Mrs. Foggarty's Mirrors
By John Outram
About the author
MRS. FOGGARTY'S THE SCARY HOUSE by the holly bushes?" asked Ryan.
"I suppose it's a bit scary," said Ben. "If you live in a council house and you wet the bed every night."
"YOU wet the bed," said Ryan, for want of anything better to say. Ben smiled but then tried to punch him in the back. Ryan squirmed away. Though he wouldn't mention it, his back still hurt from where Ben had punched him earlier in the day. Ben punched you hard, for no reason, even when he was meant to be playing.
"You can always go home and wet the bed in your council house, if you're scared," said Ben. "I could get anyone else to come."
"I'll come," said Ryan. "It's just… D'you think Mrs Foggarty's got much cash in there?"
"Course she's got cash. Pensioners've always got cash. Cos they don't understand banks and that."
"I thought pensioners was hard up."
"They think they're hard up, cos they don't understand money and that. That's what my dad says. They put it all in a shoebox and forget about it, and that's why they think they've got nothing."
Ryan screwed up his face and thought about this. His own grandmother was always complaining about a lack of money, but she always had enough for gin and cigarettes. Anyway, Ben's dad was always right. He drove the most expensive car of any of the dads from school. He smoked brown cigarettes. He was away most of the time, working, Ben said, but when he came back he always had cool stuff for Ben.
"They've got all sorts of stuff," Ben went on. "Silver and that. Everything in the old days was made of silver cos they didn't have plastic. And they knew people that got killed in the war so they got medals and that."
"So it's all old stuff then?" said Ryan disappointedly.
"Old stuff's worth more, you twat," said Ben.
Ryan was confused again. Most of the stuff in his mum's house was old, and he doubted it was worth anything. Most of it was stuff handed down from his gran or his auntie, stuff that was cracked or chipped or didn't work properly. They gave it to his mum because there was no chance of flogging it at a car boot sale. But he didn't argue with Ben. He didn't want another punch in the back.
"She lives all by herself, cos her husband's dead," Ben explained. "No-one ever goes there cos she's nuts. Old people go like that. Everyone they know dies an' they go nuts and talk to their cats all day."
"Has she got a cat?"
"How do I know if she's got a fucking cat? She's just nuts, all right?"
They stopped. The ramshackle fence, overgrown with brambles, marked the border of Mrs Foggarty's unkempt garden. The house with its gloomy gables of peeling paint loomed before them. Dirty windowpanes gave it a look of blindness, age and infirmity. One of the upstairs nets hung lopsided from a single hook.
"Looks like a haunted house, don't it?" said Ryan.
"Looks like a tip," snorted Ben. "Looks worse than your house, or Scruffy Watson's house. Probably smells worse, too."
"She might be a witch," said Ryan.
"If you're scared, you don't have to come," said Ben.
"I ain't scared," mumbled Ryan. "I done this loads of times with my brother."
"Whatever," sneered Ben. "Now remember what I told you to do."
Ben rattled the knocker three times, and Ryan felt
the urge to run. That would have been a good enough game in itself,
knocking on the door so the old woman would have to come all the way
downstairs and find no-one there. They could leave it a few minutes,
then knock again, and so on. But that was a kids' game, and Ben and
Ryan were thirteen now. Anyway, the door was already opening.
"Yes?" said a cautious, high-pitched voice. A pale face with watery eyes peered through the gap in the door, still secured by a chain. Pensioners round here knew not to take chances.
"Please, miss," said Ben, and the transformation which overtook him was incredible. It wasn't just his voice that changed, it was his whole bearing, like when he came in from lunch break after fighting and swearing with the rest and then turned on the charm for the schoolteacher. "Please, miss, we're doing a community project for our school, cleaning up the lane. I wondered if we could have a drink of water, please."
"A community project?" said the old lady doubtfully. She looked them up and down and then started to close the door. But a moment later it opened again, with the chain removed. "I suppose you'd better come in."
"Thank you, miss," said Ben, wiping his feet carefully before stepping into the hall. Ryan shuffled his shoes on the mat and mumbled something similar.
Mrs Foggarty was as old as anyone Ryan had ever seen, with a pale, powdery face and lifeless yellow-white hair. She wore a cardigan and stripy dress with the buttons done up in the wrong order, short enough to show off her veined calves and her bright yellow slippers.
"If you like, I'll see if I've got something better than water for you," said Mrs Foggarty, leading them through the hall. It was narrow and dusty, the carpet worn and stained with age, though less ragged than Ryan's mum's carpets. "You know, it's so nice to see two boys engaged in something useful these days. The stories you hear about young children today, and I suppose you can't all be bad."
Ryan started to snigger, and Ben gave him a sharp kick in the shins. But Mrs Foggarty hadn't seemed to notice. She smiled at them as if she was really pleased to have them there. Ben smiled back, but made a "puke" gesture as soon as her back was turned again. They carried on through to the kitchen, which was full of old things and smelled quite strongly of something Ryan didn't recognise.
"Maybe I can find some cans of lemonade or cola somewhere. Or would you boys like something to eat?"
"We wouldn't want you to go to any trouble," said Ben, giving Ryan a stare when Mrs Foggarty's back was turned. "Would we? WOULD WE?"
Ryan remembered: "Please, miss, can I use your toilet?"
"Yes, dear, of course you can," said Mrs Foggarty as she rummaged at the back of her messy kitchen. "Now who likes cola and who likes lemonade?"
Ben winked and Ryan made his way upstairs.
The floorboards creaked as he made his way up. There
was a stale smell in the air, a smell of old sweat and dead flowers.
This was a creepy house, whatever Ben said. Ryan's gran said it had
once been part of a big estate, before they built the
supermarket. It didn't look like a house off an estate, because
they always looked the same and this house didn't look like any other
house. It was all by itself in the holly bushes, and Mrs Foggarty lived
by herself and she had been there forever. The house was old and dirty,
and the garden was overgrown, and Ryan's brother said it was haunted.
It looked a bit like the houses in scary videos that were always haunted, or had psychos living in them. Maybe Mrs Foggarty was a psycho. Maybe she'd bury an axe in Ben's head and then come looking for him. That made Ryan smile; he imagined himself running away from a psycho Mrs Foggarty armed with a chainsaw. Mrs Foggarty would make a good psycho, with her powdery face and yellow teeth.
He went into the bedroom. It was pretty messy. Grown-ups always told you off for not making your bed, but Ryan's mum didn't like making beds either. There was a basket full of dirty clothes in one corner, which was where most of the smell was coming from. The wardrobe door was open, with a mirror showing on the inside. There was a long crack in the mirror. He had a look through a load of old clothes and found a shoebox which had shoes in it. He tipped them onto the floor.
On the dressing table there was another mirror that was cracked too and lots of black and white pictures. Ryan looked at them and wondered what it must have been like before colour was invented. The people in the pictures were young, but dressed in old-fashioned clothes. The frames were made of metal but dirty, with black spots on the silver. He knocked them onto the floor and started looking through the drawers. In the first one he found a box with a pearl necklace in it. He put it on and looked in the mirror to see if he looked like a pirate but he just looked like a schoolboy in a pearl necklace, so he quickly took it off and stuffed it in his pocket.
There was other stuff in that drawer. There was a metal-backed mirror with yet another crack in it (how many years of bad luck had Mrs Foggarty had?). Maybe the back was silver, but no-one would want a broken mirror. There were matching hairbrushes, some letters and some little boxes, but no money and no more jewellery. He looked through the next two drawers, mostly underwear and cardigans, but in the bottom of the last drawer he found a bundle of ten pound notes wrapped in an elastic band, which he pulled out and put in his back pocket, feeling hugely pleased with himself.
In spite of what he had told Ben he had never really stolen anything from a house before, only from shops, though he'd heard his brother's stories about stuff he'd taken watches and little computers, expensive clothes and dirty magazines. Ryan liked those stories. He'd told Ben, and then Ben had said they should come here and see what was in Mrs Foggarty's house. It had seemed like a huge adventure then, but now it didn't seem as interesting as the houses Ryan's brother talked about robbing.
He remembered what else Ben had told him to do while he was up here. That was a way of getting back at Mrs Foggarty for her dull, smelly house. They'd talked about it beforehand, laughing and rolling about with wicked glee when they planned it, but now the feeling was cold, almost angry, though still pleasurable. He hadn't entirely lied about wanting to go to the toilet, but to his frustration he realised he actually didn't want to go, even though the bedsheets spread invitingly before him.
He thought about the other thing that Ben had showed him how to do. It wasn't much of a mess, but it would shock the old witch. He put his hand down the front of his trousers and started to rub himself vigorously, thinking about the images on a deck of pornographic cards Ben's dad had given him. After a few seconds he stopped, frustrated that nothing was happening. He hadn't been entirely sure he liked the cards anyway. Looking at those images had been exciting but a bit frightening, too. They made him think more of the butchers' shop window than of girls and sex. It was something else Ben had made him go along with, saying that he was a poof if he didn't.
He looked round the disorderly room, the clothes and belongings he had scattered. The stale smell of the house seemed stronger, more unpleasant. Outside it was getting darker, the evening drawing in. He didn't like it here.
He shut his eyes, leaning back against the wall, and started again. He thought about Angela Jones in 4C, with her blonde hair and long legs. Angela Jones in her gym kit, out on the netball court, in her netball skirt... that was better… Angela Jones stretching for the ball in her crisp white tee shirt… Angela Jones's mum, when she came to school to pick her up, in her open topped Escort XR3i with her tight, low-cut white top on…
His eyes flickered open and he jumped with shock. In the broken wardrobe mirror was that Mrs Foggarty watching him, a sly grin on her face. Blushing furiously, he leapt to the far side of the room, stuffing what was left of his erection back into his pants. But when he looked again he saw nothing. He must have imagined it.
Tentatively, he reached down again, as much for reassurance as anything else. But the moment was well and truly gone. He was shaking.
"Ryan!" The voice on the stairs was Ben's. "What you doing up there, you wanker?"
"Nothing," he called, zipping himself up, wondering if Ben had seen or heard him.
"Come and see this!" said Ben when he appeared on the landing. "You won't believe it!"
"What is it?" asked Ryan, picking up on Ben's excitement. He completely forgot about the pearls dangling from his pocket, the wad of money showing through his tight school trousers. Ben led him back to the kitchen, where there was no sign of Mrs Foggarty or of the promised cans of drink.
"Wait till you see this," said Ben, a malicious smile on his face.
He flung open the door to what Ryan guessed was the dining room. It was dark in there, the curtains drawn. At first they were hard to make out, those shapes in the shadowy room. He realised the worst of the stale smell was coming from this room. He started to feel afraid.
"Ben?" he asked. "Ben, what've you done? What've you done, Ben?"
"Look," said Ben. "Look properly."
Mrs Foggarty lay slumped in a carver chair. Her eyes were shut, her mouth wide open. There were livid bruises on her throat.
"Oh fuck!" whispered Ryan. "Oh fuck, Ben! Oh fuck, oh what've you done, Ben? What've you done?"
He tried to turn away, tried to turn and run, run away from this house, run away from the horror of what was before him. But Ben clutched at his shirt, turned him back into the room.
"Look properly, Ryan," said Ben, gentler now, gentler than he ever spoke to Ryan. "Who do you see?"
Ryan looked at the stained carpet at Mrs Foggarty's feet. Another body was slumped there, looking up at him with wide, dead eyes, tongue swollen and protruding. It was Ben. It was Ben and he was dead. And there were other bodies in the room a middle-aged woman, two men. And there was a mirror in the room, a mirror cracked diagonally from top to bottom…
"Who the fuck..?" he gulped. "Who the..?"
He turned, his last words cut off by a sob, tears streaming from his eyes. The face that stared back at him was not Ben's but a broken mirror image of his own. His own eyes gazed at him with a merry twinkle they had not known for years, his own mouth twisted into a sardonic smile it had never worn before.
He meant to run. He meant to fight. He meant to sink to his knees, wailing and sobbing. But he did nothing. He stared back into the eyes so like his own, stood paralysed as strong, impossibly long fingers encircled his throat and slowly squeezed the life from him.
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