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Image by Drew Tilk

JUSTIN

October 31, 2019

This 1500ish word story, was submitted to Genrecon’s Short Story Competition - Poltergeists and Petticoats on the 31st October 2019. This was my first competition placing (third), so another story that holds a special place. Actually, I'm not fussed on the title, but too late for that.


The brief:

Supernatural beings, a classic romance tale or a mix of both? Just be sure to include an element related to either a poltergeist or a petticoat (or both) in your story to be eligible for entry. Simply submit a 1500-word story relating to our ‘Poltergeists and Petticoats’ theme for your chance to win!

Justin: Work

Beverly’s fingers trembled as she brought the cigarette to her lips.

“I’m sorry Mrs Marsh,” the blonde, plump nurse said as she plucked the thin white cylinder from Beverly’s mouth, snapped it and threw it in the small white bin, “This is a smoke-free zone.”

Ironic, Beverly thought, as she wrapped the white paper gown tightly around her, your house burns down, and you’re not even allowed one lousy smoke. And now it’s raining to boot.

“I want to see him,” she said, the same way a petulant child would while waiting to see a clown perform at a child’s birthday party.

The nurse flicked the tip of a syringe.

“Please calm down Mrs Marsh, you’ve been through a lot.”

“It’s Beverly.”

“Ok, Beverly.”

Over time the nurse had perfected her condescending smile. She dropped one on Beverly, causing her patient’s blood to boil over.

Beverly Marsh gripped the nurse’s wrist.

“I want to see my son, I want to see Justin, he’s in the next room, and he’s non-verbal. He’s probably terrified. Why can’t I see him?”

This was the policeman’s time to shine. Beverly hadn’t even noticed him sitting in the corner.

 “We’ll get to that in due time, Beverly,” he said.

The nurse let out a sigh and returned to performing a few reflex and visual tests, noting the results in her chart.


Two squiggly lines traced across Beverly’s ash smudged face. Her eye twitched, and she craned her head to hear the tapping emanating from the other room. 

*Dash Dash Dot Dot Dash Dash Dash 

MUM

“Quick,” she said, “I need a pen.”

The nurse pulled one out of the front pocket of the uniform and presented it. Beverly snatched the pen and began tapping on the bed’s guide rails. The police officer and the nurse stared quizzically until Beverly looked up, beaming from ear to ear.

“Morse code,” she explained in between tapping out her reply, “We’ve been practising.”

She waited for a response.

The policeman spoke up.

“What did you hear, Beverly?”

“The fire was his fault, but he didn’t mean it,” she said, and when neither the nurse nor the police officer spoke, “We were lucky to get out of there alive. Justin’s upset. You’d better sedate him.”

The police officer pulled out a pad and pen.

“Ms Marsh, may I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure,” she said, “But please, it’s Beverly.”

“Ok, Beverly. My name is Officer Brunker,” he said, smiling with too many teeth. 

All she wanted was to wrap her son in a bear hug.

“I don’t know if you remember me, Beverly, but I was the responding officer last night, you called up and said some kids were throwing things at your house.”

Realisation washed over Beverly’s face.

 “It lasted for over twenty minutes. I was too scared to go outside and tell them to stop. So, I called the police, and you showed up.”

He kept his gaze on Beverly.

 “And I told you there was no damage, no sign of any trick or treaters.”

 “I remember,” she frowned.

“Beverly,” Officer Brunker said, “Can you tell me what happened after I left last night?”

 “With all due respect, Officer Brunker, I don’t care what you said, I heard them. Grabbing whatever they could get their hands on, and chucking it at my house. I wouldn’t mind so much if they included Justin in some of their games instead of pretending he doesn’t exist. It upsets him. Then he lashes out.”

“He lashes out? At you?”

“At everything.”

She became small. “Sometimes, I have to yell at him.”

“Did you yell at him last night?” Brunker asked.

 “He had one of his turns the night of the fire.”

“That was just a few hours ago, Beverly. Remember?” Brunker said, before waiting close to a minute, unconsciously placing a pen in his mouth and taking a deep breath while waiting for Beverly to answer.

“Oh, yes,” she said, as she ran her hand across her face and inspected the soot between her fingers, rubbing them together.

Brunker removed the pen from his mouth and stared at it a moment. He’d given up smokes more than three years ago, but the oral habit remained.

“Beverly, your son, Justin, was born here on October 31st, 2012, is that right?”

“That’s right,” Beverly smiled.

“So, he would be 8 years old now? Is that correct?”

 “He turned 8 yesterday. We were meant to go trick or treating. I thought he could dress up as a ghost. I didn’t want him muddying up the sheets, so I went up to the attic and found a faded white petticoat. It was bell shaped. I laid the costume for him.”

“Then what happened?”

“That’s when those children began throwing things at the house and making a god-awful racket. That’s when I called you.”

“You were very upset when I arrived last night, Beverly.”

“Of course I was. Justin was upset too. Too upset to go trick or treating.”

 “Where was he last night when we spoke?”

“In his room.”

“Ok, so what happened after I left?”

“We had dinner and his birthday cake. I lit the candles on his cake. He had one of his turns.”

“Turns?”

“Yes, ‘turns’ running around and causing a ruckus. I chased him around the house, screaming at him to calm down. He ripped books out of the shelves, ripped my paintings. It took me about 10 minutes to settle him down. The dining room was an inferno when I came back. He’d accidently thrown his costume onto the cake, and it caught fire.”

Officer Brunker and the nurse trade a look. Beverly stared at them both.

“Is Justin ok?”

Office Brunker slid a plastic chair over and sat down opposite Beverly 

“There’s only one problem, Beverly. Events can’t have transpired as you’ve suggested.”

“What are you saying?”

Beverly bit here lip. The nurse took Beverly's hand and gave it a small squeeze.

“Doctor?” she called, and a tanned and bleary-eyed Doctor appeared from around the corner. The nurse stood up and shuffled back to the end of the bed. The nurse and the Officer Brunker stood awkwardly beside each other, not really wanting to witness the interaction, but unable to look away.

“Beverly, Doctor Laros, nice to see you again,” he said, taking her hand in his.

A thin smile appeared on Beverly’s lips, but her eyes were focused on an unseen presence across the room.

“Doctor Laros, I remember,” she said, “You delivered Justin.”  

She let go of the Doctor’s hand. He pulled up the chair so they were eye to eye.

“I know you’ve been through a lot, Beverly, and I hear you were fortunate to escape the fire tonight. You got a nasty knock on the head and you’ve suffered minor smoke inhalation.”

Beverly turned and looked out the window. Her handheld mirror fell off of the window sill and smashed on the floor. All four heads swivelled towards the noise. Doctor Laros turned back to Beverly and took her hand in his.

“Beverly, I want to go back a few years now. What do you remember about that night you came in?”

Beverly looked at each person in the room, sighed and began.

“It was Halloween night. I was having a shower when I heard the doorbell. I jumped out and raced to get to the door in time. I didn’t want anyone to miss out on candy. I was wet, of course, and the wooden floorboards were slippery. I slipped and fell on my back, and that’s when I went into labour. The ambulance came, and I saw you just in time.”

The Doctor lowered his head.

“Marilyn, I understand the hurt you’re feeling.”

“He was born here. “

“I’ve got the information right here. He was born eight years ago on October 31st, it was a Tuesday. Do you remember what happened once you arrived here? The complications.”

Beverly hugged the pillow tightly to her chest as the floodgates of tears opened.

“No mother forgets the birth of her first child.”

“Or the loss of, I’m afraid. I’m so sorry Beverly.”

“I want to be alone.”

Beverly looked around the room at the three of them, each stuck in funeral body language. Officer Brunker and Doctor Laros each made brief eye contact then slowly walked out of the room and back into their ordinary lives. The nurse gave her a hug which wasn’t reciprocated, then told Beverly she’d be back to check on her soon.

 Beverly lay down on the surprisingly comfortable bed and stared out, watching the raindrops dripping down the window pane.

“Justin,” she asked the empty room, “Are you there, baby?”

 *Dash Dot Dash Dash Dot Dot Dot Dot / Dash Dash Dot Dot Dash Dash Dash 

 YES MUM…

Justin: Text
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