AARLSVILLE - RICHARD GODWIN
The town stood there just the same. Like something from another era. He felt time slow to zero hour as the still hand of recurrence tapped at his brain. The buildings looked like facades housing nothing, and even the shops appeared like pieces of a stage set.
Clean of litter, clean of people.
He recognised it at once. And wondered how it was he had returned here. All these years later, lost, unaware of the passage through the woods and the path he’d taken, he came upon it. The memory of being chased out by the sheriff and his dogs loomed up at him like something out of a fog. Bare fangs in red mouths dripping saliva, luminous eyes chasing him in the dark woods.
He reasoned that all the people may have moved on and he would be unrecognised, knowing that would never happen in a town like Aarlsville. His growth of beard offered him some hope of disguise and he staggered into the town, searching for food.
Lights were on in the diner and he went in. A woman was sweeping up and turned, surprised to see a customer so early. She searched his face, wondering what the stranger’s story was.
‘Can I get some breakfast?’ he said.
She handed him a menu.
He ordered eggs, bacon, some bread and coffee and waited as the smell of cooking filled the room. He sat with his back to where she stood, so that she could not get a better look at him.
He would eat and leave.
She placed the steaming mug down in front of him. ‘Passing through?’
‘You could say that.’
‘We don’t get many strangers round here.’
‘That’s the way we like it.’
Despite himself, he looked at her.
He didn’t want to, but he thought it rude to sit there staring out of the window while talking to her. She was pretty, and had a good figure. He watched her as she turned and went into the kitchen, noticing the folds of her clothes.
He drank some coffee.
All those years ago.
Never done it before and never since.
He caught the flash of a coat’s edge as someone passed by the window.
‘Hungry?’ the waitress said, adjusting her belt.
He looked away.
She returned a few minutes later with his breakfast and he began to eat.
She stood facing the window with her back to him and he saw her shape clearly against the glass, and felt the presence of the town enter him as if someone were trying to penetrate him with a being that hungered for action.
‘You get many customers?’ he said.
‘My regulars come in a bit later than you. We don’t get anyone else here, and we don’t get no trouble.’
All those years ago.
‘Only once we had trouble. One time when a stranger was passing through, a young man and he raped one of our women. He tied her up and raped her and then killed her and did terrible things to her.’
No I didn’t.
‘He got away. But not before he left bits of her body strewn all over town.’
No I didn’t.
‘Never seen again?’
‘No. The Sheriff says if he catches him, he’ll kill him.’
He pushed his plate away.
‘Thank you, ma’am, can I use your john?’
‘You leaving that? It’s at the back.’
It had a window and he started to climb out, having nothing to pay with.
She playing tricks on me? She recognise me? They’re framing me for something I never did. I fucked her, but that’s all. Why here? She’s acting just like the last one.
She was standing by the window and saw him.
‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing?’
As he came out through the door he saw her going into the diner. He caught her just as she picked up the phone. He dragged her into the back.
‘Don’t make a sound.’
‘You get out of here.’
But before he knew it, he felt her.
Underneath the dress as she struggled with him.
And it came off easily in his hands, and he got her on the floor and climbed on top of her.
She was quiet and when he was finished, he locked her in and left and went into the street outside and smashed the window of the first car he came to and hot-wired it and drove out of Aarlsville.
In the mirror he caught the face looking back at him. Not his, the other’s, the other of Aarlsville. He tried to re-enact his own facial movements, as if he were becoming a stranger to himself and were drifting from his own shoreline.
Why here? Why her?
The roads were deserted.
Is it all still here?
As he stopped at the junction that took him out, he felt a hand on his shoulder. The rear view mirror showed him the edge of a sleeve. He remembered the coat from the diner.
‘Stop the car. Get out.’
The barrel of the gun pressed against his head.
He pulled over.
He stood with his back to the man and stared in front of him at a deserted scene.
No houses, no shops.
The town was behind him.
‘I always knew you’d return.’
‘I never did those things.’
‘Want to see?’
‘I said want to see?’
The barrel was removed and he turned round slowly.
He remembered the moustache.
Thick as bristle.
The Sheriff stood there looking at him.
‘I never touched her.’
‘I believe you.’
‘Someone else must have done it.’
‘Why d’you come back?’
‘I got lost.’
‘Many do round here, that’s how we find em.’
‘I’ll show you.’
And he put him in the car and cuffed him and drove him to the station and led him through the office past the officer who sat at his desk and looked at them and into a back room and through a yard into a lock up where he put the lights on.
There were jars everywhere and pieces of her, small pounds of pickled flesh luminous in their carnival of butchery, a preservation of a madman’s dream that clutched at the filaments of sanity.
‘See? Little hobby of mine.’
‘You fuck ’em, I cut ’em.’
‘You let me go the first time, let me go now.’
‘Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna leave you here and go and get that fine woman you just done and start on her.’
The Sheriff hit him with the gun, leaving him on the floor and locked him in.
Moments later, the sound of the Sheriff’s car stirred him and he looked up into blackness.
He stood and searched along the wall for the light, finding it near the door.
He clambered up some shelves to a window at the top and smashed it.
Glass shattered, falling on the outside which led to the back of the station.
No movement from the officer.
He jumped out and walked round to the front.
Not twice. Not here
In the street he found another car.
Hot-wiring it easily he got in and drove back to where he came in.
Rape’s here. Like rape’s the law
As he neared the start of the town, he saw the Sheriff’s back leaning over his car.
He was lifting something heavy into the boot, frozen as if set in some portrait of a place both timeless and enduring.
He pulled away before he got a sighting of him.
He drove straight out of Aarlsville and left the other one there.
BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled and Gloom Cupboard, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. He is in the process of setting up a blog. For right now, you can check out his portfolio here.