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“He’s a scam artist!”
Tim Golding faced his accuser. The silver haired husband was long and top-heavy like a cobra, and seemed just as deadly, but Tim wasn’t going to be insulted. “Sir, might I just add that it was your wife who contacted me. If you’d like me to leave, I shall. I’d rather be watching The X Files, anyway. Tonight is the night they finally get it on, I’m positive. So, if I’m not needed here then I’ll—”
The wife yelped from the back of the room. There was trauma on her face, and the charcoal bags beneath her eyes suggested a series of sleepless nights. “No,” she said, “please help us.”
Tim sighed, unable to turn his back on someone who could possibly need his help. “Why don’t you start by telling me what’s been happening. Why did you contact me?”
The woman’s face nearly crumbled into sobs, but she forced a weary smile then led Tim into a plushly carpeted dining room where a set of leather chairs cosied up against a polished oak table. Tim slid out one of the chairs and plonked himself down. The silver haired husband sat too, but made no secret of his cynicism, huffing and puffing with every breath.
I get it, tough guy. You think I’m a fraud, here to take your money. If only you knew the truth, buddy…
Tim clasped his slender hands together on the table and gave his most reassuring smile. The wife had taken a chair opposite and was now staring at him like a frightened child.
The lights in the room flickered.
The wife whimpered, but the husband was quick to shrug and offer an explanation. “Dodgy wiring.”
Tim kept focusing on the wife. In the brighter light of the dining room, she seemed younger than her husband, and he got a strange vibe from them as a couple. They didn’t make sense.
It wasn’t Tim’s role to speak — and risk influencing the narrative in any way — so he waited in silence. The wife eventually began, and she sounded like a timid mouse as she spoke. “It started about a month ago,” she said, “when our dog, Buster, brought something home.”
Tim glanced around the room. No evidence of a dog. No family pictures featuring a pooch. No pet bed lying in the corner. The dining room was devoid of anything except the table and chairs.
“You have a dog?”
The woman shook her head. “Not anymore.”
The husband grunted. “Stupid mutt got himself trapped in our fishpond.”
Tears welled up in the wife’s eyes, but her husband made no move to comfort her. “Buster was our little Jack Russell,” she explained. “We were always on at him to stay out of the pond, but he would never listen. He was always taking a dip, like it was his own personal swimming pool, but then a few weeks ago I went into the garden and I, and I,” she wiped at her eyes, “I found him there at the bottom of the pond. His collar had caught on a root sticking through the pond’s lining and he couldn’t get his little head back above the water.”
Tim offered the woman a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his scuffed leather jacket. The husband eyeballed him. “Nice. Is that one of your props?”
Tim ignored the comment and kept his focus on the wife. “So tell me, what was it your dog brought home before he… passed?”
Tim raised a copper-coloured eyebrow. “Human?”
“Of course not!” said the husband. “Don’t you think we would‘ve called the police?”
Tim shrugged. “You could have, for all I know. Until your wife called me I didn’t know a thing about either of you.”
The husband scoffed. “I’ll bet.”
“It was a chicken bone,” said the wife. “At least I think it was — small and sharp.”
Tim rubbed at the rusty stubble on his chin. If it’d been a human bone it might’ve summoned a poltergeist or wraith… but a chicken bone? Never heard of a malevolent chicken spirit before. Poultry is often used in Voodoo rituals, but I’ve never seen the practice this side of the Atlantic. Hmm, it’s an interesting fact but not one that makes much sense.
Tim cleared his throat and prodded at the meat of the mystery, seeing what lay beneath the skin. “So what was the first occurrence? Incident? Whatever you want to call it.”
The wife took a deep breath, and then came out with it. “It was during the night. About 3AM. We were both sleeping, of course.”
“But something woke you?”
“Yes. The light in the bedroom switched on by itself. It was odd enough to worry me, but when I got up to turn it off I realised the hallway light was on as well. Then, as I investigated, I found every single light in the house was on — even the lamps.”
“Like I said,” the husband chimed in, “dodgy wiring.”
Tim nodded. He was growing weary of the man’s cynicism. An educated guess told him he was ex-military — someone who yearned authority. “Did anything else unusual happen that night?”
The wife shook her head. “I didn’t sleep another wink, but it wasn’t until the next day I knew something was really wrong.”
Tim nodded slightly. “Go on.”
“Well, the whole house became like the Arctic Circle for a start. I’m sure you can feel it now. It’s freezing. We have the heat on all the time, but it never does any good. One night, I was so cold I decided to take a bath to warm up, but when I….” A short sob escaped her lips. “Sorry, just give me a second.”
“Daft mare thinks she saw blood coming out the taps,” said the husband, folding his arms and rolling his eyes.
Tim took a deep breath and made a mental note. He addressed the husband, meeting the stare of the man’s steely blue eyes. “Did you see it yourself, sir?”
“Nothing but a bath full of water. It was probably just rust from the pipes. It’s an old house.”
Tim nodded, but disagreed. The house didn’t look more than twenty years old. “Okay, how long after these occurrences did your dog die?”
“A few days,” the wife answered. “Other weird things happened, but nothing like what happened to Buster. We buried him in the garden, and that night I was woken again. All the lights were on again, but this time there were noises too. It was Buster. Barking from the garden. It sounds crazy, I know, but I know Buster’s bark. I ran into the garden, thinking he had dug himself out of the ground — that we had made a mistake — but when I got there, I found him hanging.”
Tim leant forward and put his elbows on the table. “Hanging?”
A tear dripped from the tip of the wife’s nose. “Yes! From the old apple tree right beside our pond. Hanging by his collar.”
The husband sneered. “Sick bloody kids. No morals these days — barely even a soul. I tell you, if this Y2K bug they keep talking about sends us all back to the Stone Age next year, I’ll consider it a good thing. ”
Tim was unconvinced. “This is a nice neighbourhood. Do you usually have a problem with youths?”
The husband shrugged. “There aren’t any nice neighbourhoods anymore.”
“Okay,” Tim had heard enough, “I’d like to take a look around. This may be someone’s sick idea of a joke, but I won’t know more until I conduct some experiments, starting with this room.”
The husband flopped back in his chair. “Here we go. The theatrics are about to begin.”
Tim once again ignored the man. He took off his trainers and climbed up onto the dining table. Once up there, he pulled a small leather pouch from the back pocket of his jeans.
“What’s that?” the husband demanded. “Another prop?”
“No, a set of screwdrivers, all the ghostbusters have them. I’m going to take a gander at your dodgy wiring.”
Tim investigated, and quickly surmised the original light fixture had been replaced with a modern studio rail containing multiple bulbs. He loosened the fixture until it was hanging by its wiring and then poked a finger inside.
“Be careful,” said the wife. “The power’s still on.”
Tim tapped the green and yellow wire and the lights flickered on and off. “You have a loose switch wire,” he said. “I’d suggest calling an electrician.”
The husband frowned as if he’d been expecting a more fanciful explanation, one that resulted in Tim charging him money. That wasn’t Tim’s game though. He reached into his back pocket again, and this time produced a spool of cotton. Unravelling about ten centimetres, he held it in the air. The tiny thread floated on a breeze. “Thar she blows,” Tim muttered.
He hopped off the table and followed the source of the breeze, eventually kneeling beside the skirting board. He held out his fingers and felt for air currents. It didn’t take long to spot a hairline crack in the skirting. Frigid air flowed in from outside the house.
Tim stood and faced the married couple. “You have a crack in the skirting. It’s letting in a draught. A good carpenter will sort it.”
The husband grunted.
Tim clapped his hands together. “Right, shall we go take a look at that bathtub?”
The wife led Tim upstairs. The light was already on in the bathroom and was bleeding throughout the gap beneath the door. Tim grasped the doorknob and let himself in without asking.
The bathroom was nicely decorated with textured tiles with a modern suite. A little sterile for Tim’s taste, like a showroom at a DIY store. It lacked the soapy odours and stray hairs of a well-used washroom.
Tim pointed to the L-shaped bathtub. “This is where you say the taps ran with blood?”
The wife nodded. “It was coming from the hot tap.”
Tim leant over the tub and placed his hand on the tap marked ‘H.’ He turned it anti-clockwise and water cascaded in a steady torrent. There was nothing strange about it. “All looks fine to m—”
The plumbing clanked violently. The hot tap rattled. And a viscous stream of brownish liquid began draining into the tub.
“There,” said the wife, backing up and covering her mouth, “I told you! It’s blood.”
Tim placed his palm beneath the mucky stream. He sniffed at his hand. Then licked it.
The husband grimaced. “My God, man. What are you doing?”
“It’s not blood,” said Tim. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not blood and it’s not rust. Tastes kind of sweet.”
“What do you suggest?” asked the wife nervously.
“A plumber.” Tim washed his hand in the nearby basin. “Let me see where you found Buster.”
The woman frowned for a moment, as if confused, then nodded. “Yes, yes, okay.”
The garden at the back of the house was lit by a pair of floodlights attached to the brickwork. The pond sat fifteen feet from the house, and while Tim had expected to find koi or goldfish beneath the water, he found it empty. The apple tree, from where the Jack Russell had allegedly hanged, stood right next to the pond.
The wife pointed, her lower lip quivering. “Buster was hanging from the top of the tree by his neck. It was the worst thing I’ve ever—”
Tim cut her off. “Where did you bury him?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Tim looked around the garden. The lawn was short and well-kept. “You said you buried Buster in the garden. Could you show me where?”
“You leave that poor dog be,” said the husband. “My wife is upset enough.”
“I don’t want to dig the dog up, sir. I just want to know where you buried him.”
The husband and wife stared at each other. It was as though they were trying to communicate something without having to speak. The husband eventually gave an answer, but he sounded uncertain. “I-I can’t remember where I buried him.”
Tim smirked. “Really? That’s what you’re going with?”
“Look here,” said the husband.
“No, you look. What are you people up to? Why did you call me? Are you looking to discredit me? Are you writing a book?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” cried the wife. “Why are you being like this?”
Tim turned on her. “And you, miss, almost had me fooled. Bravo.” He clapped his hands. “The loose wiring to make the lights flicker; broken skirting board to cause a draught; and food colouring in the water tank — all good stuff. What gave you away was the dog. This lawn is perfect. There’s been no digging or burying in this garden, no yellow patches from urine. I don’t even think this is your house. There’s not a single photo of the two of you, or any toiletries in the bathroom. Your acting is good, but I think you failed in the setup. The age difference between you two is a little hard to buy as well. So, I’ll ask you again: what are you two playing at?”
A carnivorous smirk crept across the husband’s lips and he seemed to rise up another six inches. Suddenly he seemed very dangerous. Not ex-military. Born military.
Tim glanced around the quiet garden and felt a lead weight in his guts. His confrontation had been a little brash considering he was alone with two people, two people who had brought him here under false pretences. He had a feeling he was about to find out what those pretences were.
The husband pulled a phone from his jacket and dialled. After a few seconds, he spoke into the receiver. “He saw right through us. What do you want us to do with him?”
Tim groaned. He was definitely going to miss the X-Files tonight.