This month’s exercise was to create a short story using a line from a poem. We had some excellent contributions so there is more than one going to be published. It was a great meeting, this time in a cafe because our usual venue was all shut up. But we do not take adversity lying down.
Old Mother Hubbard
“This looks like a good one,” said Trev.
Shaun looked at the house. It was large and shabby with an overgrown front garden. Number thirteen Kasket Avenue. “All right,” he said. Trev was an expert at this sort of thing.
He followed Trev to the front door and watched him ring the bell. There was a long pause. He started to hope that the house might be empty but there was the sound of bolts being drawn back and a creak as the door opened. An old woman peered up at them.
“Good morning, madam,” said Trev. He flashed a fake ID. “We’re from the Gas Board.”
Shaun held his breath as she reached for the identity card and peered at it. There was a long pause then she handed it back with a smile and Trev held up his clipboard. “How many people are resident at this property?”
Trev grinned. “We’ve come to read your meter.”
The old dear opened the door wide and they entered the hallway. Shaun tried not to wrinkle his nose at the unpleasant odour.
“The meter is under the stairs,” she said.
“My colleague here will read the meter,” said Trev. “I’ll just pop upstairs and check the thermostat.”
Shaun spent as long as he could on the meter. He double-checked the figures and wrote them on a pad while she held the torch with a shaking hand.
“Can you hold it closer, madam?” he said and checked the figures for a third time.
Trev was taking forever upstairs, and Shaun was running out of ways to distract her. “Have you got time for a cup of tea, young man?”
“Yes, please.” That was a bit of luck. He backed out of the cupboard and brushed the dust off his suit. Then he followed her into the kitchen.
He sat at the table while she fussed around, filling the kettle and setting out cups and saucers. As she worked she chanted a nursery rhyme.
“Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone
But when she got there, the cupboard was bare and so the poor dog had none.”
He gazed around the room. A brown cat crouched on the floor lapping milk from a bowl.
“What a nice cat.”
“Thank you dear,” said the woman. “He’s grown very large. It must be the stuff people put down the drains nowadays.”
Crazy! Shaun wondered how Trev was getting on upstairs, and wished he would hurry.
“Old Mother Hubbard was blind as a bat.
What she thought was a doggie was really a rat.”
The cat stood up, uncurling a long, worm-like tail. Shaun stared, his stomach churning. It was a giant rat! It turned and crouched, staring at him with red eyes.
“Her cupboard was barer than ever before,
For one hungry rat had turned into a score.”
From upstairs came a cry and the sound of running footsteps. A door slammed and a scream was abruptly stifled. Shaun stared at the old woman. Surely she must have heard, but she continued to prepare the tea, chanting to herself.
“Two robbers came round thinking she was alone
But, to her and the rats, they were meat on the bone.”
Shaun hardly heard her. All his senses were concentrated on the sounds from above. The kettle whistled and made him jump. From upstairs came a crash, followed by a hideous gurgling and then silence. He leapt to his feet.
“You seem very nervous, dear,” said the old woman. “Here, sit down and have a nice cup of tea.”
He pushed past her and opened the kitchen door. There was a short distance to the front door and freedom. But he heard an army of tiny feet pattering down the stairs and the stench of rat was like a wave. He leapt back into the kitchen and slammed the door. Seconds later the thin panels were shaken by the impact of many bodies. A side door led from the kitchen but as Shaun ran towards it the rat barred his way.
“Nobody knew what became of the pair,
But the old woman’s cupboard was no longer bare.”
The woman continued her rhyme as the rat jumped up and sunk its teeth into his throat. He tore the animal off and flung it away. Blood gushed from the wound. Weak with shock He reached the side door and turned the handle – it was stuck.
“I keep the outside door locked, dear, you never know who might try and rob an old woman.” She brandished a large iron key.
Shaun abandoned any last pretence of being an honest gas man and pleaded for mercy. “It wasn’t my idea – it was Trev’s. I didn’t want to come, he made me. Please don’t let them get me.”
The old woman shook her head. “I’m sorry, my dear, you seem like a nice young man. You remind me of my son – a sweet boy and remarkably tender.”
She turned and reached out to let in her pets. Shaun made a desperate lunge and ripped the key from her grasp. He rushed to the side door. The rat had rallied to attack again but he kicked it away and struggled with the lock. Behind him he could hear scrabblings and squealings then, at last, the door opened and he fled.
He never saw Trev after that. Nobody did. Some thought he had moved elsewhere, others thought he was in prison. Only Shaun knew the truth of the nightmare on Kasket Avenue.