Sunday, 6 January 2013

Bottle


Late November afternoon fading to chill grey dusk and still Lucy hadn’t bought Bryan’s birthday present. She’d left work early, caught the bus into town, but found nothing suitable after what seemed like miles of trailing round the shopping centre. Nothing suitable for Bryan at any rate.

‘I don’t need a birthday present,’ Bryan had said with one of his tolerant smiles when Lucy made the mistake of asking him directly.

‘Of course you want a birthday present,’ she’d insisted. But what kind of present? Bryan didn’t actually do anything, didn’t even have a hobby. He watched TV and played computer games, but they had several TV sets - and a sofa. That was Bryan’s domestic world - apart from bed. But let’s not go there...

So here she was on the edge of town still without a present. Hadn’t even seen anything worth a second look. She should be on her way home by now too. She checked the bright window of a large DIY store, but Bryan didn’t do DIY. That was Lucy’s job.

Put up shelves, oil hinges, hang pictures, fit new washers into leaky taps, paint and decorate and wash the car. She gazed wistfully into the window. A hammer-drill would be really useful - her old drill was too weedy for brickwork. But no.

‘What’s the use of a hammer drill?’ Bryan would say. Quite so Bryan. No use to you at all. Lucy moved on to the junk shop next door.

‘This is the very last shop. If I don’t find anything I’ll buy him a couple of bottles of wine.’ She’d seen the junk shop before, but had never been inside, so it was worth a try. A bell jangled above her head as she pushed open the door.

‘Can I help you love?’

‘I do hope so – I’m looking for a present.’ Lucy gazed forlornly round the shop, crammed almost to the ceiling with what looked very much like the contents of your average skip.

‘Anything in particular catch your eye love?’

‘Not really.’

‘We have all sorts here – stuff you never dreamed anyone would sell.’

‘I’ll say.’ Lucy stared at a stuffed squirrel in a glass case. Good grief, did people still display such awful things?

‘The taxidermist’s art is back in fashion now you know,’ the man said, as if sensing Lucy’s faint tremor of disgust.

‘Not in my house it isn’t... I suppose I’m just looking for something unusual – and not too expensive.’ The place really was so crammed with junk, she wondered how best to browse without knocking stuff over. For instance that pile of mismatched plates balanced on a cardboard box of shabby books, teetering on a three-legged stool -

‘This is really unusual.’ The shopkeeper plonked an opaque glass bottle on the counter - as if he’d had it in his trouser pocket all the time.

Lucy glanced at him, made tentative eye contact, noticed how friendly and sympathetic his eyes were despite the patter. Blue eyes they were, set behind a bushy grey beard and framed by long, hair. An ageing hippy perhaps? She looked down at the bottle on the counter.

‘A most unusual item this one, love,’ he said.

‘What is it?’

‘It contains a demon.’

‘Really?’ she smiled in spite of herself. Almost felt as if she was being chatted up for once. ‘The demon drink I suppose?’

‘Oh no, a proper demon,’ he said with a smile. He stroked his beard with long fingers then picked up the bottle. He offered it to Lucy. ‘You mustn’t open it though. Never.’

‘Never?’

‘Never. Just put it on the sideboard as a talking point.’

‘Does the demon do anything?’ Lucy hefted the bottle. It was surprisingly heavy. Why was she going along with this nonsense? Because it would be something different to give Bryan on his birthday? A talking point? They needed talking points.

It was about the size of a beer bottle, almost pure white and slightly translucent with what looked like some kind of figure etched on the inside. That must be the demon. Quite clever really. The bottle’s stopper was blood-red glass with a red wax seal. Curiosity aroused, Lucy touched the seal -

‘No love – don’t touch the stopper - seriously.’ The shopkeeper snatched back the bottle, laughed, quickly handed it over again with a raised eyebrow. ‘We don’t want to let the demon escape do we?’

‘Don’t we?’

‘No love, I don’t think we do. It would spoil the mystery, wouldn’t it? No point having it on the sideboard then.’

‘How much?’

‘Forty pounds.’

‘Forty pounds?’ Lucy dumped the bottle back on the counter.’

‘Thirty then.’ The shopkeeper grinned, shrugged his broad shoulders.

‘Oh go on, you’ve charmed me into it.’ Lucy knew she should have haggled more, but time was pressing. Nearly dark, she had to walk back through the park. She pulled a twenty and a ten from her purse and grabbed the bottle. ‘Don’t bother to wrap it.’ She left to the chimes of the bell, the bottle heavy in her coat pocket.

Full dark by the time she reached the park, Lucy walked quickly with a confidence she didn’t feel, keeping to the middle of the asphalt. About halfway through the park she noticed a shadow move - close to a big clump of laurels some ten feet from the path. She stopped. Should she go back? She waited...

The shadow moved again.

‘Is anyone there?’ Lucy groped in her pocket for her mobile phone, but found only the bottle, heavy as a brick. Of course, her phone was in the kitchen being charged up. Damn!

‘Who is it?’ The bottle was better than nothing, gripped tight round the neck it was a weapon at least. Lucy kept it in her pocket - the shape of it might even look like a serious weapon...

The shadow became a man on the path. Lucy couldn’t see him clearly because - wouldn’t you know it? One of the park lights wasn’t working. Obviously the reason he’d chosen this spot.

‘What do you want?’ Lucy stood her ground, but he seemed to edge closer; Lucy caught the glint of a knife.

‘Do you want money?’

Another step... He just kept coming.

Too close!

Lucy swung the bottle hard, caught him on the side of the head. The man collapsed at her feet - glass everywhere – the broken neck of the bottle still in her hand - a knife skittering down the path.

Then a moment of silence.

‘Oh no – oh no.’ Paralysed with horror at what she’d done Lucy stood there, her mind frozen. Her assailant moaned, rolled over onto his back. Lucy turned to run. This was her chance to get away...

But the man stopped moving - just lay there on his back.

Lucy stepped closer, stood over him, her natural confidence filtering back like warm water. This guy was a loser, not a monster. Monsters were very different. She looked around.

Nobody about.

‘This isn’t your lucky day is it?’ Lucy stared down at him, ignored a small cut on her thumb. She placed her foot on the man’s throat, pressed hard. Gurgling sounds. Shards of white glass all over the path, glinting as he died.

She laughed. ‘I wonder where the demon got to?’

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