The Ferenhazy Jug (Part Two)

The preposterous conclusion to last week’s episode! (Read Part One here!)

 

First-State-House

 

That Saturday, Gracie knocked on Dawn’s door holding a Tupperware container in one hand. She shifted from one foot to the other and noticed that the tiger lilies next to the steps were past their best. She knocked again. Nothing. She decided to take advantage of the few spare minutes to practice some breathing exercises while she waited. Imagine your lungs filling with concentrated bliss – she heard the throaty voice of her yoga instructor. Now expel all that toxic air you’re holding inside, push it away. Gracie started to feel a bit dizzy. Inhale—think purity, sweetness, light…Now exhale deeply, strongly. Think: Out Evil! Out Mess!

Suddenly she heard a voice from over the fence.

“Hello! Can I help you with something?” A man with a beard and friendly smile.

“Oh, hello! I’m just visiting Beverly. You don’t know If she’s in or not?”

“I haven’t seen her for a couple of days and the curtains are all closed,” he said, stroking his chin. “But the car’s still there, so she hasn’t gone away I don’t think.”

“I hope she’s all right,” said Gracie, frowning

“The back door’s usually open. I bring her groceries every now and then, keep an eye on her, you know,” said the guy. He shrugged. “Worth a try, anyway.”

“Oh, thanks! I will.”

“No worries. My name’s Derrick, by the way.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Derrick. I’m Grace,” she walked over to the fence and offered her hand. She was pleased to see he blushed slightly. She walked towards the back of the house and smiled at him over her shoulder.

As Derrick predicted, the door was unlocked. Grace walked in hesitantly and found herself in the laundry room. Peanut the cat, a fluffy black creature, crouched by the washing machine staring at her and growling softly. When Grace stepped inside, Peanut raced between her legs and out the door, sprinting at top speed across the vegetable garden, under the fence and away.

“Funny thing,” muttered Grace. She wondered anxiously if she hadn’t exhaled sufficiently to rid herself of all the toxins. Maybe the cat sensed some Evil or Mess that clung to her somehow?

“Hello? Bev?” she called in an uncertain voice. “Are you there?”

She couldn’t hear any answer but something told her that the house was occupied. She ventured inside. The hallway was dark and had a strange smell, like beeswax.

Grace realized she was holding her breath. She forced herself to inhale right into her diaphragm, the way Bevan had shown her. ‘Tiger breaths’ he called them. She tiptoed along the narrow passage and pushed the door open to reveal the living room. All the curtains were drawn and the room was dark except for twelve points of light—candles on the mantlepiece above the fireplace. They’d clearly been burning for a long time and the shafts had now melted down to tumorous stubs pimpled with hardened drips.

Grace stared, initially not sure what she was looking at. As her pupils adjusted, she made out the familiar portrait on the wall above the candles. Princess Erzebet lit faintly from below but otherwise couched in darkness, had a ghastly aspect. Her pale skin seemed almost grub-like, her eyes sunken and sly, her mouth twitching with the flickers, at some horrible private joke.

Grace felt as if she were suffocating.

“Dawn! Where are you? It’s me, Grace!”

Something dropped in the room next door. A little thing, rolling and rolling like a ring.

Grace was panicking but also perversely determined to follow her fear to its farthest reaches. She remembered Dawn’s bedroom was next door, where the sound was. She made her way to another door, under which a strip of light was visible, pushed it open and walked in.

“Dawn?” Grace whispered. “Is that you?”

Again, the curtains were closed and the room was lit with candles. It was dominated by a throne created by a chair standing on a coffee table. The table was festooned with tinsel and Christmas decorations. The chair was carefully wrapped with kitchen foil. Seated on the throne was Dawn herself, dressed in bizarre grandeur. She had fashioned a gown from what looked like an old pair of drapes, a tablecloth printed with pineapple and white crepe paper. Starched doilies stuck out from her neck making her look like a frilled lizard.

Her face was equally disconcerting, like an old clown without a wig. Her eyebrows had disappeared completely. Her face was thickly coated with what looked like baby powder and her hair was pulled severely off her face with an elastic shower turban. Christmas baubles hung from her ears. Her neck, bosom and fingers gleamed with jewellery.

“Yes. I…am…Dawn,” she rasped, rather unconvincingly.

She was fondling something and Grace soon realized that it was the little bone jug she’d bought on their overseas trip.

“Um…I made you some gluten-free seed bars. They’re quite slimming,” said Grace, placing the container and the foot of the throne and then edging back closer to the door.

The figure gazed impassively at her. Grace realized she no longer had any eyelashes either.

“Wine,” said the figure.

“Eh?”

Dawn inclined her head slowly towards a cabinet in the corner of the room. Grace walked towards it and saw there was a wine glass filled with a dark liquid.

“Ah. Wine, I see.”

Grace took the glass and noticed Dawn was leaning forward looking at her hungrily.

“Here you go,” said Grace, holding it up to her.

You…drink!” Dawn hissed.

“Me?” Grace sniffed the potion. “Is there sugar in here?”

“Wine.”

“Because I can’t actually have sugar. I’m doing a detox right now, and the rules are very strict. Absolutely no sugar. No alcohol, either, come to think of it. It’s a shame though, because this smells delish. Do you have any hot water instead?”

Drink.”

“I’d really rather not…”

A piercing shriek cut through the murky room and just before losing consciousness, Grace felt a sharp pain on the side of her head.

 

red wine

 

***

Beverly had just sat down to knit a ladybird hat for her granddaughter but she couldn’t get settled. Something wasn’t quite right.

She hadn’t heard from Grace for a week, and she wasn’t answering her phone either. At first Bev put it down to forgetfulness, but, no, her gut told her there was something more to it and she always listened to her gut. That flower-show business ten years ago was a case in point: Hazel Long had got first prize for some daffodils but, for the life of her, Bev had never seen any daffodils growing in her garden. Bev had surreptitiously pulled the daffodils up out of the vase and, sure enough, there was still a rubber-band and price tag around the stems—she’d bought them from the supermarket and hadn’t even bothered to hide the fact! Typical sloppy Hazel.

Just to make sure, she called the yoga studio where Grace had classes, Bendigo it was called, and spoke to the gentleman there. He hadn’t seen her for a week either, and that was very strange since she’d been obsessive about going there every day.

And then there was Dawn, who still seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet. Thinking about this, her gut twanged doubtfully.

“Well, if you want something done in this world, you’d better do it yourself,” she sighed and put her knitting needles back in the basket next to her armchair. “Come on, old girl, let’s get a move on.”

She got off the bus just outside Dawn’s house. She stood looking at the closed windows, the letterbox stuffed with junk mail, the overgrown lawn with dandelions bursting up all over it. Why hasn’t Derrick mown the lawn? Her gut niggled. His own lawn was looking in need of a trim too—very strange. He was a tidy man and she’d always approved of him.

She limped along the concrete path to the front door and knocked. After two minutes of waiting she walked around the back, noting the emergent weeds in the rose garden. She opened the back door and switched on the light. There was a mouldy smell coming from the washing basket, where towels had been waiting to be washed for some time, and something else, a stench…

Beverly pushed open the door into the hall. The stench bloomed into something overwhelmingly putrid, a bit like the time Gus the dog put a hedgehog under the front porch, but much worse.

“Gaww!” Bev cried. She fished in her purse for a lavender-scented handkerchief and held it up to her nose to stop herself from passing out.

With one arm held straight out in front of her, she staggered into the living room and pulled the curtains open, then opened the doors and windows to let some air in. She looked around and noticed the waxy stubs of candles gathered around the portrait. Setting her chin firmly she marched over to the fireplace and looked at the face. It seemed to be smirking at her. She wrenched the portrait off the wall.

“Out you go, queenie,” she muttered.

She walked out into the backyard and threw the painting on the compost heap.

“Queen of rot, that’s what you are.”

She took a few deep breaths and fumbled in her purse for her cellphone.

“Hello, Police? Yes. I’m at 37 Farrell Street. Come quickly. Pardon? Well the matter is there’s a terrible smell and I’m afraid something terrible has happened. What kind of emergency…? That someone’s carked it, to put it bluntly. Ambulance? No I don’t think there’ll be any need for that…How quickly can you come? Tomorrow afternoon? Yes, I appreciate you’re overworked and I just said it wasn’t an emergency, but– Hello? Hello?”

Beverly slowly put the cellphone back in her purse and looked at the house as if she were sizing up a dangerous bull.

“You’ve got to do it yourself, don’t you Bev,” she sighed.

She pulled something else out of her purse, the photograph of Frank she always kept with her, and kissed it, just in case, and put it in her cardigan pocket. Now she was ready for the second foray into the house.

This time she walked straight to the bedroom, but stopped just outside it with a failure of nerve. She heard a sound—like earrings dropping and rolling on the floor. She waited until the sound finished and listened for more, but all she could hear were her own heartbeats.

“Dawn?” she called through the door.

“Come in…Beverly,” a monotonous voice replied.

That voice chilled her to the bone, but it was too late to back out. Now or never, she muttered, pushed the door open and walked in.

Again, the room was dark, but she made out a pale round face with two dark holes—a face, somewhere up near the ceiling. The stench here was strong, almost fermented.

“Hello stranger!” she said brightly. “It’s dark as a midnight picnic in here, Dawn. Why don’t I open some curtains?”

She wrenched the drapes aside and pushed the window open.

“That’s better, isn’t it,” she chirped. “Now, what have we got here?”

Beverly inspected the scene, making an effort to disguise her disgust. Dawn was sitting on top of some sort of preposterous DIY stage. She’d clearly been playing dress-up with bits and bobs from the linen closet and smearing baby powder on her face. On either side of the stage was a slumped figure—Gracie on one side, Derrick on the other. At a glance, Bev could tell they were still breathing, still alive!

Beverly put her hands on her hips.

“What’s all this nonsense, Dawn?”

“Yes…I am…Dawn,” rasped the figure, fondling the bone jug in bejeweled fingers.

“Wine.”

“Come again?” Bev asked.

“Wine.” The Dawn figure lifted a finger pointing it across the room at a cabinet upon which sat a glass full of some red substance.

“So that’s your game is it?” Dawn muttered to herself.

“Drink,” hissed the figure.

“Now that’s not very likely, is it? Don’t you not think this has gone a bit far? What would Roger say if he could see you now?”

The head that looked back at her was curiously skull-like or…no, more like a doll, the kind with the blinking eyes and a fixed, vapid expression.

“You remember Roger, no?” Bev gawped.

The head tilted, observing Bev as a cat would observe a bird’s irregular movements.

“Right, that does it,” Bev said. She picked up the glass, took it over to the window and poured the liquid out on the garden outside. She couldn’t bear to get the floor dirty—she’d just be the one to clean it up in the end. As the liquid hit the tiger lilies, they started smoking and became grey and petrified. Beverly put the glass carefully on the windowsill.

As she turned around, she saw Dawn carefully getting down off the gaudy platform. Her movements were very careful and she had a focused expression, focused particularly on Bev. Her movements were somewhat impeded by the big heavy gown and the jug she grasped in her right hand.

Bev anticipated the assault by striding over to Dawn and took the jug from her hands.

“Let’s put an end to this nonsense once and for all!” she boomed and made as quickly as she could for the door. The creature in the gown stooped and hobbled after her as she made a break for the backyard.

As hard as she could, Bev threw the jug down on the concrete, then bashed it with a shovel that happened to be standing against the wall. The jug cracked and shattered, and Dawn screamed in agony, falling down on the backsteps and hitting her head on the corner of a step so that a thin trickle of blood ran down her pasty white face. Bev ignored her, kept smashing the thing, then she collected all the pieces and took it over to the compost heap, where she smushed it into the rancid grass clippings and coffee grounds.

“Good riddance!” she said.

A man in a suit came running round the back, then looked at the woman moaning on the ground.

“What’s going on here? Why did you hurt this woman?”

“I didn’t. She fell.” Bev did not release her tight grip on the shovel.

“She…hurt…me,” Dawn rasped pathetically.

“I’m calling the cops,” the man declared, glaring at Bev.

“Good luck with that.” Bev rolled her eyes. “Listen, can you keep an eye on her? I need to go inside to check…”

“Don’t you move!” the man pointed his phone at her.

Bev, tired from her exertions, sat down on a plastic chair to wait. She looked at Dawn, who was currently coolly assessing the scene. I don’t trust her as far as I can kick her, thought Bev. The man was watching Bev, but his eyes were distracted by something behind her. Bev turned and saw that the compost heap was smoking, wisps of black smoke curling up like thin ribbons. Bev moved away and the man went to stop her, but at that moment Dawn rushed towards the compost heap and climbed up on it.

“My lady, my lady!” she keened, holding the portrait of Erzebet in both hands, then putting her ear up against it and nodded, as if listening to something. The compost heap burst into flames and the man, increasingly baffled, trotted over.

“Get off there now. You’re suffering from shock, come off down it.”

Bev took the opportunity to go back into the house. As she entered the hallway, she heard a frightened yell.

“Oh for God’s sake,” she muttered, and stomped out again to see Dawn dragging the limp figure of the man up onto the flaming vegetable heap. She grabbed the shovel, knocked Dawn on the head hard enough to stun her, then pulled the man off, dragging him far enough away that he wouldn’t catch fire, with any luck.

“Poor sap,” Bev shook her head. “Stay there and don’t get into any more mischief.”

 

 

compost

***

POLICE REPORT

 

Officers Yin and Douglas arrived at 37 Farrell Street, Wilmington at 4.23 pm on Wednesday 8th. Paramedics arrived at the scene at 4.25pm.

There was a large, illegal rubbish fire out the back, smoking and releasing a very strong odour.

Lying unconscious on the grass was a 37-year-old male named Guy Bradley, a real-estate broker. He appeared to be in a coma. Seated next to him on the ground was 68-year-old female Beverly Graham, who had third-degree burns on her hands and appeared to be delirious, laughing and repeating, ‘It’s all over now!’

In the residence we found two more victims, 64-year-old Grace Thurlow and 50-year-old Derrick Bonham, both of whom were known to the woman Graham. They were both unconscious, in a similar state to Bradley. All four were taken to Queen Alexandria Hospital.

A large number of rings were recovered in the master bedroom of the house, where Thurlow and Bonham were found. As of today we are not aware of their provenance. We are making efforts to trace their origins but can so far confirm that no one in the Wilmington area has reported the rings missing.

The owner of the house, one Dawn Croxley was not found. Under interrogation, Graham has admitted that she knows Croxley well but hadn’t seen her for two weeks. Graham has been detained for further questioning.

Note: another ring was found in the ashes of the rubbish fire, along with bone shards.

 

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