's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Shadow Play "

Submitted by Robbie Lyons (

Arthur sat in the depths of his faded green armchair, clutching the armrests and struggling to breathe.
He was an old man, old enough that his feet no longer touched the ground as he sat pressed against the towering high-backed chair. Old enough that even now, with the night closing in on a dim September evening and with the fear around his heart, stealing his breath, he could barely even sweat.
He tried to master himself, to slow his rapid heartbeat, to think...just to think and breathe...
Every light in his small apartment was on. He ran through the list again in his head. Hallway light. Living room light. Kitchen light. Bathroom light (he could hear its dim fluorescent buzzing in his teeth rather than with his ears). Bedroom light. Four table lamps in his kitchen, spaced carefully across the matte black countertop. Six table lamps balanced carefully on the two small tables of his living room. Four tall floor lamps, two in the living room and one each in the kitchen and hallway.
He licked his thin, dry lips. Clutched harder, digging his stubby fingernails into the chair. Breathe. Breathe. Don’t blink...
Seventeen night lights, scattered...scattered everywhere. They weren’t all plugged in, some he’d lost and he just didn’t have enough wall sockets for the rest. He didn’t know for sure how many were lit.
As long as you don’t blink, thought Arthur, you’ll be fine...
An emergency exit sign over the front door...and over every other door. Three promotional neon beer lights, stolen or bartered from pubs. Two were Coors, one was something German he could never remember or pronounce.
He felt his watery red eyes stinging with tears. His eyelids began to flutter.
Please, he thought, no...
And one torch, battered yellow plastic with three AA batteries. It bounced in his lap as he shook, spastically throwing rays of light into the already glowing room. Needles in a haystack. Sparklers on New Year’s Eve.
He was far too old to be afraid of the dark. To be jumping at shadows like some scared little boy. His breathing began to level out. He felt ridiculous, sitting here with his flat lit up like the Vegas strip. If Judith were here...if she were here, what would she say? What she always said, he supposed.
The shaking began to subside. What she always said, he thought again. If could only remember what exactly that was...
But years had stolen it from him. And as he strained his mind in vain to remember those soothing words, he lost his concentration. He blinked.
In the split second before he opened his eyes again, the shaking returned. Breaths came fast, ragged and shallow. He thought about keep his eyes closed altogether. Never opening them again. Letting them take him. Being...he hoped he’d be with her again.
But to open one’s eyes is as much an irresistible instinct as closing them. The darkness is just one step. The light comes next, and what it revealed was what he truly feared.
They stood all around him. Perched before each of the room’s many light sources. Not one of them uttered a single sound. They never did. Tall, crooked silhouettes that loomed forward in the bare instant they were visible. Some smiled crazily, laughing without laughter. Others crouched and shook in the corners, huddled by the nightlights. The ones in front of the beer signs seemed to sway drunkenly and occasionally kicked at the skittering, quadrupedal shadows that swarmed over every inch of dirty beige carpet.
And the two in front of the floor lamps. They looked straight at him. Standing stiff and still, unmoved by the revelling crowd of hateful shadows that surrounded them, surrounded him. Their shapeless heads nearly brushed against the low, mildew-caked ceiling. Eyeless faces staring into him. They terrified him more than any other spectres in the raving, ravening crowd.
All this, he saw and suffered from in just a brief second. Less. The barest glimpse of tenebrous madness. He could still feel them swirling crazily about the room. Any second, he knew one would touch him and he would lose his mind.
But they never did. He felt the dull tugging of his nerve-deadened fingers digging into the armrests, scraping against the plywood skeleton of the chair. Some part of his mind chided him for damaging the furniture, Judith perhaps. No part of his mind, subconscious or otherwise, chided him for the damage he was doing to himself.
“Think,” he hissed aloud into the dazzling room, “Remember what Lucy said...”
If he couldn’t remember what Judith had told him years ago...the best he could do was focus on what his neighbour Lucy had told him...
“Mr. Exton, please just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”
Arthur sat on a high stool in Lucy’s kitchen, his hands clasped around a warm mug of tea. He didn’t intend to drink it, but the warmth helped his hands stop shaking.
“P-please,” he stuttered, his breath still coming in little gasps, “call me Arthur.”
She smiled as she sat across from him, her hands clasping her own mug in the same way.
“Arthur,” she repeated, “I’m Lucy. Lucy Harris? I met you when I moved in, introduced myself to some of the neighbours. Do you remember me?”
He nodded twice, though he’d only meant to nod once. He could still feel his heart batting against his chest like a fly in a paper lampshade. Yes, he did remember Lucy. He couldn’t remember exactly how long ago she’d knocked on his door, told him she’d taken up the apartment next door.
It was difficult for a lonely old man to forget a woman like Lucy. Young, beautiful, deep blue eyes and long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was...he caught himself. Stupid old man. Dirty old man.
He nodded again, unsure of how long he’d been thinking. Had he been staring?
“Y-yes Miss um...Lucy. Yes, I remember you.”
In desperation and embarrassment, his eyes broke away from her to scan her apartment. Just like his, in dimensions at least. But much...cleaner. Less clutter, less history to make things dirty. It looked as fresh as his apartment looked worn. No mould, no mildew. No languid spider like the one that reclined perpetually in the corner above his door. He remembered that he’d named the spider once...couldn’t remember what he’d named it.
The real irony, to his eyes, was how much brighter her apartment was. Soft, diffuse light flooded in through the open curtains. Sunlight filled every corner, revealing places that might exist in his own apartment. For all his lights, lamps, signs...all they did was makes his room darker. Deepen the crazy shadows cast on the yellow wallpaper.
He came to himself, realizing that he’d been silently staring around her apartment. She was still smiling patiently.
“You have a beautiful home,” he finally stated, justifying himself.
“Thank you,” she responded, “but I’m still unpacking.”
She gestured to a small stack of unopened cardboard boxes by the oven, took a sip of tea. She winced, having drunk took early. She was subtle about it. Arthur would never have noticed if he hadn’t been staring at her again.
“Excuse me long ago did you move in? I remember meeting you, but not exactly...”
She’d been gazing steadily at the largest of the boxes. His question returned her to the kitchen table.
“Oh, it was about five or six weeks ago I think. I guess life has just kept me busy enough not to unpack.”
Slowly, he could feel himself master his breathing. Just two people having a conversation, in a nice, bright kitchen.
“You’re a...student, wasn’t that right?”
She nodded, bobbing her ponytail slightly.
“That’s right, used to be med but couldn’t afford to go on so now it’s hairdressing...” she hesitated, “...Mr. Exton. Arthur. Are you alright?”
She’d found him huddled in a sobbing mess outside his apartment. He thought back over the chain of events that led to him lying on the cold concrete balcony that overlooked the narrow enclosure of the apartment complex.
It was a low, hazy September dawn. A heavy red sun rose in the eastern sky casting...casting long shadows wherever it fell. Arthur hadn’t been out of his apartment in days and decided to step out onto the balcony, dismal as it was, for some air.
The enclosed nature of the building kept the balconies shrouded in darkness of course, but he’d had a light installed there to banish the shadows from his doorstep. It usually helped. This morning, it hadn’t. The cheap fluorescent bulb had sputtered to life, and when he turned round after three or four deep breaths of the damp air, there had been a shadow standing silhouetted against his door which the light could not dispel.
Inches away from him on the narrow concrete walkway, it had leered and stepped towards him. The interminable hiss of the bulb gave the otherwise silent shadow a terrible voice. He had whimpered, stumbled backwards, felt his lower back pressing against the waist-high divider. The shadow raised an arm and dropped something that struggled feebly...a small animal...past him, leaving it to fall the six storeys to the courtyard below with a hollow croak he knew he couldn’t really be hearing. stepped closer again. Arthur was sure he was to die there and then. The fall was close behind him and seemed impossibly high with his back against it. In front of him, the sickening faceless leering of the shadow dared him to step through its grotesquely flattened form to reach the ‘comfort’ of his apartment. He wanted nothing more than to cry like a child, but his old eyes could spare no water. Only a salty feeling that made them burn. Made him need to blink.
If Lucy hadn’t suddenly arrived with a heavy rucksack and a bag of shopping...if her clear, gentle voice hadn’t asked him what was wrong and forced his attention from the horror that bore down on him...
She was still observing him patiently, her eyebrows arched just slightly in questioning concern. All at once he realized that she was still waiting for an answer.
What could he tell her to justify this imposition? He didn’t want to leave just yet, to face another day alone and another in the company of shadows.
“I’m afraid...” he struggled, before plunging in blindly, “I’m afraid of shadows.”
He paused to see if he could gauge her reaction. Her expression didn’t budge as she asked,
“Afraid of...shadows? Do you mean like a fear of the dark?”
He shook his head, feeling foolish. He gripped his cooling mug tightly to steady his hands.
“No Miss. I mean a fear of shadows. All my life.”
He almost laughed as he recalled one of the few clear memories he still had if his early life.
“Or at least as far back as I can recall. My...eighth birthday. My father gave me a net to catch frogs in the marshes behind our estate and that very night was the first time I saw them...or the first time I remember seeing them.”
“Mr. Exton, you’re not talking about ordinary shadows are you?”
“No, dear.”
He raised his hand, fingers splayed to catch the light. He turned it slowly, observing the faint impression the diffuse light made on the wall behind him. A ghostly impression with dark knots where his thick old knuckles lay strung along his thin fingers.
She watched him intently, perhaps unsure of his mental state. He knew she didn’t regard him as dangerous. Certainly, he couldn’t remember that anyone ever had.
His hand withdrew and sought again the mug. It was rapidly growing cold and his hand felt numb against it.
“No, shadows like this make me uncomfortable but they aren’t what I’m truly afraid of.”
He made eye contact with her. It was important that he deliver this exactly, that she could not mistake it for the senile ramblings of the man he knew he was becoming.
“I see shadow people. Figures in the dark. Night terrors, a psychologist called them once.”
At that last phrase, she nodded slowly and earnestly.
“Waking up paralyzed,” she continued forward, “unable to move, seeing strange figures in the corner of your eye? That sort of thing?”
He nodded, breaking eye contact and sighing with relief. He didn’t know how long he could keep up with those deep blue eyes. But there was more.
“Yes, that’s right. But not just asleep. Awake as well, when it’s dark...dusk and dawn are the worst you know. Scotophobia,” he chuckled, “I’ve never been good with long words, always jumble syllables or...forget them entirely. But that one I’ve remembered, all these years.”
“As I got became worse. They shadows at the edge of my vision were more pronounced, hanging on at the edge of sleep every night. For years as a young man I could hardly close an eye. Doctors say it might be the cause of my memory problems...”
He paused, contemplating that last statement as though it was the first time he’d heard it. It would explain a lot...wouldn’t it?
“You’’re a widower. Did your wife help?”
The question pierced his brain, shook him from his reverie. In just a split-second his eyes widened with rage, brimmed with tears. He turned to regard her fiercely, but by the time he turned his head the feelings were already subsiding. Just a hollow grip around his gut.
Mostly...and he hated himself for it...mostly he was shocked to find that being reminded of Judith by a beautiful young woman like Lucy was almost embarrassing. It made him realize a hundred little things that he didn’t dare to further think on. To push them away, he asked her with a tremor returning to his voice,
“H-how did you know?”
She had shrunken back against her kitchen chair just a fraction. More out of embarrassment than fear, he hoped.
“I’m’s just your finger Mr. Exton. The depression around your ring finger.”
He choked on his first sip of tea. Depression?!
The mug slipped from his fingers and dropped back onto the table with a dull clatter, not shattering but tipping warm tea over his lap. He pushed his chair back violently and sprang to his feet in a way that made his knees ache.
He was staring wide-eyed at his right hand, breathing heavily and searching desperately for the ring.
Not there. It wasn’t there.
“, no, no
He took a few steps before collapsing to his knees. Sharp pain shot up through his fragile body, but he hardly noticed. Lucy quickly jumped to his assistance, helping him over to the sofa. She almost had to carry him, but he hardly noticed. The warm tea coursing down his trousers...the shock...he’d lost hold of his bladder. He hardly noticed.
“Where is it? Where?! Where did I leave it?!”
He wasn’t asking Lucy. His frantic questions quickly dissolved into a hoarse, high-pitched babbling. He looked up at Lucy with desperation in his eyes. His head was pounding.
How could he have lost it? When did he lose it? Where? Where?!
He closed his eyes and thought. He thought hard, but it was like drilling stone. The harder he pushed, the more he worked, the more damage he did with nothing to show for it.
When his eyelids finally cracked open again, the light of the apartment windows that had seemed so soft and comforting was harsh. And there was a shadow silhouetted in it.
A hunched and swaying figure that beat against the glass with such a frantic futility that it didn’t seem to notice its arms passed cleanly through without a whisper. It back was turned to Lucy and himself. Finally, it withdrew its arms from the window and Arthur saw that it had no hands. Merely smooth stumps of wispy shadow. It opened its mouth to scream, then was gone.
She must have noticed his wide-eyed stare, because her gaze followed his to the sunlit window.
“I’ve spent my whole life,” he muttered almost automatically, “with the lights on. Trying to keep them away, to keep them hidden a-and to hide from them myself...”
His head was shaking slowly from side-to-side of its own volition. His voice trembled and seemed far-away, even to him.
“B-but now the light isn’t helping anymore. It just makes things worse. Whenever I blink or look out of the window....whenever I turn the lights on...”
Lucy swallowed. It seemed she had something in mind, though by now she’d noticed Arthur’s accident. Those cushions would have to go.
“Mr. Exton...would you mind if I checked something with you before you go?”
He blinked, this time careful to keep his eyes on her and not the figures behind her.
He felt warmth soaking his flannel trousers. Ammonia stung his flaring nostrils.
Humiliated, he went get up. Hopefully she hadn’t noticed!
“I really must go, Miss! I-I’ve taken up enough of your time.”
“Please, just...” she placed her hands on his shoulders and stared down into his eyes...her gaze was fixed and intent as she scanned for something unknown to him. He was just shocked to have her touch him at all.
“Hmm...Come back soon Arthur. A week or three days. I think I might have an idea of what’s troubling you. Or at least, what’s making it worse.”
He nodded briefly, his head still spinning. He stumbled out of her apartment with apologies and promises to return as she’d asked and piss running down his shaking knees.
Back in his own neon apartment, Arthur was close to blinking again. These shadows were repellent to him. Tonight, he thought, they seemed especially ghoulish and unwelcome. He thought so every night, of course.
He blinked with a low moan of fear. It was dreadful to hear the child-like sound in his own failing voice.
Inevitably, his eyes creaked open. Whenever he kept them closed, it wasn’t long before he felt the shadows brush against him like feathery black moths.
The same insane scene greeted his horror-numbed eyes. He stared the dancing, swirling shadow play as if it were someone else’s sick dream, described to him over the fifth pint of the evening.
They were all there. The tall, thin judges. The wailing, shivering creatures in the corner. The violent drunkards who swung insubstantial bottles at the shadow things that covered the floor in a seething maelstrom of arched backs and crooked limbs.
But he wasn’t prepared for the lonely shadow that stood between him and them. A short, plump figure with her hair in a tight bun. Her hands were on her hips, which meant that whoever she was annoyed with was about to be terribly sorry for it.
Again he felt the urge to cry tearing at his old eyes. To see her like this was more than his heart could bear.
“J-judith? Judith!”
He reached out to touch her, but didn’t get much further than raising a hand that shook pitifully. His eyes were drawn to the raw wound of the missing ring and he left the hand fall back to lap quickly, to take it out of sight.
He had expected one of the tall, thin shadows to move against her. It came as a surprise, a terrible shock, when instead the drunkard shadow lurched from its perch by the Coors signs to strike her hard upon the mouth with the wide end of a heavy bottle.
“No!” he screamed, his voice shrill beyond recognition.
The shadows didn’t hear him. The play moved on. The shadow of Judith was on all fours now with her hands in the seething crowd of hungry animals. The living carpet that skittered and rolled across the darkened floor. The drunkard observed her for a moment, then kicked her sharply in the stomach at her third shuddering breath.
The fight was gone from her. The wind knocked out of her. Her arms gave way beneath her and she slumped, becoming one with the hungry mess that swarmed over her. The drunkard merely stared down at her before removing his hard-shelled ascot cap and wiping the sweat he’d worked up from his brow.
Arthur frantically tore the same cap from his head and flung it across the room. It collided with a table lamp, but didn’t knock it to the ground.
“Mr. Exton...Arthur. Have you ever heard of floaters?”
Lucy sat beside him on her clean white couch between him and the window, with the soft light of the afternoon glinting against loose strands of blonde hair.
He blinked, catching himself staring at her. Again.
He was surprised she’d even invited him back after the way he’d behaved last time. What he’d done. The mess he’d made. In fact, it had taken her some coaxing to even get him back here at all. She must, he thought with a glimmer of hope, be concerned. What exactly he hoped for, he didn’t dare speculate.
“F-floaters?” he finally replied. He felt his cheeks flush, though outwardly they only whitened, and laughed for the first time in months.
“Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be using that sort of talk.”
Only as the words fell from his lips, to hang limply in the air between them, did he realize what he’d just said. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Not like that,” she shook her head earnestly, “I mean floaters in the eyes, hardened fluid between the layers of the vit-.”
He stared blankly, and she realized she was losing him. She hoisted a heavy, dull brown book from the coffee table onto her knee and cracked it open with a small puff of dust. The bookmark was quickly found and as her finger ran down the page, she smiled and offered small talk.
“I remember seeing something about this in this text while I was studying for an exam...thought it was interesting, I remember my gran used to describe similar symptoms...little less pronounced. ‘Shadows,’ she said, ‘in front of bright lights and blue skies...’”
Lucy sighed, heavily as her finger and eyes scanned column upon column of tightly-packed text on yellowed pages.
“Never thought I’d actually have a use for the information. Guess I’m just lucky they still let the hairdressing night classes use the library,” she laughed, “or maybe the librarian just remembers me. I hope so, I remembered him...ah-ha! Here we are!”
At the mention of this ‘librarian’ and Lucy’s...favourable impression of him, Arthur’s anger flared. He was angry at himself for being old and broken, angry at Lucy for being young and beautiful. Angry at the crumbling tenement where he was forced to live, angry at Judith, angry at the shadows that dogged his steps.
This anger lasted only for the briefest of moments before nerves, despair and shame reasserted themselves. Even the marks his white-knuckled left hand had gripped into the soft armrest quickly filled in and puffed up as though he’d never been there at all.
“Floaters,” she continued, “or myodesopsia, are deposits of hardened fluid in the vitreous humour caused by degenerative processes such as aging, though they sometimes manifest in younger persons. The objects themselves are usually small, transparent line or dots of fluid but, and here’s the important part, the shadows they cast on the eye when directly exposed to sudden illumination may be detected and interpreted as shadowy manifestations before the eyes!”
Arthur still stared at her, as if awaiting explanation. Then, with a tone of slight indignity,
“I’m not making this up, Miss. This isn’t just in my head.”
“No Mr. Exton, that’s exactly what I’m saying! The shadows you’re seeing are a common phenomenon, right down to the bright lights making them worse!”
“But you...” she went on in a more sympathetic tone, “You’re hit very hard by these, these harmless manifestations, because of your history of...”
He could see that she chose the next words very carefully,
“Night terrors. Your lifelong fear of shadows makes dealing with shadows superimposed directly into your eyes...troublesome. Not to mention the,” she hesitated, “ suffer from?”
His head swirled and he saw stars. Was that it? All his life, spent haunted by little dots of spidery fluid in his eye? Insignificant things that only his own haunted psyche assigned meaning?
He chuckled without intending to, a low and dry sound like broken twigs underfoot. Had he heard this before? Forgotten it in his...his confusion? He’d forgotten so much, why not this as well? Forgotten all about drinking, the frogs, forgotten about Judith and...what he’d done to her. He’d forget it all again soon enough. Forget this.
Anger flared again, an indignant and disbelieving rage. How dare she speak to him like that? Confusion?! He was as sound as he’d ever been, and now this bitch was telling him that all his fears, things that had ruined his life were never really there at all?!
His gaze swung around her apartment, eager for something to look at besides her beautiful, concerned eyes. He looked in corners, in crevices. Looked for mould, for imperfections and most importantly, for places without light.
He found what he was looking for. Water damage seeping down a wall from the floor above. Creeping patches of mildew. Meaningless in any other state of mind, but now they confirmed something to him and he got up sharply to leave.
“Mr. Exton?”
He stumbled towards the door, his shoulder banging against it with a red flash of pain. He needed a drink.
“Mr. Exton, please!” he heard her getting up from the couch, “It will be alright!”
He ran out onto the balcony, only stopping when his stomach collided with the concrete divider. Lurching over it, he saw shadows standing in the courtyard below and with every eyeless face trained up at him.
He regained the comforting, terrible darkness of his unlocked apartment and slammed shut every bolt and lock behind him. Almost instinctively, he scrambled about in the curtained apartment and hit every light switch.
Hallway light. Living room light. Kitchen light. Bathroom light (it buzzed). Bedroom light. Four table lamps in his kitchen. Six table lamps in his living room. Four floor lamps, taller than he was.
Seventeen night lights, though he couldn’t find them all.
Emergency exit signs, at least six...the beer lights that sprang to life with a distasteful neon cheer.
And one torch, battered yellow plastic with three AA batteries.
He found his tall, rotting armchair and hid in it. He shone the torch in every corner. Ignored the knocking at his door, until finally it subsided and she left him.
And now he was here. Again. Or perhaps, still.
He remembered his conversations with Lucy, though not exactly when they had occurred. He wondered if it been a week ago or today...or a month ago, or more.
He shook and tried to breathe and of course, not to blink. It felt he hadn’t done either in a very, very long time. Each shallow breath surprised him.
All he could remember, truly remember in stark and perfect detail, were the shadows. He remembered every outline, every motion, every twisted parody of the human form. His form. And Judith’s.
He couldn’t remember the things he’d done for himself, whether by the easy excuse of creeping dementia or simply the delusional self-denial of a guilty conscience. Maybe both. It didn’t matter, because the shadows were here to remind him.
They were here to laugh and torment and show with painful precision every act he’d ever taken to harm another living soul. The sudden rush of understanding intoxicated him and triggered a masochistic urge to see more.
He blinked and saw the fate of his first and only childhood pet.
He blinked and saw a wedding night that ended in an emergency room.
He blinked and saw himself stab a man with a broken bottle, outside a bar that stank of smoke and sweat.
He felt his heart racing, pounding out a dry solo of desperation and fear in his shallow chest. This wasn’t him; it couldn’t be and yet it was. He knew himself more clearly than he had in years. His eyes glazed over like those a rabid dog that growls feebly at passers-by while it dies. A thin stream of vomit trickled down his chin from between tightly-shuttered lips. Every bone in his head rattled.
He blinked...and there she was. Judith.
Not really, of course. Just her shadow. Even in this pale silhouette, her short and frumpy form was unmistakable to him. Just her shadow and hers alone. No others danced or drank or cackled in the light behind her.
She stood within feet of him, with one stubby arm raised. Pinched between her forefinger and thumb was a tarnished band of polished brass. She tossed it at him with a sudden, violent motion that made him flinch and cry out, just as she had done so many times.
His eyes would've course have followed its lazy flight towards him had not the shadow’s eyes opened.
Spotlights of searing white light erupted from the shapeless darkness of her otherwise blank face. The light so bright it almost had a harsh, terrifying sound of its own, like a keen edge being drawn across a file. It forced him to shut his eyes instinctively, plunging him back into darkness.
He had time for one last thought before the ring finally struck his chest and the light burned him away.
“I hope I didn’t kill her.”
Lucy struggled up the last few steps, adjusting her heavy shopping bags for the hundredth time. Six storeys. Six bloody storeys. Why was the damn lift always broken the day she did her shopping?! She’d tried different days, different time, all to no avail. Every damn time.
It must, she thought, be the water in this old place. Water damage crept into everything at Eden Heights and the lifts were no different. She’d hardly trust them on a good day.
Thinking of water damage, her apartment had gotten a lot worse in these past few weeks. The landlord was no help at all and she didn’t know if could afford a-
Her internal grumbling was cut short as she mounted the last step and saw her balcony abuzz with activity. Gawking neighbours lined the balconies and an impassive bobby stood guard outside the door to...Mr. Exton’s room.
Oh no.
She hadn’t seen him in days, not since he stormed out of her apartment last week. She’d tried to contact him, knocked at his door, but she’d got nothing. She was afraid she’d upset him. And now this...
She paced quickly, ducking and weaving past the curious watchers towards the burly policeman who stood with his hands folded solemnly before him.
“Excuse me,” she almost panted out, “excuse me officer but...the man who lives he alright?”
He regarded her for a moment, though she couldn’t tell if was appraising her trustworthiness or merely eyeing her up. Then, his broad face softened and he spoke,
“No Miss,” he shook his head, “I’m afraid not. The landlord found him, he’d missed his rent.”
She cast an eye into the open apartment behind him and caught a glimpse of a pair of paramedics working slowly at something in a high-backed armchair. Far too slowly.
“I...I see,” her voice came in a terrified whisper, “Was it...I mean, it wasn’t suicide...was it?”
She could it now. She’d driven some poor, harmless old man into his grave.
“I’m afraid I can’t say, Miss. It’s an active scene.”
Lucy could see sympathy in the policeman’s eyes, but frankly his sympathy wasn’t what she needed right now.
She allowed her shopping bags to fall to the concrete floor. She heard a glass bottle of pasta sauce shatter. Didn’t matter. Take the bait, she thought.
“Here Miss, let me,” he said, ducking obligingly to help her. She took her chance and dashed quickly through the open door. It was a small apartment, made smaller by clutter and filth, and she gained the living area in a moment.
If she’d stopped to take notice, she would have been horrified by Mr. Exton’s living conditions. The place was falling apart, every wall brown with streams of water damage. Mould, mildew and of course, his disturbing collection of lights. Harmless individually, together these lights would have painted a terrible picture of Exton’s mind.
She didn’t notice them however, nor did she notice the paramedic’s firm but gentle demands that she leave the scene. She was totally cut off from the world, staring at the form in the chair until she felt the indignant bobby’s hand on her shoulder and he pulled out of the apartment, back onto the soggy concrete balcony.
Automatically, she picked up her shopping bags and walked back to her door, unlocking it without a word. Lucy dropped the bags in her kitchen and took a seat by her window, staring out at the vast grey expanse of the London outskirts.
Arthur hadn’t killed himself; at least she didn’t think so. It was scarcely a relief to her.
His body had sat bolt upright in its chair, dead many days and yet remarkably well-preserved. The expression it bore was one of surprise rather than mortal fear or pain. The eyes were wide open...and blind. A solid, milky white, they stared at nothing until Lucy had entered their range. Then, ridiculous though she now knew it was, she thought they stared at her.
And on the fingers of the body’s right hand, where the still functioning torch on its lap cast its weak and shaky beam, there had reflected the dirty brass glow of a tarnished wedding band.