by Clive Gresswell
Alistair Hugo-Macbright, to give him his full name, always had his nose in some book or other. It could be a novel chronicling a family dynasty or a picture book about rabbits; he would utterly delight in reading it and putting the words to little cartoons. People were always commenting on his reading prowess when they came over to the house for parties and so on. This he had been like ever since he got out of the cupboard where his mother and father used to keep him as a baby. All those years ago they had let him out just to change his nappies and give him his bottle. But today despite all his reading and obvious enjoyment of it he could not be cajoled by anyone into speaking. Neither his many relatives, nor friends of the family and certainly not his own friends could get him to open that mouth of his with a pithy or witty comment. Oh! he was rather adept at toddling around the front room and performing a mixture of verbal dexterous noises which sounded as they were little strings of little words – but alas to the shame of all around they were not. They were just a collection of nonsense gurgles as his growing more and more impatient father told him over and over again but with no outcome. At first John and Jane Macbright thought their first-born would just grow out of it and that all this huffy silence was just the lead- up to a stonking good chat. But when months later Alistair Hugo had still not uttered a proper word, anything that sounded more intellectually taxing than GGGGGGRRRRRLLL, Jane started to worry that this would just go on, and on, and on. John and Jane wondered if it was something they had done wrong or if they should take Alistair Hugo to a child psychiatrist. Jane secretly had her own theories on how the child’s development was arrested because they started keeping him in the cupboard at night. ‘Yes, that was our first mistake,’ she muttered but she dare not talk this possibility over with her husband. Perhaps that was what was wrong in the house; through fear, no-one was talking to anyone else and Alistair Hugo was heading off any trouble by just not starting anything. She had to admit that was just not a possibility but a probability. Then, one day Alistair was in the kitchen with his mother feeding him a bowl of Spaghetti from a tin when he suddenly blurted out: ‘Thanks for dinner mum that was very nice! Super!’ Then he licked his lips and held his bowl out for more. Jane immediately gave into the childish urge of his impatient greed and he squealed and squirmed with delight. To his mind this new found power added the armoury of words to his little existence. Dad had tried to expand his son’s vocabulary by reading to him night after night and his mum constantly talked him through the names of things they saw around the house. The result was of course that boy could he talk! For England if necessary. Jane heard him talking about Constantinople the other day. Alistair had a very inquiring mind and was always bugging her about this or that triviality. Quite often she had vert little to stay apart from:” We’ll ask your father when he gets home from work,” or: “Remind mummy to look that up in the encyclopaedia when we get home.” Bug, bug, bug. Mummy how far is the sun from the earth? Mummy what are Teddy Boys? Mummy why have we left the European Union? He just went on and on and on and he was driving his poor mother crazy. Literally. She hardly slept and was a bundle of nerves. She didn’t do the dishes or hoover or do her hair or go out for interesting walks anymore. John recalled she’d been depressive like this with their first child Alison who had eventually had to be fostered when it came down to a new home with more space either for her or her mother. Alistair Hugo knew nothing of his older sister or what had become of her, and John didn’t plan on telling him. Not now. Not ever.
John though wondered if it was all just a malicious game by Alistair to wind Jane up. He knew he would have to do something soon or else she would crack again. Originally it was hoped he would bring them closer together but now this smartass kid was driving a wedge between them. THE THING WAS HAPPENING AGAIN!
“If I have to choose again, then it will still have to be Jane,” John sighed to himself on the long drive home from the computer software office where he worked. This evening he would get in early having wangled a few extra hours leave because of overtime.
“Hell, I can always get some more time off to spend with her and the kid if need be,” he reasoned, though he was sort-of half conscious of being selfish.
That night, as had been happening for about a week now, both Harry and Jane could hear maniacal laughter coming from the cupboard after Alistair Hugo went downstairs and let himself into it. They clung tightly onto each other and shuddered.
“Something must be done John, I’m at the end of my tether,” whispered Jane.
“Oh, Jane. Is this going to happen every time? I’m not sure I could put up with Alastair Hugo having to go too.”
They heard a rasping noise on the other side of their bedroom door just before louder and louder maniacal laughter spilled into their room followed by a spine-chilling scream.
Jane lay dead on the bed.