THE BOREDOM OF MR. BLAKE
by GJ HART
ime was the sore crusting; the ache, brigadooning between ischium and appendix.
Time was the Web growing between Anemones, as bath water cooled and his body blanked out.
Time was a problem.
Mr. Blake heard his wife call goodbye and checked his watch: 1 hour and 52 minutes. He climbed out of the bath, pulled on his robe and went downstairs.
The sound of breakfast TV leaked from the lounge as he reached up and pulled the bottle from behind a box of cereal.
He poured a large glass.
Eight weeks had passed since he'd walked out the department's tall, dark doors for the last time. Eight weeks that had stripped him of every intention save one; he drained the last of the booze and walked through to the lounge.
He placed the tumbler on the mantelpiece and looked out the French doors. The lawn was mown, the borders edged, the roses pruned. He couldn't face dredging the pond. He hated that fucking pond.
And so another day stretched mindlessly ahead. He would fill it like he filled every other, with Puccini, single malt and speculating lugubriously on everything he would never do tomorrow.
This was not how things should be.
He remembered when retirement had been the turn to camera, the brochure hidden in the bottom draw.
At his desk, overlooking the carport, crammed in the corner of an open-plan office, he'd wished only for solitude; bright, exotic solitude. But this solitude, now appropriated, had quickly devolved to cage pacing loneliness.
Now he missed the long grey days of work; the order and procedure; the starting of things that must be finished.
Even the office gossip, which he’d superciliously dismissed, but had always secretly relished.
Blake walked back to the kitchen and placed a tomato in the microwave. At 2 minutes 30 seconds it spattered gorefully against the glass aperture. He grabbed up a dishcloth. If he was thorough, it would take him at least an hour to clean the mess.
After, he poured another drink and retired to the dent in the sofa.
He began flicking through a classic car magazine he'd bought earlier in the week with some vague intention he could no longer remember. He reached the classified and his heart twisted in his chest.
'Barn find: 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Needs work.'
He read it twice, three times. The same car, not the car obviously, he wouldn't embarrass himself by even considering this, but the same car none the less.
It was 1971, the summer before university, he’d taken a job at a fishmongers in a tiny fishing village on the south coast.
He remembered: it was Saturday, he was first in after returning from the harbour with the morning's catch.
As he knelt, knife in hand, his fingers dripping with guts. She'd entered the shop and asked for mackerel. She was beautiful, so beautiful he could hardly look at her.
As he gathered up the fish she'd asked his name.
Too shy to answer, she'd stood above him, so close he could see all the way to the tops of her legs.
Meet me she'd said and he had. She'd picked him up in that very car and driven him out to Lefthorn Lake.
She was his first.
Afterwards, they'd talked. Her name was Janet, she was a teacher in the village school. She was ten years his senior. Her husband, a mechanic, owned a garage in the village.
“Sometimes I wish I was a car,” she'd said.
They'd continued to meet until he’d left for university.
Much later he'd heard she’d attempted suicide and her husband, driven mad with jealousy, was found in his workshop, forcing fish bones into his scrotum.
Later still, he heard they'd disappeared one night and never been seen again.
He’d never told his wife. There were similarities, and although softened by time, he still sometimes saw her, in her profile, in the way her lips rose slightly when lost in thought.
Mr. Blake smacked his leg and laughed for the first time in weeks. He would buy it, renovate it and they'd drive down to the harbour, perhaps check into a B and B, and perhaps even visit Lefthorn Lake.
He rang immediately, agreed the full asking price and five days later was on the road, heading away from London, a rented trailer hitched up behind.
The further he drove from London the more the roads narrowed. Red clay banks rose on either side. Trees closed overhead, the road would drop so sharply at times he felt he was tumbling down into nothing.
As he neared his destination, the road levelled out, the trees parted and he found himself propelled forward, across shimmering rape fields.
He drove on, until finally pulling up at a battered metal gate.
He opened it and continued along a dirt track until eventually pulling up outside a cottage.
Getting out, he was greeted by a riot of dilapidation and fifth, a scene so bad it appeared almost contrived; a commissioned installation deconstructing everything bucolic.
Chickens half plucked by disease, a dog pulling wearily against a chain tethering to a metal stake, it's bloodied tail clenched between its teeth.
The house itself appeared in such a state of dereliction, listing so dramatically to one side, Blake wondered if it hadn't suffered some seismic disturbance.
And the mud, everywhere the mud. Thick and stinking and every shade of black. It covered everything, reaching up high as the house's second floor.
As he stood there sinking, a man appeared from behind the cottage.
Broad shoulders, short legs, almost perfectly oblong. He walked toward Blake like a four of clubs.
"Can I 'elp?” He said.
"I've come about the car," said Blake.
“Yes, we talked on the phone.”
“Old Betsy ya mean.”
“In the barn, old Betsy.”
“Ah yes, old Betsy, I get you.”
"Devlin," said Devlin holding out a hand.
"Mr Blake," said Mr Blake, looking down at the grubby appendage.
“Come on then, I’ll take you round.”
Blake followed him, past grazing rams to a timber barn at the rear of the cottage.
Devlin dragged open the door.
"It's over there, in the corner," said Devlin.
Mr Blake sensed he was reluctant to enter the barn.
"I'll leave you two alone. I'll be back after me' mornings."
Mr. Blake nodded despite having no idea what he meant and began to pull away the vegetation and rotting curios that covered the remains of the vehicle.
It was worse than he thought. Its paint had faded to the colour of stagnant water and rust had obliterated practically every panel.
Blake got to his knees and began to inspect the underside. He pushed his hand beneath the seat and felt something hard and dry. He knelt lower and peered in.
It was black, not an animal, some kind of glove. He pushed his hand in and dragged it free.
He turned it in his hand. Thick leather, a wide sleeve, fingers thick as bratwurst. Its surface scored by deep scratches.
A falconer’s glove, he guessed. He slid it on. It was heavy, so heavy he could barely lift his arm.
He caught himself. He was wasting time. Everything about the place felt wrong. He needed to be gone.
He pulled off the glove. As he did something fell to the floor.
He knelt and picked it up. A scrap of paper. He unfolded it. It was lined and damp and blank except for two words at its centre
Mr Blake heard the brawk and flap of panicked birds.
He looked up to see Devlin approaching and jammed the note into his pocket.
"Wot u think then," said Devlin standing at entrance to the barn.
He'd completely forgotten the car. He composed himself.
"Well, certainly needs some work."
"Worth it though."
"Lot worse than I thought."
"Well if you don't want it... I've got work to do."
"Hang on, hang on. I didn't say that."
"Well, best we settle up then before we both fall out then"
"Like I said, lot worse than I was expecting."
"Leave it then. Plenty more where you came from."
Devlin turned to leave.
Mr Blake’s had intended to haggle hard. But his mind was elsewhere. He felt the note in his pocket.
“Look, I'll take it. I'll get you the money.”
He followed Devlin out to the car and took the envelope from the glove box.
“It’s all there,” he said.
Devlin tore into envelope like it contained the antidote to all his ills and began to thumb the notes.
"Five pounds short," he said.
"Five. Pounds. Short."
"Really, five pounds."
"Price is the price."
Mr Blake fished in his pocket and brought out a handful of change.
“Take it all, please,” he said.
"I would offer you a cup of tea but I'm busy."
Devlin turned and without even a goodbye, disappeared inside.
Mr. Blake got back in his car and pulled the note from his pocket. He studied it, searching for some extra clue. He checked the other side, nothing. Was it meant for him? If so, why and how and from who. He leant back and breathed out.
What should he do?
He looked through the windshield, at the filth and the chaos. He had to do something.
He got out, opened the bonnet and pulled a fuse from the wiring loom, disabling the starter motor.
“Problem there?" Said Devlin, who was now, to Blake’s surprise, right at his shoulder.
“Won’t start,” replied Blake.
Devlin peered into the engine bay.
"Can't say I know a fuck all about cars," he said, "Give me an old Massey Harris and I'm your man. Got a friend though, mechanic in the village. He's your man. I'll give him a ring."
Devlin disappeared inside and appeared a few minutes later.
"Can't come. He's pissed. Its Sunday ya see."
“Oh,” said Blake, “Seems like I’ve got a problem them.”
“Seems like you have,” said Devlin.
“Look, I need somewhere stay. How about I give you a few quid and you put me up for the night?”
“Let me show you to your room, Mr Blake” said Devlin with a flourish.
He followed Devlin inside. If he hadn't passed beneath a door frame, he wouldn't have known he was inside at all.
Mud, everywhere. It covered everything, from the walls to the furnishings.
The carpet squelched underfoot like riverbed and the sofa, so infested with fungi, it seemed to have become fungi itself. It squatted strangely in the corner like one, huge puffball mushroom.
Devlin led him up narrow stairs to a tiny room in the cottage roof.
"You rest, I'll make us something to eat. You can meet the wife later, she'll be back from town soon."
Devlin left and Blake sat down on the edge of the bed.
The room was cleaner then he could have expected. He lay back, feeling goose feathers beneath his head.
The sheets were crisp and scented with lavender.
He noticed fresh flowers in a vase on the vanity chest, a white gown hanging from a hook in the corner.
The sound of animals had calmed. His eyes closed and fell fast asleep.
He woke to darkness. Someone was calling his name. He panicked, patting the walls in search of a light switch. Finally, he found a door handle. He opened the door and made his way down the narrow stairway.
Devlin was standing at an Aga in the kitchen, pushing fish around a blackened skillet. A tumble of guts glistened on the floor at his feet.
“Do you like fish Mr Blake?” asked Devlin.
“Yes, very much,” he replied.
The room was lit entirely by candles, the ceiling was low and smoke from the pan lowered it still.
He felt as if he were standing beneath a gathering storm.
“Sit down Mr Blake, it won't be long.”
“Might be the starter motor gone, why that car of yours won't start,” said Devlin.
“I thought you didn't know anything about cars,” said Mr Blake taking a seat.
“Dave said something, when I phoned him, said it's a common fault on those things.”
Devlin threw the fish onto two plates and brought them to the table. He slid one toward Mr Blake.
Devlin began to eat, gnawing along the spine, eyes fixed on Blake.
"I love me’ fish, Mr Blake, love it. Don't like the bones, though. Hate the bones, Mr. Blake."
Mr Blake suddenly felt very far from home.
"Better she goes with you, Mr Blake."
"Not much of her left now. Rotting out there in the cold and wet. Lot to do mind, to make her right."
Mr Blake nodded.
"Drove my wife to our honeymoon it. Pissed down the whole time. Fucking Whitby! All you could smell was burnt grease. The lifeboat museum, the Abbey, Captain Cook’s house. Piss and fucking grease."
"Hate the sight of it now, Mr Blake. Hate it. Reminds me of too many things that can't be fixed. But I bet you can fix it, Mr. Blake. You look the kind of man."
"Thank you," said Mr Blake shifting in his seat.
"You remind me of someone Mr Blake. Just can't think who."
Devlin leaned back in his chair. As he did Blake caught sight of twin barrels, leaning against a cupboard to his side.
"I've got one of those faces."
Mr Blake pulled at his collar.
"It's very hot in here," he said.
"Yes, definitely seen you before, I'm thinkin."
"Can you open a window," said Blake, an acid burn rising in his chest.
"I need to use the toilet," he said, fish falling from his mouth.
He got up, and once out of the kitchen, he found the front door, eased it open and ran. The air was cold, the yard chromed in dusk.
He reached his car, opened the bonnet and replaced the fuse.
Mr. Blake hit the accelerator, kicking up divots. The car bucked over the roughened track, the wheel spinning hot through his hands.
In the rear view mirror he saw Devlin in the doorway.
He struggled to regain control. But kept his foot down hard. From nowhere, a figure ran from the trees. He hit the brakes. Too late. It tumbled over the bonnet, slammed the windshield and landed in the trailer behind.
In the mirror he saw it writhing, flat out on the trailer. He cut the engine, stealing glimpses.
Finally he got out and crept toward it.
So much blood. Skin and clothes torn to threads. Its face flattened, its features erased, eyes shifted sideways. He could see straight into the skull.
“Help me,” it groaned, its words an amalgam of blood and air.
“I can't. I can't help you. I never saw you.”
Darkness was falling fast. He was sure no one had seen.
“Help me,” it said again, its fingers clawing the aluminium bed.
He crouched, listening, watching as waves of breath dissipated.
He waited a few moments more until he was sure it was dead. Then, taking hold of its legs he dragged it into the trees.
He got back in his car and pulled away. As he drove, he made a decision. He would confront something he'd been avoiding for years. As soon as he was home, he would pull on his wellies and he would dredge that fucking pond.
Gj Hart currently lives in Brixton, London and is published or cued in The Legendary, Horror Within Magazine, Three Minute Plastic, Literally Stories, Fiction on the Web, Shirley lit mag, The HFC journal, Under the Fable, The Unbroken Journal, Yellow Mama, The Pygmy Giant, Flash Fiction Magazine,Spelk Fiction, The Drabble, The Squawk Back and 521 Magazine.
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