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The Favourite

The young woman approached the middle-aged man on the platform.  She peered into his face and smiled.

“Mr Bennett?”

The man bristled.  Here we go again, he steeled himself.  Another former pupil presenting themselves for a trip down Memory Lane.

“Yes,” he confirmed.  He glanced along the track, hoping the imminent train would curtail the interview.

“Hello, sir!” the young woman laughed.  “It’s me!  Donna!”

“Ah, yes, of course.”  Bennett smiled although he had no clue.  “Donna.  How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Donna looked him up and down.  “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Um, I don’t know.  Bit thinner on top and a bit thicker around the middle.”

Donna laughed.  “You was always my favourite.”

“That’s good of you to say.”

“And I was a proper tearaway, wasn’t I, sir?  Always getting into scrapes.  Do you remember when Mrs Bagshot caught me and Trisha Fenton smoking in the toilets?”

“Um…”

“And when we was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and you gave me an A-star for my Frisbee.”

Thisbe,” Bennett corrected automatically.  But Donna, true to form, wasn’t listening.

“Oh, we had some laughs, didn’t we, back in the day?  Are you still teaching?”

“Oh, you know,” Bennett raised his battered briefcase.  “Bit of supply, here and there.”

“Here,” Donna nudged him.  “Remember that supply teacher we had for Music and he ran away crying and you came in and put us all in Detention!  Talk about laugh!”

“Um…” Vague memories were beginning to stir in the murk of Bennett’s memory.

“And remember when Darren Slaughter brought his dog into Assembly because he knew the Head was allergic.”

“…Yes!”  A grin broke out on Bennett’s face.  “I do remember that!”

A train hove into view, crawling steadily toward the station.  Donna gripped the teacher’s arm.  Even through the thick corduroy of his sleeve he could feel her hand, icy and determined.

“Please, sir,” her eyes searched his.  “Ring in sick or something.  Or go and have a coffee.”

“What on Earth –”

“Please, sir!”

The train pulled in with a long, slow squeal.  The other commuters bustled for the doors, jostling past Bennett and Donna.  Bennett blinked.

The young woman had gone.  Vanished!  Or just lost in the huddle waiting to board the train.

Donna… somebody…

Donna Parker!

The memories rushed to the surface like bubbles in carbonated water.  Donna, the bright, down-to-earth girl, with the gift of the gab and a heart of gold.

Donna, who at the age of 20 had been pushed under a train by a no-good boyfriend when she’d told him she was pregnant.

Donna…

Bennett remembered donating a couple of quid for some flowers.

A chill ran through him.  It had happened at this very station.

The carriage doors beeped impatiently and closed.  The train moved on, leaving Bennett behind.  He headed to the café and ordered a double espresso but he merely sat staring at the steaming cup, too jittery to drink it.

Donna Parker…

After a while, he felt better.  He’d imagined it, he supposed.  Or confused the girl with someone else, some other Donna.  There had been quite a few, he seemed to recall.

He went to check the departures board for the next train but found all services were cancelled.

“You’ll be lucky,” said an operative pushing a broom across the deserted concourse.  “All trains are off.  The last one to leave here has come off the rails just up the line.  Terrible mess.”

platform

 

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Haunted

Bobby ran to his mother’s room, sobbing.  Janet wrapped her arms around him until the storm subsided.

“He was there again!  That man!” Bobby sniffed.  “Standing there, watching me while I was in bed.”

Janet smoothed the boy’s hair.  “I’m sure it’s just a dream, darling.  Nothing but a dream.”

“But I wasn’t sleeping.  I sat up and I watched him, watching me.  He looks so sad, so sad.  I wish I could help him and then perhaps he’d go away.”

“Now, darling; you must stop this nonsense.  From now on, you shall sleep in here and I shall take your room.  Let him show his face to me, this man of yours!  I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”

“He’s not scary, not really.  Just sad.”

“Hah!” said Janet bitterly.

“Who is he, Mummy?  Why does he keep coming back?”

“Never you mind,” Janet tucked Bobby into her bed.  She pulled on her dressing gown and kissed him on the forehead.  “I’ll go to your room; you’ll be all right.  He won’t dare to come in here!”

In Bobby’s room, the man sat on the bed and sobbed, burying his face in his hands.  Sometimes he could sense his son’s presence.  The room was exactly how it had been before –

Sometimes, there was a definite chill in the air – like now.  As if some malevolent entity had come in.

“If that’s you, Janet,” he spoke to the empty room, “I’ll never forgive you!”

There was no answer.  The man went down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea to dispel the chill in his bones.

I ought to leave, he thought for the thousandth time.  But how can I?

It was in this house my wife killed our boy and then herself.  And I will never leave him alone with her again.

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The Anniversary

The innkeeper brought the toddy to the pale, young gentleman at the fireside table.  “Here you go, sir; on the house.  You’ve had quite a shock, I expect.”

            He turned to go back to his station behind the bar but the young gentleman called him back.

            “Please!”  His eyes were wide and, despite his proximity to the fire, his face was white.  “Stay.”  He gestured urgently to a chair.  The innkeeper accepted.  He said he supposed he could spare five minutes afore the suppertime rush; it would be good to take the weight off his feet.

            The young man’s eyes searched the innkeeper’s face as though trying to decipher it.  “Tell me,” he said in desperation, “What happened in my room?”

            The innkeeper breathed out through his nose.  “Well, by all accounts – but I’m not saying I sets any store by it, mind – they reckon that room be haunted.”

            “Oh?  By whom?”

            “I don’t rightly know, sir.  As I say, I don’t go in for all that kind of thing.  Things that go bump in the night, sir.  But they do say as how something terrible took place in that room.  Afore my time, of course.  I’m talking about a hundred year ago or more.”

            “Please!” the young man cried.  “Just tell me!”

            “Well, sir,” the innkeeper glanced around to see if anyone else was listening.  Apart from Old Jacob perched on his usual stool at the bar across the room, the inn was empty.  “Like I say, it was a long time ago…

            “It was their wedding night.  Happy young couple, they was – but then that’s often the way with newlyweds who think they’ve found their happy-ever-after, but of course in time the rot sets in and love’s young dream is burst like a bubble, sir – only in this case, it didn’t get the chance, sir.  These two never lived to be old and miserable and sick of the sight of one another, sir.  Cut off, they was, in their prime.

            “A man got in through the window.  And while the couple was sleeping – exhausted, I should think they was – he cut their throats, jumped out the window and run off.

            “Now, the landlord at the time, he was under strict instructions not to disturb the happy couple and he wouldn’t have gone up there, sir, if it weren’t for something dripping on his head, while he stood behind the bar, sir, right where I stands every night.  Well, he puts his hand to his brow and when he looks at his fingers, they’s covered in blood.  Right above the bar is the bridal suite, you see, so he dashes up the stairs and that’s when he finds them.  Horrible sight it was, sir.  Blood everywhere.  He had to burn everything and get new paint and new furniture and everything.

            “Turns out the murderer was a jealous lover, sir, but not of the bride – oh, no!  Turns out him and the groom were entangled in some kind of tryst and the groom only married the girl for her money.  His lover thought he’d betrayed him and so he done away with the pair of them.

            “All this come out when a body was found in the gameskeeper’s shack in the woods.  You see, when the murderer jumped out the window, he cut his foot and it got infected.  He went to the woods to lie low and it got worse and worse, and as he lay dying he wrote a deathbed confession, see.  Oh, terrible business all round, if you asks me.

            “Now, sir, I see you’ve let your toddy go cold.  Never mind; I’ll get you another.”

            The innkeeper shuffled back to the bar, leaving the young gentleman staring into the flames.

            “Another year already!” said Old Jacob.  “Come round quick, don’t they?”

            “They surely do, Jacob.”  The innkeeper poured the cold toddy away.  “But I don’t mind telling the tale.  If it helps keep the peace in my pub.  They don’t remember, you see; the dead.  And that poor bridegroom don’t seem to understand but I tells the story and he goes away.  He’ll be back, mind, same time next year.”

            He poured himself and Jacob a shot of whisky.  They turned to the fireplace and raised their glasses to toast the empty chair.

 whisky

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