I fell into a daydream last winter. The last thing I recall, I was cozied up by the fire with a good book. But now, all I see are rainy days beneath strange clouds. Murky liquid flows in the river Thames. I step out of the red phone booth. Ravens are feasting on leftover tea and biscuits. I see the Union Jack waving in the wind coaxing me to get closer. There are black cabs and red buses. They fly by in a frenzy. People are honking their horns– a traffic jam. I flash to Poppies. I’m ordering fish and chips. I have a handful of gold coins in my hand. The streets welcome a stroll as I eat. I walk for ages, through ages. But then I see white stone columns with iron gates. Buckingham. The Queen’s Guard is changing. I join the other tourists in awe. “Ello, mate!” cries an overweight American. Departing, I venture to a public garden. Kensington Gardens. I see the boy who never grew up encased in bronze. He is to live through the ages long after I’ve gone. I listen to the ducks in the waterways and the fountains hum. It is serenity, pure, and blissful. Whimsically satisfying. And hopelessly romantic. If only I can stay a bit longer this time. There is still far more I’d like to do. But the study window blows open. The flames choke out. And my cat, Peter, knocks over my cup of coffee. And all I say is, “God save the Queen!”
“Tonight’s gonna be a wild one,” Jessica said from the top of my cubicle. “The full moon makes everyone a bit looney and it’s Halloween. Spooky, eh?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Jessica was the superstitious kind of person. She read horoscopes, dabbled in palm reading, and believed in bad luck often burdening office conversations with it. I was skeptical. Truthfully, I thought she had a screw loose or something. “Another day like the rest,” I replied whilst collecting my things to my flat on the other side of town. From there, I took a cab to the subway station and then hopped on a train where I’d walk through Hathaway Park to reach my flat. It was a daunting commute. Perhaps one day I could afford a car.
After exiting the station, I entered Hathway Park on the final stretch home. There were ravens perched with bloodied eyes to welcome me. I averted my eyes elsewhere but then I heard a cough to my side. I fictitiously began sorting through the bushes– a few homeless men were attempting to keep warm from the October chills. It’s nothing. I told myself. But the lamppost above flickered like a dying firefly. The bulb must be going out. Then I saw a pair of crimson eyes staring at me through the dark. A cat. The park was ladened with them. No surprise.
My eyes darted upwards, cursing. The moon was full just like Jessica cleverly prophesied. A coincidence merely. These sorts of things do go hand in hand. I wouldn’t allow superstition to play tricks on me. Halloween was a joke after all.
I proceeded by the moon’s courtesy, but then I heard a wailing noise echoing from the otherside of the park. It caught me off guard and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up in alertness.
“HELP!” they screamed.
I started in a jog and broke off into a run. I didn’t know if my legs were leading me to the safety of my flat or straight into the mouth of danger. I found myself deeper into the timber than I’d wanted, surrounded by mindlessness. That’s when I saw it. A woman knelt over, floating above the sticks. I could only faintly see her. She was sobbing over the body of a man.
“What’s happened?” I asked anxiously, taking no note of the abnormality.
“He’s dead,” she whimpered tearfully. “It was an accident– an accident I swear. I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
My eyes welled up uncontrollably. I was shocked. Paralized. I knew who he was.
“Please, don’t tell anyone. It would ruin my life. I’m only a child.”
I was gazing into a mirror. A lost memory from my past. She was me ten years ago. I’d forgotten entirely about it. My mind had purged it from my brain. But here I was. Hathaway Park had twisted into the depths of my darkest nightmare. I wondered if I could make it out alive. One more time…
A man’s life can easily be summed up in a matter of one sentence.
Jacobb Bouwer was a carpenter who built cabinets until he died. Samwise Smith was a mathematics professor in our town who never married and passed alone. Thomas Thames lived under the riverside bridge for nearly half of his life before dying of a rodent bite. All of these statements are tragedies nonetheless, but why is it, a few words with proper grammar and punctuation are the root of our legacies?
A conclusion has rested in my senses: if a man’s life cannot simply be summed up in one sentence than he’s some kind of traveling gypsy or a foul-minded fool!
I’m Nicolas Fletcher, an unwed elderly man who lives in the countryside with nothing but a bit of old books and a writing quill thank you very much! I’m quite happy being a normie as I’ve so coined and do not intend on gallivanting on some sort of crazy adventure that would lengthen my life sentence!
However, the neighboring estate, owned by the Parrish Family, is just ladened with traveling gypsies and fools alike. The Parrish’s own multiple properties stretching from high-class Paris to bitter cold Switzerland and they tend to them all over different seasons! What madness I say! My skin attempts to crawl from my withering bones every time I see their automobile drive away with luggage synched to the roof. And they’re all so joyous! If you ask me, they’re as mad as it gets. The whole lot of them should be thrown into a looney bin along with their putrid beast named Manny. That dog barks and howls till the crows come home! Do the Fletchers even have employment? No, quite answered. They swim in their pools of green year-round.
I’ve done my time in the working world— a bookbinder. Accumulated a plush cushion to retire on, bought me the cottage I live in now. And in all my years of service, I’ve learned one thing: the rich fancy their leather-bound books with oddity, but they never do seem to read the words printed inside them. It’s a wonder why they would need my services at all. I suppose the idea of a room dedicated to old works of art gets the wealthy going in some way. Certainly doesn’t grant them any intellectual abilities. I clearly imagine them walking around with their big sticks and toting about who has inherited the most money from mummy and daddy. What selfishness!
Although I must confess I’ve stolen a few classics during my time as a bookbinder. It wasn’t like they’d miss them. Goodness knows the spine and imprinted covers is all they look at. Caveman and barbarians they are. So primitive in nature. The act was uncomplicated. When commissioned to restore the torn binding on an antique printing of Aesop’s Fables I could not resist the temptation to switch it with a later printing I’d had in my possession. They would never notice! And they never did fifteen years later. I hadn’t received as much as a postcard or letter describing how unbelievably cruel I am to have stolen their copy. I now treasure the printing and have restored the artwork to its former glory as a seventieth birthday present to myself. I even wrapped it with a neat little bow— a supreme gift.
The way the light trickles through my windows in the early bits of the morning is all I can look forward to after retirement— a marker of another day given to live according to my wishes. It can birth loneliness from time to time, but the feeling passes before it can cement. I’m never invited to tea time— hardly enjoy the drink at all, but the gesture would be splendid. I suppose I’m rather emotionless. I’ve been called a grouch. Or worse— an arsehole! But I haven’t the slightest clue as to why. I’ve done nothing but mind my own business and tut tut! around my own study in utter silence. There’s never been a moment of noisiness on my part regarding any of my neighbor’s affairs. But here I sit, looking out my table-side windows, alone. Sometimes I imagine what’s on the other side of them and daydream. But nothing more.
At least I have Ester. She’s here a couple of days a week to clean for me and bring me food from the market. I lend her books from time to time and she actually reads them! But she’s young. Most likely waiting for me to die off so she can inherit the whole lot herself. I suppose it serves me right for stealing Aesop’s Fables all those years ago.
Old age isn’t as poetic as others might think and the journey up the stairs has become impossible. I’ve resorted to sleeping in the den surrounded by my beloved. The armchair I bed-in isn’t the most comfortable thing, but it relines nicely. I read until I fall asleep. Sometimes I write. It’s the only thing that seems to pass me into slumber. But even my eyes begin to fail me. My rounded spectacles are nearly twenty-years-old and scratched to hell. They don’t build things to last anymore. In thought, I don’t believe I’m built to last any more than my books. At least they can be mended or restored.
“Good evening Mr. Fletcher.”
“Evening Ester. The kitchen needs cleaning today. I spilled coffee by the stove. And don’t forget to wash my bedding. It’s starting to smell rather pungent.”
“Of course,” she nodded, setting her cleaning supplies down on the third step of the staircase.
“It’s drafty in here. Mind opening up a window to clear this gloom?”
“Perhaps going outside would be better? You can see what I’ve done in your garden.”
“I’m seventy-one for goodness sakes!” I barked as I spilled my coffee over my nightgown. “Why on God’s green earth would I resort to such activities? Those are a young man’s sport.”
“Right you are Sir.”
Ester was all too quiet sometimes. Apart from the quick chats about literature, frankly, I knew nothing about the girl. My worried relative in London had set the whole thing up— didn’t want me dying from a fall or letting my house run into shambles. I know why she did it. Money. She’s always asking for a bit here and there. I’ve had to lie and tell here I was poor more times than I can count. That’s all old relatives are good for these days— lending money.
There was a knock at my door.
Post didn’t come until late evening on Sundays. Who could it possibly be ringing my doorbell?
A small brown papered package lay on top of the doormat. It was tied in burlap string and had no return address, just an emerald hand-written label with my address:
Mr. Nicolas Fletcher
21 Little Dove
Perhaps it was a book to be mended, or even a book to be donated. My mind couldn’t settle on which. I resorted to sit back on my plush throne and open the package carefully. Maybe this was karma catching up to me. A bomb. A ticking time bomb sent from those rich snobs whose book I stole. This is it, I told myself. At least I’d blow up in the company of good authorship.
The package tore without a snag. The string untied nicely and lay flat on my lap. It indeed was a book. A purple hardbound book with gold trimmings. There was, however, no name on any part of the book, just ornate swirls of gold. A letter was waxed sealed to the front marked with the letter W. Who could be writing to me? I know no one of the surnames starting with W and I stole the book from a family Benson or Burnson or something of the sort. Relieved it wasn’t a bomb, a opened the letter. It read:
Dear Mr. Nicolas Fletcher,
You’re not an easy man to find these days. I’ve had my secretary rifle through many of Fletcher’s before finding the right one. And to think Knitsley of all places? You truly wish to stay anonymous. I suppose I cannot blame you. Old age thirsts from anonymity. Anyways, enough of the fluff. You’re probably wondering why this book has landed on your doorstep, and as much as it would bring great joy to reveal it’s secrets, I shalln’t. That is for you to discover. I do hope to receive a letter in return when you’ve discovered the secrets…
Inclosed you will find a number of things. Some of them lost and some of them found. I do request that you keep the contents of this book private as it would be in both of our interests to do so. Do you remember as children the game we used to play? The one with… well of course you remember.
P.S. Blink twice, turn in a circle, and hoot like an owl. It helps.