WARNING: This story contains death and references to insanity.
I'm going to kill 'Aunt Maddie'. Prancing about like she owns everything, talking in that 'high-and-mighty', condescending voice. It makes me sick. I'll show her that she doesn't own me.
I suppose it isn't good to sit here and brood. I don't know how long I've been like this. When I sat down it was black outside and the oil lamp had just started to burn. Now the flame is gone and the sun is showering light upon the walls. I sigh. My hours of worry cost me another lamp and I still have no solution. I get up and shave, noticing the dark circles around my eyes. This isn't doing me any good.
My pale coat and bowler hat are hanging patiently by the door. I put them on and walk outside, towards the café, as if I hadn't a care in the world. If only. The streets are lively and swarming with people. Businessmen, artists, children and old ladies, all bustling and shouting good-natured greetings to everyone they pass. Old ladies... Maybe I should visit Lady Mirrelton again soon. It must be very lonely living like she does, with no-one else to talk to. No-one else...
Very silly of dear 'Aunt Maddie' to will me money. Doesn't she realise that I'm just itching for an excuse to kill her?
I step inside the café, the smell of grilled sandwiches and coffee hitting me like a wave. The waitress grins at me and shows me a table near the window with a wave of her hand. I sit down and smile as she walks away. She doesn't take my order; She doesn't need to. I'm a regular here.
Now, the problem at hand. How to get money. After one month of 'forgetting' to pay rent my landlady is getting suspicious, and besides, soon I might not even have enough money to feed myself. I shouldn't have ordered, but I've got to keep appearances up, so maybe it was better that way.
How should I do it? I don't own a knife, it was taken from me last year at the bar. (All I did was give Bobby a bleeding ear. It's not a crime.) A shame though. I would've liked to see the fear in her eyes when I unsheathed it. I laugh, imagining her face. Three pairs of inquisitive eyes turn towards me. How did I get here? I look around. I recognize this café.
I've been here before. I want to share the joke (Imagine her scream!) but that would give it all away. Bad luck to get arrested for murder before it's done.
Hanging? No, you can't wipe finger prints off a rope. I stroke my chin. I must've shaved this morning. Poison? Perfect. But which kind? 'Aunt Maddie' lives alone, so I could use a slow-acting poison. I rub my hands together.
The waitress is back with my food and an almost volcanic coffee. She knows how I like it; Sweet, with lots of cinnamon. There's too much cinnamon and the coffee here is always too hot or too cold, but cinnamon is tricky and it's the service that counts. She smiles at me, and I smile back. I should ask her name.
How do I raise money? My job doesn't give me enough but it would be plain career suicide to ask for a raise. I think back to Lady Mirrelton. I really should visit her soon. Maybe she could be persuaded to lend me some until I can pay her back. After all, I get it when she dies anyway. I sip my coffee and smile warmly as the sweet liquid trickles down my throat. Ah. Perfect.
I laugh again. The waitress is staring so I give her an especially devilish grin. She turns away; I unsettled her. I cackle loudly, and more heads turn towards me. I stare back at them with a monkey's grin on my face. The fat woman with a bald patch is getting uncomfortable. I'm not surprised. I would be uncomfortable with that many chins too.
A little man in the corner has just woken up. I flip my grin on him, then quickly switch it off and turn away. He has a stern look on his face that reminds me of my childhood tutor. Nasty little man.
A casual glance across the tables tells me that it's the café's 'quiet time'. Only two tables are occupied. At the one closest to me, a comfortably round woman with a benevolent face is reclining in a chair, smoking. A stern-faced little man sits at the other – Funny, he reminds me of someone.
Stop getting distracted. I've settled on a slow-acting poison, so that I can watch her face as she realises that I've killed her. She'll be helpless. I might stay while she pleads and begs for me to cure her, until she's down on her knees begging for mercy. Then I'll leave, just in case anyone comes along.
What to do, what to do. I cling to the idea of getting money from Lady Mirrelton, pride forgotten. If only she would die – How can I think that? Such a nice old lady. But still the thought lingers, not pushed away or fully accepted.
Which poison? I stand up, kicking over my chair and leave. I don't bother checking my wallet for money. If I did eat anything, I didn't notice it, so why should I pay? I blend into the crowd on my way back home. The air stinks of people, and everyone is rushing about, attentive only to themselves.
- The waitress stared at the door, a broken chair lying unheeded beside her. The gentleman hadn't paid his bill. -
I've been so lost in thought that I hadn't noticed leaving the café. I must be near home. I wonder if I paid for my coffee, then decide that it doesn't matter.
The door slams behind me. Now where did I put that book?
There it is. I stand on a table, kicking over a lamp as I reach for the top shelf. The book falls into my hands. 'Beginner's Guide To Deadly Poisons'. Just what I need. I settle down to read and flick through the pages.
'Thallium'. That sounds right. '800mg'... 'lethal dose'. Good... 'Varied symptoms'. Hmm... 'very painful'... and very slow... All in order. 'Often found in rat poison.' Perfect. Except I won't be there to watch her die, although it's a small price to pay to be rid of that rat. At least she'll die slowly. In the safety of my own home I laugh again. The sound echoes around the walls, harsh and gravelly. Time to plan properly.
If I was the criminal type, how would I kill Lady Mirrelton? I would use poison, of course (even if I were the criminal type I wouldn't be able to stomach knifing her, and anyway I lost it last year). Any old household poison. Rat poison would be as good as any. And of course if I were the criminal type, I would do it... Tonight.
Out of pure curiosity I rummage around the house for some rat poison. I find it in the corner of the kitchen, dusty but still intact. Now if I were the criminal type I would pour this into something small and put it in my pocket for ready use. I do. Good.
I've figured it out. It will happen tonight. Everything's ready. Now to wait.
No. I've been deluding myself. I can't do it. I can't, I can't. Lady Mirrelton has always been kind to me. I was more than her nephew; I was her friend. I can't kill her in cold blood. I walk to the window and stare out at the cool night sky. This late already? I must be going mad.
It's time. I run along, trying to keep to the shadows, behind bushes and trees as often as I can. I've read enough of this stuff to be a professional. The house isn't far. Almost there.
I arrive, and after knocking for a considerable length of time I'm admitted by 'Aunt Maddie' herself. She says nothing until we're inside.
“Spots!” she says, her wrinkles creasing and multiplying as she gives me a ghoulish smile. I have to suppress a snarl. Silly childish nickname.
It's warm here, candles glowing faintly along the hallway. 'Aunt Maddie' is old-fashioned, she can't bare anything else. Again I have to suppress a snarl, but she doesn't seem to notice, leading me up the stairs as if I were a new servant. Her dress, yellow with age, trails behind her.
“Tea, Spots?” she asks, smiling – if you can call it smiling – at me. Inwardly I bristle at the hated nickname, but outwardly I only smile back and say, “No thank you Aunt Maddie. Should I make some for you?” in what I hope is the voice of a caring 'nephew'. She nods, and her wrinkles multiply again until her face is just mountains and valleys with two colourless eyes set deep inside.
I prepare the tea in the next room, hearing her bones creak as she lowers herself into a chair. I pour the rat poison into her drink and slowly stir it in. When I'm sure that it's fully dissolved, I stop stirring and carefully bring the cup in to the old relic. She accepts the tea with a toothless smile plastered on her face and gestures to a chair.
I stare at her, careful to hide my hate. The only thing stopping me from getting up here and now and strangling her is the thought of what will happen to her after I'm gone. I imagine her crawling on the floor, unable to get up, pain racking her body with every breath. Her voice interrupts my pleasant daydream, saying “Thank you. You're the only person who's bothered to visit me this year.” I can see why. Detestable old lady. I can't wait until she dies.
I stand up and ask her to excuse me. “I have some business to attend to,” I say. She just pulls a sad puppy face and nods. I tell her I can find my own way out, and leave without another word.
As I walk away I chuckle quietly to myself. The old bird was so desperate for company that she forgot to pull her 'regal lady' act on me. Well, you'll have a real need for company soon, Miss High-and-Mighty Lady Madeline Mirrelton.
- Out on the river, a fisherman started with fear as a sound like the laugh of Death reached his ears. -
One month later...
News spreads fast, and when it comes to news about murder there are only two types of people: Those who are ghoulishly excited, and those who pretend not to be. So naturally the papers sold fast when it was headline news, and each paper promised its own 'unique story'. 'Lady Mirrelton Dies: Exclusive Story from Eye-Witness' was the bold claim of one paper. 'Serial Killer Strikes Again', the guess of another, as well as the ludicrous 'Lady Hermit Says Hello To Death', 'Lady Mirrelton Meets Her Doom', 'Yet Another Mysterious Poisoning', and suchlike from innumerable others. Only one paper solidly refused to join the trend, broadcasting the news 'War Imminent: Inside Scoop' to anyone who cared. Needless to say, they didn't sell much.
Being her 'devoted nephew', I naturally have to attend the inquest. So far nothing much has happened. I yawn. I might fall asleep soon. I won't miss anything.
The Coroner calls the doctor to the stand. I shiver. Inquests are unpleasant at the best of times, but now... I wonder if I could be hanged for Attempted Murder. Or would it be Murderous Intent?
The questions have already began. I missed the first few. It proceeded like this:
Coroner: What relation were you to the deceased?
Doctor: Second cousin twice removed, I believe. She had a large family, although she wasn't visited often.
Coroner: Kindly answer the questions and nothing else. I meant, did you attend the deceased?
(The Coroner looks ruffled)
Coroner: How accurately can you place the time of death?
Doctor: Between ten days and two weeks.
Coroner: Have you yet held a post-mortem?
Doctor: The post-mortem revealed distinct traces of thallium.
Doctor: Commonly found in rat poison.
(I start. Rat poison. I remember that night and shiver again.)
Coroner: You believe there was a sufficient amount to cause death?
(The audience can't keep quiet.)
Coroner: Could it have been swallowed by accident?
Coroner: Can you give a reason for this?
Doctor: After a thorough search of the house no rat poison was found.
Coroner: Could it conceivably be suicide?
(The Coroner has to shout for silence.)
Coroner: Then you believe it is murder?
By now the blood has drained from my face and an almost overwhelming wave of guilt floods my senses. The word rings in my ears like a church bell. Murder. It takes all the strength I have not to jump up and confess. But I didn't do it. I need to convince myself that I didn't do it.
People are looking at me. They're talking about me. “Poor dear. The nephew, can't you see darling, he must be distraught. He looks positively ill.” I can see the speaker, a middle-aged woman with her husband. She gives me a friendly smile. But I look behind her, at the ones I can't hear, and they don't look friendly at all.
I didn't miss anything. Or rather I did, because I was asleep the whole time.
The rest of the inquest goes without much fuss. But what comes next is worse.
The trial. Why aren't I surprised? Somehow I can't tell who is on trial. It might be me. But it doesn't really matter, does it?
The next witness is being called. In the witness box, he swears that the evidence he will give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I doubt it. He has big, glazed eyes like a cod, and a face to match. Completely untrustworthy, in my opinion. His evidence amounts to hearing a laugh across the river near Lady Mirrelton's house, two weeks ago. The audience titters and I laugh openly, glad that no-one takes him seriously. I should've been quieter. He turns around and points at me. “That's the same laugh,” he says.
I'm called to the witness box.
A an angry bean pole of a man is barking questions at me like a rabid dog. I yawn, and wait until he is finished before saying calmly, “I assure you I didn't murder my aunt.” He looks surprised, and so does the jury. Murderers never use the word 'murder'. I don't see any reason for it; that's what it is, so why not call it that? But to the jury it gives me a point in my favour.
I can't remember the trial. Fear must've frozen my memory. I don't know who was on trial. My only consolation is, at least it isn't me. That much I know. The only thing I remember is the stern-faced little man from the café in the witness box. He gave his occupation as psychologist. I don't see what he's got to do with it.
The jury takes almost an hour to consider the verdict, but I can guess what it will be.
“Guilty, My Lord.” I guessed wrong.
Silence. Dead silence. I laugh, and even to my own ears it sounds mad, the voice of Death thwarted. Everything runs to black.
I don't remember the verdict, but it wasn't 'Not Guilty'. Then everything becomes confused.
They shove me into a police car, and tell me we're on our way to Dartmoor Asylum. A long way. The officer next to me is smiling, but I can't see the joke. “I wasn't the one on trial. Why are you taking me away?” I ask. He doesn't answer, he just keeps smiling. Dartmoor Asylum. I run my tongue over my cracked lips. They can't take me there. I'm not insane. Am I?