerry and Rebecca didn’t really think anything of it. What did confuse them was the silence.
Why was Jerald not crying?
Rebecca couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed as she made her way to the trap door and the ladder leading down. She’d expected the message to be more profound. What she hadn’t expected was for the trapdoor to be gone.
“Jerry,” she shouted. “I think something’s wrong.”
But Jerry didn’t reply. He was staring at the old couple standing on the other side of the typewriter.
“You changed the ribbon, didn’t you?” The old man said to Jerry.
Jerry couldn’t find his voice but managed to nod.
“You’re both bloody idiots,” the old woman said with a shake of her head.
Rebecca pounded her fists on the floor where the trapdoor used to be while Jerry kept staring at the previous owners of the house.
“Deary,” the old woman said looking at Rebecca. “That’s not going to help. You’re only going to hurt yourself.”
“I need to get to my children,” Rebecca screamed and carried on banging on the floor.
“I’m sorry, Deary,” the old woman said as she made her way over to Rebecca. “But I’m afraid you’re stuck here.”
“Why?” Rebecca groaned.
“Because our husbands are bloody idiots and just couldn’t help themselves,” the old woman said. “They just had to fiddle with that damn machine. If they’d just left it alone, we wouldn’t be trapped here.”
“I’ve heard that same old tune since we got here,” the old man said to Jerry as he crossed his arms.
“But my children?” Rebecca whined.
“I don’t know what to say,” the old woman said with a shrug. “I’m so sorry, but your children will hopefully be found and taken care of, but you and your husband are now stuck in here with us.”
Rebecca howled and resumed pounding on the floor. Jerry just stared at the old man in shocked silence.
“Don’t suppose you can tell us how long we’ve been gone?” The old man asked Jerry.
“Don’t bother dear,” his wife said as she made her way back to her husband’s side. “That one’s not going to say anything for a while. Just look at him. He’s in shock.”
The old man nodded and sighed.
“I just wish that one would stop making such a racket,” the old man said with a nod in Rebecca’s direction.
His wife sighed.
The old couple made themselves comfortable, in their usual spot, on an old and tattered chez lounge and watched the younger couple. It was the first form of entertainment they’d had in what seemed like years. They’d only had each other for company and hoped that the new arrivals would, in time, be better roommates than they currently were.
“It’s a pity they didn’t bring snacks up with them,” the old man said.
“I could have done with some biscuits and a nice cup of tea,” his wife said. “I miss having tea.”
The old man nodded and patted his wife’s hand.
“I wonder how long before another couple find that bloody thing,” the old man mused.
“You just had to buy that old clunker from that man at the pawnshop and install that bloody ribbon,” his wife said. “You just had to. I told you there was something about the way he was grinning when we left.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” the old man said for what felt like the millionth time. “But can we move on now. I’m clearly not the only one who was taken in by that man or the machine.” He pointed at Jerry.
“Fine,” his wife sighed. “But you’re both bloody idiots.”
“Yes, dear,” the old man said knowing that for as long as they were trapped in that attic he would never hear the end of it.
His only consolation was knowing he was not the only husband, especially not in that attic, who had to contend with an angry wife. Jerry would get yelled at soon enough, once his wife’s hysteria wore off, and she started looking for someone to blame.
The old couple leaned back and watched the younger couple, in much the same way as they had once watched television. There was nothing else to do. The typewriter, at least, was silent until the next couple moved into the house.
As some of you may have noticed, at the end of these short stories I’ve added a tip jar. This tip jar is sort of my version of a Patreon thing. It’s so that I can keep writing these stories for you and hopefully earn a bit of money so that I can pay my mortgage and feed my two cats. Unlike with Patreon, you don’t have to pay every month or for every story. You only have to ‘tip’ me if you want to and you only have to ‘tip’ a small amount. It’s entirely up to you. You can even say, “Fuck You! I’m not paying you. These stories are supposed to be free.” That’s cool too. You don’t have to pay anything to read these stories.
But anyway …
My Cheeky Tip Jar
If you would like to support my writing and help feed my cats, please leave a small ‘tip’ of $0.99. Thank you so much for your support!
Well … That’s it for now. Until next time …
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