Inspired by my childish love of the whole Halloween season; I hit upon the idea of writing a series of short, pulp-style stories about all of the inhabitants of a fictitious town. It seemed like a way of getting back into the writing habit without having to worry too much about the quality or originality of what I was writing. So here goes the first one;
Ashthorn was a small village, far removed from the nearest city. The town itself was comprised of a single main street and two intersecting side streets. At one end sat the Church, and at the other was the ostentatious home of the town’s chief patron, Bruno Tasker. Between these points were the usual modest commercial ventures; The grocer’s, the notary public, the bank, the butcher’s shop, a dress maker’s boutique, a men’s haberdashery, a hardware store, a barber’s and a general store. Some of these were on Main street, and some were on the corners of first and second street.
However, the inhabitants of Ashthorn were never really sure which road counted as first and which as second. Therefore, the terms were interchangeable. This meant that Harvey’s General Store was located on the corner of Main and First if you were situated near the Church, and the corner of Main and Second if you were near the Taskers’ abode. Accordingly, the street signs on the corner were each labelled with ‘First’ written on one face and ‘Second’ on the opposite side. It may seem as though this would have caused a great deal of confusion, but it did not. Since it was rare for any outsiders to visit Ashthorn, and the locals were accustomed to this fluid sense of direction, it was never considered much of an issue.
There were a dozen houses connected to the village. They were all situated at the end of one of the four corners of the side streets in neat little batches. There were also two outlying farms that qualified themselves as part of the community. One specialized in produce, while the other dealt in livestock. Both farms were responsible for all the food carried at the grocers and and butcher’s shop, apart from a few less-common items that were imported from outside the town.
One of the citizens of Ashthorn was Miss Emily Park.
It was a fine, sunny day when she rode her bicycle from her home on Second street East (From the church) to the main thoroughfare. Her face was serene, if not totally benevolent, as she pedalled herself slowly towards Steinwick’s hardware store.
At twenty-years-old, Emily was a plain girl by all accounts. Her clothing was always drab and unrevealing, and her hair was ceaselessly tied back in a flat braid. There had been some conjecture as to whether or not her sense of fashion was her own doing or the influence of her father, Byron Park.
Emily’s father was a bully of a man, even in his failing heath. His wife, Emily’s mother, had passed away some years prior due to a nasty accident with a garden spade. After that, Byron took his sense of paternal duty to the extreme. It was regarded as a plain fact that he connived to keep his daughter at home, and discouraged any contact with potential suitors.
Thus was the overbearing father doted upon by his dutiful and cowed child.
When he finally fell ill (which was hardly a surprise given the number of empty Gin bottles that accumulated behind his house) Emily became little more than his willing appendage. Byron Park was rarely seen outside of his own home, while Emily spent her days either tending to him or else riding her bicycle around town collecting whatever her father required.
“What is it today, Miss Park?” Steinwick enquired cheerfully as the girl entered his store. Emily Smiled back with undisguised simplicity.
“I need some copper wiring, please.” She replied, all enthusiasm.
“What will you be needing this for?” The shopkeeper asked as he went to locate the item in question. She told him in a chipper voice about how her father was planning on building a radio.
“He’s been getting all these magazines, and he thought, since he can’t move about much these days, he would try to build a new radio by himself! I think it’s good for him to do something while he resting up, don’t you?”
“I agree, that sounds a fair hobby for him. How much will you be needing?”
“Forty feet, please!”
A shadow came over Steinwick’s face. He said:
“That’s an awful lot, Miss. Are you sure that is the right amount you were sent for?”
“Oh yes,” Came the reply, “Daddy was quite insistent on that fact!”
“Very well, Miss, but it seems as though you could make a dozen radios with that length.”
Emily left the store with the coil of hair-thin wire slung over her shoulder. Teetering slightly, she mounted her bicycle and wobbled along back to her house.
“Did you get what I asked you for?!” Came the bilious bellow as soon as Emily had shut the door.
“Yes, daddy,” She replied, unshaken.
“And you didn’t go running your mouth off about what I needed it for?”
“No, father. I told ’em it was for building a radio, just like you said. Though Mr. Steinwick thought it was frightfully peculiar that you wanted so much of it.”
Byron Park snorted derisively.
“I don’t care what that old badger thinks.” He muttered, more to himself than his daughter, as he limped down the stairs.
The only change which came over Emily at the sight of her jaundiced father was a slight air of timid concern.
“Now, you know you shouldn’t be moving about so much.” She chided in a shy voice.
“Come now, girl,” Byron hissed, “I’m not dead yet. Besides, I need to show you how to string this stuff up. I’ve been studying them magazines and I think I’ve sussed out the best way to go about it. Lord knows what would happen if I left you to do it on your own.”
Emily was not seen again for the remainder of the day, though the neighbours remarked to each other how the Parks’ lights were burning late into the night.
It was not long after that day that Byron’s conditions worsened, leaving him a total invalid. This, naturally, meant that Emily was kept on a leash twice as tight as before. During that time it had become exceedingly rare to hear or see either of them, apart from the occasional shadow through a curtained window. It was expected that Byron Park was not long for this world, which was frankly considered as something of a relief. Not only was he one of the least popular members of the community, but many would find it a great comfort to see the young Emily get on with her own life. There was an almost palpable eagerness to see Byron Park off to his grave.
They did not have long to wait.
One night, alone with Emily on his deathbed, Byron said:
“This is it, girl! I think the day has come. Hook me up, for god’s sake, hook me up! You double checked that capacitor thing, didn’cha?” The word ‘capacitor’ was sounded out with unfamiliarity.
Emily reassured her father on every front, nodding and chiming in after his desperate questions.
The next morning, Byron Park was dead.
There was an unspoken joy that passed over his neighbours. However, their hope for Miss Park’s liberty went unsatisfied. After an unceremonious funeral was held at the cemetery (nobody was permitted in the Parks’ house), people expected to see more of the sheltered girl. Yet the outcome of her father’s death seemed to produce the opposite effect. Emily had sequestered herself in her house just as much as she had when her father had been alive. True, she ventured out on various errands during the day, but she was always home before six thirty in the evening. And, just as before, she politely avoided any intimate association with any of the young men in the town.
It seemed as though her father had schooled her well. It was as if she felt that he was still jealously looking over her shoulder, bullying her into ignoring any interference that might distract her attentions. Not that she ever seemed unhappy, far from it. It was simply as though nothing had changed at all. Many people wondered if the poor girl had actually accepted her father’s demise, or if she was somehow pretending he was still alive.
So, with a silent disappointment, Ashthorn gave up hope for Emily Park. No doubt a dull future as a lonely spinster awaited her, so they thought.
Emily entered her house just after five o’clock in the evening.
“I’m home!” She called out cheerfully.
“I know that, girl,” Came the snappy reply. The voice was distant and hollow, twanging with a chord of electricity. “I may not be able to see anymore, but I can still hear you coming through the door.”
“I’m sorry father. Did you have a fine day?’
“Not too bad, not too bad. That antenna gizmo we rigged up worked good and proper.” Byron said, his voice coming from a a radio speaker that was mounted to the upper corner of the room. In fact, every room in the house was provided with the same rigging, which included a hanging microphone descending from the ceiling.
“I jumped over to Widow Hampstead’s wireless set and gave her quite a turn. Too bad I couldn’t hear her reaction, not having a microphone over there, I would have loved to hear her squeal when I told her just what she could go and do with herself.”
“Oh, now really Father! What a cruel thing to do.”
“Don’t you sass me, girl,” Came the reply, “I’m dead, for god’s sake, I’ll get my jollies however I like.”
“But people might find out!” Emily pleaded in her shy falsetto.
“Let ’em,” The radio network barked, “Nobody in this town has the guff to come up here and kill me a second time. Besides, anyone tries to get rid of me I can use that transmitter equipment to send this old ghost of mine wherever I want!”