Chuck Wendig wants the first part of a spooky story that others will carry on. Time to break out and do my own spooky story, but still in two parts.
This one involves a wardrobe. I woke up with the start of the story, but I have a feeling it borrows heavily from something I read in Synchronic. I’ll finish it next week.
The Wardrobe (Part 1)
It all started with a clearance sale.
All the usual dealers trooped over to the house, picked over the contents, which varied from slightly saleable to outright junk, and made bids that disappointed the deceased’s offspring. Something about the wardrobe called to me.
Listening to it was the biggest mistake of my life.
I should have guessed, really. I mean, unlike the rest of the house, it had no sign of woodworm, dry rot, spiders, beetles, or mould. It looked freshly polished, and if it wasn’t for the patina, I’d have thought it was new. I did look it over carefully, and even more carefully once I got it back to my store, with a reference book beside me. It didn’t look faked. Even with all the Tricks of the Trade Laid Bare beside me, I couldn’t fault it. Maybe it was a genuine Louis XIV wardrobe.
It had been in the showroom a month before Arthur pottered over with a cup of tea, which he placed on the grubby blotter in front of me, and muttered “It’s a bit odd.”
“What is, Arthur?”
“That there…” he tossed his head at the wardrobe. “Not quite right.”
“I know what you mean. Too shiny. But I can’t find a fault.”
He’d helped me go over it. I knew he knew that.
“Arrh.” He shuffled away, glancing sidelong at the wardrobe as if it was out to get him.
Maybe it was.
I’d been away for a week on one of my France trips, checking a few more decrepit former chateaus that the owners had long sold into communes. Apartments in them often turned up gems. Nothing this time, though. I dropped into the showroom on my way home from the station, or would have done if I hadn’t had to open it up. A note from Arthur on my desk read: Tuesday – feeling rough, might not make it tomorrow. Today was Friday. I detoured to Arthur’s flat, worrying. Nothing kept Arthur from his first love, antiques.
His flat was in the basement of a typical London Georgian terrace. I went down the neatly kept outside stairs and knocked. Nothing. The windows were shuttered, which was odd for this time of day if he was in. At the main door I rang his bell, then the bell for the lady on the second floor, who had been twitching the curtains as I arrived.
After the third degree over the intercom, she deigned to tell me. Taken to hospital on Wednesday night. Died Thursday.
What of? She didn’t know. Try St. Agnes’.
I went home, grieving. Arthur was as good a friend as any, and I reckoned I was the only one he had. I was surprised I hadn’t been notified as next of kin. Turned out I had. The string of messages on the voicemail took me through the sorry tale. Unknown illness; come at once; sorry to tell you; will you be making the arrangements?
Why hadn’t they come to my mobile?
How had that happened? I always have my home phone diverted to my mobile. Nobody called me at home, as a rule.
I sighed and called St.Agnes’ to be told he was in the mortuary and could I arrange for the undertaker to remove the body.
“No, he was admitted to the care of our doctor, so that was already taken care of.”
“What did he die of?”
“Heart failure, officially. We have the official record for you, but you still have to register his death and obtain the death certificate.”
“And I can fix the funeral?”
“Yes, unless the Registry Office say otherwise. Straightforward in these cases. Nothing suspicious.”
“But… heart failure? Why?”
Further questioning gave me the impression that as Arthur was old, over 80, in fact, which was revealed in an accusatory tone implying I’d worked him to death, and how could I be his next of kin without knowing his age, and was considered not to have a strong constitution, whatever that meant, it was an open and shut case for them. Sad, but everybody has to go sometime.
To me, Arthur was as strong as an ox. He’d been shifting furniture all his life, including last Saturday. Although, when I thought back, he hadn’t seemed as strong on Saturday as he had before the wardrobe came to the showroom.
The wardrobe, that he had thought was a bit odd.
I buried Arthur, and got on with running the business on my own. Tried a few new assistants, but nobody really measured up. Meant I worked late on many occasions. My social life started to suffer, and I found grey hairs proliferating, to the extent I tried the comb-through ‘Just for Men.’ Looked daft, but I continued with it.
Christmas and new year came and went, and it was slow business in the shop. Often is at that time of year, but there were plans to make for sales in the spring, and people to call about items of interest, theirs and mine. Sold some trinkets that way, one of which later appeared on television and sold for twice as much.
I was working late on a quiet February evening when the whispering started.
Stupid really. All the best horror films start that way. I wandered around the showroom, listening, trying to pinpoint the sound. Maybe rats in the basement. No, I checked. We’d had them in the past, and I knew the signs. Besides, the sounds were upstairs.
I toured the showroom. Somehow, either Arthur or I had managed to put the wardrobe in the middle of the side wall, surrounded by so much bulky furniture that it was impossible to reach it without clambering over things. I stood behind the very nice moire-covered Chesterfield style sofa, which was a steal at £1,000, although I’d part with it for £400 if the buyer bargained well enough, and gazed at the wardrobe. I could no longer hear the whispering, but I could swear it had died down the nearer I got.
It was just a wardrobe.
And wardrobes didn’t whisper.
to be continued….
© J M Pett 2016