The Rug in the Smaller Drawing Room

(a Christmas Tale)


Here it is: our first ever audio tale.

We would like to thank B.J. Harrison of The Classic Tales Podcast for recording the tale for us. If you are unfamiliar with The Classic Tales Podcast you can find it on iTunes or on the official website. There are some wonderful, macabre (free) stories in his collection. And you’ll also find some fantastic novels and stories for purchase, too.

And now, our Christmas Tale

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From a dream

and the first thing I thought when I came to was that my head didn’t hurt and that this was peculiar as I was sure it had been a terrible fall and I was certain that I briefly felt the base of my cranium crash hard against something (the bathtub?) and it was also strange, I thought, that I was standing but the sense of urgency and need for haste was overwhelming so I left the bathroom quickly and moved downstairs quickly and before I knew it I was in the foyer and the Famous Woman was waiting for me already

and I turned about me and saw that Belle was looking around impatiently and I called out to her and told her I wouldn’t be long and the Famous Woman smiled kindly at me and she said we needed to hurry and I called out to Belle and she looked beautiful and I remembered us as two young people and I realised, again, that I loved her

and the Famous Woman took my hand and we walked out of the foyer and up a long, old staircase and the dust smelled like cinnamon and we arrived on a corridor and the Famous Woman told me Belle would follow us and we walked past several blue doors and behind them I thought I could hear music and laughing and we passed some black doors and I was sure I could hear screaming and tearing and agony and pain and I did not dare to look down because I knew I would see the thick, tarry pool of old blood which seeped from under it

and the Famous Woman told me we needed to hurry but I had to move closer to the black doors and I thought I heard names I knew, shouted loudly over the din of pain and suffering, and it made me miss Belle and I had to move closer still

and I heard scratching and ripping and I could smell something sour which filled my nostrils and made me think of kitchens and of a decision to be a better person in the future and of a terrible New Year’s Eve and of arguments with my parents and of regrets and of Sunday evenings before school as a boy and I moved away from the door and realised I was weeping and the Famous Woman put her arm around me and led me away from the black doors

and we arrived upstairs; a huge courtyard-shaped room with seating along the edge and nothing in the centre and a few people looking in my direction and I was still weeping and the feeling of the Famous Woman’s arm around my shoulder made me feel better but I longed, now, to see Belle and I turned and saw a window at the back of the room and I could see Belle and there were others there and I loved each of them and they loved me

and I moved towards the window and shouted out and I saw Belle was sad and shaking and I wanted to go to her

and I turned towards where the Famous Woman was now sitting and she smiled kindly to me and she beckoned me to sit down and I moved and I sat and she said “There: isn’t that better?” and she reached out her hand and I realised

and I didn’t want to but I realised

and I looked into the Famous Woman’s eyes and she was sad and welcoming and I asked her and she said it didn’t matter and I asked again and I said “Am I dead?” and she said “It doesn’t matter” and I looked at the window and I wanted to go to it and I asked if the people there, the people I loved, come come into the courtyard-shaped room and she said they could not

and I looked at the Famous Woman again and I was weeping and she smiled kindly and she understood and I asked her what had happened because I could not remember and she told me and I understood and I wept again

and she said “You had a terrible fall. In the bathroom. You hit your head, hard.” and she stopped smiling and she said “They didn’t get to you in time.”

and I understood

and I remembered Belle and I remembered us as two young people

and the Famous Woman put her arms around me again and everything started to drift away and I forgot what I’d asked and I felt calm and nothing hurt

and the Famous Woman said “There: isn’t that better?”

Honesty Vault

Siegfried Mason’s wretched skull stares out, still, at all who pass the deserted Honesty Vault. There it sits, in a hollowed-out hole, embedded into the arched entrance; a warning to the cruel and greedy of heart. I pass by now and turn my face to the cobbles. It is shame, not reverence, which moves me.

The Honesty Vault was established by Mayor Thomas Sherwood to share the piteous collected wealth of Oakestone when our humble town was overcoming the terrible famine of 1859. All monies were pooled and stored centrally in the Vault, opposite the great clock in the town square, that a small amount might be taken when needed by any deserving soul. When trade came our way the profits would be submitted to the Vault. When commerce thrived from sales of pigs or of grain or of coal the resultant riches would be added to the collective pile.

The sole rule of the Vault: only ever take what was needed to sustain yourself and your dependents. All other things in the town – food or service – was shared equally. Life, though modest, swelled with comfort and plenty.

The Honesty Vault’s warden elect – an old, deaf verger – sat in a small cabin with a dusty tome; recording withdrawals and deposits after each visit. A regular audit was made and each morning at breakfast the townsfolk would gather to hear Mayor Sherwood read aloud the previous day’s activity (more oft than not a gentle or significant rise is proceeds). There would be food and sharing; music and joy as the town celebrated their togetherness; their resilience in bad times; their strength in altruistic unity.

But after a few years the people of Oakestone grew bitter and savage inside. They saw the growth of wealth and longed for more. But not one spoke word of it; merely festered within.

On a particularly hot summer’s eve, Siegfried Mason (a troubled haberdasher with no wife nor children with a hobbled foot) staggered to the Vault. His head was swimming; hot with the ale he had consumed that evening. Hearsay told that Mason and the landlord of the Black Bull quarrelled viciously about the Haberdasher’s inability to deliver goods on time, not to mention their questionable quality when they were received. That he was a poor and shameful member of the harmonious town. That the idea of community, sharing and equality was lost on him, entirely.

It is said that Mason yelled that he would show the landlord what it truly meant to be a member of this community. Several men swore to the threatening dedication present in his eyes.

The Verger snored from his cabin. Siegfried peered into the dark archway. He shuffled inside.

The morning came. The townsfolk gathered. The entries were read.

*

Mason’s progress, of course, was halted. His trail was traced. He was found in the crypt of the chapel of St Michael. The monies, though, were nowhere to be seen.

Mason was hauled to the town squared and bound to a plank. He was questioned by Mayor Sherwood:

Where are the monies? Where is the wealth which we honestly share?

Mason made no reply whatever. A devilish punishment was devised.

I stood, a mere boy of nineteen years, at the back of the baying crowd. The men and the women gathered around Mason. Each drew a length of leather and dipped it in tar which had been boiled to bubbling point. Each man and each woman then struck him, about the face, for every farthing that had been pilfered. Mason did not cry out.

Eventually came my turn. Though the visage in front of me was no longer the face of a man but a bloodied death’s head aloft a broken, useless body. I made my strikes.

On returning home, my hand as red as an October sunset, a small package awaited me; wrapped in the finest cloth I’d ever seen. I opened it up and found, as every other had that very evening, an equal cut of the town’s accumulated wealth. Less one share.