Some people are born lucky while others are not and Henry was most definitely part of the latter group. Being out of work and soon to be homeless, this wasn’t how Henry had envisioned the start of his adult life. His sister was moving to Spain to be with her boyfriend and was selling her flat which meant Henry had to find somewhere else to live. But first, he needed to find a job.
After realising academia was not for him Henry had left school at 16 armed with a very strong grade C in Art. He hadn’t yet decided what he wanted to do and had planned on seeing what kind of jobs he was offered before deciding upon the most lucrative and using his wages to buy his one place. Unfortunately the numerous offers of employment that Henry had envisioned were not very forthcoming and he had spent the last few months applying for any and all jobs that came along. Sadly he was either; too young, lacked experience or wasn’t what they were looking for. Things had been starting to get desperate when, on one of his daily trudges down to the job centre he spotted an advert for a clerk at The Body Shop.
Despite lacking any experience, being unable to type, and not having any real interest in cars Henry applied for the job anyway. So it came as a complete surprise when the manager of The Body Shop phoned up to offer him the job. Henry couldn’t believe his uncharacteristic good luck and he had accepted it there and then.
It might turn into something rewarding, he thought to himself as he sat alone behind the Reception desk. This could be a way into mechanics; he could learn the trade, work up to a place in the garage and one day run his own business. He just needed to get some enthusiasm about cars first but that shouldn’t be too difficult. He felt hopeful about his new career but as the first week and then the second week went by without seeing a single engine, his grand dreams started to look a little more distant.
So far he had spent his time just sat in Reception placing orders for customers, taking phone calls and filling in forms. Every time a new order came though, he would pass it to someone in the warehouse to be processed. He wasn’t permitted into the warehouse himself yet and he often wondered what lay behind that plain white door to the side of Reception with the stern sign that read “Authorised Personnel Only”. He could hear muffled voices talking from inside but they weren’t the usual coarse banter Henry associated with garages. This was a specialist operation and so the staff probably had to maintain a high level of professionalism at all times. There was a peculiar smell that came through the door when someone leaned through to take the order sheets. It must be some kind of motor oil or grease, Henry concluded, he would learn all about it in time. He wanted to go back and look but he needed to stay out here manning Reception in case a customer came in. To the public, Henry was the face of The Body Shop, the manager had explained.
Although he was always friendly and extremely polite Henry wasn’t sure if his was the face that the company should really be promoting though. But saying that, his acne was starting to clear up now beneath his glasses and his extraordinary good luck was still with him: Thanks to a chance conversation with one of his customers he now had a room to rent. His new land lady, Mrs Mildred, was a charming old dear who would come in most days to pick up a parcel. She didn’t seem the type to be interested in the automotive industry but nevertheless the warehouse would have a package waiting for her behind the Reception desk most mornings before Henry arrived. So whenever he saw it he knew she would be in later that day. She was as frail as anything but her eyes sparkled with the kind of mischief that only old ladies could get away with.
“Oh thank you” Mrs Mildred would say to Henry as he carried the package out to her car. “You’re so kind to help me with this. You know I do really like your arms, so firm and strong. I’ll know where to come if I need to borrow them sometime”. She would proceed to squeeze his biceps and give him a very obvious wink as she hobbled out of the door chuckling away to herself. If she was about ninety years younger Henry may have thought she was flirting with him! Mrs Mildred was one of the nice customers but there were also some unpleasant ones, most notably Mr McRood.
Mr McRood telephoned every day demanding to know where his order was.
“Well, is it bloody there yet?” he had rasped down the phone in a dry gravelly voice on Henry’s first day on the job.
“Err. What is it you want?” Henry had stammered.
“My bloody order! I placed it with you two weeks ago. I don’t know what kind of half-arsed outfit you’re running there but I need it now” he ranted. “The Body Shop; specialists in body replacement services it says here. Hah! Specialists indeed!”
“Erm…” Henry had felt his face flushing red not sure how to respond to the impatient old codger.
“Erm?” Mr McRood interrupted. “Erm? Is that all you can say? Well it’s not bloody good enough”.
Mr McRood proceeded to phone in every day since, becoming ruder and more personal with his insults each time. Apparently his order was very special and needed to be brought in from Cuba and there had been delay’s at Customs which was why it was taking so long. Every day Henry would brace himself for the verbal onslaught from the irate old git and explain again and again that it was out of his hands and there was nothing he could do. Despite his explanations Mr McRood continued to hold Henry personally responsible for the order and the delays and even the political situation in the communist country which had led the to the trade restrictions that were causing the whole problem in the first place!
At last the order arrived; a thick brown package about a meter in length. It wasn’t too heavy and the manager said he should probably take it straight round to Mr McRood’s house as an example of good customer service. Henry felt his stomach drop a few feet at the instruction. This certainly wasn’t how Henry would deal with rude customers when he was running his own business. But, he had to please his boss and so he hauled the parcel into the back of the company van and drove round to Mr McRood’s house.
Although it wasn’t heavy, the parcel was a long awkward shape to carry for any length of time. Henry struggled down the overgrown garden path to Mr McRood’s rickety paint-chipped front door. The small bungalow looked dilapidated and reminded him of the house from the Wizard of Oz after it had landed in that magical land. Henry secretly loved that film but any hint of magic or singing was dispelled by the sense of neglect that hung in the air. A large collection of unopened milk bottles were lined up by the front door giving Henry the sense that no one had set foot outside the door for several days. The doorstep was also littered with a pile of Daily Mail Newspapers and flyers for Indian takeaway’s and pizza delivery companies. The whole bungalow looked as run down, haggard and miserable as Mr McRood sounded on the phone.
Taking a deep breath he rang the bell hoping Mr McRood wouldn’t be in so he could just leave the parcel by the door and go without having to face the miserable old whinger. But as always, he wasn’t that lucky. Henry heard some creaking and groaning of floorboards. Through the frosted glass of the door he could see a shape lumbering down the hallway. As the shape loomed closer Henry started to feel very uneasy about this visit. Some primal instinct was setting off an alarm bell at the back of his mind and he felt an urge to leave the parcel on the step and bolt. He contemplated it for a moment but then the door rattled and the moment was lost. From inside someone struggled to undo a chain before the door slowly swung open on creaking hinges. Henry opened his mouth to introduce himself but the words died in his throat as he looked upon the terrible sight that stood in the doorway. Henry recoiled as the image before him instantly burned into his memory so he would always see it every time he closed his eyes. All he could do was gasp shock like a fish out of water, drowning in air as he stared at the thing before him. The grey sallow face of Mr McRood leered down at him through milky eyes sunk deep into over-sized eye sockets. Thin wispy white hair curled down from the sore encrusted scalp and a lipless mouth formed a leering rictus grin as the thing that was Mr McRood swayed gently in the doorway leaning on a pair of rusted crutches.
Mr McRood was dead!
Henry stumbled back in panic as the rotting stench of the grave wafted out from the open door and Henry now recognised it as the same smell from the Warehouse. He stared at the spectre before him in cold terror before blindly stepping backwards. His brain refused to accept what his eyes were telling him and he forgot about the step and fell landing hard on his back. The parcel fell on top of him preventing him from scrabbling to his feet and running. Henry struggled, panting out a scream but unable to find his breath. The impossible sight of the festering corpse took a shambling step through the doorway and onto the step narrowly avoiding a bottle of silver-top. Towering over Henry it reached out a grey decomposing hand towards the terrified clerk with an animated creak of joints.
“Watch it” the ill-tempered zombie snarled. His dry vocal chords sounded even dustier than they did on the phone. “I’ve waited long enough for that delivery and I don’t want to have to wait for another one if you break it, you clumsy oaf”. Henry could do nothing but gibber like an idiot.
“Here, open it for me” Mr McRood growled impatiently and Henry quickly worked at the tape on the parcel and opened the box with panicked fingers. When he saw what was inside the box he gagged and shoved it away, kicking the box towards Mr McRood and trying to put as much distance between it and himself. There, lying in a nest of bubble wrap and bags of ice was a human leg cut off just above the knee. Mr McRood carefully bent down and picked up the severed limb and for the first time Henry noticed the deceased customer had only one leg protruding from his mouldy burial clothes.
“Good, this is what I wanted” said Mr McRood nodding with a measure of satisfaction. “Now, take that rubbish away with you, I’ve no need for it”. As Henry hurried to gather up the empty box Mr McRood shuffled back inside but paused to look over his shoulder. “Oh, I understand your Mrs Mildred’s latest lodger” he wheezed. “She’s pleased you’ve moved in. She’s wanted a pair of young strong arms for some time now”.
Henry didn’t look back as he scurried down the path to the relative safety van. As he clambered inside and locked the doors he couldn’t help wondering just how unlucky one person could be!
For your information I have recently had stories published in on www.microhorror.com.