I set this story down, by way of a confession if you like, not expecting it will be believed, but, if possible, to prepare a way of escape for the next victim. He perhaps may profit from my misfortune. My own case, I know, is hopeless, and I am now in some measure prepared to meet my fate.
My name is John Everington, and I was born in the year of our Lord, 1876, in the village of Hagnaby Pluckacre in Lincolnshire. My father was rector of a group of local churches and, wishing to see me follow in his footsteps, I was sent to Lincoln’s cathedral school and then to Cambridge.
But the life of a preacher was not for me. My heart was in chemistry, psychology, and the sciences, and, to my father’s disapproval, I was successful in terminating my religious studies and embarking on those I so desired. By way of punishment, paternal financial aid was drastically curtailed, so as I began my first appointment as science master at a prominent public school in Market Rasen, I found myself in meagre lodgings in the attic of a rambling pile, quite below the expectations fitting of my status.
One evening, early in the term, there came a loud knocking which I perceived as someone at my door. The only people who had called were my landlord, Mrs Boswell, and a fellow master at the school, a Robert Lameman, someone who shared my interests, and with whom I was not loath to spend time in discourse. By Jove! I thought, who on earth is that?
I opened the door to a curious individual. Tall, certainly over six feet, thin as a rake, with a not-unpleasant face, long and thin-lipped, and quite bald, except for two tufts of grey hair above the ears.
“Good evening, Mr Everington, my name is James Appleyard. May I come in?”
I hesitated, it was gone eight o’clock, and I had yet to tidy up after supper.
“It is of the utmost importance I speak with you,” said Mr Appleyard earnestly.
“Well, you had best come in then,” I said, ushering the unexpected visitor along the long linoleum-lined hallway and into the threadbare sitting room.
Once seated, Mr Appleyard wasted no time in coming to the point. “Mr Everington, it has come to my attention you are a man of considerable intelligence, and furthermore I see you are living in impoverished circumstances, unbefitting to so well-educated an individual.”
I acquiesced, reddening somewhat.
Now he took from a bag an object wrapped in waxed brown paper. He put it on an occasional table between our chairs. “This I think, will answer your problems.”
“Well, what the deuce is it?” I exclaimed, growing a little impatient.
Mr Appleyard unwrapped the object, with some small ceremony, to reveal a flask. He placed his palms flat on the polished table. “Now, in this flask, there is a complex draught. Like yourself, I am a chemist of no mean skill and learning.” He took out a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. “Do you have glasses?”
I fetched two wine glasses from the kitchen, having quickly wiped the grease off them with a tea cloth.
“To show you there is nothing to worry about, I will go first.” He poured some red wine, then carefully measured out a teaspoon of a strange green liquid and added it to the glass. The wine immediately began to foam with a kind of pink effervescence, before Mr Appleyard downed it with one huge gulp.
His eyes brightened and shortly he began to spout the most amazing chemical formulae. Formulae for types of cleaning fluid, perfumes, drugs for rheumatism and arthritis and so forth, all unknown to me, and seemingly new to science. Finally, he closed his eyes and slumped back in the chair. After a while, he opened them again and smiled. “So, you see, Mr Everington, had you the forethought to take down my dictation, you would have cause to patent a considerable number of highly profitable potions!”
“Let me try,” I said, “and please be good enough to take the formulae down as I recite them.”
Mr Appleyard poured out half a glass of wine and added the green liquid as before. Then he took from his case a small notepad and silver pen. He smiled. “One scribe at your service.”
I downed the wine in one, as he had done, but instead of finding my mind full of exciting new chemical formulae and ideas, I merely felt the room spin. Where there had been one Mr Appleyard, now there were two, or so it seemed.
That was all I remembered. I awoke on my chair, feeling chilled to the bone and ravenously hungry. My watch said eleven o’clock, but it was light. I must have slept on the chair all night. I got up and looked around and my heart sank like a stone. I saw that everything it was possible to take from my humble apartment had been taken. All of my books, possessions, even my kitchen utensils. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea.
Distraught, I went downstairs and knocked at Mrs Boswell’s door. She received me graciously. She told me she had been away in Surrey, visiting a sick aunt for the past few days and had just returned that very morning. Yet I distinctly remembered speaking to her the previous day, the day Mr Appleyard called.
I stood, dumbfounded, and it took some time before the situation became clear. How Appleyard pulled the trick, I do not know, but it seems I had sat there, unconscious, for some days.
I said nothing to Mrs Boswell about what had occurred, wondering at my sanity, though she looked at me strangely, sensing my confusion. I hastened off to ask for credit at a nearby bakers.
Whilst I had remained dead to the world, Appleyard, through his lofty connections, had convinced the headmaster to install him as science master at the school in my place, citing rumours that I had left the country.
I subsequently confronted Appleyard, the scoundrel, who feigned not to know me. My remonstrations with the headmaster, a Mr Reston, fell upon deaf ears. And my small number of friends listened to my tale with doubt written large on their faces. So now I have no choice but to return to my father with my tail between my legs and to beg his financial aid. No doubt I shall now have to succumb to the ecclesiastical life I so much abhor.
Note from David Scoffin, constable of Market Rasen. 13th July 1900.
The above account was discovered in the apartment of Mr John Everington, following the discovery of that individual’s deceased body. The cause of death was compression of the carotid arteries due to hanging from a beam. It was written in pencil on numbered scraps of paper in the deceased’s hand and found hidden beneath a mattress.
Mr Everington’s claims scarcely seem credible and investigations support Mr Appleyard’s account, though where Mr Everington went whilst missing is unknown. Mr Appleyard asserts that he had never previously met Mr Everington and was only aware of him through local tittle-tattle.
Amended 20th July 1900. Though Mr Everington’s rooms were essentially empty, save for the landlady’s few sticks of furniture and remaining appliances, it has been decided to utilize the new science of fingerprinting on the remaining effects and surfaces, in the hope that it may establish if any person known to the enquiry was recently present in the deceased’s lodgings.
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories