Monday, 16 April 2018

Is There Anybody There?

By Dawn Knox

a glass of Merlot

Betty Bentwhistle stared at the flyer someone had left in the reception of Muscle Bounders Gym.
Ichabod Bunch stared back at her from the leaflet with mesmerising eyes.

Ichabod Bunch
Clairvoyant and Medium Extraordinaire
Let Ichabod connect you with those you no longer see
Thursday 28th March at Basilwade Community Hall

Betty couldn’t think of anyone she no longer saw and who she wanted to connect to. But it wouldn’t matter, she could still go along for the spectacle… and those compelling eyes. She would ask Sydney if he’d like to go.
Sydney Jugg had been to Betty’s for dinner on four occasions. He’d also fixed her shower and mended a dripping tap. And he’d mentioned he might look at her U-bend or P-trap or something. Exactly why he was going to inspect it, she’d no idea but it was another excuse to have him to herself for the evening. She’d spotted him weeks ago when he’d joined the gym and had been assigned Vilya Chekarova as his personal trainer. Betty had never taken to the rude woman and she felt sorry for Sydney who was obviously not used to training in a gym. If it’d been up to her, she’d have found a much gentler personal trainer for Sydney… but it hadn’t been up to her – she was simply the receptionist. And then Vilya had stolen Sydney’s brilliant idea for a new business. It had failed miserably, but Betty wasn’t surprised. Vilya was neither intelligent, nor a ‘people-person’. If Sydney had been allowed to develop his three-course smoothie idea himself, Betty had no doubt he would be a millionaire by now.
But Sydney was brimming with ideas and given the support of a good woman, he would one day be a successful businessman. And she was just the sort of good woman to offer him the support and encouragement he needed. Indeed, she was the sort of good woman to look after him for the rest of his life – if he’d let her. But one thing at a time. While marriage was firmly on her radar, she suspected it was not on his… yet. She wasn’t sure what a ‘Spring Chicken’ was but it suggested something young and fresh. These days, she was feeling more like an old boiler. In a few more years, she’d have gone off the boil completely and she would be doomed to a lifetime on her own.

“A medium? What for?” Sydney asked, as he helped himself to another spoonful of Betty’s beef goulash.
“Oh, you know,” she said, passing him the rice, “it might be fun.”
“But don’t mediums talk to dead people?”
“Mmm.”
“Is there a dead person you want to talk to?”
“No, not really. I just thought it might be interesting… and I’ve bought the tickets. I thought I’d try lamb hotpot on Thursday and then we could stroll down to the hall…”
“Lamb hotpot? That’s my favourite. Oh, well okay, if you’d like to go. Wouldn’t you prefer to go on your own while I have a look at your stopcock? It needs a bit of attention.”
“It would be so nice to go together and I’d like you to meet some of my friends…”
“Oh, all right.”
Sydney was torn. On one hand, it was lovely to be spoiled and plied with delicious meals. On the other, he had a feeling Betty was offering more than stews and pot roasts. Occasionally, she let slip a comment which implied she expected them to be together many years hence. Yes – marriage was definitely on her mind. During the long hours at work when he was bending and soldering copper pipe, he mulled the idea over. Would it be so dreadful? Betty wasn’t bad looking. She fed him, fussed over him and generally made him feel special. So special that it had been many weeks since he’d opened his Book of Grievances and he was sure that he was beginning to forget some of the injustices which he’d experienced. But – and it was a large ‘but’ – he didn’t want to feel he was being manoeuvred into something which hadn’t been his idea.

The lamb hotpot had been followed by apple pie, and Sydney felt it would be rude not to accompany Betty to Basilwade Hall. She’d said that some of her friends would be there but when they arrived, she seemed to know everyone. They sat next to Betty’s best friend, Florrie Fanshawe.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Florrie, shaking Sydney’s hand and fixing him with a determined stare which seemed to say Don’t even think about messing with my best friend, Betty.
Mystical music suddenly began to play, heralding the appearance of Ichabod Bunch. He swept on to the stage, his voluminous, black cloak billowing behind him and then seizing the microphone with a bejewelled hand, he raised one arm and with fingers outstretched as if reaching for something, he closed his eyes and began to hum.
“What the…?” muttered Sydney, looking at the ridiculous, cloaked man.
“Shhh!” said several of the people round Sydney.
He glanced about. Surely people weren’t taking the charlatan seriously? Apparently, they were.
Ichabod Bunch was suddenly silent. His eyes flew open and the audience gasped. Slowly he turned his head, allowing his gaze to sweep across the eager faces, as if searching for someone special.
“Oooh!” several women said as his staring eyes rested on them momentarily and then moved on.
Ichabod placed his hand on his chest, the stones in his rings catching the light as he breathed in and out.
“I’m receiving a message.” His eyes closed and most of the audience leaned forward in anticipation.
“Yes, I am thinking of the letter M,” he said in the voice of one whose mind was meandering through the clouds and stopping periodically to chat to angels.
“Ooooh!” said the audience.
“Does the letter M mean anything to anyone?”
Nearly every hand shot up.
Ichabod’s eyes flew open.
“Ooooh!” said the audience.
“You,” he said pointing at the woman next to Florrie Fanshawe, “what does the letter M mean to you?”
The woman patted her hat to ensure it was in place and rose. “I’m Maud Wilson and this is my daughter Mary…” she indicated a young woman sitting next to her whose face flushed crimson as everyone’s eyes swivelled from her mother to her. “Maud and Mary. That’s two M’s,” she said triumphantly.
“Excellent! Excellent!” said Ichabod, “That M was coming through very strongly and now I can see why. The message I’m receiving is from someone with thinning hair. A pleasant looking gentleman who cared for you deeply when he was amongst us.”
“That must be my Harold!” Maud said excitedly, nudging Mary with her elbow.
“Yes, that’s correct,” said Ichabod, “he tells me that Harold is his name. He says that things may have been cloudy for some time but there are blue skies ahead.” Ichabod turned away but Maud hadn’t finished with him.
“So, can you tell me if my Mary is going to find a husband at long last?”
“Mum!” whispered Mary, aghast.
“Oh, and ask Harold what he did with the silver sugar tongs,” added Maud
“Mum!”
“Well, when you’ve got the ears of the dead, Mary, it’s best to get as much out of them as you can. Harold never gave me any hope when he was alive. It took until after he’d died for him to offer me blue skies.”
“Oh!” said Ichabod with a great show of disappointment, “I’m afraid Harold seems to have gone, but he sent his love.”
“Typical!” said Maud with a sniff.
“Shhh!” said Mary; head bowed to hide her flaming cheeks.
Ichabod had moved on.
“I have a clear picture of a ginger cat. Does that mean anything to anyone?”
“Ooooh!” said the audience.
Nearly every hand shot up.

A week later, over steak and kidney pudding, Betty said she was thinking of booking a clairvoyant session for them both with Ichabod Bunch.
“Whatever for?” Sydney asked, his mouth full of suet pastry and meat.
Betty was vague, “Oh, you know,” she said.
Sydney didn’t know.
All he knew was that during the last seven days, Betty had hardly uttered a sentence which didn’t contain “Ichabod said…” or “Ichabod thinks…” She was remarkably well informed about Mr Ichabod Bunch.
“More?” asked Betty, piling another spoonful of pudding on his plate. Sydney decided he’d wriggle out of the session later. But first, he’d finish his dinner.
Unusually, she’d hastily cleared the table as soon as his knife and fork touched the plate and suggested they wait a while for coffee.
“Why?” he asked.
“Oh, you know.”
Again, he didn’t know.
Almost immediately, the doorbell rang and Betty, with eyes sparkling and cheeks aflame, sprang up to open the door. It was Ichabod Bunch.
So, the proposed session had actually been booked for this evening!
For a second, Sydney toyed with the notion of walking out. That would teach Betty to manipulate him! But there was something in the way her eyes lit up at the mention of that man’s name that stirred feelings deep inside Sydney. Why didn’t her eyes glow like that for him?
He would stay. After all, he’d met Betty first and he was jolly well going to stake his claim. You couldn’t get steak and kidney pudding like that anywhere in Basilwade.

Vagueness and generalisations, thought Sydney, how could Betty be taken in by such rubbish?
Ichabod had spoken for twenty minutes but said precisely nothing and Sydney had just started to fidget, when the clairvoyant suggested he see them both privately.
Betty agreed at once.
“You can wait in the kitchen, if you like, Sydney,” she said.
Reluctantly, Sydney left. He listened at the door but could only hear deep mumbling and girly, giggles. Betty didn’t laugh like that at any of his jokes!
He sprang away from the door and pretended to inspect the cactus on the windowsill when Betty came to fetch him.
“Ichabod will see you now,” she said, her face glowing, “Oooh, he’s so—”
Sydney rushed out before she could finish the sentence and enlighten him.
“Ah, sit down, Sydney,” said Ichabod, “I understand you’d like me to probe the future for you…”
“No,” said Sydney, “I’m quite happy to wait until it happens.”
“Excellent! In that case, my work here is done.” Ichabod rose.
“What?”
“I propose to see the lovely Betty next Tuesday for another session. I trust that’s all right with you?”
“What? Well, no actually. That’s not all right with me.”
“I see,” said Ichabod sitting down, “Well, in that case, you will need a very good reason why she should miss our appointment.” He nodded wisely, “It appears to have escaped your attention, but Betty is looking for someone with whom she can share her future. If, for argument’s sake, she should find someone between now and Tuesday evening, there would probably be no need for her to consult me.”
Ichabod rose again, “Oh, and by the way…” he paused theatrically, “grudges and grievances are not attractive. Not to women, anyway. It might be time to get rid of the book.”
“B…book?” How did he know about Sydney’s Book of Grievances?
But Ichabod had swept out of the room.

When Betty appeared with coffee, Sydney had made up his mind. She wouldn’t be keeping the appointment next Tuesday with Ichabod Bunch. Sydney would propose marriage to her. Not today, of course, that would be rather premature, but he’d hint at it before Tuesday so she’d have no need to see the clairvoyant, and then when the time was right, he’d get down on one knee and pop the question.
He opened his eyes wide in an Ichabod-like expression and fixed Betty with his gaze, trying to convey the depth of feeling he was experiencing.
“Are you all right, Sydney? Your face has gone all weird. Have you got indigestion?” she asked.

About the author

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France. www.dawnknox.com
Links to previous stories in the series:
5) Sydney Jugg’s Book of Grievances: to be published.  

Hugs from Dawn


Author of: 
'The Great War - 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those Who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago'
‘Extraordinary’ Tales to take you out of this world. 
“Welcome to Plotlands” 1930s romance set in Essex.
“Daffodil and the Thin Place” YA adventure story.
All available on Amazon.co.uk 

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