The day was as bleak as how I felt. I could not have been more under the weather than I was at that moment.
That said, I had the crate to deliver. There was no way round it, for they were great customers and the painting had been late, partly because Sammy had been ill herself, but also because this demanding client kept tweaking the brief. But that was OK, because they paid very well indeed. I was just relieved that Sammy had dropped it off, already crated, the previous night.
Sniffling a lot and constantly coughing, the inside of the truck was a hotbed of disease, so it was lucky that I was on my own that day. No-one to infect. But something about the crated painting made me uneasy and I didn’t know why.
Along Middlebrook Lane, there was an accident. As I passed, I saw a fallen tree branch wholly piercing the windscreen of an empty school bus. Although I couldn’t see it properly, I thought I could make out a human form upright in the driver’s seat and it didn’t look good.
As I pull into the drive, I see Marion Pearson looking out of the front room window. The house was nicely set back off the road with a manicured lawn and shady oak tree. Well I guess it would be shady if the sun was anything like out on this late Summer day.
She’s out of the door before I get the brake on and clamouring at my door.
“You’re late.” Said without any humour or tolerance, this is what I usually get from her, except on a very good day.
I hustle myself quickly out of the truck and haul the picture crate inside. She’s still hovering over me and in my hurry I bash the doorframe hard with the crate and leave a nasty gouge. She doesn’t notice.
What I don’t see, at least at first, is the red stain now oozing from the crate. Not until I see the mark it’s leaving on the expensive-looking white fluffy rug. I’m horrified by this. And she sees it in me, although I’m currently hiding the mark with both of my feet. Rigidly fixed to one spot.
I’m not going to be able to hide this for long. After all, I will have to leave pretty soon. Her demeanour suggests that she’s in a hurry and by default therefore, so will I.
She hurries into the kitchen as an alarm of some sort sounds. Maybe the kitchen timer or something, so I see my moment to investigate. I shift my foot slightly and I can see that the red stuff is coming from the edge of the crate, right by where it’s screwed together.
There’s no avoiding it. I’m in deep shit here. I know it and yet I can’t just run. Or can I? Tempting.
“Wwwe appear to have a bbbit of a leak of something here, I stammer.” She hurries back and starts to look at the mess on the rug. It’s horrible and very red on the white and, well, really horrible.
“It might be a bit of paint.” I suggest daring to hope for tolerance. It doesn’t come.
“What the fuck is that?” She screams at me, starting to interfere and meddle, “Get it off the rug.”
I battle to move the crate, but to be honest, it only smears the red even further and deeper. There is no hiding it. Or me.
“What the hell is it, you idiot.” I look only at her with pleas in my eyes. Pleas for humanity. Pleas of, well anything to get me out of this.
I start to unscrew the crate, carefully and quickly too. As I do, the lid squeaks a little and as I finally prize the lid off, I see that the crate is oozing red stuff which, if I’m honest, looks a lot like blood might look. If I’d ever seen that much blood before. A slight scratch on my arm. A deep cut in my knee when I was four. Neither prepares me for this quantity of blood, if that’s what it is.
What do I do now, I wonder?
I look round for a bit of sympathy, but I can’t see her at all. Marion Pearson has disappeared – well at least for the moment. I think maybe she’s gone back to the kitchen for a cloth to start to wipe the rug and I actually smirk, when I think that a cloth is not going to be enough for this amount of blood.
“Mrs Pearson,” I say, “Mrs Pearson, a cloth isn’t going to do it.”
I wait for the response, but there is none. I’m holding the lid of the crate with one hand and not trying to move because the blood-like stuff is all over the place and I’m actually not sure what’s best to do. For a split second, I look down and see that the picture, which is wrapped in plastic, is of Mrs Pearson. It’s a sort of head and shoulders thing, which is almost attractive, whilst pretty horrible too, and very, very 70’s.
I look closer now and I can see that one of the screws that was used to seal the crate is a very long screw indeed and has pierced the plastic covering the picture.
In fact, is has also pierced the painting itself, right in Mrs Pearson’s neck. From which there is a steady stream of the red stuff pouring.
“Mrs Pearson,” I call, “You’d better come look at this.” I shout tersely.
But Mrs Pearson does not come.
I put the lid gently down, for there is little I can do at that end of the situation and I go look for Mrs Pearson. When I find her, she is face down in the kitchen. Blood is settling beneath her, in a slowly growing pool. She has a knife in her neck and to me, inexperienced as I am in such matters, she looks quite dead.
I sneeze, and think a little about my cold.