The bedroom was filled with a silvery darkness, save for the small pool of light spilling in from under the door. Most of the care homes elderly residents slept quietly, while the hushed whispers and soft footsteps of the night staff drifted down the empty corridors. Although there was no need for anyone to check on Albert at this late hour, the old man was woken by someone tapping on his door. At least it wasn’t another bad dream that that was waking him up, he thought groggily as the knocking came again, louder this time. Suddenly Albert was jolted fully awake. The sound, he realised, wasn’t one of the nurses outside: It was coming from inside his wardrobe.
The retired East End gangster was gripped by a momentary panic as a vague recollection stirred in his mind. A chilling, half-forgotten warning: Something was coming for him but because of his dementia his dusty mind couldn’t remember who had issued the warning or when.
There had always been someone wanting a piece of him, both on the outside and when he’d been a guest of her majesty. For Albert Grieve been a bad boy in his day. Driven by a sociopathic animosity, Albert had been The Big Man and hurting people was necessary when you had a reputation such as his to uphold. He’d controlled various operations dealing in everything from drugs and women to shooters and protection. Back then he hadn’t been scared of nothing – people feared him!
Now, though the fire was going out and his addiction to violence and his unrestrained ambition was almost extinguished. Frailty of mind and body had diminished him so much that even the memories of his crooked past were just faded images. His dear Elsie, God rest her soul, had died a few years back and his kids, the ungrateful sods had disowned him as soon as they were old enough. With no-one to reminisce with he’d become a ‘nobody’; a fraud. He was just another grumpy old geezer, forgotten by the world.
The staff, of course, knew the name Albert Grieve. That’s why they treated him like scum, he thought sourly. It wasn’t so much their cold unfriendly attitude that bothered him or the scornful way they spoke to him. It was the way they disrespected him with cheap nasty food, when he’d been used to the best.
He glanced at the stale Rich Tea biscuits on his bedside table. He’d never liked Rich Tea’s and the carers knew it – that’s why they continued to give them to him. It was just one of the many ways they humiliated him. It may well have be one of them knocking on his door to wake him up out of spite.
The tapping from the wardrobe came a third time and Albert gathered what little strength he had left to issue a frail challenge.
“Oi! What do you want?” he growled testily into the gloom while he fumbled for his large gold-rimmed glasses. His body had been so corrupted by old age that his arthritic joints wouldn’t allow him to sit up. Instead he had no choice but to face this joker lying sprawled and helpless on the bed as the wardrobe door swung open with a theatrical creak and in the darkness something moved.
He tried to make sense of the jumbled images in his head. Had he really been told that something was coming for him? And if so: Why?
An uneasy tightness clamped onto his chest as something unfolded itself from the confines of his closet. Thin, elongated limbs reached out of the shadows. Whatever this thing was it moved with the predatory certainty of a large spider. Arms and legs, inhumanly long stepped into the bedroom, supporting an equally tall emaciated body covered in old rags. It stood up swaying rhythmically from side to side as it looked at Albert from the other side of the room with its red eyes glowing brightly in the gloom. Albert’s old worn-out ticker thumped madly in his chest. Likewise, his wheezing breath came in short sharp bursts and the creature’s cruel mouth twisted into a malicious grin, displaying row upon row of razor-sharp teeth. Albert knew then, in that terrifying moment, that it wasn’t only his ambition to be The Big Man again that was over – It was very probably his life as well!
As the impossibly tall creature loped towards his bed, Albert balled his gnarled hands into fists. It was a futile gesture, more instinct than conscious decision for he felt robbed of all his strength by this terrifying visitation.
Too late, he remembered he could call the nurses by pressing the alarm button hanging next to his bed. Not that it would have done any good because the monster was now at the foot of the bed, sniffing the air though a long thin ‘goblins’ nose.
The word echoed from a fleeing memory. The illusive thought was as slippery as a fish that he couldn’t firmly grasp it. As he struggled with it, Albert caught fleeting images; visions from his recent past. He’d seen this seen this thing before, somewhere. This was the spectre that stalked his nightmares. The thing that made him wake up in a cold sweat in the dead of night. This was Jimmy-the-Shrew, he recalled, and he’d finally come for him!
This couldn’t be right – It wasn’t real! His mind shrieked in confusion: Maybe he was losing his marbles? This could be a hallucination; his dementia having finally worn away the rational part of his mind?
The creature known as Jimmy-the-Shrew sniffed again loudly before bending down towards the bedside table. It seemed to take an interest in those stale biscuits and Albert watched helplessly as the gangly creature picked them up and devoured them noisily in one go.
More synapses fired in Albert’s mind. Despite his condition he was still Albert Grieve and whoever this feller was, he was taking liberties; coming here uninvited, eating his food! The situation demanded a response and he had to show some front at least.
“Ere, I’m talking to you”. Albert protested. Back in the day he’d never allow anyone to get away it but now, he conceded, he had little choice. The cold fire of violence was little more than a damp ember.
The goblin bent down towards him until its long ratty nose was only inches from his face. Albert could smell the biscuits on its foul breath. The mixture of sweet Rich Teas and rotten meat made him want to retch. Any more demonstrations of bravado were quickly retired there and then.
The creature was real!
Jimmy-the-Shrew raised one of its extremely long, pointed fingers to its mouth and made a Shh sound. Albert dared not move as he watched the creature pick up the alarm button beside the bed and press it. Then it replaced the device and slowly sank downwards beneath the bed. Albert watched in confused fascination as the goblin somehow folded in upon itself, like a contortionist. Silently it shrank away below the bed and out of sight.
Albert tried desperately to remember more about this Jimmy-the-Shrew. Vague, unfocused images rolled through the faulty projector of his mind but nothing substantial would come. Surely the answers were there somewhere. Losing his memory was worse than losing his bottle – it made him look more than weak!
Just then the bedroom door opened and Kelsey waddled into the room. She was a miserable Scottish tart, with a face like a slapped arse. She was the one that gave him those cheap nasty biscuits every night.
“Whit is it, Bert?” she asked briskly. It was too much effort for her to address him by his proper name! She’d often bustle into his room, talking on her phone and treating him like he was a real inconvenience to her. She’d often prattle on about becoming a singer one day: She was only here to get some money together before going off to stage school and become a star!
“I see yah’ve eaten all your biscuits tonight” she observed, before adding quietly, “I knew you would in the end, ya miserable old git”.
She then raised her voice as if he was deaf as well as senile; “Now, I asked ya Bert, what do ya want? Have ya had a wee accident?”
With that she suddenly yanked back the bedcovers without any warning and proceeded to inspect Albert’s pyjamas to see if his pad had leaked. He felt a flush of irritation but could do nothing more than scowl at her.
The fight was truly gone now. Fear, humiliation and general miserly had conspired to finish him off. Bitter resignation threatened to drown him. Power had slipped from his grasp and now he only had his delusions and broken memories for company. And he wouldn’t even have those for much longer!
Just then, Kelsey cried out in alarm.
One minute her chubby face was inspecting his crotch and the next she was on the floor with a heavy smack. Her arms flailed as she tried to get up. Something had grabbed hold of her ankle. She yelped and kicked but couldn’t stop herself from being pulled beneath the bed. Albert watched as Kelsey was quickly dragged out of sight beneath the white sheets.
He could try and help her or at least call for assistance? But then again, why should he bother for the likes of her? Kelsey shouted again but her cry was cut short in a gurgling rattle, and the scuffle was sudden over.
Everything became still again in the darkened room. Albert felt the stunned silence swell from under the bed like a pool of blood spilling out from a fatal wound.
Eventually, he recovered enough of his wits to realise; while the creature was busy with Kelsey he should do a runner while he still had a chance.
Albert tried to pull himself towards the other side of the bed where his wheelchair was parked. He stretched, fumbling for it but he couldn’t reach. He tried to roll himself but before he could get anywhere the goblin was back.
Albert felt rather than saw the shadow of Jimmy-the-Shrew rise up behind him like an old string puppet. Albert was tangled in his own mental strings: Unable to look away from the bloody gore glistening on Jimmy-the-Shrew’s long thin fingers, Albert knew he was next.
“I said I’d come back” Jimmy-the-Shrew gloated in a rough gravelly voice. Albert swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly very dry.
The goblin indicated to the empty plate where the biscuits had been. Albert didn’t understand at first but then something clicked. The black-hole in his mind finally spewed out the elusive memories he’d been searching for: Jimmy-the-Shrew was real and he lived here in secret. At night he silently wandered through the nursing home, sometimes paying a visit to the inmates. Most of the fruitcakes here were either too demented to know what he was or else by the morning they’d forgotten all about him.
The goblin liked coming to see Albert. He enjoyed his half-remembered yet often violent; tales of his earlier life in the East End. But, more interestingly, Jimmy-the-shrew had a fondness for Rich Tea biscuits!
“I promised I’d sort out that nurse if you found me more biscuits”. Jimmy-the-Shrew grinned. “Maybe if you could get some more, I could perhaps help you with other problems?” the goblin proposed rubbing his hands together evilly.
It took Albert only a moment to consider this. While in this lucid state the former villain wanted to take full advantage of the situation. He didn’t know how long his memory would hold out so he had to act fast before the opportunity was gone. With someone like Jimmy-the-Shrew in his pocket, Albert calculated, he could be someone again. The name Albert Grieve would command fear and respect once more.
“Okay, Son” he said to Jimmy-the-Shrew “Let’s talk business”.
Andy loves writing short stories with a horror / supernatural flavour and he is currently dabbling in eBooks. Please visit blackcattales.weebly.com to see more of his work. Andy has had his stories published on other websites and local magazines in the New Forest, UK, where he lives with his beautiful wife and two amazing kids.