Entry for SCREAMS!!! 12/07/2019. A family comes to visit. Honourable Mention.
|It’s All Relative
Bradley Squires was not the most imaginative of men. A lifetime of work in the accountancy field did not encourage or nurture such things as active imaginations. Numbers had a way of wrapping their devotees in the armour of certainty and the inevitability of their conclusions led their servants to a belief that life, too, was predictable and under control. Bradley had bought into this philosophy very early in his career and now, in his fifties, he was a master of the confidence that comes from the accountant’s faith.
It is understandable, therefore, that the arrival of a hooded figure on his doorstep was a bit disconcerting to Bradley. His visitor seemed to have no face, the hood of his robe being occupied only by darkness. The robe itself struck the accountant as being a bit unusual, too. Not everyone he knew had a tendency towards dark, ominous clothing that covered one from head to foot. Bradley decided to brazen it out.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
There was a pause that seemed to Bradley to stretch on into eternity and then the figure responded in a deep, hollow voice.
“I don't think so. It's more that I can help you.”
“You can help me? And what kind of service are you offering?” Bradley did not know it but his question indicated the first crack in his armour of certainty. Curiosity originates in a desire to know and understand, what we might call the first flicker of imagination.
“I am the Introduction,” intoned the dark figure on his doorstep.
“Umm, the introduction to what?” asked the accountant, entirely ignorant of the fact that his words brought him further along the path to awareness.
“That shall be revealed,” answered his visitor. “Is it customary in your world to leave guests standing upon the welcome mat?”
The trap closed upon Bradley. His straitened philosophy dictated that good manners were essential to an undisturbed course through life. He stood aside and held out an arm to indicate the figure should enter.
The cloaked figure took a step up to the threshold and passed through, ducking his head as he proceeded through the doorway. Bradley realised for the first time that his visitor was uncommonly tall, towering above the accountant as he did.
Once inside, the figure moved as though he knew the layout intimately. With stately and unhurried tread, he walked down the short passage and turned left into the living room. Bradley followed, already in awe of the stature and presence of his visitor.
With precise aim, the figure moved to Bradley’s favourite chair and sat down. He indicated the couch opposite and Bradley, without a thought of rebellion, sat where bidden. For a few moments, silence fell on them, Bradley wondering whether he should offer tea or coffee, his visitor just observing. At last, the accountant felt moved to speak.
“My name is Bradley,” he announced.
“I know,” replied the figure.
“And your name is…?” Politeness was all very well but it was a reciprocal arrangement after all. Bradley felt that he had a right to know, in spite of the great fear he sensed lurking at his shoulder.
“No, I am not Death,” answered the void that filled the hood. “I have no name but you may think of me in the way I am most referred to. You may call me The Unknown.”
The fear pounced and Bradley was thrown into a world in which nothing was certain, where dark figures lurked in the shadows and unearthly noises scraped at the imagination. The accountant shrank back into the cushions of the couch as though trying to hide in their softness. The room grew darker and The Unknown seemed no more substantial than a wraith occupying the chair opposite.
“You have led a charmed life, Bradley Squires.” The voice was even deeper and more threatening than before. “You have never known the fear of me. Imagination has not whispered of my presence and curiosity has not drawn you to stare into fathomless pits. But you are learning already. I have come to stay with you and teach you many things.”
“You- you’ve come to stay?”
The Unknown laughed, sending shivers of terror down Bradley’s spine. “Oh yes, my friend. Those who know me live with me for the rest of their days. And I, with them.”
Bradley said nothing, the despair of a terror-filled future too great for speech. The Unknown sat back in his chair and the fear eased a little.
“But I have not mentioned my most immediate intent,” said the dark presence. “I said that I am the Introduction and that is our first item of business. This is, in fact, in the nature of a family reunion. My family, as it happens. You already have met me and received my gift of Fear. There are others on their way, however, and I expect them at any moment.”
Exactly on cue, the doorbell rang. The Unknown rose and paced across the room, disappearing into the passage. The level of fear in poor Bradley’s heart did not dissipate, however. He cringed down further into the couch as indistinct and ghostly voices drifted from the front door.
The voices ceased and then The Unknown was back in the room, accompanied by another figure. She was smaller than The Unknown and pale rather than dark, dressed in ragged and dirty robes that must once have been white. Her face was deathly, her eyes deep-sunk, ringed with darkness and reddened with veins threading their surfaces. The lips were bloody, cracked and unable to hide her stained and uneven teeth. Her arms were skeletal and scattered with open sores.
“My cousin, Disease.” announced The Unknown. He sat down again in his chosen seat and Disease moved to hover in front of Bradley before sitting down next to him. She spoke with a thin and wheezing voice.
“It’s alright, Dearie, no need to introduce yourself. My cousin has told me all about you. We’re going to be such good friends.” Her mouth grinned like a stab wound at him and Bradley felt nausea rise like a tide to grasp his throat.
The doorbell rang again and The Unknown rose to his feet. “That’ll be your sister, I think, Disease,” he said. Once more he disappeared into the passage and they heard voices from the direction of the front door.
He returned with another strange figure, a companion wrinkled with age and unkempt, eyes staring and mouth drooling, hands fluttering in meaningless arabesques, constant movement depriving her of whatever grace she might once have possessed.
“Another cousin,” said The Unknown. “This is Dementia, one of our favourite relatives and I trust you’ll treat her well.” Taking the creature’s hand in his, he led her to the couch and helped her to sit on the seat next to Bradley. He returned to his chair.
“What time is it?” asked the old crone.
Bradley looked around but the clock set on the wall above the fireplace had lost its hour hand. It was ten past something but that was no help. He managed to mumble an answer.
“I don’t know. Clock’s broken.”
Dementia did not seem to care. “Who are you anyway?” she demanded. “What’s your name, Bradley?”
“Yes, that’s it,” replied Bradley. “At least, I think it is.”
Across the room, The Unknown was talking again. “Hmm, he’s late again. Always either late or early. Still, we’ll have a bit more time with our friend in that case. Always good to be with family, isn’t it, Bradley?”
The accountant was frozen with terror, illness and confusion but he managed a few words even so.
“Who’s coming? Who are you talking about?”
Again, The Unknown let out a brief laugh. “Oh, don’t worry. By the time he gets here you’ll be glad to see him. He’s kinda the head of the family. Goes by the name of Death amongst you folk. But such a relief, I’m told. You’re going to love him.”
Word Count: 1,337
Prompt: The relatives come over