Welcome back to Book Tuesday and the eerie story of Martha. If you missed last week’s instalment, please click here to catch up.
Darkness had settled in long ago and street lights captured little pockets of light through the constant drizzle. Martha’s bowed figure hid under her small umbrella and skipped the puddles, quick stepping her way home. The town centre sparkled in the distance. Cars trundled past, splashing cold water over her feet and stockinged legs. Suddenly shadows drew long and headed towards her.
“Martha! Martha! Have you come to stay with us today?” they called.
She bent forward with determination, her feet practically running across the sidewalks and skittering over pedestrian crossings.
“Martha! Martha! It’s only a matter of time you know.” The shadows cackled and followed her progress.
Martha tripped on a small protruding cement slab. Down she fell, her knees catching her body before her hands slapped the ground. The umbrella went flying into the darkness. The shadows drew closer, watching. She cried out, swearing at the shadows as though it was their fault. Her stockings were ripped and pin pricks of blood dripped from torn knees. Her hands were smarting and the rain wet everything, making her shiver.
A car drove past, not stopping or even hesitating to see the poor woman lying on the ground. Slowly, carefully, the shadows moved forward, surrounding the crying, broken figure. With unexpected gentleness, they lifted her to standing position and a little shadow retrieved the umbrella.
“Martha! Martha! Come back to us!” the little shadow cried.
She sniffled and rubbed her sore palms against her wet skirt. Somewhere, deep within, she found the courage to keep standing.
“No, my dears, not yet. I will return to you,” she said, a smile returning to the tear stained face.
“Martha! Martha! We miss you!” the shadows cried.
“I miss you too dear!”
She fixed the bent metal bar on her umbrella and held it over her wet head again. Time was going and she needed to be home soon. She moved forward, limping slightly as her left foot dragged. She didn’t need to check it to know that her ankle was twisted and probably swollen. There was still a distance to travel and not much time left.
“Martha! Martha! Time is running out!” the shadows called, now further behind.
“I know my dears. I know!” she whispered more to herself than anyone near her.
The street lights were closer together now and much brighter, filled in with the shopping mall’s glittering windows. People passed her by, nudging and shoving their way to restaurants and bars. No-one questioned her bedraggled appearance or the slow drag of her leg. No-one noticed the grim determination on her face as she crossed the avenues and wide streets, slowly eating into her journey. At last, the town was behind her and she could slow her pace. Agony laced with relief filled her features. She was nearly home.
The gates opened to welcome her and shut as soon as her tired body passed through. It had been quite a journey today. She didn’t know if she would make it tomorrow, or the next. But a promise was a promise. Gerald would be waiting for her. She sighed with quiet satisfaction as she settled in for the night. The neighbours were silent as she relaxed into a peaceful sleep.
A sharp knock rattled the dark blue door at No. 31 Staines Court. No answer. Another bone shaking knock woke the neighbours, who peeped blurry eyes and tired faces out of their doors. The police stood unsmiling; their unfriendly faces discouraging inquisitive questions.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Gerald we know you’re in there. Open up!” one officer shouted in a deep voice.
A latch unlocked and the door slowly opened.
“Whatcha want?” croaked a voice from within.
“Gerald Stanton, we are here with Social Services. Please let us in.”
The figure cowered away from the burly officers pushing their way into the tiny flat. The smell of chicken soup and burnt toast filtered through the musky atmosphere.
“Mr Stanton, we have to take you into care. Is there anything you would like us to pack for you?”
Gerald’s sobs blotted out his mumbled response.
“She’s not dead! She looks after me! She made me soup and toast,” he croaked, his voice breaking. “She was here I tell you.”
“I’m so sorry Gerald. It’s time for you to move on. Come on, come with us and we will take you to Sunny Meadows just down the road. There’s plenty of company and lots of soup and toast if you like!” the officer reasoned.
“No! No! I’m not going. She’s coming back tomorrow. I’m not going anywhere. She won’t find me!” he cried.
They held him up as he tried to shake their strong arms off. The hoodie fell away, showing a skeletal figure, thin and emaciated. Both officers swallowed the gasps that wanted to escape and their hands loosened slightly on the frail bones hidden under the layers of clothing and blankets.
“Sarge, come see this,” called an officer from the bedroom just off the entranceway. The two disappeared into the bedroom. Words drifted back to the younger officer holding Gerald.
“I thought they found her here?”
“We can’t remove him without consent.”
“…cooking, cleaning for himself shows he can care for himself…”
“…soup…yes I know…”
They returned to the entranceway with the Social Services agent.
“Gerald, we need to take you in with us. You can’t stay here by yourself,” said the Social Worker.
“Martha comes. She is coming back tomorrow again.”
“No Martha is gone Gerald.”
“Martha, will come, damn you! Martha!” his raspy voice screamed.
All three officers looked at each other. They couldn’t do anything further. The Social Worker advised Gerald of his rights and they left, promising to return within a week to check on him again. The dark blue door slammed shut in their faces.