#1
Afternoon Tea


‘Someone’s at the door…again…’
I set down my pipe and headed for the doorway, stopping to open the blinds so as to let some sunlight flow into the office, my preferred room to hold audience with visitors.

It had been getting quite a bit of use recently; since I had bought this two storey townhouse on Acacia Grove various people had come knocking with their greetings and such, but there was something else there, that they were careful not to tell me.
I could tell; I used to be a psychoanalyst before I moved out here to retire and take things easy.
The first visitors had been Mr and Mrs Charles Lindbergh from across the street, and they brought with them their son Davy, who I’d enlisted to mow my rather oversized lawn out front each week for a rather generous fee of fifty pounds. They’d come over just a day after I’d moved in, which was quite normal.

Then a few days later, a group of four had shown themselves into my house during breakfast, and asked me all the oddest questions imaginable; Had I heard strange noises? Did I feel unsafe? Did the doors or windows unexpectedly open or close?
I rather thought it was a survey for an electrical company until they asked me this: Did I know the previous owners of this house?
I told them I didn’t, and that it was hardly any business of theirs. At that moment they’d given each other a significant look, and started filling me in on the history of 22 Acacia Grove; It was haunted, there’d been murders, it was unsafe, uninhabitable.
They’d told me the story of its founder, Callum Danvers, who’d accumulated incredible gambling debts and shot himself a week after its being built.

I could care less, being a fellow of sound mind, and I bid them good-day, chuckling to myself at the nonsense they were trying to tell me. ‘Haunted. The house isn’t haunted, any more than a hiking boot could be. This is what you get when folks in a small town get bored.’
They parted inelegantly, shouting that I was a doomed man, amongst other rubbish.
So you can see how I was quite weary of visitors by now.

I opened the door to find a short, diminutive man in a bowler and spectacles on my porch. He held out his hand, said ‘My name is Wes Ulrich, pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m here on behalf of the tax department.’
Okay, that was bad news.
In my previous county, Sussex, and under my previous name, Stephen Croix, I’d not paid taxes of any kind since the nineties.
‘Do come in, won’t you? I’m having afternoon tea at the moment, and I’d be delighted if you’d join me.’ I said.
He simply nodded ‘Quite.’
He followed me into the office, where I asked him to wait while I got the tea and scones. He seemed agreeable enough, and I hoped he’d take long enough to get bored so I could tailor some believable bank statements for him. Or flee, if it proved necessary. I left and ‘busied myself’ in the kitchen, making tea-fixing noises.

From the kitchen I called out ‘How do you take your tea...?’ If he chose black I had a chance of poisoning him; you can’t taste toxins through my vintage Morocco beans.
No reply.
I set down the kettle and stuck my head through the office doorway, not believing what I saw. I’d left him sitting in a large green armchair by the fireplace. Wes Ulrich, five foot tall Tax Investigator, was now standing at the window with his back to me, sniffing my curtains. ‘Mmmmmmmm…yes…niiiiice.’ He moaned, before inhaling again. He extended an arm and shuddered with pleasure.
I turned away in shock, forgetting all about the dubious tax and identity records in the desk drawer a few feet away from him. He was running his nose along my curtains!

My god.
I backed away slowly into the hallway, silently shutting the office door behind me. I retrieved a bottle of Smirnoff from the cupboard and a shot glass from the settee, poured a glass and drank until my anxiety started to chip away a bit. After three shots I felt I could go back in there and deal with him as though nothing had happened. Fetching the scones from the oven, I set them on a tray and traipsed back to the study door. I proceeded through to find my guest seated in the same armchair I had first left him in. Odd.
I composed myself, and set the pastries down on the large round coffee table beside the ornamental fireplace, purely for show. I seriously doubted either of us had any appetite, by now.

‘Oh no, bring them over here, I’m starving.’ He impatiently gestured towards the scones, daring me not to comply. By now I had a pervading feeling that he knew I had witnessed his bizarre behaviour earlier, and this made me uneasy. Ever the good host, I got up and painstakingly shifted the entire table to his side of the room. I had barely set it down, and stood up straight to ease the pain out of my back, before his claw-like fingers had shot out and snatched two or three scones from the plate.
As I turned to return to my own chair opposite his, I distinctly heard ravenous chewing sounds, gulping food down. The sounds of my guest stuffing his face.

I contemplated the seat for a moment, wiped a smudge off the leather with my thumb, and sat down, turning to face my guest. I leaned far forward in my chair to do so, and realised there and then that I could not have made a worse mistake. He was also leaning forward, with his mouth wide open in a manic grin, displaying the churned remains of three butter scones curling around his lime-green teeth. At this moment our heads were maybe a foot apart, and I caught a sudden, strong waft of his stale, putrid breath, floating in front of me. It smelled like the rotting remains of a mouse that died halfway through its last morsel of cheese. Stunned, I convulsed back into my chair, bent double, and was from then on paralysed from what was undoubtedly the worst halitosis I’d ever experienced.

My guest cackled with glee, raising his hair-covered hands in a ridiculous shimmy. I only sat in further horrified silence, hoping that this lunatic didn’t catch up on my inability to move too quickly, that he would think me reticent and excuse himself from my home. I always seem to give myself such false hope.
W. Ulrich of The Taxation Department then reached with both hands into the insides of his jacket, pulling a small ornamental pipe from one pocket, a lighter from the other. He lit up, the fire from the lighter throwing his face into a grotesque caricature of possession. Of unholy sentience. It drew me to notice how dark the room had become, the curtains drawn without my permission; my office now resembled a photographer’s darkroom with added furniture.
All this crossed my mind in between Mr. Ulrich’s first puff, and the next question he posed to me;
‘You’ve been running a long time, Mr Croix.’ The name hit me like a tonne of bricks; how did he know? How did he-
‘I assure you, your true name is the very least of the goods we have on you, not to say it wasn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, though,’ He continued, ‘Tax evasion is a very tricky crime to defend against; you can’t argue insanity, you can’t argue defamation, and good luck with whatever argument you may have, I mean, no one person has been acquitted of a tax-related felony in these parts since the 60’s.’ I gaped. ‘Of course, you could get a new identity, that’d be your third, let’s not forget, and, quite conceivably, skip the country. Get plastic surgery, hell, if they can give California boys a half-dozen sex changes, there’s no reason to refuse service to a paying customer, fugitive or not.’ He paused a second, and I thought I saw a pained tension in his face as he thought, but it was only from the effort of reaching behind him, to open the bureau drawer and retrieve my tax and identity papers.

‘The problem there, you see, is that we caught you the first time, and once you’re on what we call “The List”, it’s quite difficult to get away again. Your name, alas, your new name has been a resident on this List for –let’s see- going on five years now,’ He nodded, smiling, ‘We believe justice is a meal best served lukewarm.’
I jibber jabbered a reply in my head, and it came out roughly the same; ‘I-I-I… I can explain…Oh God.’ I put my hands to my face, blotting out everything but Ulrich, puffing away on his pipe and watching me.
‘Ok.’ I got a hold of myself. ‘Here’s the deal. I changed names and moved in ’98, it should say in your records…’ He nodded, then motioned for me to continue. ‘Taxes were murder back then. Unemployment was raging, too, and I had a drinking problem.’ I sniffed. ‘Paying the taxes just wasn’t a feasible option.’

He sighed ‘So you broke the rules. Perfectly understandable.’

I said, ’So you see my bind.’ I sat up a little straighter, and easier, as it dawned on me that a food-stuffer and curtain-sniffer wasn’t likely to be a by-the-book tax collector. I had a chance for leniency with him, I still thought.
I pressed on this; ‘To be perfectly reasonable, Wes- do you mind if I call you Wes?’ He shook his head. I continued ‘The law is an ass, though its enforcers need not be.’ He moved in his chair, moved. ‘I’m sure a deal of some sort can be made?’
#2
My guest shook his head again, and held one of my legal documents to his lighter. He lit it at a corner and laid it on the coffee table. The flames caught on the varnish and soon the whole table was alight ‘What are you doing?!’ I yelled, although it was the price tag of the table – four thousand pounds – that I was most concerned with; I’d most likely need to liquidate the whole place when this was over, anyway.
‘Be calm, Mr. Croix. It will burn down to the tops of the aluminium legs and then fizzle out. I own a piece rather like this one myself.’ I sat down again, not quite remembering having gotten up or why I had in the first place.

‘Back to what we were discussing, Mr. Croix…you are right, there are ways to resolve your debt without involving a judge.’ He took a long draw on his pipe. ‘It will cost you, though.’

Now were we were in the realm of negotiation, I felt more able. Cool, like Dirty Harry.

‘Name the price.’ I said.

He laughed. ‘If only it was that simple. No…’ He leaned back in the chair, resigned.
‘Mr Croix, I happen to be what the wider realms of society describe as a necrophiliac. Are you familiar with the term? It describes someone with sexual proclivities towards-‘I interrupted him ‘I know what a goddamn necrophiliac is. Really?’
He nodded. The hair on my arms now stood up straight.
‘Good. That will make this easier to explain, then.’ A pause, then he went on.
‘You exist here, Mr Croix, without having to pay taxes or vote or perform any civic duties whatsoever. On research I noted that you aren’t part of the cycle for delivery of the local newspaper, and you haven’t registered at the local church, traditionally the first thing new residents do when they move here. You exist in a bubble, unattached from society like a newborn kitten that rejects its mother. I could quite conceivably burn this house and rape your corpse, with no one to know about it because they never knew you existed.’
I gaped.
‘For such a thing to happen would be most regrettable, and I think I can absolve you forever of the Taxation Department, while taking away something of value for myself, in one clean stroke.’ Finally, he was going to give me his price.
‘Your curtains, Mr Croix.’ Oh no. ‘Your curtains are simply…delicious.’ He set my papers back in the drawer, before tossing his flaming pipe and lighter into the drawer with them, over his shoulder. The objects caught aflame and started to blaze. He leapt out of the chair, grabbing the heavy curtains in both hands. Moving into a boxer’s stance, he yanked at them, once, twice, three times before they came off, light spilling into the room. He spared me a smirk, and draped the fabric around his shoulders before setting out of the room and towards the front door. I, perplexed, watched him through the window, striding regally across my lawn and down the street, draped like a king.

I fainted from mental exhaustion then, and when I awoke in the same chair the fire had died and two hours had passed on the antique grandfather clock. I sighed. It hadn’t all been a dream.

There was a knock at the door.

My eyes rolled involuntarily in my head, and I got up, moving shakily towards the front door. I opened it.
A tall black man with a wide grin flashed me his ID and introduced himself; ‘Kevin Armstrong, of the Taxation Department. My, is your hair white or something!’


FIN.

Thanks for reading, I will be critting other pieces within the next day or so. Hope you enjoyed it, but please express any criticism you have for this story.
#3
It was...interesting. At times your writing was captivating but when it wasn't good, it made me want to just close my laptop right there. I thought it wasn't worth all that reading just for a strange man to steal your curtains-it's not a significant enough event to write a whole story on. It seems a bit like a whole big overreaction punctuated by little overreactions in between. The characters reactions to the events seemed a little overdramatic considering what was happening. For example, he sees the man sniffing his curtains and flips out so bad he has to go take a drink just so he can calm down enough to go sit in the same room as the man. You make it seem like he is overcome by horror, when a proper response to that situation should be something like "Dude, what the fuck are you doing?" Of course, not exactly like that, but you get my gist. Also, his reaction to the mans bad breath seemed a little bit too dramatic and over played. When you smell someone with bad breath-no matter how bad-you never double over and wretch at the disgustingness. Once again, it's just one of those things where you go "What the hell?" and in this case usually would keep it to yourself. I realize that you wanted to make it seem like his breath was exceptionally nasty, but that's just not realistic unless you want us to see the main character as someone with horrible manners, which obviously isn't your objective. The beginning of the story-all that "haunted" business-seems to have no correlation to this imposter coming and stealing your curtains. If you had implied that he was connected to the house in some way or was an evil spirit, then maybe. But it's just a random, smelly necrophiliac that likes to sniff curtains. You could have spent this space developing the characters a little better instead of describing how the house is haunted when it has no play in the overall plot of the story. The part where he burns up the table is also a bit ridiculous. After the man explains that the table isn't going to harm the rest of the house, they just calmly continue on their conversation like there isn't a burning table right in front of them. It paints a kind of silly picture in my head. Just imagine a man coming into your house and lighting a table on fire, and try to picture yourself calming down and continuing to speak with this man in a matter of what seemed to be less than a minute. It just wouldn't happen, and that's why it's so silly. The necrophiliac part is also silly. The phrase "I will burn your house and rape your corpse" is kind of...I can't think of a word for it. Not silly, but almost facetious. You could have come up with much better threats than burning someones house and raping their corpse. This man is five feet tall anyway, how is he going to overpower the main character enough to burn down his house and kill him?

So you see, it's all of these little things-things that just don't make sense or are a little ridiculous or silly-that subtracts from the feel of this piece. You were intending to weird people out and be creepy. And you were intending to do it with things that were, obviously, weird and creepy. But just because they are strange doesn't mean that they have permission to be completely unrealistic. The more believable these things that happen are, the more you are going to get across to your readers. The more they can see these things actually happening, the more they are going to think about what would happen if this happened to them. It's a hard balance to find, being otherworldly while at the same time maintaining some semblance of realism. You have to be different, but not so different that it becomes impossible for people to believe. And some of it wasn't even the actual idea, it was just the way you wrote it that made it seem less real. Like the over reactions to the curtain-sniffing and bad breath. So in those places, your writing was at fault.

Of course, this was well written. Not exactly the most beautifully crafted thing I've ever read, but it was enough to counteract the silly situations enough to keep my interest long enough to read it.

If you could crit the piece in my sig(the quote is a link), that would be great.

Today I feel electric grey
I hope tomorrow, neon black