By Ryan Joshua.
The following is an excerpt from Ryan’s thirteen chapter short story Spottisbrough.
10th Jan 2020
Spottisbrough Lane is a rarely used back alley in the city fringe district of Morington Estate. Perfectly understandable because of the knocked over rubbish bins, swarms of flies hovering over torn trash bags and rats searching for half-eaten food left behind by greedy humans so engulfed in life living in the urban jungle that they wilfully neglect basic decency. Anybody new to the neighbourhood would instinctively take a different route to avoid the ghastly experience of walking through Spottisbrough Lane.
The lane was lined on both sides with four story apartment buildings. Its fire escapes forming zigzags amidst the evening grey sky almost like giant snakes slithering down to the ground on the building’s back wall.
Henrietta gets off bus number fifty-six just adjacent to the entrance on one end of Spottisbrough Lane. She had just got off work and was eager to get home, have some leftover shepherd’s pie and then crawl under the covers with her laptop and watch the next episode of Love Affairs on Netflix till she dozes off to sleep. She does not mind walking through Spottisbrough Lane as it is a short-cut for Henrietta to get to her apartment building.
Having lived in Morington for the past year, she was immune to what surprises lie on its cobbled pavement. She was reluctant to use it at first when she moved in but eventually did after getting more familiar with her neighbourhood. This took approximately four months for Henrietta. Now, the mysterious and unpleasant aura of Spottisbrough Lane does not scare her at all.
Henrietta moved into the middle-class neighbourhood of Morington right after graduating from college. It was an ideal apartment. A quaint 1-bedder with a kitchenette and bathroom suited to her taste for living the single’s life. It was a fifteen-minute bus ride to get into the city. Once off the bus, Henrietta was one in the crowd as she would walk over to Highland building and take the lift up to the seventh floor. Plying her craft as a data analyst, she spent the last year or so working in the office of Kurt, Cotz and Company, one of the biggest strategic business consultancy firms in the world, where she is a rising star slated to take over the management helm of her department in two to three years-time.
Henrietta quickened her pace as she makes a right turn into Spottisbrough Lane. “Every time I try to see the best in you, I tell myself that…” Henrietta sings along to Rumiere Gardé’s number one smash hit. Her favourite independent artist. Approaching the chorus of the song, Henrietta slightly increases the volume on her iPhone. “We were meant to be, don’t you see… take me…,” she sings along as she strolls her way around the turn and into Spottisbrough Lane. “TGIF!” she says to herself with a slight smile on her face.
Having walked through the lane countless times, she knew every feature of it and would safely arrive at her apartment building unscathed. For her, it was just like walking through any other street in her neighbourhood. She would do her usual routine of avoiding potholes and cracked pavements, all while hopping over puddles of brown-ish, stale smelling water like an agile ninja.
As confident as she was on previous occasions, Henrietta begins her walk through the lane, looking forward to her warm sheets as her reward for a week of hard work in the office. She avoids the first pothole and sidesteps what looks like a pile of cans lying in a pool of spilt beer.
She continues walking and almost slips but manages to get her balance back. She looks down and sees a cardboard box in a puddle of cloudy water. “Eeww!” she says in disgust as she takes a step to the side, almost bumping into the cat ladder of the apartment building’s fire escape on the left side of the lane in the process. She takes a right-side step to avoid the ladder and continues her walk through the lane.
“Hmm…Hmm…Hmm…Da…Da…Da…” Gleefully singing along to her favourite tunes, she exits Spottisbrough Lane at the other end and takes a left turn onto Barber Street. About forty meters down from the intersection, she enters her apartment building on the right and climbs up two flights of stairs to the second floor.
She walks right up to the door of her unit, removes her wireless headphones, puts them in the left pocket of her dress pants and reaches into the right pocket of her blazer. Her hand picks up a myriad of items. Loose change, sweet wrappers, a flash drive and a hair pin before she finally finds her keys. She pulls it out and unlocks her apartment door.
“I just ordered from FastPizza. Wanna come over? It should be arriving right about now.” Standing on the corridor was Mack, a late twenty-something-year-old gentleman wearing a shabby looking pair of Bermuda shorts and an over-used Manhattan Portage t-shirt.
“Hey Mack, no, it’s alright. Just gonna finish some leftovers from yesterday. Thanks for asking!”
“Oh, c’mon, it’s Friday!”
Henrietta smiles politely at Mack, slightly shaking her head explicitly declining his offer. “Sorry!” she says apologetically.
She closes the door behind her and latches it. “This guy is relentless,” she tells herself. She places her handbag on the sofa in the living room and lets her hair down. She sluggishly removes her blazer. She is about to place it on the sofa before heading to the shower when she notices three blotched red dots on the left shoulder pad. “Where did this come from?” she asks herself as she places the blazer on the sofa next to her handbag.
Ding. The door-bell rings.
“Good God Mack! What do you want now!” she mumbles under her breath. Not wanting to be rude, Henrietta walks quickly to the door, turns the knob and swings the door open. “Yes Mack, can I help you?” she says, with a hint of indifference.
“Hello there,” says a voice sheepishly. A bearded man roughly in his mid-thirties wearing a brown suede blouson jacket, clearly too tight for him, with a vintagelooking Nike t-shirt underneath and a pair of old rugged black jeans stood in front of her standing erect. Was he angry, in distress or sad, Henrietta could not tell? He had a tough exterior with thick arms bursting through the seams of his tight jacket and broad shoulders much like a seasoned rugby player that took up almost the whole width of the door frame. His fists were clenched almost as if he was holding back, having a nervous breakdown or experiencing a kind of unbearable pain of some sort.
“Oh, you must be the pizza guy? Two doors down,” Henrietta says while trying to see if the man has a delivery bag with him. Henrietta points down the corridor.
Thump Thump Thump. The sound of a pair of heavy boots worn on tired legs walking up the stairs reverberated across the corridor. A plump man in a blue cap, red shirt and navy-blue pants, panting heavily reaches the top of the stairs carrying with him two boxes of pizza. He walks past the bearded man and continues down the hallway till he reaches Mack’s apartment door. He presses the doorbell.
Click. Mack opens his door.
Henrietta, confused as to who this bearded man standing in front of her was, politely asks, “Can I help you?” The man stared at her intensely for a good five seconds. He muttered something softly, but Henrietta could not make out what he was saying.
“Excuse me?” Henrietta stood there confused, wondering what she should do next. The man puts his head down, pivots his body to the left and takes off hurriedly. He runs down the stairs and does not look back. Henrietta quickly closes the door and latches it. “Wow. What a weirdo?!” Never before has Henrietta encountered such a situation in the year that she has been living in Morington Estate. Henrietta hits the shower and then goes to bed.
It is late Saturday morning.
No need to get to the office. No worries in the world. Just for the weekend, at least. Henrietta boils some water and starts preparing breakfast. She opens up the Daily News App on her phone and reads the headlines. The title reads-
“Murder in Morington”
Henrietta skims through the first few paragraphs of the article.
“An incident occurred just past 7 p.m. yesterday… Police arrived at the scene after receiving an anonymous emergency call… found a dead man hanging over the railing of the fire escape with his blood dripping …Spottisbrough Lane… Cause of death is a stab wound to the neck.”
Henrietta then skips to the last sentence of the article, which says-
“Suspect is at large.”
She drops her phone and gasps in disbelief with both hands over her mouth. She turns her head and looks at the blazer on the sofa, shivering with fear.
Ryan Joshua Mahindapala is an MBA student at Strathclyde Business School. He is an avid storyteller and habitual thought provoker. He is a Lawyer and the Founder of Thinking Movement, a Medium publication centred around the formulation of strategic solutions in the areas of sustainability, social justice, inclusion, mental health and self-help. Feel free to check out his work at the following links: https://medium.com/thinking-movement; https://bit.ly/3cAHNCV